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How should you approach CAT Maths, or as the purists would call it, CAT Quantitative Ability?

What should be done over the course of next few months and how should you plan your preparation? Before I dig into the advice bit, let’s go through the list of topics that make an appearance in the CAT exam.

List of CAT Quantitative Aptitude Topics:

  • Number System: Important keeping in mind that this is where your preparation begins. Ensure that you are clear with the basic concepts of this topic.
  • Arithmetic: Though Arithmetic has a vast number of sub-topics, in the last 3 years, only a couple of questions have featured from this topic. Arithmetic remains very important for non-CAT papers.
  • Algebra: Considering this has been one of the most dominant topics in CAT in the last three years, it makes a lot of sense to place extra emphasis on this topic.
  • Geometry: Another topic which has featured quite a lot in the last 3 years.
  • Permutation & Combination/Probability: This is another topic that contributes around 1 to 2 questions to the exam.
  • Miscellaneous Topics: This includes Set Theory, Trigonometry (one question appeared from this topic in CAT-2013) and Logarithms

Break-up of the CAT Quantitative Ability and Data Interpretation Section in the last 2 Years:

The following tables provide you with a comprehensive break-up of the exams held in 2015 and 2016.

CAT 2015 Quantitative Aptitude Break-up

CAT 2015 Quantitative Aptitude Break-up

CAT 2016 Slot-1 Quantitative Aptitude Break-up

CAT 2016 Slot-1 Quantitative Aptitude Break-up

CAT 2016 Slot-2 Quantitative Aptitude Break-up

CAT 2016 Slot-2 Quantitative Aptitude Break-up


The above break-up points to some very important facts:
1. Algebra and Geometry have been the most important topics in CAT in the last 3 years.
2. Arithmetic has made a comeback in the exam and surprisingly, Number System has not been that visible in the exam., and generally, not a lot of questions are featuring from this area.

Key points keeping the above in mind:

The above chart presents an interesting conundrum: in the last few years, the two topics that give the maximum amount of trouble (algebra and geometry) are the ones that are the most frequent ones on the exam. Keeping this in mind, the following are some important suggestions for you:

1. Cover Concepts for Most topics
The best approach for CAT is one where you cover the basic concepts for most topics. Let’s assume you are not that good with geometry. But you get an absolute sitter question for the topic. Forced to skip such a question in the exam, because you did not study the topic in totality? Since you do not want this happen, ensure you study the basic concepts for every topic.

2. Solve previous year CAT questions
A lot of students are generally averse to the idea of solving previous year CAT questions as they feel they have done most of these questions somewhere or the other. Irrespective of that argument, I highly recommend that you solve all previous year questions, and that too topic-wise. This is the best pool of questions for any topic, and a number of CAT questions are based on logic similar to the ones already asked.

3. Use answer options
Whenever and wherever you can use answer options to solve questions, kindly do that. This would ensure you save time in the exam and with this saved time, you can place extra focus on your weak areas.

4. Work on Arithmetic
Arithmetic is one of those topics that you essentially covered in school. The basic nature of the topic can be misleading at times and you should be fully prepared for it. For basic levels concepts and problems, you can use books by Abhijit Guha and RS Agarwal for this topic. Remember, this is one topic where you can solve almost any problem with the help of basic logic and reasoning.

5. Use a planned and phase-wise approach
In general, try to adopt a planned approach. What this means is that make a schedule, wherein you list the number of days you would be spending on a particular topic. Ensure you break down the schedule into two stages: concept stage and practice stage. Give sufficient time to each area in a phase-wise manner.

6. Solve timed topic/area tests for a particular topic
It is super important that you solve timed topic tests for a particular topic. This is the only way that you can learn whether you are a master of a topic or not.

7. Don’t get lost in shortcuts and super-fundas
Learning shortcuts and super-fundas sounds very good but do not allow this to distract you. Hardly any CAT question is based on obscure formulas. In fact, most concepts check conceptual clarity. Always remember this.

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8. Build a small pocket diary of your learning
Whatever you learn, jot it down in a small diary. These might be simple tricks or concept explanations, just keep noting these down and keep revising them. Essentially, you are building your own flashcards for quantitative aptitude.

Personally speaking, I always used to run two topics side by side: one was my strong area (used to solve advanced problems for this area) and one was my weak/mediocre area (used to study basic concepts and practice exercises for this area). This way, I used to ensure that every week, I am working on my strengths as well as my weaknesses, and at the end of the week, I do not feel that I have missed out in any way.

Why am I not providing a day-wise breakup for individual topics?
Each one of us has his strengths and weaknesses. A common prescriptive time schedule cannot be outlined for all as each individual would have different needs. Keeping that in mind, I have left out the time recommendation.

But I can add something on a personal basis. If I was preparing for CAT for the first time (assuming that my conceptual knowledge is fairly decent), I would make the following schedule for myself:

  • Number System: 20 days
  • Arithmetic: 30 days (even though this topic does not appear in CAT, I would give it 10 days as it has massive application in DI)
  • Algebra: 30 Days
  • Geometry: 20 Days
  • Permutation & Combination/Probability: 10 Days
  • Miscellaneous Topics: 10 Days

This makes a total of 120 days. Remember, as I said above, I would study two topics at the same time, so essentially Arithmetic and Algebra might run for 30 days side by side, but I would ensure that I gain confidence in two topics.

These are some of the tips that you can follow for CAT maths. In case you have any doubts, just leave a comment here and I will try to post a reply for the same.

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