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How To Avoid Negative Marking In CAT And Other Exams

Negative marking eats away scores of lots of candidates and ruins their ranking. Follow these tips to avoid negative marking in CAT. By IIM Skills – online CAT coaching


Negative marking is common in almost all objective exams. That includes the CAT exam too. Negative marking happens when you mark a wrong answer. It is important to know how to avoid negative marking in CAT as well as any other exam you are giving.


Ideally, we aim to go and attempt a CAT exam with full preparation and completion of all topics perfectly so that we can solve any question that is thrown at us. Seldom it happens that way. Sure there are a few students who are fully prepared in every topic but for the rest of 99.5%, we depend on some form of luck. But it is important to note that hardly anybody gets a full score in any competitive exam.


There are a few reasons why examinations keep negative marking in their pattern. Mostly, it is to discourage guesswork. Also, it eliminates any possibility of a situation where a candidate who has guessed his way throughout the paper, scores more number than a candidate who is attempting questions in the correct manner. 


If there is no negative marking, candidates will mark all the answers. Assuming a candidate solves 30% of the questions, and for the rest of the 70% of the paper, he marks every answer as (B), it is likely that the candidate’s 15% of the guesses would be correct. But the incorrect guesses won’t harm the score. This can result in a huge difference in scores with and without guessing. This is also unfair to the student who has scored the same number but by properly attempting all his questions and arriving at the correct solution. 


Here are Top CAT Coaching Institutes in Pune


There is another reason that happens to be much more deep-founded. Negative marking resembles real-life situations where it much better to admit you do not know something rather than committing a mistake. A mistake in the exam only costs you a mark. A mistake in the real-life may cause much more drastic results like a loss in business revenue, lawsuits, failed engine parts or software security loopholes (engineering), or a wrong diagnosis of a disease in a patient by a doctor.


Negative marking rewards and allows only those candidates to pass through who are sure of their answers and well as decisions because a wrong decision incurs a price.


Many candidates assume that they can get a good percentile in CAT just by guessing. Some candidates have not studied or prepared at all and for them, guessing is the best resort. 


The pattern of negative marking can be seen in almost every competitive examination, including the CAT exam. In negative marking, points are deducted for incorrect answers. 


Guessing can help when you make smart guesses after eliminating at least 2 options that seem to be incorrect, but more often than not, guessing reduces your overall CAT score.


Tips to Reduce Negative Marking in CAT Exam


Like many competitive exams, the common admission test or CAT also embraces the policy of negative marking. The marking scheme of CAT is given below:


CAT Marking Scheme:

  • 3 Marks awarded for every correct answer
  • 1 mark deducted for an incorrect answer
  • No negative marking for questions not attempted


In this case, there could be two scenarios. One where the candidate is purely guessing an answer. In this case, he/she will lose 1 mark out of the total score, for each wrong answer, if the answer happens to be wrong.


Another scenario is where a candidate arrives at an answer after solving the problem. However, the answer is wrong, but the candidate does not know this until the answer key is released. In this case, the total loss is 3 mark (for an answer that was assumed to be correct) + 1 mark (negative marking). This loses him/her a total of 4 points out of his total score.


This is why in addition to avoid guessing, you also have to ensure that you are not making any mistakes while solving the question.


There are many reasons, other than guessing, that may cause negative marking. Given below are some of the reasons for negative marking and how to avoid negative marking in CAT or any other competitive exam:


How to Avoid Negative Marking in CAT 2020 Exam:


Avoid Guesswork in the paper

It is never advised to do any substantial amount of guesswork so that the candidate starts depending on it. This is an exam not a gambling scene. The best approach would be to avoid any question where you are not confident of arriving at an answer. Trying to attempt these questions would likely not bring any solution and you may end up wasting precious time. Also, it is likely that any answer you arrive at may turn out to be wrong and will cause a deduction of marks.


Be careful with rough calculations

Always keep your rough work organized and clean. Do not mix different solutions together. Being organized in the calculations helps clarity of thought and avoids confusion. You can trace back the calculations to verify if your solution was correct. You won’t be able to do that if the calculations are messy and cluttered. You may end up marking an incorrect option too in this way.


Read the Questions Correctly

There is always a minimum of 2-3 questions where a candidate does not read the question properly and end up solving for something else and marks a wrong answer. This is normal because some questions are designed in such a way so as to trick the candidate. This makes you lose about 10 or more marks, which is a big number.


To save yourself from this possibility, always read the questions properly. Go through them twice if you need to. Especially, in the VARC section in CAT exam.


Develop focus

Solve as many mock tests for CAT 2020 and practice questions for CAT 2020 as possible. This will develop speed and concentration ability which will help you in the exam. If you keep your focus, you will not make silly mistakes and will be much faster. 


