Quant basics: Go from Math Normie to QA Jedi
Updated: Jul 18, 2020
Now math can be many things. It can be confusing. It can be challenging. And it can be incredibly fun. But the one thing it’s not is something that should be feared.
In case you rolled your eyes at those last two sentences, you’re not alone. So bear with me.
What qualifies me to talk about this? After 7 years of having nothing to do with the subject, I was in the same position as you may find yourself now. But I managed to go from a scaled score of 7.97 and a sectional percentile of 53.88 in the QA section of CAT 2018 to 51.93 (or a sectional percentile of 97.43) in CAT 2019 in only a few short months of preparation.
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If you’re like me, you’ve dreamed of going to a top tier B-school for years and years. Your reasons may be different (career progression, transition or even redemption), but your goal remains the same – to get that coveted seat. The only thing standing in your way, however, is a fairly doable entrance exam.
Now that seems easy enough, you think to yourself. That is until you realize that the final leg of that exam involves math or ‘Quantitative Aptitude’.
You look at the questions one by one and they make lesser and lesser sense as you go on. Suddenly that dream starts feeling distant. You get flashbacks from class 10th and you lovingly remember class 11th when you opted for commerce without maths. You tell yourself that you can’t take this again as your hands start shaking. You vomit all over your new laptop. Maybe I exaggerated but you know what I mean.
As you can expect, I’m here to help you get past that fear and actually score decently in CAT quant. After all, why should a small five-letter word dictate what dreams you can and cannot chase? (please don’t use this argument to do something criminal while discounting the word ‘law’ just because it has fewer letters).
So here are a few basic nuggets of wisdom to help you jump over this silly little obstacle:
Step 1: Change your outlook
You’ll need an open mind for this one. If you rolled your eyes again, feel free to move on to the next section.
In any case, the harsh reality is that you can’t be scared of math and think of cracking the CAT at the same time. In fact, as you should already know, you’ll be facing more and more of it in B-school.
So the way I see it, you have 2 options:
1. You could try and make peace with the subject, understanding that your relationship with it is far from over; or
2. You could do a complete 180 and fall in love with the subject! For that to happen, learn to appreciate its beauty. Just look at the beautiful way mathematical patterns (like the Fibonacci) present themselves in nature:
Recognizing this 'lovely' pattern didn’t require rote learning or the unnecessary application of formulae. It took imagination and creativity.
And that’s all CAT quant wants from you - to be imaginative enough to see the patterns. This will become clearer and clearer as you proceed to step 2.
Step 2: Practice basics
We can now come back to reality. If you’re like I was a few months ago, you’re beyond ‘rusty’. You’re also sick and tired of hearing the words ‘basics’ again and again. But basics are what helped me the most!
Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can avoid. On the bright side, CAT does not require any of the concepts that made math feel insufferable (by which I mean that you won’t be seeing the letters dx or the ∫ symbol anywhere. Promise).
It’s literally just math you’ve already studied in class 9th and 10th which means the best place to start is within the ‘comforting’ arms of your NCERT textbook. You won’t even have to get out of your house to get these since they’re freely available online (click here for 9th and here for 10th).
These will be your base. Your foundation. Your bedrock. You rely on these whenever you feel lost and need a starting point.
But don’t just start reading from page 1. There’s a specific way to go ahead with these, which leads us to step 3.
Step 3: The roadmap
QA success requires confidence. You’ll work twice as hard once you see an improvement in mock scores. So prepare weighty topics which appear heavily in the paper first.
The opposite is true as well. This means that deep-diving into tough topics like geometry or probability right off the bat is going to murder your scores.
Try out the following:
1. Go over the first chapter of your Arun Sharma or Sarvesh Varma textbook, right up to the point where you get a clear understanding of divisibility rules, HCF, LCM, square roots, etc. You want your fundamentals cleared.
2. Once you’re comfortable, start off with the Arithmetic module. This module doesn’t require you to refer to NCERT. Some logic and conceptual clarity are going to be more than enough. Be sure to cover every topic here and practice well.
3. After this, you can start off with Algebra. I found this module quite difficult to start off with but its weightage is high and giving priority to it makes a lot of sense. Try going over chapters 2 and 4 of the class 9th textbook and 2, 3 and 4 of class 10th (in that order). To its credit, NCERT does a good job in explaining these concepts and you should be up to speed in a few days.
4. Once you’re comfortable with the two modules above, you can move forward based on what you’re comfortable with – Geometry, Modern Math or the rest of Number System. The same rule applies here - rely on NCERT first and your CAT resources next.
PS and I cannot stress this enough: Do not wait for your syllabus to be complete before you start giving mocks. You’ll see your scores rise as you move along. Plus, being able to tackle questions you’ve never seen before is a skill that really comes in handy during the final exam.
PPS: It’s also easy to fall into the trap of spending time on trying to solve really niche questions. If you’ve spent countless hours trying to figure out the remainder of ((77^77)^77)/6, you’re clearly done with everything else or just not on the right track!
Once you’re up to speed with basics, you know where to go next! Check out my post on advanced tips and tricks right here.
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