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Importance Of Time Management During The CAT Exam

The CAT exam is not a maximisation game, but one of optimisation

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The CAT exam, for admission to the coveted IIMs and other top-rated B-schools of the country, is scheduled for the 25th of November this year. Let us understand the importance of time management for the same.

Is the CAT different from school/college exams?

The CAT is radically different from school and college exams. It features a large number of questions in insufficient time thus forcing the aspirant to choose which questions to do and which to leave. The questions’ marks and difficulty level do not correspond with each other which is not so in other exams. So if you spend more time doing difficult questions, you will lose marks. Thus on must choose less time-consuming questions. Additionally, due to insufficient time, too much focus on accuracy or attempts means that one tends to lose marks. Focus on both simultaneously. The CAT is not a maximisation game, but one of optimisation.

How should one manage time in the sections?

Before starting a section, spend some time scanning it. Scan each question or each set quickly and judge its level. A small button on the top right corner of the screen allows you to look at the entire section in a single go.

In the case of QA and VA, you can start attempting the easiest questions on the spot. Questions that are extremely lengthy or unsolvable should be left altogether. Questions that lie in the middle of these two extremes should be “marked for review”. Once you have scanned the entire section, go to the “review marked questions” option and attempt the marked questions. This will ensure that you have read the entire paper and not left any easy question and that you are not wasting your time on extremely difficult questions.

In the case of RC, DI and LR, you will need to judge the set as a whole and not just a question. This should be done by focusing on the time required to solve the sets based on familiarity and question type. Scan question types to see which sets contain more of what you are comfortable with and is less time-consuming. In a set, feel free to leave a question out of a set of 4 questions if it is too time-consuming. Conversely, free to pick up 1-2 questions out of 4 in a set, if they are the only doable ones. Many people waste time by thinking that if they have picked up a set, they must finish it completely. They also lose opportunities by thinking that if they have not picked up a set, they must leave all the questions.

How should one manage time in the questions?

Before starting the examination, make sure that you have a clear idea of average time available per question/set in each section and have an exit-time for each question. E.g. if you have 1.5 minutes per question in the QA section, you can begin by devoting 1 minute initially and at the end of such time, see if you will be able to solve the question in 30 more seconds or not. If not, then drop the question and move forward without worrying. Alternatively, you can solve for 1.5 minutes and then check if you are close to solving. If yes, at most, 30 more seconds may be devoted but then you must drop the question if you are nowhere near solving the question. Having this “stop-loss” strategy, to borrow the terminology from the stock market, will make sure that you do not waste time over any one question. Since it is difficult and impractical to judge time for each question, you can divide the questions of the section and the time available in 3-4 parts and then devote not more than that time per part. This also ensures that time is not wasted.

For question types that you are good at, don’t have an unnecessary ego about them! Many aspirants tend to have an ego-battle with favourite question types and spend endless time solving them trying to prove to themselves that they can solve it! Move forward if you find a tough question, irrespective of your infatuation with that question type.

How do I manage the time for the TITA (Type-in-the-response) questions?

The TITA questions are attractive to aspirants because they have no negative marks. However, beware of Greeks bearing gifts! These questions have no options and hence these are much more time-consuming. Also because the probability of getting them right is much less, the common mistake is to spend way too much time on them and lose time while not gaining much. Ideally, attempt them towards the end of the section, so that time is not accidentally wasted.

How do I become better at judgement?

This requires the extensive practice of questions and sets after you are clear with basic concepts. Such practice should be always under time pressure. That will replicate the paper pressure.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Ankur Jain

The author is Chief Knowledge Expert at T.I.M.E, a test-preparation institute with pan-India presence and is headquartered at Hyderabad.

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