Expertise

Our CAT achiever Gaurav Singhal – IIM Ahmedabad gold-medalist (2012 batch), has sent in this excellent and thought provoking article:

One thing which has been bothering me of late, is how we have lost a culture of building experts. And I mean experts like Michaelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci or Isaac Newton or Mozart – people who dedicated their lives to their professions. We dont build such people anymore. If we take a look around, all we see is a bunch of salesmen in suits posing as experts.

How did this happen? Previously it was a way of life. A man’s life was defined by his profession and he took ownership in the work. Expertise carried a mark of respect and exclusivity. It became a purpose of living – something you could dedicate your life to.  But now, its just not the same environment anymore. Work has been sliced to such a fantastic degree that you just dont feel proud of it.

I remember reading about an IIM interview when I was preparing for CAT. The professor was questioning the candidate on ways to improve efficiency in a manufacturing plant. The candidate mumbled some words on ‘motivation’ upon which the professor laughed and said, “You have a guy whose only job is to turn the lever on and off. Now do tell me how you intend to ‘motivate’ THIS guy about his work”. And that’s how it is.  One advantage of graduating from an IIM is that you can get good work. You can get work that you feel excited about. That’s not always the case with engineering. Lots of engineers in India get jobs in back offices and support centres where its very difficult to feel excited about the work. Sure you can earn decent money, but that’s about it. Its certainly not the best way to breed experts.

One friend gave a very interesting opinion on this. She said that earlier, bankers and merchants were heavy patrons of art. Charging interest (or its excessive variant ‘usury’) was considered sinful, so behemoths like Medici patronized fine arts and sponsored talented artists, to atone for their guilt. And because charging interest is not considered immoral anymore, the extent of patronization by wealthy has gone down. Hence, the lack of expertise. Its an interesting opinion and might be a contrbuting factor but I think thats not the only reason. I think part of the reason is the spread of social media and the culture of consumerism. You cant be an expert if you spend hours on facebook and twitter.

So thats how it is I suppose. We have lost touch with genuine expertise to such an extent that we abuse such words on the drop of a hat. In the TV series ‘Prison Break’, Michael Scofield’s psychiatrist explains that Scofield’s high IQ combined with a medical condition of low latent inhibition (disability to block out peripheral information or an excessive attention to detail) makes him a creative genius. The explanation is very mathematical, unlike (as the psychiatrist remarks) the way we generally abuse the word “genuis” in context of those who are merely above average. The sad part is, our education system, our culture has reduced the encouragement and even production of true genuis and genuine experts.

You can follow Gaurav’s blog here: http://gauravsinghal.wordpress.com/

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CAT 2012: A perspective

Thinking within the box is as important as thinking out of the box!

Out-of-The-Box thinking – a celebrated cliché is passé for CAT; thinking within the box has, now, become as important , if not more, as thinking out of the box. CAT maintaining a conventional structure and regularly referred question types has necessitated reflecting on the program learning and all the practice questions solved in tests. While of course there still are questions that require you think of creative application of concepts, they are few. Yet, if you are among the nerds not willing to settle for anything less than 99.5+ percentile; put your thinking hat on before you go for CAT.

In Verbal questions, the first response is usually more right than the next; in Quants, the first response is usually less right than the next!

Is ‘more right’ right? Well, Uh…!

You get me what I want to say. In verbal question rely on your instinct, in Quant questions, rely on your reason. Language is a matter you could sense! Is language a matter, by the way? Precisely! There is little material about language, and hence it is grasped more by senses than by mind. Feel and respond. Rely on our instinct! But when instinct fails you, reason surely is the next best option!

Quants is all about reasoning – a material aspect of life. Unless there is a reason, there cannot be an outcome. Find the true reason and you have the correct outcome. Rely on your knowledge, and on your analytical skills; think within the box or out of the box – but do think. Think twice before embarking on solution – there always is a better way of doing things – particularly if you have taken TWITs and analyzed CATabilities.

Are You Good! OR Are You Good Enough!

It does not matter as long as you do not think of it! When your being good is matter of knowledge, and not of your belief; you stop wondering whether you are good. It’s more about the state of mind you take to the exam hall. Twice that I took CAT and scored 99.97%-ile and 99.99%-ile; I went with a conviction that I had sufficient time to answer all the questions, and I had sufficient knowledge to get all my answers correct. I never planned to get a single question wrong! Who does, then? Well mind you, everyone does! People ask me “How many should I attempt?” Or “What would be a good score?” Why not all that is there up for grab? I, of course, did not score 100%, but could score what best I could have in any circumstances! The best of Me!

Go! Go Ahead and Get All That Is There! Be The Best You Can Be!!! [In the mean time we will busy ourselves preparing for RIGOR – Your GD-PI Preparation!]

CATching up with CAT 2012

THE CAT is underway, and as usual it does throw in a surprise – i.e. absence of any surprises, at least for all of you who have been following MyOrangeSlate or preparing with our content partner FuturiSM! The question types or the structure have largely been standard in the first five days of CAT, the difficulty level has been easy to medium, and the process of taking CAT has been as elaborate as years before.

In quants, a couple of applications in Base Notations have been found to be innovative. The rest have been quite on the expected line. Though the need for analysis has once again been underlined by CAT. As it has always been with CAT, students are expected to analyze the data in context and find an approach – one could not fit in many questions in standard formulae or standard approaches. Ability to think out of the box has once again been rewarded in CAT – Something that we have been vouching for through all the CATabilities presented to you. The test has been focusing on different areas in different slots – thus you would do well not to ignore any aspect of your preparation for quants.

Data Interpretation has been a little calculative, with distinct stress on caselets as against graphs and charts in some slots. Approximation has helped students in some cases.

