Meeeooowww - How to bell the CAT ? Srinjoy Ganguly, IIM A
Srinjoy Ganguly is a final year undergraduate student in the department of Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering at Jadavpur University. He is the author of 8 international conference papers in the fields of Wireless Networks and Artificial Intelligence. He scored 99.87% in CAT '13 and 99.97% in XAT '14. Apart from already having converted calls from IIM A, IIM B and XLRI, he has received PhD offers at the likes of Georgia Tech, Purdue, Penn, etc
What does it exactly take to bell the CAT? - This question has become quite legendary of sorts, hasn’t it? More so, because every year over 2 lakh aspirants, hailing from a myriad of backgrounds, write the Common Aptitude Test (CAT) in order to feed their MBA aspirations. But not every CAT taker makes it to his or her preferred B-School, right? So what makes the difference? How does one make it a cut above the rest? These questions (which I personally feel are quite rhetorical) have essentially garnered responses from a plethora of quintessential ‘CAT pundits’, or so to speak. You guys probably would think now that I am quite a hypocrite given the fact that I am writing a similar preachy ‘How to bell the CAT’ article out here, yet am complaining about such articles. Well, I would like to concede that I am not a ‘pundit’ (nowhere close to being one too), but I could share (within my humble limitations of course) a few pointers which could help aspirants as I can truly empathize with them and the trials & tribulations one has to face while preparing for the CAT.
1. Fixing your target B – School
One can’t hope to succeed if he/she were to embark on a mission without a clear goal in mind. The CAT too is no exception to this rule. So, I’d suggest that short listing a set of preferred B – Schools would truly come in handy as it would enable a candidate to chalk out which exams he/she would desire to write. This decision would essentially be a function of the following parameters –
· Your academic performance, thus far.
· The extent and quality of your work experience (if any).
· Your aspirations post – MBA.
· Your desired specialization while pursuing an MBA. (It’s completely fine if you do not have one. For example, I don’t have one yet.)
· Most importantly, the confidence you have in your abilities.
Although this post is essentially tailored to discuss matters pertaining to CAT, I’d strongly suggest that every candidate should ideally consider a back-up examination just in case normalization plays a spoilsport in the CAT.
2. The Common Admission Test
Well we’ve finally reached that section which I guess most of the readers of this article have read truckloads of articles on. I’d still like to be different and suggest some specific measures which I believe would actually help you expedite your CAT preparation. The CAT, as you all know, now comprises of two sections of 70 minutes duration each – Section I (QA/DI) and Section II (VA/LR). The second section has been popularly regarded as the Achilles Heel for engineers, commerce graduates and science graduates, while the same holds true with regard to the first section for people coming from the humanities background. Well I would be honest out here – one should focus on his/her strengths to maximize his/her score, and should try to circumnavigate through the weaknesses so as to obtain an optimal distribution of scores in both the sections.
· Section I (QA/DI)
Let me make one thing clear. The QA/DI section doesn’t necessarily test whether you can solve a small number of extremely difficult problems or not. Rather, they want to test whether you can solve several problems of medium to moderate hardness, without committing silly mistakes. This necessitates regular practice within a fixed time limit, on problems ranging in variety and degree of difficulty. To get a proper feel, one could solve the quants problems from the famous mock papers of the past 1-2 years and CAT problems after the year, 2000. Based on my observation, the CAT has recently developed a fetish for geometry/mensuration. So practise various types of such problems which are easily available on different forums and books.
Data Interpretation is that only section of the examination in which you just cannot go wrong if you’ve practiced judiciously enough. The questions are quite straightforward where one has to infer results/conclusions from tabular/graphical data. I do admit that calculations can often be a pain in the neck but one can find ways to overcome these impedances. I had to delve deep into our heritage to rediscover the sheer beauty of Vedic Maths and its applications to boost up the speed with which I calculate manually. Likewise you could either refer to the Vedas or even something much more “modern”, the choice is entirely your’s. Most importantly, remember to practice diligently, preferably within a fixed time period. Your aim should be to ideally get that section done within 20 minutes (maximum) as far as all the mock examinations and the main CAT examination is in question.
· Section II (VA/LR)
Ok here’s the section which a majority of test-takers truly fear for quite obvious reasons. But, I certainly believe that one could navigate through this section and in the process, also maximize his/her score in the same with ease. I’ll be quite blunt and on-your-face out here, but I firmly believe that it’s quite a daunting task to build VA skills in 6 months or even a year. Ease in this segment requires something that most people lack – a steady diet of good quality reading. I personally believe that to be confident while attempting VA questions, one must be able to read and seamlessly grasp the crux of each question in a reasonably short amount of time. This requisites that the student possess a good vocabulary and good reading skills, both of which can only be developed only if a student practises similar questions on a regular basis, supplemented by a regular reading habit. I won’t outright discourage people without a love for reading by writing off their chances of clearing the CAT. Sure, you will do very well and many others have done well in the past too without having been avid readers. But, I guess you won’t really look forward to this section. I’d specifically like to mention RCs out here and I feel reading the questions before starting the RC would be not a preferred way of approaching the question as the questions tend to cloud your judgement and line of thought (especially in case of abstract RC passages). Hence, I’d suggest a two-tiered approach to RCs. Initially skim through the RC to get a rough idea of its central idea and what are the minor/major points it wishes to convey. After this, the second iteration should involve a detailed study of the RC to grasp the finer nuances. I know this sounds easier said than done, and you’d probably think this entire process would take an eternity to complete. Trust me, it does take an eternity initially but after repeated runs, the time would significantly diminish.
