It is every Indian MBA aspirant's dream to score well in CAT and get admission in one of the premium B-Schools in the country. The journey to this can be very different from one person to another. For me, it was an opportunity to prove it to myself and the ones around me that with dedication and hard work, one can definitely make one's dreams come true. In this article, I will be sharing my journey to the 99th percentile in CAT. To begin with, I was very much passionate about automobiles and computers as a teenager and always wanted to be an engineer. I joined an engineering college in Mangalore for mechanical engineering. After I joined my college, I started exploring opportunities in my field of interest, i.e., automobile engineering. I joined teams participating in motorsports events. Also, I became an active volunteer in the placement committee. As part of the same, I started taking up responsibilities in handling various placement drives and club related activities; this continued for a year. I was working on all sorts of management related roles such as meeting sponsors, pitching our products, raising funds, recruiting members to the team, planning budget for our club, coordinating with HRs from various companies, and a lot more. It was then that it hit me how much I enjoy management, and I decided that I need to do my MBA. After consulting my seniors and family friends who have done their MBAs, it became clear for me that having some experience in the industry gives you an upper hand in college selection and placements. I was selected in three companies during my college placements, and I decided to join an MNC that provides IT services to its customers.
I joined a CAT coaching center in Bangalore and began my preparation for CAT 2018 in August. The classes were scheduled only on the weekends. My practice and preparation were limited to these weekend sessions I had because of my work commitments. Moreover, I was not very regular in the classes because of my passion for travel and weekends were the only free time I had. I scored 95.29 percentile in CAT 2018. I began my WAT and GDPI preparation only after the results were out. I was offered seats in 4 baby IIMs.
I was sure that I could do better in CAT and decided to give one more attempt, but I knew that I need to make some changes to the way I prepared. Rather than following the common methods/guidelines given to all the aspirants by the institute, I started looking for strategies that account for my strengths and weaknesses. I used to score well in VARC and Quantitative aptitude, LRDI was thee section that weighed me down.
For VARC, even though I had good speed, my accuracy level was not up to the mark. I used to get confused a lot in the reading comprehension section, where the answers would be close to one another. I started reading more articles and editorials in newspapers and started following different methods to shrink the passage down to its crux. The strategy that worked for me in RC was trying to prove options wrong and eliminating them until I was left with only one option, which usually would be the correct one. My speed took a dip after this, but my accuracy shot up. I had similar difficulties in para-jumbling questions as well. For para-jumbling, the strategy I adopted was trying to break down the answer into sections such as opening statements, dependent and independent statements, and conclusive statements rather than trying to solve the question as a whole. I also started going through the options before solving them to find out the position of some of the sentences that are obvious from the options. The best and obvious method to ace VARC is reading, read at least two newspapers a day, especially the editorial section. This habit can help you improve your vocabulary, general awareness, and help you come out as an informed person when you sit for your B-School interview. Reading more articles on business and market can also help you get examples and points to relate and present in your case discussions as well. To sum up, success in VARC lies in reading, and all other strategies can only help you compensate some of your shortcomings to a marginal extent.
LRDI was the section I made the most changes in. I had a lot of initial hiccups in LRDI. I would spend 10-15 minutes on a set and not solve any of the questions in it only to realize later that there was a very easy question below it that I didn't even get time to read. I would sometimes finish the sheet that I am working on in the middle of an LRDI set and would struggle to stare at two sides of a sheet. I started following round approach for the LRDI section wherein I would just read through a problem in 30-40 seconds and decide whether or not to spend the next 10 minutes working on it. I made it a point that I start each LRDI set in a new sheet and draw tables with big columns so that I have enough space to make changes/corrections later on. With practice, I was able to identify the easy LRDI sets and answer them accurately. Also, half grid questions were a nightmare for me, and with this method, I was able to skip them easily.
Quantitative aptitude was my strong suit, and I wanted to maintain my speed while increasing my accuracy, I analyzed my mock tests and identified the topics where I used to make mistakes and started keeping those questions for the end to be more careful while solving them. Also, regardless of whether I am going to use it or not, I started using the first 2 minutes of the exam to list down some of the important formulae that I used to get confused with in the last sheet of the booklet.
WAT and GDPI
I have experimented a lot during my CAT and GDPI preparation, and two things that I felt to be most important are following news for GDPI and consistency during practice for CAT. Aspirants often procrastinate their GDPI preparation and plan on doing it after CAT; this is probably the biggest mistake one can make. The new articles and editorials you read during your 8—10 months of preparation can help you improve your VARC performance and help you form opinions on various social and political happenings in the world. What most aspirants don't realize is that your CAT score and other components of your composite score can only fetch you a chance to get into that interview room. Ultimately, the decision is made based on your performance in that 15-20 minutes slot you get. Once I was done with my exams, I shifted my focus completely towards preparing for my WAT and GDPI. The process was a lot easier than the previous year as I used to read a lot of editorials and opinions polls on newspapers. This habit helped me get good and in-depth knowledge of the things that have been happening in the recent past. Apart from this, I had a plethora of questions asked in Bschool interviews which I got from my training institute, some of which were "tell me about yourself" and "why MBA?". I started framing my answers for these questions around highlighting my achievements and things I excelled in. One thing that everyone needs to understand while preparing for PI is that one has to beat one's own drums, there's nothing wrong in mentioning your achievements when you have an opening, by doing this, one can take the interview to an area one is comfortable with.
Personal Interview is a section where one cannot just go blindly with strategies. It is of ultimate importance to give enough mock interviews and work on the feedback received from the interviewer. By experimenting with different answers for questions, I was able to get a hold on the technique to direct an interview by mentioning points that could lead the interviewer into asking a question you are prepared for. I was also able to get the interviewer's perspective on my body language and behavior and this helped me correct some mistakes I had no clue about before. For WAT, I had a list of the major national and international headlines of the past one year and practiced by writing essays on the same. This made the process really easy for me as I was brushing up current affairs and also improving my writing skills simultaneously.
With all these strategies and consistent practice of 4 hours a day for 5 months, I was able to score 99.13 percentile in CAT 2019 and secure admission in a reputed B-School. The last two years of my life has been revolving around my B-School entry. Now that I look back at it, I feel really happy that I chose this path, not just because of its results, but because of the habits, I developed for it and the discipline that it gave to my life. From being a student who used to start reading for exams the night before to surfing on YouTube for hours to get a simpler method or a smaller formula and then practicing it, I was able to bring back the focus that I lost somewhere in my teenage. Having this focus on business management even helped look more at the functional aspects of the work I did for my customers and was able to deliver better services to them. The journey did give me the opportunities that I expected it to, but I wouldn't have felt much different even if it didn't. I wish all the aspirants reading this the very best in their journey and hope that it changes their life for good, like in my case.
Sreerag is a PGP IM 2020-22 MDI Gurgaon candidate. He carries 20-month work experience and did his graduation in Mechanical Engineering.