CAT Preparation – Handling Pressure

CAT is a high pressure exam for many, and how to cope is probably a key determinant for cracking this exam. For a lucky few there is no great pressure and this is just another exam to have a go at. If you are one of that brigade, you should probably even skip this article and stay in that carefree bubble. No point thinking and reading about pressure and panic, and planting seeds into the brain.

Quite a few students freeze during the exam, a select few even entertain thoughts of not taking the exam at all. And a great many become slightly fearful and lose some of the ‘josh’ that needs to be present.

I am not an expert at handling pressure and am not going to give much by the way of prescription here. I want to showcase three well-written  articles on pressure – well, two on pressure and one on ‘josh’.

As one of the pieces states “We live in an age obsessed with success, with documenting the myriad ways by which talented people overcome challenges and obstacles. There is as much to be learned, though, from documenting the myriad ways in which talented people sometimes fail.

All three are based on sports and are wonderful articles to help us understand what pressure does to people. Sportsmen need to do their bit in the presence of gazillions and which is why their chokes always provide us the backdrop for us to understand pressure.

The Art of Failure – Gladwell.com

This wonderful piece focuses on Jana Novotna’s implosion at Wimbleson. Quite a long piece but totally worth reading. The author distinguishes between choking and panicking, and from a student perspective, choking is probably a bigger threat than panicking in CAT.

Some interesting extracts are given below – But I would recommend that you read the entire piece.

She was crumbling under pressure, but exactly why was as baffling to her as it was to all those looking on. Isn’t pressure supposed to bring out the best in us? We try harder. We concentrate harder. We get a boost of adrenaline. We care more about how well we perform. So what was happening to her?….

Panic, in this sense, is the opposite of choking. Choking is about thinking too much. Panic is about thinking too little. Choking is about loss of instinct. Panic is reversion to instinct…..

Given below is the probably the most important insight. “I hope I dont mess this up” –  is not a good mindset to take into an exam.

What is it we tell underperforming athletes and students? The same thing we tell novice pilots or scuba divers: to work harder, to buckle down, to take the tests of their ability more seriously. But Steele says that when you look at the way black or female students perform under stereotype threat you don’t see the wild guessing of a panicked test taker. “What you tend to see is carefulness and second-guessing,” he explains. “When you go and interview them, you have the sense that when they are in the stereotype-threat condition they say to themselves, ‘Look, I’m going to be careful here. I’m not going to mess things up.’ Then, after having decided to take that strategy, they calm down and go through the test. But that’s not the way to succeed on a standardized test. The more you do that, the more you will get away from the intuitions that help you, the quick processing. They think they did well, and they are trying to do well. But they are not.”……

They failed because they were good at what they did: only those who care about how well they perform ever feel the pressure of stereotype threat. The usual prescription for failure–to work harder and take the test more seriously–would only make their problems worse….. (Dear students, take 3 days off if you are continuously agonizing about the exam).

That is a hard lesson to grasp, but harder still is the fact that choking requires us to concern ourselves less with the performer and more with the situation in which the performance occurs…….. (Go in to have fun with the paper. Dont worry about letting down your Dad)….

The second article is also interesting because it is a team sport and relates to cricket.

Why the Proteas Choke at the Cricket World Cup 

South Africa choked in the most important cricket match since their return to cricket in the 90’s, the semi-final of the 1999 world cup.

Again, some simple extracts

It is obvious that Klusener was so locked into the idea of winning the match for South Africa that he was unable to step out of himself…..

What they needed when the scores were equal was clear-headedness and the presence of mind to coolly look at where they were and what had to be done……

The Haal Of Pakistan

Having seen two long articles on pressure, let us go through one on adrenaline. This is a fabulous article on the Pakistan cricket team from one of my favourite writers. This one is about ‘josh’ or ‘haal’ as the writer calls it. One should prepare to reach this level where the senses are heightened before the exam,

Again, some extracts

And then there is total frenzy, so overwhelming and real you can almost hold it in your hands. Such is its force that it can be deeply moving even through the sensory dilution and sanitisation of TV, even on ball-by-ball commentary online…

Fielders start hitting the stumps and taking catches which, in other situations, we can easily imagine them dropping…..

Please try to go into the exam by telling yourself this

“And it is a tamasha. I swear to God, we used to say it, we used to talk about it like this. Chal para kaam, chaloji, pakro [‘It’s begun, come, grab on to it’], that kind of language in the middle.”….

Suddenly, jaan aajati he……

“You could say denial if the outcome ended in failure; but here the outcome is success. Most times that self-belief is latent, but it gets triggered by some unexpected circumstance. And once triggered, it feeds on itself and explodes. I guess another way of seeing it is that this self-belief has an activation threshold, and once the threshold is met, there’s no stopping it and it goes all the way……

All three are long(-ish) articles, but interesting ones to understand pressure and josh. Before a critical exam, all of us have anxiety and adrenaline. Figure out ways to tone down one, and kick in the other. and that alone is worth 200 hours of preparation. Truth is, we do not really know how to do this. Otherwise, sportsmen with their infinite array of analysts would not choke. But, set aside some time to think about this.

Best wishes for CAT.

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