How to bell the CAT?

We aren’t exactly talking about the feline here! CAT or Common Admission Test is an aptitude test which helps Indian MBA aspirants get into their dream B-School. The exam is meant to assess an aspirant’s quantitative analytical skills as well as verbal ability. Businesses require analytical skills as well as good communication so, both these aspects are essential for a successful career in business management.

As an aspirant you must know by now, that CAT is the most popular and the most widely accepted MBA entrance exam in India. This exam is taken by over three lakh aspirants every academic year. Needless to say, the competition is fierce. Therefore, to crack the CAT exam, one needs to have a well-thought-of action plan.

Speaking of the timeline, CAT is held every year in late October or early November. So, to have a good revision time towards the last lap, one needs to start early, say April or even March if a premier B-School is at stake. The preparation can be divided into stages as a lot of syllabus needs to be covered and a lot of practice is required to manage time and maintain accuracy.

CAT preparation is a vicious cycle of read-practice-repeat. The exam is 180 minutes long, and you have 100 questions to answer. Which includes, 34 Quantitative Ability, 34 Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension and 32 Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning questions. If you do the math, you can figure out that every question would have less than 2 minutes to be read and solved accurately. Feel some pressure yet?

Cutting to the chase, to prepare for CAT efficiently and to avoid last-minute panic, there are 2 things an aspirant need to do- Self Study (post joining a CAT coaching centre) and solve multiple mock test series offered by various institutes like AIMCATs by TIME and Career Launcher’s Test Gym, to name a few.

Candidates who decide to join a coaching institute for CAT preparation, get guided well by the mentors and coaches who have a clear idea about how much is to be covered and what to emphasize on. The coaching institute will also provide them with all the study material and mock test series, which guide aspirants through tricky concepts and questions. However, aspirants will be required to attend classes of 6–8 hours daily for 8–10 months.

Some aspirants prepare for CAT while working or attending college, hence they cannot attend daily classes. Such aspirants can opt for self-study. Yes, CAT exam preparation is possible through self-study without any coaching as well. In fact, there are CAT toppers, who have studied for the exam on their own and made it to premier B-Schools. Such aspirants often resort to the following for some additional help-

· Join an online study group on social platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Quora, etc.

· Download an MBA preparation app, available online.

· Buy books with vast reserves of MCQs for CAT.

· Obtain online study material like mock test series by TIME, Test Funda, Career Launcher, etc.

Make a month-wise plan to “Bell the CAT”.

CAT exam is held in online mode in two slots, you might get placed in either. The difficulty level of the question paper is usually moderate to difficult. The questions may be tricky, but what makes the difference is how accurately and fast the questions are solved.

The aspirants need to know the CAT syllabus and pattern in detail first. Being able to choose the right question, reading them quickly and accurately and solving them, is the key area that an aspirant needs to work upon. It is a good idea to look at the preparation in parts and phases. Let’s look at the entire preparation journey with respect to the subjects.

Methods to prepare for Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension-

This section of CAT exam normally has three parts consisting, vocabulary, grammar and reading comprehension. This section can be a real game-changer for non-maths background aspirants.

Vocabulary questions include synonyms, antonyms, analogies, spellings, odd words, sentence completion and cloze tests. To solve these questions, one requires a combination of a good hold on vocabulary, rapid reading skills and reasoning ability. Vocabulary knowledge is not merely knowing what a word means but understanding the contexts that the word can fit in to. Once you start understanding a particular word’s usage in context, it will get easy.

A good way to build vocabulary is to understand a word through etymology or understanding root meanings. Knowing the meaning of a Latin root can enable one to understand words which are derived from it. Maintaining cue cards can work as a memory aid for words. Also, try and add to your understanding of roots, the meanings of prefixes and suffixes to have a considerable amount of control over vocabulary.

Coming to grammar, there are two approaches to solve the grammar-based question — go by rules and learn the various parts of speech and their usages and the rules that apply. You may also practice the kind of questions that are asked and you take an approach of learning the kind of errors which lead to questions based on error detection or sentence correction. A god reading habit can aid to an amazing understanding of basic grammar.

Reading Comprehension can be tackled only by cultivating the habit of rapid reading over time. Start small with fiction, newspapers and blogs. Target nothing less than a reading speed of about 200 words per minute depending on the type of the text. And read diverse material. Choose to read those topics which are out of your comfort zone.

Methods to prepare for Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning-

The weightage of Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning in CAT is 1/6th of the test paper. In CAT 2019, this section was difficult and time-consuming and is expected to be so every 2–3 years.

The tricky part about DILR is that it is non-mathematics and there are no formulas. It is logic-based and requires some amount of calculation and counting. It’s a skill to be acquired and not learnt.

Rapid mental calculation is the key to this section. To strengthen your hold on DILR, avoid using a calculator. Master tables up to 30, knowledge of fractions up to 1/20, basic addition and subtraction, cubes, squares up to 30, etc. can be very useful.

DILR section of CAT can be mastered with practice, the more you practice, the quicker you will get in achieving accuracy. This section can be a make or break part of the test.

Methods to prepare for Quantitative Ability-

The Quantitative Ability section of CAT includes Arithmetic, Algebra, Advance Mathematics and Geometry; and makes up for the 1/3rd of the CAT question paper.

There is no other way of scoring this section without knowing every chapter. Memorise basic theories and attempt variety to sample questions to tackle QA section of CAT. This section may require heavy calculation.

Practice and rely on mental calculations because the calculator on the screen wastes a lot of time. And to bell the CAT, time is of the essence.

Having said that, CAT or any other MBA entrance test demands time management and accuracy. Even after going through this intense preparation game-plan, what an aspirant does in those 3 hours, makes all the difference. So, having a stress free and well-rested mind is very important on “The Day”.


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Dr. Romani Banerjee

Written by

Dentist turned Marketer, an enthusiastic B-School grad, an avid reader and a passionate writer, here to provide you a good reading experience.


We are creating the best and most effective way of learning and notes sharing for more than 1 Billion students around the world via a Global Peer-to-Peer Learning Platform. Notesgen’s aim is to connect all students from around the world searching for study material.