Staff Selection Commission Combined Graduate Level exam is for Group B government jobs in India. It is one of the best options for job aspirants who go for other major category of competitive tests such as Bank PO. It is reportedly the most sought after test after IAS for govt jobs.
SSC CGL Tier 1 is the elimination level and Tier 2 is the final selection level. As the time gap between the two tests is usually two months, at the starting point, the student must plan and prepare for Tier 2 itself. Together, the Tier 1 and Tier 2 require the skill sets on,
- Maths – Algebra, Trigonometry, Geometry, Arithmetic & Mensuration.
- English – analytical, based on grammatical ability, word strength and so on. It does not test literary ability in English.
Primarily, even in English, problem solving ability is judged. Here we will deal with Maths. English in abstraction is not much different. The following, suitably adapted, is applicable for English and Reasoning also.
The math concept level required is up to the level of Class X overlapping somewhat to Class IX. The difficulty level is not as high as CAT MBA test or GRE test, but it is high enough. Challenges as usual in this kind of tests are three,
- To solve a math problem that would seem to be difficult.
- To solve it fast. Time is a very important element in the whole game.
- And if you forget, you have to be as correct as possible – negative marking is the third element.
Expressing concisely we would say, the successful student must have
- Ability to solve seemingly difficult math problems.
- Speed in solving.
- Accuracy in solving.
These three requirements form three layers of abilities
- Concept layer: the basic concepts must be absolutely clear.
- Problem solving layer: strategies, techniques and systematic and extensive practice of solving using the strategies and techniques will build high power ability at this layer.
- Mental math layer: as no electronic calculator is allowed, mental math calculation at lightning speed is a must for getting a leading edge practically in all competitive tests. This speed can’t be attained overnight, but can surely be attained over a period of 3 to 4 months of well-formed rigorous drill.
A few truths
- All these kinds of problems are solved more in the head than on paper. Problem solving in your head is the fastest and most accurate. As soon as you feel the need to touch your pen on scratch paper you will be slowed down as well as you will show signs of doubt and less clarity.
- Tougher a problem looks, simpler may be its solution. Generally I find it true for all competitive test problems, specially the harder ones.
- Simpler a problem looks you need to approach it more carefully (not more slowly, but more carefully) as it might have less obvious traps hidden in it.
- Each problem can be solved within a minute or two as that is the standard time allotted for doing the problems. It follows then – there must be an elegant way to solve each problem. There are exceptions always – those must be left untouched.
- None is expected to solve all the problems in the given time. It might be possible but not expected. A score of 60% to 65% should take you near the top. Till now, this has been more or less true. But we are in hard times. Competition is increasing exponentially as well as the cut-off score and difficulty level of each test everywhere. It is related to price rise and job erosion. Let us now get into the much awaited for steps which would be a sure prescription for success.
Start preparation from zero point in concept layer and proceed to improve your ability to solve problems step by step. Never start preparation randomly from a higher level concept layer. This is the crux of the whole problem, as high speed problem solving in competitive tests heavily relies on total control on the basic concepts, be it maths, reasoning or English.
At this first step, form a detailed time schedule and time allotment for every activity. Consult as you may wish to form this schedule. But form it. Don’t be apprehensive that this schedule is unchangeable. Like most things in life, you will go on fine-tuning this as you progress through stages.
Select and use the best resources of problems, not solutions. You need high quality relevant problems. Ideally, the final difficulty level problem resource should be just a little more difficult than the problems in the target test.
The problems should be divided into three levels
- Most basic concept level
- Intermediate difficulty level
- Final difficulty level.
If time is short, second level may be diluted. Step by step skill building is the best approach. I repeat, never skip steps in maths.
Start and continue mental math skill building drill with measurement of speed and accuracy built in. This step is essential.
Solve each problem yourself without referring to the solution. In fact it is strongly recommended that “Never Refer to How a problem is Solved.” See the answer only. If it is wrong, try to solve it again yourself. If you are finally in doubt, take doubt clearing sessions from an expert.
There is no better way to improve your skill than by doing and actual solving yourself. The more help you take in solving a problem, the slower will be your problem solving skill build rate.
Once you solve a problem, try to solve it in a quicker method. Make it a habit to solve a good problem in many ways. Awareness of many ways to solve a problem will give you an idea of the best and quickest way to the solution.
After completing the preparation enter into the stage rehearsal test phase. This is commonly known as Mock test stage.
Select and acquire the best Practice set. Usually it will come at a price. If you don’t know the best, get all and evaluate. Practicing on the best practice set is vital.
You have to decide beforehand how many mock tests you will do. Assuming a rough guideline of 2 tests in 3 days, you have to get fully prepared say 1 month before the final test if you do roughly 20 Mock tests before the finals.
After doing each mock test you must analyze your weak points, improve upon those and then take the next one.
The day before the final test, depending on your mental makeup, you may,
- Take the evening completely off and go to bed early to keep your mind fresh in the morning, or scan through important problems that you have solved yourself, and still go to bed early. In any case don’t try to memorize problems or solutions. Here the very important principle works,
Reduce factual memory load and increase procedural load. It means, remember as few facts as possible but learn and remember automatically how you use these basic concepts and facts along with methods and procedures to solve any problem quickly and correctly.
