The Common Admission Test is considered the mother of all B-School entrance exams and about 200000 aspirants appear for it every year. Cat tests an applicant’s knowledge and application skills in the areas of English mathematics and logic.nbsp;

It is widely believed that engineers have an advantage over non-engineers in this test as they are more familiar with mathematical concepts and calculations. However this is one of the many myths around Cat and applicants from non-engineering backgrounds need not feel disadvantaged at all. Let us examine the pattern of the test to understand why.

Cat 2016 will consist of three separate and independent sections mdash; verbal ability quantitative ability and data interpretation and logical reasoning. A candidate will have to do reasonably well in all three sections in order to get an interview call from a top B-school.

VA tests knowledge levels in English and LR tests a candidate’s logic and reasoning ability mdash; both these areas offer no special advantage to engineers over others. QA and DI are two areas that have always rewarded a candidate with quick and accurate calculation skills and that is where engineers have a perceived edge over others. That edge has now been significantly reduced with the introduction of an onscreen calculator. Quick calculations have ceased to be a ldquo;must-haverdquo; skill in order to do well in Cat; with the calculator available the playing field is more level for non-engineers than it ever was.

As far as familiarity to the QA concepts are concerned one would do well to appreciate that Cat does not test complex mathematical concepts but simple ones mdash; that all of us irrespective of our educational background have learnt in school mdash; with the help of complex questions. With a bit of revision and practice anyone can master those concepts and do well in the section.

Having said all that let us now look at the general strategy to do well in the different sections.

Verbal ability: This section places a lot of emphasis on comprehension which requires extensive reading of relevant material and continuous practice of solving passages at least 10 per week followed by a thorough analysis of questions where one made mistakes. One must also familiarise oneself with concepts of critical reasoning-based questions like para jumbles. para completion and odd man out and practise them regularly.

Quantitative ability: About two-thirds of the section is arithmetic equations ratio proportion and variation percentage applications simple and compound interest time and distance time and work averages and mixtures and other areas numbers and geometry. One has to be familiar with the various concepts involved and their applications.nbsp;

The section also includes questions from areas of pure mathematics like permutation and combination probability function and graphs co-ordinate geometry trigonometry et al. They are comparatively harder areas and candidates have to exercise judgement whether to invest time and effort in them or seek professional guidance.

Data interpretation and logical reasoning: Good performance in this section would require sound knowledge on the basics of QA and a thorough understanding of the different models of DILR sets which will come from analysis of past papers. One has to be familiar with all the different models of questions that have appeared before.

With a little more than two months to go for Cat 2016 aspirants need to fine tune their preparation for maximising returns. Aspirants who have started their preparations relatively early should keep the following in mind:

Stress has to be put on taking mock tests assuming concepts are well-covered.

Thorough analysis of the test performance to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses.

Emphasise has to be put on stronger areas to maximise one’s score.

The basics of areas where accuracy is less than 50 per cent has to be revised.

On the other hand aspirants who have began their preparation after July should keep the following in mind:

Get hold of comprehensive and relevant study material and some full length tests for practise.

Analyse past question papers to get familiarised with the question types and get a feel of the areas from where questions are asked and their level of difficulty.

Prepare area-wise study plan so that all basics are covered preferably by end October.

Candidates must identify areas where some basic knowledge already exists mdash; these areas will give better returns on time invested. In areas where candidates lack even a basic level of understanding it may not be fruitful to spend extensive time.

Candidates should start taking full length tests after about a month of preparation. Analysis of one’s performance to fine tune areas of strengths and identifying areas of weaknesses is necessary.

For late starters keeping the short preparation time in mind it would be advisable to take professional guidance for best results.

Time management on exam day is another important determinant of the outcome. Sectional time limits are there so candidates need not bother about section-wise time allocation. Within a section one should start with a quick scan five to 10 minutes of all the questions to identify the easier ones and they should be attempted first. If time permits candidates can later move to the harder ones and solve a few of them to maximise the score. One always needs to be conscious about the time remaining and one should not get stuck on a question for more than five minutes.

To wrap up let us be aware of a few common mistakes that aspirants make in the test. Wild guesses are to be avoided at all costs and sitter questions are not to be missed. They may be scattered across the section but one needs to identify them. Getting stuck with a question for a long period of time is a common mistake and a candidate needs to be judicious about when to move on to the next one.

The writer is Centre Director Time Kolkata.