What are the Dos and Don’ts to get the most out of your CATs? Learn more in this three-part series.
Know WHY you take CATs
Practice CATs are very useful for three things:
(1) Figuring out your current scoring level (assuming you took the test under official conditions)
(2) Practicing stamina and/or timing
(3) Analyzing your strengths and weaknesses
The third item is the MOST important—this is how we actually get better at this test!
Practice CATs do not help us to improve while taking the test. If you have been training to run a marathon, you will not learn how to get better while running the marathon itself; at that stage, you are just trying to survive. Rather, you learn how to improve in between races while doing all kinds of training activities and analyzing your performance.
DO take a CAT at the beginning of your study
Many people put off taking their first CAT, often because they say that they have not studied yet, so they know they will not do well. Your goal in taking your first CAT is NOT to do “well.” Your goal is simply to get a handle on your strengths and weaknesses. Whatever they are, you want to know them right away so you can prioritize your study.
One caveat: Familiarizing yourself with the five question types before that first exam (particularly Data Sufficiency) is important, but definitely do not worry about learning all of the formulas and grammar rules. Your first test performance will tell you what you do and do not yet know.
One caution in particular here: a decent percentage of the people who put off their first CAT do so because they are feeling significant anxiety about taking the test. These are the people who do need to take that first test early—pushing off the practice tests will just exacerbate your anxiety.
DON’T take a CAT more than once a week
Have you ever had this happen? You take a CAT and you get a disappointing score. Maybe you even really mess things up—run out of time or finish 20 minutes early—and your score plummets. So, a couple of days later, you take another CAT to “prove” to yourself that the bad test was just a fluke.
If you have ever done that, you wasted your time and a practice CAT, both of which are very valuable.
That bad test was not a fluke. Something happened to cause that performance. Figure out what that thing was and fix it before you spend another 3.5 hours taking a second test.
In fact, whether you like the score or not, whenever you take a CAT, do not waste time taking another until you have addressed whatever issues popped up during your analysis of the first test. (This article will help you analyze MGMAT CATs.)