Here is the ugly truth that no one tells you about taking the CAT – in your quest of attempting as many questions as you can, you are actually giving yourself more chances to screw up. The more questions you attempt – the greater the chances of silly mistakes and of missing the sitters. Which brings me to the most unpardonable sin you can commit in CAT – the greed of attempting more and more questions.

To address this, you will have to attain nirvana from this greed of “I will attempt as many questions as possible” or “I will attempt all 32 / 34 questions”. And for this I present to you a simple solution: Leaving questions improves your score.

Of course, like everything else in life, this is not as easy as it sounds. You cannot indiscriminately skip questions and hope to improve your score. To make this work for you, we’ll first have to analyze your performance pattern in the last few mocks.

What you’ve been doing till now

In the CAT 2015 pattern Mock CATs that the students have been taking till the CAT 2016 pattern is released, the number of attempts for most students is around 18-20 in each section with 12-15 of correct answers leading to an accuracy of around 70% even after spending over 4 minutes per question. There’s your next serious problem – the definition of an attempt.

Most students (and faculty) define attempts as the numbers of questions for which an answer was marked. But my definition of attempts includes:

  • The QA questions in which around 100 seconds were spent in forming equations, doing calculations and no answer marked
  • The DI/LR sets in which you spent time making the table but were unsuccessful and abandoned the set without marking answer(s) to the questions
  • The RC questions whose answers were not marked after reading the passage
  • The Critical Reasoning, Para Completion & Para Jumbles question that were left unmarked after a couple of minutes of working

The correct definition of ‘Attempts’ is the number of questions in which you spent at least 100 seconds, whether you marked the answer or not is not important. In each section there would be at least 5-6 such questions hence most of the students are attempting 25+ questions with 12-15 answers marked correctly, 6-8 incorrect answers and 5-6 questions for which the answers were not marked even after spending time or most students have an accuracy of 50%.

Pick up any Mock CAT (Proctored or Unproctored) that you attempted recently and identify the questions that you spent the most time on, you will be surprised to discover that:
• The 12-15 questions that were answered correctly took only around 25 minutes.
• The 6-8 questions that were answered incorrectly took around 20 minutes and at least half of these were unforced errors (or silly mistakes) that happened because of rushing through the question or the calculation. Spending another 30 sec in understanding the question or in calculation would have converted a -1 to +3
• The 5-6 questions for which no answer was marked even after spending time took around 15 minutes. These were the speed breakers that derailed you. Most probably, if these questions had not been attempted, the unforced errors would have vanished.
• This leaves 10 odd questions including 4-5 sitters that you did not notice in the paper. You did not have time for these questions because you were not willing to leave those 5-6 speed breakers. This means that to do well in CAT (and other MBA entrances) you have to leave difficult and time-consuming questions.

IIM Call-getter Vs Others
IIM call-getter: Exercises choice, attempts the easy questions, leaves questions that are difficult to crack and thus would have been a waste of time. Because (s)he picks and chooses questions to leave, (s)he does not miss out on the sitters and scores precious marks. S(he) makes the full use of the one hour by selecting the questions judiciously and ends up with an attempt (answers marked) of 22-25 questions in a section.
Misses out on IIM call: Attempts whatever comes his/her way and is forced to leaves 10 odd questions anyways – some of these are bound to be sitters that lost him precious marks, while critical time was wasted on difficult questions which would have resulted in zero or negative marks. Also attempts 22-25 questions but is able to mark answers to only around 18-20 questions with 6-8 wrong answers and misses 4-5 sitters.

The Proof

CAT 2011 to 2013: These papers had two sections, QADI and VALR, with 30 questions in each section.
• For a sectional score of 95%ile, one needed a net correct attempt of 15 or an attempt 20 questions with 3 – 4 incorrect answers.
• For an overall score of 99%ile, one needed a net correct attempt of around 35 in the paper or a total attempt of 40-42 questions with 4 – 5 incorrect answers.

CAT 2014: If you feel that CAT 2011 to 2013 should not be considered as the pattern has changed and the level of difficulty of CAT 2015 is expected to be lower then have a look at CAT 2014 which is possibly the easiest CAT paper in the last 15 years. This paper also had two sections QADI and VALR but with 50 questions in each section.
• For a sectional score of 95%ile, one needed a net correct attempt of 28-30 in QADI and 25-27 in VALR. This translates to an attempt of 35-40 questions in each section with 80% accuracy.
• A 95%ile in each section typically translates to an aggregate score of 97.5%ile thus a net correct attempt of around 55 was sufficient for a call from the new IIMs for a general category candidate.
• For an overall score of 99%ile, one needed a net correct attempt of 62-64 in the paper or a total attempt of 80 questions with 85% accuracy.
Remember that CAT 2014 was the easiest CAT paper in 15 years and in this paper too leaving 10-12 questions in each section was not a problem! With CAT 2015 expected to be slightly tougher leaving about 10 questions per section leading to an attempt of around 70 should be fine. Given that every question carries equal marks, you should be leaving the most difficult question types to ensure zero time wastage.

In the next article of this series, I will discuss the four reasons as to why is it diffuclt to leave questions. Stay tuned.

All the best!