CAT scores are now out, and this is a good time to think about what we have seen from the results. We had published something similar post CAT 2010. Many of the takeaways mentioned in that post hold good now as well.
Opinions that have been reinforced
First-principles based preparation is a must.
We had discussed this last year as well. Almost all questions are application-intensive, and few can be answered using a blanket-formula. So, forget the shortcuts and the word-lists, learn from the basics. This means that if you are going to a coaching center for aiding your preparation, it is important to go to a place where the quality of teachers is very high. Oversimplified preparation can take you till 75th percentile, but not any further
Journey from 90th to 95th percentile is tough. 95th to 98th and beyond is tougher still.
This bit is obvious, but still important because one needs to get a reality check before pinning all hopes on CAT. If you have given it your all and ended with 85th percentile. It is probably time to refocus, aim for a 95th percentile and join some good college once you get that. The number of good B-Schools in India tops 50 and a 95th percentile could still get you a great college. Also, when you are preparing for CAT, do the basics well and early, make sure you have enough quality to hit 90th percentile-ish consistently, and then restart and fine-tune preparations for the final climb. Do not sit back and do the same things over and over again.
Importance of good profile has gone up
You would have heard stories of how someone who had flunked n papers in engineering managed to get an admit in IIM Cal in spite of all this. That era is slowly disappearing. You can no longer say - "I have skeletons up my cupboard and in order to get away from that I want to do an MBA" (I know that feeling. I had that same feeling 10 years ago :-)). Focus on academics, clear that paper you hate, make sure you do well in your job. All those things matter. And all those things matter more now than they ever did.
New pointers from CAT 2011
Reading is uber-critical
We cannot over-emphasize this point. The guys who have the reading habit have a healthy advantage in CAT. Not only the RC section, almost the entire verbal section barring LR are going to be far easier for guys who have a habit of reading. Importantly, these sections are getting tougher to prepare for. There is no great way to "practice" for sentence rearrangement, paragraph completion, word usage, or fill-in the blanks. These are not grammar dependent, not vocab dependent. Ability to sift through these types of questions gets built with months of reading practice. So, if you have CAT in mind, set yourself a target of reading for at least 2 hours each day. Forget everything else, this alone will improve your score significantly. Read anything. What you read matters less than how much you read.
Cracking LR is a hygiene factor now
For guys not extremely comfortable with English, the thinking behind the verbal section goes like this - "If I can crack all 9-10 questions in LR and get some 5-6 other questions correct, I should be through." Good point. Some merit in this. But remember, a lot of people are going to go with the same strategy. Merely cracking LR will still leave you with too big a gap to bridge. Some of our students who cracked LR out of shape ended with 80th percentile-ish in verbal. Not bad at all. But if you want to climb above 90th percentile, you need to get going in the English section as well.
On the lighter side, age is not a barrier for cracking this exam
As someone who teaches for CAT, I hate it when people tell that they have been out of touch of math and have not studied maths for n years (especially when n is less than 5). One of the guys at 2iim got 100th percentile in CAT 2011 and he is on the wrong side of 30. So, there is no excuse for guys with 5 years experience telling themselves they are out of touch with math. For solving questions on percentages and averages, you do not need to be a 20-something.