Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cracking CATT
countdown has begun. The CAT is barely a week away and preparations are reaching a feverish pitch. If you have been working furiously over the past year, burning the midnight oil, then it is time to ease off. If you've been working on everything on a daily and weekly basis, you're in good shape. You now need to consolidate, calmly and methodically, so that when D-day arrives, you are confident of cracking the exam.

Easier said than done. As the exams stare you in the face, it’s normal to start developing cold feet. In spite of having putting in months of hard work, you start having apprehensions. It’s no use sweating at the last moment. The only thing that should be going through your mind the last few days before the exam is a sense of confidence. It's fine to be a little afraid or anxious, but not panicky.

You just need to hang in there till the exams get over.

The CAT is an aptitude test, like many others, that examines your ability to undertake management study. The aptitude test consists of English (verbal ability and reading comprehension), quantitative ability (which is mostly Class X-level math, except in some exams like XAT (http://in.rediff. com/getahead/2006/jan/04mockxat.htm and JMET, where some questions from Class XII may be asked), and data interpretation and reasoning.

One of the reasons why CAT is considered tough is that the pattern changes from year to year. The pattern for the last three years has been one which covers quantitative ability, data interpretation and logic, and verbal ability and reading comprehension. All three sections carry equal marks (50), making a total of 150 marks. Last year, each section had 30 questions carrying a total of 50 marks per section, but all questions did not carry equal marks—10 were allotted one mark each and 20 were allotted two marks each.

You are probably prepared for the format—and the changes that may occur. So, you can you utilise the remaining few days to fight anxiety, heighten your awareness and enhance your performance. Here are a few tips:

Avoid last-minute stress

Do not strain yourself over these remaining few days, cramming in stuff you may not have covered before. It’s best at this time to concentrate on consolidating what you have learnt. At the most you can solve one paper each day. Work at it as if you were sitting for the actual exam, so as to keep track of your speed and accuracy. This will not only keep you in formed, but also help reduce anxiety.

Soothe your nerves

Take time to relax. Keep in mind that you will not be able to absorb anything new, no matter how many hours you spend studying. It will be far more beneficial to get some rest and hours of good sleep. The TV is fine only in very small doses. Chatting to family or taking your pet out for a stroll are other healthy options. Long walks and bike rides are excellent ways to release nervous energy and maintain your stamina during exam time. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or pranayama are also excellent for easing tension and for deep muscle relaxation.

No to phone and fridge

The phone and the fridge are two gadgets that wreak havoc in the life of a student facing exams. Avoid long chats with friends over the phone. The craving for food, especially snacks, goes up during tests. The fats and carbohydrates in the snacks lull your brain to sleep. Fruits are a smarter option. And if you still feel munchy, there is always the chewing gum.

Adjust body clock

This is also a good time to set your body clock back to normal. You have probably been up nights working, and sleeping during the days, with an irregular eating-sleeping-working routine. You need to return to a regular routine, so that you can be at your peak performance on the day of the exam, and not tired and sleepy because your body clock is unable to function well. Start now working during the day and getting your six to seven hours of sleep at night only.

To avoid becoming too anxious, adopt a positive approach. Look at the exam as the application step of your study efforts, instead of a threatening new experience. Keep away from people who are highly anxious before exams, because their nervousness may tend to increase your own. Also, a good thing to do is to engage in positive self-talk.

If the stress gets too bad contact the many helplines that are available. There are knowledgeable and concerned men and women sitting there to help you with those nasty anxiety attacks.

Do a reality check

Be realistic about yourself, and your chances of making it to a good institute. Self-critique is a good method of motivating yourself to improve. Also, keep in mind that there will always be someone better than you, and others worse than you. So, don’t compare yourself with others, the important thing to do is to concentrate on your strengths and goals.

Reading newspapers daily, and going through weekly magazines like India Today, Outlook, Frontline, and business magazines such as Business Today, Business World or Business India can also help.

Equip yourself for D-day

On the day of the exam, make sure that you reach the exam centre an hour before the scheduled time. Carry a sufficient amount of stationery to see you through the 3-hour exam Use the lavatory before you enter the hall, never during the exam. And do not discuss the subject with your classmates just before the exam, it is likely to make you nervous. A composed and concentrated mind is very essential to gather one's thoughts.

Scan question paper

Spend the first five minutes reading the question paper. Mark the questions as A, B, C. ‘A’ being the questions that you know. ‘B’ being the questions that you are doubtful of, and ‘C’ being the ones you don't know. Also, attempt the questions in the same order, tackling the areas which you know well and solve them first. This will also give you the confidence of moving on to areas with which you are not that comfortable. According to experts, students have to focus more on accuracy than on speed. The key to success is trying to understand the questions instead of rushing to answer it. Comprehension and the ability to think logically is a critical factor of success in this exam.

If time permits, after completing the test, check your answer sheet for any errors.

Whatever happens in the exams, remember this is not the end of the world! There is life beyond the CAT. Once you prepare for CAT, you can attempt almost all the management entrance exams. In addition, the preparation will also be helpful in cracking other campus recruitment-related exams.

And remember, there is always a silver lining to a cloud, if only you are willing to open your eyes and look. There are hundreds of other career options as good, if not better, than an MBA. So, go ahead, do your best, there is a whole world of opportunities waiting for you.

The writer is a noted career expert.