If you ask any CAT topper what the one magic mantra is to nailing it, the answer undoubtedly is going to be - MOCKS.
Today we have Sahil Mital, a 99.92 percentiler in CAT 2019 and an incoming PGP at IIM Bangalore. Sahil has written the CAT three times, each score improving over his previous attempt with 2019 doing the trick for him, after which he landed into the “Place to Be”.
In this piece, he demystifies CAT mocks and how one should strategize them.
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10th- 10 CGPA | 12th-96.6%
B.Com (Hons.) – 7.851 CGPA (74.58%)
Hansraj College, Delhi University
C.A.T percentiles over the years - 98.72 (CAT 2017) , 99.27 (2018) and 99.92 (2019)
Work ex: 2 years at Bain Capability Centre, Bain & Company
Q1 - Should I study on my own or go for classroom coaching?
As someone who has done both, I believe the answer for this depends on your own comfort level.
I think you should choose self-study if you are fairly confident about quite a few topics and can study the rest on your own.
However, if you feel you need guidance in most of the topics and can suffer a lapse of motivation, classroom coaching would be better. Classroom coaching helps you interact with people who are preparing as well, giving you a strong go-to network.
Some of the recommended classroom (Now online) coachings are- CL, TIME, Alchemist, Elites Grid
Q2 - Are Mocks important? When do I start giving mocks?
Throughout my CAT experience, attempting and analyzing mocks was the most important part of my strategy. Mocks provide a real-time reflection of the level of preparedness of exams, as well as throwing up some different questions and exam formats, allowing you to be well prepared for the D-day.
I know what you are thinking - “Should I start once I have completed the entire syllabus? Or can I begin even when I haven’t covered everything?”
Pro tip - Never wait to cover the entire syllabus to start giving mocks. It is a cardinal sin!
The CAT is an aptitude test and as such requires practice more than actual knowledge of complex concepts.
You should begin with your mocks once you have completed a manageable portion of your syllabus. For me, that was about 70%. You may take about a month or two (if you plan to do these topics in-depth, and considering different people have different pace) to reach here.
With 4 months left for the CAT, it is even more important that mocks and your preparation has to go hand in hand. It will tell you if you are doing well in topics you have prepared for and give you an indication of how much work is required in the topics that are left.
If you are starting CAT 2020 prep on August 1st 2020, and assuming you are able to dedicate fair time to it, in my opinion you need to start giving mocks by last week of August.
In VARC and LRDI, the only thing needed is to practice in a timed manner. These sections do not have a list of topics to understand conceptually before taking mocks.
However, try to start out with practising without the one-hour timer and slowly build up speed in it. Moreover, in both sections it is very easy and important to recognize the type of questions you are struggling with and practice such questions more – for instance, in LRDI you might be struggling with arrangement questions and the best would be to focus on such questions.
In Quant, you must put in effort for the concepts bit as well. So, start out with areas you are comfortable in and hone the rest alongside your mocks.
To summarize, your first priority should be complete a certain portion of your syllabus to attempt the mock and then just start taking them! Ultimately, preparation and mocks will go along simultaneously.
Q3 - How many mocks do I attempt and from which test series?
Let me answer this step by step – the first question to answer is how many mocks? The answer is as many as possible! Mocks are the closest you will get to the exam before you actually attempt it, and hence giving as many as possible would not only prepare you for the kind of questions but also help with the nerves, possible technical issues and most importantly, teach you how to move on quickly if you have attempted a section badly – trust me, it is one of the most frequent reasons I have heard of for people ruining their CAT exam.
I personally took about 45 mocks by the time I sat for CAT 2019.
Which mock series to take up? A lot of mock series out there are good – for instance - TIME, CL and IMS.
Throughout my 3 attempts, I had taken CL and TIME every year. My strategy for picking test series would be to pick one series which gives consistent tests at a level higher than CAT (TIME is famous for this), while the other should be one which gives tests very close to the CAT in difficulty level.
The reason for picking a difficult test series is two-fold –
One, it prepares you for the toughest possible CAT exam. The trick with even the toughest CAT exam is that the easiest topics will have difficult questions but the difficult topics will have easy questions!
Most of the candidates, when faced with such a paper, get flustered and will end up ruining the entire section, and I have done that multiple times during my mocks. All you need to do is stay calm, and identify the easier questions and attempt those.
Attempting a lower number of questions in a tough exam will fetch you a good percentile and hence, picking the questions you attempt becomes extremely important.
Secondly, if you are able to score well in tougher tests, it bodes well for the exam and boosts your confidence.
The reason for choosing a test series which stimulates closer to the actual CAT is obvious – it prepares you for the real test, and helps you benchmark your performance.
Thus, TIME mocks - Higher than CAT difficulty whereas SIMCATS (IMS) and CL mocks are more on CAT level. I recommended TIME + Either one from IMS/CL. I personally chose CL mocks, but you will see many people swear by the SIMCATS (IMS)!
Q4 - How do I read the results and analyze my mocks?
The most obvious parameter is the percentile and the raw score. In the initial time period, do not give too much importance to percentile. Here, all candidates have a different level of preparation and your study is also just mid-way, hence percentile at that stage tends to give incorrect results. At that stage, the raw score is more important along with the variation in scores in each section.
At a later stage, closer to the exam, start giving importance to the percentile too, as at that stage all candidates are in a later stage of their prep as well, and you can use the percentile among 20,000 candidates to get an idea on how your percentile would be with 2,00,000 candidates.
But what is more important than any number on your screen, is consistency. Keep track of your scores over an extended period of time and record how you score in different sections and in different topics within that section.
Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and adapt your preparation strategy accordingly. Spend time going through the answers of each mock and understanding what tricks did you miss, where you could have answered the questions faster and even attempt the wrong questions again. Such sustained effort will surely bear fruits.
Q5 - Which section do I focus on more?
Each section in the CAT exam is important and when you start your preparation, you should be studying all 3 and giving them due importance.
One of the things to avoid early on is to just focus on one section, thinking that you will pick up the other later on. A lot of people do not like studying VARC section and love QA, hence start their QA prep and leave VARC for later. The problem with such a strategy is that people spend too much time on a topic they are already comfortable with and spend less time on a section they need to improve. And the results of the same will reflect in your mock scores as well. You should ideally divide your week between the 3 sections and in the beginning, give equal importance to all, and in later stages focus more on your weak areas/sections.
For instance, I was always strong in the VARC section and hence, closer to the exam would spend less time on the same. However, the test of this strategy would be the mock tests. If I started scoring poorly in VARC in mocks, that would be an indicator that I need to re-focus on that section, and again adapt my preparation.
Q6 - What is your opinion of sectional tests and where can I attempt those from?
It does happen that on a workday we do not have the time or energy to sit for 3-hour mocks. At that point, sectional tests can be a lifesaver! Sectionals attempting and marking strategy must be the same as mocks, and you can attempt quality sectionals from the same institutes as for the mocks. In fact, a lot of these institutes will come with special sectionals closer to the exam, which are really useful and can help you focus on only your weaker areas.
I hope you feel more confident about your preparation after reading this, all the best for CAT 2020!
Here are some links that will help you develop ATTEMPTING strategies in the mocks on each of the section.
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