Verbal Ability Section too has largely been on expected lines, with 2 to 3 questions on ‘Word Usage’ posing serious challenge to students. RC passages have been of 500 to 600 words length, with diverse topics. One particular type of question – Paragraph Completion has come with a variant: Information Completion in at least one slot. Most slots have had 10 to 11 questions on RC and 9 to 10 questions on logical reasoning. Logical Reasoning questions have been a little tricky too.

Given this composition of the test, the agenda for MyOrangeSlate students who are yet to take CAT becomes:

Completely go through the study material on ‘Word Usage’
The lists on Phrasal Verbs in Preposition Chapter of English Usage Book
Verbal Phrases in English Usage book
RC Exercise book – at least the first 10 exercises
Data Construction & Analytical Reasoning Exercises
Sectional Tests, Chapter Tests, TWITs, Revision Tests on Quants
Remaining CATability Tests
With the CAT maintaining its intriguing nature, be better prepared to batter the CAT!

CAT- day one analysis…

The first day of CAT 2012 concluded. We at team MyOrangeSlate interacted with some of our students who appeared for the test today.

Here are some of the key pointers:

– The difficulty level is easy to average, and there were hardly any major surprises.

– A couple of questions on Vocabulary (word-usage). (MyOrangeSlate research team correctly predicted this and we’d included several word-usage questions in the CATability test series for the students this year)

– Verbal Ability overall was slightly on the difficult side as compared to the other sections. 3 RCs

– Highly calculation based sets in Data Interpretation- persistence more than intelligence will help you crack these sets

– Formula based questions could throw up some difficulty for less prepared students in Quants section. 5-6 questions on Geometry, 3 on Permutations-Combinations, 2 on logarithm

– Roughly getting around 35 marks should get you a call in some of the IIMs, based on the review of various top students’ performance (i.e. if you were regularly scoring 30-40% marks in CATability on MyOrangeSlate.com, you should be able to clear the expected cut-off for CAT this year)

Stay tuned to this blog for more analysis as more and more of the 2.14 lakh students appear for the exam.

Goals, the brain, exams, and 3 Idiots.

Those who surpass the best find that it is excelling, not competing, that makes the biggest difference. The popular movie 3 Idiots reasserts this idea in its theme- Excellence, not success, is to be pursued.

Why is that out-of-the-box thinking, completely new paradigms, and breathtaking qualitative (not just minor quantitative) improvements are usually found by people when they are not in a competitive state of mind?

For one, competing usually encourages looking at what the others are up to. This has two unwanted consequences – first, the focus from one’s own goal is diluted and second, the mind becomes trapped in the current way of doing things, only doing a little better or a little worse than those around, making comparisons to others but not to greater possibilities. Competition inhibits learning and creativity if people are trapped in it completely, as they tend to focus solely on the task at hand,  without any longer term orientation.

For example, in studies on athletes competitive words such as “harder“, “better“, and “faster” stimulated more than double the normal levels of stress hormones. In fact performance researchers recommend that people abandon competitive thinking during practice, because performance improves when you take pressure off yourself.

The best performers are people who replace the goal of winning against others with the goal of going beyond their personal best, because doing so matters to them personally- for its own sake.

And it has biological basis as well! One of the newer evolved parts of the human brain, the prefrontal cortex (in the frontal lobes), integrates incoming stimuli and oversees the working memory circuits that move your intentions into action. Thus it governs goal-oriented behaviour, but for that to happen the goal must be emotionally compelling to you. In such a state of mind, obstacles are more easily overcome and determination maintained for longer periods of time.

However it takes awareness and practice to get these parts of the brain fully on your side and to activate faster whenever goal-oriented tasks are to be accomplished. Unfortunately most of us are more oriented towards external drivers (such as rewards of being labelled ‘successful’) rather than an inner emotionally-compelling goal and deeper purpose. Because of this, the brain regions that remain more activated are the more primate, fear-based, threat-detecting parts. The brain then jumps into a zero-sum game where survival instincts dictate behaviour.

And why is all this relevant to people preparing for an exam? The answer is simple- to really surpass your own expectations, you should try to put your dreams and curiousity ahead of your fears and reservations, you must be focused on what you want to become or want to achieve rather than be fearful of what would happen if you were left behind of others.

The chances of you giving your best can be greatly increased this way.

Two types of Intelligence required for Aptitude exams like CAT, GMAT and GRE

Cognitive ability required in different exams is different, which is why there are so many students who score brilliantly in their college “knowledge” exams and yet struggle with aptitude tests, and vice versa. This phenomenon can be better understood by looking at the two ways in which many psychologists classify intelligence:

1. Fluid Intelligence
Fluid intelligence is the ‘street smart’ or ‘think on your feet’ type of intelligence. It involves having an open mind, looking at things from different perspectives, being open to learning and unlearning things and reacting proactively to problem. It is the ability to think and reason abstractly and strategically. While this is necessary for time-bound aptitude tests where shortcut techniques or innovative approaches help save time without compromising on accuracy, it is not enough without at least some bit of what is called crystallised intelligence.

2. Crystallised Intelligence
Crystallised intelligence is the ability to learn from past experiences in a systematic and permanent way and to apply this learning to work-related situation. Exam problems that require crystallised intelligence include those which require specific formulae or approach only, especially in some aspects of Quantitative Ability.

Both these forms of intelligence, in the right proportion, are useful in preparing for aptitude exams. However, if you become aware of your own unique style, strengths, and weaknesses, it is quite possible to use more of one of the above two categories of intelligence to cover up for any lack in another.

Follow the blog as we try to dig deeper into the psychological aspects of test-taking in the coming weeks!