CAT preparation tips by Shikhar Mathur, IIMA

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    Shikhar Mathur is a PGP candidate in IIM Ahmedabad for the Class of 2017. He graduated from BITS Pilani and cracked CAT 2014 with 99.68 percentile. Shikhar has served almost 3 years as a product developer at a Top 15 Fortune 500 company. He likes to write about his experiences in admissions to business schools, physics and football on Quora.

    The following are tips I'm giving from experience. I may not have followed most of these below, but understand the importance and potential impact of each:

    Get a head start. What I did wrong the first time (which was the time I gave the exam without any formal prep) was that I decided on taking the exam very late (late summer). You check this box since you've already become very serious.

    Start reading. My personal opinion is that this is overrated UNLESS you have weak verbal skills. Reading will definitely help you improve your grammar and vocabulary, but reading for the sake of reading will waste your time. So don't make quantitative targets like "I need to finish reading X number of books before Y date", and focus more on what you are absorbing and how to retain it.

    Brush up on the math basics and then work on speed rather than going deep. Trust me. Ego in the exam will hurt. If you can't solve a question, MOVE ON! Nobody will be winning if you let your pride get in your way while you're stuck at a problem. It's better to be done with 30 easy questions out of 50 than 15 easy and 3 hard, feeling satisfied about it.

    Be aware about what's happening politically and economically in the world. This will really help post your exam during your interviews. Plus it doesn't hurt knowing more about your surroundings. One added bonus of this activity is you feel more confident and satisfied about yourself, and this in itself is an underrated soft skill in India. In addition, it doesn't hurt that knowing about this things will very slightly increase your interest reading those boring boring RCs in CAT. You will feel prepared not just verbally, but contextually.

    DO NOT worry about the results before or during your exam. This is a one way ticket to getting a bad score. No one in this world performs well under pressure. And no, this is not like a cricket match, where some people thrive on the pressure. There is no adrenaline involved here. My second score was mostly because I did not bother about the result as I felt I am in a pretty decent job which I'm okay with even if my MBA plans don't work out.

    Plan a strategy. For your preparation AND for your exam. Just do it. You'll thank me later. Don't overdo in your studying. Don't exhaust yourself. Don't stress out about stuff which you can't control like normalization. Please PLEASE have a life outside CAT. Do something you like, play a sport, hit the gym. You should be in a situation where studying for CAT per day should not be more than 2 hours. In those 2 hours, you should be enjoying yourself rather than thinking of it as a pass/fail exam. It's an aptitude test after all!

    Chill out!

    Some pointers for quant/verbal preparation given below


    Make a list of all important concepts/formulas while preparing, and at the start of each day, go through them so they never get old.

    Ensure that all topics have been covered before starting to give practice exams. If you don't do this, then it's highly possible you may get stuck somewhere in the exams, and this will hamper your time, your score, your performance later, and eventually your confidence.

    After practicing questions from each topic thoroughly, start taking mock tests (easily available through various coaching institutes or even online). Joining a test series will be highly beneficial to get a feel of the test environment and format.

    Note down the weak areas in each topic (say it's Permutations and Combinations, or DI) after 2-3 tests. Pin point the errors you made and also what kind of errors they were. Sometimes a lot of errors in the same topic are because of a pre-held mental fallacy which will be cleared after one reading, but sometimes it's a conceptual roadblock. Make sure you note down where and WHY you are going wrong.

    Create another list where you write these things down and like before, revise at the beginning of every day.

    Only once you're in a satisfactory zone of conceptual clarity, move on the improving speed. Speed will be your greatest asset during the exam, but also your worst enemy if the necessary groundwork is not laid. Make sure you utilize this to your advantage.

    During the test, when sometimes things are not working for you, try eliminating options before putting in your guess if you have to. Otherwise, guesswork is not recommended and you'll do yourself some good if you don't let your ego creep in by forcing yourself to attempt questions.

    A lot of times, rather than solving questions, it's possible to get the answer by plugging in the values given in the options than working out from the actual algorithm.


    Leave the RCs for the end. Only attempt these if you have time. Exceptions may exist definitely, but for a lot of folks, these RCs end up being very boring and time consuming due to multiple readings. This causes less time for the other questions for which you may require your motivation levels to be high.

    If you're good with LR, try attempting these first. Here, making multiple tables/charts/circular diagrams should be used as the second choice. Try figuring out the results through linear means. Diagrammatically solving these helps, but takes up a lot of time. It is, however, totally up to you.

    Brush up your vocabulary and grammar by not reading books/articles just for the sake of it. You'll just be wasting time. Ensure that whatever you're reading, you're enjoying and actually getting some clarity on the topic. If you don't understand anything, persist with it and go to your best friend - Google. Try making some sense of the latest news, economic and political updates, sports, news on your hobbies, etc.

    DO NOT GUESS in vocabulary questions. Trust me. Just don't.

    All the best!


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