What you’ll be reading now will be a long drawn out text of how I prepared for CAT and scored a 99.91 in my first attempt. I’ll try to touch down on every phase of the preparation and you can pick up from the phase you are currently in. I’ll draw reference from preparation for a match (in any sport) for easy understanding.
How and when do we start?
Every day is a chance to begin again. Don’t focus on the failure of yesterday, start today with positive thoughts and expectations. – Catherine Pulsifer
A year from now you may wish you had started today.
Treat CAT as a game.
1. Know the rules of the game before you step in to play. In this context, know the content to be studied and the exam pattern that you need to face.
2. Know your forte and the chink in your armor i.e. identify your strengths and weaknesses.
3. Play to your strength and work hard on your weaknesses.
4. Devise a strategy to win the game.
5. Improvise your strategy for better results.
Phase 1 – Warm-Up
This phase is about getting ready for the study routine that is to be followed and taking baby steps towards your goal. First, know the content that is to be studied and gather material for the same. Moving on, go through the contents once to get familiar with what you are actually up to. Get into the right headspace before setting off and then make a study plan.
Phase 2 – Practice/Training
Implement your study plan. let’s take this section wise.
VARC – If you don’t have a good reading speed, read an article daily. For a week, just read it to develop a habit of reading for say 10 minutes. Start with topics that you love reading about. For a month, read to make sense of what is being said in the article. Try to understand what the article is talking about as a whole and what was the author’s stance, if any. The last phase of reading is where you pick articles randomly and start midway, maybe from the third paragraph and read out a few paragraphs and then try to make sense of the article as a whole.
This activity will help you not only in increasing your reading speed but also in developing your cognitive ability in the comprehension of texts. Also, reading on various topics will put you in the right frame of mind whenever you encounter a new topic.
Once, you have started making sense of the articles you read, start solving 3–4 RCs daily. Solving at least 3 RCs daily and analyzing the mistakes you make in them will help you in solving RCs accurately.
The Verbal Ability part which usually comprises of ParaJumbles, Odd Man Out, Summary, and a couple of more topics can be tackled by practicing about 5–8 questions daily of various types.
For building your vocabulary (which I don’t feel is of prime importance), you can read the book – Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis.
DILR – This section of the CAT doesn’t need a pre-requisite knowledge of concepts and is the fairest section for all the aspirants. More the better. Practice as many sets as you can. Solving the sets in your material could be a good starting point. Solve sufficient sets from each topic to have a fair idea of the various approaches you can use. Solving around 4–5 sets on a daily basis is a good start. Also, solve the past year DILR questions that appeared in CAT.
Quant – This section requires a decent knowledge of the basics. If you feel your basics aren’t strong, you need to follow a simple plan to get things right.
The Quant section can be divided into five different areas – Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra, Numbers, and Modern Maths.
Pick up one area, say Arithmetic. Pick up one chapter at a time, say Ratio Proportions. Now, go through all the basic concepts, formulae, and a few solved examples. Note down the basic formulae in a separate notebook (this will be very useful in the last lap of preparation).
Once, you are thorough with the basic concepts of the chapter, solve around 50 questions, more or less depending on when you feel comfortable with the chapter. Mark the questions you couldn’t solve or found difficult. Follow this procedure until you cover all the chapters in one area. Once, one area is completed, go through all the formulae you wrote in your notebook and then move to the next area.
Phase 3 – Practice Matches
Start with your mocks in May/June. Do not worry about the syllabus that you have covered. Go in with you have studied and attempt the mock in the best possible way you can. Go in with a strategy to approach the mock. You can start with a different strategy for each section.
For example – Attempting RCs for the first 40 mins and then moving to VA and coming back to RCs if time permits could be a strategy for the VARC section.
Devise one for each section and evaluate yourself.
There is no magic number of mocks that you need to attempt. But ideally, attempting mocks north of 30 helps you in getting comfortable with the exam setting and trying & testing various strategies. But what matters most is the analysis that is done post the mock.
Also, just to improve section-wise, you can appear for a few sectional tests as well. This will help you in concentrating on one section at a time and improving it.
Phase 4 – Learning from your mistakes
This is the most important phase of your preparation. Analyze your mocks critically. Go back to each and every question you couldn’t solve or found difficult to approach. Go through the text/video solutions available to understand the approach and the optimal way to solve the question.
Also, make a note of the mistakes you have committed.
Sharing an example of how I noted down the scores and mistakes of each question in mocks.
Phase 5 – Formation of Winning Strategy
By now, you have spent a lot of time practising different questions, solving sets, reading through RCs, and attempting numerous mocks. Now, it’s time to utilize all your experience, learning, and devise a strategy for the D-Day. It might be so that you have tried various strategies during the mocks and some might have worked well while others failed miserably. The last few mocks are exactly your opportunity to try the strategy you feel works best for you. But, remember, do not go with the preconception that your strategy will yield results. It may not. As in any game, the strategy works only until the expected happens. But as the game progresses, you need to modify your plans to win the game. Similarly, while appearing for CAT or even for the mocks, be flexible enough to change your strategy and plans if things don’t work out.
Any strategy that can help you get the best out of yourself is a winning strategy.
Phase 6 – Match Day
CAT is your matchday. All you need to do is keep calm and give your best. You know yourself the best and you know what you are out there for. So, go out and get what you deserve.
I’ll quote something I heard while preparing and I truly believe in –
“There is only one difference between a 99 percentiler and a non 99 percentiler.
A 99 percentiler knows he’ll get a 99 while a non 99 percentiler wants to get a 99.”
You may want to check Ankit Desai's CAT preparation journey here!