Avoid Last Minute hurriedness

Don’t get impulsive in the last few minutes of the exam. This may cause you to commit silly mistakes and you will mark an incorrect answer. Many candidates panic in the last few minutes. There are a lot of thoughts going through the mind. You have to remember that you will get a score that is representative of your level of preparation, no matter what you do in the last few minutes. 


Solve the Easy Questions First

Try to attempt those questions first that can be solved in a few seconds or less than a minute. These questions help you build momentum and focus and you feel encouraged when you know the answers are right. This also saves time for the lengthy questions.


Click the Right Option

Sometimes, in a hurry, some candidates solve the question correctly but end up marking the wrong option on the screen. It happens in hurriedness and anxiety. It is advised to mark the answers carefully and cross-check if you have marked the correct answer.


So these were a few ways on how to avoid negative marking in the CAT exam as well as other competitive exams.


It is important to know the correct strategy for all sections of CAT in order to know how to avoid negative marking in CAT exam as well as other competitive exams. Let us learn more about them.


Strategy for DILR section in CAT to avoid negative marking


A DILR section comes in different sets of problems. A set of questions has the same data and questions are interrelated.

  • In general, you can expect a total of 8 sets having 3-4 problems each. 2 of these sets would be Data Interpretation (DI) and 2 would be from LR. The rest would be a combination of both LR and DI.
  • Skim: The first thing you should as you open the section is to skim through all the questions. You can take 5 minutes to do that. Don’t just randomly choose a question to solve. Your choice of a set should be based on sound reason, like the ones discussed here.
  • Never just start solving questions as soon as you see the paper. You may end up in a difficult question while the easy ones are later in the paper.
  • Decide and mark which sets appear easy and medium and may take less time and which ones will take more time and calculation. A good way to decide which ones to pick is familiarity. If you find a set that is similar to some settings you have practiced, choose that one over a set that appears totally new.
  • Another way is to compare how many lines of data are there in the set. Choose the one that has less. Choose the set that has questions that require less calculation. If you find a set where a solution to one question takes you closer to the solution of the next question, prefer that. Don’t choose sets where a new condition requires you to recalculate everything again.
  • Remember that you don’t need to solve all the questions. Stick to your percentage goal. All questions carry equal weightage, so solve the easy ones first and ensure that the solution is correct. 
  • Start attempting the questions in the order of increasing difficulty. Remember how many questions you need to solve correctly to reach your percentage goal. 
  • Only after you are satisfied that you have solved all the easy and medium sets should you move on to the difficult sets.
  • Don’t spend more than 15 minutes on any set. You have to know when to keep going and when to give up. However, don’t get disappointed and leave the set if you can’t reach an answer in the first 5 minutes. With practice, your choices and judgment of the easy and difficult sets will get better.
  • List the data: Always list all the data that is given and that you found out. Write this in a separate area on the sheet so it gives clarity. Decode the data given in the question. Understand it completely before starting to solve questions.
  • Keep your solutions neat and clean. Otherwise, you may have to start over if you can’t make sense of your calculations.


How to avoid negative marking in VARC section in CAT


VARC for CAT is not difficult to master and attempt for candidates who follow these tips on how to avoid negative marking in the CAT exam as well as other competitive exams. Be prepared with all the topics and solve as many mock tests as possible. Follow the tips for strategy in VARC CAT.


You are allotted 60 minutes for completing each section in the CAT exam. You get just the same number by solving a question, whether it is difficult or easy. Most candidates are most fearful of the VARC section when it comes to negative marking. This is also because most CAT aspirants are engineers. But if you follow the tips and strategies mentioned here, you can be sure of a great performance in the CAT exam.


To help the aspirants for CAT, IIM Skills online CAT coaching gives these points of advice:


  • Never start solving the questions as soon as you get the paper. Always take 3-4 minutes to skim through the paper. 
  • Mark the questions that you feel confident about that can be solved quickly. Also, mark the questions you think you can solve but that will take more time. Leave the questions you intend to skip. Aim to mark about 50%-60% of the questions in CAT, depending upon your performance in the mock tests.
  • In the VARC section, try to focus on the VA questions in the beginning. They are usually easy and take less time. This will help you build momentum and give you confidence for the rest of the section. 
  • Different RC passages have distinct toughness levels. As you practice more in the practice questions for CAT 2020, you will become better at picking the right RCs that can be solved easily. 
  • Do not cling to just one question. Remember that every question has the same marks.
  • If you do not have great concentration skills, try to attempt VA and RC sections alternatively.  The change of pace will help you focus and VA questions will give you some rest in between long RC questions.
  • Do not leave difficult questions for the end, you’ll become intimidated trying to solve all at once. 
  • Pick questions in your strong areas and avoid questions from your weak areas. Nobody solves the whole CAT exam paper. 
  • Be cool and relaxed. The more you practice mock tests the more comfortable you get with the real CAT exam.


