CAT Preparation Strategies From Akshita Agarwal | 99.87%ile, Final Admits: IIM A,B,C

CAT Preparation Strategies From Akshita Agarwal | 99.87%ile, Final Admits: IIM A,B,C

A year ago, I was one among the numerous aspirants of Common Admission Test – CAT as we popularly know it. Now, I have final admits from IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore, and IIM Calcutta for their PGP class of 2017-2019. This has been a great journey for me, filled with many ups and downs. It’s an experience that I would like to share with my fellow aspirants. I’d be extremely satisfied to know if the strategies that had worked for me, work for you as well.

To put things into perspective, CAT 2016 was my third attempt at the test. My respective scores in CAT 2014 and 2015 were 95.4 and 95.26 percentiles. After having taken 2 semi-casual attempts, I decided to invest more time and focus in my third attempt. The motivation to ace CAT stemmed from my desire to get a formal business education from one of India’s best B-schools. To that end, I began my preparations.

Step 1: Assess Your Weak Areas: Diagnosis Helps Chart A Better Strategy

Since the pattern for 2016 had not changed from 2015, my score in CAT 2015 gave me a broad overview of my weak areas. To start with, my VARC percentile was close to 85. DILR and QA were close to 95. I believe that the biggest problem with a low score in VARC is that one doesn’t know what one needs to improve. It’s subjective, right? At least, that’s what I thought at first. Okay, so VARC was a definite problem for me. Noted. What about my performance in DI, LR and QA? Those weren’t exceptional either. I thought hard about the underlying cause for each of these sections and came up with this list below:

VARC – I was able to attempt almost all questions. So, my speed was not an issue, but I answered a lot of questions incorrectly that ended up contributing to negative scores

DI LR – I was not able to read through all questions in this section. First takeaway: I needed to work on my speed. In addition, I spent a huge amount of time solving difficult questions. Second takeaway: I needed to practice more sets so as to be able to understand which questions are doable and which ones would potentially involve more time (and therefore, should be skipped in my first iteration through the section)

QA – I could only get through ~15-17 questions out of 34. So, both my speed and technique needed a lot of improvement

With this initial diagnosis, I understood that I needed a lot of practice. Essentially, my aptitude needed polishing (training the brain cells, as some would say). What worked for me was that my basics were in place – thanks to my engineering background – but I lacked speed and real-time test execution. To hone these skills, I purchased an online test series and started taking mocks July onwards.

Step 2: Slog Through Mocks: The More, The Better

My next big advice would be to continue taking mocks, week after week, no matter how you’re performing. Something to keep in mind here, and I followed this diligently – Never give up after a bad percentile – Believe me, I’ve had my own share of 85s and 90s. Rather, one should analyze the questions that went wrong. I maintained an excel sheet that kept my error log in check. For every question that I attempted incorrectly, I added the category to which it belonged, “central theme/tone”, “venn diagrams”, “coordinate geo”, etc. I kept track of the number of questions I got wrong in each category and then solved more questions from that category.

There’s no shortcut to improving your percentile: the sooner you start taking mocks, the better it will be for your preparation. I was not able to take all the mocks that my test series provided owing to my job responsibilities, but I never missed analyzing the mocks that I took. So, for instance, if I sat through the mock for 3 hours, I would spend close to 10 hours analyzing it and updating my error log for next week’s preparation.

Step 3: Getting From 97-98 To 99+: Work On Your Biggest Liability

Steps 1 and 2 had definitely helped boost my percentile from 95 to 98+, but I was still unable to cross the 99 threshold. That’s when I analyzed scores of all the mocks I had taken thus far, and observed VARC to be my biggest liability in most of the mocks. In not even a single mock, had I scored a sectional percentile above 93 in this section. That’s when I realized: VARC was holding me back from scoring 99+. To really tackle VARC section, I turned to GMAT study materials. I bought Manhattan GMAT books and read through them. To my surprise, I found numerous mistakes that I had been making in my mocks up till now. I spent ~1 hour with MGMAT books each day for a month and saw drastic improvement in my sectional scores, specifically my accuracy in RC.

