XAT 2020 for GoFYI

XAT 2020 : Preparation Strategy

Dear XAT aspirants, get the best tips on how to ace the XAT 2020 from SHASHANK PRABHU, a Test-Prep expert. Shashank is one of the top XAT scorers with 99.987 in XAT 2019, Shahshank is also a CAT 100%iler. He will tell you all that you need to know about XAT 2020 in this article.

Q: What should be the preparation strategy for XAT 2020?

A: Considering that most of the aspirants would have prepared for the CAT (and in many cases the IIFT and the SNAP tests as well), there is very less required in terms of incremental content when it comes to the XAT. The first and foremost thing that one would need to do is to understand the spirit of the test. In that regard, going through the past XAT papers is probably going to be the most important piece of advice.

There are a lot of perceptions when it comes to the test, most of them in a negative context and so, it’s best to understand the level of difficulty and format for yourself. As a benchmark, I would suggest each and every aspirant to go through the XAT 2011 – XAT 2019 papers. Post that, you will get a fair idea of where you need to be in terms of range and depth with regard to each topic and then, you can plan accordingly to iron out the wrinkles. A couple of hours of daily prep focused on the various areas of improvement and fresh topics (grammar, decision making, trigonometry, elementary calculus, critical reasoning) plus some 4-5 mocks over the next one month or so should be enough to help you to be mentally prepared for the test.

Q: Could you elaborate section-wise preparation for XAT? Now that the Essay Section is gone, is it going to impact XAT preparation / score in anyway?

A: When it comes to the Verbal and Logical Ability section, one has to be pretty versatile in terms of command over the various question types. A typical XAT paper will have a healthy mix of reading comprehension passages, critical reasoning, vocabulary (both standalone and contextual, in the form of fill-in-the-blanks questions), grammar and jumbled paragraphs. There have been quite a few poems that have appeared at the XAT over the last few years now so, one would need to be mentally prepared for the same. The passages are also from slightly uncomfortable topics including art, history, philosophy and medicine so, if one is not accustomed to these, it would be a good idea to condition oneself over the next few days leading to the test. With regard to verbal reasoning, a quick overview of the common traps and fallacies would be enough (correlation does not imply causation, understanding the argument and then strengthening / weakening it and so on). The more technical parts of verbal ability include grammar and unscrambling jumbled paragraphs so, those are the ones that can be worked on by putting in specific effort (focus on grammatical errors involving subject-verb agreement, tenses, dangling modifiers, parallelism and pronoun-antecedent agreement). There are no TITA questions at the XAT and so, having options generally leads to better accuracy especially in the jumbled paragraph questions.

When it comes to the Quantitative Ability and Data Interpretation section, XAT has almost always had a healthy mix of all the topics. There have been almost an equal number of questions from Numbers, Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry and Modern Math. So, it is recommended that if one has any major gaps in any of the topics, they need to be covered over the coming month. It would be extremely risky to forego a topic completely and focus exclusively on a handful of topics. There have been a couple of questions here and there focusing on basic differentiation and trigonometry so, if one has neglected those topics during CAT prep, it is advised to brush them up before XAT. The data interpretation part (roughly 2-3 sets) has been doable over the past few years and so, it would be prudent to spend some time on these sets.

The Decision Making and Analytical Reasoning section is unique to the XAT and is something that one cannot completely ‘prepare’ for. Nobody can teach others to make decisions right! The key is to understand the situation and appreciate the language of the question before jumping to the plan/s of action. The cases are generally inspired from real-life situations and so, are pretty relatable. What needs to be understood is whether the decision needs to be made in a moral or a profitability context. The more sets one goes through, the more one will be familiar with the question types. Sometimes, the paper setters have gone off on a tangent and have incorporated some common sense into the questions (team selection for three games and the scheduling one in XAT 2017).

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The Essay was cancelled reportedly because of some technical glitches and it used to play a small part in the process when the test used to be paper-based. It shouldn’t really impact the preparation in a major way considering that the topics used to be broad-based and so, most of the takers would spend very little time preparing for the essay.

Q: Is it a perception or a fact that XAT is tougher than the CAT? Or is it that certain sections are slightly difficult than CAT? If yes, then is there a scientific measure for the level of difficulty? Does it even matter?

A: If we were to measure with some amount of objectivity, XAT is indeed a bit more technical and difficult compared to the CAT. A lot of it has got to do with the uncertainty in the reading comprehension questions (unless of course someone is really good at spotting metaphors and references) and the decision-making section. Also, the depth and range one is expected to exhibit in math is a bit more compared to the CAT so, that adds to the level of difficulty. The perception has been built mostly because of the unpredictable nature of the test (XAT 2011 is widely considered to be the strangest and most difficult test in the history of entrance tests) in terms of marking scheme, lack of symmetry in terms of number of questions per section and the level of difficulty as a whole.

The XAT cutoffs used to hover around the 30-35% mark and only recently have they touched the 40-50% range (mostly because of a 165-minute test instead of the older 120-minute avatar). So, overall yes, one can say that it is more difficult compared to the CAT. The good thing is that, one gets to allocate time to one’s strongest section and so, there is some element of a macro-strategy at play here. Honestly, it doesn’t matter though as everybody is going through the same set of questions and so, the outcome is relative.

Q: What are the common misconceptions students have about XAT?

