How to prepare for CAT

How to prepare for CAT has been a prominent question for candidates who aspire to take CAT. CAT (Common Admission Test) is an aptitude screening exam for MBA admission across 160 b-schools (including the IIMs) in the country. It is a 3-hour paper held every year in online CBT (Computer based) mode. The paper is organized Jointly by one of the major IIMs (Indian Institute of Management) and TCS (Tata Consultancy Services). The number of total students who apply for CAT crosses the “2-lakh" mark every year who compete for a few thousand IIM seats. Premier B schools like FMS New Delhi, MDI Gurgaon, IMT Ghaziabad and SP Jain Mumbai also accept CAT Scores as a major qualifying criterion. Serious aspirants always want to know how to prepare for CAT at least a year before appearing for the exam to give substance to their preparation, as the exam is fierce in terms of competition.

CAT notification is likely to be announced by the second week of August every year and the examination isconducted by the final week of November 2021 (tentatively). Hence, if you are serious about making a breakthrough in the field of management and business education by pursuing MBA from the best b-school in the country, now is the right time to start preparing for CAT. The admission process of the b-schools may include WAT (Written Ability Test), GD (Group Discussion) and PI (Personal interview). Before filling the application form, candidates should make sure that they fulfill the admission requirements and the eligibility criteria of the institutes they want to go to. If the information provided by you is incomplete or incorrect at any stage, you will be exempted from taking the examination or scores will be considered invalid. Candidates can only give the paper online where a computer system will be allotted to them with a specific number as mentioned next to their roll numbers in a list put up on a bulletin in the examination center. In this article, we will learn more about how to prepare for CAT 2021 based on the expected CAT exam pattern and expected CAT exam syllabus

CAT Exam Pattern

The CAT pattern has remained the same in the last 5 years, with some minor modifications made each year. Each section of CAT will be of 60-minute time duration. The total time frame for the examination is 180 minutes I.e 3 hours.

The CAT Exam consists of 100 Questions spread across three sections:

  • VARC (Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension)
  • DILR (Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning)
  • QA (Quantitative Aptitude)

Based on the last year's Exam Pattern, here is what we expect from this year's CAT Exam Pattern.

Section Number of questions Maximum marks Duration Marking Scheme Difficulty Level
VARC 34 102 60 minutes +3/-1 Moderate
DILR 32 96 60 minutes +3/-1 Moderate to difficult
QA 34 102 60 minutes +3/-1 Moderate
Total 100 300 3 hours - Moderate

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CAT Syllabus

You need to prepare the major topics pertaining to major CAT sections in order to ace CAT with good marks. The syllabus for CAT is more likely to consist the following topics:

Verbal ability and reading comprehension Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning Quantitative ability
Reading comprehension Blood Relations Equations (Linear, Special, Quadratic)
English grammar and usage Direction sense Geometry
fill in the blanks Seating arrangement (linear and circular) Number system 
Sentence correction Coding Decoding Arithmetic Progression and Geometric progression
cloze test Sequence and series simple and compound interest
word-meaning Case lets, pie chart, line graph Profit and loss, pipes and cisterns
Analogy  Clocks and calendars Averages. Percentages 
vocabulary based questions Venn Diagrams Time and work
Para Jumble Binary logic Allegations and mixtures

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How to prepare for CAT : Overall CAT Preparation Strategy

Ideally, CAT preparation requires 10-12 months' time duration I.e. 45-54 weeks of preparation. You should focus on dividing your CAT preparation into various phases for an even graph and optimize your strategy according to the time left to sharpen your speed and accuracy. You can refer to the following table to get a rough idea on how to structure your CAT preparation:

