Why can’t I score well in competitive exams such as CAT and GMAT. Even after being a 90 percenter throughout my life?


I’m sure you’d be aware, as far as the syllabus is concerned, CAT and GMAT have subject matter that we had 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’m sure 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 in the least time.

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


One way, of course, is to calculate all the cubes, add them up, divide by 70 and figure out the remainder.

A good traditional student would know what a^3 + b^3 is. A better student would also know what a^3 + b^3 + c^3 + d^3 is, and would start figuring that out. This is certainly another way to approach this question.

Here is another “test taking” way:

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?

16^3 is even. 17^3 → odd. 18^3 → Even. 19^3 → Odd

Even + Odd + Even + odd = Even

Therefore, x → even

x is even, 70 is even. Remainder when x is divided by 70 will basically be of the form:

(x – 70k) → Even

Therefore, the answer has to be even. Only option A fits the bill. DONE!

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. Afterall, that is more 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

So, what’s needed is accuracy + speed.

Not just these. You also need to know how to

Proper in-depth analysis would help you with all these factors. You might find this article helpful: Elixir For Cracking The CAT – Practice, Analyse, Practice

Why can’t I score well in competitive exams such as CAT and GMAT. Even after being a 90 percenter throughout my life?

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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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