If you’re wondering “What is CAT? What is the pattern? How should I start CAT preparation? What are the best books, resources, and coaching for CAT? How should I prepare from home? What timetable should I follow for CAT preparation? How do I prepare to score a 99%ile+?” To answer these questions and more for you, we invited two IIM Calcutta students and CAT Toppers.
Meet Mridul Jain & Shantanu Date - CAT 99.5+ Percentilers And IIM Calcutta Students
Mridul Jain scored a 99.75%ile in CAT, while Shantanu Date scored 99.88%ile in CAT. Shantanu Date had 95% in class 10th, around 87% in 12th, and as an engineer from NIT Nagpur, he graduated with a CGPA of 7.2. After that, he worked at Fidelity Investments as a software engineer for 2 years, after which he wrote CAT and joined IIM Calcutta. Mridul Jain scored around 94% in class 10th and 1th and then did his engineering from MNNIT Allahabad from where he graduated with an 8.7 CGPA in 2017. After that, he worked at Morgan Stanley and then joined IIM Calcutta.
The following are the key highlights of a webinar conducted on the InsideIIM-Konversations YouTube channel.
What is CAT? What opportunities does it offer? What are some exams like CAT and what opportunities do they offer?
CAT is the first level of getting into the top business schools of our country. It is an aptitude test that all of the IIMs take on a rotational basis. The exam comprises 3 different sections - Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension, Logical Reasoning, and Quantitative Ability. Due to the COVID situation, the exam duration was changed from 3 hours to 2 hours wherein each section time was reduced from 1 hour to 40 mins. For 2021, the pattern has not been announced yet, however, preparing for both possible patterns is important.
CAT offers you the opportunity to get into 20+ business schools in the country including the top IIMs. Apart from CAT, other exams that offer similar opportunities are XAT, IIFT, NMAT, SNAP, MAT, and CMAT. For those interested in schools abroad or a few Indian business schools such as ISB, GMAT and GRE are tests to consider. However, for the overwhelming majority, CAT is the primary aptitude test that is recommended to make it to a top Indian business school.
Who should take the CAT? Who should not?
If you want to get into a b-school in India, I think you cannot ignore CAT. So tactically, I think everyone looking to get an MBA in India should take the CAT. In terms of preparation, I think anyone who meets the eligibility criteria set by the IIMs can sit for CAT.
CAT is a high risk, high reward kind of kind of exam. So if you do really well, it opens doors to a great number of colleges for you. It's an exam that can really turn things around for you. So you should definitely go for it.
Now, people who should not take CAT, I think if you want to pursue MBA outside India CAT doesn't offer you opportunities outside India, so you will have to take GRE or GMAT. The other thing is, most of the colleges from CAT offer 2 year PGDM or an MBA course. So, if you are looking for a one year MBA like ISB offers in India, then again, CAT is not for you.
What percentile do I need to get into top MBA colleges in India?
This depends on the kind of academic profile and background you have. It is a highly subjective answer and therefore difficult to give one general answer to. However, you may use InsideIIM’s Profile Evaluation Tool to understand the likelihood of your profile making it to a top business school.
What does the CAT really test? What is the pattern of the exam?
CAT basically tests your knowledge of things you study until standard 10. It is an aptitude test that can be aced with practice and consistency. The usual pattern of CAT was as follows:
However, in 2020 it was changed to the following.
The 3 sections of the exam are not the comfort zone for everyone. Someone is very good at Quant, someone is very good at Verbal. So it's not a level playing field. Based on where you stand, your strategy for CAT should be created.
What is the syllabus of CAT?
For VARC, reading comprehension is a major part. You need to read the comprehension, understand it, and answer questions accordingly. The other part tests your understanding of how sentences can be arranged logically. Verbal is all about practice, there is no formula that you need to remember. You practice and practice and verbal is something that you can improve on over time.
