This article is not about what to do during the CAT. It does not talk about the shortcuts you can apply during the paper, the food you should eat to score better at the CAT and all the numerous facts / statistics /precautions/ rumors that you have heard about the day of the CAT. This article is about the long period before the CAT right from when you decide to take it to a nice slightly chilly Sunday morning when you are checking your pencils, eraser and admit card.
1) Plan backwards
You will never really remember when your CAT preparation started, but you will always remember when it ended. Did I hear 19th November? No, it will end on the 17th November. The CAT is an exam where presence of mind is essential, studying till the last minute or till the last day leads to an exhausted mind.
So it is a good idea to stop preparing on the Friday evening before the CAT. So currently your deadline is 17th November. The last few months will be spent primarily on taking comprehensive tests. Let’s try and work that out.
Right now is a good time to decide how many comprehensive tests you will take (including sims/ mocks/ aims).
I think 30 tests are fairly sufficient. There is no point taking a test everyday or worse still, taking 2 tests per day. Working with 30 tests will easily take you between 70-80 days. This is because if you take a test with feedback on day 1 you will revise and take some area tests on day 2. Also you may need one or two days of break.
So, assuming 75 days for comprehensive tests, takes your deadline to the end of August.
Taking full length tests right after covering your basics, is like walking into harsh sunlight from an air conditioned room, it will definitely lead to discomfort and if you are unlucky then perhaps headaches and vomiting too. Hence there should be some middle layer which acts like room temperature, in our analogy. That middle layer is going to be your section tests. So in the last fifteen days of August, you should take around two section tests at least from each area and spend some time going through the analysis and feedback for the tests. This will be the first time usually when you really start solving with the second hand making a loud noise every second. So get used to the idea before you venture into the comprehensive test territory.
So finally we have come to our first major deadline 15th August i.e. Independence day. Symbolically, it will be an independence of sorts for all of you. Independence from the normal area of basics and theory. Independence from learning and honing what you already know. From 15th August, you will be looking at applying what you have learnt and if you have learnt well. Then believe me you will enjoy the process.
2) In-depth Scheduling
With 15th August as the deadline, you should make a list of what is the kind of theory you want to complete, till that time. I have made a rudimentary representative list here to work from:
Book on Verbal Ability questions
Book on Reading Comprehension questions
Book on Analytical Reasoning
Book on Data Interpretation
Practice book for Math
Your maximum time should be spent doing two major activities: reading and Math.
3) Daily schedule
Make a daily schedule which incorporates all your routines and breaks. If you watch movies a lot then it would be silly to make a schedule which does not consider 3 hours a week on the week-end spent in catching the latest release. Also try to shuffle the subjects, so that you do not get bored with one subject. A good time table for 2 days can look like this:
Half an hour of reading
Half an hour of “word list”
2 hours of math
Half an hour of reading
half an hour of “word list”
1 hour of analytical reasoning / data interpretation
1 hour of reading comprehension exercises / verbal ability
For those who read as a hobby this will not be a major problem. For others, it is essential that you take out anything between 30 minutes to one hour for reading, daily. For the uninitiated reader, you can start by reading fiction but there is no use if you spend 3 months reading one big book by, say, Ayn Rand. Instead pick up any collection of short stories by assorted authors and start reading those.
You will get used to various styles and different settings and, of course, different content. After reading fiction for one to one and half months, you can graduate to non–fiction. So, the next time you log onto pagalguy.com, open another window where you google on various CAT topics (a list of CAT topics is given as an appendix) and read articles related to them. The advantages are two–fold. Firstly, you will get used to CAT-like passages and secondly, you will start gaining some knowledge on these topics. So the next time you have an RC on the same topic, you will not feel completely lost. For these reading sessions, never focus on speed. Only focus on understanding, if you read enough your speed will automatically increase.
Reading will not only help you in the verbal section, but also increase your comprehension in the other sections. It is the single most important factor that will help you crack the CAT.
5) Word List
There are very few questions that directly require knowledge of words. But knowing a lot of good words and improving your vocabulary will never harm but always help your CAT preparations. So pick up a good word list and start working on the word list every day or if your vocabulary is already good, then every alternate day. Even if you do an alphabet a week, you will take around 6 months, to complete the word list. Having a good vocabulary also ensures fluency in GD/PI. This is the part, where students are lazy, but after the CAT if you feel that just knowing one word would have fetched an extra mark in no time, thenit really hurts.
Math, based on strengths and weaknesses, should be done either every alternate day or every day. Go through the theory, solved examples and then tackle exercises. If you cannot solve a problem do not rush to the explanatory answers, give it some time. Think. Get your mind to oil those rusted math gears and levers.
Try solving problems in the head, minimize the use of pen and paper
Make a note of important relationships in a topic.
Make a note of innovative approaches.
Remember writing a lot is very unhealthy for the CAT, but after you solve it in your head writing the explanation will clear doubts and reinforce learning. So please make good notes.