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BW Businessworld

Planning The Success

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Overview
You have approximately 60 days before the CAT (18 November 2007). This is not a test or an exam where you can prepare in the last one week or even the night before and hope to crack it. Every day is important and cannot be wasted.

The CAT is an entrance exam to more than 100 Business Schools. Also, the areas that come in CAT are similar to those for every other management entrance exam. In addition, these other exams are scheduled in December and January, leaving you hardly any time to prepare for them after the CAT. Hence, your basic preparation must conclude before the CAT.

One of the fundamental mistakes that people make is to consider mock CATs as the solution for all preparation problems. This is far from the truth. Tests give insight into your exam-taking techniques and help you measure your progress, and how far you are from reaching your goal.

However, if you do not strengthen your basic concepts and skills, any number of tests will not serve the purpose.

You have to first understand your strengths and weaknesses in each test area. This can be done by checking your scores in practice tests and mock tests. Unbiased introspection will give the roadmap to your preparation.

The main areas that need concentration are: reading practice and comprehension, quantitative/arithmetic concepts, data interpretation and speed calculation practice and vocabulary/language improvement. This has to be supplemented with practice in various test areas.

Reading Practice
There is no shortcut to improve your reading speed. You must read at least two articles each from two topics used in the CAT, everyday. These are: economics, philosophy, psychology, politics, sociology, language, culture and arts, abstract thinking and sciences. Make the effort of choosing as wide ranging a topic base as possible. Also, read from every possible genre: non-fiction, fiction, novels, magazines, journals, etc.

Consciously improve your reading speed by measuring it every day for the first fifteen days. You'll notice that your speed varies depending on your familiarity with the subject/topic.

Take a test every two days for reading comprehension. Analyse every question and every passage in the test. If you do not complete all passages in the allotted time, then take those passages as a test once again. This continuous work will do wonders to your reading comprehension ability.

Vocabulary Improvement
Though it may seem impossible to learn 3000+ words in the next two months, it should not discourage you from increasing your vocabulary from whatever level it is at now. Good reading habits improve your vocabulary automatically.

While referring to the dictionary for the meaning of a particular word, do not forget to look up the synonyms and antonyms also.

English has words from Latin, Germanic and other origins, learning the roots of a word will help you immensely. The origin of words, if understood, allows you to infer the meaning of other words with similar origins.

Finally, never forget the importance of prefixes and suffixes. For example, look at the word malevolent. Even if you don't know the exact definition, the prefix 'mal' tells you that the word means something bad or negative. In the word benevolent, the prefix 'bene', means something good.

If you keep these simple points in mind, your verbal score will surely improve.

Quantitative Concepts
First of all, the real reason people do badly in quantitative is fear. Fear of mathematics. But, the fact is that the questions asked in quantitative have all been done, in theory, in the eighth, ninth and tenth standards. The questions are of a higher level of difficulty, but the basic methods for solving are exactly the same.

Have a weekly plan that forces you to refresh your fundamentals in each area. Plan your schedule in such a way that you cover all the topics and the basic concepts in each topic in the next 20 to 30 days. You should try solving all the models that come in a particular chapter so that you are at least ready for the kinds of questions that may appear in the CAT.

Some chapters like numbers, geometry and mensuration, permutations and combinations, quadratic equations, inequalities, simple equations, ratio proportion and variation, percentages and profit and loss, time and work and time and distance have to be done at least a few times to ensure that you are comfortable.

Data Interpretation And Calculation Practice
There are six to seven types of data representation that come in the DI section. Spend time understanding the data and check whether you can interpret the data or not. Look at sets of data and spend as much time as required ensuring that you are able to understand the intricacies and the proper method of analysis. Then, go to the questions, and, without keeping any time limit, try to locate the relevant data to answer the questions.

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To tackle DI, you need accuracy, approximation and speed. Accuracy comes with your ability to solve and by not making silly calculation mistakes. In DI, we see that getting the right answer is more important than getting the exact answers. While solving problems, always look for approximations from the answer choices.

Analysis Of Mock CATs
You should obviously take several mock CATs as part of your preparation. You should take them at regular intervals instead of bunching them together in the last fortnight or one month before the exam. Ideally, you should take two mock CATs per week in the last two months. Of course, one of them should be the AIMCAT (All India mock CAT) on a Sunday. This will give you your relative ranking compared to aspirants across the country. The second one could be in the middle of the week, which will allow you to measure yourself against a more intimate group of test-takers.

Taking mock CATs is only one small part of your preparation. After taking any practice test -- particularly comprehensive tests like mock CATs -- you should spend enough time analyzing the results so that you get the maximum value out of the experience. If you spend two and a half hours on the exam, you should spend at least four to five hours on analysis and review. Otherwise, you'll only get partial value and won't learn your relative weaknesses and strengths.

After you've finished a test and its analysis, you're still not done. Attempt the questions which you gave a miss the first time through. This should be done without looking at the answer key to check your marks. Set a time limit to do this; it may require two to three hours depending on how many questions you left blank on your first attempt.

Now is the time to check how many of your attempts are right by using the answer key. At this stage, do not look at the solutions with explanations, if they are available in your mock CAT.

Re-attempt all those questions which you answered incorrectly, still without looking at the solutions, to see if you can correctly answer the same now. You will find that you are now able to get a few more questions correct even without looking at the solutions. This is the way to improve your learning. You do not need to set any time limit for this stage. At the end of this stage, there may still be some questions that you answer incorrectly.

Also, there is the possibility that you run across a type of question that you just do not know how to solve. For these questions, look at the solutions and review the fundamentals and theory. In the following weeks, be sure to spend time on that area separately.

When your mock CAT results are available to you from your institute (if you are taking coaching), check your section-wise results as well as area-wise results. Focus on your percentile position as well as your All-India rank in each section and in the entire paper as a whole. Discover whether or not you have crossed the cut-off marks in each section -- this is important because the IIMs require that you perform well in all the sections.

Also, check for additional marks required in various sections to reach a desired level of All-India rank. Then, fix a target for the next mock CAT that you are going to take.

A planned approach to preparation is a must for the best results. Remember, a systematic approach to exam-taking will ensure that you scale the heights required to get the institute of your choice.

ARKS Srinivas, has done his Engineering in Electronics and Communications from Osmania University, Hyderabad. After successfully getting a distinction in Engineering, he went on to do his Post Graduation in Management from IIM Calcutta. He is at present Director T.I.M.E. Mumbai and can be reached at arkss25(at)gmail(dot)com.

(T.I.M.E.)