Cracking CAT in 4 Months : How a Fresher Got into IIM A and IIM C
I’m doing my final year of engineering [B.Tech(Information Technology)] at a reputed private engineering college in India. I currently maintain a cumulative Grade Point Average of 9.01/10. On a relative scale, that would put me in the top 10% of my class. I’ve been preparing for CAT 2014 for around 4 months on and off [July ’14 – Nov ‘14]. During that time, I had college every day for around 4 hours. So, this is written in mind keeping those restrictions. I apologize in advance for the length of the post.
Using this test prep methodology, I was able to score a respectable 99.91 percentile in CAT 2014 with admits to IIM Ahmedabad and Calcutta (Interview Experiences written separately). It’s helped me greatly and I hope it will be of some help to you.
(Original Title of this Post – Cracking CAT (in 4 Months) – A Comprehensive Fresher’s Perspective)
CAT BOOKS & TEST MATERIAL USED
- Quantitative Aptitude for the CAT, 5th Edition – Arun Sharma
- Logical Reasoning for the CAT, 1st Edition – Arun Sharma
- Data Interpretation for the CAT, 1st Edition – Arun Sharma
- Set of 12 IMS MaxPrep Theoretica books (Algebra, Arithmetic, Data Interpretation, Data Sufficiency, Geometry, Grammar, Logical Reasoning, Modern Math, Numbers, Reading Comprehension, Verbal Reasoning, Vocabulary & Usage)
- IMS CAT 500 Must Solve Questions
- Set of 15 SimCAT Tests (7 in the old format of 30 questions per section and 8 in the new one of 50 questions per section)
- Word Power Made Easy – Norman Lewis
TEST PREP OUTLINE
I followed a three-pronged approach to prep.
Step 1: Syllabus Familiarity
Step 2: Deeper Understanding
Step 3: Mock Tests & Mistake Analysis
STEP 1: SYLLABUS FAMILIARITY – ~48 DAYS (4TH JUL ’14 – 22ND AUG ’14)
First, I read through the theory and attempted all the LOD-I and II questions from the 3 Arun Sharma books (in the order of Quant, LR and then DI), leaving aside block tests and model papers. When I was done with them, I did questions from the IMS books. The emphasis here was on solving the question irrespective of the time limit. After solving the questions, I’d go through the hints at the back to identify better ways to solve the question (Both the IMS and the Arun Sharma books had excellent explanations).
I’d also mark the questions that were either very interesting (i.e. difficult to crack) or that I got wrong and categorize them along the lines of Calculation Error, Conceptual Misunderstanding and Unknown Question Type. I saved these on an Excel doc, which I referred to a later stage.
This was also the period when I went through the Norman Lewis book cover to cover to brush up on verbal ability questions. (It didn’t turn up on the CAT this year, but you never know about the next)
On average, I’d spend about 3 minutes per question (1.5 to solve it and 1.5 on analysis) and do around 100-150 questions per day. That equated to about 3-4 hours every day, and a little more than that on weekends.
STEP 2: DEEPER UNDERSTANDING – ~30 DAYS (29TH AUG’14 – 27TH SEP ’14)
Do you remember the questions you did yesterday? How about last week? What about last month? Or have you had this feeling where you encounter a question you’ve solved before, but you get it wrong even though you know that you know how to solve it?
I can’t stress enough the importance of this period. I think it’s the difference between an average score and an extraordinary score. In this stage, I chose to focus my preparation chapter-wise to make sure that I was confident I could solve questions in that particular area. I re-did only the LOD-II questions from the Arun Sharma books and all the questions from the IMS books, following the same system of marking questions that I got wrong or were very interesting.
Even though I was doing the same set of questions again, it helped strengthen my fundamentals like nothing else could. It also gave me an insight as to whether I had really learnt from my mistakes or not. I suggest doing questions in the reverse order (i.e., from 50-1, if you started from 1-50) if you’re worried you might remember the answers to the question.
As I had to take time off to take college exams and assignment submissions, I’d spend longer hours on the days that I did manage to prep, averaging around 4-5 hours per day and a little more than that on weekends.
