Updated: Jun 29
Honestly, this is the most commonly asked query of all times - "How many hours should I study for CAT daily to make it to the IIMs? I can't emphasize enough on why this question is so wrong for a serious CAT aspirant. Let me share with you the psychological impact it has on your mind.
Why is this question incorrect?
I wish there was a quick fix which promised that if you study for 'x' hours, you'll be able to crack the CAT exam. But since it does not exist, it is imperative for you to understand that the number of hours you spend studying for CAT doesn't determine your likelihood of clearing the exam. Instead, what you do in those hours matters!
How does your brain work?
In one of our courses at IIM-A, we were taught the neurological impact of routines in our lives. Your brain requires the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, in order to operate well. Dopamine is the 'feel-good' chemical in your brain responsible for keeping you rejuvenated, motivated and inspired to do an activity repeatedly. So, the release of dopamine is needed if you want to stick to CAT preparation.
What will dopamine do?
Dopamine is known to create reward-habit loops. So, when you perform an activity, at the end of which you get a reward, you like that feeling. That is when there is a release of dopamine which reinforces and forms a habit. You like to do it again and again because you get reminded of that 'good feeling' that dopamine provides.
So, how can you use it?
When you're setting your daily goals, don't set time-bound goals because routines are boring. They are mundane and cause your brain to succumb to the pattern. There is lesser and lesser release of dopamine if you perform the same task each day, in this case, 'studying for x hours for CAT'. Instead, set fresh goals for each day. These goals should be achievable and custom-made for your week.
What kind of goals?
Okay, let's talk about these goals. They can be - finishing off the topic - 'seating arrangements' of DILR or solving 30 questions of QA of Geometry topic, etc. Now, these are the goals you can achieve and each day, there'll be a defined target, which will be new. If you were to keep a track of hours, then it would be 'study x hours a day every day for the rest of the year in order to crack CAT'. It'll cause boredom.
How to alter your timetable?
So, if you're someone who is just starting off with his/her CAT preparation or is somewhere in the middle, these are the steps I'd recommend you to change your routine and instead enter a reward-habit loop:
Define the syllabus - In order to reach the end of the tunnel, you need to see the light. So, take a piece of paper and note down all the topics of each and every section on it.
Check the depth - Now, in front of each topic, note down how many questions are present in the book or reading material. The idea is to quantify everything and be clear. Also mention its difficulty level.
Set the broader deadline - Now that you've mapped out your entire syllabus, set a date by when you should be finished with your syllabus. I had set July as the deadline in my goal plan.
Split it up - Now that you know you have to finish off the syllabus by a certain date, split the goal further into months and include each section when you do that. For example, these 4 chapters I have to finish in March, these 3 in April, etc. Set the number depending on how difficult that topic is, how lengthy it is.
Split further - Now, make weekly plans. If you need to finish off 4 chapters in March, see if one per week will suffice or will some chapters need more effort than the others?
Don't break it further - I'd suggest don't break it further into daily goals. At most, half-weekly goals will do. This is because there should be some amount of flexibility as to how you finish them. If one day you're unable to study due to some reason, you won't feel bad. You'll know you can make up for it.
Improvise as much as possible - If you feel you're able to achieve your targets every week, go the extra mile and try finishing off the syllabus set for the next week, it will provide you with an immense boost of dopamine. Reward yourself every week with treats, breaks, cheat days, etc.
This is how your goals will look after this change:
This week, I have to do the following - QA: Chapter 'Time, Speed and Distance', DILR: Chapters 'Seating Arrangement' and 'Cubes', VARC: 'Reading Comprehensions: 15 to 30' and 'Parajumbles '40 to 60'.
Goals like these will keep you inspired. Every week will be a new chance to beat the benchmarks you've set for yourself. It will keep you engaged and motivated!
Hope this post helped you. Reach out to me in case you have any query.
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