When it comes to Quant, the syllabus is divided into:
1. Number System
5. Modern Maths
LRDI, on the other hand, can test you on anything under the sky but then I think different coaching institutes have done a great job dividing the section into topics like linear arrangement, circular arrangement, truth and lies, et cetera. The syllabus is more or less around these and the aim is to train your mind to think such that you become able to solve any set asked on the exam.
How should working professionals manage their preparation along with either their work or how should students manage CAT preparation along with their college? How did you manage?
Shantanu Date: I think the reason I managed it well was because it was fun for me. CAT syllabus is intellectually challenging and when you start giving mocks and you're doing well at it, it helps you. I just tried to enjoy it. So even if I was coming back from work, or if I had to work until late, I would just solve something at the end of the day to get that intellectual kick out of it. So that element of fun helps you make time for it.
The good thing about working is that there are fixed timings. So you can work around those timings. You can have specific times when you give your mocks and tests etc.
Regarding college, the best deal is that in your final year, your CGPA is there at a certain level, you may even have a job in hand if you are in a good college. So, preparing for CAT by giving a few hours a day would not be too much of a problem. Have a specific schedule and that would help.
Mridul Jain: For CAT aspirants, there is something very important that you need to keep in mind - you never want to take CAT twice because you cannot just keep on reading the same passages or doing the same math problem for another year of your life.
So just have that focus that you don't want to write this exam again. Whatever is your score, whatever college you get, you will just take that and do your MBA. So then that gives you another impetus - I want to get a decent percentile at whatever cost.
Then the other thing is consistency. See, we all have been saying that the syllabus is up to class 10th, and that's a fact. So, what ultimately plays a role is your practice because, again, you're writing or solving 100 questions or 76 questions in a period of 2 to 3 hours.
So, you need your brain to be at its best capacity in those two, three hours and that is only possible if you practice a lot and that is only possible if you have a good schedule. You cannot escape without having a proper schedule and without dedicating two to three hours a day, at least.
When do you think CAT preparation ideally should begin? And what's the timeline that aspirants can look to follow during the course of it?
Shantanu Date: I have seen friends that cracked it after weeks of preparation and I have seen friends that have not cracked it after a year of it. So it can be difficult at times to watch how much time would be required but one thing that you should start with is by taking a mock test to get an idea of where you stand, and how much work needs to be done.
One thing to consider is that you shouldn't get burned out by the end of your preparation because if it's a 10-month long preparation and by the last two months you feel exhausted, it’s not worth it. Start with sections you really need to work on and as you make progress there, supplement it with the section you are good at. Don't look at preparation as a few months of study because at the end of the day, your goal is not to crack CAT alone, but to crack the interviews and get into a good college.
CAT at the end of the day is just daily life things that you are now asked to do in a 3-hour period.
Mridul Jain: I think we should back calculate. You write CAT in November. Come 3 months back. August is where you want to start your serious mock preparation. So we can divide CAT preparation into two sections:
First individual concept building in VA, LR and QA, and that takes somewhere between 3 to 6 months.
Next, if August is where you start your mock preparation - depending on your comfort level with the subject, decide how many months’ time is sufficient for you to build your level in those subjects. For some it would be 3 months, for others, it could be 9. Take mock tests to understand where you stand and based on your schedule and routine, decide how many months of preparation before august is needed.
Do you think that anybody can crack the CAT or do you think that inherently smart people crack CAT and others are less likely to?
Mridul Jain: Shantanu and I both have seen a lot of people who were smarter than us but then they knew that they were smart, and they would party a lot, they would chill a lot, or they inherently weren't very focused. When they were getting good marks or decent marks in their mock exams, they would just chill and they would take it for granted. So I have seen people who are very smart, but they couldn't score 99.9+%ile because they had not practiced well and perhaps they messed up on the final day because they couldn't handle the nerves in that two or three hour window.
On the other hand, I've also seen people who were lagging in all the three subjects when they started but through dedicated CAT preparation, they were able to sail through it.