How to avoid negative marking in quantitative aptitude in CAT


The quant section in CAT is deemed by many as the most challenging section of CAT. If you take a look at the previous years’ papers of CAT, you will find out that the quantitative aptitude for CAT takes the most time of any candidate. 


Due to calculation mistakes, it is also very much possible that candidates end up at the wrong solution, assuming that they solved it correctly. This will lead to negative marking. The steps on how to avoid negative marking in quant in CAT are different from steps to avoid negative marking in the CAT VARC section. 


Commonly there are 34 questions (acknowledging the pattern of CAT 2020) to be solved in 60 minutes. You also need to clear the sectional cut-off in each section to qualify for many management colleges.


Since you have 60 minutes and you cannot move to another section early, you need to make the most of your time and also ensure you have marked the answers correctly to avoid negative marking. You cannot waste time in this section. You cannot lose your focus and make silly mistakes.


In your preparation stages, try to solve many practice questions and mock tests. This will build up pace and you will better identify which questions to solve first and which ones to skip for later. In addition to shortcut tricks and theorems for CAT quant, you also need speed and focus. And the ability to sit for 3 hours continuously in one place.



Plan your study schedule


Before you even begin your preparation for CAT 2020 and start solving problems by picking any book, prepare a study plan. Your study plan or schedule for CAT should include:

  • Hours every day to give to each section
  • How much time(days or weeks) to contribute to each chapter
  • Days to spend learning theory o building concepts through easy questions
  • Day allotted to mock tests. Ideally Sundays. 
  • Hours for revision of chapters (once weekly)


A clear concept in the design of a timetable is required. As long as you produce a good study plan for CAT and stick to it, you have completed most of the work. Following the study plan every day with seriousness during the whole preparation holds the secret of a good percentile in CAT. 


During the preparation stages, do not leave any topic. Give enough time to weak topics and do not get emotionally attached to anyone’s topic just because you can solve many questions from it. By the end of your preparation, you should have completed at least 90-95% of the syllabus for CAT. In this way, you cannot give more than 90 minutes of self0study to quant each day. Because there are other sections also. 


Take Mock Tests


Mock Test for CAT 2020 is crucial to score a high number. There is no other way. Mock tets maximize your score out of any level of preparation you may have done. 


You must remember that given enough time, every candidate can solve every question in CAT. The skill is to solve the questions inside the time allotted. This is why CAT is not just about skills but about speed, planning, attitude and time management.


You learn many things from attempting mock tests. 

  • You learn how to pick questions. 
  • You learn how much time to give to each question.
  • You learn how to maximize marks from any level of preparation.
  • You learn to build an exam temperament for CAT
  • You learn to focus for 3 hours of exam duration
  • You learn a strategy to attempt the CAT exam
  • You learn how to handle exam stress
  • You also learn which areas to focus more
  • You can track your progress over months


Finding your weaknesses and strengths is of crucial importance. You should always attempt those questions first that fall inside your strengths. You will be more confident and build momentum after successful attempts.


As you practice you will get better at this skill of picking the right questions. Never try to attempt all the questions. If you attempting 50%of the questions correctly, you are way ahead of most of the candidates and are sure to get a seat in the best management colleges.


Once you have achieved the level of 50%, try to ensure the attempts are correct before trying to solve more questions.


Practice with sectional time


In the new format of CAT, you have a sectional time limit instead of a collective 3 hours for the whole CAT paper. This means you cannot skip to the next part of the question or go back to review the questions from the previous sections. 


You have to make the most of the time available ie. 60 minutes. Take the first 4 minutes to scan the whole section and mark the questions that are easy, that are tough but solvable, and the ones that you are not going to attempt.


Try to mark 60% of the paper so in case you solve faster you will have more questions to solve. Try to ensure you mark answers correctly before going for more quantity of questions. This is how to avoid negative marking in CAT.


This was a guide on how to avoid negative marking in CAT exam as well as other competitive exams. As long as you follow the tips given here on how to avoid negative marking, you will not make mistakes.


For more similar articles for your CAT preparation, follow the CAT exam blog.


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Gaurav is a Content Writer at IIM Skills. He has a B.Tech. degree but then he switched to the creative side by doing his master's in advertising and public relations. Gaurav is also a part-time blogger and graphic designer currently living in Mumbai

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