CAT Exam Preparation: Strategy, six & three months preparation plan, best books & more

  • By Kirti Yadav
  • 6 October 2021

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Your CAT exam preparation has to be top-notch if you want to ace it with a competitive percentile. The difficulty level of the exam is quite high, and it’s not possible to score well without working hard. With a good score in CAT, you can take admission into one of the 20 IIMs, the best B-school brand in India. 

It is a nationally recognised exam, held only once every year. CAT scores are accepted in all B-schools in India. Undoubtedly, the opportunities after qualifying for CAT are several, but a good score is needed to get there. 

In this article, we will guide you through all the details about CAT preparation, so that your prep can be as thorough as possible! 

CAT Exam Pattern 2021

Familiarity with the exam pattern is the first step towards a successful CAT preparation strategy. CAT exam pattern is full of surprises and it is not possible to fully anticipate them. However, for the 2021 session, the exam pattern has undergone several changes which must be kept in mind. 

The total number of questions will be less compared to 2020, and there will be 2 hours instead of 3 hours. But the marking scheme and the number of sections in CAT 2021 remain the same.

 CAT 2021 Question Paper Pattern

Let us first look at the section-wise division of questions in CAT 2021 and the maximum marks in each.

Sequence of Sections in CAT Name of Section No. of MCQs No. of Non-MCQs Total No. of Questions from each section Total Marks
1 Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension (VRC) 18 8 27 78
2 Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning (DI & LR) 18 6 24 72
3 Quantitative Ability (QA) 18 8 26 78
Total 54 22 228 228

CAT Exam Timings

Understanding the timings in the CAT exam is extremely important for anyone appearing in the exam. Unlike other management aptitude tests, in the CAT exam there is a fixed amount of time for each section. Even if you finish a section early, the option to submit answers will only appear after the time for that section is over. 

Once a section is over, there will be no option of returning to edit answers. As a result, you need to answer, revise and finalise your responses within the given time. To properly understand the CAT exam timings, you can refer to the table below.

Sections For non-PwD candidates For PwD candidates
Section 1- Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension (VRC) 40 minutes 53 minutes & 20 seconds
Section 2- Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning (DI & LR) 40 minutes 53 minutes & 20 seconds
Section 3- Quantitative Ability (QA) 40 minutes 53 minutes & 20 seconds
Total 120 minutes  160 minutes

Six Months Preparation Strategy for CAT

There are many ways to plan a six months preparation strategy for CAT 2021. The number of questions in CAT is low and the average time per question is around 1.6 minutes. However, due to the high difficulty level of the exam, it is still quite difficult to crack the CAT exam. 

In 6 months, you need to first clear your concepts, then practice the exercise questions and take mock tests. If you have already appeared for the exam, you can start taking mock tests right away. If this is your first time, you need to work on the concepts before moving to mock tests.

First two months in six-months CAT preparation strategy

In the first two months, you need to work on the concepts. A little extra work is needed in this phase to get acquainted with all the important topics in the CAT exam. 

Go through the checklist below to know what you need to accomplish in the first 2 months. 

  1. Make a schedule and cover the syllabus comprehensively
  2. You can do it by self-study or taking classes
  3. Classes are available both online and offline
  4. Practice the questions given at the back of each book chapter
  5. Regularly revise chapters already covered to not lose touch

Next three months in six-months CAT preparation strategy

The next 3 months are the most crucial where you strengthen the base of your CAT preparation. After two months of concept study, you might lose touch with some ideas, tricks, or methods. The first thing that should be done in this phase is a quick revision of the entire syllabus.

Once that is done, you can shift the focus of your preparation to application. You need to accomplish the following points to make your preparation robust.

  1. Practise previous year’s questions but keep in mind the new exam pattern

  1. Sections that are practice-heavy, like Quant or DI, must be practised daily 

  1. After quick revision, solve questions within the 1.6 minutes time limit

  1. Analyse your performance and identify the areas you’re lagging

  1. If necessary, devote extra time to the sections where you’re lagging

  1. For quick revision, it is better to take up a crash course online or at a coaching centre near you

  1. Start taking mock tests as soon as the quick revision is over. You should aim to take the maximum number of mock tests 

Last one month in six-months CAT preparation plan

In the last month, the focus is entirely on execution. By now, you should know through performance analysis the areas where you are lagging. Work on these areas with a special focus to maximise your chances of scoring well in CAT. 

Remember that the key to execution in CAT is the highest possible accuracy in the first attempt - or in other words, practise getting the right answer to questions in the first attempt. Remember that the sections have a time limit, and once that is over, you can’t go back and revise. 

This way, in case you end up taking more time for certain questions and have no time to revise towards the end, your chances of scoring well will still be quite high. 

Primarily, you need to achieve the following key objectives:

  1. Achieving efficiency with regard to time management
  2. Highest possible accuracy in the first attempt
  3. Regular revision of uneasy topics
  4. Regular mock tests to prepare for the exam-day situation 
  5. But don’t overstress as that can backfire

Three Months Preparation Strategy for CAT

Three months of CAT preparation is adequate for candidates with prior experience in dealing with topics in CAT. If you’re starting from scratch, then 3 months might be a tough bet to crack the exam. But it’s still worth a try, and certainly not impossible. 

