Ace the CAT - Tips from CAT-2015 100 percentiler

Nishchay Budhiraja is a 100 percentiler of CAT-2015.  He shared his views with MyExamPlan on how he approached his goal of cracking the CAT.  Nishchay is a Chemical engineer from IIT-Roorkee and is now enrolled into the PGDM program at IIM-C. Recently he has also been awarded the prestigious Aditya Birla Scholarship. 

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I am an engineer so Maths has always been my love and English my weaker suit. Keeping my background in mind, I would start by giving tips particular to each section and then move on to some general test taking tips.

VA&RC – I knew this was the deal breaker for me. If I could get 99+ in this section, then I would surely be among the top 500 candidates in the country. I had a strong grammar base and had read a few novels, but reading and understanding things in depth was not my forte. So I always knew that I needed to put maximum effort in this section and believe me, knowing what to focus on solves more than half the problem.

  • Break VA&RC into parts. Grammar, RC and miscellaneous. Identify your strengths and weaknesses among these.
  • Focus more on weak areas but NEVER neglect your strengths. You don’t want to lose marks in the strong areas. Don’t be a victim of the proverbial saying – the problem of no problem!
  • Read the rules/conventions/basics once and start applying them in the questions. Never focus only on the rules because there may always be exceptions.
  • Read newspaper and novels regularly.
  • Increase your attention span. You should be able to read 5-6 passages at a stretch.
  • Increase your reading speed. Try and solve your coaching RCs in the allotted time. Try skimming through the passage instead of understanding each and every word.

LR&DI – This used to be my strength but taking mocks made me realise that I needed to put a lot of effort here to be amongst the toppers. The key here is speed – solving one passage fetches you 12 marks.

  • This section is the one where hard work pays very rich dividends. So practise a lot and solve all possible type of questions.
  • Whenever practising, always set a time limit. These questions can be solved by everyone, so the only factor important is time. I repeat – the key here is speed!
  • Try solving 1 set of 4 questions in 8 minutes, and solve 1 set daily, irrespective of whether it is your strength or weakness.
  • Analysing mock solutions of LR & DI is very important as even the questions you solved correctly could possibly have been solved faster.
  • Try using shortcuts which can save your time and effort, viz. trying and making a set of 4 correct answers which simultaneously solve the 4 questions of a set. It is possible that only 1 set of 4 options which are coherent is there in the choices.

QA – This was my true love and I always had full faith that I would perform great in this section, provided I improved my accuracy because I tended to make a lot of silly mistakes. I had just one fear that I might get emotional over a particular question and waste time.

  • Start preparing topic wise and once you finish a topic, master it completely. There is not much use studying theory; doing different types of questions will make you familiar with all the theorems.
  • Practise hard questions as well, as they will help you think in all directions even if the questions in actual examination are much easier.
  • Keep practising; because once you get out of touch you may lose speed or accuracy. Improve accuracy first, and then try attempting more number of questions.
  • Once you are done with all the topics, never practise topic wise. Take sectional tests which cover questions from all topics.
  • When solving questions try not using paper and pen. Try doing everything mentally, it will improve your speed tremendously.

My test taking strategy –

  • My aim in VA&RC was to attempt all questions even if my accuracy took a hit. I preferred doing an RC followed by two grammar questions because doing all RCs at a stretch was a bit of a task for me. The order of RCs should NEVER be determined by the length but rather by your choice of topic. Remember, easiest looking RCs have the toughest and the most confusing questions whereas RCs where you ain’t able to understand anything, the questions are generally direct. Also, leave VA questions if your accuracy in the mocks has been below 60%.
  • For LR&DI, I used to take 5 minutes to read all the questions to judge the difficulty level of the paper and decide how many sets to attempt and which ones to leave. Always keep your estimate flexible, you may have to revise it while you are attempting the paper. I attempted all questions in the order they appeared leaving the pre-decided sets. If you have spent five minutes on a set and are unable to solve it, LEAVE it. It is better to leave such sets rather than spending fifteen more minutes and solving it. The point is, this section is a test of speed, so be quick with your decision making and never have second thoughts. As is true in life, move on!
  • In QA, my strategy was to just go with the flow. I attempted questions in the order they appeared, leaving Geometry questions as I found them tough. If I realised that a question needed long calculations, I used to mark it for review to revisit it later if the time permitted. Some people may suggest you to attempt the paper in two rounds according to the difficulty of the questions, but that is completely your choice. Remember, all questions carry equal weightage, so doing five easy questions is any day better than doing four difficult ones.

These are the points that I kept in mind during my preparation time and while taking CAT. But one size does not fit all. Experiment and try a few alternative approaches and adopt the one most suited to bring out the best of your abilities. And yes, decide one at least a month before CAT and take 4-5 mocks with that strategy in mind.

Cheers!