The Battles Within The War - My Journey Of Belling The CAT, Prashanth Srinivasan
Prashanth Srinivasan is currently pursuing B.Tech (final year) in Production Engineering from NIT Trichy. He aced CAT 2015 with 99.4 percentile and has final admission offers from IIM A and IIM B.
Ever since the CAT results came out, there have been numerous articles, testimonials and inspirational stories - stories of character, courage and determination that have been doing the rounds on the internet. Less than a year back, I was thriving on these articles. They gave me direction and motivation. Now that I am on the other side, I feel obligated to add a drop to this ocean. Here is my journey.
Having secured a seat at an NIT, it was a difficult decision for me to opt for management. Everybody around me looked at my college, my grades and projects and had only one thing to ask – “MS only no?”.
Amidst this, a conversation that I had in my second year with one particular senior gave me a lot of clarity. “You must identify the difference between what you are good at and what you are interested in”, she said. “If these two don’t overlap, go behind your interest. You’ll struggle initially, but eventually, you’ll become good at it”. These words prompted me to think a lot about my priorities. I concluded that I do not belong in research.
The only good thing in my confusion was that I had ruled out going for a job in the initial phase itself. (Although I did keep one as a backup, I had no intention of joining). That, along with the costs involved, ruled GMAT out. Now, I had only one option – the Common Admission Test, to have a shot to pursue my interest in a world - class institute.
The first thing you should do while preparing for CAT is not letting negativity creep in at all. When I started my preparation in my sixth semester, the people I asked advice from pointed out many practical, yet discouraging issues. “You are a GEM Fresher. It is near impossible to get IIMs. Get some work ex.”, “Only 2-3 people per batch in our college crack the CAT as freshers and maximum one gets A, B or C”, they said. Lots of people will say similar stuff to you too, and it is true. But, you must believe. Do not let the statistics get to you. The odds are poor, but ultimately everyone giving the exam has the same odds.
The second thing is consistency. I was in multiple clubs in college and it was difficult for me to allocate time to CAT. So, I made a realistic study schedule and stuck to it. Not more than 3-4 hours a week, but it made sure I never lost momentum. Having seen seniors who gave up made me understand that a considerable period of inactiveness will make me lose interest. This schedule kept me aware of my priorities.
Sticking to a schedule is difficult, especially when you have other things to do. The only remedy to this is to enjoy the process. That is my third point. I kept a timer for each problem I solved, for each RC I did and for each DI/LR caselet I attempted. The small happiness I derived out of solving something within the time kept me going to the next problem, and before I knew it, I had studied for a considerable amount of time. An hour doesn’t seem as long if you see it as 3 caselets, 2 RCs and 5 problems Over time, you will begin to do this with interest.
The best strategy to follow when you know that your hard work of so many months is going to get decided in a day (3 hours to be exact), is to simulate the scenario, as many times as possible. This leads me to point four – mock tests. Each mock test I wrote, I wrote with absolute sincerity, as if I am in the actual exam itself. The mocks gave me a good idea of my strengths and weaknesses, and since I started taking them in May itself, I had ample time to work on my weaknesses. A word of caution though – your mock test percentiles have nothing to do with how you perform on D-Day. Be confident if your percentiles are good, but nothing more than that. If you are not doing well, aim to do better the next time.
All this effort will go waste if you can’t retain your composure on the day of the exam. And that, is my fifth point – composure. Ultimately, you are writing the exam to get to a place where you are expected to perform under pressure, everyday for the rest of your lives. My last week before the exam was spent on consolidating my preparation, rather than going for new topics. I listened to good music and watched motivational videos. Importantly, I ensured I slept well. On the day of the exam, I recounted my entire journey, just for that one final gust of motivation. In the exam, I felt DI/LR was extremely difficult. I managed to solve only one caselet in the first half hour. What worked for me was the fact that I was calm. This was a once in a year chance. I didn’t want to blow it because I couldn’t handle pressure. “If it is difficult for me, it will be difficult for others too” I told myself. I ended up scoring 99.27 percentile in that section.
As I laid back after the exam, I had no idea of what was in store. A look at the admission criteria, and I was convinced that CAT was just a qualifying criteria in MBA admissions. The gruelling part was yet to come. By the time my results were out (I managed 99.4), I knew I had to work really hard, and hope I get lucky to bag one among the top 3. I got calls from all IIMs except IIMC. My first interview was of IIM Lucknow and I went with near zero preparation. Result – the worst interview of my lifetime. I got picked on everywhere – acads, current affairs and GK.
This interview opened my mind to the fact that I might not get an admission despite my percentile. This prospect scared me. I made a compilation of all that was required for the interview in one big book. I kept updating it on a daily basis. I wrote one essay a day and self – evaluated it, based on time, content and grammar. I gave mock interviews. I took daily notes from newspapers. I engaged everyone I met in a conversation about a current issue. In hindsight, my preparation for WAT/PI was even more draining, yet enjoyable than CAT.
April 13 was the day I got my IIM A offer. A day which I will never forget. The day I could look back and say with pride that this journey has come to an end, that this war has been won. Trust me, it is one of the best feelings in the world. And, only by taking it one battle at a time was I able to do this. CAT and admissions are extremely unpredictable and it is futile to see too much into the future. Do what is in your hand to the best of your abilities, and sit back and hope that things will work out. Win the small battles, the war will ultimately be won. All the very best!