We have just finished SimCAT 9 and if the scores & percentile charts are any indication, test-takers are beginning to find their footing. But here is the catch — for every set of people hitting the 100s for the first time, there will be a set hitting 120s, a set hitting 135s and a set hitting 150s as well for the first time. So some of you while feeling happy to see high scores will also be feeling a bit of a bother when you see your percentiles.
Well firstly, the happiness is warranted so don’t let the percentiles bog you down. What you need to now do is to see your scores, percentiles and the task ahead in the next 60 days in the right perspective.
You have currently maximised your pre-existing capabilities
Each of one of us has a natural scoring range or set of preferences when it comes to both preparing for and attempting questions:
- RC over VA or VA over RC
- Jumbled Paras over Complete Theme or Summary
- Everything else over Grammar!
- LR over DI
- Numbers over Arithmetic, Arithmetic over Geometry
- Everything else over P & C and Trigonometry
The above list is in no way meant to be universal but you get the drift — we have our pet likes and our pet hates.
During the course of the season you have managed to maximise your strengths in terms of getting maximum return from them. You don’t just feel you are good at something but you are getting a good number of scores from the specific topics or question-types or areas.
More importantly, now that most of you would have attended the Last Mile To CAT sessions (I am travelling to Kochi to do one there this Sunday) you will have found your feet in terms of
- choosing and leaving the right questions
- not getting stuck with particular questions
- not jumping into sets without seeing the other sets on offer etc.
So currently you have leveraged your strengths and improved your test-taking efficiencies. The question is where do you go from here.
Assuming you have no more issues with respect to question selection, how do you go from a 100 to a 120, from a 120 to a 135, from a 135 to 150 and from a 150 to a 180.
Your biggest gains are going to come from the unturned stones
The phrase, leaving no stone unturned, is very relevant in this context. What are these unturned stones?
- VA question types for which you do not have a strategy to solve but just go by gut-feel
- DI and LR types that you typically will mark for later not because of the difficulty level but because you are not comfortable with them, say calculation-based DI or Logical DI
- Specific QA topics that you know you do not know, say partitioning or similar triangles or remainder theorem or polynomials
From now on what will matter is not what you know and what your are good at but all the little bits that you do not know.
The biggest unturned stone
The biggest unturned stone or rather boulder for most test-takers is Data Interpretation.
An analysis of the SimCATs has revealed that when LR was easy, the DI-LR sectional scores went up (everyone did well and hence your percentile will not have gone up commensurately) but when DI was easy, scores did not go up similarly.
That tells a really big story about where the abilities as well as preferences of test-takers lie. We are happy with our doing seating arrangements, playing sports sets and finding out that the professor who is from Ahmedabad teaches Finance!
Imagine what a big difference it will make to your percentiles if on test-day the DI is easier than LR and you have no bias towards either and always go for the easiest sets. While a bulk of the test-takers in the first 30 minutes of the section will be fiddling around with the LR sets and will start panicking when they find that the sets are not yielding themselves willingly, you will pick out the sitters in the DI in the first 30-40 and come to LR and pick out the easiest one.
You will have set yourself up for a great sectional and hence overall percentile.
Your biggest gains in percentiles will come from areas where others’ weaknesses lie.
For those interested in Finance this is not very different from the concept of arbitrage.
If you ask me not having good DI skills is actually unpardonable for an MBA aspirant since it is the one area on the CAT that is most directly relevant to the life of an MBA later, not number systems, not advanced remainders, not abstract RCs and not sports sets.
Even if we keep the relevance aspectaside, not being good at DI and number-crunching is like trying to play T20 without trying to hit the ball out of the park!
A bigger implication is that it will also have a direct bearing on your speed when it comes to Quant, specifically your ability to execute solutions in a trice.
What do I mean by being good at DI?
One SimCAT where the DI section was representative of what I would call classic DI skills is the DI section in SimCAT 6.
Someone who is good at DI should be able to solve 3 sets of out 4, 12 questions, in 20 minutes flat and get 36 marks. In 30-40 minutes you will get 36 marks but those who understand DI coneptually and are good at approximations will really crash the time.
So those of you who have not done it, head there and measure you DI ability.
The other source to polish your DI skills is the best video explanations you can find of previous CAT DI sets (as well SimCAT DI sets) [https://cat100percentile.com/tag/di/]
So, it is high time you get off your LR horse and try to tame the DI stallion ; the mantra —DI or DIE!
Learn to solve every single SimCAT question.
My students will know that I myself cleared the CAT in my second attempt and a big reason for this was the fact that my first attempt was built only around my strengths; a lot hinged on the paper falling to my strengths areas, which alas did not happen on test-day (way back in the Decemeber of the year 2000).
In my second attempt I did not focus at all on my strengths. I used to spend hours after a every test trying to get comfortable with the areas and topics I did not like; I did not get up from my analysis until I had learnt how to solve each and every question in that paper (only then did I go down to the beach to meet my friends).
