Gourav Bhattacharya was in the final year of engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, when he decided to take a shot at the Common Admission Test (CAT), the sine qua non for admission to top management institutes. In between regular classes and practicals, he squeezed in a few hours every week to take a few mock tests. I didnt set any goals in terms of the total score or getting many questions right. My preparation involved solving questions from mock test papers, says Bhattacharya, who scored 100 percentile in the exam.
The key is to perform to your potential and not think about the consequences, he says. Now a student of the postgraduate programme in management at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, Bhattacharya feels the format of the test (which will be computer based from this year) hardly matters. If one knows an answer, one can mark it correctly either on paper or on computer, he says.
With the IIMs replacing the 33-year-old paper-and-pen format with a computer-based test, most aspirants are feeling jittery. This is reflected in the 17 per cent drop in CAT applications this year. Only 2,41,000 applicants registered for the test versus 2,90,000 last year. Though an IIM official attributed the dip to the economic slowdown, CAT experts have linked this to anxiety among students about the new format.
Prometric, the US-based company that will conduct the test scheduled between November 28 and December 7 (see story below), says CAT aspirants should not feel unduly worried about the exam. Decades of research have shown that test takers who are administered the same test on a computer, and then on paper, perform equally well, even among individuals who have had little or no previous experience in the use of a computer. To reduce anxiety and ease the overall transition to computer-based testing, a conscious effort has been made to maintain as much consistency with the original CAT as possible, says Ramesh Nava, vice-president and general manager, Asia Pacific, Japan and Africa, Prometric.
Vinayak Kudva, director of the Mumbai-based Institute of Management Studies (IMS), a coaching institute for CAT aspirants, feels test takers should not think about the medium but concentrate on taking mock tests on a computer every alternate day. If they are confident about their preparation, the rest will be easy, he says.
Harsh Bhimani, an IIM student who scored 99.98 percentile in CAT, says students should pay more attention to the reading comprehension and data interpretation sections as these require a fair amount of concentration on a computer screen. Also, one should not become too ambitious and pay attention only to the difficult questions. It is better to solve a few questions every day from all the sections as this helps to keep you in the groove.
In their zeal to take mock tests, most aspirants do not analyse their mistakes. This is a great blunder. Analysis is as important as taking tests. One should keep a separate day for a postmortem and identify his or her strong and weak areas, says Kudva.
Shiv Kumar, director, research and academics, Career Launcher, New Delhi, a coaching institute for CAT, thinks the best possible conditioning is to spend two hours and fifteen minutes (the allotted time for CAT) on testing at exactly the same time slot as a candidate has booked for D-day. For example, if you have booked the morning slot, start your mock test at 10am and end at 12.15pm sharp. This will help you acclimatise to testing conditions on the day of the exam. It is also important to solve CAT papers of the last five years. This will improve confidence, he says.
Rahul Reddy, director, Triumphant Institute of Management Education (TIME), Calcutta, advises students not to concentrate on any new stuff in the last few days before the exam. The last month is about consolidation and drawing up a strategy in terms of the order of attempting questions, time allocation and buffer time of at least 10 minutes for revision, he says.
However, all work and no play can prove to be fruitless. It is important to follow a normal routine and not study late in the night at least a week before the exam. One should relax and treat it as any other exam, says Dr Rohan M. Desai, an IIM student with 99.95 percentile in CAT. So just chill and give it your best shot.
1: The secure format will prevent question leaks and dummy candidates
2: The User friendly system will not scare technophobics away
3: Handy tools like highlighters and timers help an examinee make the best use of the allotted time
4: The test review button will help check status of the questions. It will take you directly to any unanswered or incomplete question
5: The 10 day testing window offers greater flexibility in choosing the exam date
6: the on screen timer (see picture left) counts down from two hours and 15 minutes. So what you see is the time remaining for you to complete the test
7: a better environment is provided by air-conditioned rooms and cosy cubicles
8: paper and pencil will be provided for rough work at all test centres
Coaching school tips
comprehension and verbal ability
1. This section needs many attempts but moderate accuracy. For example, if there are 25 questions, getting 17 to 18 of them right (60 per cent accuracy) would give you a good percentile
2. Finish the verbal ability section first to make time for reading comprehension. In verbal ability, work on verbal reasoning areas (parajumbles, para completion, summary) as these give quicker results
3. Attempt at least two reading comprehension passages. Read the passage at normal speed without trying to remember everything
4.Answer inference-based questions, author or passage-style questions last
1. This section needs moderate attempts with 80 per cent accuracy. Don’t target a certain number of questions. Let it depend on the difficulty of the paper
2. Attempt sure-shot questions first. Then, if time permits, you may try some difficult questions
3. If you are stuck on any question for more than three minutes, drop it right away
4. Pay attention to numbers, geometry and permutation and combination
1. Spend 2-3 minutes understanding data before deciding to attempt a set
2. Don’t copy large amounts of data from the screen to paper. Work only with data that are required for each question
3. Stick to mock tests. Most books on the topic are not of CAT standard
■ Candidates will have to arrive at the test centre at least two hours before schedule. If a person has registered for session I, he or she should be at the test centre by 8am though the test starts at 10am. Similarly, if a person has registered for session II, he or she should be at the test centre by 1.30pm although the exam will begin at 3.30pm and end at 6pm
■ Once the identity of the examinee has been verified, the candidate will be led to his or her designated seat. He or she will then be called to a biometric check-in station for fingerprinting. At an adjacent station, the candidate’s photograph will be taken and ID checked again before he or she is led back to the seat
■ All testing sessions will be audio and video recorded
■ There will be a 15-minute tutorial before the test to familiarise candidates with the layout of the screen and functionality available
■ Contingency plans have been put in place in the event of power outage, technical issues, medical outbreaks, natural calamities and terrorist attacks