Exam taking strategies for CAT 2018

Well, November is here and it’s that time of the year when a 20 something is frantically taking one mock after another, fretting about bad scores in VA-RC and sincerely hoping to survive through the ghost ordeal named DI-LR. The pathway to premier B-schools, the CAT is back! A mighty test for fighters and adventure seekers, CAT has been unforgiving yet rewarding. It’s a test for the brave hearts!

I have benefitted immensely from many teachers, friends and years of self-effort because of which I sailed through this exam. CAT 2018 is knocking at our doorsteps and I am sure many of you will be unsure and worried at this moment. Don’t be! It is now my turn to give back to the community as I share crucial superior exam taking strategies that benefitted my friends and me.

  1. Before you begin:

You generally have about 45 minutes of waiting time before the test actually begins. For any test taker, these 45–50 minutes are filled with nervous nerves and anxiety. You keep looking at the time clock again and again and start getting fidgety and nervous.

What you could instead do is practice mental maths. Practising mental maths during this dull period will keep your brain active. You could also solve a few 3-digit multiplication/division sums/ calculate the reciprocal values on the rough sheet provided. These small activities will help you warm up your brain before the VA-RC section begins. It will also avoid any sort of negative emotions to bother you.

As the downtime nears 10 minutes, you could do some deep-breathing activity(Pranayam)/ alternate nostril breathing by keeping your eyes closed.

2. Verbal Ability and Reasoning Comprehension:

As you might be aware, the VA and RC questions are jumbled up. As a smart test- taker, you should know where the questions are spaced. So what I will suggest you to do is to click on the “Question Paper” icon (top right of the screen) and note down all the RC question numbers on your rough sheet.

Click on the Question Paper icon to see the entire question paper

By doing this process, you won’t waste time searching for the RCs in the middle of the exam. Smartly skim through the entire paper within 1–1.5 minutes and start attacking the RCs. I would advise you to begin with the 6 Question RCs and then move on to the 3 Question RCs followed by the VA section. Starting with RCs is a safe strategy as it gives your mind some cooling time as you read and removes the jittery pressure at the beginning. By starting with VA, you may get confused and worried as most of the VA questions are Type-Ins and you aren’t sure of the answers.RCs can be a big confidence booster. Finish all the 24 RC questions in one go.

It is better to read the passage with the goal of understanding rather than just merely speed reading. If you are confused between the options, skim the passage again and always go with what the passage says. Most of the RC questions should be solved using the “Option Elimination” technique. Write down A,B,C,D,E in your rough sheet and strike out the wrong options for each question.

For the VA part, start with the type of questions you are comfortable with. I would start with the Odd-Man out questions and then do the Summary and Para Jumbles.

Also, ensure that you complete the paper. A good test-taker may finish the paper with max 2–3 minutes remaining. So don’t fret!

Pro-Tip: Attempt all the questions ! Yes, most of the toppers do this. Don’t leave anything unattempted in VA-RC . You need to take this risk as you won’t be able to take such a risk in DI-LR or Quant as there is always a grey area and possibilities of doubts in English answers.

What if you go blank?

Chill ! You won’t ! This is not a UPSC exam where you have to rely on memory. You can sip water or snap your fingers or even clap slowly to regain your concentration. A good suggestion is to pull your ears-this acts as a great stimulus to activate your brain.

3. Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning:

If you can survive DI-LR, you can survive anything in the world! Seriously! This probably is the toughest section in the CAT exam. Before sharing tips to solve this section, let me tell you one attribute that you should possess


Yes, its all about attitude! Develop the courage to bleed and suffer setbacks in the first 30 minutes. The first question I marked last year in this section was on the 31st minute! So, don’t be too hard with yourself and don’t give up, just don’t. This is a battle of nerves and even the best test-taker feels the same.

The first thing you need to do is to see all the 8 sets and mark each set according to the following parameters:

  1. Apparent difficulty level
  2. Your familiarity with that type of set (have you done such a set before)
  3. Should I attempt it now or later?

Write comments on each set in your rough sheet For Eg.

