Anshu is a mechanical engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur with 3 years of work experience across management consulting, strategy, and product management roles pre MBA. His last designation was that of a Product Lead at ShareChat where he was leading consumer experience and social-connect for the next billion vernacular Internet users. He was the board topper for the AP state board in class 12th with a 98.3% and scored CGPA 10 in class 10th and 7.3 in UG. Outside of work, his interests lie in dancing and UX design. In this interview, he shares his CAT preparation strategy and his advice to future aspirants. Read on!
Hi Anshu, how did you prepare for CAT 2020 – Self-study or Coaching? Which one do you think is better?
I started CAT2020 preparation in August last year. Working in a heavy ownership role at a fast-paced organization I was burdened with work and had little time for preparation. It was therefore pertinent to optimize preparation with whatever time I had. I was aware of the exam pattern and its difficulty level and hence I planned to study on my own rather than join coaching.
Which mock series did you enroll for?
I joined 2 test series- TIME and IMS.
According to you, what is the most important aspect of preparation?
I used to give mocks religiously over the weekend and analyze my flaws and refine my strategy during the weekdays. In 3.5 months till CAT I took 15-20 mocks and this is the most crucial piece of preparation that anyone can do.
How do you think the mock tests helped you in your preparation?
While taking mocks, I experimented with multiple test-taking strategies and it took me 10+ mocks to curate my own strategy. With CAT, one thing to note is that it isn’t so much about individual topics than it is about maximizing your overall score. Eg, QA came naturally to me and I virtually did 0 preparation for it but even within QA there were topics like TSD that for some reason always confused me. So given the limited time, I didn’t focus on improving TSD, rather I took a pragmatic call to leave the topic entirely. Mocks and their analysis help you make such tweaks. TIME and IMS mocks have a very close resemblance to the actual paper and they give you a fair idea about what to expect in every section and the relative importance of various topics. So if one is good at Algebra and ~30% of questions are from that topic, they should be bullish on scoring in Algebra questions rather than spending time on topics they do not have proficiency in. Always remember the north star metric is maximizing sectional score- whatever helps you achieve it.
Which section were you strong in? Since you were strong in that section, how did you focus on the other sections?
One should at every point in their prep journey be aware of exactly how good or bad they are in a particular section and optimize efforts accordingly. Given QA was decent for me, I spent more time on VARC and DILR. For DILR, I solved dozens of sets from whatever online resources I could get my hands on and I maintained an excel sheet wherein I tabulated salient features of a set that I solved, the time it took, and learnings. I used to go through this sheet once every month and by D-Day, I had 150+ curated sets in my sheet. This helped me with my DILR immensely. Although I couldn’t translate it to a great DILR score on D-Day, the results were visible in my later mocks.
For VARC, my major issue was fluctuating mock scores. My major VARC takeaways from the season are that one ought to treat VARC as two different sections-VA and RC and these sections have very different preparation approaches. For VA, going through questions from TIME, IMS mocks from previous seasons helps a lot. Solving 50 questions of each type in VA should be more than enough if one iteratively understands the nuances behind these and improves on them. For RC, the golden rule is to treat the section like DILR. RCs are more about logical comprehension and extrapolations than about the English language itself.
Take A Look At → CAT 2021 Personalized Study Planner
How much time did you devote to preparation on a regular basis?
All in all, I used to spend 6-8 hours for prep over the weekend and 1-2 hours on weekdays, and in my opinion, this should be enough if one is smart about prep.
Apart from the basic prep mentioned above, I also consciously focussed on mental health. CAT is not a sprint, it is a marathon where consistency in prep and a positive attitude when mock scores are low is paramount. A lot of folks will advise about preparation, strategy etc. So here I want to focus on something different. I want to stress on the intent of the exam and what happens on D-Day.
Watch→ Is It Ok To Have Fluctuating Mock Scores During Your CAT Prep? Ft. FMS Delhi, SPJIMR, IIM S Converts
What would be your final advice to CAT 2021 Aspirants?
To all aspirants, I’d like to tell you a secret- a piece of insider information, perhaps. IIMs aren’t just testing your quant, logic and comprehension skills through CAT; there’s actually a 4th hidden element. And to that extent I’d go on to say that CAT has 4 sections and each of these has profound practical reasoning as follows:
QA: As BSchool students and as future managers, most of your decisions will be heavily influenced by data and hence comfort with numbers and the ability to extract insights from data, perform backend calculations and drive results through simple data crunching is an important survival skill.
DILR: Problem solving and logical interpretation which is tested to the brim in CAT finds it practicality in almost everything we do as managers or otherwise; and hence filtering intelligent people with these skills at initial qualifying stages itself makes perfect sense.
VARC: VARC, also is more about logic than language and grammar. In fact, CAT has, over the years, reduced the focus on grammar and has focussed more on comprehension. As BSchool students and managers, one has to sift through multiple case studies/BRDs/PRDs that have dozens of pages, understand them and subsequently use this understanding to derive results. It is precisely because of this reason that CAT tests the ability to quickly go through passages and interpret the same logically.
So far so good. We see that adding each section had a practical connotation. Now the fourth and arguably the most important section.
Pressure Handling: This, in my opinion, is the most important thing that is being tested in CAT. The ability to maintain your cool without losing efficiency is what takes you from good to exceptional! Handling pressure is not an explicit section but it pervades every question of every section and is being tested every second in those 2 hours (or 3 hours). The other three sections are in fact easy to prepare for but this one is tricky. What you do on that D-Day is all that matters. To sustain the pressure of your expectations, hyper-competition, your parents’ hope etc; is what converts a 99% into a 99.9% and if you buckle under this pressure a potential 100% becomes a 95%.
From my own example, I wasn’t really confident about DILR and to top it off, I got slot-3 (RIP xD). When you suddenly see a new pattern of 6 question sets where each set is unnecessarily impossibly difficult you feel like running away from the exam hall. I felt this too.
There were 5 sets…..
I started with the first one...spent 2-3 min…..and I was blank….Nope, cannot do this…
The next set...looks even more difficult….2 min into it….nope, cannot do this either…..
Third set…..Most difficult set I had ever seen…..
18 out of 26 questions were seen, 10 minutes were wasted, and no clue what to do.
For a second it felt like CAT20 was over for me as I needed at least a 99.7% to get a decent BSchool and I wouldn’t get that with a 0 in DILR!
BUT at the moment I controlled myself from spiralling into pity and in retrospect that was the most important moment in my paper. I did a reality check- paper is actually tough- it will be tough for all - I just need to perform to the best of my ability and hope it is good enough RELATIVELY- and that I still had 30 minutes.
I looked at the 4th set. This was only a 4 question set but it felt doable. I still resisted the urge to do it and went to the last set
Wow, this is pretty easy…..a standard Venn diagram set….did it under 5 minutes
Went back to set 4…now in a better state mentally….solved it in under 7 minutes
Went back to a 6 question set and in the remaining 15 minutes worked on it. I cracked the set with 30 seconds left and as soon as I entered all the answers (It was a TITA set) time got over and the next section started. Although I ended up making a silly mistake because of which I got the entire set wrong and lost 22 potential marks but at that moment I knew it was the best I could have done.
After a messed-up DILR, I didn’t let it affect my QA and ended up scoring 65 in it.
I sincerely believe that if you have this element sorted, nothing can stop your hard work from bearing fruit.