A: I think the biggest misconception is that XAT is a difficult test for a particular individual. It isn’t the case and although overall it might seem like a difficult test, it doesn’t necessarily favour one type of aspirant over the other. It’s going to be the same for everyone so, if one has prepared well, s/he need not worry about the outcome at all. The cut-offs for XLRI are a lot lower compared to the CAT cut-offs for the IIMs and so, even if one gets stuck somewhere in the middle, it’s definitely possible to make a comeback.

Q: How is XAT a viable option or a perfect alternative for the CAT?

A: I see no reason why an aspirant would skip the test except maybe lack of content. XAT gives an extra safety net to the aspirants considering that there is still a good deal of uncertainty associated with the entire admission process. There are quite a few good colleges through the test and so, just in case someone has had a bad day at the CAT, there is enough scope to make up for it with a bit of introspection and preparation. Especially, colleges like MICA (where CAT/XAT score is a component while shortlisting), SPJIMR, XIMB, IMT and the like consider the best of the scores across eligible tests and so, XAT is a decent option.

Q: Would you recommend every CAT taker to take XAT? 

A: Most definitely, yes! Although the two exams are different in their appearance and the topics that are being tested, at the most basic level, the skills that are being tested are the same. Also, the good thing about XAT is the less focus attached to the past academic performance (we have seen, of course in rare cases, students with less than 50% in their graduation converting their calls) and so, a majority of the takers are bound to benefit.

Q: What kind of Score is considered a good score to get calls from the top B Schools that accept XAT?

A: If we look at last year’s scores, the score required for getting a call from XLRI for their BM program was roughly around 35 – 36 marks and for their HRM program was roughly around 32-33 marks. Typically, the XAT cut-off is roughly 45-50% of the total score and so, one can aim at that as a benchmark. For the other good institutes that take XAT scores into account (the likes of IMT, XIMB, Great Lakes and so on), a score of around 31-32 marks would have been enough to take one through to the next round. If one is looking at attempting questions with an accuracy of 75-80 percent, one would have to attempt 45-50 questions across the three sections. The scores tend to be split equally across the three sections and so, one has to be good at each section to clear the cut-offs. The cut-off for the QADI section is a bit higher than that for the VARC and the ARDM sections when it comes to XLRI and so, one would have to be careful of the fact.

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Q: Do you have something to add or suggest to the students who are thinking of giving it amiss, because their CAT went well?

A: Considering that there is still another round to go before the final admit, I would strongly urge students to take the test if they have registered for it. It’s always better to have options in hand and turn up for as many processes as is possible than to wonder later what could have happened.The number of good institutes that accept the XAT scores and the quality of XLRI as an institute should be enough motivation to take the test.

Q: How important is the GK Section in XAT? What are the topics a XAT taker should brush up? 

A: In the present context, it is not that important. If one has had a passive habit of following current affairs over the last few months and has been curious with regard to the static GK trivia, it should be enough. As a benchmark, a score of around 40-50% should be enough to take one into the 95th percentile. If we were to look at the past few years’ tests, the above mentioned scores are definitely possible considering that there is no negative marking in this section. If you are an IMS student, you may refer to the GQuest portal and check the exam special section for all your GK needs.The GK section is probably useful when it comes to the interview round and although there haven’t been any reported selections or eliminations because of the GK score, it’s best to score decently in the section.

Q: How to tackle decision making questions in XAT?

A: Sticking to the theme of the XAT prep, understanding the question types is of utmost importance. If we look at the past few years’ papers, the cases have been extremely easy to read and understand. The best way to tackle these would be to make sure that you read the premise extremely carefully and know what is the exact pain point. Then, you would want to know the exact nature of the question – if it is expecting profitability or morality or clarity. The entire section is designed to weed out candidates who lack depth and focus and so, it would be best to spend an additional minute understanding the question than to hurry needlessly.

Q: How many attempts should we target? What should be the order in which I should attempt the sections?

A: It would be dangerous to get into a test as unpredictable as the XAT with a rigid mindset. An ideal distribution of time would involve giving slightly more time to QADI and distributing the rest between ARDM and VARC. So, you might want to give around 55-60 minutes to the QADI section and 45-50 minutes each to the other two sections. It’s always best to have a buffer at the end of the test and so, having those extra 15 minutes at the end should be beneficial.

As far as the order of attempting the sections goes, you would want to sandwich your weakest section between your relatively stronger sections. You should ideally start with your strongest section, get some momentum along the way and then tackle the one that you feel is the most daunting. Considering that the pattern remains the same, you may look at scoring 9-10 marks in each section and another 4-5 marks in your strongest section to cap it off.

About Shahshank Prabhu:

He has taken the test 5 times now, with a highest overall percentile of 99.987 in XAT 2019 and a lowest percentile of 99.952 in XAT 2017. His professional highlights include topping 12 all India tests (100%ile in CAT, 2-time IIFT 100%ile, 5-time MBA CET 99.99%ile with the highest score ever in its history 211/240, SNAP 99.99%ile, 2-time NMAT 99%ile with a 249, MAT 99.99%ile with an 800/800). 

Currently, he is a Chief Mentor at IMS Learning Resources. He is an MBBS from Grant Medical College and an MBA from FMS, Delhi.

(Shahshank Prabhu in conversation with Kalyani Majumdar)