CAT preparation with a year in hand
Content & PR team - MBAtious
Subash Raj is a management graduate from NITIE, Mumbai and is currently working with Philips as part of their Global IT Leadership Program. He has diversified work experience which includes IT,Banking, FMCG, Lighting and Consumer Electronics.
CAT 2009: 99.4 %ile. All sectionals: 96 +
Considering the above score, I feel I can share a few things which I did which I feel were instrumental in this. I am a very average student. My scores in X, XII and Graduation (BE) were 76, 74 and 72. So if you consider yourself to be someone who is a below average or average student, I guess these things might help you a bit. CAT is the most competitive exam in the world and I am a huge believer that luck also plays a huge role. But, luck isn't something which you can control but there are other things which you can. You are not the only one who wants to win the race. Ask any guy/girl appearing for CAT - "Would you like to get into an IIM?" Their answer would be an 'Yes'. Everybody wants to 'win'. Everybody has the 'willingness to win'. But, only the one who has the 'willingness to prepare to win' - wins.
1. What is the most important thing in your life?
If you're an average student and trying different options ( CAT, GATE, GRE, multiple job offers) then you're not doing it the right way. If you're an average student who is just joining coaching classes because your 'studious' friend is, or because Sharma Uncle's son has joined, or because your 'crush' has joined- then you're not preparing the right way. You should first tune yourself mentally to do well in CAT as the most singular goal in life. No matter how many failures you have, you should have belief in yourself and take the leap of faith every single time. A poor mock score should not have you depressed, you should not get intimated by seeing the brilliance of other aspirants in coaching class, you should not get intimated by the arrogance of other aspirants, you should not laugh at the inability of your fellow aspirants. Help them. You will only be helping yourself. By hiding a trick that worked for you, you are only cheating yourself. Be open towards sharing. Do you have it in you?
If you've decided that this is what you want to do, the most important thing is to make CAT the highest and only priority in your life and sacrifice on other worldly pleasures or shut them off from your mind.. Ex: Family issues, a non-supportive partner ( your boyfriend/girlfriend should be able to understand why you cannot accompany her for a movie), not enjoying your job etc)
2. Should I join a coaching class?
Not because they teach you rocket science. They, literally as well as figuratively - don't. You should join just to get connected with the right people. People who have the same mindset as similar goals as you. You best friend in college may not be interested in CAT. They would want the best for you, but they won't be able to help you in any way.
Coaching classes bring together a group of people.
Talk to a few and find people whom you feel have a similar mindset. Don't go after the hot chick She might end up scoring 99 but you have a higher chances of having to appear another year - thanks to the way you observe how she frickles her hair everytime she moves onto a new question. Thus, find 2-4 people who are extremely committed, down-to-earth kind of human beings who want to do well in CAT. I am not advising you to form groups and prepare together. I don't think that is needed. But sit together as group during the coaching classes and talk a bit once in a while. That should suffice.
3. How many hours should I put in?
My answer would be 7 to 10 hours a week.
Do read the above line again. 7 to 10 hours a week and not 7 to 10 hours cramped on a Saturday and Sunday. Brain is a complex machine. It needs rest. Suppose, you love watching movies. We all do. Imagine yourself watching movies continuously for 2 full days and then writing reviews and blogs about them. Do you think you will be able to write good blogs? Or would you do better if you watch one movie a day and write about it.
Study everyday. Study what you feel like studying. If your mind is tired, do verbals. If you feel energetic, do quantitative aptitude. If you feel you don't want to do either, do data interpretation. Study an hour every day. Don't check your phone in between.
Its so easy to say the above things, but when you really get down to it, it would be difficult. Indian moms would suddenly feel happy that their kid is studying and bring in some savory food. No, you don't need that. You just need time to yourself to concentrate.
4. Build up the basics?
Considering you have an year, spend some time preparing for the basics. Spend the first few months doing this and taking sectional tests and don't go for the tempting full fledged mocks. Never!
You should be fairly well prepared with the basic concepts before attempting mocks. Never face an opponent under-prepared.
5. How to deal with mocks?
Mocks can be funny. They can send you soaring high with an amazing score and take you into craters of depression with poor ones. You should have the ability to handle both. My best mock score overall was 97%ile. My least overall was 41%ile. And yet I ended up with 99 +.
Never, ever - anyone let you get bogged down with mock scores. If they do, talk to me. Remember one thing, mocks CATs are taken by only a section of the aspirants (fairly serious aspirants). But the sample size increases during the actual CAT. And hence, don't be surprised if your CAT scores ends up more than your average score across the mocks.
Hence, as conclusion - Take the mocks - see what is working, what is not working for you and try to improve. Never ever fly high or dive down based on the scores. Stay grounded and have faith.
6. How do I react to peers and other aspirants?
When you are preparing for CAT, you will be going to coaching classes or if you're in a hostel - you'll come across other aspirants. It is very normal to get into a 'complex scare' - Oh my god, they are studying. I should do it too !
Then you rush back to your room and study. Well, if you are doing that then its probably not the right way. You've got to enjoy what you're doing. Eat, dream and sleep about CAT. Make everything in your life revolve around your preparation. But don't get bogged down by seeing other people. Preparing for CAT is like running a marathon. They might succeed in tomorrow's stint but its important for you to keep up your energy levels high and hit a peak when you near the actual exam date.
