Gyaan From a Former All India Topper

CAT is less than a month away. Or more, depending on when you’re writing it. If any aspirants are reading this, I have just one piece of advice for you – which no one in any CAT Factory will give you. It’s about going for it. About batting like Sehwag. About reaching out far outside the off stump and playing every ball. I just want to assure you that percentages are in favour of this kind of a game.

In my zamaana, every correct answer in CAT gave you one mark, and every incorrect answer took away a third of a mark. Every question had four possible answers of which exactly one was correct. This negative marking had a completely psyching out effect on most takers, and people are afraid to go for it. And six years back, I liked it. For it made my own risk-taking strategy much easier – since I could now afford a larger number of errors.

The arithmetic is simple. Even if you have no clue about the question, and just put inky-pinky-ponky (or even better mark ‘C’, since years of research has proven that it’s the statistically most probable answer in CAT) you have one-fourth chance of getting it right – which gives a three-fourth probability of getting it wrong. And given the payoffs for correct and incorrect answers (1; -1/3) you can clearly see that the expected payoff of taking a completely random guess is ZERO!

So while this obviously rules out insane inky-pinky-ponkying, what it does tell you is that if you can eliminate at least one of the four choices, you are in the money! If you have to pick one of three possible answers, the expected payoff is 1/9 which is greater than zero. Yeah it doesn’t look very high but then the expected payoff is positive! So you need to go for it.

Back when I was in my 3rd year, there was some free mock CAT at IITM. And some of us 3rd years went just for the heck of it. I attemped 130 out of 150 questions, getting 90 right and 40 wrong. It still gave me a significantly higher score than any of my seniors (who were writing CAT that year) – most of whom attemped not more than seventy. Later that day a senior called me aside and told me that the art of CAT was about leaving questions. And that it was all about the questions that you left.

Leaving the ball makes sense in cricket where one mistake ends your innings. What if instead of ending your innings you were just deducted 2 runs everytime you got out? Would you still leave the balls outside off and play the waiting game? How on earth would you score runs if you were to leave every ball? It’s all about scoring, and you can score only if you attempt a shot.

I understand that CAT format has changed now and you have 5 possible correct answers for every question while the negatives are still at 1/3. Even then, if you can eliminate two out of the five answers (shouldn’t be too gouth), you have a positive payoff. And you must go for it. Keep in mind that you can’t score if you don’t play the ball.

I leave you with a video. The message is in the name of the song. Idu One Day Matchu Kano. This is a one day match dude. So you must go for every ball. And look to score.

12 thoughts on “Gyaan From a Former All India Topper”

  1. It is real irony if a CAT taker who can solve complicated resource allocation problems can’t figure this deceptively simple strategy.

    1. and most people who clear CAT don’t figure out this deceptively simple strategy

      and end up becoming “typical MBAs”. actually, i don’t really konw if CAT is an ideal exam for MBA entrance. more on that later

  2. this reminds me of the karnataka cet papers of my year which had 4 options and -1/4 per wrong answer. I wondered back then on why anyone would want to leave a question unanswered. Real idiots

    1. i think behavioural economics can explain this. it’s not the expected value that people look at but maybe the “95% confidence level” and so not go through.

  3. well.. in my opinion, both u and ur senior are correct.
    the art is to quickly read a question and decide in ur mind if
    a) worth attemption completely – trade off between time taken and prob of getting correct
    b) not worth attemption but can eliminate atleast 1 option in very short time – guess between the rest
    c) neither of above – take a blind guess if u want

    do it boils down to ur ability to get a accurate sense of time required and confidence level of getting the ans correct after quickly browsing through the problem.

  4. Hey dost! ninna blog outdate aagogidhe…. neenu one day matchina badalu 20-20 antha haakbeku ! sarithaaane?

    adhara jothe, upendrana haadooo kooda outdate aagidhe…. avanu A part 2 thagedhaage avanooo eee update maadeee maadthaaane!


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