What do the 99th percentilers do differently?

Sunday, June 23 2013, 02:38 AM
In this special column CAT expert and author Mr Rajesh Balasubramanian shares his insight on a few things that the CAT 99th percentilers do differently.
As far as CAT is concerned, systematic preparation should take one to 90-93rd percentile. It is the climb from here to the 98-99 range that is sometimes challenging

In most fields, the gap between the excellent and the merely good is not something profound, but is a collection of small details. CAT is no different. As far as CAT is concerned, systematic preparation should take one to 90-93rd percentile. It is the climb from here to the 98-99 range that is sometimes challenging. From my experience as a teacher, I have culled out a few things that the 99th percentilers do differently.

  1. Appreciate rigour: If CAT preparation plan can be distilled into a single sentence, it would be ‘Read a lot, solve a lot’. Students who approach the exam with confidence are rarely the ones who have done just enough to be ok. They are usually the ones who have gone beyond this. They are the ones who worry about the exceptions, the ones who worry about the basis for some of the rules, and the basis for some of the exceptions.

 Let us think about this with an example – If a car travels first half of the distance at ‘a’ km/hr and the second half at ‘b’ km/hr, the overall average speed should be 2ab/(a+b). This is usually stated in many books. The natural follow-up question here would be – if a car travels one-third of its distance at ‘a’ km/hr and the remaining two-thirds at ‘b’ km/hr, what should be the overall average speed. Students should not only have solved 4 questions that involve plugging in the formula, but also have tried 2 where a small variant makes the formula invalid. The old adage says – Practice till you crack it, and then some more. This is very true of CAT as well.

  1. Build an eye for detail: Students should pick the difference between ‘positive numbers’ and ‘non-negative numbers’, between ‘the sentence that best summarizes the paragraph’ and ‘sentence that could be the best continuation of this paragraph’. This appreciation of detail might not come naturally. One has to build this consciously.
  2. Prepare with intensity, but do not become manic: While taking CAT, one has to have intensity, and a certain stamina level to maintain this intensity over 140 minutes. This also comes with a lot of practice. However, students sometimes cross over and become manic while writing CAT. The intense desire to do everything quickly leads to panicky decision-making. You start fidgeting, thinking about multiple strategies while taking the exam and are generally involved in lots of vague unproductive thinking in the exam hall. The best ones stick to their guns, retain their wits about them and take stock once every 20 minutes or so.

Imagine M S Dhoni during a tricky run chase. The sense of calm he conveys is delightful, but this does not mean he is not thinking about who might be bowling the 49th over. In a bid to do everything quickly, one should not become a headless chicken.

  1. Take efforts to resolve those pesky 1-out-of-2 questions: This is just an extension of the idea on appreciating rigour. In many cases, students reach the level of narrowing down to 1 out of 2 choices. But post this, after staring at the two choices for 40 seconds, just ‘go for it’ and mark one of the two. Student takes no real effort taken to resolve this final step. Even while reviewing it, it is easy to say ‘I thought it was between A and C, I marked C. As usual, these guys have gone with A’. This mentality creeps into the process while taking mock CATs and is very dangerous. This leads one to believe that I will get 50% of the answers correct in some cases, so let me just attempt more. The best guys never attempt more just for a ‘buffer’. They leave the exam hall confident that they have done their best. There should be no need for a buffer.

One should take calculated risks during the exam, but taking a shot at 6 questions without bothering to drill down further is just foolhardy.
Finally, approach the exam with a quiet confidence. I know this is easier said than done. Importantly, it can happen only when everything that has gone before sets you up for having that belief. But the guys who get this belief are the ones who take the right decisions in the exam hall.

Author of this article, Mr Rajesh Balasubramanian, an IIT, IIM alumnus, & 2011, 2012 CAT Topper and the author of CAT books published by ‘Access Publishing India’, guides CAT Aspirants through a series of expert articles on MBAUniverse.com. 

In his previous articles, he guides on a 3-step process that you must go through for each topic in Quant section.
Striking balance between speed and accuracy in mock CAT papers

Stay tuned to MBAUniverse.com for more CAT prep features form Top CAT experts.