How did you prepare – Self-study or Coaching? Which one do you think is better?
It's a subjective question. I have tried both of these strategies, so I may be better positioned to answer this question.
If your coaching batch has like-minded people (A separate batch for your college as an example), then coaching may yield fruitful results. Because the instructor will have an idea about your strengths and weaknesses, and he may assist you in those areas. You won't waste your time solving unnecessary things.
On the other hand, if your batch size is too huge and you are not getting any personal attention, this kind of coaching is similar to self-study. The instructor may start from an elementary level, and you may end up wasting that precious time.
Most of the CAT's concepts are at an elementary level, so one may survive using a self-study strategy and subscribing to good quality mocks.
According to you, what is the most important aspect of preparation?
CAT does not test one's memory; it tests aptitude. Aptitude lies in your inner cognitive brain. To develop a good aptitude, you need to cultivate a good habit. Daily, give some amount of your time towards CAT prep on a fixed schedule. Never cheat on your planned schedule. After 6 months, CAT will become your habit, and you will be able to solve the paper even if someone wakes you up in the middle of the night.
Another important aspect is, you need to pick the right easy questions. Out of 100 odd questions, one needs to pick 40-50 easy questions to get a good percentile. I will list out some steps to ace this skill; in this example, I have considered the quant section:
1. Scan the whole question in around 10-15 seconds.
2. Give a rating to the question. If it seems easy - 6 points, medium - 4 points, hard - 2 points, unsolvable - 0 points. Previously solved a similar kind of question - add two more points.
3. If your final rating is >= 6, then go and solve directly. If the rating is >= 4, then mark it and leave for the end.
Another important thing I would like to note is you should never attach yourself to a particular question for too long. If you have been solving a DILR set for the past 10 minutes and you are nowhere close to the final answer, then there is no harm in leaving that question.
These skills come with practice, and you need to solve a good amount of mocks before your D-Day.
Which mock series did you enrol for?
I enrolled myself for TIME and IMS mocks. Also, I would like to list the features of these mocks which I personally feel, so that future aspirants may make an informed decision:
TIME AimCAT: Level of difficulty a bit higher than actual CAT, good competition.
IMS SimCAT: Level of difficulty similar to actual CAT, good competition.
CL's mocks: Level of difficulty similar to actual CAT, element of surprise.
How many full-length mock tests did you take?
I wrote around 50 full length mocks.
How many sectional mock tests did you take?
I could not attempt that many sectionals. I took around 20 Basics, 15 Intermediate, 5 Difficult.
What was your approach while taking mocks?
In mocks, try out all different strategies. Some day try VA first, someday RC, someday a mixture and check which strategy works best for you. Have a proper exam setup. Don't give mocks on the bed and complete the full mock in one go. Create an environment like your D-Day.
Analysis of the mock is the most important thing. For a 2 hour mock, I used to give around 6 hours for its analysis. Solve all the questions again, try to think of arriving at the answers using other methods. In RC, try to counter the logic given. Discuss your mocks with your preparation buddies; those healthy discussions will really help you a lot.
I also used to maintain an excel sheet to record my detailed performance; you can plot some charts using your own data to monitor your performance. Never look at your absolute score; always focus on the growth of your performance. If someone wants to try my Excel mock template, he or she can access using this link.
Also Read→ How To Analyse A Mock Test
How do you think the mock tests helped you in your preparation?
Mock tests simulate the actual exam scenario, and by various combinations of difficulty level, it prepares you for the worst. It makes you emotionally stronger as well. You may have ups and downs but never lose your momentum.
Which section were you strong in? Since you were strong in that section, how did you focus on the other sections?
I was strong at DILR. Since I had a good amount of proficiency in that section, I could complete basics in a short amount of span and spent most of the time solving actual sets of DILR from past year mocks.
Which section was your Achilles heel? How did you overcome that?
VARC was a nightmare for me. I scored in a single digit in this section in my first mock. I talked to many seniors to find the right strategy and started developing a reading habit. I used to read daily for at least 1 hour on diverse topics like Science, History, Philosophy, etc. I would suggest reading from boring topics as in the CAT RC. There won't be any story to lift your mood. Instead of just reading, I focused on retention power and developed my critical reasoning skills. After months and months of preparation, I could see a growth in my scores.
How much time did you devote to preparation on a regular basis?
I spent around 20 hours per week on my preparation. The allocation may vary from person to person. Working professionals may give extra time during weekends.
Tell us about the lowest point in your preparation journey, and how did you overcome that?
In the October month of my preparation, my mock scores were dripping down. Even in one of the mocks, I scored around 20 percentile. That thing made me nervous. I took some time to recover and found out the root cause. I was taking too much risk in some questions, which were costing me a lot of negatives. Again a shift in strategy and by accelerating my prep, I could streamline my performance.
You May Also Be Interested In Reading → From 55%ile In Mocks 3 Weeks Before CAT To 99.45%ile In CAT 2019 | Shirin Nizar, FMS '22
What resources would you suggest to 2021 aspirants?
For Verbal, focus more on developing reading habit than solving more no. of RCs in the preparation phase. Read more from the areas which are not to your liking. Aeon blogs are a good read.
For DILR, solve actual sets from past year mocks of different coaching institutes.
For Quants, solve a variety of questions of different difficulty levels. Focus more on getting basics done, also revise regularly. TIME booklets contain good questions.
What, according to you, are the DO's and DON'Ts of CAT preparation?
Discipline, Persistence is key. Have a calm mind during preparation. If you feel exhausted, it's okay to take a break on that day. Don't accelerate your preparation too much that you feel burnout at a later stage. Make yourself emotionally stronger. Even if you have a bad section in an exam, your other section should always have a fresh start with a positive approach. Never carry the impression of one section on another. If you feel the paper is tough for you, then it will be tough for all. On a percentile system, you will still win the game. Don't go behind external motivations to fuel your CAT preparation. Find the inner motivation. If you give your CAT using the right approach, you are strongly going to ace it!
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 would suggest using two different mock series to get a variety of questions and healthy competition.
What would be your final advice to CAT 2021 Aspirants?
Most of the aspirants feel that CAT is an end game. Never forget that you are not a CAT aspirant. You are an MBA aspirant. CAT is just a shortlisting phase. Your overall knowledge, business acumen, personality, skills, the profile will matter a lot in the end. Start to get accustomed to business terminology, read business newspapers/magazines. Do online courses of your liking. These small things will drive your interview and help you get into one of your dream B-schools.