The “Quantitative Ability” and “Data Interpretation & Logic” areas of the CAT have always assumed horrendous proportions – non engineers or test takers without math in 10+2/ graduation dread these for two reasons:
- A virtual alienation from math post matriculation and therefore this subject being a once upon a time pursuit.
- A fear of comparative disadvantage precipitating from the perception that their engineer counterparts are more equipped to score in these sections.
Engineers on the other hand, have had different reasons for not being treated well by these sections—
- A streak of overconfidence, stemming from the fact that their quantitative and data analysis skills have been well validated by the engineering curriculum and that this is merely an extension of the same.
- Emotional anchoring to questions which are prima facie simple, but end up consuming proportionately more time, and therefore ruffle up the numeric equilibrium of the engineers.
The above is only an attempt to rebuff a correlation between the test takers’ performance in this section and their academic background. This has been further validated by the fact that the IIMs have opened this test to students of all graduation streams. The CAT is not a test of one’s ability to apply mathematical formulae or to mug up the theorems therein, but a test of Management Skills.
Let us try to understand this contextually, starting with the “Quantitative Ability” part, with the module which is apparently a test taker’s delight—Arithmetic. This module is replete with questions on numbers and most of them are based on the principle of symmetry, typically questions on divisibility:
Example 1: What is the remainder when 784 is divided by 342? --CAT ’99
Example 2: What is the 288th term of the series a,b,b,c,c,c,d,d,d,d,e,e,e,e,e……? --CAT 2003 cancelled version).
The analogy is that symmetry is a widely applicable management concept and facilitates a better understanding of things, processes and even human behavior.
The next module in the Quantitative section is Algebra, where the age old topic, “Time, Speed & Distance”, decides the flavor. Questions in this topic are based on the correlation between three variables-time, speed and distance, mathematically configured as Distance=Speed*Time. The analogy to management is that managers are multi taskers and they have to correlate multiple tasks efficiently and effectively. The students’ dexterity in solving questions on this topic is a basic indicator of their ability to multi-task. Geometry, as the next module, mirrors your ability to understand space. In-fact, managers operate in a very dynamic environment and battles are fought in “markets”. Students’ ability to understand geometry enhances their connect with spatial configuration, and different points in the XY plane merely replicate the diverse players in the “market”. Most interestingly, is the last module -Modern Math- where the popularly voted “gray topic”- Permutations & Combinations- is a significant contributor. This topic has the capacity to unleash gross stinkers requiring an ability to explore a wide spectrum of possibilities.
The analogy to management is that this ability measures one’s capacity for lateral and ‘out of the box’ thinking, which is a huge upside for success in today’s world.
Next is the “Data Interpretation & Logic” area, with three identified test areas over the years—data interpretation (DI), data sufficiency (DS) and logical reasoning (LR). Questions in DI span across a range of statistical tools like line charts, bar graphs, data tables or a combination thereof. These questions do not just mirror one’s numerical aptitude but are designed to test one’s data comprehension and data processing ability, which in turn authenticates a range of managerial skills like speculation, extrapolation, strategy formulation, positioning in a cluttered space etc. DS is an area which validates ones’s ability to take decisions on the basis of least available data, a trait which measures a managers’s efficiency in a “pace dominated” business world. LR questions test one’s ability to grasp complex situations and solve problems in a strategic and effective manner, a skill which empowers an individual to tactfully handle real life business situations.
In a nutshell, these two sections are overtly a test of one’s quantitative and data analysis skills, but covertly and more importantly, an indicator of one’s “managerial quotient”. One needs to develop a manager’s approach to connect with the questions in these sections, and not merely look at them from a “math perspective”. In fact, a Business School is like a processing unit, where the final output is a Manager and not a Mathematician!