Abhijit Routray is an alumnus of IIIT Bhubaneswar and is slated to join PGP 2016-18 at IIM Lucknow. He claims to be not so bad at basketball and knows computer hardware modding.
Have you ever had moments in your life where you had found yourself in a proverbial 'back against the wall' situation and you thought that it couldn't get any worse ? And that just as you thought of fighting back, Murphy's law decided to go bonkers on you ? Yes, that's how it all started for me. As typical as they get. A supposedly 'good student' after high school who supposedly lost his way in between. Except, I didn't lose shit (Oops! No disclaimer. But if you're reading this, you're old enough anyway). I knew I was not going anywhere but I continued anyway. There was this youthful attraction towards being a rebel and the sheer fun of the free fall I was enjoying. Looking back, I realised I was not a rebel, not by a long shot. Rebels have a cause and mine, apparently, was self sabotage. Simply put, I was an ass who thought he was a rebel. A friend of mine, Mr Siddharth Shiladitya, made it a point to not let me fail. He actually carried himself with me on his back and somehow we got over the line, in our own "little" way. And buoy, how little was that little? To find an analogy, imagine a 100 metres dash where we ended the race after the rest of the runners were done with the race, the presentations and their dinners. But finish we did and in life, finishing is important.
"So, I have a starting point now, however shaky. This is absolute bottom and I can only get better from here". This is what I had thought when I joined my graduation school(IIIT, Bhubaneswar). L O L. Remember the introduction to this piece ? May be it was because my friend had carried me over. I never really had to fight it out. I never really paid any price for my actions and thus I never learnt. Until you learn from your mistakes, you are destined to repeat them. And repeat them I did until I actually hit rock bottom. Very important detail - I was struck by cupid by now and that was how the rebuilding began. But that's a story in itself and may be someday, I'll write about it too.
I was in a new college where the placement opportunities seemed bleak and I was done disappointing myself. I know I come across various posts on social media where many artists, poets, singers, actors lose themselves trying to become engineers/ doctors/ MBAs. I was under no such delusion. The only thing I was good at except wasting time was basketball and some gaming. In gaming, if I played with 10 of my dorm-mates, I'd lose to four of them, at least. So gaming was not going to be it. Basketball ! Was I good at it ? Really ? Or was it just that not many people embraced it and the lack of competition made me feel superior ? Guesses ? Anyway, you get the drift. So talentless as I was, I had to zero in on a direction to move in. If I say now that I researched a lot about various avenues in various fields and finally decided to try to get into a B School, would you believe me ? May be I did or may be I did not. Point is, that is what I decided to do.
CAT 2013 (Where it started)
It was my 3rd year of grad school and there was not much academic load as such, mostly because I didn't care to take any load. If one was interested, there was plenty happening to keep one very busy. Anyway, I bought Arun Sharma books to solve problems and get a feel of how the problems of CAT are. I was apprehensive at first but realised it was nothing but basic Maths and English. Stuff we read till class 10th. I was 'supposedly' a good student till high school, remember ? I solved a lot of questions in Maths. I joined PaGaLGuY and started solving Quant problems in its Quant thread. I was gaining a lot of repo(measured in Karma points in PaGaLGuY. @placiddisciple was rad in those days) and was getting quite good at Quant. Took some mocks and scored decently in them and in my mind, I was already a PGP1 at an IIM.
Come D-day of CAT 2013, I just couldn't get going. Initially, I just blamed every other external factor for the debacle. But upon introspecting (yeah! you gotta do some of that too), I realised something. You notice during describing my practise, how it's all about Maths/ Quants ? Yes, CAT is much more than solving pretty Math problems; it tests much more. There's English, data interpretation, logical reasoning as well. And more than one's problem solving ability, it tests one's ability to handle pressure, time management, question selection, ability to decide when to leave a question and when to attempt it and a lot more. Those days, CAT used to have 2 sections. My scores in CAT 2013 were as follows :
QA/DI - 85.XX
VA/LR - 96.XX
Overall - 94.XX
I hadn't scored this low in all of my mocks but none of those mocks were the CAT. CAT has this tendency to give extremely simple questions but worded in such a way that, if not paid attention to, can cause mistakes to happen in heaps. Remember when we were kids and our parents used to tell us "Read the questions carefully !!!!!". We already had mugged up everything and reading questions was not required at all. Reading the first few words of a question was enough. But as far as the CAT is concerned, the golden rule is that The Devil is in the Detail. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of reading the questions properly, irrespective of time taken. Irrespective of time I say ? In a test like CAT ? Read on.
CAT 2014 (The one I didn't take)
After the debacle in CAT '13, I had managed to get a job in an MNC which paid decently well. I had decided to get some work experience. I wanted to try writing CAT just for the sake of being in touch with the concepts and hence, didn't enrol myself in any of the test series. If somehow, I managed to do well, then great. If not, then I didn't have anything to lose. But God had other plans. On a merry September evening, as I was playing basketball with my colleagues in office, I had an awkward fall and looking at my leg, I could see it bent in half. I had shattered the tibia and fibula bones of my right leg and had to undergo an immediate surgery. I had to be fitted with a Titanium based Intramedullary rod and 4 screws in my leg. 4 months of bed-rest at least and 6 months till I could walk without a stick. So was I able to write CAT 2014 ? No, I was not. I was on my bed going through PaGaLGuY threads and I saw people describing CAT 2014 as one of the easiest CATs ever. Many people had attempted all the 100 questions. I was left thinking whether I had missed a great opportunity. But there was no point thinking about it. I focussed on my recovery and tried to be as positive as possible. In hindsight, those were THE toughest 4-6 months of my life. The saying goes "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger". Sometimes, one has got to embrace the pain and get on with life till the pain doesn't last any longer. Something else takes its place. And that something is worth all the pain. To find out what that "something" is, read on.
