The most common phrase, “Don’t panic” is the first thing people might tell you before starting your CAT (Common Admission Test) preparation. As easy as it might sound, the importance attached with the above phrase is huge. More often than not, lack of composure during CAT proves to be the only reason why most of the applicants are not able to cross the final hurdle despite preparing well for the exam. That CAT is the toughest management entrance exam in the country, is a big MYTH. Yes, the preparation that goes towards cracking the CAT is extensive but with the right attitude and strategy, “belling the CAT” is easily achievable. I would like to share a few tips along with some important do’s and dont’s which could be useful for all CAT aspirants in their exciting journey ahead.
Purpose behind attempting CAT – Before you draw out a study plan, there are some important questions which need to be answered. Do I need an MBA at this time of my life? Am I aiming to get into the top B-schools of the country? Should I sacrifice my current job for a two year MBA program? Do not try to brainstorm too much if you are unable to find the answers to the above questions. Maybe you can benefit from asking yourself this very simple question that I asked myself, “Why CAT?”
Coaching classes or Self-preparation – Many CAT aspirants prefer to study on their own as this gives them an opportunity to evaluate themselves. Students who are used to being motivated by others to study, should resort to formal coaching. Well-renowned institutes like T.I.M.E, IMS, Career Launcher, Byju’s and others provide much needed assistance to students throughout their CAT preparation. After the entrance exam, such classes also conduct mock interview and group discussion sessions at their respective institutes. However, coaching is only necessary if you do not have sufficient time and resources to study on your own. For instance, working professionals would find it difficult to prepare for CAT on a regular basis so attending coaching classes on weekends and public holidays would definitely help them get ready for the CAT exam. I used to attend Byju’s classes on weekends as it was close to my house. The subjects were taught pretty well and daily assignments were given to us as part of our homework. Remember, your job isn’t done by attending coaching classes; you have to practice whatever is taught in class without fail.
Don’t rush into too many concepts at once – Once you have decided on your mode of preparation, start analyzing the CAT pattern by going through previous years’ question papers after completing the basics first. Try to understand the importance of each chapter with respect to the final exam. Nobody expects you to be like Virender Sehwag to start hitting from ball one. Instead, focus on revising daily concepts slowly but surely. You should watch how beautifully Rahul Dravid constructs his batting innings to understand exactly what I am talking about.
When you don’t know where you stand – Before starting your actual preparation, you should consider taking a mock CAT to analyze your current strengths and weaknesses. This would help you understand your level making it easier to chalk out a study plan. You can start with full length mock tests followed by sectional tests. Though it is absolutely fine to take the mock test at home, try attempting the exam in a proctored environment to become familiar with the actual CAT exam setting. Please take the mock test seriously for your future preparation and do not try to leave it in between. This is from my own experience that I am telling you that there is every chance you might be easily tempted to respond to the activity happening in your surrounding environment during your mocks. BEWARE!
Section wise or full length study plan – There are 3 sections in CAT, Quantitative Ability (QA), Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning (DILR), Verbal and Reading Comprehension (VRC). Always start with the basic concepts in all the sections. For section 1, important areas such as Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Higher Maths, Mensuration and Geometry need to be worked upon. Pie Charts, Bar Graphs, Data Sufficiency, Graphs, Venn diagram, Sets, Blood Relations, Data Arrangements and Syllogism are some of the key concepts to be covered in 2nd section. Scoring well in the Reading Comprehension section would be really important towards getting a better score on the CAT. Vocabulary, Grammar and Verbal Reasoning also form an important part of English usage in Section 3. Individual attention should be given to every section so that you are thorough with all the concepts before sitting for the final exam. Do not attempt to learn everything at once. Your mind is not a MACHINE so treat it well and take your preparation one day at a time.
