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CAT 2013@ Strike right balance between Speed and Accuracy

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With 100 days left for CAT, it’s time now for MBA Aspirants to strike balance between speed and accuracy in their mock CAT papers.

You can arrive at the ideal equation between these two very important factors after some thorough analysis. The way to get this right is through a simple two step process

Find the speed at which you can get near 100% accuracy.

After you have found this speed, stay at this speed.

This whole trade-off analysis is an unnecessary distraction. And it needlessly provides one with the excuse “I was trying to do this quicker”. In its current avatar, CAT is not really a speed based exam.

CAT has changed, so should your preparation plan: During the period from 1995 to around 2001/02, CAT used to have around 160-180 questions in the paper, to be tackled in 2 hours. Back then, one needed to attempt ~100-110 questions to get a good score. So, we guys (I took my CAT in 2000) needed to attempt nearly 1 question per minute. The paper had a bunch of tough questions, no doubt; but there would also be plenty of freebies that were easy pickings. There were also plenty of ‘direct’ questions – questions where one never needed to figure out the method – where one just had to plug in a formula and compute. We used to take the exam in frenzy; we were forced to take decisions with a lot of pre-built ideas, we were required to take a lot of chances and hope it would average out.

In the current era, each section has 30 questions for 70 minutes. And if a student gets 16-17 in Quant and 20-21 in verbal, he/she should be in the 99th percentile range in each section. This gives us nearly 4 minutes per quant question and more than 3 minutes per verbal question. So, an extra 30 seconds spent on reading the question correctly is great value.

Mock exams lead to a need-for-speed attitude: The most important negative factor with taking lot of mock exams is this tendency to give too much importance to these percentile scores. Whichever mock CAT series you take, the chances are that there will be someone who has attempted 50 questions and scored 99.xxth percentile. And if you have scored 92nd percentile after having attempted 38 questions, the temptation is to somehow increase the attempts. The correlation between attempts and score is high, but more importantly it is the one that is clearly visible. You will never hear about the guy who attempted 39 questions, got 38 correct, and scored 98th percentile. Chances are, this guy will overtake the 99.xx percentile guy by the time actual CAT happens.

The desire to increase attempts leads to two key errors –

Very high score volatility: A student may scores 98th percentile in one exam and in the very next exam he might fall at 76th. If score volatility is this high, this will hurt confidence in the last lap of your preparation and panicky decisions will creep into the system on D-Day.

A reluctance to resolve between the last two available choices: I hear a great many students saying this “Sir, I know the answer has to be B or D. I mark one and it is usually the other”. If you chase attempts, you will never learn the skill of resolving these 1 out of 2 questions. The best students are the ones that get these correct. They are the ones that take effort to resolve these.

Therefore, develop ability toselect the right questions, have the confidence to skip questions without coming under pressure, and have the presence of mind to stay at your best throughout. How quickly one does a particular question is far less relevant.

Author of this article, Mr Rajesh Balasubramanian, an IIT, IIM alumnus, & 2011, 2012 CAT Topper and the author of CAT books published by ‘Access Publishing India’, guides CAT Aspirants through a series of expert articles on

In his previous article, he suggested a 3-step process that you must go through for each topic in Quant section.

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