How a 99.76 percentiler's brain works during the QA section
So, I'm finally writing for Simran’s blog which I can proudly admit to having followed since Day 1. Day 0 actually since I’m writing this before her blog is even up.
I’m a (now ex-) lawyer who worked in the field of trade marks and sometimes copyright. I basically helped cool brands prevent not-so-cool third parties from selling fake products and fooling customers. Remember that time you had to fake a smile when your grandma bought you that “Adibas” tracksuit? Or the time the “Brislie” branded water tasted a bit off? Simply put, my firm would take manufacturers like those to court. I’m practically batman.
In any case, I gave the CAT in 2019 and scored 182.38 marks (a percentile of 99.76). A sizeable chunk of that score came from the QA section and I believe that my take-aways from this section are worth sharing.
To give you some background and explain why my take matters, I present to you the following facts:
1. The last time I studied math was back in 2013, the year I gave my 12th boards. While I did score a 99 in math, my skills were super rusty after 5 years of law school.
2. Riding on a 5 year old high of that score, I sat for the CAT exam in 2018 with the kind of confidence that would put a Field’s medalist to shame. That didn't exactly work out and I received a scaled score of 7.97 and a sectional percentile of 53.88.
3. Fast forward to next year, I was able to bump my score upto 51.93 (sectional percentile 97.43) using the tips and tricks mentioned below.
Before I go into what went right, here’s what went wrong in 2018 and their easy fixes:
With those out of the way, here are some simple tips I used to boost my score:
1. Start off by tackling mark heavy topics like arithmetic and algebra. Smaller chapters like permutations, logarithms, etc. may be done later. While the aim should be to complete all chapters, completing the heavier ones first gives you a boost in mock performance and builds confidence. Once prep is done, a mixed set of questions should be targeted.
2. Don’t spend too much time on niche concepts like finding remainders when nonsensically large numbers are divided by primes. Those sort of questions are mock favourites but rarely appear in the actual exam. This time is better spent strengthening the concepts mentioned earlier.
3. Start giving mocks even when your preparation is incomplete. I’ve seen many put these off for later and it just never works out. At the very least you get to practice LRDI sets or try the options approach in QA.
4. How does one solve a math question without actually solving it? Use the options, silly! Imagine a terrible dhaba where (almost) nothing is available. Do you (a) keep coming up with dishes from memory to check the availability of; or do you (b) start off by asking straight things from the menu? If you picked (b), your tryst with the options approach has already begun. The waiter might not even spit in your food now!
Before I digress further, understand that using options generally involves stuff like selecting a reasonable option and plugging it into the equation to see if it still holds true. Knowing when this approach works and what option may be deemed ‘reasonable’, now that requires practice. You could also follow Mr. Patrick D’Souza’s road to 100 series on YouTube. His approaches will blow your mind!
5. There are certain questions where a figure has been drawn and the length of a segment must be determined. If the words “Figure not to scale” are not visible, I’ve found success by simply trying to measure the figure as displayed on the screen. It might sound crazy but it works! In most cases, the options look like irrational numbers so just select the one which is closest to your estimation.
6. It helps to memorise certain popular numbers and properties which you’ll see from time to time (30-60-90 triangle, pythagoras triplets, values of √2, √3 and √5, and what divides 1001).
7. Be open to new approaches! Let me give you an example. Gaitonde takes 5 days to complete a work (something legal of course). Kuku takes 6 days to do the same. How many days will be required if both work together? Assuming you’re familiar with the traditional approach, try this new one. Assume the total work is 30 units. To get the speed at which both of them work, we simply divide the total work by the number of days.
So, Rate of work (Gaitonde) = 30 / 5 = 6 units per day
and Rate of work (Kuku) = 30 / 6 = 5 units per day
Clearly we’ve assumed the total work to be the LCM because it makes calculation much easier.
To get the number of days the duo will take to finish the job, we just need to find their combined rate of work i.e. 5 + 6 or 11 units/day. The final answer is as simple as dividing the total work by this number or 30/11 days.
While it may seem lengthy on paper, trust me it saves a lifetime of work during the exam.
Finally, find a strategy that works! I saw better results by simply trying to get through the section in two sweeps. The first sweep would be used to get through simpler questions and to mark medium level questions for review (or as Simran would say, solve the A questions and identify the B questions for later).
Since there’s enough time and really no dearth of resource material, do give the above strategies a try. If you have any positive feedback, do let me know. It would really stroke my ego.