‘I Am An Engineer And I Am Better At Verbal Than Quant’ – Shyam Ramakrishnan – IIM Shillong

Shyam Ramakrishnan is currently pursuing PGDM from IIM Shillong and is a Mechanical Engineer from Mumbai University. And he is passionate about literature and sports.


How was your experience of CAT, since the pattern changed, calculator was introduced?

Having started my preparations early, the host of changes introduced in the exam pattern meant that all my strategies and plans had to be discarded. The earlier pattern meant that examinees could shift between sections at any point in time, thus leveraging their strengths in a particular section, while obtaining the perceived minimum cut-offs in the comparatively weaker sections. In the new pattern, fixed time allotted to each section meant that the strategy could not be practised. However, this ended up being a blessing in disguise as it ensured I put in enough efforts for all three sections. Also, the calculator did make problems with heavy calculations much easier. However, a word of caution is to not spend too much time calculating precise values when comparative observations could solve the problem much quickly.


What made you pursue MBA, and why IIM and not any other top B-School?

I decided to pursue management education when I was in the third year of my engineering. At the time, it was the path that was most aligned with my career goals and personality in general. An MBA would further help me hone my leadership skills and thus provide me with a well-rounded education before I embark upon a professional career. The advantage of being an IIM graduate, other than the much-bandied-about “brand value”, is the diverse set of experiences one gets to interact with. A typical IIM has students from every part of the country, bringing in their own varied perspectives. Also, the practice of offering general management courses, rather than restricting students to a particular domain right from the beginning, is also rewarding as the students are able to gather insights across domains. Thus, they are in a much better position to make informed choices about careers.


When did you start preparing for CAT? And did you change your preparation strategy after the announcement of the pattern change or you followed the same routine?

I started my preparations early, beginning in April 2015, about 8 months before the exam. Considering that most mock test series for CAT began by the end of May/in June, it gave me adequate time to start brushing up on the concepts. When the pattern changes were announced by the end of July, I was into two months of taking mock tests. Thus, with the changes, it meant that I had to tweak my methods to get comfortable with the new pattern.


What was your strong/weak section and what was your overall test taking strategy?

Despite there being the stereotype that engineers are comfortable with the Quant section, and not so much with VA, it was the other way round for me. Having always been an avid reader, I found that the VA section was where I often scored the most. On the other hand in spite of knowing most concepts in the Quant section, it occurred to me that I wasn’t quick enough in solving problems in that section. Thus, CAT being a test of time management ability more than anything else, I decided to attempt as much VA questions as possible, thereby getting the maximum out of my strengths.

What was your strategy for individual sections?

The Quant section, as mentioned above, was something I was not comfortable with. Solving quant problems consumed a lot of time for me and often I ended up having not answered enough questions. Thus, being a section that I was comparatively weaker in, I ended up putting a lot more effort for this section than any other. During the exam, I made sure that I solved the questions that felt easier and more comfortable first, thereby ensuring I could at least pass the sectional cut-off.

The Verbal section was one that I was rather comfortable with. But I ensured that I was constantly in touch with various kinds of questions in this section so as to ensure that my scores didn’t decline. Also, this section being a strong point for me, I ensured a maximum number of attempts in order to increase my overall score.

A major chunk of the VA section is taken up by Reading Comprehension and is essential to crack the examination. It is important not to waste too much time processing the passage given. The strategy I employed was to read the questions first so as to have a basic idea of what I needed to extract from the passage. It is necessary to read and process things quickly in this section. Hence, I would recommend making reading a daily habit in order to be comfortable in this section.

The next section is Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning. More often than not, the section is divided equally between DI and LR. In this section, I was more comfortable with LR than with DI. So I ensured that I solved all the LR sets first and then took up DI. The DI sets are often the more time-consuming problems, so it is essential to get not stuck up with one.

What do you think you did right during test prep? Did your educational background help you during test prep? Did it help you in subsequent rounds (WAT-GD-PI)?

The one thing that worked well for me was that I started early. That way, I could plan the whole journey well in advance and avoid last-minute worries. Also, I cannot stress enough on the importance of taking test series. Although my scores were not always satisfactory, it exposed me to various kinds of questions that could possibly be there in CAT and also helped to work on my weaker areas. My engineering background did help me a bit in tackling the DI-LR and Quant sections, but its relevance in further rounds (WAT-PI) were minimal.


What was your test prep strategy over the few months leading to CAT? (Last 3 months, last month, last 15 days). Was it a test series inclined one or a chapter by chapter strategy?

The last three months of my CAT preparation included taking as many mock tests as I could. It meant that, by the time I appeared for the CAT exam, I was pretty comfortable with the format. Rather than taking a chapter-by-chapter approach, I felt that taking tests that covered all the topics would give an experience that would be much closer to the actual CAT examination. However, what is also essential is that each test should be analysed the same day a test is taken, so as to identify the weak spots and work on them.

What was your strategy for the D-Day and what do you think you executed the Best on the D- Day?
All the efforts put in preparation, all the hours spent on mock tests essentially boils down to your performance on the D-Day. Thus, it is imperative to be in the correct frame of mind while taking the examination. I resolved not to glance at any preparatory material on the exam day. I was also helped by the fact that I didn’t get any time to do so as I had my exam in the morning slot. It was also ideal that I reached the centre before the reporting time, which gave me time to settle. Thus, all these factors helped me walk into the examination room with a clear mind and perform to the best of my abilities.


What resources you used to refer while preparing for the essay writing? 

In essay writing, the topics could be either on contemporary issues or an abstract one. For the first type, it is necessary to be well-read on various pertinent issues relevant to the time. It would help to bring in various dimensions to the topic and hence make the exercise much simpler. When the topic given is an abstract one, the criteria being judged is creativity and it helps to be as outside the box as possible.

How was the interview experience like? What was your preparation strategy and how did the interview turn out to be?

The most basic prerequisite to have before an interview is to know everything about yourself. That way, it is easier to lead the interview to areas that you’re comfortable with. It is also necessary to have a valid reason as to why you’re opting for an MBA, and it needs to be consistent with your goals and ambitions in life. My preparation for the interview entailed a lot of introspection. Having had no formal work experience, my interview revolved largely around my educational background i.e. Mechanical engineering. Thus, it is advisable to brush up on topics related to graduation, especially for freshers. There were also a few questions on my stated interests and hobbies. The whole process went rather smoothly and the overall experience was fairly good.