I have always been a huge fan of the InsideIIM portal as it has often proved extremely useful in giving me fresh insights into the world of b-schools. However, the limited time I have spent on various CAT prep portals and the manner in which the discussions and comments are portrayed had, at one point of time, made me believe that those who were fortunate enough to have made it to the top b-schools in the country are nothing less than demigods while the rest of us are mere mortals who aspire to but are seldom able to attain said demigod status. I am here to tell you that top b-schools are not a distant dream but an attainable reality and that the right attitude and technique can at the very least, I hope, get you a foot in the door.

I will begin by telling you why I am qualified to speak on this matter. I graduated with a B.Tech degree from a state government college and immediately joined what is supposedly the best IIM for the postgraduate program (PGP). At IIM, I interned in a highly coveted marketing role and was placed at one of the best (MBB) strategy consulting firms. As far as my CAT credentials go, I was an engineer by qualification but scored more like a non-engineer. I scored a 99.6 overall with a 99+ in VARC, 98+ in quant and 96+ in DILR. Although I was a ‘GEM’, great past acads ensured that I got all the calls at 99.6 but hey, scoring more than 99.5 is dependent to no small extent on your luck the day of the exam.

My credibility, hopefully, being established, I wish to share with you fine folks my two cents worth on preparing for the CAT.

One – Never look at the odds

‘Odds’ are perhaps the single most discouraging statistic one can look at before starting preparation.

Two – Believe you can and you are halfway there

I have always believed that you can achieve whatever goal you ‘think’ you can achieve. I find that an easy way to make yourself believe you can is to meet and talk to people who have been where you want to go. This serves two objectives: you get the inside scoop and secondly, you now have a face to a once unattainable target. When I began my IIM journey, I met an IIM Ahmedabad student and when I realised that the two us were extremely similar in our love for binge-watching television shows and chilling the f**k out listening to obscure artists, I instantly began to believe that if this SOB can make it, then so can I and that has made all the difference!

Now that we have gone through the two principles that I believe are fundamental to success, let’s get down to brass tacks – Preparing for the CAT.

Contrary to popular opinion, the CAT is not a test of intelligence but of diligence. In my humble opinion, the easiest way to ace the CAT is not to be exceptional in two sections but to be above average in all the three.

A few pointers to bear in mind while preparing to ace the exam:

  • Prepare one section at a time until you feel you are doing reasonably well in it and then and only then start preparing for another section. The reason I tell you to prepare one section at a time is that there is a learning curve and the benefits of preparation only accrue when you spend a lot of time on a section continuously. Of course, once you have attained mastery, it takes little practice to retain that level of skill.
  • Forget the sectional tests, focus only on full-length mocks. It is okay if you are doing badly overall as long as you are doing better in the section you are practising now.
  • The frequency of giving mocks: One a week from July to October. Two a week until two weeks before the CAT and none in the weeks immediately preceding the CAT for a bad mock score at this time can spell disaster for your confidence and by extension your chances. Spend this time in reviewing every mock you have ever given.
  • Keeping track of performance: If you are in the top 500 ranks overall in the mocks by September and manage to be in the top 200 ranks in your October mocks, you are set to score 99.5+ overall assuming ceteris paribus. Also if you are able to score over 75 percentile in a section in the mocks you will most probably clear the sectional cut-off.

Preparing for Verbal: If verbal is not one’s strong suit, the GMAT official guide and the Manhattan series for GMAT verbal are the only keys to salvation.

Preparing for Quant: For the mere mortals like me not blessed with ‘calculator brains’, your goal is to be able to solve 30-34 questions in the CAT and hope to get 25+ correct. While I have never been a champion of rote learning, I have to unabashedly admit that it was rote learning that got me a 98+ percentile in quant. As I began giving the mocks I soon realised that nearly 80% of the questions were the same in all the mocks with just the numbers changed. Once I stumbled upon this discovery, I did what I think any rational person would have done, I made a key and memorised the method to solve these 80% questions. I realised that this helped me save time as I was able to now attempt between 20-25 questions in half an hour and whatever I could do in the remaining thirty minutes was a bonus. A good place to start preparing for quant is to get your hands on TIME’s three books titled ‘Basic Quant Material’. Solve these three books cover to cover and ensure that you have committed to memory the method to solve every question in this book. When you see a question in the mock and are immediately able to say “Oh this is like the one in Book 2 Chapter 3 Question 5” you know your quant prep is complete. Also after giving every mock, ensure that you memorise how to solve every problem that was there in it before going on to give the next mock.

Preparing for DILR: This is pretty much the same as preparing for quant except a good place to start is to memorise every DILR set in the ‘paper and pen’ version of the CAT and then memorise every DILR set that you come across in the mocks.  Again, after giving every mock, ensure that you memorise how to solve every problem that was there in it before going on to give the next mock.

I sincerely hope that you find this article useful in your preparation. If you do not, leave behind your thoughts in the comments and I’ll try writing a follow-up.

*The author wishes to be anonymous.




Arundhati Mukherjee

You have suggested the aspirants to memorize every type of QA question they encounter during their preparation phase & go ahead with the same treatment for every DILR set too as is evident from your write up above . But can you please provide us with a strategy to memorize them effectively ,i.e., I mean to say can the things be memorized after five to six times of practice or is there still a chance for them to get slipped of one’s mind even after such effort & if that is the case , provide us with a more efficient technique if it exists at all .