Updated: Jul 10, 2020
If you've enrolled with a coaching centre, chances are you would have got a package of online sectional tests. This post will discuss how to utilize sectional tests for CAT preparation. Don't worry if you're preparing on your own, there's some material for you as well to benefit from this post.
What are sectional tests?
As the name suggests, these are timed tests, generally of 30 or 60 minutes and constitute questions of only a particular section. For example, a full-length sectional test of VARC constitutes 34 questions and gives 60 mins.
Why are they offered?
The other kinds of tests available with a candidate are mock tests. These tests are 3 hours long and constitute all the sections. Sometimes, candidates need to do practice of a particular section only, that's where sectional tests come into play.
How to use them?
There are three rules for using sectional tests. These rules stem from the fact that these sectional tests are limited in number. Hence, a candidate must not waste them unnecessarily. The three rules are:
Complete the Syllabus - You must not attempt any sectional tests in the initial days of mock taking. As per the suggested timeline of mocks that I've shared, you should start taking mocks way before your syllabus gets completed. But, the same doesn't hold true for sectional tests. The reason is you would want to see improvement after focused hard work done on that section, which is only possible once you've completed your syllabus. If you attempt a sectional test with half the syllabus complete, you're only going to place your bets on getting enough questions correct by guesswork.
Between Two Mocks - These sectional tests should be taken with the intention of noticing improvement in the next mocks. Since the timeline of mocks gets set by coaching institutes, often it is not in our hands to notice improvement immediately. For example, when you notice that you have performed poorly in VARC in the last mock and the next mock is another week away, you would not feel encouraged to work on VARC. Sectional tests bridge that gap for you. You can test your performance anytime in the next week, without having to wait for the next mock. Hence, take the sectional tests only within two mocks when there's enough gap.
Focused Study - When you analyze a CAT mock and realize that there are some sections that call for improvement, pick one section - the one in which you performed the worst. Decide that till the next three days at least, you would focus more on that section by cutting down on your time spent on other sections and prepare wholeheartedly for that one section. You're required to create different strategies - e.g. if you attempt all 6 questioned RCs first and then 3 questioned, maybe it's time for you to check how 6-6-3-6-3 works. And for that, you need to solve both kinds of RCs in those three days and then apply that strategy in the sectional test which you can take after three days of focused preparation.
What is the purpose?
The basic purpose of sectional tests is to test and try different strategies, see what works the best and apply it in the mocks. An additional purpose is to see the result of your improvement in a particular section after dedicated hard work put-in in that section. This way, you'll be able to pick all your sections up.
What should someone without sectional tests do?
Here are a couple of resources for you to access sectional tests that are available online:
Hitbullseye - This website provides 15 sectional tests for free - 5 for each section. These can be accessed by a simple sign up process here which will ask for your contact details. After logging in, go to the dashboard, then click on tests and analysis. You'll be presented with a pack of 15 free sectional tests.
TCY Online - This website has multiple free sectional tests depending on the section. The time limit and number of questions differ a bit from CAT but the proportion of time/question is the same:
Quantitative Aptitude - 8 sectional tests available here named 'Practice Test (CAT Quantitative Ability)'
Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning - 7 sectional tests available here named 'ST DILR'.
Verbal Ability & RC - 8 sectional tests available here named 'Reading Comprehension'.
Use these resources to work on your mock attempts and accuracy. These will help you spend your time between two mocks wisely. Remember the three rules of taking sectional tests and you shall discover what strategies work the best for you.
Remember that during the mock attempt days, you're going to notice that each of your sections (even your biggest strength sections) will start becoming weaker. You'll have to work on them by using the sectional tests, picking your scores up and shifting your focus on the other sections then. This will have to be done repeatedly because each section tends to get weak after you've lost touch with your strategies.
So, keep using the sectional tests, bring each one up whenever they falter and you'll notice that eventually, you'll be able to manage all of them together.
I've shared my CAT strategies here:
Must-Read: 15 Free CAT Mocks