CAT 2014 Notification: What does this mean?

CAT 2014 notification is out .

First up, let us review the facts

Time duration: 170 minutes instead of 140 minutes
Number of questions: 50 per section, instead of 30 per section previously
Dates: Nov 16th and Nov 22nd, two sessions per day, instead of 40 sessions in the previous avatar
Change in pattern: Candidates can shift from one section to another, the time limit is 170 minutes for the overall paper. Previously, we used to have 70 minutes per section. Now, the time limits are not in silos and one can choose to spend unequal amounts of time on each section.

Thankfully, the IIMs have chosen to clarify why they are doing these changes. All these changes have been done to make the exam “aspirant-friendly”. They might have changed the format dramatically, it is reassuring to know that the IIMs have at least retained their sense of humour.

How does this change preparation strategy for individual sections?
The study plan remains the same. The syllabus, framework remain the same. Practice the basics, build intensity and take lot of tests in the end. Do not pontificate too much on why these changes have been made. Be happy that the test has been made more aspirant-friendly, and continue preparation with the warm glow that comes from knowing someone is looking out for you.

How does it change the plan for CAT?
1. Stamina matters: Taking an exam for 170 minutes is tough. This is not a college exam that can be taken even with “day-dream spells” in the middle. This is an intense exam. The extra half hour can be sapping. I have been taking CAT in the past few years purely for the experience (the implication being that the pressure is less). I get drained out completely by the end of the 140 minutes. I am so tired that I can barely drive back home. An extra 30 minutes is going to kill applicants who do not have stamina. So, start building intensity and stamina from now on.

2. Time management needs to be better: Given the freedom to shift from one section to another, students might flit from one section to another too many times and kill momentum in both. Have a plan that broadly allocates time across the two sections, and have one buffer for going for playing it safe in case you are worrying about section cut-off. Do not plan to shift from section I to II once every 10 minutes. Just because the freedom has been given , it does not mean one has to use it. Till 2009, CAT gave students the freedom of shifting from one section to another. Those of us who have taken CATs in both forms will tell you that this freedom of shifting from one section to another is a double-edged sword. I used to consistently “steal”  a few minutes from quant and use this for verbal. This did not help my overall performance much. My best results came when this freedom was taken away from students. The pressure of worrying about section cut-offs sometime takes something away from the performance. So, be careful with this new found time-management freedom.

3. Students with one strong suit and one weak suit will have a small advantage: A student who is frightfully good in quant and just about average in verbal can now spend 95 minutes on verbal and 75 on quant and “balance” things out. Because this option is now available, students with sharp variance between the two sections can now plan with this in mind. Just a word of caution though, trying to be too cute can come back to bite you in this exam. Plan to have mild tweaks, avoid major overhauls.

Obviously, you will have to take a few mock CATs to get used to the new pattern. As always, the best place for getting the newer version of mock CATs is 2IIM.

Best wishes for CAT 2014.

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