There are no better set of questions for you to practice than the SimCATs. A lot of us at IMS take the actual CAT every year and we try to incorporate the types that have turned up in the last few years in the SimCATs.
So before you solve 10 other problems from 10 other sources, learn to solve each and every problem from the SimCATs using the REVISE tool that is available.
Just do it for the for 1 SimCAT and see how many new applications of concepts you will learn. It is a great way of getting to know those painful DI and LR sets; why search for tough sets to practice when you have all the sets you have left in the SimCATs! You will find how many things you thought were out of your league were actually not all that tough.
As we said during the Last Mile To CAT sessions — familiarity breeds attempts!
If you are weak conceptually in some Quant areas and have not done any work on them then start from the BRMs. If you are familiar and just need to brush up and do application-level stuff then go to www.cat100percentile.com
You next gains are going to come from building execution muscle
I always keep saying that most of the students and I will both know how to execute a problem say around the 45 second to 1 minute mark but from there to the answer I would have gone in 30 seconds having gone by the fastest route to goal while they will have taken 2 more minutes having executed the traditional and more importantly written solution.
To solve more questions you need to pick up the pace while solving and this is not going to happen unless you stop writing each and every line of the solution on paper.
So firstly, start by reducing the number of steps you write.
Go to the paper only when you know that a particular step or calculation has to be written for you to be abnle to execute it.
To use an analogy, stop saying my name is so and so and just say your name.
Going from your current score to the higher levels will require you to put on some execution muscle. If you need to put on muscle you need to lift heavy weights.
How do you lift heavy weights, not by doing tough questions or sets, no.
When I say adding muscle I am not referring to the ability to solve tough question types that is equivalent to not getting out on exceptionally good balls.
What I am referring to is the ability to convert every 1 into a 2, a 2 into a 3 and an okay ball into a six.
Take one Quant section in a test, preferably a take home SimCAT and try to solve chose and solve only the Type A questions without putting pen on paper.
Just fold your hands, engage with the right problems (only Type As), engage with every line of the Type A problems, visualise the calculations and push yourself to the limit to solve without pen on paper. It will hurt your brain, you might feel exhausted after it but you need to feel your grey cells burn. Do not be bothered about time or score, just push yourself.
You will not know what you are capable of unless you try. Those who have gone on treks or run marathons, will know how at a particular point you would have felt you cannot go further but once you cross that threshold you get a second wind and you end up going much farther than if you had never pushed at all.
Take a few risks, be a bit cavalier, try out new iterations in your Take Home SimCATs
In the LMTC session here I had suggested that test-takers attempt VA first for a change and then RC. A few tried and got great results, a few tried but did not see results, some might not have tried .
Those who tried and did not succeed, I am sure, will immediately revert to their old approach of RC first.
It is a bit surprising if you see how long people will stick with an old strategy that is not going anywhere rather than try a new one and how we give the new one fewer chances to succeed before reverting to the old.
What is even more surprising is how test-takers barely try out stuff during the SimCATs. Every SimCAT kind of becomes sacred, and the fear of failure so high that people do not take any risks (even those whose Iw ant to become an entrepreneur!).
Okay, so the SimCATs are sacred, why not use the Take Home tests to try out different iterations strategies?
- Take VA first instead of RC
- Start with DI instead of LR
- Attempt Quant with hands folded!
If you do not try out different stuff during practice you will not discover new ways to improve.
My favourite footballer (among the ones who I have watched while they were active) is Zidane and when asked about his favourite player, he said it was Ronaldo (not the Cristiano variety) and he added it was because the kind of stuff Ronaldo showed in practice was phenomenal.
When a player does something outrageous, something that makes you go — how the hell did he do that! (like the one in which AB De turns the gun on Steyn) — you can rest assured that he has tried such stunts in practice.
You practice as much to get better at what you know as to explore and discover new possibilities. The best example is Roger Federer discovering the approach he named SABR (Sneak Attack By Roger) in practice and used it to good effect to upset his opponents rhythm. You might say — Sir, that is Roger Federer Sir, but the point is that despite having possibly the best game ever, he tried out new stuff. Since our normal game is not at that level we should try to go beyond what we normally do!
Don’t settle, push the pedal to the floor
You will see from the way scores and percentiles have moved that your earlier goals of doing 3-4 DI-LR sets or so many questions in QA now have to be discarded.
You can’t be happy and content after doing 4 sets in a moderate DI-LR section. You need to know that there will be guys who will do 5-6. So do not be happy driving well and being in control at 40-50 KMPH; keep pushing the accelerator, keep trying to squeeze out the maximum from every single drop of fuel, push till the pedal hits the floor.
After a point taking tests moves closer to F1 racing; one has to be driving at a breakneck speed absolutely at the limits. My biggest highs during my CAT prep days was that feeling of having pushed myself to the limit during a test (not before or after it).
For some inspiration watch this — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9moTfQS2U78
Until the next post — keep prepping, keep pushing (and yeah, avoid taking what I said to heart while you are driving!)