Among the Indian MBA entrance exams, IIFT entrance exam is possibly the most complicated; while the 3 section CAT 2015 with a time limit of 1 hour for each section is essentially a only a test of knowledge and speed, the IIFT paper is an aptitude test and also a test of your temperament. 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 cut-offs. In other words the IIFT paper checks out your ability to multi-task, to manage time, to take the right decisions (choose the easy questions) with insufficient information under a situation of constrains (insufficient time) with penalty for incorrect decisions.
While CAT 2015 is structurally easier than IIFT but in terms of level of difficulty IIFT is easier and apart from GK preparation you do not need to do anything extra. Your CAT preparation for QA, DI, LR, Verbal and RC is more than enough for IIFT and all you need to do is to work on your test taking strategy by attempting old IIFT papers and IIFT Mocks, about 7-8 papers should be sufficient for this purpose.
With a little over 3 weeks to IIFT 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 to 2014 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 115 to 135.
3. Total marks: All papers are of 100 marks.
4. Multiple sections: IIFT papers typically have 4-6 sections. DI could be an independent section or combined with QA or LR and similarly RC could be an independent section or combined with EU. IIFT 2012, 2013 and 2014 papers have all been 4 section papers
5. Areas tested: Irrespective of the number of sections or sub-sections IIFT papers test you on the following areas:
1. English Usage
2. Reading Comprehension
3. Quantitative Aptitude
4. Data Interpretation
5. Analytical Reasoning
6. 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. Not being able to do either of these would lead to not being able to achieve the sectional cut-off.
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 the degree of difficulty of QA, DI and RC a good attempt is around 60 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, whereas in 2014 the cut off was as low as 38.5. The cutoff for reserved category candidates is typically lower by 5 marks for NC-OBC and 10 marks for SC/ST/PH candidates.
The reason for the substantial increase in cut-off in the 2011 paper were lower level of difficulty and the reduction in the number of candidates called for the second stage by around 10% as compared to the previous year.
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 0.5-1 mark in total and 0.2-0.5 marks in the 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 safe to assume that there will be sectional cut-offs 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 mark per question in the IIFT paper 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 attempt questions worth at least 60 marks in 120 minutes.
Strategy Tip 2: The Target Attempt Mystery: IIFT is usually silent on the aspect of sectional cutoffs but we cannot assume that it is not there. In 2012, for the first time, IIFT declared its sectional cut-offs. Given that the highest total score required to clear IIFT in the last few years is 50 marks (45 for NCOBC and 40 for SC/ST/PH) in IIFT 2012 and the sectional cutoffs are very low, your target attempt could be:
1. Around 35-40% of the total marks in the section and
2. At least 60 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.
Strategy Tip 4: The South-Indian Thali: With 2-3 questions of almost all question types the EU, LR and GA sections of the IIFT resemble a “South Indian Thali” and instead of trying to attempt all question types you should focus only on the ones that you are comfortable with. Remember you can afford to leave about 40% of the paper.
Now on the basis of the past few 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 5: When in doubt – leave. Give this section (EU) about 10-12 minutes for 20 questions and attempt only those questions that you are sure of, follow the principle of “leaving, when in doubt”.
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 about 1000-1200 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 can also be practiced since most of these are lengthy and factual.
Strategy Tip 6A: From Questions to Passage: Given that the passages are lengthy and the questions are mostly factual it is advisable to attempt only the factual questions from all passages. Thus instead of reading the passage, identify the factual questions in each passage and then glance through the passage to find their answer. Alternately follow tip 6B.
Strategy Tip 6B: The 7-8 min rule If you are keen to read the passages and then attempt the questions, then glance through the passages and attempt any two, @ 7-8 minutes per passage, which you are comfortable with based on the subject of the passage. Do not target all RC passages since this section (along with DI) gives the minimum marks per minute.
EU and RC, Marks per Question: IIFT 2012 and 2013 papers had 20 questions of EU and 16 questions of RC at 0.75 marks per question in a single section of 27 marks. The cut off for this section was only 7 and 5.75 marks in 2012 and 2013 respectively. IIFT 2014 paper similarly had EU & RC combined in a single section of 27 marks with 20 questions of EU and 17 questions of RC at 0.75 and 1 mark per question respectively with a cutoff of 6.5 marks.
Quantitative Aptitude: The 20-25 QA questions in IIFT are of low level of difficulty. Arithmetic and Algebra are the mainstay of IIFT papers in QA and 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 but since these have not appeared for the last 4 years those of you who are not comfortable with these topics can afford to leave them.
QA, Marks per question: While the number of questions have varied in QA, it has always been 1 mark per question in QA. The number of QA questions in IIFT 2012, 2013 and 2014 papers was 25, 25 and 20 respectively about 12-15 questions could be comfortably attempted.
Strategy Tip 7: Find the Sitters Many IIFT QA questions are lengthy to read but easy to solve and a few short questions are sprinkled across the paper. Also 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 3-4 sets. In terms of calculation intensity these are a couple of notches higher than CAT because of very close choices at times due to complicated questions.. 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. In the last few years DI has not come as a separate section, in 2012 and 2013 DI and LR were combined in a single section while in 2014 it was QA and DI.
DI, Marks per question: These questions too usually have 1 mark per question. In 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 about 12-15 questions from 3 sets, however, in 2014 DI went back to its high on calculation avatar and one could attempt only about 5-7 questions out of 15 questions from the 3 DI sets.
Strategy Tip 8: 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, alternately attempt a few easy questions from each data. Alternately attempt only 2-3 easy questions from each data set.
Logical Reasoning: The South Indian thali will be most visible in this section. The 20 questions in IIFT test will give you a flavour of almost all kind of reasoning questions that appear in any kind of aptitude test. You can 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 and past IIFT papers.
Questions of arrangement, eligibility criteria and mathematical operators are easier to solve if you work systematically and also take less time, attempt them first and for the rest go by your comfort level.
LR, Marks per question: While the number of questions has remained constant at 20 in the last three IIFT papers, the marks per question in 2012 and 2013 was 0.75 but in 2013 it was increased to 1 mark per question. An attempt of around 15 questions is possible in most of the IIFT papers.
Strategy Tip 9: Maximize in LR! This is the section to maximize your scores since the level of difficulty is low-medium and reasoning questions usually have the high marks per question. Questions can be solved in 1-1.5 minutes each. Plan to attempt all questions in this section.
General Knowledge: This is the area that worries most of the students. 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 are usually able to do well in this section.
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 is already out 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 and 2014 had 28, 28 and 26 questions (of 0.5 marks each) respectively and 6 net-correct answers were sufficient to clear the section since its cut-offs were 1.667 marks in 2012 and 1.8 marks in 2013 and 2.49 marks in 2014.
Strategy Tip 10: 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. Do attempt the “match the following” question types and for the others the right strategy is “when in doubt – leave”.
IIFT Cutoffs – Sectional and Overall:
Practicing past IIFT papers will help you in CAT and XAT. If you can handle the complexity of IIFT then managing the 3 sections of XAT 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 5 Weeks to CAT’15 – Ab billi door nahin, do attempt at least one IIFT Mock or old IIFT paper every week and 2-3 such papers in the week of 15th November. For a detailed analysis of past year IIFT papers please refer to the analysis page of IIFT exam, here.
All the best.