I, in a way, was lucky that I wasn't in a hostel atmosphere while preparing, but I was in coaching classes. And you'll find people discussing - about weird concepts - and giving an 'air' about themselves as if they are the coolest people around. Such people could be intimidating if you let them be. Just ignore them. Its easier said than done though.
7. How do I improve my VA skills? What books could I read?
I remember answering a reading comprehension passage in one of the coaching classes. Very tough passage. I guess it was on philosophy. I told the teacher that I found the passage to be very difficult as it was on philosophy (a topic that I least cared about). I then asked him, what can I do to improve it.
His answer was - You have to live with it. CAT is tough and topics can be tough. You have to learn to enjoy what you read. Go home and start with some philosophy books. "The Republic" by Plato would be a good start for you.
I went back, wondering, if that is a right approach. I did not have interest in philosophy. I did not intend to develop an interest. And I guess going back home and fetching a copy of 'The Republic" would have only pulled me down and I would have forced myself to do something which I didn't really enjoy.
So, I decided - I won't read any philosophy books. I decided to read and solve as many different types of reading comprehension passages as I can. My goal was then - not to get comfortable with a particular tough RC topic - but rather to attack it with the sole intention of getting the answers correct.
There are ways and tricks to do that.
Hence, my recommendation would be - don't start reading random novels/books. You can work on your vocabulary skills in a casual way (reading an editorial article) but don't go around memorizing words and their meanings and trying to use them in day to day language. The effort, is just not worth it. But its just my personal opinion.
This was the same teacher. I asked him - my 'sentence correction' skills are bad. How do I go about improving it. His answer in a satirical tone was - "You know when you were in school, your English teacher might have mentioned about a book called 'Wren & Martin'. If you didn't read it then, you should read it now !"
Seriously, reading Wren & Martin to solve sentence correction questions is just too much of an effort in my opinion. If you enjoy doing it, please go ahead. But if you feel in your heart that its just too painful, then its not worth doing it. Find other ways. There are a few different types of errors which are introduced. Try finding what type of error it is (parallelism etc) and solve.
The way I approached VA was - more on how I used to speak and what feels correct to me. I, agree, it is not an effective approach. If your communication skills aren't great then you would find this little difficult. But then, I guess it is too late to pick up concepts from Wren & Martin. Be cautious and just leave the question if its too difficult for you. After all these years, I have no idea what a present perfect tense is, or what a past participle is and frankly I never cared !
So definitely, I wouldn't recommend any books. If you're already a reader, then its great. You just continue with it. Doesn't matter if you read fiction or non-fiction. Just read. It will only help. But never force it upon yourself to read. When you do that - you're just punishing yourself and not enjoying the whole process. At the end of the day, what matters is that you answer the question correctly.
8. Reward yourself and take breaks by shutting the mind down
Dedicate every ounce of your energy towards CAT. But take breaks, for instance during weekend study. And also take a week off from CAT preparation after every 2 months. Just shut your mind down and think about everything else but CAT. Go watch that movie with your partner, attend a wedding etc. Trust me, when you come back from the vacation - you'll feel rejuvenated and charged up.
If you feel you've attained a certain milestone (example - completing the preparation on 'number systems') reward yourself with whatever you like. Preparing for CAT should not be considered as a 'studying' activity.
Here are a couple that worked for me brilliantly.
Tip 1: DI Tip
I found this to be very useful in Data Interpretation caselets of very high difficultly. Such caselets have high number of unknowns to be found out. Easiest way is to look at the answer options. Well, that you would be doing anyway. But do it the right way, in terms of caselets.
Answer Option A
Answer Option B
Answer Option C
Answer Option D
Answer Option A
Answer Option B
Answer Option C
Answer Option D
.. and so on for 5 questions.
Now, assume that for Question 1 - Answer option 1 is the right answer and then using that try to see if you get an answer for question 2. If you don't get anything appropriate reject your assumption and now assume answer option 2 as the right answer and try to solve the question number 2. And now if you get an answer correct then you know that your assumption was correct (in most cases) and quickly solve the remaining questions. This may not work if the Question 1 has a 'none of the above' option. But, using this trick converts a 'hard' caselet into a 'moderate' one in terms of difficultly.
Tip 2: VA Tip
Here are a few things which I tried:
1. I will always read the questions first and note the important 'words'. When I read the passage, and notice the 'word', I know that answer might be hidden here. I slow down and figure the answer out.
2. Always highlight words like - but, yet, however etc. These are the words which eventually tell you the author's opinion. I guess this is the most common trick.
3. If there is a question on the summary of the passage - read the first and last line of the first paragraph and the last paragraph. Then read the answer options. In most cases, you will find an option - rephrased as the sentence that you read earlier. Blindly just mark the option. So, even if you're like running short of time and you find a 'summary' question - be happy and try to attempt it.
Tip 3: Predicting the cut off
Once you have a fair bit of practice, it is important to be able to identify the overall difficulty level of the paper. With practice, you should be able to figure out how many questions you can attempt in a particular section (based on the difficulty) to be able to clear the cut off. CAT is not about answering the question correctly. It is about answering more questions correctly that other people. So the ability to identify the difficultly level of a section and that of a particular question becomes important.