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The CAT: Is it really unpredictable?

Published: September 26, 2007
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The CAT is known to spring surprises year after year. We cannot predict the CAT and we
should not. There is one thing that we sure can do – understand the changes that have
happened in the CAT. Let us ask ourselves the most fundamental and basic question.
What is the CAT supposed to do for the IIMs? The purpose of the CAT is to select, those
candidates who are most likely to have the potential to do well in a management program
from among the given test taking population. The answer seems simple, and indeed here
is the key to unlock the mystery of the CAT. You agree that the test should be able to
differentiate the good and the not so good.

Quantitatively, the good student MUST score better than the not so good ones to ensure
that CAT does its job! Let us go one step further. This means that each question in the
CAT should and must differentiate between the good and the not so good. This in turn
would mean that in each question the good student should be able to answer correctly and
the not so good MUST make a mistake. I am emphasizing the word must. For instance,
let us say that all answer the first question. Is it a good question? No. The question is
ineffective since it failed to differentiate between the good and the not so good. What if
everyone got a question wrong? It is again a ‘bad’ question since it did not do the job of
differentiation. We can logically conclude each CAT question should be created in such a
manner that around 20 pc would get it right and 80 pc would get it wrong. A CAT
question is not about toughness. It is about its ability to differentiate 20 pc from the 100

Let me give you an example. Syllogisms used to frequently appear in the CAT in the
early nineties. Here is a question:

You need to figure out whether the third statement logically follows from the first two.

1. All IIMs are in India
2. Some BIMs are in India
3. Some BIMs are IIMs

This seems to fit in as a good CAT question. The CAT expected the students to use their
logical and reasoning ability to answer the question. But the students started solving the
question mechanically using a Venn diagram!
So, the CAT had no choice but to remove the question, since it was not doing the job!

So then, the changes in the CAT are only to extent that the CAT can to do its job. Rest
assured, CAT 2008 will be reasoning-intensive. Each question would require you to use
your logical and reasoning ability in addition to the concepts.

Learning 1 : The CAT will be reasoning-intensive

Practice Tests: Insanity is defined as doing the same thing the same way and expecting
different results.

The above is apt when it comes to test taking. Many have the tendency of taking test after
test without doing any analysis. Understand that each test is like a mirror. You cannot
wake up the next week and look at the mirror and expect a change. Therefore, it is
imperative that you do a thorough analysis of each test. Let me illustrate.

Let us say that you took a test of 100 questions, Attempts: 50, Correct: 30; Incorrect: 20.
If you continue taking 50 tests without any analysis, you would not have any clue of the
2500 (50 Q x 50 tests) that you would not have attempted or the 1000 (20 Q x 50 tests)
questions that you would have got incorrect. You will know only the 1500 (30 Q x 50
tests). This, to me, is clearly insanity!

After you have taken the test, spend at least 5 minutes each on questions that you have
not attempted, 3 minutes each on questions that you have got incorrect and 1 minute each
on questions that you have answered correctly. Let us do simple math.

Time for feedback
Unattempted : 5 min x 50 = 250 min = 4+ hours
Incorrect : 3 min x 30 = 90 min = 1.5 hrs
Correct : 1 min X 30 = 30 min = 0.5 hrs
Total = 6 hours

To incorporate the learning, you will need to revise each area for at least an hour.
Revision = 3 hours

The total time for a test
= 2.5 hrs for taking the test + 6 hours for feedback + 3 hours for revision
= 10.5 hours

Assuming you spend 2 to 3 hours per day, you will need 3 to 4 days for one test! How
many tests can you take in 90 days? Answer: 90/3 or 90/4 = 25 to 30 tests!

Where was 50 and where is 25! Remember, in the 50 tests you knew only around 1500
questions but in the 25 you will understand all the 2500 questions! Feedback and self-
analysis are a must if you want to clear the CAT.