This post was written as a response to a Quora Question. It appeared here originally.
There are three things that you need to do well in competitive tests
Lack of any one of these will not give you the outcome that you are looking for. I’ll expand all these points in brief.
The way you can’t have a building without a strong foundation, you can’t do well in a test without preparation. Your background is not relevant when it comes to preparation as the test doesn’t assess one’s understanding of higher mathematics or concepts that are above 10th grade in India. Some might want to argue this and say that this is a nonsense propagated by coaching institute faculty members (charged, not guilty) but in fact this is true.
I am not an engineer and I did well in these tests. Having said that, I can’t deny that I had a strong background having participated in state scholarship and talent search examinations. Coming back to preparation, it is as simple and complex as sitting at one place, opening the book or accessing an online course, understanding concepts, solving practice problems, and repeating this till you get better. How do you decide that? If you read a question and know exactly what is required to get to the next step, you have won 50% of the battle. This applies in Quant and LRDI which is 66% of CAT.
Whether you are a final year student, or a working professional, if you can take out 1–2 hours every day and prepare religiously, you should be in a good position before CAT. People will ask you to work on speed and learn shortcuts but speed and shortcuts are two completely different things. Speed gets built once you do something repeatedly and it becomes a part of your muscle memory. Shortcut is another way of arriving at the answer of a question but mindless mugging of shortcuts has never helped anyone.
Learn the hard way first. You will take time, make mistakes, which is completely fine. But slowly, you will start to understand how to do something faster. You might even arrive at a shortcut without actually reading about it and that is a better way to go about it. Another thing is downloading thousands of files that you’re never going to solve, buying tens of books that you are not going to solve, getting 10 kg material from coaching institute that you are not even going to open. Don’t do that. 1 Coaching institute/online course + 2–3 books from market covering all topics + 1/2/3 test series depending on your appetite is good enough.
Part of your preparation is also following mentors. Now, there are too many self-proclaimed mentors out there. Some of them don’t even know what it is like to take a test. Some of them can’t even write 4 lines in English that are grammatically correct. So, decide not to follow these people. Decide not to join their Facebook/whatsapp groups. Don’t join something because someone else did. Find those few individuals who you think make sense and get their guidance.
When people start their preparation, the excitement level is super high. They make a schedule which is highly specific (things like 5 minutes bio break are a part of that schedule). That doesn’t work. Preparation has to have focus and has to flow naturally. The moment it becomes a checklist item, you’re entering that dangerous territory. If you solve questions for some time, it should make you feel good about yourself.
One of the things that helped me during my early preparation days was sitting on one question (especially in quant) till the time I got the answer or learnt something new. There were days when I sat for an hour but solved only 7–8 questions because I had not seen them. But nobody asked me to sit at that one place and focus for an hour. There were days when I forgot my lunch because I was reading a novel (read read read for VARC preparation) and when I think of those days, I am happy!
So, you need to ENJOY your preparation. We have never seen a 99.5+ candidate sad or morose about his or her preparation. If that means studying for ten hours one day and not studying for the next two days and doing a movie marathon to reward yourself, do it. Go to your coaching institute or online session because you want to learn something. The objective has to be to learn something and become a better version of yourself than cracking xyz test and institute.
When two candidates with almost similar level of preparation, resources, skills sit for a test, they should expect similar scores. CAT proves otherwise. Thousands of students don’t do well in these tests simply because temperament plays a huge huge role in the outcome of a test. You may be a 98 level candidate but if your temperament goes for a toss during the test, you can fall to 95. A 95 level candidate with champion attitude and good temperament, can hit a 98. Preparation takes you to a certain level, rest is how you perform in those few hours.
That’s why people will ask you to take n number of mocks. That will help you prepare yourself mentally for good, bad, and ugly situations. You won’t develop that attitude one fine day. It needs to be gathered. By doing things repeatedly, by improving gradually, by visualizing outcomes, and by just being that confident version of yourself that you want to be.
Last year, I spoke with students who gave up in LRDI and that impacted their next section. They could have kept calm and tried their best. And then push more in the Quant section to compensate for it and get a good overall percentile. If you want to do well in a test like this, and you are ignoring mental preparation, you are missing on something extremely crucial. Don’t bring your sad boss to the test, don’t bring your girlfriend problems to the test, don’t bring your fears to the test.
Reading all this must have made your realize that strategy is not even a concern. Implementation is.
April, May, June, July, August: Level of difficulty 1 and 2, speed is not your concern, work on accuracy and build strong concepts
September, October, November: Level of difficulty 3, difficult questions from mocks (only if you can do level of difficulty 1 and 2), work on speed and accuracy.
June to test date: Mocks (twice or thrice a week) depending on your ability to digest. Keep the ‘enjoying’ part in mind. Don’t forget mock analysis. You can check this post to learn The art of mock CAT analysis – Learningroots
Reading: Read 2–3 articles from international magazines and newspapers every day. Fix your grammar early on. Read news so that you take care of current affairs as well.
Puzzles, Brain teasers, general problem solving: Solve whatever you can get your hands on that helps build aptitude. Can be apps, or crosswords and puzzles from newspapers.
Think long term and work on profile: Don’t get caught up in preparation. For your interviews post tests, build a strong profile through internships, certifications, and courses.
Hobbies: Cultivate 1–2 hobbies and interests and get to them whenever you get time. Needless to say, preparation first, hobbies second.
It took me some time to figure this all out. You can possibly prepare for a 99.9. The remaining part is randomness. Learn to live with that.
I wish you all the best on this journey. Hope this helps! Feel free to get in touch by sending us a mail on contact [at] learningroots.in or call us on 9969789521.