Tricks optimize CAT Exam

CAT – Simple Tips to Optimize Exam Preparations

It is less than months now for the aspirants of CAT to optimize their preparations to get into the top ranking B-schools of the country. This year the convener is IIM Kozhikode and though the examination pattern, evaluation, and shortlisting criteria remain the same, yet minor changes might be expected.  In CAT 2018, around 2.40 lac candidates registered and this year the number is expected to rise further. It is therefore extremely important for the IIM aspirants to plan and focus well on their preparations, to score a high percentile. 

CAT applicants can broadly be classified into three categories. First, those who are presently in the final year of their graduation and making preparation along with their routine academic schedule. Another, those who have passed out this year or earlier and are solely preparing for the CAT examination. Third are those, who are working and doing CAT preparation out of their busy job schedule. Methodology and time devoted might vary for each of the above-mentioned categories, still, there are few tips which might be of help to all.  These are discussed below;

  1. Make a Time Table and remain firm on it

It is very important that you prepare a daily / weekly time table, and assign study slots for the morning, afternoon and evening. Topics to be studied and revised should be mentioned for each slot of the day. Sundays should preferably be kept for practice tests and their analysis. The time table should be workable, considering the constraints that students or working professionals might be facing. However, at least 4-5 hours should be given each day. 

  1. Study and understand the examination procedure, test sections, scoring and evaluation process

Go through the official website of the CAT, and understand the complete examination procedure, especially those who are appearing for the CAT examination for the first time. CAT is a Computer Based Test (CBT), in which the candidate reads a question on a computer terminal and clicks on the correct answer from among the options given or types the answer in case of a question. Additionally, the timer on the computer screen tells the remaining time to complete the current section. 

CAT Exam likely to have following structure and pattern

CAT Exam Components
CAT Exam Pattern
CAT Exam Test duration
   2 hrs (120 Minutes)
Test sessions/Slots
   3 (Morning, Afternoon and Evening)
Total questions in CAT test
 64 to 68 (Expected)
Total score
192 to 204 (Expected)
Number of Sections in CAT question paper
    3 (VARC; DILR; QA)
Time Allotted for Each Section in CAT exam
 40 Minutes
Total questions in VARC Section
  22-24 (Likely)
Total Questions in DILR section
  20-22 (Likely)
Total Questions in QA section
  22-24 (Likely)


As per the revised pattern, CAT Exam will be divided into 3 sections – VARC, DILR and Quant. Each section is timed with the individual time limit. You need to ensure high score in each of the three sections. It will be a computer based test of 2 hours duration on the same date.  

You must answer the sections in a pre-specified order and this order will remain the same for all the candidates. For MCQ questions, each correct answer is awarded 3 marks and an incorrect answer is awarded -1. No marks are given or deducted for un-attempted questions. For non-MCQ type questions, there are no deductions for wrong answers however the answers have to be typed.

  1. Previous years Questions and Answers

A practice test will be available on the CAT website: by the end of October. You can familiarize yourself with the functionality and navigation of the actual exam. Besides, there are books available for the previous question papers and their solutions, which can be referred to. 

  1. Analyze strong and weak areas

While making your preparation for the three sections, analyze the sections/topics in which you find difficult or take too much time to answer. Focus and practice such questions more and try to find out the short cut techniques. Those sections/topics which you find relatively easy to answer, try to improve your speed. You would be able to spare time for unanswered or non-MCQ questions

  1. Refer to books / online resources for tips and practice

It is advisable if you register for online support provided by some of the leading coaching institutes. This will provide you access to online practice tests and their solutions. There are few books especially with respect to Quantitative ability and Verbal ability, which can be referred to.  

  1. Timing and duration of mock / practice tests

Efforts should be more on improving your weak areas and topics. A practice test, once in a week is fine initially. Gradually, the duration can be increased to 2-3 in a week. However, since the analysis is equally important, devote enough time to study the solutions and find out your mistakes. For a 3 hours mock test, another 2-3 hours are needed for a thorough analysis of each section. Though paper-based tests can be helpful in the beginning, as your score improves, shift to online time mock tests. This will provide the simulated environment and help you in assessing your answering speed for each section and topic. From 23rd Oct., admit cards would be available for download. Depending upon morning and afternoon time slot allotted, practice mock test during that time only. It will help you to adjust accordingly for the actual examination. From the beginning of November, enhance the frequency of online mock tests to 3-4 per week, as practice shall improve your speed considerably

  1. Seniors / Alumni of coaching institutes

Leading coaching institutes, regularly invite their alumni and senior faculty from IIMs, to provide guidance to the students. Whenever possible attend those sessions, as valuable tips are provided. Also, seek guidance from your seniors in the college who are now in IIMs / other B-schools or appeared for CAT earlier. 

  1. Forums – Quora, Facebook, IIM Alumni groups

There are few online forums and social media sites, which provide guidance to the CAT aspirants. Few social media groups created by current and past students of IIMs also provides tips on cracking CAT  

  1. Change strategy, if not successful 

Every student plans a strategy of answering certain topics/questions first, leaving few to be answered later and leaving some altogether. Since there is a negative marking, one should be very careful in planning the strategy of answering the doubtful questions. By assessing your score in each online mock test, you can very well find out whether you were slow in answering, or your tackling of the sections was not proper. In case you consistently find no improvements in score, then try to change the strategy of attempting the sections/topics

No single strategy has helped in succeeding in such competitive examinations. However sincere and diligent efforts with consistency shall definitely prove to be fruitful.



Professor, JIMS, Rohini, Delhi

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