Set 1- Trains

-Lot of variables and incomplete data, time-consuming

-Not quite familiar

-Do later

It is very important to choose the sets. You just need to focus on 4–5 sets and do it correctly to come in the top rankers. So, the first set that you choose is very important and vital for the confidence boost. Even if you choose the wrong set first and are stuck up, evaluate if it is worth solving the entire set now or are you capable of solving it or is it better to let go and move on.

Many times students leave the set because they haven’t done such a set before or haven’t seen such a type. Don’t commit this blunder. Read each and every set and try solving 1–2 questions from them. Remember that you need not solve all the 4 questions in the set. Even if you solve 2 questions from a set, its perfect.

Remember that most of the sets will have variable data (i.e. the inputs vary depending on the question). Avoid being bogged down by the difficulty of this section. I believe that if you smartly manoeuvre through the section like a hawk, you will crack it. The more calm and composed you are, the better your performance will be.

Enjoy the process and approach it with a smile. If you get panic then its difficult to move ahead. Many top scorers have typed in their answers in the last 25 minutes of the paper.

Keep speaking to yourself- is there a jugaad to get this answer? Can I go with the option elimination technique? Which answer seems reasonable?

At times, option substitution works, at times option elimination works. You never know!


Target more than 10 questions with 90 % accuracy. However difficult the paper may be, attempt to solve more than 10 questions correctly. You can take calculated risks in the Type-Ins.

4. Quantitative Aptitude:

Over the years, CAT has reduced the difficulty of the Quant section and made it less of formula based. The paper nowadays is filled with raw-maths skills and basic knowledge. The key here is timing and accuracy.

A good timing strategy is to divide the paper into 4 parts-10–10–10–4 questions-and devote 15 minutes to each slot.

So, I would focus only on the first 10 questions in the first 15 minutes and not look at the entire paper. Treat these 10 questions as a test to be solved in 15 minutes. Look through these 10 questions in any order. You can leave questions for the next round. So say, I could solve 7/10 questions in the first 15 minutes, that’s great! I mark the 3 questions for later and move ahead. Once the clock goes beyond 15 minutes (i.e. 45th minute), go to the next 10 questions. Now, consider question number 11–19 as your new set to be solved in 15 minutes. This strategy divides the paper into small doable chunks.

In the last 15 minutes, you can resolve the questions you have marked. By this strategy, in the first 45 minutes, you might have solved about ~18 -20 questions with 100 % accuracy. And in the last 15 minutes, you can go for the kill. Don’t leave the Type-Ins unattempted as they don’t have negative marks. Attempt all the Type-Ins. Don’t get too distracted by the calculator. Use it only if you need to do a big calculation. Develop a feel for numbers and you will be fine!

Don’t leave the question by just reading it. Do some rough work and see if something can be done. Again, avoid leaving questions from topics you haven’t done. At times, students leave very easy questions from Probabilty / PnC /Geometry at the face value.


Use your pen and paper as a scale to measure objects and angles from the screen in Geometry ! Yeah ! Many times you are unable to find the length or calculate angles, in such situations, go with what you seem evident from the screen.

(Try this at your own risk)


Don’t look at the entire paper at the beginning. This strategy can be disastrous here as it is the last section and you are just recovering from a disaster named DI-LR !

Attempt more than 24 questions with a great accuracy and you will ace this section.

Always do some rough work for each question.

What to do in the last week before CAT?

  • Meditate and sleep well
  • Avoid social media
  • Solve CAT 2017 Slot 1 and Slot 2 paper end-to-end
  • Keep reading articles
  • Practice 5–6 DI-LR sets every day
  • Revisit your previous mocks and solve the DI-LR sets without looking again

In the final analysis, stay happy ! Don’t attach too much importance to this exam. Whatever is the best for you, will happen ! Wishing you all the very best ! You can contact me on my email address to help you with any further doubts.

I am grateful to all my teachers and friends for helping me in this MBA journey. I am grateful to the practices taught by the Art of Living foundation (Sudarshan Kriya) which helped me stay calm during this period.

Best wishes!

Soham D’Souza

MBA (Class of 2020)- NITIE, Mumbai

B.Tech (Class of 2015)- Institute of Chemical Technology (former UDCT),Mumbai

Email ID: sohamdsouza@gmail.com