Belling the CAT with a History of Mediocrity | Achievers Talk – 2
In this series of blog posts we will look at the CAT Journey of some of our (2IIM’s) students. As we update new articles, the links will be made available below.
Post 1 – My Journey to IIM Calcutta | Non-engineer | Abhilash Maji
Post 2 – Belling the CAT with a History of Mediocrity | SPJIMR
Post 3 – Journey to the “Red” Building of Dreams | FMS | Pranay Seth
Post 4 – CAT Preparation with DROP Year | Journey to SPJain
Post 5 – Adverse circumstances and lack of resources stopping you from achieving your dreams? | DoMS IITM
Why is Motivation Overrated?
Around 200,000 people write the CAT every year. Of course, everyone has their own story. The stories that reach most eyes are special ones; those who make it to the Holy Trinity – IIM ABC or maybe an IIM-L. Perhaps the journeys of some individuals who endured extreme hardship and personal suffering along the way may also make it to your reading list. There are many stories though, such as mine, that are quite ordinary. Incidentally, an anecdote similar to this was one of the first answers of Rajesh Sir I had read on Quora. Someone had asked for a motivational story related to CAT and Rajesh Sir spoke about a generic Computer Engineer Graduate with 2 years of work experience in an IT company (with no severe hindrance such as poverty), who gave a decent CAT and got into IIM Trichy; where he did well in life and enhanced his career.
My Story that does not have 🥇, CA, CFA, IIT, NIT etc
My story is somewhat similar. I have been an average or a below average student in my childhood – I got 77 percent in both my Class 10 and 12 boards, both conducted by the West Bengal Board of Education. I did somewhat better while majoring in Electrical Engineering in 2018, where I graduated with a CGPA of 8.75; but it really didn’t mean in a college where 9 pointers were a dime a dozen. To my advantage, I was placed in a core company. At the time of writing CAT 2020, I had 30 months of work experience – 23 in a manufacturing industry as a GET and a Quality Engineer and 7 as a Content Writer in the Marketing Department of an IT company. I did fairly well in the B-school entrance exams. I got a 98.43 in CAT and 98.84 in XAT. I got calls from IIM Rohtak, CAP IIMs, IIT-M, IIT-B, MDI, SP Jain, NITIE and XLRI (BM & HR). At the time of my writing this article, I have been accepted to SPJAIN, IIT-M and NITIE (PGDIM) and I am waitlisted at XLRI HRM (double digit).
I never planned to do an MBA specifically. Like any bored engineer, I was just playing around with my options without really zeroing in on anything. I gave CDS/AFCAT and got kicked out during the conference rounds, qualified for GATE by the skin of my teeth to no avail and even thought about attempting the Civil Services Exam. It was perhaps in September 2019 when I decided that I should give CAT, mostly as a joke. I had always been mentally shackled by my poor marks in 10 and 12 and this option had never struck me. But in retrospect, I had been decent in English and Math throughout my life and thought that this was one of the options where being employed and accumulating work experience would help me both quantitatively and qualitatively as my profile was pretty average apart from my work experience which gave it some weight and something to talk about. I had a decent flair for writing and freelanced as a writer on occasion but that was it – I had no other achievements, PORs or amazing grades. So I deemed my work ex to be my saving grace.
My first Attempt with CAT
As far as first attempts go, I was satisfied with mine. I scored 91.xx without any effort and thought it wasn’t a bad start. After that, around January, I decided to pursue this endeavour seriously. I had initially been apprehensive about giving CAT, right from the days of my college, thinking that it was a waste of my time as I had done badly in school and extracurricular activities but after seeing a somewhat positive sign, I decided to go for it. As every story goes, I didn’t really like my job (something which spurred me into trying so many things to enhance my career) and a 6 day work week was part of it. Thus, I decided to leverage my writing skills to try to gain a job as a content writer elsewhere. I had been a freelance writer already and was happy to have secured a job elsewhere during March.
Unfortunately, everyone knows what happened during March 2020. Lockdown upon lockdown delayed my notice period in my company and my joining in the new one. I was alone in my PG, my roommate had gone back home in the nick of time but I couldn’t do that; I was nearly 2000kms away and could not have predicted this debacle. I spent the majority of my lockdown alone in a single room where I spent most of my time staring at one wall and thinking dark thoughts. In hindsight, it was the ideal time to be more productive (there isn’t much WFH to do for a Field Quality Engineer if machines aren’t being used on the field) but I was in a rather bad place mentally. I finally reached home at midnight, 1st June 2020 and was virtually onboarded on 8th June 2020 in my new company. It was in June when I started preparing with utmost seriousness.
Online Coaching was the way ahead!
I knew that I would function better with some guidance and hence I opted for coaching. While online coaching was the only way to proceed after the pandemic started, I knew that Rajesh sir advocated online learning since time immemorial. In fact, one of my main reasons for choosing 2iim was Rajesh sir. I wish I could say that I am like him but I am not, though I certainly try to be like him. His Youtube videos were to the point and he made sense all the time. He has always given practical advice to students attempting this most unpredictable exam such as advising one to not quit working to prepare for CAT, being pragmatic while choosing a B-school and being process-oriented and focusing on things at hand while preparing. His answers on Quora had always been brilliantly phrased, littered with humour and based firmly on facts and truths and thus, I was drawn towards 2iim. I examined the free videos first and I tended to completely agree with Rajesh sir; a self-paced learning strategy on a crisp Learning Management System had far more pros than cons. Thus, I committed to 2iim.
