‘I Made Up For Low Attempts With High Accuracy’ – An Arts Student’s Journey To IIM Ahmedabad

I’ve always believed in following my convictions and drowning out the noise around me – it began when I decided to pursue Arts despite getting a 93% in my SSC exams. To everyone around me, Science and Commerce were the only viable options. But luckily for me, my parents supported my interest in subjects like Psychology and Sociology.

In 2009, I started my first year at St. Xavier’s College as a Standard 11 or FYJC student. If I was going to pursue Humanities, I wanted to make sure that it was from one of the best colleges in the country. Pursuing Arts meant that I let go of Mathematics altogether once college started. Numbers had been relegated to a part of my mind I almost never used, and that didn’t seem to come in my way. I even topped the HSC Board in Psychology and my subject combination in my final year.

Cut to 2015. Post my 2.5-year stint with Marketing and Sales at a humour based start-up (laughguru.com), I decided that an MBA in Marketing was the way forward. I began the first day of 2016 at CAT coaching class. I remember distinctly that we were covering Number Systems. The professor was explaining something about factorials, when in a class full of engineers and CAs I raised my hand and said, “Sir, could you please explain what a factorial is?” I knew better than to turn around and see the look on people’s faces, so I looked nervously ahead. Post class, I began thinking of alternatives to an MBA, because how could someone who didn’t know that 0 factorial is 1, crack the CAT in a hundred years?

But here’s how:

After a few classes, I realised that I didn’t want to be defined by my weakness. I had a strength too – Verbal. So I decided two things: I would work endlessly on my quant, and capitalise my verbal instead of taking it for granted. June onward, I began Quant from the very basics (Level 1, Book Name: Trishna). I started with the percentage module and worked my way to more complex topics such as Permutation and Combination, sticking to Level 1 all the while. Post this, I discussed each doubt, no matter how small with my (very patient) professor. Only after his approval did I repeat the same process with Level 2. (Same Book)

This whole time, I made sure to practise verbal on a daily basis: Para jumbles, Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary, and Grammar Rules. You can wake me up at 4 AM, and I will recite Baron’s 333 words verbatim even today. Along with Verbal, I devoted greater time to Logic. In my opinion, Logic is the section that can prove to be the tipping point and set you apart. It is the one section that can be mastered through practice. Most people make the mistake of leaving Logic to chance. Acing the Logic Section is a function of practice. Don’t take it for granted.

After establishing a basic comfort with all the Quant modules, I moved on to timed practice. I solved several mocks before moving on to actual past CAT papers. It’s very important to keep your morale high throughout your preparation. Hence, start with the more complicated sums only after you feel sufficiently confident. Jumping to the advanced levels before solidifying the basics does more harm than good.

Another thing that really helped me was taking my time. I consciously stayed away from comparing my prep plan to anyone else’s. Trying to rush yourself only because others around you are ahead of the game will only lead to frustration. While those around me struggled with 5-6 hours of sleep, I got my daily dose of 8 hours and balanced my prep with enough time given to friends, movies, and hobbies.

My CAT attempt was scheduled for the afternoon slot. I was banking on the Logic sums as a saviour, but they turned out to be much tougher than expected. Hence, my number of attempts reduced drastically. I made up for low attempts with high accuracy. I stayed away from random marking unless it was backed with at least a few strands of strong reasoning in my mind. Where most people lost out on was trying to attempt as much as possible, even if it was incorrect. I attempted fewer questions than most (except for Verbal, where I attempted almost all), but made sure that they were correct.

The final verdict was a 93 percentile. But getting an IIM Ahmedabad call was something I hadn’t even dreamed of. When I got the email, I sent it to 10 people to ensure that it wasn’t an error. Who would have thought, that my choice of Arts actually helped me to bag the call under the diversity initiative? But the journey was far from over. With 2 months in hand, I had to revise my academics from 3 years ago, master every major event right from Demonetization to Brexit, and keep my cool. Making a daily checklist helped. I made it a point to always read both sides of an argument so that my opinion was backed by facts. The most valuable advice is to make pointers whilst you do your interview reading. These pointers (facts included) should be your bible 4-5 days before the interview.

For the interview, remember that honesty is always appreciated. When I was asked about my take on Math, I admitted that it’s not my strongest point, but that I would work on it, starting the very next day. I asked for a recommended study plan so I could better my quantitative aptitude. Always show them that you are working on your weaknesses and are eager to learn. That means that your weaknesses will soon translate to your strengths. MBA colleges love a sincere, dedicated, and passionate candidate.

Lastly, why MBA? This is the million dollar question. Before you can convince the panel, you must convince yourself, and half the battle is won.