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: Work Through Mocks: The More, The Better

My next big advice would be to continue taking mocks 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. 

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. 

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 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 GMAT books each day for a month and saw a 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!



Dushyant Shah

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.


Finally somebody with the same thought as me. Would really boost our spirits to hear something from a student with commerce background.


Did you have work experience? Or excelled at a sport or something? I have heard IIM-B looks into work experience and extra curricular activities a lot.

Akshita Agarwal

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.

sayali karekar

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.

Divyansh Modi

Hi Akshita.
How about the idea of doing CAT and GMAT coaching together even if you dont have like 2 years of experience. GMAT so that its VA part can be useful in CAT and quant in GMAT.??

Akshita Agarwal

Not a bad idea at all 🙂 If it helps improve your scores and does not leave you with a feeling of lack of time for self-study, you should go for it. All the best!

sayali karekar

Thanks for taking it positively, I just feel relieved.
Thank you for your wishes, but my preparation time is done, I’m waiting for the admit results from colleges now 🙂

Graduates from iits and other renowned institutes are given priorities at final selection.

Is dat true


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.


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.

Akshita Agarwal

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

Manoj Maran

These strategies are very helpful…. Thnkew for them..i am facing the same problem in varc can u tell me the which GMAT material you used during ur preparation… plz share if it is in pdf….

more strong

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 🙂

Akshita Agarwal

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!


Hi there !
Please can anyone share the Excel sheet format of analyzing of mock test !!
if anyone have please share it on mail … My id is :
It would be helpful through out the preparation .!!
THANKS In Advance.

Saumya Srivastava

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?

Sarang Trivedi

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.

Sarang Trivedi

Thanks Akshita:).Actually you told about solving AIMCATS religiously right in DI/LR,but in CAT, I found the sets extremely different from those in AIMCATS.So how one can improve further?

Akshita Agarwal

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.


Hi,Akshita first of all congratulations for your admission into the top B-school. I am 3rd year student from Tier-1 college. i want to know your views on my profile .
pursuing with current cgpa:-7.5
with these scores can i aim for the IIM’s because my cgpa in career is not upto the mark
THANKS in advance

Akshita Agarwal

Ankush, you can definitely get through IIMs. I have batchmates at IIM-A who have a similar profile as you do. They scored 99.9+ in CAT 2016.
So, you should also aim for a percentile above 99.7

Mohit Jindal

Hey akshita,first of all congratulations for your my profile is
10th(cbse):-7 cgpa
graduation(distance mode from delhi university):-50%
mba(chandigarh university):-73%
work experience-2 years
can i get call from top iims or any other top colleges like fms,mdi if i get 99.5+ percentile in CAT?
firstly reply for iim a,b,c,l than for other colleges.

Akshita Agarwal

Hi Mohit, It seems that you will have to score 99.5+ to possibly get calls from B, L, and K and maybe a 99.8+ for A and C. I cannot comment for FMS, MDI. Indore seems difficult as they weigh 10th and 12th scores a lot higher than other metrics.

Akshita Agarwal

I’m not sure if I understand your question. Are you asking if there’s any old-IIM that doesn’t weigh past academic record? That’s not so – each IIM weighs acads and work-ex. The difference lies in weightage. For that, you should refer to specific institute’s website because they change weights for these metrics each year.

Akshita Agarwal

Hi Mohit, It seems that you will have to score 99.5+ to possibly get calls from B, L, and K and maybe a 99.8+ for A and C. I cannot comment for FMS, MDI. Indore seems difficult as they weigh 10th and 12th scores much higher than other metrics.


Hi Akshita, My 10th, 12th and BCA score are 83%, 79% and 8 CGPA. I have work expo of 1.6 years. Will I make it to any of the BLACKIS? Should I even consider giving CAT with these average scores?


Hey. Thanks for sharing your ideas. Coincidentally, I share the step 1 with you. And it’s almost August now. Do I stand a chance now? With respect to preparations, I am done with quants basics, little with RC practice and same with DI LR.
Also, can you specifically name the book that helped you with getting better at RCs?


Will it be a good preparation strategy if one studies or does the following :

1.QA section – (Mon and Tues) from only TIME QA material and nothing else ,solve all the problems in the TIME QA material and nothing else,solve the problems of AIMCAT 2017 mocks. Analysis of mocks.

2.LR and DI :(Wed and Thurs) from only TIME LR and DI material and nothing else,solve all the problems in the TIME LR and DI material and nothing else.,solve the problems of AIMCAT 2017 mocks.( Focussing mainly on AIMCAT mock questions-solving and resolving the same ).Analysis of mocks

3.VA and RC :(Fri and Sat)-from only TIME VA and RC material and nothing else,solve all the problems in the TIME VA and RC material and nothing else.,solve the problems of AIMCAT 2017 mocks.( Focussing mainly on AIMCAT mock questions-solving and resolving the same ).Analysis of mocks.

Sunday: 3hrs for each section.

Finish the syllabus and problems solving part by September 2017 and revise In Oct and November.Join another test series IMS or CL by mid Sept 2017.(already enrolled for AIMCAT)

4.HINDU newspaper for 1.5 hr/day and 20 words per day.

5.Regular TIME sectional tests.

Please suggest if anything has to be added or has to be removed from the above plan( as only 4months are left out and it’s only I recently started solving TIME materialso very less practice under my belt)

Satvik Malhotra

Hey Akshita!
How did you use your GMAT material for Verbal section? If you can elaborate this then it will be really useful for me.
However,Thanks in advance.

Anupam Shaw

Hi Akshita
As u said, tht u realized tht ur varc was the reason of not getting 99+. And gmat book helped u in getting tht. I wanna know the section under varc which helped u through gmat book.