My Overall Prep Journey
I prepared pretty much at the pace that I thought I wanted to prepare at. I had given a mock in April and started attempting mocks more frequently since June (IMS mocks). I never really thought too much about the mock percentiles but did note that I started in the late 60s and started getting 96+ scores in my last 2-3 mocks. Most of my preparation was centered around my mocks. I would give a mock and analyse it to death when the results came out. In the topics I was found to be lacking, I would use the 2iim material such as topic tests and the standard material to build rigour. I always started from the basics and never used any shortcuts or tricks (to be fair, Rajesh sir never taught too many and even if he did, taught the first principles first).
Key takeaway from my experience Preparing for CAT
Analysing and learning from a mock is the most critical aspect of CAT preparation, not the percentile one gains from it. I realised this early on and stopped focussing on mock scores but rather focussed on my responses to the questions. From my language, one can gauge that perhaps I over-prepared for Quants. This could be true but it is only because of Rajesh sir. I had been petrified of basically anything that was not Arithmetic or basic Algebra but Rajesh Sir’s videos were fantastic and I started really enjoying Geometry. I almost started wishing that the exam contained Calculus so that I could learn that from Rajesh sir as well. It is truly difficult to not sound sycophantic when talking about Rajesh sir but more than his teaching, his YouTube videos and Quora answers regarding CAT prep really helped an Average Joe like me.
Being Pragmatic was my best trait
I knew that I carried the baggage of poor marks but I never let it get to me. I never thought about the sky-high cutoffs for GEMs or that I could probably never make it to an IIM starting with the first 3 letters (I didn’t know there was an IIM in Amritsar for a long time). I pride myself on being practical and I’m glad Rajesh sir enforced the same. I was giving CAT (and XAT) for improving my career prospects and I was determined to enjoy learning and preparing for it. I focused purely on input metrics and was never engaged in any discussion with anyone on any social media platform regarding call cutoffs or average packages of various B-schools till perhaps late January; when results were out and there were no more mocks to give. In hindsight, even that was a poor decision as the post-CAT journey is also an arduous task on its own.
I thought I had bombed the CAT but as I said before, I got a 98.43 in it. The result came a day before XAT and I ended up getting a 98.84 in XAT as well. This gave me some confidence but I had no expectations – I applied to every place I thought I had a chance at. Predictably, I got no BLACKIS calls but I did not lose any heart. I had a bunch of good calls from Institutes such as SP Jain, MDI, NITIE, XLRI and others. I knew that the chance to study at any of these institutes would be a massive boost for my career and after all, that was my ultimate goal.
GD PI WAT Experiences
My interviews covered a broad spectrum – the questions in my IIT B interview were logical but I did poorly, SP Jain was amazing because of the breadth of questions asked and the unique process, the MDI interview was quite miserable and I was asked rapid fire GK questions, XLRI ones were good and the IIM CAP one was weird. All in all, interviews can’t be predicted and it is even more fruitless to gauge an interview after it is done. I described my NITIE interview as the worst interaction (not interview) I have ever had with anyone and my results were positive – I made it in the first list. My XLRI BM was fairly decent – I answered all questions and was even eked out a “good” out of an interviewer with an answer of mine. The regret letter, when I eventually laid eyes on it, was hard to take in. I did fairly below-par in my XLRI-HRM interview but I have received a waitlist number that may convert. To conclude, after receiving CAT results (or even before), one must immediately start preparing for GDPI. 2iim was helpful in this aspect as well, providing key tips and accumulating key topics for General Knowledge.
Be thankful for whatever life has given you
My CAT journey is not unique, in fact I would deem it quite ordinary. I studied in the comfort of my home while my father bought groceries and my mother cooked food – tasks which I had been doing previously while away from home (Though I still washed the dishes and was forced to dust the ceiling because of my height). I am thankful to whatever power in the Universe that no one in my family lost their jobs, lives or sanity in these terrible times. I have realised this once all the dust has settled and I have been able to view life more objectively.
NITIE is a fantastic college and I think I know how I made it there without stellar grades or even a good interview – relevant work experience. I was never results oriented but this is a result I am most pleased with.
Why should your Normal Profile not bug you?
I would like to end with a message for all CAT aspirants with poor academics by describing my SP Jain experience. SP Jain is notorious for picking out stellar profiles for even an interview and it is generally accepted that SP Jain allots minimal weightage to CAT percentile. Not only was it surprising that I got a call amongst so many 9/9/9 folks and 99%ile+ folks, but I also qualified for the next stage of their interview and was waitlisted at a decent number eventually. I have converted SP Jain afterall, with 77 percent in 10 and 12, 8.75 CGPA in college and 7 months of relevant experience (marketing) in a total of 30 months. All this, while being a GEM. I know that there are no hard and fast rules and I know many (deserving people) must have missed out on a call, but I don’t make the rules and you don’t either.
Focus on What is Important
I am glad that I placed all my focus on preparing and learning for fun while also keeping an eye on my performances throughout the mock season rather than fretting about the past and cribbing about things out of my control. The beautiful thing about CAT is that it can be fit into one’s schedule with ease and is not a form of rocket science that can be achieved with only exclusive dedication to it. Make CAT your primary focus and protagonist but it should be a part of your journey, not your entire journey in itself. So don’t worry about your past academics, whatever worry I had was fruitless because only one interviewer cared enough about it to ask me about it once I had made it into their (virtual) interview room. If at all you are questioned about it, own it up, like I did when asked about it. I told my panel I wasn’t serious about my marks then and I neglected my studies through 10th, 12th and the first three semesters of my college. I kept taking my academics and prospective career casually – until one day I didn’t. There’s always time for penance and no better time to do it than the 6 months leading up to CAT 2021. So what are you waiting for? Start preparing.
And don’t forget to read everyday.
Author is a student at 2IIM and wishes to remain anonymous.