CAT 2015 (Gyaan time)
From months in bed to learning to walk all over again using various instruments, the pain subsided very slowly. And that pain was replaced by fearlessness. I felt like if I could overcome that struggle, I could overcome anything. And this set the tone for my preparation for CAT 2015. I started in around May-June, 2015. Hence, the timing of this post. I knew what mistakes I had done in my preparations during CAT 2013 which I tried to avoid and tried to study with a plan and intent. For CAT, one has to plan his/her studies, especially if one is a working professional because, he/she won't get as much time as he/she did in college.
I relied completely on test series and and sectionals for fine tuning. Too many times, I have seen people falling to the trap of trying to complete the syllabus first and then going for the test series. DO NOT FALL IN THAT TRAP! CAT has little fixed syllabus and one will never be completely done/satisfied with one's preparations. One must start taking mocks as soon as he/she is done with the basics and plug in the deficiencies after analysing mocks, preferably through the sectional tests.
The test series I was enrolled in are : TIME, IMS, CL - (Paid), CrackU, Hitbullseye - (Free)
Thus went on the endless cycles of taking mocks, analysing them, finding strengths and weaknesses and plugging in the gaps by practising questions. I didn't get much time, so all my practise was based on timed tests. There was no scenario where I solved a question without a clock ticking. Remember, earlier I had mentioned about not worrying about the time in CAT ? I said that because practising a lot of questions in timed settings and analysing them later would eventually get one to a stage where the mind knows the time instinctively. You don't need to look at the clock. When one is zoned in, he/she reads a question very carefully and tries to solve it without pen and paper(another absolute key). One realises that the question has been solved much before the optimal time of a 100 seconds and if not, the mind instinctively knows that it's time to leave the question. Again, trying to solve Quant questions without pen and paper is absolutely essential if one wants to have an edge. It not only saves time, it helps the brain stay in the zone and not drift. Of course, one needs to use pen and paper if it is necessary. But the more you are onn auto-pilot, the greater your chances of a high score.
Another very important aspect one needs to take care of is that of developing a habit of reading. You might have seen a lot of blogs selling hot crap regarding speed-reading techniques, vocabulary, skimming, reading the questions first and what-not. Take it from me and take it for granted. None of it is required vis-a-vis CAT. All that is required is undivided attention while reading a passage and to read it calmly and slowly. There is absolutely no need to read fast. If you have practised enough, the required speed will come naturally. But do not trade comprehension for speed. It is called Reading Comprehension for a reason. And while marking the answers, practise the art of elimination of options based on various logical reasons. May be I'll write an article on them later. And attempt RCs only if you are sure of the answer. When in doubt, leave. Negatives in Verbal Ability are killers.
Just to emphasise, as you must have observed, the overwhelming requirement for cracking CAT questions is to have razor sharp focus and to be in the moment. At no point should you worry about the outcome. I have had a 100% correlation between mocks where I panicked and the mocks I screwed up. I know correlation does not imply causation but what if I said that all the mocks that went bad for me were the ones where I thought about the outcome and panicked ? Think about it. At the end of the day, it is just an exam and you don't have to demolish it. You just have to solve enough problems correctly. Nothing more, nothing less. I repeat, no one's life depends on it. So be cool and confident.
So this is all the gyaan no one tells aspirants about. Anyway, I kept taking mocks and my percentiles varied from 99.9+ to mid 80s. In these times, one needs someone he/she could discuss problems with. It could be a fellow aspirant or a mentor. I discussed it with my friends Akash Chowdhury(VA God. SIMCAT VA AIR 1 more than once, SPJIMR), Sushant Das (the calmest guy to write CAT, IIM Kozhikode) and my roommate who will be a WIMWIan next year. And with all that I could do, I wrote the CAT on November 29, in the evening slot. The scores were as follows :
QA - 99.1
VA - 99.23
DI/LR - 99.33
Overall - 99.81
Before ending, I'd like to say that if one is making a serious attempt at getting into a B school, one should look at exams other than CAT for various reasons. Some exams will help one warm-up for CAT and other exams will let you get into great B schools which don't accept CAT scores. And as CAT is a very unpredictable examination, no one can guarantee success in it except @scrabbler may be. So I took a gamut of exams.
Summary of this season's entrance exams:
CAT - 99.81
XAT - 99.056
IIFT - 99.69
SNAP - 99.82
NMAT - 99.214
Converts - FMS, XLRi(HRM), MDI, IIM L, IIM K, IIM I, IIM S, IIM (RRRUTK)
Waitlist - IIM C(WL 70)
Skipped - IIM A(FABM), NMIMS
Rejects - SIBM, SPJIMR