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CAT Exam For IIM: How To Score An 80+ Percentile

Top strategies to help you reach or breach the historical cut-off Common Admission Test score required by top business schools in India such as the IIMs

By  Abhay Goghari

Fri Mar 31 2023

The Common Admission Test is the exam for entry to the prestigious Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and a number of other high-ranking business schools and universities.

Typical CAT scores required to reach the personal interview stage at one of India’s 20 IIMs are between a percentile of 80-99. Reaching or breaching such a high CAT score requires study and preparation. Find out how to break down your study into manageable steps to make it easier to ace the CAT.

CAT 2023 snapshot

Registration: opens August 2023
Application deadline: mid-September
Exam date: 
26 November (in three sittings at approximately 150 cities), results in January 2024. 
Exam duration: 
2 hours, three sections each of 40 minutes – verbal ability and reading comprehension (VARC), data interpretation and logical reasoning (DILR), and quantitative aptitude (QA).
Total questions: 66 – VARC 24, DILR 20, QA 22.
Total marks: 198 
VARC 37%, DILR 30%, QA 33%.
Negative marking (-1) applies for multiple choice questions (MCQs).

How to master VARC

Focus on reading comprehension (70% of the VARC weighting), as well as jumbled paragraphs, grammar and vocabulary, paragraph completion, summary questions, and odd-sentence-out. Master these skills for faster, better, and accurate comprehension:  

Visualize what you read. Connect with what you read. Belong to what you read. These abilities will give you focus and clarity, and you will be able to quickly zero in on the correct answer/s.  

Practice quickly getting to the crux of the matter (or the macro picture), and then spot the hidden answers or clues there. 

Broad-base your reading preferences. Read widely, because you never know from where a passage will be selected by the examiners. 

Start with practicing the less difficult questions first, and then move up the ladder. This will make you more comfortable and confident cracking the tough ones. 

Most importantly, choose the passage that you readily understand or feel comfortable answering. Remember, the subsequent questions are the nuts and bolts, while the passage is the machine! Understand the machine, and the parts will fall in place. 

Apart from this, the general principles of better VARC prep are constant and consistent practice, exploring quality online resources, and interacting with fellow aspirants to keep motivated and learn new tricks. 

How to succeed at DILR

In terms of success strategies, one size does not fit all in the data interpretation and logical reasoning section of the CAT. Learn your own strengths and weaknesses and be realistic about your aptitude and preparedness, and pick the question sets accordingly. Go after the ones which you can solve in 13-15 minutes, thereby avoiding running out of time. 

Apply the following ‘4P’ strategy for better outcomes: 

Practice – Resort to mock tests and previous years’ papers. They are your lifeline.

Presence of mind - Concentrate, stay focused. Practice to balance speed with accurate judgment. Be it blood relations, data sufficiency, puzzles, or chart-based questions, you will optimize time and maximize output with undivided attention. 

Prevail – This being the toughest nut to crack, condition your mind with a “can-do” attitude, backed by adequate preparation. So, prevail, don’t panic. 

Performance review – While practicing, regularly conduct honest self-reviews. They will help you to correctly assess your strength-weakness balance, and channelize your efforts for maximum returns. 

Tips to conquer QA

The quantitative aptitude section is the numbers game, designed to test your grasp over quantitative and lateral thinking abilities. In detail, this section covers arithmetic, which will check your understanding and ability to analyze patterns, symmetry, and asymmetry in numeric calculations. Then you'll be tested on algebra, and finding correlations between apparently mismatched or unrelated matters. And finally, in geometry, you'll be tested for your understanding of space, shape, and form.

In a managerial context, these abilities translate to understanding work scope, project profile, project scope and size, and other critical management criteria. You'll also be tested on your advanced math and your lateral thinking abilities, which is again a vital managerial skill. 

How to prepare:

Practice concept construction. All the above subjects are concept-based. As you wade through the study and prep materials, consciously practice concept-creation around each question or section. Remember, what the visualization skill does to your VARC prep, this ability will do to your QA prep. 

Go from easy to difficult. In a vertical travel, start at the base with easy questions, and ascend to the complex and tougher ones. This will build your competence and confidence. 

Practice intense mental math. Although calculators will be allowed during exams, sharp, agile, and speedy mental math abilities will not only come in handy, but also greatly enhance your overall agility and confidence. 

Learn the short cuts. There are many. A simple example: 60 mph is 1 mile per minute. So, if your next expressway exit is 10 miles away, you are 10 minutes away from it. 

How to further supplement your CAT score

Typical CAT scores required to reach the personal interview stage at an IIM are between a percentile of 80-99. Knowing how to add more weight to your score can help you succeed in the final selection process, which is especially helpful for borderline candidates. Here’s what counts:

Past academic record – Additional 20-30% weighting for candidates with more than 90% marks in class 10 and above

Work experience – Relevant work of 2-3 years will get you 5-10% additional weighting 

Academic diversity – Candidates from non-engineering backgrounds get additional 5-10% weighting.

For women and transgender candidates – Default additional weighting of up to 5%.

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