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Cracking CAT in a way that doesn't Crush YOU

Hey! This is Pranshu. Greetings from Bangalore :) A bit about me - After graduating from BITS Pilani in ‘19, I secured a 99.95%le in CAT that year. As fate would have it though, I am currently working on building a community for Consistent Productivity at StrangerSapiens & a fellow at On Deck’s Course Creator cohort 1.

This article stems from my experience & desire about how to tackle CAT most efficiently (planning stage). We will cover more about this & the execution stage (where most people falter) in our upcoming ACE workshop for competitive exam prep on May 30th.You can find more details about it towards the end of this article.

CAT is not an exam you “crush”, it’s an exam you “crack”. Crushing a rock is tough & requires brute force while even a child could “crack” a rock with the right technique..

Thinking you can brute force your way through CAT (studying hard for as long as needed) is not only unnecessary but also counter - productive. Because an MBA is about becoming a professional in the real world. And in the real world, someone with the more efficient approach WILL win in the long run - so why train yourself to study in the brute force way at all? “All of CAT prep can be understood through Levels of 3. Your result is a consequence of how high you can climb these ladders OVERALL. Sacrificing 2 ladders to climb 1 is inefficient. But the question is : how do we know which ladders to climb in what sequence?”

But first, what even are these ladders?

Ladder 1

VARC - Rate yourself as objectively as possible on a scale of 1-10 for each of them:

  • Reading speed & Reading habit - Test, see averages & other useful facts here

  • Familiarity about the techniques, tips & patterns asked in CAT

  • Comfort level reading about common themes in CAT (Technology, Economy, etc). Find a curated list of reading resources here

  • Ability to bookmark/ makes notes of mistakes & tricks in Mocks (for revision)

  • Practice (& therefore confidence level) in getting highest possible score based on current skill in a mock in VARC - basically reducing silly mistakes & time waste

Add your scores -

  • <5 : Little chance of clearing sectional cutoff

  • 6-20 : Level 1

  • 21- 40 : Level 2

  • 40+ : Level 3

Note that “vocabulary” is not a factor in the list. Why? Because it will only matter if you have a VERY weak vocabulary. Otherwise, vocabulary will only affect scores of people who are at Level 3 already. To improve your score use this approach : see where you have the minimum marks out of 10. Try to see the easiest way to improve OVERALL score for VARC & capture the “lowest hanging fruits first”. For example, got a 1 in reading habit? Start there!

Ladder 2

DILR - See where you lie in the spectrum by reading the description for each level below :

Level 1:

  • Gets easily panicked & is not sure which set to tackle first in a mock & where to begin solving a question, less experience with mocks

  • Has little to no experience solving puzzles, riddles & is not familiar with the various types of “themes” that CAT sets usually have. Eg - arrangement, venn diagrams, graph based DI sets, etc

  • Slow with numbers & arithmetic, doesn’t know how to properly use on-screen calculator, has trouble keeping more than 2-3 things in mind at once

Level 2:

  • Comfort level with various themes DILR sets have. Knows best practices & methods to REPRESENT information systematically on paper. For eg : do you know the procedure to represent a 4 set Venn Diagram? KNowing this can be difference between solving a set quickly & never solving it

  • Has given enough mocks & studied enough questions to gauge difficulty level & time required to solve a set with a high degree of accuracy. Basically, you get a “feel” for the set even when quickly skimming through

  • Makes notes of techniques/ tricks or finds a way to save things for revision - could be mix of bookmarks/ screenshots/ diary/ videos etc

Level 3:

  • High arithmetic speed with %s, averages etc. Has practiced & gotten used to the On-screen calculator. Fairly easy sets with long calculations do not daunt him/ her

  • Has trained the mind to abandon the set if it’s wasting time & keep a calm & focused head when solving. Makes minimum blunders

  • Has strategies in place according to strengths/ weaknesses + Level of Difficulty of the paper overall along with individual sets

You may not lie squarely in one level but might be, let’s say at Level 1.5 here. The process to improve is simple :

  • Find out your 1-2 WEAKEST points from the list above

  • Use YouTube/ Sectional Books/ Course material to improve them

  • Don’t lose hope. Keep practicing - & making notes

  • Make sure to Revise notes & practice updated strategy in mocks

  • Move onto next 1-2 weakest points

The biggest mistake you can make is trying to improve in ALL directions at the same time & then feeling guilty for not improving fast or having inconsistent scores. Also, do not give too much thought to Mock scores, esp in the start. The actual result is what matters.

