Indian MBA Preparation and Admission : Preparation strategy and timeline

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    Deepak Mehta is a man out of time. He wanted to be born a few decades earlier, before the advent of the computer, when times were simpler and people were more content. Unfortunately, he wasn't. So, to compete in today's time, he has equipped himself with 2 degrees - one each from BITS Pilani and IIM Ahmedabad. He cracked CAT with a 100 percentile score. In his spare time, he likes to write on random website on random topics and for random people. Check out his Quora blog here

    We can safely assume that a preparation period of more than 8-10 months is sufficient to crack CAT. However, that does not mean one should wait till then. If you have more time at your disposal (let's say you are in your 2nd year of graduation), it would be better to start preparing right away. So, let's take it on a phase-by-phase basis.

    Here is the snapshot of the the timeline we are looking at.

    Phase I. > 2 years in hand

    Utilize this time to chalk out a preparation strategy for maximum efficiency and to improve your vocab and general awareness (both of which cannot be done as part of a crash course) 

    1. Analyze your strengths and weaknesses
      Do numbers scare you? Has probability always been a bitch? Are the RC passages long and boring and put you to sleep? What about your reading speed? Is it 100 wpm or 200? Is it enough? Do words like factitious and proclivity confuse you?
      Then start to work on them.
    2. Start reading 

      The best way to build a vocabulary and a critical mindset which will come handy while attempting the Verbal and RC section of the examination is by reading. Read anything - books, novels, newspapers, magazines, blog posts, other online articles etc.
      This will also help you to increase your reading speed (anything below 300 wpm will be a deterrent) and also to focus in case the topics in the examination are dry (for example, History, Politics etc)

      Set a reading target. Also, have a target list ready.
      A good place to begin will be the BBC list of Top 100 Books.
      A book a week would enable you to finish all 100 in less than 2 years.

    3. Start working on your problem solving abilities
      Start reading through brain-teasers. Solve logical problems. Start exercising your brain cells to boost your IQ.
      This exercise will be useful not only for the examination but also for your life in general.
    4. Extra focus on vocabulary
      Building a good vocabulary is a tedious exercise; one that requires a tremendous amount of patience and persistence. Thankfully, there are many tools and hacks to help you with it - word maps, flash cards etc. These visual aids always help.

    Phase II. ~1 year in hand
    Now would be a good time to join a coaching class and start working with a schedule and deadlines ready.

    Many people ask if coaching is mandatory and if you can crack the exam without it. The answer is NO; it is definitely not mandatory, however, it would be helpful because of the following reasons:

    • Discipline: Procrastination is something everyone encounters in case of assignments with long deadlines. The same is the case here. Unless you commit to a classroom schedule, people generally tend to put it off for future. Having classes and having paid for all of them in advance ensures that you attend them, at the very least, listen to the instructor and soak in the very basic concepts.
    • Competition and bench-marking: The classes give you a glimpse of the competition you are going to face moving forward. You would find people who come prepared for every class, listen intently to everything being said and take down meticulous notes. The same motivates you to also start working your ass off.
    • Faculty: These guys who are going to teach you have years of experience. They are fairly familiar with the exam pattern, the types of questions that are asked and tricks to solve them in the shortest time possible.

    Ensure that you attend all classes and are at par with everyone else. Take out time to revisit the concepts once after the class. Trust me, it makes a lot of difference to how much of the same is retained by you.

    I have created a survey to gauge the quality of different coaching centers across the country. It would be extremely helpful if all of you who are reading this share it with your friends and ask for their feedback about the class they took. The results from this will be used in a later post where we would do a comparative analysis of various coaching centers.

    Survey link: Survey of CAT Coaching centers

     Phase III. < 6 months in hand
    A full course is around 6 months. So, here, at this juncture, it would be wiser to instead opt for crash courses that usually take 2-3 months. The only issue is that you would have to put in more no. of hours per week. Things might feel a bit rushed. But then, these classes will ensure that you finish the entire curriculum with a couple of months to spare for the mock test series.

    This is advisable for both who have taken classes earlier and the ones who are starting afresh.

    Phase IV: < 2 months in hand
    This is the time to finally put everything you have learnt to test. Every coaching center has their own test series where you can give any no. of mock tests and you are given a percentile score to benchmark you against your peers.

    A few pointers:

    • Aim to complete 2 mock tests per week i.e. 16 - 20 in 2 months. This will give you ample time to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and to fine tune your strategy
    • Every mock test result should be analyzed and monitored to ensure that you are making clear progress with every subsequent attempt
    • Apart from mock tests, there are sectional tests. If after, say 5 tests, you realize that you are weak in one particular area, head over to that section and practice away. Sectional tests are around 10-20 questions for about 30 minutes each.

    Phase 5 : A few (10-12) days before the exam

    You should ideally relax for a week before the exam.

    1. Just read a couple of daily newspapers and avoid reading anything else so as not to cluster your mind with unnecessary information.
    2. Preferably pick up a book you have already read and one that you immensely adore. Re-read it.
    3. Listen to music.
    4. Talk to friends.
    5. Go to a good movie.
    6. Avoid the temptation to attempt "one last" mock test. At any cost. (If, by ill fate or due to nervousness, the outcome is not good, it might deeply hamper your performance in the actual exam)
    7. Do anything you like - if you are a painter, paint; if you are a guitarist, practice; if you are plain lazy like me, sleep and read comics.

    All the best.

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