CAT Preparation : Perceptions

CAT Preparation and the illusion of preparation

Perceptions matter, especially your own perception of what you are doing. This is why the CAT Preparation industry has gotten away with so much drivel over the years. Let me explain this better.

John wants to prepare for CAT and has set aside 2.5 hours every day for this. He has a tough job and has carved out this time by sacrificing an awful lot. He wants to prepare really intensely. So, in order to improve his verbal ability score, he tries 2 RC passages, practices speed reading for 20 minutes and memorizes meanings of 40 words every day. He is diligent and achieves all these objectives over a three-month period.

Michael, John’s friend is not preparing for CAT and enjoys a relaxed life. Michael jogs for an hour every day, solves one Sudoku puzzle in the bog and has completed 10 different novels during this spell including six gems from PG Wodehouse.

Under the assumption that both were at the similar starting point, Michael will probably get a far better score than John in verbal ability if they both took a test today.

CAT last tested vocabulary in the 20th century. CAT last tested vocabulary in the 20th century. This is not a typo. I am trying to reiterate the point, quite literally. Great vocabulary counts for pish tosh in this exam. Hard- booted Vocab is useless if the usage is context based and idiomatic. Will the question in CAT be context-based and idiomatic? Does the Sun rise in the east?

Did you get the point from the last two questions? If you did, then you have some reading experience. If you didn’t, then adding another 2000 words to your vocabulary won’t matter.

So, why do so many students spend so much time on vocabulary-building?

Exam-anxiety. The mind seeks something tangible and measurable. I feel good if I know the meanings of 100 words that I did not know previously. I feel like I have prepared. Our protagonist, John wants to feel every day that he is preparing hard for this exam. Somehow, reading a novel does not fit in with this.

The best way to crack VA section is to build the reading habit, and to build it with a lot of variety. Read novels, essays, long articles, magazines, newspapers, editorials. Restricting oneself to passages similar to the ones that appear in CAT is silly.

If your verbal ability score is poor, you should read one novel per week for 4 weeks, raise it to 2 novels per week for 4 weeks and then read gazillion articles, newspapers, magazines for 4 weeks then have a go at CAT verbal section. I can bet my bottom-dollar that there will be a perceptible difference in the way you approach RC’s.

However, this 12-week trudge is a lonely affair. During this spell, you have to fight the urge to memorize words, fight the urge to do a sentence rearrangement exercises and have the confidence to stick with the right thing.

Abraham Lincoln once said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. CAT preparation is like that. Spend close to 70% of the time on making your mind sharper and you will realize that your percentiles keep trending upward for a long time.

The quick-fix thing is a drug, stay away from it

Short-cuts for DI, vocabulary exercises for cracking Para Jumble, RCs learnt like Quant are all quick-fixes that sound good. It is like the herbal cure for baldness or the meditation cure for diabetes. There is a part of the mind that says it can’t really work, but the decision-making part does not want to listen to this rational part.

I have taken this exam a number of times. I know zero computational shortcuts, I have never measured my reading speed, I have built mechanisms to slow down my reading speed and never learnt anything from a wordlist. I have done alright in this exam. Do not let apprehensions about this exam take you towards the loonier ends of CAT preparation.

What should one avoid?

Avoid shortcuts like the plague. Do not hard boot vocabulary. For the love of God, do not learn Vedic Mathematics. If someone says, they can teach you all mathematical formulae in one shot, run from the place. Run like the wind. Euclid laid out 8 postulates and almost all of modern Geometry is based on these. Why would you need 100 formulae to crack the CAT?

Most of Vedic math techniques is oversimplified mumbo-jumbo. Vedic math is a very good party trick. If someone asks you to track your reading speed and measure this once a month, politely tell them you have better things to do.

Why does the CAT prep industry peddle these things?

Imagine joining a CAT prep institute and they tell you “The Math is fairly simple. Pick up VI – IX std NCERT books and have a go at RD Sharma and you are ready. For verbal, read for 2 hours a day. Have a look at a few charts, solve puzzles from George Summers while in the bog and you are 80% done. Take a few mocks and you should be able to crack CAT. Now, pay me Rs. 40,000 so that you can crack CAT.

Not a very good sales pitch is it?

Now, imagine this. You walk in and the guy asks you to say any natural number less than 125. Within seconds he gives the square of this number. He calls his friend and asks you to give another number who gives the square practically the second you say the number.

Then together, they tell you that you can be as quick as the wind, know as many words as the most word-knowing person you know. Now, the Rs. 40k number seems like a good deal.

The industry thrives on making students believe that the stuff they teach is somehow very complex. The questions discussed on most of the forums and groups are way tougher than CAT. The illusion of complexity underpins the raison d’etre of the coaching industry, and collectively this is the biggest disservice we do to the student community.

The CAT wants to know whether the students have basic numerical ability and verbal ability. It is a fabulously simple exam that one can prepare for with a sense of joy.

Don’t listen to anyone who says this is a tough exam.

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