Just CATchy things: Finding Your Comfort Zone

CAT 2016

So, you’re 13 weeks away from the test, and you’ve suddenly realized that you’re marvellously ill-equipped to sit through all 180 minutes of the nail-biting action. Suddenly, you’re very fond of the books you bought a year ago, and you’re fighting harder to keep yourself up by the desk lamp.

Perhaps the first feat you want to see yourself achieve right now, is somehow developing a unique eye for words and a fascinating grasp of numbers. While there are many known ways of doing that, when you have, say, 13 months at your disposal, there are lesser known shenanigans that bring you up to the game in 13 weeks. So, what then? Are you as doomed as you are perhaps thinking? Well, possibly not. Because, unless your brain’s abilities have been compromised completely, you can still have a plan.

Yes, a plan! That’s what you need, of course. But you can’t have a plan if you don’t know how or where you’re going to start. Can you?

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So, basically, the first step to having a plan is to not subsist on the stress your brain is constantly feeding you. The first step to having a plan is to know the game. And no, I don’t mean, knowing what the test looks like. I mean, knowing how best YOU can play the game. Isn’t that what good game strategies are made of? Everybody knows the rules of the game, but not everybody is a good player.

Here’s what I’m getting at: You could’ve been a student of the Sciences all your life and still be crippled by the overturning tricks numbers play with you. Likewise, you could be a bibliophile and still love the idea of manipulating numbers to solve a problem. Whatever the case, you will still have something (within your natural skill-set) that you do better than something else. And if you’ve been attentive to your own abilities for the most part of your life, you perhaps know what that something is already. If not, that’s where my elaborate rant is probably going to pay off.

Remember that the CAT is a test of aptitude, and you are supposed to leverage your natural aptitude in a way that brings you your dream score. So, if you’re paying little or no attention to what you are already good at, you’re making a mistake. The trick is to focus more on your weaknesses, but also to work on those strengths simultaneously. What’s that wild card that upturns everything, you ask? It’s time. Time management is management indeed; in the broadest sense you can imagine. And if you can manage your time on a test that is constantly trying to throw you off, you certainly have it in you to be a great manager. Now, that’s what the CAT wishes to test, and it’s important that you know that before you get all tousled up about the journey.

So, here’s a four step process to leveraging your CATabilities (Pardon the wordplay):

  1. Become an obsessive nit-picker on your first mock attempt: Ah, those beautiful books on your shelf are beckoning, and you respond by picking up a chapter/topic and solving questions incessantly. What a waste. How many questions are you planning on obsessively solving this way? Why not turn your obsession onto yourself? Have a crack at all the varieties the test has to offer, and be your greatest critic. Take a full-length mock right away, and become a devoted hypercritic. Take the time if you need to, but make sure that at the end of the mock, you have a detailed understanding of what you are sifting through at breakneck speeds and what you are decidedly terrible at. You know what? Create a dynamic excel sheet, and maintain a log of your weaknesses and improvements.
  2.  Delve deeper at the topic level: So, let’s say you’ve discovered that you are not great at the reading. What were the signs? For one, you took ages to read a single passage, and on the face of it, completing the verbal section in an hour seemed far from feasible. But you will have noticed some smaller things that you did wrong while reading certain passages, and it’s likely that you hadn’t done the same while reading a passage that maybe seemed more familiar to you. Something that everyone commonly does while reading an unfamiliar topic is hover back over the sentences they just read because they were unsure of the subject-matter. Identify when and where you do this, and make note of it in that excel sheet you’ve been maintaining. Once you’ve discovered what type of writing does this to you, you can start reading more of this variety to familiarise yourself with it better. Because, obviously, it is the level of familiarity here that is making all the difference. Once you have understood which passages are not doing this to you, you have identified your comfort zone. If you’ve been reading a comfortable topic in two minutes, aim to challenge that and bring it down to a minute. On the other hand, if you’ve been reading an unfamiliar topic in three minutes, work towards bringing that down to within two minutes.
  3. Get comfortable with exploring new genres: Now that you’ve finally discovered your comfort zone, start exploring what you can do beyond it. While you start to do this, observe the different forms of writing style and tone that you encounter. If you haven’t been an eclectic reader so far, you might find new styles of writing way too often. Know that this is a sign that you need to read more, and fast. A great place to start is newspaper editorials, because newspapers cover a variety of topics. However, since the newspaper mostly carries a uniform tone, get yourself acquainted with the different kinds of magazines that are out there. If you’ve always read business magazines, pick up a copy of “Philosophy Now” or “Psychology Today”, or vice-versa. Gradually start to move into a territory that you never thought you’d understand, and challenge your reading speed constantly.
  4. Discuss your challenges: It’s not going to be easy to just diversify your taste and your interests in a snap like that. So, obviously you are going to feel challenged making these changes. Here’s when you need to talk about what you have learnt. It’s a classic technique really. When children learn something new at school, they need to reinforce the concepts by coming home and discussing them with their parents. The same applies here. You have perhaps come across a bizarre theory today from your reading of “Sophie’s World” and not only has it bored you to death, you have perhaps lost all will to read anything that even faintly resembles it in the future. Well, what do you do? The easiest option would be to tell someone about it; a friend, a community, me, anyone. In fact, the larger your audience, the better. You might then perhaps receive a recommendation from someone in the community about a movie you can watch to clear up a concept maybe? Of course, the movie won’t do much for your reading, but at least it will get you closer to liking the subject matter, or well, acquainting with it at least. You are better equipped to critically reason a piece of writing, if you have at least had the chance to be acquainted with some of its subject matter. Don’t you think?

So, let’s get going with this then, shall we? The QS-LEAP community is here for you, and we are waiting for the discussion to begin.

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