Mock test analysis – Analyzing mock tests would help you to understand your strong and weak areas section-wise. Strengthening your strong areas and working on your weak concepts would be the ideal strategy to go about. But please do not bother to waste too much time on either of them. It would serve no purpose to your exam preparation if you feel too confident about your expertise in the stronger sections or get too depressed about your inability to score in the weaker areas. Make a simple plan based on your analysis and follow it thoroughly. Take as many mock tests as possible. By doing this, you would come to know the different types of questions that could come in the actual CAT exam.
Be prepared – The most predictable thing about CAT is its unpredictability. The management has changed the CAT exam pattern twice in the last two years, so be all set for many more such surprises. Such changes in the CAT exam pattern are done NOT to scare you but to make you realize that you need to be ready to overcome unforeseeable circumstances at any given point in time. For instance, when I gave CAT in 2014, the exam pattern underwent a considerable change. The number of questions increased from 60 to 100 and the exam duration went upto 170 minutes from 140 minutes. Since our exam was only 3 months away, it was a bit difficult for us to alter our exam strategy, but we had no other option. That’s how unpredictable the management of CAT is.
Study material – Those applicants who would be depending on coaching classes for exam preparation ideally should stick to the notes provided by their respective institutes. Unnecessary overloading of preparation materials would bog you down by the time you reach the final leg of CAT. Others who are going to study on their own should consider attempting mocks provided by the coaching institutes. You need to pay a premium fee to the class in order to attempt the full length mock tests. Additionally, you can also create accounts on websites such as www.testfunda.com, www.oliveboard.in, and www.pagalguy.com and attempt the free mock tests available for students. And as far as study materials are concerned, books written by R.S Aggarwal and Arun Sharma for quantitative aptitude, verbal, non-verbal and logical reasoning would definitely be an ideal launchpad to kickstart your CAT preparation.
CAT should be a cakewalk for full time students – Most of you are final year graduation students and since a huge weightage is given to your graduation marks in the MBA admission process, it becomes doubly important for you guys to focus on your academics as well as the CAT exam. The entrance exam usually takes place towards the end of November so it gives ample time for final year students to start preparing for CAT from the month of January itself. Devoting 3 hours per day towards CAT preparation on weekdays and attempting mock tests on weekends would be a safe strategy for the first 4-5 months. If you manage to sincerely follow a dedicated study plan, nothing stops you from scoring well on the CAT exam. Do not forget that you have a slight edge over working professionals like us who are a bit pressed for time when it comes to CAT preparation.
Working executives need not worry either – I have to admit that it is pretty tough for working professionals to prepare for CAT as compared to full time students. But as they say, “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” Most working executives would have free time only on weekends so it is very important to devise a strategy to allocate time wisely on weekdays. Two hours before and after work would be perfect to devote towards CAT preparation. This strategy is so fool proof that skipping studies after a hard day’s work would also do no harm as you could make up for lost time by studying for an extra hour in the morning. All this does look taxing for sure, but when you take the road less travelled, you are destined for greatness. There are no two ways about that.
I have attempted the CAT twice, in 2010 and in 2014. Let me reassure you that I am no 100 percentiler. I was unsuccessful in belling the CAT, but I am proud of the efforts that I had put in both my attempts. Despite being a working professional, I managed to make a study plan and dedicate ample amount of time towards my CAT preparation. I believe the only reason I could not conquer the CAT is because I PANICKED at the last stage. My anxiety got the better of me. So it takes us all back to the first and probably the most important line of this article, which I should reiterate. Please “Don’t panic.” CAT is not an exam; it is a journey. Do not get stressed over CAT. Stress is your worst enemy and trust me, you do not want to get bogged down mentally at this point of time. CAT is not about ability, but about self-belief. Don’t try to learn something new on the last day. Instead, hang out with your friends or watch a movie. You wouldn’t want your brain to go AWOL (Absent with out Leave) in the middle of the exam due to lack of rest. Keep your mind fresh one day before the exam. It won’t be easy conquering CAT but give it your best shot so that you don’t have to regret later for not trying hard. Good luck for CAT. Do well!!!
MYRA School of Business