Among the Indian MBA entrance exams, IIFT entrance exam is possibly the most complicated; it has multiple sections (and sometimes subsections also), no sectional time limits, differential marking for questions of different sections, negative marking for incorrect answers, insufficient time and at times does not clearly specify if it has sectional cutoffs. In other words this paper checks out your ability to manage time, ability to take the right decisions (choose the easy questions) with insufficient information under a situation of constrains (insufficient time) with penalty for incorrect decisions and achieve the goals without being fully aware of the rules.
The changes in CAT’14, pattern of the paper and the dates of the test, have proved to be a mixed bag for the IIFT aspirants. While the changed pattern of CAT’14 (2 sections, 100 questions, no sectional time limits) brings it closer to IIFT and makes preparation easier but with CAT’14 scheduled for 16th & 22nd November and IIFT on 23rd November, 50% of the candidates have back to back papers, even the fortunate ones with CAT on 16th November get only a week to reorient themselves. With a little over 3 weeks to D-day, let us understand the paper structure, its peculiarities and work out the best way of tackling the paper. We will take into account the IIFT papers of 2009 – 13 for this purpose.
The IIFT Paper
Contrary to popular belief that the IIFT paper is unpredictable, the reality is that like any other paper it can be predicted. While most people prefer to look at the differences, I prefer to look at the commonalities or the constants of the paper to work out the strategies for cracking the paper. Hence let us first have a look at the constants in the IIFT paper structure:
1. Time limit: 2 hours or 120 minutes.
2. Number of questions: The number of questions in this paper varies from 120 to 135.
3. Total marks: All papers are of 100 marks.
4. Multiple sections: IIFT papers typically have 4 – 6 sections. DI could be combined with QA or LR and RC could be an independent section or combined with EU.
5. Areas tested: Irrespective of the number of sections or sub-sections IIFT papers test you on the following areas:
- English Usage
- Reading Comprehension
- Quantitative Aptitude
- Data Interpretation
- Analytical Reasoning
- General Knowledge
6. No sectional time limit: IIFT does not prescribe any sectional time limit and expects the students to not only allocate appropriate time to each section but also ensure that this time allocation is implemented.
7. Differential Marking: Questions of different sections have different marks but in almost all papers GK & EU questions have the minimum marks and QA & DI questions have the maximum marks.
8. Negative marking: Negative marking is a standard feature in IIFT. Usually it is 1/3rd of the marks allocated to the question for every incorrect answer.
9. Good Attempt: Till 2010 a good attempt was around 50 marks, but in the last two years, with the reduction in degree of difficulty of QA, DI and RC a good attempt is 60-65 marks.
10. Low Cut-off: The cut-off for general category candidates in IIFT 2012 paper was 50 marks which was the highest in the last few years. In 2013 the cut-off was around 47.5 marks and in 2009-10 the cutoff was less than 40 marks. The cutoffs for reserved category are typically lower by 5 marks for NCOBC and 10 marks for SC/ST/PH candidates.
However, it should be noted that a partial reason for the cut-off to go up substantially in the 2011 paper was that the number of candidates called for the second stage was reduced by around 10% in 2011 as compared to 2010. Also the level of difficulty of QA, DI and RC has reduced since 2011.
IIFT did not declare its cutoffs for 2013 (IIFT 2014-16) and the cutoffs mentioned in this post for the test conducted in 2013 are estimates and could be off by 0.5 marks in total and 0.2 marks in sections.
11. Sectional cut-off: While in the past IIFT has been silent on this aspect but in the last couple of years it has declared sectional cut-offs for all sections. Even if the question paper does not specify this, it is safer to assume that there will be sectional cutoffs and attempt the paper accordingly.
12. Wrong questions: Every IIFT paper has 5-6 incorrect questions or questions in which none of the choices are correct. Possibly trying to see how you handle chaos.
Strategy Tip 1: The Marks per minute funda Given that the marks per question in IIFT is different for different testing areas, it is important for us to attempt questions in a manner such that the score is maximized. EU and GK usually have the lowest marks per question but they also take the least amount of time. Similarly, QA and DI typically have the highest marks per question but they take more time to solve. In other words, “marks per minute” is more important than “marks per question” and your target should be to maximize the marks in 120 minutes.
Strategy Tip 2: The Target Attempt Mystery Since IIFT is usually silent on the aspect of sectional cutoffs, we cannot assume that it is not there. In 2012, for the first time, IIFT declared its sectional cut-offs. Given that the total score required to clear IIFT in 2012 was 50 marks (45 for NCOBC and 40 for SC/ST/PH) with very low sectional cutoffs, your target attempt should be:
- in the region of 35-40% of the total marks in the section and
- at least 60-65 marks in aggregate.
Strategy Tip 3: Finding the Perfect Match The IIFT paper has around 15 “match the following” questions in GK, EU and RC. These have to be definitely attempted since most of them can be solved on the basis of 1 or 2 matches out of 4 by eliminating the choices.
Now on the basis of the last 3 years papers of IIFT, let us go deeper into all the areas that are tested to work out a plan for preparation and also the strategy to do well in the test.
English Usage (EU): The 20-25 questions in this section are primarily from vocabulary, sentence completion and sentence correction with a couple of questions from para-jumbles (short sentences) and spellings. Vocabulary is the least time-consuming sub-section in the test but many students are likely to find the words difficult. Grammar or sentence correction is easier than that in CAT and sentence completion questions (word, sentences and phrases) are also do-able.