There won’t be time to cover all the important topics in detail within 3 months. You need to quickly complete the revision within a month and move to practising questions and taking mock tests. 

If you have covered the topics before, one month would be sufficient to recall them. After that, in the last two months, work on making yourself exam-ready. 

For that, you can go through the checklist below:    

  • Execution is the priority here right from the beginning

  • Start with Quant and DI because you need to practise a lot to ace them

  • Quickly revise grammar and then practice VARC questions

  • It is also useful to casually read different genres, such as - fiction, non-fiction, news, poems, etc. 

  • Start taking mock-tests as soon as you have revised the topics

  • Make a strict schedule and remember that with less time, you need to fit in more hours per day

 CAT Preparation at Home

There is always a big confusion among candidates about whether to prepare at home or take coaching classes. There is no definite answer to this question, as both work perfectly fine. It depends on the adaptability of the candidate.

If you feel that you can cover all the topics by self-study then that’s perfect. CAT preparation at home has both pros and cons and we have listed them below.

Pros of CAT preparation at home

  1. You can prepare based on a flexible schedule

  1. You can cover the syllabus at your own pace

  1. Many resources are freely available online (YouTube lectures)

  1. With the rise of blended-mode of learning, it is easy to take CAT classes from home on platforms like Byju’s Unacademy
  2. Home-based CAT prep is ideal for professionals 

Cons of CAT preparation at home

  1. Some students might prefer lecture mode over self-study

  1. Consultation with teachers is a two-way process that also facilitates doubt clearing

  1. Students who can’t stick to a schedule on their own will face difficulties doing CAT preparation at home

  1. Classes allow group learning which is more effective than self-study, especially when it comes to grasping concepts; you can always learn from others’ queries

Last-Minute Preparation Tips for CAT

The last week before the exam is when the intensity of CAT preparation rises. Due to the pressure on the candidates, it is quite common to overdo things. Be cautious about taking too much stress in the last week of CAT preparation as that might cause a burn-out. Believe in your preparation and have faith in your abilities. 

After you take several mock tests, you will have a clear assessment of how much you can definitely achieve in the exam. Based on that, make your expectations realistic and focus on your strong areas. Don’t worry too much, and believe that you can do it!

CAT Exam Day Tips

The exam day is the final showdown phase of your entire preparation. Your performance on this day matters the most. Remember that minor mistakes with regard to technicalities can lead to disqualification from appearing in the exam. As a result, you need to follow all the exam day instructions carefully. 

We have compiled a list of exam day tips to ensure that you are set to take the exam. 

  1. Check the time of the exam and the location of the exam centre in advance 
  2. Do not study on the exam day as that will not add anything meaningful to your prep; rather, it will just increase the stress on you
  3. Reach the exam hall within the reporting time and make sure that you are well-rested before the exam
  4. Carry two government photo IDs to the exam hall; just in case there is some issue with one, the other will do the job
  5. Do not forget to carry the hall ticket/admit card; make sure also to not lose the hall ticket after the exam  

Note: It is essential to carry a photo ID and a printed copy of the admit card on the exam day. Candidates who fail to produce them will be debarred from taking the exam

Best Books for Preparation

There are many books covering the different sections in the CAT exam. Many of these books are standard preparation material for management entrance exams in general. If you are taking CAT coaching somewhere, the books are must-have resources that you need to follow on top of taking classes. 

There are many practice questions at the end of each chapter, which are also useful for CAT preparation. You can find a section-wise list of the important books for CAT preparation below.

Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension (VRC)

  • How to Prepare for the VARC for the CAT by Arun Sharma and Meenakshi Upadhyay (Tata McGraw-Hill)
  • Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis
  • The Pearson Guide to Verbal Ability and Logical Reasoning by Nishit Sinha

Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning (DI & LR)

  • Data Interpretation & Data Sufficiency by Ananta Ashisha
  • How to Prepare for DILR for CAT (Tata McGraw-Hill) by Arun Sharma
  • Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation for the CAT by Nishit K. Sinha

Quantitative Aptitude

  • QA for CAT and Other MBA Entrance Exams from Trishna Knowledge Systems (Pearson)
  • How to Prepare for Data Interpretation for CAT by Arun Sharma
  • The Complete CAT Digest, by Tata McGraw-Hill by Arun Sharma

FAQs related to the CAT exam

How do I start preparing for CAT?

The first step in CAT preparation is obtaining a clear idea about the exam pattern, question paper structure, and the important topics. After that, you need to make a routine and cover the important topics one by one. You must also take regular mock tests to make yourself familiar with the exam-day situation.

Which is the best method for CAT preparation?

You can prepare for CAT through both self-study or coaching classes. It depends on your special needs and learning pattern. But with self-study, it is difficult to clear doubts and get expert guidance, due to which preparation might suffer.

Is 1 month enough for CAT preparation?

One month can be enough for CAT preparation but it’s not quite ideal. You can prepare for the CAT exam in one month and score well only if you have already appeared for the exam multiple times before. Otherwise, you need at least six months to do CAT preparation.

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