Aanchal is a final year student at Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, University of Delhi pursuing a Bachelor of Management Studies (BMS) with a specialisation in Finance. In this article, she lays out her detailed preparation strategy that helped her achieve 99.77%ile in CAT 2020 and subsequently helped her crack the Holy Trinity as a fresher.
Hi Aanchal, please give us a brief of your profile.
Class Xth: 10 CGPA | Class XIIth: 97.2% | Graduation: 9.5 CGPA
Converts: IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore, IIM Calcutta, FMS, XLRI Jamshedpur
How did you prepare – Self-study or Coaching? Which one do you think is better?
I took CAT coaching from T.I.M.E. I started in January 2020 and devoted almost 10 months to CAT preparation. Even though coaching helps you in covering the syllabus in a well-structured manner, just attending classes may not help you reach that extra mile. The additional hours of self-study that you put in after those coaching classes is what creates the major difference. Practising from the study material beyond what is covered in classes helps reinforce the concepts in a better manner. Thus, a combination of the two is what I’ll suggest!
How much time did you devote to preparation on a regular basis?
The number of hours you spend each day for CAT preparation does not really matter. Nobody is rewarding or penalising you for the pace at which you learn. Just be aware of your strengths and weaknesses and you’ll know the amount of effort you need to put in. Additionally, what matters more is not the number of questions that you practice but the ones that you understand conceptually. So, count the number of new concepts and techniques that you learn and not the number of questions that you practice. You will not get the exact same questions in CAT; it is your conceptual understanding that will come to your service.
Which mock series did you enrol for? How many full-length mock tests did you take?
Being a T.I.M.E student, I had access to the AIMCAT and SAMCAT mock series of the coaching institute. Additionally, I enrolled for the test series of Career Launcher and also appeared for past year CAT papers. In totality, I took around 60 mocks.
Is one mock series sufficient or do you suggest a combination of 2 different mock series?
I strongly recommend taking a combination of 2 test series. You get a better mix of questions and exposure to different paper structures with varying levels of difficulty. The solutions given by different institutes may also differ and you might get alternate approaches for some questions. You’ll also not be used to just one type of user interface.
What is the right time to take the first mock?
I took my first mock in the very first month of my preparation. Do not wait till you complete your syllabus. CAT is not about knowing everything, and thus mocks are not just for testing how much you know but also for developing crucial test-taking skills like the selection of the right questions, time management and pressure handling.
According to you, what is the most important aspect of preparation?
Mocks and in-depth analysis of each of those have definitely played a significant role in my preparation. Mocks help you identify your strong and weak areas. In addition, you also get to improve on your time management skills. Try to appear for all the mocks in a simulated environment. Let each mock feel like the actual CAT exam. It will also help you get used to the exam day pressure. Most importantly, if you are spending 2 hours on a mock, make sure you devote at least 3-4 hours to analysing the same. You can also keep a track of your performance by maintaining an excel, it helps you get a better idea about your improvement in each section.
Check Out → "Your Target Should Be For 100 Percentile." CAT Prep Strategies By CAT 2020 99.45%iler - Parth Chavda, IIM B'23
How did you go about analysing mock tests?
A short checklist that might help you in your mock analysis:
(Please note that this is not an exhaustive list)
- For the correct answers, try to find alternate and better methods of solving
- For the incorrect answers, try solving the question on your own again to know if the mistake was due to the ticking of the timer or some conceptual error.
- For the unattempted ones, try solving on your own before looking at the solution. If you’re able to, find the reason for leaving it during the mock. If not, learn it as a new concept and practice 3 more similar questions.
- Analyse the time spent on each question, correct or incorrect.
- Identify the weak areas, make a note of all those topics and then practice those from the study material
- Analyse your decision making in terms of the choice of questions. CAT does not give extra marks for time-consuming questions. If you left 2 easy questions just for that 1 time consuming one, you need to work on your selection strategy.
- Check the accuracy and number of attempts for each section
If one is already appearing for mocks, how important do sectional tests become in the overall preparation?
I appeared for sectional tests in these three cases:
- For experimenting with different strategies in terms of the time given to each question and/or the sequence of attempting the questions. I tried out all the permutations to know what worked best for me.
- Whenever my performance in any section in a mock wasn’t satisfactory, I used to take up sectional tests for that section to work on the problem areas.
- Topic tests after completing any chapter from the book helped me check my level of understanding and comfort with that topic.
Which section were you strong in? What helped you ace that section?
Contrary to popular opinion, QA was my strongest section even though I am a non-engineer. I used a combination of T.I.M.E study material and sectional tests of both T.I.M.E. and CL to prepare for this section. Two prep tips that can help future aspirants ace the QA section are-
- Do the study material twice! In the first round i.e. when you do a topic for the first time, attempt each and every question given in the book. Start with the second round after finishing your syllabus for a complete revision. You can be selective in attempting the questions this time.
- Do not leave any topic! Even if you feel a topic is extremely difficult, you cannot risk leaving it completely. Do the basics at least. There is no specific weightage given to any topic in CAT and the number of questions asked from each topic varies each year.
Which section was your Achilles heel? How did you overcome that?
VARC was this section for me and I experienced the maximum fluctuations in VARC sectional scores among the three sections in mocks. In addition to the study material, sectional tests and topic tests, reading newspapers on a regular basis can be really helpful. This will also help you at a later stage during your interview preparation as you’ll be up to date with the current affairs. You can refer to websites like Aeon and Guardian for reading quality articles. I also used the official GMAT guide for additional practice on RCs.
Also Read→ From 20%ile In Mocks A Month Before CAT To 99.93%ile In CAT 2020 | Kaivalya Shah, IIM Ahmedabad '23
What was your section-wise approach while taking mocks?
While appearing for mocks, I tried different strategies for each section before finalising on my final CAT day test strategy. Try out everything for yourself and see what works the best for you. However, it is very important to be flexible. Even if you feel that a specific approach is working in most cases, there is always a possibility that the actual paper is not in line with your expectations and you may need to alter it accordingly. I have listed down different strategies that I used during my mocks below
- Attempting all RCs first and then moving on to VA
- Starting with VA and then moving on to the RCs
- 2 RCs, followed by VA and then back to the remaining RCs
- Taking a couple of minutes in the beginning for scanning all the sets, selecting the ones that you want to attempt and deciding the order of attempting those
- Immediately starting with the first set. As and when you come across a set, you may choose to solve it if you’re familiar with that type and it does not require a lot of time, you may want to leave it for the end or you may choose to drop a set altogether and move on to the next one.
- Solve the questions in the given order
- Split the section into 2 sub-sections, giving 30 minutes to each
- Split the section into 4/6 sub-sections, giving 10 minutes to each
What'd be your final advice to future aspirants?
The entire journey of CAT prep will be filled with its own ups and downs. It can get overwhelming with bad mock days, days where you will feel low and underconfident. It is okay to take a break, it is okay to feel frustrated but do enjoy the journey and learn with each passing day. Just be confident of your efforts as eventually, each minute of your effort would be worth it. Best wishes to all!
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