Hamlet wonders “To be, or not to be” while contemplating death. He acknowledges that while life could be painful and unfair, the alternative may be even worse.
For us CAT crushers, the context and the magnitude might have changed, however there still are parallels. Neither of leaving a question blank, and guessing is ideal. This leads to self-doubt and confusion.
Let me first explain the ideal stages of attempting a question:
- See a question
- Read the question (alongside noting down essential info and trying to form a plan of attack)
- Take 10-15 seconds after reading the question. Decide whether to
- Mark for review, or
If you decide to solve, then based on your solving,
- If you reach an answer, and are certain about it, then, select the answer, save, and move on. (I term this as attempting a question).
- If you cannot reach an answer with certainty → mark for review, or skip, but do not guess.
Attempting a question means selecting an answer.
Not attempting a question could mean any of the following 3:
- Not reading the question
- Reading, and not solving
- Reading, solving, and not attempting
Basic rule of thumb for attempting a question:
I understand the concept of expected value. And I understand that if we can eliminate even 2 options, the overall expected value becomes positive. Assuming 5 answer choices, +3 for correct, -1 for incorrect.
During my test prep, and for my actual CAT, I had a clear approach of only answering if I was completely certain. I would recommend this approach to everyone. For multiple choice questions, answer only if you are 100% sure. Yet, if you would like to decide a ‘when-to-guess’ strategy for yourself, I would suggest you analyse your mock tests and know about your guess work, and decide based on data what works and what doesn’t for you. While talking about guess work, it may be relevant to understand how you may work towards removing guess work. For direct answer type questions, guessing wouldn’t really get you anywhere. But since there is no negative marking, might as well guess on such questions instead of leaving them blank.
- Do not go in with preconceived notions. Do not leave a question just because it was from a module you find difficult. Decide based on merit. A question from your favourite module could be very difficult, and a difficult module could have an easy question. It is important that you catch all the low-lying fruits on the test.
- The objective is to maximise your overall score, not get a particular question right
- So, don’t make answering a question into an ego issue. If you are getting stuck, let go.
- “I love this section, I have to get this question right” – again, not logical. Decide based on merit, always.
- Understand the concept of sunk cost: “I have already spent 2 minutes on this question. If I don’t do it now, those 2 minutes would be wasted.” Those 2 minutes are gone anyway. So, should not figure into your decision.
- Have hard deadlines: A 60 minutes section with 32-34 questions, translates to roughly 2 minutes per question. Of course, as you skip questions, you can devote more time to the remaining questions. Yet, it is a good idea to have hard deadlines. These deadlines would be different for individual questions, and first questions of grouped questions (e.g. DI and RC).E.g. For an independent quant question, you could keep a 3:00 minutes hard deadline. If you haven’t been able to answer such a question in 3 minutes, let it be. Move on. Don’t lose sight of the big picture. It is not about any individual question, it is about your overall score. The worst blunder you can do is not read all the questions in a section and give each a fair shot.
Hamlet may have been confused by the question. You need to convert your confusion into a strategy
Whether to attempt a question is a very serious decision. My recommendation is very straightforward: attempt only if 100% sure. Yet, if you wish, you can still figure out what works best for you using analysis of your mock tests. Either way, you need to have a strategy ready before walking into your center on the C-day for when (not what) to attempt, and when to skip.