Test Taking Is Not Hack; It’s An Expectation

Test Taking is an expectation; not a hack

(MBA tests: CAT and GMAT)

I’m sure you’d be aware, as far as the syllabus is concerned, CAT and GMAT have subject matter that we have all covered more or less by class 8th.

CAT and GMAT are not Maths and English tests. These tests use Maths and English as means to test your ability to do well in a B-school and beyond.

These tests require test taking skills along with subject matter knowledge:

It is not only about accuracy. It is about accuracy with speed

I can guarantee, if you had unlimited time you would be able to answer most of the questions on these tests. However, the trouble comes when you’re asked to solve those questions under a stringent time limit. This forces you to think of different ways to solve a question, and figure out the best way that takes the least time yet gives the answer with absolute certainty.

I’ll take an actual past CAT question as an example here:


If x = ((163 + 173 + 183 + 193), then x divided by 70 leaves a remainder of

  1. 0
  2. 1
  3. 69
  4. 35

(This question appeared in CAT 2005)

  1. One way, of course, is to calculate all the cubes, add them up, divide by 70 is figure out the remainder.
  2. A good traditional student would know what (a3 + b3) is. A better student would also know what (a3 + b3 + c3 + d3 ) is, and would start figuring that out. This is certainly another way to approach this question.
  3. Here is another “test taking” way:
    1. On looking at the answer choices I notice 3 are odd and 1 is even. Can I say anything about x being even or odd?
    2. 163 is even. 173 → odd. 183 → Even. 193 → Odd
    3. Even + Odd + Even + odd = Even
    4. Therefore, x → even
    5. x is even, 70 is even. Remainder when x is divided by 70 will basically be of the form: (x – 70k) → Even
    6. Therefore, the answer has to be even. Only option A fits the bill. DONE!

But what if the answer choices were different”, you might ask.

Realise: I did not cheat here, or use some lucky hack. The answer choices are not just randomly decided. The question and the options were designed in this fashion such that some smart test takers would catch it. Even if there were more than 1 even option, I’d still have eliminated the rest in no time.

These tests are supposed to be representative of the real world:

  • you’re given a problem
  • Your objective is to find the solution
  • The “how” is left up to you
  • The onus is then on you to find the solution using the best way that
    • takes the least time
    • gives the solution with absolute certainty
    • uses your existing knowledge in the most practical manner

Many test takers do not realise the test taking aspect of these tests. This is the primary reason why many students who scored well in English and Maths in school are taken aback when (and if) they do not do well on their practice tests. They just did not anticipate the test taking aspect of these tests.

So, what’s needed is accuracy and speed.

Not just that. You also need to know how to

If the MBA institutes were interested only in your Maths and English ability, they would have simply looked at your school and college mark sheets and made their decision. The reason all these institutes go through this additional, time and effort consuming step is because they know they are not testing Maths and English. They are testing how ready you are for a B-school education, and a career in management. And for that, these test taking skills are not a hack or a shortcut, but rather an expectation.

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Anish Passi

Anish Passi is the founder of Test Cafe. With 99th percentiles in both the GMAT (760/ 800) and CAT (99.55 percentile), Anish has a keen understanding of how aptitude tests work. He has shared his conceptual and test taking expertise with students for over a decade, and has helped them master their tests, and shape their careers.
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