Now we come to my favourite section of the CAT – Logical Reasoning (LR). For all you puzzle/ teaser enthusiasts out there (I was one. I still am), this section should ideally be your Mardi Gras! For those who don’t find puzzle and brain-teasers appealing, the matter shouldn’t be much different. The keyword out here is again, PRACTISE. The more you practise, the more astute your mind becomes, the faster you catch the missing link and thereby, crack the LR caselet. “An LR caselet a day keeps the doctor away, and brings you closer to your desired B-School” – Abide by this, and also remember to practise what you preach (I guess I’m using the word practise way too much. But that’s what CAT’s all about - practise).
3. The GD/WAT/PI rounds
So the monkey is off your shoulder with the CAT (and the other exams you write) done and dusted, right? Not quite so. The stress only multiplies from here on, and is directly proportional to the number of calls you get. Call conversion, trust me, is no walk in the park as the number of candidtes called for the interview rounds is about 6-8 times of the number of candidates who’ll be finally offered admission. So you really need to slug it out to make yourself stand out in the crowd. My two cents about the same –
· First and foremost, I’d suggest that if an institution does not appeal to you at all, then it’s advisable not to attend their interview process because if you’re not convinced about investing in a product, you’ll naturally go in with a negative mindset. That doesn’t augur well, either for you or for your interviewers (read: seasoned veterans) as they can read your lack of interest right from your body language. Hence the bottomline is that if you’re sure of not joining an institution, it’s better to abstain from attending its interview process.
· Although most of the old IIMs have done away with GDs IIM L/K, XLRI and many other reputed institutes still have them. So, one should practise well before participating in the actual GD. You could form groups of 8-10 and discuss almost any topic under the Sun. The best way to prepare for a GD is by (once again) reading a lot and staying updated about current affairs. Try to be as accommodating as possible during such discussions and maintain decency throughout. Most importantly, NEVER cross someone during a GD because that’ll only lead to a complete fish market-like scenario and chances are high that you’ll get rejected. Also remember not to monopolize air time. It’s who speaks the smartest that counts, not who speaks the most.
· All the major institutes (at least most) require the students to write an essay in the interview round. These essays can be factual, argumentative or narrative. Usually institutes refrain from factual (aka dry) essay topics because you can’t probably write more than a few lines if you don’t have any clue whatsoever about the topic. Thus, the essays usually fall into one of the latter two categories. An essay is an impression of WHO YOU ARE on a piece of paper. It gives an insight into the intricacies of your mind and elicits a fair view of your likes/dislikes. Hence, this is an opportunity which you can utilize to make an everlasting impact on the minds of those who’ll check your essays. Be rich in content. Have a proper introduction. Conclude graciously on a preferably balanced note. Be succinct. Use correct grammar. Make the proceedings interesting. Do this and you’ve aced the essay. Period.
· The kind of questions that they ask in the interviews differs depending upon your work experience. If you’re a fresher, then you must be firmly-footed as far your academics are concerned. In case of people with more than a year of work experience, not so much. The interview tends to meander more around the work you do, the company you work for, your experiences at the workplace, etc.
· Sell yourself. Showcase your talents. Convince the interviewers that they should take you and you want to be with them. But never lie or over-exaggerate. Being the seasoned veterans that they are, they’ll catch you in an instant and trust me (I speak from personal experience when I’m saying this) they can completely shatter your self-confidence if they want to and leave you gasping for a breath of air, fresh or polluted.
· The last and the most important point – Stay frosty. It really helps in the long run. The interviewers wouldn’t want a hyper-tense shipwreck of an individual on the board, would they? So, stay calm and always keep that ingratiating smile on your face, even if the interviewers throw everything at you, starting from condescending statements to the kitchen sink. Bjon Borg was often referred to as the “Ice Man” for his cool demeanour on the tennis court, i.e. he wouldn’t buckle down under pressure at any cost, however terrible the situation may be. You could do a similar thing in the interview, right? Come on, you did make it this far, so you have to be pretty decent. So keep the confidence at appreciably high levels while walking into (and if possible while walking out of) an interview.
So yeah, I guess I’ve come to an end of my harmless banter about how you could approach the entire “How to bell the CAT” deal, and I went a step further and extended it to the “How to get into a good B-school” discussion. I might’ve tried to make the journey seem like a cake-walk and might’ve sounded arrogant or somewhat of an upstart in some sections, but I assure you both of these are absolutely untrue (especially the latter). CAT is a pilgrimage, a journey of sorts for all MBA aspirants in India, with their Mecca being the desired B-school, or set of schools, they intend to be a proud member of. Hence, I’d suggest that you shouldn’t undertake this journey alone. Set small goals. Share your highs and lows with a loved one whom you can trust (and more importantly, who is ready to lend a patient hearing). Celebrate when you cross the milestones that you set for yourself along the journey. Don’t lost heart when you’re meted with failures. Keep calm. Stay focussed. Most importantly, enjoy the journey irrespective of outcome. It makes you a more confident person who is well-informed and can take decisions faster. I’ll end this rather longish article now by wishing you all the best for the journey that you’re about to take. Trust me, you won’t regret it. Cheers.