STEP 3: MISTAKE ANALYSIS & MOCK TESTS – ~35 DAYS [3RD OCT ’14-10TH OCT ‘14, 25TH OCT ‘14- 21ST NOV ‘14]
At this point, I’d reached a reasonable level of familiarity with all the formulae (I’d write down the important formulae in each chapter separately on a plain sheet for a quick reference). Mistake analysis, like I briefly mentioned in Step 1, is noting down what questions were troubling me – categorized into Calculation Error, Conceptual Misunderstanding and Unknown Question Type – and then working only on those problem areas.
The key here is figuring out what mistakes can be corrected and which ones can be ignored. Calculation Errors are the easiest to resolve. Once you redo the question, you’ll know for sure whether you’re likely to make that mistake again or not and can avoid it. Conceptual misunderstandings are those questions where you might know the formula, but have applied it wrong. So, to fix it, I’d read the theory again to make sure there were no mistakes in my understanding.
Unknown Questions Types are those questions where you simply have no idea how to solve the question. This happened to me a lot in Geometry. After calculating whether I had enough time to re-learn the concepts (I didn’t), I had to decide whether to let it go or pursue it (I chose to skip Geometry because the time it took for me to solve the question wasn’t viable). This was also the time where I chose to focus on Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (to compensate for forgoing Geometry).
After that, all my test prep was concentrated on mock tests. While these tests happen at regular intervals, I chose to take them all at once at the end of my prep because a) If I was still preparing, by definition, I wouldn’t be fully prepared to take the test and hence, I wouldn’t be performing optimally, and b) Taking all the tests put me into a test-taking mode, focusing on speed, efficiency and stamina (It’s a 3 hour test with no breaks), making the actual CAT a wholly familiar experience.
As I had to write my end semester exams during this period, I took tests every alternate day so as to make sure I could balance both academics and CAT prep. The downside to writing the tests late is that you don’t get a national percentile. But, I was okay with that and benchmarked my score with those of the top 10 scores in the IMS Leaderboard (The logic behind this was that if I wanted to crack the CAT well enough to receive a call from the old IIMs, I’d need to be in the top 10 of the IMS SimCAT scorers so that I could then realistically hope to be in the top 100-200 of the overall scorers).
As with preparation questions, I’d make a note of the questions I got wrong or didn’t attempt in an Excel doc while analyzing why I didn’t get those questions right. Tests took around 3 hours and the analysis took me around 1-1.5 hours.
ACTUAL TEST DAY
The examination center was reasonably clean and the lab was very well maintained. The test taking software and process was very smooth. I chose to start with Verbal and move to Quant when I was done. Like I mentioned earlier, I skipped all the Geometry questions, leaving me with around 17 minutes to revise my answers. I ended up attempting around 40 questions out of 50 in each section.
7 SIMPLE THINGS TO REMEMBER
- Find yourself a good mentor – someone who knows you and is available to clarify doubts. I had two brilliant seniors I’d worked with in the past, who made it to IIM-B and IIM-C. So, I was comfortable with their methods and I knew what I could trust them to give me answers that would suit my way of learning.
- Focus on Verbal – Once you’ve got your Quants stabilized,A good score in this section serves as a great boost to your overall score.
- Pay attention to DI and LR – These two sub-sections with 16 questions each are often ignored during prep. DON’T DO THAT. Given that both these sections require no prior knowledge except basic Arithmetic and Common Sense, working on improving your speed and accuracy in these two topics could help you crack 1/3rd of the paper. With ease.
- Sign up for a mock CAT series and a test material package – They’re priceless.
- Stay motivated – You’re going to need to keep the momentum going at times when giving up seems like the easier option. But, the rewards of sticking to it are priceless. I used to keep a stack of all the rough sheets I used during calculation lined up on my desk. That way, every time I looked at it, I could remember how hard I’d worked so far and how I needed to keep going on.
- Read books – I haven’t specifically covered Verbal, but if I were to recommend one thing, it would be to read books. That way, even when you’re taking a break, you’re preparing. I enjoyed reading the books of Jeffrey Archer, Dan Brown and Sidney Sheldon during prep. At least one book a week.
- Learn to unwind – If you look at numbers all day, you’re going to have to find ways to relax. You’ll notice there are huge gaps in between my prep. I used this time to go on vacation, celebrate Diwali, hang out with friends, watch football, etc. etc.
I’m sorry for the incredibly long post. I wish you the very best of luck for your preparation. I know you can do it. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.