CAT 2011 is quite a departure from previous years' CAT. CAT in its new avatar has only two sections (instead of 3 or 4 sections in the previous years' CAT) with sectional timings and a defined order of sections.
The first section will be Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation (QA & DI), followed by the second section, which is Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning (VA & LR), each section having 30 questions to be answered in 70 mins. Test takers have to first exhaust the 70 mins allotted for the first section and only then can they move to the second section.
For the second section, even though there will be an option of Exit Test, serious aspirants will exhaust all of the 70 mins allotted to the second section. Once in the second section, the test taker cannot go back to the first section. However, within a section, test takers can go back & forth between the 30 questions.
As there are only two specified sections and no sub-sections, it is very unlikely that there will be sub-sectional cut-off. There will be two sectional cut-offs, and IIMs have already disclosed their cut-offs for the two sections and the overall cut-off on their respective websites. However, these cut-off percentiles are only the basic minimum criteria and do not ensure an interview call.
In the new format, students need not worry about time management between sections and should simply focus on maximizing their score in the section in those 70 mins. Also, students should use any extra time left in a section to maximize score or double check their answers. CAT score is given a high weightage in the screening process for both the interview calls and final admissions. One should just aim at maximizing their score in each section, increasing their chances of interview & final admission call.
Candidates with a specific weak area are at a definite advantage due to the combination of areas in a section. As there are only 2 sections for 4 areas, those having a handicap in a specific test area, say Quant, may now look at compensating for it with the other area from the section, DI in this case. This is in contrast to the case earlier when competence was to be shown in all the three areas. This will come as a relief to a large number of CAT aspirants. However, the break-up in a section as to how many questions will come from each test area (QA, DI, VA, LR) is not disclosed.
Students should avoid having any preconceived notions about the break-up and instead should have a flexible approach towards the paper, equipped to tackle any composition of questions in a section. Also, there is not much clarity as to what constitutes Logical Reasoning (LR) in VA & LR, and there are three possibilities with respect to LR questions:
a) Critical Reasoning questions (similar to the kind that appear in GMAT test).
b) Puzzles, deductions and connectives, which came in the 'Data and Logical Reasoning' section in previous year's CAT.
c) A mix of both (a) and (b) mentioned above.
In order to tackle any surprises with respect to composition of questions in a section and the type of LR questions, students should take as many practice tests in the new format with different variations. However, it is very important to note that the preparation for topics/test areas will remain the same, as only the format has changed and not the content of the paper.
With only two sections with 30 questions per section, serious aspirants cannot afford to neglect any topic/test area. Selective preparation strategy is strictly not advised as a good number of questions can come from the neglected topic/test area in a particular CAT slot. Proficiency in all topics/test areas is required.
(Ashish Sinha is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, and is the Director (CAT), T.I.M.E., India)