How one can overcome the Common Admission Test (CAT) exam, an adversary, which changes its characteristics at will: essentially a chameleon? The answer is obvious: by becoming a chameleon yourself! Mercifully, even in these uncertain times, the old adage 'diamond cuts diamonds' still holds. In layman terms, this implies that no preconceived, static, iron clad, watertight strategy can ensure that you sail through the CAT storm. You need to be as agile, as flexible and as nimble footed as this strange CAT.So, the best rule to follow is 'throw all the rules out' for none is holy enough to hold universally. Let me justify how all this makes sense. Consider the following:

  1. CAT in 2003 was what I would call a plain-vanilla CAT with English, DI (data interpretation) and Quantitative aptitude (QA), with 50 questions in each section and two hours' duration. To crack it, you needed to be great in one section and above average in other two, ideally giving 40 minutes to each section as a rule of the thumb. Questions were predictable in the sense that they were of the three standard types, viz. easy, medium and difficult and your task was simple to solve the easy ones and skip the difficult ones. Speed was a critical competency both in the sections of DI and English. Since, many questions were easy, so the faster you could read, the faster you could solve was the winning mantra.
  2. Come 2004, and CAT went for differential marking and the total number of questions were reduced to 123. Now the simple strategy of 40 minutes to each section held no longer. Further, the sitter questions were presented in a disguised manner, hidden in a maze of 2-mark questions, while many of the one-mark questions were literal brainteasers. Hence, selection of right questions and rejection of difficult questions was becoming a critical competency to succeed in CAT. Speed was still at a premium.
  3. CAT further reduced its size to a mere 90 questions in 2005, thereby highlighting the significance of the 'art of filtering' further. However, with only 90 questions in all, and a time limit of 2 hours, speed was quickly losing its premium value, more so since the simple calculation-based DI questions were metamorphosising into LRDI (Logical reasoning based data interpretation) puzzles, coupled with English becoming increasingly inferential in nature, with passages turning into cryptic crosswords. For example, consider an excerpt from a passage that appeared in CAT 2005.

Further, there was no section, which could be called easy. Instead of speed, comprehension was at a premium. Ironically, while it is much easier to increase reading speed, increasing comprehension is an altogether different ballgame, so 'faster you read better you are' was irrelevant. However, the ability to eliminate wrong answer choices was becoming an important skill, as it was easier to strike out wrong options than to figure out the correct one.

It was in 2006 that CAT went global and moved into an era of five option choices on the lines of GMAT. Further, the English section also became more GMAT-like, and hence nightmarishly difficult. It had even tougher reading comprehension passages and a whole gamut of critical reasoning questions, and an easier QA section.

The similarities between CAT and GMAT did not end here. The number of questions further shrank to a mere 75, while the overall time limit was raised to 2.5 hours. This sounded the death knell to the once reverred strategy of speed coupled with the ability to filter out sitter questions. Now sitter questions had become extinct save in the Quant section. The ability to comprehend, infer and logically extrapolate was of prime importance now, irrespective of the section.

Further, the strategy of eliminating options which till CAT 2005 was extremely useful, became a less important tool because with five option choices, it was an arduous task to eliminate four wrong answers instead of the earlier three, which was not an easy task. Lastly, differential marking also ended.

From a student's perspective, the clear moral of the story is, 'stop wasting time and energy' to predict the future CAT patterns. It is futile to do that, for essentially it is a hidden adversary, which will reveal itself only on the D-day (November 18, in 2007). The CAT 2007 could be a 60-mark, six-option exam, or a 200-questions, four-section paper or a 100-question sectionless paper, or a paper with differential negative marking or an essay-type paper at its weirdest most. The bottomline is that you can't know, so stop trying to predict the colour of a chameleon.

The million-dollar question that you as a student should ask is, if I cannot predict CAT 2007, and if there is no sure strategy to tame it, then what should I do, other than visiting a temple daily and praying?

Ironically, the answer is very simple yet again! If you can't know your adversary, then know yourself well! My advice is a very simple strategy of the following two golden rules:

  1. Know thyself. That is, know your strengths and weaknesses in a thorough and comprehensive manner. What are you really good at? LRDI, critical reasoning, geometry or algebra or whatever. You need to identify your strengths by grinding your nose in your subject theory books and sharpening your mental acumen to the level that irrespective of the nature of question thrown at you in those areas, objective or subjective or five options or differential marking. The format, marking scheme or overall time should not bother you. Play as per your strengths and not as per any anticipated weaknesses of CAT.
  2. Second is the rule, a very popular one in contemporary management practices: situational leadership. It implies that the tactic (and not strategy) which will work best in any particular CAT has to be decided by you there and then while sitting in the examination hall, depending on how the paper looks and  what your strengths are. This decision has to be taken right there in the first five to seven minutes of the exam. The ownership, risks and rewards for this decision will be completely yours. This may prove to be the most critical decision separating you from the IIMs.

The silver lining is that you can use several mock CATs to hone your tactics and test your mettle.

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Prashant Gaur on 2009-03-01 23:56:00 wrote,

Nice one..!!!