CAT Exam Strategy explained like never before

CAT is undoubtedly the most popular as well as most challenging of all management entrance tests. It entails a definite set of skills to ace the exam and get into a top-ranked B-school. Once you are aware of the necessary traits, you will be able to devise a smart strategy for CAT preparation. In this article, we draw a direct correlation between the skills required to succeed in the CAT and those required for managerial excellence.
CAT Strategy: Important Components
Here, we have split the CAT challenge into the following three components:
  • Test Anatomy
  • Physical Dimensions of the Test
  • Test Taking Strategies
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Let us understand each of these with respect to the various management skills assessed under each dimension:
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Test Anatomy:
The anatomy is the overall fabric of the test, which is designed in a way so as to bring out the manager within you. From this perspective the test can be seen as comprising of four areas: Quantitative Ability, Data Interpretation, Logical Reasoning and Verbal Ability.
  • Quantitative Ability part can further be divided into four modules: Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry and Modern Math. Each of these has a strong reflection of managerial quotient - Arithmetic is heavy on the numbers where the questions are best attempted by understanding the underlying symmetry and patterns, thus stressing on this skill as a potent managerial strength; Algebra is based on equations, which measure the candidate's ability to understand variables and correlate them into meaningful relationships, thus emphasizing upon a candidate's ability to extend this skill to similar situations in management; Geometry is based on understanding space which is analogous to conceptualizing the market space and handling challenges like product positioning; Modern Math explores multiple possibilities implicit in a situation thus testing a candidate on lateral thinking - one of the most powerful tools for innovation and idea generation in the business world!
  • Data Interpretation evaluates the data processing and comprehension abilities of a candidate. Questions are typically based on bar graphs, line graphs, data tables, pie charts and other related statistical tools. The management angle is manifested in the fact that managers analyze huge chunks of data on a regular, daily basis and base their decisions on these data bytes. Further, it has been seen that Data Interpretation questions are popularly clustered into discrete blocks with each of these blocks comprising multiple questions (3-5 or even more) based on the same piece of information, thus facilitating the application of economies of scale. Apart from this, speculation and critical discrimination are some of the other management skills required to do well in this area of the test.
  • Logical Reasoning questions in the CAT measure the test takers on the application of logic in different situations like arrangements, coding -decoding, decision trees, alphanumeric arrays etc. Proficiency in handling these questions is indicative of a higher logical quotient which is a huge facilitator in successful handling of management challenges.
  • Verbal Ability comprises questions from areas like reading comprehension, critical reasoning, para jumbles and misfits. The past trends in CAT entrance bring us to the conclusion that reading comprehension has had the lion's share in the VARC section. The passages come from diverse areas and are of varied length. A skill that is put to the test in the VARC section is the CAT aspirant's reading abilities. Another critical factor which is assessed through this section is the reader's ability to shift his focus from one area to another. Another point to be noted is here that questions from other areas like grammar, vocabulary and sentence completion were not present in the VARC section. Students still need to devote some time in mastering topics like grammar, vocabulary, cloze tests and sentence completion as some questions do come in other major MBA entrance exams. Also, one has to keep in mind that if one has a good vocabulary; it contributes to the understanding of the passage. A candidate’s analytical skill is assessed when he comes across terms like assumption, inference, summary etc. In the reasoning questions, the para jumble questions present a different problem to CAT aspirant and his time management skills are put to the test here.
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Physical Dimensions of the Test
This component places a challenge in terms of three variables - number of questions, number of sections and the total time allotted. CAT has been experimenting with different permutations of these three variables, thus creating a constant ounce of change for the test takers to manage! For example, if the number of sections shrinks to two from the conventional three, the test taking challenges also change accordingly- now the test taker has to demonstrate competence in three clusters of questions as opposed to two, which affects the entire test taking equilibrium. The ability of the test taker to think off the feet and respond favorably to this change is a crucial determinant for succeeding in the CAT. The analogy to the business world is evident in the fact that managers with superior change management skills are more equipped to contribute in a dynamic work environment.

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Test Taking Strategies:
This part measures the test takers on a range of managerial skills, the main ones being -
  • Prioritization - This reflects the ability to assign a sequence to attempting the sections as well as questions in a particular section. The sectional priority assumes relevance when the test taking instructions give the freedom to navigate freely among sections, as opposed to a situation where the order of attempting the sections is predefined. This skill is a manifestation of the way managers prepare their 'things-to-do' list on a daily basis, where certain work areas take precedence over certain others for a successful task completion.
  • Trading off - This is the ability to decide the kind of time to be invested per question. Sensing the exit point becomes critical in minimizing the overall opportunity cost. This has particular reference to test takers who get emotionally attached to certain questions, and the spillover disturbs the entire time equation, thus putting the test takers under heightened stress. This is precisely what managers need to do while accomplishing tasks on a routine basis- putting in efforts on futile tasks dampens the managerial efficiency!
  • Stress Management - - Stress is an obvious feature of this test. The CAT takers write the test under numerous expectations, which escalate the overall stress level. The ability of a candidate to stay calm and balanced in such a situation is an important measure of his/her ability to face managerial challenges with poise and composure.
  • Time Management - This gets demonstrated in the way you distribute time judiciously among questions & sections (as applicable), thus showing the managerial ability to achieve organizational goals with limited resources, time being the most valuable resource!
In conclusion, it can be said with conviction that the different aspects of the CAT are merely endeavors to gauge the managerial potential of the test takers--- higher competence in the CAT is one of the indicators of a stronger managerial acumen!
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