Shantanu Date: I took the CAT twice, I did not clear the DILR section, I secured below 80 percentile each time and my marks were single digit ones and double digit ones. I put in the effort in the third year and I scored 99.4%ile in DILR which was more than the total marks of both my previous sections. I would therefore say that anyone can crack CAT with the right amount of practice and effort.
How do you recommend aspirants prepare for CAT? What books, resources, material, coaching do you recommend for CAT and especially for concept building?
Shantanu Date: The preparation can be divided into three phases:
1. Basic concept building
The concept building would come down to material. There are some really good books such as Arun Sharm as well as material which is provided by coaching classes for each section. In quantitative ability, because it is everything until 10th, there are specific topics. Each topic needs thorough practice.
To make sure you remember the concepts you’ve built, formula sheets can help a lot. Another crucial action is to note down the particular questions that you felt were really insightful from that particular topic and refer back to them from time to time.
After a while, you won't even have to refer to them, because you will be practicing regularly. But having that formula sheet and book of good questions is very handy because in the early preparation phase, it helps a lot.
The main preparation part of it, which would actually push you from a 95 to a 99 percentile, is your practice and the test taking strategy.
For practice, sectional tests are very important. Timed tests, wherein you get either a mixed bag or you get topics of a particular concept are equally important, but depending on the timeline of your preparation, you should first go at practising specific concept related exercises and then move to mixed bag questions.
- Test taking strategy
Building on this practice, you get to the test taking strategy aspect of it, wherein you give particular mocks, you analyze those mocks, and depending on the analysis, you find out how exactly you handed each section.
There’s also the revision aspect of it for which you may go through old mocks or specific notes that you have along with questions you may have bookmarked. More than anything, though, I would say practice counts.
Mridul Jain: I would definitely recommend joining a coaching because it puts you into a proper schedule. Join a coaching which offers live classes so that you can time your schedule accordingly.
If there is a section that you are ok with and are not facing any conceptual problems, coaching material would be more than enough. Even if you miss some things by only preparing from coaching material, those will get brushed up when you get into the mock test phase. However, for sections where you may be specially struggling, go to books by Arun Sharma and build your concepts.
Here’s how I went about classes:
1. Listened to all live and recorded lectures.
2. Went through the coaching material, solved it, and looked at the solutions. If I found myself struggling with a topic, I would go to Arun Sharma's book and solve some more questions over there.
Remember that when you’re building your concepts, you don't need to work in a timed environment. If a question takes around 10 minutes, give it those 10 minutes, take it after a while when you will be 100% thorough with those concepts. If you do not understand, then obviously, you can approach your mentors, or you can approach your peers in coaching, because that is what coaching offers you. There are people whom you can approach.
Post that, it comes to practice. Join two mock series and take the video analysis as well as part of the package so that you can learn in detail about topics and concepts you may not be well versed with.
How should students prepare for the CAT from home due to the COVID situation?
The good thing about home is that you do not need to travel to the office or waste time waiting in traffic. The added fatigue of going to the office everyday is absent at home. The comfort of home, however, may deter you from having proper fixed schedules and those are crucial. Take out time that you would religiously follow every day. 3 hours a day is more than enough to crack CAT, but regularity is key.
Secondly, you do not have the advantage of a change of stimulus at home. When you’re back from work, you’re in a new zone where you know you do not have to work and focus on your studies instead. In the absence of that change in environment, you need to mentally propel yourself to stop working or stop relaxing and start studying now.
Thirdly, do not get demotivated when you do not do well. Persistence is key. Don't think that you would want to repeat this exam. Tell yourself that this is your final attempt and you’re going to get into an MBA college however good or bad it is. Attitude matters and urgency helps produce results.
Lastly, having a group of two or three people including yourself, whom you discuss questions, mock scores, and overall preparation with can be very helpful when you’re taking an exam like CAT. Mridul and I studied together and that helped a lot. So make a study group if you can, it will boost your preparation.
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