Step 7: Actual test - How best to perform in the exam hall
Value 1: Allotting time to sections
On the basis of your mock test experience you should allot specific time slices for specific sections in the question paper.
Value 2: First quick scan of questions
When you start reading the questions, you need to evaluate the prospect of each question in a quick scan of 10 to 15 seconds. In this first evaluation you will get an understanding of the problem that would help you to decide whether you would skip it or not. Furthermore, if you decide to do the problem, based on this initial undrstanding you should be able to build the problem model quickly and home in to the solution fast.
Value 3: Problem commitment and problem definition
If you decide to solve this problem, you now have to read it carefully for another 10 to 15 seconds to understand it clearly.
Mental process to find the quickest solution is simultaneous to this stage of Problem definition.
Interestingly, in many cases, clear problem definition to solution is nearly instantaneous.
Value 4: Zero based problem solving
Treat each problem on its own merit. Never be affected by any of the earlier problems solved or not solved. This is zero based problem solving in action.
Value 5: Basic concepts theory
Use the most basic concept to solve a problem as far as possible. Usually this approach leads to the most elegant and quickest solution.
Value 6: No calculations on paper as far as possible
Avoid calculations as far as possible. Use mental maths which is quickest. But in case of slightest doubt do not hesitate to use the basic calculation methods you learned in your school.
Value 7: Use all resources in your problem solving, use even the answer choices
In MCQ based tests, the given answer choices itself forms an important problem solving resource. Analyzing the problem along with the choices may quickly lead you to the solution by process of elimination avoiding derivation.
Value 8: Don’t think of writing the steps of solution correctly and elaborately – it is not your school exam
Remember, here you are not to derive the solution following steps as you do in your school exams. The process of solving MCQ problems is different. Most of the steps you go through in your head, combining and step-jumping many a time.
Value 9: Visualize the problem in your head - imagine how the quantities are behaving
A powerful technique is to visualize the problem in your head. This is more applicable in mensuration and geometry problems.
Value 9: Stick to time estimate all through
In general, a problem should take 2 to 3 minutes to solve, sometimes less. Keep track of time elapsed.
Value 10: Never be stuck at one problem long
If you are stuck at any point, leave the problem without hesitation and move ahead.
Value 11: Don’t make a guess
Never make guesses in maths. I would suggest, do not make even an educated guess.
Value 12: Use your basic concept, analytical power and deductive reasoning
Your analytical power along with mathematical logic and deductive reasoning should lead you to the solution quickly. Some solutions can be arrived at quickly by mathematical logic but using mathematically rigorous solution may take longer time and many steps. Mathematical rigor is not essential in answering MCQ tests.
Value 13: Feel the assurance of solving a problem correctly
After solving a problem you should feel an assurance in your mind that you were right in selecting a particular choice as answer.
Value 14: Don’t be in a rush, it may cloud your cool judgment and analytical ability
Never be in hurry, but move ahead fast and steady like a bullet homing in to the target. A sense of hurry disturbs clarity in thinking.
Value 15: Never waste any time – do not linger
Do not waste any time. Each second counts. You need to make it a habit by going through the mock tests as seriously and as efficiently as possible.
Value 16: Focus fully as if sitting in an isolated bubble – nothing outside should reach you
Concentrate fully eliminating everything that is happening around you. As a practice at your home, go through short timed tests sitting in the middle of the bustle of noisy household activities. Focus with your whole attention on the task at hand, like Arjun focusing on the eye of the fish. While answering an important test there will be only two things in the world – you and the question, nothing else.
Value 17: Banish every element of doubt on your capabilities – have full confidence on yourself
Have a strong belief that you are strong and capable of coming out successful. Confidence matters a lot in any competitive performance.
Value 18: Never think that the world will end if you are not successful
Never ever think like the villagers in Asterix that “if I fail sky will fall on my head.” You will surely be successful.
I assure you. Even if you just miss the mark this time, next time you will surely come out flying.
Resources that you may find useful for your SSC CGL preparation
These are the special resources we have created for your help.
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Basic and rich concept tutorials
Knowledge of the basic and rich concepts in any topic along with special problem solving strategies and techniques will enable you to solve even difficult problems elegantly under a minute's time.
How to solve difficult SSC CGL Math problems at very high speed using efficient problem solving strategies and techniques
These resources should be extremely useful for you to speed up your in-the-exam-hall SSC CGL math problem solving. You will find these under the subsection Efficient Math Problem Solving.
This is a collection of high power strategies and techniques for solving apparently tricky looking problems in various topic areas usually within a minute. These are no bag of tricks but are based on concepts and strategies that are not to be memorized but to be understood and applied with ease along with permanent skillset improvement.
The following are the associated links,
Question sets, Solution Sets, Guidelines on SSC CGL Tier II are available on SSC CGL Tier II student resources
Question sets, Solution sets, Guidelines and Efficient solution methods on SSC CGL are all available on SSC CGL Maths
Especially the question and solution sets are listed below for your convenience.