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How To Win Over Those 135 Minutes!

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With over 2.5 lakh aspirants contesting for about 2,000 seats and due to the fact that we are never expected to solve the full paper in order to crack it, more often than not, CAT and other prestigious MBA entrance tests have become a contest of a race against time. It's no more about problem solving, as much as it has become about solving problems ‘quickly'. In many cases it is the time management and the mental preparation which emerges as the key factor which separated a winner and a loser on the D-day. Here, I would like to share with you the titbits that helped me during my preparation and could help you also in streamlining your preparation:
The Mock-ing Mentality: I am sure that all of you have already been told about the importance of time management umpteen times and you already have tried and tested many strategies and have succeeded when sitting at home writing a mock test. But when it comes to facing the real giant everything goes into vain simply because it's REAL. However seriously we might take the mocks, it's still a mock test and that mentality is precisely what makes all the difference in our strategies when we face the real test. We seem to be always better equipped to face and tackle the unexpected changes in pattern or any such surprises when taking a mock test as compared to the real test just because we are much more composed and calm and to some extent careless while taking a mock test and that's why the panic caused by mounting pressure of performing on the D-day hampers our performance most of the times.
Toying With The Strategies: So what's the idea!! Should we stop taking real CAT seriously and go about perambulating in the test centre as if it's just another mock? No. The idea is to prepare yourself mentally very well for any kind of surprises or unanticipated situations. The idea is to have a well tested and experimented strategy but still not to be rigid about it. The idea is to not go with a single, fixed strategy which could act as a restraint when you encounter a surprise, but to have experimented so much with your strategies before the exams and to be so flexible that your final D-day strategy becomes one of the many implementable strategies instead of "the only working strategy" for you. During my preparation, I tried at least 10 different strategies and I tried each of them on at least 3 mock tests. And when I finally went to the exam centre I looked at the paper and I just followed my final day pre decided strategy with little adjustments and this need for adjustment did not result in a panic situation just because it was no longer a paradigm shift in my strategy after having mastered so many versions of it during preparation.
Deciding which strategies to experiment with and which to finalise is a purely individualistic decision so I will just set a framework of preparation for you so that you could change gears from just preparing to preparing with a direction and end in mind and then I will give you a glimpse of what I would have planned for my D-day and how I would have implemented it, just to give you an example.

As the exam has gone online with significantly less number of questions expected i.e. 65-70 and 135 minutes, that is, 2 hours 15 minutes of time instead of 150 i.e. 2 hours 30 minutes, so this time can be divided into following manner:

  •     5 minutes to scan the paper and plan your approach (130 minutes left)

  •     30 minutes for your strongest section (100 minutes left)

  •     35 minutes for the medium section (65 minutes left)

  •     50 minutes for your weakest section (15 minutes left)

  •     10 minutes for your strongest section again (5 minutes left)

  •     5 minutes to review your test

    If you feel that 40 (30+10) minutes are more than you need for your strongest section, allocate the time to your weakest section. The extra time may help you to maximize your score in your weakest area and that will help you to clear the cut-off too.

To start with, it is advisable to scan the paper and try to determine which sections and questions will be easiest to answer rather than start attempting the questions immediately. For each section, start by selecting the questions which will consume less time and you will be able to solve with confidence. Only after handling easy questions should you move on to more difficult ones.

Verbal questions such as direct dictionary meanings and sentence corrections should be your priority, as they do not require much time. The time that you will save in these questions can be utilised while doing an inference based question from a passage that require more work.
You should try to answer all questions that you can confidently solve and avoid all questions that confuse you. Also, do not attempt a question that takes more than five minutes to solve as it will only hurt your score. Remember to read all instructions carefully before you start.
For those who have prepared sincerely and smartly, there is no need to panic or feel apprehensive. Here are my thoughts on the new CAT pattern:

    Practice Data Interpretation more as it might take more time than usual as you might have to draw each chart or table on your rough sheet.
    As number of questions have decreased significantly, you might expect a slightly tougher paper, use that to your advantage by keeping your basics right.
    As number of questions is less, there would be less number of questions that you can leave in a section; hence it's better to keep a reasonable level of competency in every part of a section. Don't leave any particular part (eg: - permutations, probability, functions etc) completely blank.

To get a call from any tier-1 Business School, you'll need to clear the sectional cut off scores. Also, try to focus on enhancing your score through the above methods so that in case you couldn't clear the required cut-offs then at least you will earn entry at institutions such as MDI, IMT, SP Jain, etc. on the basis of overall CAT score and percentile.
In the end, it's really important to understand your limitations. Don't let your ego get the better of you and don't try to secure a perfect score. Recognise your ability and earn the best score possible for you. Be confident and believe in yourself. It would always be beneficial for you to remain calm so that you could score over those who panic and loose it. That is how competition is eliminated to a large extent in such exams. Last but not the least, always remember that cracking a B-School examination is not a big deal, it just requires hard work, dedication and systematic, smart preparation. If I could do it, then so can you!

Good Luck!

Prateek Mathur is an FMS alumnus and FMS entrance test topper 2007