Countdown to CAT

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Last updated on: 8/30/20108/30/2010 Total Hits811

The Common Admission Test (CAT), which one needs to clear for a coveted seat in any of the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and other B-schools in India, will be held over 20 days between October 27 and November 23, 2010 with breaks for Diwali. Given the technical glitches in last year's exam, most students are apprehensive as to what lies in store for them this year. However, the technical goof-ups may or may not happen this year, but the following tips are likely to help students maximise their performance in the exam.


Appearing for the CAT on the computer is substantially different from appearing for it in the paper-and-pencil-mode. For instance, it is much tougher to read large quantities of text in the reading comprehension section on the computer than in an exam booklet. Similarly, interpreting graphs and tables on the screen is tougher than on paper, where you can scribble and make notes. Thus, it is crucial that you are prepared to appear for the test on the computer. It is fine to work with paper and pen during the initial stages of practice, but in the final run up, i.e. beginning mid-September, you should practice tests only on the computer.


If we were to list all the topics in the mathematics section of the CAT, we would end up with a list of about 25 odd topics. However, only three of these are extremely important geometry, functions, and number systems. There is a good chance that these three will account for more than a third of all the questions asked in the mathematics section. However, you cannot take the risk of preparing for only three topics out of 25. In fact, you need to ensure that you are well prepared for these three. Likewise, the reading comprehension section in the CAT continues to be disproportionately long. Hence, you need to spend a lot of time practicing comprehension questions.


Prepare for the test realistically. Make sure to score high in your areas of strength and not perform too poorly in sections/topics that you are weak in. In the month of August, you can spend most of your time overcoming your weaknesses. But beginning September, at least half of your studytime should focus on revising topics that you tend to do well in. As the CAT approaches, the proportion of time you spend on topics you are proficient in should increase. In any case, by the end of September you should complete the syllabus. October is the month of practice.


To begin with, CAT has a reputation that intimidates many. As if that was not enough, rumours are abuzz with likely problems that will supposedly occur in this year's computerised test. Some common concerns that you may have as a candidate are:

Different Tests

For most students who are used to one entrance exam held on a single day of the year, it is disconcerting to know that there will be 40 different administrations of CAT this year. That is to say, there will be two CATs each on 20 different days. The important questions that arise are: What if your CAT is more difficult than that of others? What if your favourite topics do not appear in your test, but do show up in that of others? What if those appearing for your test turn out to be highly intelligent, consequently making your score seem poor in comparison?

These questions do have some basis, but you have to go with the belief that the IIMs will take care of these discrepancies. 'Normalisation' is the statistical process where such 'noise' in the test scores can be removed. Be assured that the IIMs will normalise the scores.

Section Wise

Every year, hundreds of students score well in the CAT but do not make it to the IIMs. The reason: though their overall score is high, they fail to get the minimum score required in each section. All CAT applicants know that to qualify for admission to the IIMs they have to secure an overall score as well as separate sectional scores. But in the melee of the actual CAT, it is easy to overlook this crucial fact. The solution to this problem is effective time-management during the exam.

For example, if you are more or less equally proficient in the three sections of the CAT (quant, verbal, DI/LR), then you should consider allocating 50 minutes to each of the sections.

Prepare Well

Over the years, the level of difficulty of CAT has varied substantially. If you were to attempt the actual test papers from 2007 and 2008, you would get a very different picture of the CAT in comparison to CAT 2009. Last year's test was comparatively less difficult.

This year's exam will most likely be along the lines of CAT 2009. One of the primary reasons for this is that creation of 40 different CATs with purely analytical questions that can be standardised is a nearly impossible task. However, this is only a likelihood. The correct approach would be to thoroughly prepare for the CAT 2009 level by the end of August. Once this level has been mastered and you have a higher degree of confidence, you could move to more advanced questions.

Step by Step

Repeated practice could end up as a vain routine. The trick is to learn from your practice and take the right steps. Once you practise a topic or attempt a mock test, you should evaluate your responses. Try to find out how you could have increased your score. Work on improving your speed in questions that you answered rightly.


Given last year's experience, it is recommended not to choose an early date to appear for the exam. At the same time, waiting for the last date may not be prudent as it increases the stress associated with the exam.
Keep in mind that this year Diwali begins on November 5. So it's best to be done with the exam before the festival begins. The best dates then would be November 3 or 4. This should give you adequate opportunity to learn about the pattern and administration of this year's CAT. However, if you are not up for these dates, choose the earliest date feasible after November 11.


You have quite likely never appeared for an exam such as the computerised CAT. On the day of the exam, you will have to sign a legal document called an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). Your thumb impressions will be scanned. In addition, different computers in the exam room will boot up at different speeds. All this is enough to rattle a student. But, it is important to realise that as far as your score and admission are concerned, none of this matters. Try your best to avoid getting caught up in the motions. Focus on answering the questions right. That is all that will matter.

Read more: Countdown to CAT - Education - Home - The Times of India

Common Admission Test (CAT), Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), B-schools

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