A good starting point for preparation is to know the meaning of every word that has appeared in the question and the choices of the last 5 years IIFT papers. Vocabulary questions that have appeared in past XAT and FMS papers are also useful for IIFT. The vocabulary section in the Test Gym will be of help in this regard.
Strategy Tip 4: When in doubt – leave. Give this section (EU) about 10 minutes for 20-25 questions and attempt only those questions that you are sure of. When in doubt leave and do not bother to read the lengthy questions.
Reading Comprehension (RC): For the last few years RC, has contributed 15-16 questions in 4 lengthy passages. While the length of the passages has come down over the years but with 800 – 1000 words they are lengthier than the ones in all other MBA entrances. The passages are mostly factual and not difficult to understand or answer. In addition to the RC passages of past IIFT papers, RC passages of CAT 1990-98 should also be practised since most of these are lengthy and factual.
Strategy Tip 5: The 7-8 min rule Glance through the passages and attempt two passages, @ 7-8 minutes per passage, which you are comfortable with based on the subject of the passage. Do not target attempting all RC since this section gives minimum marks per minute.
IIFT 2012 and 2013 papers had 20 questions of EU and 16 questions of RC (@ 0.75 marks per question) in a single section of 27 marks. The cut off for this section was only 7 marks in 2012 and 5.75 marks in 2013.
Quantitative Aptitude: After CAT the IIFT-QA will be a relief for most of you. Arithmetic and Algebra are the mainstay of IIFT papers in QA. IIFT papers have questions primarily from Ratios, TSD, T&W and Percentages, Simple equations, Sequences & Series and Inequalities with a couple of questions each from Geometry, Mensuration and P&C and Probability. Till 2010, IIFT papers had questions from Functions,Trigonometry (mostly height and distance), Set Theory and Binomial Theorem also hence these areas should not be ignored. It will be useful to revise the important MCQs of these topics also.
IIFT 2012 and 2013 had 25 QA questions of 1 mark each and one could easily attempt 15 questions in 25 minutes but the sectional cutoff was only 6 marks in 2012 and 6.34 marks in 2013.
Strategy Tip 6: Find the Sitters Many IIFT QA questions are lengthy to read but easy and short questions are sprinkled across the paper and there are 4-5 questions that are not worth attempting. This section should be attempted in 2 Rounds – R1 for the short and easy questions and R2 for the lengthy to read questions.
Data Interpretation: DI in IIFT typically contributes about 15-20 questions in 4 sets. In terms of calculation intensity these are a couple of notches higher than CAT essentially because of very close choices. While most of the data sets are tables and graphs, caselets have also appeared in the past. Data Sufficiency questions have not appeared in IIFT for the last 5 years and hence can be ignored.
IIFT 2012 and 2013 DI was easier than its earlier editions due to lesser calculation intensity. Both papers had 4 data sets with a total of 19 questions and one could attempt 3 data sets with 14-15 questions.
Strategy Tip 7: The DI and RC connection Apply the RC strategy in DI, attempt only two DI sets – the easiest and least time consuming sets in about 15 minutes and ignore the rest.
Analytical Reasoning: In the 20 Reasoning questions in IIFT test, you should expect 2-3 questions each of arrangement, eligibility criteria, syllogism, coding-decoding, course of action, mathematical operators and alphabet & number series. Hence it is advisable that all these be practiced from your study material.
Questions of arrangement, eligibility criteria and mathematical operators are easier to solve if you work systematically and also take less time, attempt them first. For the rest go by your comfort level.
Strategy Tip 8: Maximize! This is the section to maximize your scores since the level of difficulty is low – medium and reasoning questions usually have the highest marks per question. Questions can be solved in about 1.5 minutes each. Plan to attempt all questions in this section.
IIFT 2012 and 2013 had 20 questions of AR (of 0.75 marks each) and 19 questions of DI (of 1 mark each) in a single section of 34 marks. This sectional cutoffs in 2012 and 2013 were 8.917 and 9.75 marks respectively.
General Knowledge: This is the area that most of the students are most worried about also The GK in IIFT is possibly the most unpredictable among all MBA entrances. It can have questions from country-capital-currency, authors-books, business, advertising, films, politics, geography, history etc. In short, anything under the sun can be asked. The saving grace is that the regular newspaper readers will not have a problem.
For preparation, download the IIFT GK Compendium and Question Bank. Also do go through the GK quizzes in Management Compass of the last 8 months and the static questions of last 6 years IIFT papers. The GK app (android) by CL will be out in a day or two and should be of help in preparing for this section. The GK preparation will also be useful for XAT and SNAP.
IIFT 2012 and 2013 had 28 questions (of 0.5 marks each) and 5 correct answers were sufficient to clear the section since its cut-offs were 1.667 marks in 2012 and 1.8 marks in 2013.
Strategy Tip 9: The Last Word Plan for not more than 30 seconds per question in GK, leave the question if you are not sure of the answer. An attempt of around 7-8 questions is good for this section.When in doubt leave is the right strategy for this section also.
Practicing past IIFT papers will help you in CAT, if you can handle the complexity of IIFT then managing 2 sections of CAT will not be difficult. Also IIFT will push you to increase your speed and this could help increase your attempts in CAT. As suggested in 4 Weeks to CAT’14 – Ab billi door nahin, do attempt the last 4 IIFT papers, time permitting you can go back till 2008. For a detailed analysis of past IIFT papers please refer to the analysis of past IIFT papers in CL Exam Corner.
All the best.