Preparing for CAT - Let go of Myths

  • How does one prepare for CAT. How does one crack CAT and get 99%ile+ considering that almost all the best minds prepare for CAT. How do you ensure that you consistently get a high percentile (100%ile or close to 100%ile) in every CAT exam even though there is a lot of uncertainty with regards to online exam. These are some of the questions that students do keep on asking me either in my classrooms or on online forums.

    Let us first remove some myths with regards to cracking CAT.

    Myth No 1: Practice a lot and you will be able to do well in the exam.

    This is actually not correct. I do not deny that practice is very important. But only practice will not help you to crack CAT. Most students who score a high percentile (95%ile+) in the first attempt of CAT end up scoring a lower percentile in the next attempt despite putting one extra year of hard work. If hard work was the only key then students who put in one extra year of hard work would have definitely performed better than their previous performance. So it is clearly seen that hard work is not the only thing. Though there is no denying the fact that all the students who crack the CAT have put in a lot of hours of preparation.

    Myth No 2: Solve from CAT books

    Another myth is that solve a lot of questions from the CAT books and I will be able to crack the exam. I am not for the books that are available in the market. None of the books I find is good enough for cracking CAT. If there was such book, then that would have become a bible and all the students who refer that book would have done well in the exam. But we do not find any such books or notes. There is a problem with referring to notes/books. All the books/notes have the same funda of solving. They will first enumerate the various formulae that are there for that chapter and give you sums based on that formulae. So what you end up doing is using the formulae again and again and become good at it. But when you go to the actual exam you find that you are not able to solve most of the sums in the CAT exam despite the fact that you have gone through all the sums that are there in the various notes / books. This is because you have become so good at using formulae, that you search for the right formula to solve the sum.

    This has also been reinforced by our education system. In every exam right from school to our college we always had marks for the steps and putting in the right formula. So whenever we see a problem we will always look for ways to put in formula and solve the sum. Unfortunately for CAT most of the sums can be solved by using simple tricks and directly trying to solve the sum instead of using a formula. For most sums it is very difficult to find a direct formula to get the answer or usually the formula have been derived only after the sums have come in the CAT exam. So it is recommended that students should understand the various formula, but should not be handicapped by it by trying to solve all sums using formula. Instead students should scout for different methods of solving CAT problems that will help them to become flexible and help them to crack the CAT.

    Myth No 3: Being good at Math helps you to crack the CAT

    Another myth is that you should be absolutely good in Math to crack CAT. If you look at the CAT questions that have come in the exam, there are usually simple ways of solving the sums. The problem is most of them complicate it too much. A simple understanding of basic stuff of Math coupled with logical approach to solving the sums is usually sufficient to crack the CAT. If you look at me, I usually cannot solve most of the Math sums that are there in various mock CATs or some tougher sums that are there in various books or websites. There are a lot of concepts floating around like Chinese Theorem, etc which I have no idea about. But I have written the CAT exam in the last 10 years and have solved all the math sums that have come in the exam except on an average 1 sum in each exam. This too I have done in the time limit of the CAT exam. So as per me a great knowledge of Math is not a prerequisite for cracking the CAT.

    Myth No 4: A coaching institute helps to crack the CAT

    Just join a coaching class, follow whatever is said by the faculty out there and you will be able to crack CAT. The problem with this method is most of the coaching class teach the masses. As they teach the masses the methods that they employ are the ones which everyone can understand. But the problem with this method is that this does not at all help to crack CAT. It is just to please the masses. So you can impress a lot of students by showing some shortcuts, but it may not be useful with respect to the exam perspective. For example there is this craze for vedic math, but most of what is there in vedic math and taught in classes are not useful for cracking CAT. CAT does not check you on calculations but on logic and understanding of the sum. Though calculations are important, but it is better if you could learn approximation and solve things faster. Also most classes focus more on formulae based solving which are useless when it comes to solving questions in the CAT exam.

    Myth No 5: Learn from someone who has cracked the CAT

    Another myth is to catch hold of someone who has cracked CAT, learn from him his method and then apply it to the sums. But in this case you are blindly using the other person’s method. It is important to adapt the methods that you learn to your own strengths and weakness. Unless you are able to modify the methods you learn to the way you want and then apply to different scenarios, this will not help. Usually most methods useful in CAT can be applied to wide variety of questions. But as the student has a partial understanding of the methods, he can only apply it to a limited number of sums, thus defeating the purpose of these methods.

    Now let us focus on the dos of cracking CAT.

    There is no one way to crack CAT. I have interacted with a lot of students who have scored a very high percentile in CAT and most of them have had different ways of cracking CAT. The idea is to search for your own ways and methods to do your best in the exam.

    Try solving questions in different methods. It is not important to solve a lot of sums, but solve a few sums in more than one method. This helps to build in flexibility in solving the sums. So any new sum that comes in the exam, you can be flexible in using the different methods you know to solve the sums. It is important to unlearn your old methods to get in new methods.If you are not able to unlearn, you will not be able to learn anything new.

    I had a couple of students. Both were decent. One was an engineer who was good. He has scored 99.99%ile in MAT and ATMA exams for two consecutive years. Another student who was a non engineer, was average and had written CET but could not even make it to JB through CET even though he was Home University student. Both studied for CAT. When I taught the two students for the first time, the engineer came back and said that these methods are easy and ok for someone who is tired after work and wants to solve Math. The Non Engineer was quite eager to learn more. The difference between the two was one was stuck with his old methods and was not ready to unlearn, but the other was ready to learn the different methods and forget what he had learnt. The non engineer had also formed other group of friends where he used to learn from different people the different methods they used to adopt. He was able to score a 99.9%ile in CAT and got into IIM A. Engineer ended up scoring around 95%ile and did not make it to IIMs. So unlearning and then learning new things is important to crack CAT.

    Another example was that of a student of mine who made it to XLRI. He had scored 44.22%ile in XAT and then he came to me. He was so ready to learn something new that he picked up whatever was said and pestered me to learn more about the same. He managed to crack XAT and get into XLRI.

    Try to have a mentor who is better than you and try to learn from the mentor. Just don’t learn blindly, but try to apply the learning to your approach of solving. I had a friend who could not even get through Welingkar college through CET. But the next year he befriended another person who had got calls from all IIMs but could not convert it and was writing CAT again. He learnt from the friend and applied the methods and was able to get calls from all IIMs, finally converting IIM B.

    While solving, focus more on your weak areas. Remember you will have to clear individual section cutoffs. So it is no use getting high percentile overall, but performing poorly in one of the sections. Try to befriend students who are strong in the areas you are weak and try learning from them.

    Read a lot. Read from varied sources. Reading not only helps in your RCs, but helps you in other sections of verbal as well as it will give you a better understanding of the language. I remember during my college days at MNNIT, a few boys had tried to find out the newspapers that go to girls hostel. They found out that there were two girls in the hostel reading Economic Times. Today when I look back at it, I have realized that both of them have managed to passout from IIM A. I am not saying start reading Economic Times. All I am saying is that focus on reading. A good reading habit will help you in different areas of CAT.

    Ensure that you plan your preparation. The plan has to be written down. Anything which is not on paper is bound not to be followed. So put down your plan on paper. Last but not the least, work hard. Nothing beats hard work. Hard work with a clear plan and right direction will definitely ensure that you crack CAT.

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