Now that the notification is out and the CAT is out of the bag, a lot of test-takers have begun their preparation in all earnestness. It is a huge relief to know that the pattern is going to remain the same. For test-takers taking the CAT for the first or second time it might not seem like a big deal but for those such as yours truly it is in fact a really big deal.
If I am not wrong this is only the second or third time that the CAT pattern has remained absolutely unchanged (the two or three times being since the test went computer-based in 2009). One of the reasons for me taking the CAT every year has been the novelty factor — what’s new this time, what new question types have they come up with, how does the relative difficulty level of this year compare with the previous one etc.
Now that test-takers have gone into the serious-prep mode, the big question that I get asked or not asked is — how many SimCATs should I take?
The answer depends on your history with the CAT.
How many mocks should first-time CAT aspirants take?
We need to first define what a first-time CAT aspirant means. A first-time CAT aspirant is not one who has never taken the actual CAT but one who has never really given a serious shot to the CAT before. You might have taken the CAT two or three times by now with barely any prep going into the test and you might have even scored a 90 but I will still classify you as a first-time CAT aspirant since you would have taken 10 Mocks at best that too spread across two or three years.
For someone to be called a genuine repeat-taker he or she should have taken at the least 15-25 Mocks for their first attempt and the attempt should have been a fairly serious one.
While this might seem a bit extreme, we are not talking about getting a 90 or a 95 here, we are talking about getting a 99, which approximately means a rank under 2000 — a achieveable feat but not without full commitment and without the right effort.
So if you are a first time aspirant I would say you should take a minimum of 25 tests and push yourself to take all 40 tests — 15 proctored plus 25 take-home.
Why do I need to take so many Mocks?
If a GMAT aspirant had posed the same question I would have said even 5 Mocks will suffice if test-taking stamina is not a problem and 10-12 Mocks if you need to build up the capability to sit for 3.5 hours.
As always the situation can be best explained using a cricketing analogy. Imagine having to play on the exact same pitch over and over again. How much practice will you require to get a hang of the pitch? Not a lot; your ability to reach a score will depend on your ability to handle the different kinds of bowling and not different kinds of pitches.
If you know you have a problem against left-arm spin, playing more matches is not going to solve the problem, it is a problem that you have solve in the nets. The GMAT is such a test — it is like playing on a pitch that will stay true on all 5 days and one can hit through the line trusting that the pitch is not going to play any tricks.
The CAT though is a different beast altogether — no two tests absolutely alike. For example, in CAT 2015 the RCs were significantly easier than in CAT 2014 whereas the DI-LR sets were quite a few notches higher.
So much is the variation between the levels every year that the test ends up rewarding only those who are prepared to handle every eventuality — if each of the areas RC, VA, DI, LR, QA can be easy, medium or difficult then the number of possible variations in levels of difficulty are 243.
What makes it doubly tricky is that you need to assess this on the day of the test, while taking the test. Those of you who have taken SimCAT 5 would have found the VA-RC section a breeze while taking it and with a score of 50 you would have assumed that your VA-RC ability has gone up and that you will see a high percentile, only to find that even 50 was not enough for you to clear the cut-off.
So when the section is easy you should have known that this is such an easy pitch that even a 180 (T20) will get easily overhauled.
To develop this judgment you need to take as many tests as possible — knowing concepts will be 30% of the job done, knowing to apply them is another 30%, test-taking skills comprise the last 40%.
This is one of the reasons why we give you so much variation in the SimCATs — to expose you to the variations possible on test-day before hand so that you realise the importance of having the all-round skills to ace the test and develop the ability to judge the paper.
How many tests should I take as a repeat-taker?
If you have given the CAT a really serious shot previously I would suggest that 15 tests will suffice but then it doesn’t hurt to take more tests!
Will I have time to take 40 tests?
I know that given your work or college schedule (since this is placements semester) it might seem almost impossible to take so many tests; you might read this and think I do not have the time for this.
Yes, if you look at the time at your disposal through a traditional lens you will not have time:
- On weekdays you return home only by late evening and then need some time to freshen up and have dinner, it is tough to concentrate and take a full-length test.
- Also, if you are only taking tests and analysing them then there is no time to build concepts.
I fully agree that it is not possible to take a full-length test properly after a day’s work (hard work or not does not matter). Even if you muster the will, the mind and body give up after an hour or two, forcing you to either quit the test or click your way to the finish.
In the mornings since you have to leave before 9 it is impossible to take the test unless you get up at 5 but that as we know is even more impossible (there are few things as wondrous as sleep, especially early morning sleep :-)).
We can watch as many inspirational videos as possible, we know about Obama and others who are 5 A.M.ers but unless you have a flight to catch every day or you have a coach who is by your side day in and day out, it is tough to do it when you know that there is no immediate consequence if you do not wake up at 5 (I know a few of you do it and I think it is highly commendable).
A better plan is to start thinking laterally about solving this problem by first removing all barriers and taking a relook at the problem.
What do you need?
- three hours of uninterrupted time that you can have everyday irrespective of work schedule or college commitments
What are the constraints?
- tough to sit for three hours after a long day’s work
- tough to get up at 5 A.M.
- After you get home have a nice bath, eat something, relax (not by staring at a screen) and then sleep for 60 to 90 minutes.
- Wake up, brush your teeth and start a test
Th best way to relax and then fall asleep is by reading the newspaper — you will slowly fall asleep (do not forget to set the alarm before you start reading!)
This is something I feel you should everyday whether you are taking a test or not since prepping for 3 hours at a stretch is great way to build the mental stamina required to last the entire duration of the test othersie you will find yourself away during the last section.
Make a calendar leading up top 4-December
The next step is to draw up a calendar to take all the 40 tests. The dates of the SimCATs are fixed you know how many tests you have and how many weeks you have, so do the Math of how many tests you need to take per week and block out dates for those — you can use an excel-sheet or the calendar app of your phone or make a chart but ensure you write or type things down.
In between the tests, use the same time-slot to work on the areas you need to improve upon based on your analysis of the test.
You have your work cut out now, so time to get cracking!
I know the post on how to handle the QA section is pending, will get that out soon.