My Journey from 47th to 97th %ile in CAT Quantitative Aptitude
Jan 9th, 2013 was a nondescript Monday morning for most of the world. But for me and 1.9 lakh other folks, it was a ticket to an escalator that would take us up in the corporate world. The CAT 2012 result was scheduled for that day.
This was my second CAT attempt. Having scored a 96%le in my previous cat and royally screwing an IIM-K interview, I was eager to do well. My job provided the added impetus required to make me desperate to do well in the CAT. My exam had gone okayish and you could always find the odd comforting article that my slot was difficult and normalizing would weave its magic.
With all these expectations and after multiple attempts, I opened my CAT scorecard expectantly. My Quant scorecard read 47%ile!. I had to go through it twice and I felt the horrible feeling in the deepest pit of my stomach. That moment I closed my scorecard and have not opened it till date.
I had diligently taken mock cats so far. Out of the 50+ mock CATs I had written in 2 years, I have not scored such a percentile even in the mocks where I had abandoned the exam midway. What had gone wrong? Is this not meant for me? Hell, I could not even blame reservation for this! I still clearly remember that day. In my frustration, I went to the hyper city mall in Kundalahalli and gorged down 6 donuts trying to take inspiration from Michael Hussey, late bloomers and every other comeback story in sports!
Step 1: Getting the mindset right! Control the controllables
After much deliberation and encouragement from family and friends, I decided to prepare one last time for CAT. After getting adequate rest, I started my preparation around May. The first thing I pinned down my failure to the last time was pressure. I used to spend countless hours on Pagalguy, youtube etc. fretting over things like IIM cut-off percentiles, reservations, which IIM is conducting the exam..so on and so forth. You all know the rabbit hole this is.
However this year while starting the preparation, I was very clear that the focus would be only on the exam. I wanted to master this exam and score a 99%le as a challenge. Rest all things would be outcomes that I would worry about later. So the first step was discarding the past and just focusing on acing the exam. Bring it on!
Step 2 : know thy self, know thy enemy!
You will all hear about this Sun Tzu guy a hundred times in MBA, so I just thought I will introduce it earlier! The second step I really took was to understand what let me down in quant specifically. I had still scored a 90%le+ in verbal. If pressure alone was the reason, my verbal scores must have also suffered. Why did it disproportionately affect my Quant score alone?
The answer lied in the fact that my foundation was very weak in Quants. Gorging on a steady diet of The Hindu sports articles (Nirmal Shekhar anyone?) and Enid Blyton books had given me a decent foundation in the English language.
However quant was a different animal. My quant “foundation” was pretty much laid during my past 2 CAT preparations. However the materials used were lots of shortcuts, mindless practice and learning templates from past 10 years papers. I literally used the school board exam play-book for cat preparation. The problem with this is it works when you get questions that you have already seen but fails spectacularly when something new is thrown at you. I fared well the first time because I got lucky that a few templates repeated. But the second CAT showed me how flimsy such an approach is. In a sense, I knew only about the enemy (CAT) from past papers without knowing about myself (Fundamentals).
Step 3: Master the fundamentals and not templates: Enter Rajesh
To improve my math score there was no way around learning the math fundamentals. This is where Rajesh sir’s book really played a huge part. The book was extremely fundamentals based. The most refreshing aspect of the book was that all chapters had probably only 12-15 questions. But each question made you think and learn something new. This book was a life saviour. It was easy to get through well structured and really helped me gain the confidence in the math concepts that was sorely lacking for me.
Instead of focusing on my strengths by topics and choosing which topics to study, I did every single question from the book for the first 4 months. Since I did not have to do much preparation for verbal, my time was wholly dedicated only to improving my quant fundamentals. I spent enough time on every question focussing more on the method and concept involved rather than the answer. By the time September came, my confidence in my quant ability had grown in leaps and bounds. By this time with the help of mocks and going through the chapters, I had also discovered a few areas that were weak for me that needed reinforcements. So much of September was dedicated to revising and re-reading that particular topic from the book.
Another huge thing that helped me was the realization that if you learn the concepts well, you don’t need to scramble to solve 1000 different questions from different providers. In my earlier 2 years, I literally tried solving so many questions from Old CAT questions to Arihant to every single provider out there in the paranoia that I should miss any question that might be unique to the providers. This used to cause a lot of pressure in terms of breadth needed to be covered that led to the depth being sacrificed. However this year I referred to only 1 book for quant during the entire preparation and since that book focused on concepts, it paid off well!
Step 4: To get 99%le you have to believe you are a 99%ler: Enter Mock CATs
Mock CATs are one of the most unique aspects of the CAT preparation journey. I loved mocks and used them for different purposes at different stages of the journey. I will put a small table below highlighting how I used Mocks:
|Action items||# mocks/ |
|Learning material for Quant |
|#New questions solved in topics||Spend at least 3 hours solving all questions of mock||1|
|2.||August||Strength & weakness||# Easy questions missed by topics||Topic wise scores->Revision in weak areas from Book||1|
|Time for fatigue in mock|
Time spent vs correct answer
|Awareness during mock|
Topic wise scores->Omitting weak areas henceforth
|4||Oct.||Confidence building||Percentiles||Get that one 99%le somehow to get your confidence||3|
|5||Nov.||Buffer+Recovery||Take the Mock same time as your actual CAT||1|
As a recap, I started taking mocks by May and had it in full flow by July. In the initial stages, I used it for learning. The later stages from August – October was primarily to keep the exam rigor on and maximizing my scores with the knowledge I have. Throughout the process, I used mocks as a practice tool especially for quant & DI. Having written almost 20+ mocks, gave me 600 questions to practice which provided more than enough rigour required for the exam.
And most importantly, I was hell bent on getting at least one 99%le+ score in mocks. I built up to it in October and managed to get it by the end of September, which gave me a huge confidence boost. It allowed me to really believe that I can actually get a 99%le in actual CAT as well which I think is important for anyone who has been scared by a bad previous cat %le score.
Step 5: Relax! It is all going to fine
The 1 week building up to the CAT in the previous years used to be a difficult time for everyone around me. I would just end up being cranky and try to be over specific with things and pretty much lock myself in. After the previous CAT experience and aided by the confidence of a strong preparation I consciously decided to be a little more laid back in the run up to the exam. The satisfaction of preparing well and getting high percentile in mocks somewhere provided an insurance against the exam going bad.
My CAT Results
Fortunately for me the exam ended up well and I scored an overall 99%le with a 97%le in quant. It has been almost a decade since I took my first ever CAT mock. 5 years after completing my MBA and having amazing corporate stints, I still don’t know the answer of Why MBA! But I would still swear that the satisfaction of a good CAT preparation journey alone was well worth the time I invested.
I only wish the same for all the CAT 2021 aspirants.
Avinash Baskar works for 2IIM, and is an alumnus of SPJIMR