Week-wise CAT Preparation strategy

Phase 1(0-16 weeks) Phase 2 (16-32 weeks) Phase 3 (32-54 weeks)
Knowing the basic concepts and CAT 2021 Exam pattern Practicing the concepts without taking mocks Start giving full length mocks starting 2-3 for each week
Take CAT 2021 Open Mock to learn more about the exam pattern and the syllabus. Focusing on reading more of newspapers, editorials and RC passages and more and practice at least 4-5 RC questions in a day. Focus on solving questions related to VARC, DILR and QA all mixed up, to test your concepts.
Taking a full-length mock test Focusing on “concept review” questions for weak areas. Alternate between easy and difficult questions
Figuring out the mode of preparation Timing yourself while solving each question Solve mainly using Process of Elimination technique to save up on time.
Preparing a time-schedule Using a calculator to save time during difficult DI or QA problems. Practice last 5 year’s CAT question papers.
Setting a daily target for every day. Learning new words every day and understanding the usage of the words in context of the passage. Prepare a cheat sheet of all different formulas and identities.
Strengthening brain calculations Revisit each concept at least 2-3 times to develop lifetime familiarity with them. Decrease the frequency of taking mocks and research about other important questions online. Stay updated with the examination day checks and download your admit card.

Section Wise CAT Preparation Strategy for CAT: VARC

Verbal ability is a section most of the students find to be a bit more complex than other sections. This section is designed to assess your oral as well as written communication skills in detail. Here is how you can prepare for this section:

General Preparation Tips for VARC Section

  • You need to develop an incessant habit of speed reading. Start with reading newspapers, editorials, fiction and nonfiction novels and simple passages. The more you read, the faster you read.
  • Learn the basic grammar concepts like parts of speech, articles, verbs, adjectives, tenses, auxiliary verbs, modifiers, modals etc.
  • Revise at least 50 new words every day. Keep a notebook handy where you can pen down the learnt words along with its contextual usage. Switch to online vocabulary enhancers or online dictionaries.
  • Choose reading the questions before the passage. Try to link the question with the main idea with the passage and extract the answer automatically.
  • Use the strategy of eliminating the unobvious answers to get close to the real answer
  • Solve the questions by combining both the preparation strategies together. This will help in speed solving.

Add-on Tips for VARC

  • Read as many editorials as you can to improve your understanding of grammar
  • Try writing texts on various topics in English to improve your understanding of grammar and vocabulary.
  • Try to read aloud in English. Move your hand or index finger as you move along. Make eye contact with yourself during this process.
  • Do not re-read multiple times. This would confuse you.
  • Train yourself to read quickly by setting time spans.
  • Try to learn multi word phrases to pick out clues from the RC passage to predict what will happen next.
  • Try to impersonate the author of the RC passage and build a connection between him/her and yourself.

Best guides to Practice for VARC:

  • Refer to 8-10th Std. NCERT books.
  • Refer to Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis
  • Refer to High School Grammar by Wren and Martin 
  • Refer to Business English and Communication by Clark Zimmer, Publisher- Mcgraw Hill Ryerson.

Also check: Best Books for CAT preparation

Best guides to Practice for VARC:

  • Refer to 8-10th Std. NCERT books.
  • Refer to Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis
  • Refer to High School Grammar by Wren and Martin 
  • Refer to Business English and Communication by Clark Zimmer, Publisher- Mcgraw Hill Ryerson.

Section Wise CAT Preparation Strategy: DILR

DILR has been continuously termed as an almost complex section of CAT since the past 2 years. Due to the absence of an exact DILR syllabus, preparing for this section can be a bit challenging. However, consistent practice can turn you into an avid solver for DILR questions.

Generic Preparation Tips for DILR section:

  • Develop an understanding for all kinds of tables, graphs and charts for Data Interpretation and puzzles and caselets for Logical Reasoning.
  • Practice brain calculations. Learn the percentage equivalent of fraction and the alphabet codes from A to Z. Trust me, they will save a lot of time.  
  • Learn to compare fractions in DI. This will help you with major calculations.  
  • Take out time and practice puzzles like sudoku, riding against the wind, player and coins to stimulate your reasoning skills.
  • Go with your gut instincts while solving the problem.
  • Attempt at least 4-5 question sets of DI and LR every day. Each question set should not take more than 8-10 minutes to solve.

