Shivani Agarwal is an Electronics and Telecommunications engineer, from VJTI, currently working at PwC as a technology consultant. She scored a 99.9 percentile in CAT 2020, received calls from all IIMs, and will be joining IIM Ahmedabad this year. In this interview, she talks about her CAT preparation strategy and her suggestions to future CAT aspirants! Read on!
Hi Shivani, please give our readers a brief introduction about yourself.
I am Shivani Agarwal from Mumbai. I got a 98.73% in the 10th standard SSC board and a 90.4% in 12th standard HSC board. I completed electronics and telecommunications engineering from VJTI in 2019 with a CGPA of 8.54 finishing in the top 10 in my branch. I co-founded a startup in my second year at VJTI and I joined PwC right after college as a technology consultant.
I got a 99.31 percentile in CAT 2018, 99.29 percentile in CAT 2019, and a 99.9 percentile in CAT 2020.
How did you prepare – Self-study or Coaching? Which one do you think is better?
Joining coaching is a very subjective decision it depends on your level of preparation, your educational background. The CAT portion comprises of topics we learnt in school but people who didn’t stay in touch with math, for example, might need revision and hence coaching helps.
I joined classes for mocks because I had the basics in place. For students who feel they need help when it comes to theory coaching might be required. Guidance also goes a long way when it comes to developing test-taking strategies. That said a lot of free material is available online so as long as a student takes regular mocks and improves on his/her weak areas he/she will do well.
According to you, what is the most important aspect of the preparation?
Consistency, consistency, consistency. Around 2 lakh students take CAT each year, thousands of these take mocks. I believe the thing that separates the people who do well from those who don’t is consistent efforts. Some mocks won’t go your way, sometimes you’ll miss the targets you set for yourself but the key is remembering only the final CAT score matters so it’s important to keep going.
Which mock series did you enroll for?
I enrolled for IMS and TIME. After the pattern change was announced in September 2020 I enrolled for Cracku for section tests as enough new test pattern tests weren’t available.
How many full-length mock tests did you take?
I took around 40 full-length mocks. These were the proctored ones of IMS and TIME.
How many sectional mock tests did you take?
I took around 10 – 15 sectional mocks. These I took mostly when I felt a particular section needed more practice and after the pattern changed to get used to the lesser section time.
What was your approach while taking mocks?
I am a person who panics a lot so my main aim when it came to mocks was not being frazzled by the time pressure. I approached each mock as a fun practice exercise that I was doing by choice and not as an exam that helped me calm my nerves. I also wanted to build a habit of being able to concentrate for the entire duration of the exam.
How do you think the mock tests helped you in your preparation?
Mock tests made me very comfortable with the pattern of the actual exam. Taking regular mocks ensured I was covering all sections and all topics. For this, analyzing the mocks you have already taken is key. After each mock, identifying my weak areas and working on them ensured I was fairly comfortable with all topics. Mocks also equipped me to deal with surprises as I learnt how to approach the test if a certain section turns out to be too tough and how to not let it affect the rest of the test.
Which section were you strong in? Since you were strong in that section, how did you focus on the other sections?
The Quantitative Ability (QA) section was relatively stronger among the three sections. Though I still ensured I practiced enough to try and improve my speed in QA. As for the other sections I paid more attention to them. For instance, for VARC I ensured I read something every day and for DILR I solved a couple of sets every few days.
Which section was your Achilles heel? How did you overcome that?
My Achilles heel was the VARC section. My scores in VARC would fluctuate a lot. To improve VARC I had to work on speed and accuracy. Due to regular reading, I had a decent reading speed but to be able to attempt the complete section I tried out various strategies. For me personally attempting RCs first then VA worked best. I also left out a particularly tough passage for the end of the test at times. I also read the entire passage before reading the questions. Other strategies to try out are attempting a mix of VA and RC questions or attempting VA first then RCs or within RC some students prefer going through the questions before reading the passage. I figured out which strategy worked best for me via mocks and section tests. It’s important to figure out what works best for you and it doesn’t have to be a rigid or fixed strategy and can change depending on the difficulty of the passages and questions.
How much time did you devote to preparation on a regular basis?
I targeted studying for 2 hours every day but that wasn’t always possible but I still made time to read editorials or articles or books everyday, even if only for 5 – 10 minutes. On the weekends I took tests and analyzed previous mocks or practiced past papers so I studied for around 4 – 5 hours on the weekends.
Tell us about the lowest point in your preparation journey and how did you overcome that?
My lowest point was when the pattern change was announced and I took a mock, I did very badly in all three sections, I got a double-digit overall score with 2 months left for the exam. I gave up, didn’t study for a week or so, and told myself that CAT wasn’t for me. I spoke to my mentor and to a senior of mine they reminded me of my “WHY”. I had converted XLRI, IIM K, IIM I in 2019 but was waitlisted for IIM C and I had decided to write CAT again. I wanted a chance to study at IIM A, IIM B, or IIM C. I knew I had to resume my preparation if I wanted to get that chance. So having a clear WHY and unwavering support of friends and family kept me going.
What resources would you suggest to 2021 aspirants?
Each aspirant needs to identify areas they need to work on. If you are starting from scratch material from any one of the coaching classes should be enough but ensure that the questions are at par with the ones which come in CAT. Solving past CAT papers is very helpful in understanding the actual level of the exam and getting a sense of the variety of questions asked in the exam. Other than mocks, after I identified my weak section I solved specific questions. For example, when I realized I could be doing better in DILR I solved DILR sets from 2005-2008 CAT papers over the course of a few weeks.
What according to you are the DO's and DON'Ts of CAT preparation?
- CAT is a competitive exam and sometimes competition leads to comparison which can cause disappointment. It is important to remember that you need to be better than you were the day before by practicing consistently and having faith in yourself.
- There is enough material available online and given by coaching so the key is to get started.
- It is easier to practice regularly if you surround yourselves with other serious CAT aspirants, these could be your classmates or members of online forums you frequent.
- Don’t shy away from writing mocks even if you feel you haven’t covered the entire portion. Even after you have covered the basics concentrate on improving speed.
- Analyse mocks, reattempt the questions you skipped or got wrong, for QA and DILR questions see if you could have solved them faster.
- Don’t over-exert yourself, remember to enjoy the journey. If it helps think of it as a learning experience rather than an exam you must take. CAT is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
Which mock series would you like to suggest to CAT 2021 aspirants? Is one mock series sufficient or do you suggest a combination of 2 different mock series?
I took two different mock series to get used to different paper setting styles and not become complacent with the test being a particular way. I suggest students go for the mock series which a large number of students attempt, like IMS or TIME. This ensures that after each mock test you can access where you stand compared to other serious test takers. Also, it is not important to take two mock series as I couldn’t finish take-home tests of any of the two mock series I took. If you go with one mock series you will still get plenty of practice and you can always keep an eye out for free/ open tests conducted by Career Launcher, IMS, and various other coaching classes.
What would be your final advice to CAT 2021 Aspirants?
I would suggest having a clear goal in mind as to why you are writing CAT it will keep you going even at your lowest. Start taking mocks as the classes are conducting them. Analyze mocks well, identify weak sections and topics, and most important of all practice, you’ll get there. Stay safe and I hope you do well.
Note From The Editor→
Shivani was recently a part of the panel of CAT 99.9+ %ilers where she spoke on what it takes to score beyond the 99.9th percentile. Watch it here!