Step 4: Relax: Keep Calm And Execute

Before the D-day, it is very very essential to calm down and not worry too much about the paper. I tried to catch a good night’s rest and reached my test centre a little early with required documents to avoid the last minute rush. I would strongly suggest that you have a good breakfast that can power your 3-hour peak performance. You may also carry water, if allowed. Hydrated brain cells work better 🙂

As the timer starts, focus on getting each question you attempt, contribute to a positive score. Do not be afraid of move on from questions that take time to solve. Remember, it’s about getting questions right and NOT getting difficult questions right.

I hope these tips can help kick-start your preparation for CAT 2017. I wish all the aspirants success in their endeavors!

I’d be more than happy to answer any queries you may have. All the best!

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Akshita Agarwal

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41 thoughts on “CAT Preparation Strategies From Akshita Agarwal | 99.87%ile, Final Admits: IIM A,B,C”

  1. I appreciate that numerous students post about how they prepared and tackled the stress and everything else with the preparation.Being a commerce student its difficult to connect with those from an engineering background.I would love to read an article on CAT prep by a student with commerce background.

      1. IIMs definitely consider this much experience. As I said, they select a good mix of students across work-ex, so you would find many freshers along with people who have ~3-4 years work ex. The curve is generally normally distributed with ~1-2 yr work ex being most common.

  2. I do appreciate you sharing your struggle and enlightening us with the way to crack the CAT, but I cannot refrain from cringing just a little bit at that start, please don’t use
    “An year ago”, it’s a year ago.
    Don’t want to offend you, I’ve tried to be as polite as possible.

    1. Yes somewhat but it doesn’t matter that non-IITians will be preferred less.
      Interviewer checks if you will be able to survive their rigorous curriculums or not. And also a MBA revolves around Maths and IITians are believed to be good at maths so that’s why they are given preference. It’s just my view because I too belong to this IIT community.

      1. Hi Akshita
        That’s Great, you have been consistent throughout. I wanted your views on my profile :
        10th – 9CGPA/10
        12th – 72.2% (Commerce with Maths)
        Graduation (BCA): 85.66%
        Whenever I come across people from IIMs, they have superb scores throughout. And I get demotivated with my scores(specially 12th). Can this be a barrier between me and BLACKIES? I am General, Male and BCA graduate.

        1. Hey, Don’t let your class 12 scores bog you down. If you score a high percentile in CAT, that will make up for it. Plus, your graduation scores matter more than class 12 and 85+ is very good. All the best! Aim for 99.7+ in CAT

  3. Hey ma’am, first of all congratulations on making it big. I request you to please share screenshot of your excel sheet you prepared during your preparation. it’ll be very helpful for me and people like me to get an idea to how to organise my preparation.
    I’ll be very thankful to you 🙂

    1. I don’t have the excel handy with me. I have tried to create a rough template below to help guide you:
      Column 1 ~~~~~~~~Column 2
      QA – Numbers ~~~~~~3
      QA – Geometry ~~~~~2
      QA – Profit & Loss ~~~0
      VA – Vocabulary ~~~~2
      RC – Central theme ~~3

      Column 1 refers to the topics tested in the mock; Column 2 refers to the number of questions I attempted incorrectly. This way you can track errors for each mock that you take. You can add more columns to your excel to add more details on the question type, level of difficulty of the question, etc. depending on what suits your mock analysis best. I hope this helps!

  4. Hello, Akshita. I am a second year student pursuing graduation in the biology stream. I really want to know that will this background be a hurdle in getting me into a B-school? What should be my strategy in preparing for CAT?

  5. Hi Akshita,Congratulations first of all for the admission!!Could you please share your sectional scores and the normalized marks.Also can you please share some tips for DI/LR as I found that the DI/LR sets in CAT were very much different which we used to come across in mocks.Can you share the strategy for that.TIA.

        1. I believe execution really matters in DILR section. I found the sets in CAT 2016 to be only moderately difficult than the ones in AIMCATs. So, I glanced the whole section, identified the relatively easier sets and solved those first. I went slow and focussed on accuracy more than speed. As you would see from my scores, I attempted 19 questions out of 32 in DILR and probably got all correct.

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