Best guides to Practice for DILR:

  • Refer to Pearson Guide to Verbal Ability and Logical Reasoning for CAT by Nishit Sinha, Publisher- Pearson.
  • Refer to How to Prepare for Data Interpretation for the CAT by Arun Sharma, Publisher- Tata Mcgraw Hill.
  • Refer to A modern approach to Logical Reasoning by Dr R.S Aggarwal

Section Wise CAT Preparation Strategy: QA

For the QA section, candidates need to follow a smart approach and understand basic concepts effectively. You would get a decent score in the QA section even if you solve half the number of questions correctly. The main difference lies in learning how exactly to prepare for CAT Quantitative Aptitude and assuming the section to be difficult and unsolvable. Here are a few tips for solving QA questions:

  • Understand how much you actually know about a particular topic. If you are unaware of the elementary concepts, you would not be able to solve CAT-level questions.
  • Prepare a cheat sheet of all the useful formulas. This will help you with a “hit and trial strategy” during the exam. Learn tables till 50, squares and cubes up to 30 and percentage equivalent of fractions up to 30.
  • Build a strategy on how many questions to attempt everyday based on your ability to solve. Remember to time yourself while solving those questions.
  • Keep yourself focused on accuracy of the answer rather than speed. Speed youâll eventually achieve, But finding the correct answer is what will help in combination with speed.
  • Attempt different strategies in the mock exams in order to arrive at the final strategy that you wish to use in the final exam. Also, segregate the questions into easy, moderate and difficult. Always start with the last question during quant mocks.
  • Choose easy questions and avoid “trick questions” which take too long to solve. CAT is all about accuracy, not adaption.

Best guides to Practice for QA

  • Refer to How to Prepare for Quantitative Aptitude for the CAT by Arun Sharma, Publisher- Tata Mcgraw Hill.
  • Refer to Pearson Guide to Quantitative Aptitude and Data Interpretation for CAT by Nishit Sinha, Publisher- Pearson.
  • Quantum CAT: Quantitative Aptitude Common Admission Test for Admission into IIMs by Sarvesh K Verma, Publisher- Arihant
  • NCERT Mathematics books for class 8th, 9th and 10th

Read in detail: How to ace CAT DILR?

Read in detail:  How to ace CAT Quantitative Aptitude

Eligibility criteria for CAT 2021

  • In order to be eligible for the CAT Exam, the candidate has to pass at least their bachelor's degree with at least 50% (for General Category and for candidates from the NC-OBC caste). For SC/ST and Differently Abled (DA) candidates, the percentage required is 45%.
  • For the Degree to be counted, the University who has awarded the degree has to be recognized by the MHRD.
  • If the University awards grades or CGPA instead of marks, the conversion factor given by the University must be used. If there is no conversion factor specified by the University, the CGPA must be converted into percentage by direct conversion i.e. divide the CGPA received by the highest GPA possible and multiply the result by 100.
  • Candidates who have completed their professional degrees with over 50% (45% for SC/ST/PwD) are also eligible for CAT.

Insights into CAT Eligibility Criteria

Why is it important to take CAT mocks?

If you happen to take CAT mocks with a grain of salt during your prepping phase, you will always doubt the accuracy of your CAT preparation strategy. CAT mocks help you understand the practical usage of all the concepts you have studied so far along with building your stamina to win-over a 3-hour fatiguing examination. As the CAT exam is the first priority of every MBA aspirant, chances are that you might succumb to the peer-pressure. CAT mocks ensure that with this increasing pressure, you don’t lose your accuracy in solving questions related to qualitative CAT-centric topics. CAT mocks tweak your preparation plan in a way cream rises to the top in coffee or tea. If you are able to secure well in CAT mocks, you are all set to join the CAT 99%ilers club or even CAT 100%ilers club without a doubt!

Read in detail: Why is writing CAT mocks important and how to make the most of it?

Also check out: How to improve my CAT Mock percentile?

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