Ladder 3

QA -

Stick to 1 or MAXIMUM 2 resources (books/ series). Ideally they should have practice questions arranged in a Level Of Difficulty (LOD) order. Many resources do this. With maths, it’s the easiest to see our weaknesses & strengths so that we can apply the “lowest hanging fruits strategy”. I used Arun Sharma as my single resource (apart from practice in Mocks). It already has the syllabus divided into various chapters with each chapter having Level 1, 2 & 3 questions Overall, the worst thing you can do is decide you will start from Chapter 1 in a book & do ALL questions for all difficulty levels before moving on to Chapter 2 & so on. This is a “brute force” method which will definitely frustrate you & make your prep much harder than needed.

Here’s a step by step guide to use a maths resource for CAT which has built in LOD :

  • Have a practical but ambitious target for Maths sectional percentile. For eg, if you feel like you can get 98%le in this section, aim for 99% & take it seriously. Although score vs percentiles keep changing every year, use the score required in maths in last year’s CAT as a baseline. Aiming for 99%le? Make the score that fetched a person that %le last year as your baseline aim, say X marks

  • See the volume of questions CAT asks for different “areas in maths” eg. Geometry, Arithmetic, etc. These are not exact but do give a rough idea. See your strengths & weaknesses for every such area. See how you can reach a score of X. Eg : Let’s say CAT had only questions from Geometry (40%) & Arithmetic (60%). Your aim is to get 50% questions right. Your geometry is strong so think you should AIM to get 3 out of every 4 questions right in Geometry (30% of Qs). Say Arithmetic is weak so 1 in 3 questions for Arithmetic (20% of Questions). It takes you to the 50% Qs mark if you add both sections. Do this exercise by including all the 5-6 “areas” CAT has. Remember all this is to give you a rough idea when you are STARTING your prep. Don’t expect CAT to have the same distribution of questions every year.

  • Practice till LOD 1 for all chapters unless they are BOTH a weakness & make a small %age of questions asked in CAT maths historically (last 4 years). Leave those chapters which fit this description for now

  • Continue till LOD 2 for all chapters that are NOT your weakness. Most chapters will lie in this bucket.

  • Do LOD 3 for chapters which are your strengths AND are not rare in exam

  • Circle back to the chapters tackling the untouched ones 1st. So if you haven’t started chapter A, are at LOD 1 for chapter B & at LOD 2 for C, tackle them in the order A-B-C

Some pointers to keep in mind:

  • Make sure you are highlighting / making notes of important concepts/ questions to revise later in a reasonable amount of time

  • Having a good mock strategy is equally important. There are many videos talking about this on YouTube but essentially the aim is to get as many marks as possible in the mock given the PRESENT knowledge level

Ladder 4


Here’s how to think about using Mocks for your prep at different levels:

Level 1:

  • Give 2 previous year CAT papers in mock format & 3 external mocks. EVERYONE scores bad in the first few mocks so don’t fret. Just aim to get a feeling for the exam & difficulty level of various sections w.r.t. your skill level

  • Search Mock strategy for CAT on YouTube. Watch 10-15 most viewed videos. Understand the different tips & write them down. Then form your own opinion about what approach will suit YOU best

Level 2:

  • Start giving mocks diligently & train your stamina. Take your time to analyze/ make notes of EVERY mistake/ technique/ concept. It might take 7-8 hrs per mock in the start to do this (apart from the 2hr mock). Give the time.

  • 20 - 40 mock tests are enough depending on the candidate. Make a process to highlight / make notes for revision. It will depend on the platform 7 your comfort with pen-paper/ digital notes etc. Refine this process in the 1st 4-7 mocks/ past papers that you give.

Level 3:

  • Reach the 15 Mock goal (bare minimum). From this point on start tracking your silly mistakes & strategy for each section in the mocks. Work on having a fast paced but calm attempt on every question

  • Give sectionals to improve scores & practice sections that need more effort. Revise notes & previous mocks to improve sectional performance. Implement & test various attempt strategies to improve accuracy & scores in each section depending on your personality & prep level.

I sincerely hope this helps you with your CAT prep planning. One most common issue with candidates is problems with executing their plans & the emotional & productivity aspect of this.

As mentioned at the start, at StrangerSapiens I am personally hosting the ACE (Actionable ideas for Competitive Execution) workshop to tackle this exact problem. The price is just 50 Rs & it will be a 2hr session on May 30th. Check out more details & register for ACE here.

For all of you , here’s hoping for a fruitful & efficient CAT preparation season ahead :)

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