There is tremendous competition for a variety of career avenues: for the civil services, for entry as commissioned officers in the Services, for direct recruitment into the managerial cadres of public sector units or for admission into business schools, medical colleges. The list is illustrative, not exhaustive.
Each of these avenues could open up if one were able to crack the relative entrance test. Some of these such as the civil services examinations are syllabus-based and at least one knows the perimeter of what one is expected to study in the course of preparations.
Although the mission statements behind such tests are seldom public knowledge, the idea behind syllabus-based tests must be, presumably of course, to see whether the aspirant has the perseverance to delve deep into diverse subjects even if some of these could safely be described as archaic, a trait that might stand him in good stead in service.
Tests for admissions to premier medical and engineering colleges are, for the most part, subject-centric, which is only to be expected since the idea is to ascertain whether the aspirant has the level of commitment to the subjects that he is expected to pursue all along in his career. After all, a surgeon, for instance, could safely be forgiven for not remembering the difference between the A Group of shares and the B Group of shares but not for forgetting the difference between a tumor and an aneurysm of the aorta.
Other competitive examinations such as business school entrance tests and tests for direct recruitment into the management cadres of public sector units are not syllabus-based. The reason is that these are meant to ascertain whether the aspirant has the capability to develop an overall perspective. Meaningful preparation for this latter genre of examinations is indeed a challenge. It is this genre of examination that will be the focus of this article here onwards.
CAT has always given the aspirants every opportunity to arrive at a reasonably accurate assessment of what skills it is designed to test: the CAT Bulletins of each year till 2008 gave the previous year’s actual CAT paper as a “General Pattern of Questions” that enabled serious aspirants to prepare accordingly. Not only are the actual question-papers for the past umpteen years actually available from an authentic source but so are the Answer Keys. The world is free to see whether the IIM has framed the questions correctly, worked out the answers correctly and so on.
The most transparent examination is, of course, the Graduate Management Admissions Test (the GMAT) for admissions to the world’s top business schools. A GMAT aspirant is given a broad outline of the topics that he must prepare in the course of his preparations. The rules of the game are crystal-clear. GMAC – the body that conducts GMAT, publishes past official papers along with the detailed solution to each question. This is indeed laudable. This is complete transparency at work.
A serious CAT aspirant or GMAT aspirant would do well to begin preparation by solving a few past CAT/GMAT papers and have a reasonably accurate idea of what skills does the examination really test and develop the requisite skills. A recent newspaper article revealed that those who were dead serious about the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) of the Indian Institutes of Technology began preparations as early as in Class IX. This is not surprising considering the cut-throat competition. But the JEE is a syllabus-based examination. The CAT is not. Nor is the GMAT! A serious CAT aspirant must not touch anything other than actual CAT papers in order to start his preparations. Only then will he have an idea of what skills to develop and hone. The serious CAT or GMAT aspirant must start meaningful preparation early – preferably as soon as one finishes Class XII – and prepare for long. The early bird catches the worm so long as the early bird stays focused on relevance: actual CAT/GMAT papers and nothing else till one has solved at least twenty of these.
To sum it up, if you are serious about the CAT/GMAT, start preparation as soon as you are through with Class XII and prepare for not less than three years and that too only on the basis of actual CAT/GMAT papers.
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