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.
Common Admission Test aka CAT always has a unique journey for each MBA aspirant and on those lines my story too is a bit off the beaten path. Couple of reasons behind it. Firstly, I am not a typical MBA aspirant as I am 31 (psst psst, those who ask if 26 is too old to get into an IIM, look at this) and have had experience primarily in a single sector, namely academia. I have pursued the study of a single subject, Economics, for over a decade and technically have zero corporate experience. Secondly, I made the decision to apply for CAT quite late and thus had to devise a method which played on my strengths and allowed me to secure 99.84 percentile in CAT 2020.
My decision to MBA was prompted more of a necessity than a part of a long-term plan. After finishing my undergraduate studies in Economics from IIT Kanpur, I moved to the Netherlands to pursue my dream of being a doctorate in Economics. Unfortunately for me that was not in the cards and after 6 long years I returned from Europe without a doctorate but with a valuable experience of having pursued deep research in the subject I love and a plethora of other ancillary experiences like running a field experiment, presenting my research work at various stages of my research, debating at an international level and so on. Hoping to start a career in finance I soon moved to the financial hub Mumbai with high hopes but soon realized that my knowledge though quite advanced in some respects lacked a lot which could be impossible to acquire in the short run. A few conversations with my friends who had the MBA experience convinced me that this was the path to go, but I still harbored hopes of landing a finance job and such paid scant attention to CAT preparation until late August 2020. The following paragraphs show how I managed to use the next 3 months to ace CAT.
The 3 Month Preparation regime
I have been a voracious reader for a long time and as such VARC was something I was comfortable with and having spent a long time pursuing a subject as quantitative as Economics, I was confident about the QA section as well. The Achilles heel was DILR which took a lion’s share of my preparation. Before Aug 2020, I had sporadically tried the preparation by following some books on VARC & Quant, but I soon realized this was a very inefficient way for me to prepare. So, I did something unthinkable and without any preparation of any kind gave 3 mocks to see where I stood. I realized, that even though VARC & QA would require some cleaning up I was atrocious in DILR having barely managed to solve 1 question out of 6 in 40 mins. That made the next steps quite simple.
I searched for solved DILR questions and found a rich database in 2IIM website which had questions from previous years CAT papers divided section wise. In September, I only solved questions from all three sections, but paid special attention to DILR. My methodology was simple, I picked a section (for e.g., VARC from 2017 Slot 1) and after spending an hour solving it, I reviewed the section looking at my mistakes and attempting questions which I couldn’t during that hour without any time limit. Although, this strategy worked very well in QA & VARC it failed miserably for DILR. So, for DILR I switched to just trying to solve problems without looking at the time limit. It took some serious practice, but eventually I gained confidence in DILR, and then I switched back to my previous methodology for DILR too.
The Last leg
Mid-October onwards I started giving mocks and overall, I would have given about 15-20 mocks during my entire preparation period. I attempted mocks in the morning aligning my body clock to my actual exam and then after a short break spent the rest of the morning and afternoon going through the entire mock. I analyzed each and every question, looking into my mistakes as well as questions which I was not 100% confident but did manage to answer correctly. For DILR, I made sure I solved all the questions and if I couldn’t do so even after making a serious attempt, I looked at the solutions spending time understanding the methodology so that I could solve such questions in the future. In between I often needed to revise some concepts both for QA and DILR for which I mainly used web resources as they were more efficient than books. Keeping up motivation is essential during the preparatory phase, and solving questions all day long can get a bit boring. I made sure I took enough breaks and I often spend those breaks reading books or news articles or opinion pieces which helped me relax as well prepare me for VARC & future PI.
Volatile Mocks? It is universal!
I continued this process and I could observe that my mock performance which was initially a bit volatile gradually became more uniform, and I was hitting 99.5+ percentile consistently which helped boost my confidence. But believe me, it takes time and effort to get there. Lots of effort. It does not happen magically. Eventually, the D-Day arrived, and I wasn’t satisfied with my QA performance (99.08 percentile) having a made couple of silly mistakes or my DILR (96.59 percentile) where I attempted 13 questions but still got 3 wrong. My saving grace was VARC (99.95 percentile) which was the most difficult among all slots and I aced it beautifully boosting my overall percentile to 99.84.
GD PI WAT
Next step was pretty long and the PI process lasted from 5th Feb (my first interview IIM Rohtak) till 22nd April (FMS) but that part owing to my unique background I mainly focused on my motivations behind my previous academic career and why an MBA now as these questions were asked in almost every interview I gave. Apart from that as I come from an Economics background, I brushed up the basics, my research work and did a lot of analysis on current affairs from an economic/financial perspective as I was expecting those questions to be asked. All in all, the PI experience was a roller-coaster ride, but I managed to give pretty decent interviews, eventually converting my dream school IIMC.
The most important lesson I got from this experience was that it is possible to ace CAT with 3 months of preparation if you play to your strengths and have a thorough understanding of your weaknesses and the work to be done to rectify those. Yes, it will be an uphill battle and your motivation and self-confidence might take a lot of hits, but at the end of the day you will succeed.
Article penned by Abhilash Maji, IIM Calcutta, batch of 2023.