How to Approach CAT ?
It's that time of the year again when the CAT fever is at its highest and everyone is rushing to practise as many mock exams as they can and read as many books as they can! Let's take a step back and think about what it really takes to master this exam. There are certain managerial skills that most business schools today look for and I believe that it is these that CAT is really testing.
The first is that of time management. How do you achieve the cut offs of each section to prove that you know how to deliver results in a restricted time span. This is critical for professional success - can you imagine going up to your CEO and saying sorry there was too little time to prepare for the board meeting and I have not been able to prepare the report?! The way to perfect this art is to revise each mock exam that you take after you finished it. Go through it carefully and see what you could have left out, what you should have attempted and how you could have improved your accuracy. Additionally, during the exam, remember that the trick to beat time is to stop fighting your ego. Accept that it's ok to not know some questions - the idea is to be able find the questions that you do know and max those.
This also tests your skill in quick decision making - which is what you will be doing for most of your time as managers anyway. Quick decision making based on limited knowledge and available facts. The ability to read through quickly and find those questions that you know you can do accurately; then discover the ones that will take you the least time to attempt with the highest possible chance of getting them right; also having the good sense to leave out the ones that you may get wrong: All this is a test of the finest skill in management - quick decision making for best results.
So they are looking hard for people who already have what it takes to be a successful manager. And one of the biggest factors there is Hard Work. Those of you who have read Outliers will remember the theory that successful people have done that activity repeatedly for many more hours than those who come 2nd. Be it Bill Gates at a computer, Sachin Tendulkar with a bat or Vishwanathan Anand at a chess board - they have been at it with a rigour and passion that's second to none! So needless to say, start practising as many tests as you can.
You would observe all around you however, that slowly business schools are also opening up to the reality of going beyond these managerial skills to skills that make one a leader. The empathy to really understand people - be it your team or your clients, the willingness to embrace diversity and work for inclusiveness, the integrity to stand by what you believe in and help others move towards it, the ability to work for the greater good in the long run. All this is tough to measure by this exam alone and business schools need to consider other alternatives to ensure that they are giving the world leaders who have a balance between their head and their heart and can go out there and make a difference.
An exam such as the Caliper would tell you about the student's potential as a manager (time management, decision making, people skills) and it would also tell you more about their ability to influence people. A balanced viewpoint through a combination of these tests, could enable schools to select the right candidates, rather than using exams only as an elimination criteria.
So even as you approach the CAT with the right combination of skills and attitude, look around you at how the world is changing in its expectations from leaders and adapt yourself to the need of the hour.
Alumnus, IIM Bangalore
AVP, School of Inspired Leadership