Practice, Analyse, Practice
If there is one thing that could significantly improve your chances of cracking the CAT, it is your in-depth analysis of the mock CATs.
Which mock CATs should I go for?
Any. All the big national players in this field have a similar arsenal of questions in their test series. Do some level of research, figure out which series has a big user base — to give you a good representation of where you stand, and then dive in. If you are already enrolled in a test series, do not second guess your decision. Just give those mock tests your 100%. It is not just the practice, but the analysis of your performance that would make all the difference.
How to analyse mock CATs
Typically our analysis of tests is limited to the questions we have attempted. We would go through the answer key, feel good about the questions we got right, try and figure out why we got others wrong, that’s it.
This is far from enough. Here is what needs to be done:
- Attempt the mock test in an environment as close as possible to the actual CAT (I call this the test mode)
- Retake the test with a fresh mind (not on the same day) without a time limit (I call this the practice mode)
- Go through the entire test, question by question, without a time limit
- Mark your answers separately.
Then starts the analysis.
Remember: If you do not know where you are going wrong, how would you improve?
- questions you got right during both the test and practice modes → these would typically point to your strengths
- questions you could not solve during the test mode, and could solve in the 2nd go — within a rough time limit → This could reflect the pressure of a test
- questions you could not solve during the slot, and could solve in the 2nd go — but took quite some time → need to work on your speed on such questions
- questions you could not solve no matter how much time you had → need to go back to the basics here
Alongside, classify and try to figure out:
- For questions you got right:
- Was there a better way to solve the question?
- Could you have solved the question using options?
- Could you have solved the question with different/ without any options?
Answering these questions, and then working on improving would help further solidify your knowledge in these areas.
2. For questions you got wrong:
- Did you understand the question incorrectly?
- Did some option put you off?
- Was it simply a last minute guess?
- Do you understand how to do this question now — with options? without options?
- Do you get quite a few questions of this kind wrong?
Increasing accuracy is the first goal. Speed is immaterial if you are getting questions wrong.
III. For questions you did not attempt:
- Was it because of lack of time?
- Was it a wise choice not to attempt this question?
- With no time limit could you do this question?
- Do you usually not attempt quite a few questions of this kind?
Go back to the basics if you have the time to and try to bring these areas into your comfort zone
These questions may seem cumbersome and time consuming to answer. But the objective is simple: know in detail where you stand, and what your strengths and weaknesses are. Only once you know these details would you be able to improve.
Silly Mistakes: ‘Silly mistakes’ is a broad term we use to categorize questions that one should have got right but didn’t due to some silly mistake. It is very easy to view something as a silly mistake, convince yourself that you would not repeat those mistakes on the actual test, and move on. You could be ignoring a gap in your prep. Here I discuss in detail about what are silly mistakes and how to tackle them.
Treat each question with the seriousness you would show to questions in the real CAT
It is easy to let your eyes wander towards the answer key and explanation without giving a question your *everything*. Remember, improvement will not come by understanding how experts solved a question. You’ll improve based on the efforts you put into each question. Treat each question as if it is an obstacle in your path to success. Getting the right answer would remove the obstacle. Once you achieve a certain level of accuracy then start working on speed. This is a key difference between test mode and practice mode.
Test mode: If you can’t get a question right within a reasonable amount of time, skip it. If time permits, come back later.
Practice mode: Attempt each question as if your life depends on it. Spend as long as you need to on each question. Explore all means.
Alongside, in practice mode, always try and find multiple ways of doing the same question. Try solving questions with and then without options. Try answering: how would your strategy have changed had the options been different?
These steps would also help you with the new direct answer type questions on the CAT.
How many mock CATs to attempt per week?
I have heard many CAT trainers suggest you should attempt a lot of mock CATs in the last 45 days — 2 months. I have met students who used to attempt 1 mock test everyday. Such practice does have its advantages. You get to: build stamina, focus for 3 hours at a stretch, get used to sitting in front of a computer screen for 3 hours dedicated to nothing but the practice test.
However, on the flip side, attempting too many mock tests could lead to burnout. Your brain, just like your body, needs time to rest and recuperate. Taxing it for too long would lead to it not working to its full potential.
More importantly, if you keep practicing mocks after mocks, and do not dedicate time to analysing those tests, you might be missing the forest for the trees.
I recommend not more than 1–2 mock CATs per week
- Take a mock CAT
- Retake the test within 1–2 days
- Perform a complete analysis as discussed above
If you can still fit in 2 tests within a week along with your remaining tasks and prep, go for it. Else, 1 mock test per week is sufficient.
It is never about quantity; It is always about quality
It does not matter how many questions you attempt. What matters is what you got out of each of those questions. Remember, if your motto is simply ‘practice, practice, practice’ you’ll only make the same mistakes more number of times. The key is to practice, analyse, practice.