My Journey: In the World of CAT
I am not a believer of New Year resolutions. For me, those are just gimmicks of weak-willed people. So I refused to categorize my first lecture in Career Launcher on January 1, 2012 as a New Year resolution. I was just happy to be in a classroom, away from my office. People had partied hard the night before, and as a result there were only 2 people in the class of Reading Comprehension that day. Many teachers would have felt inclined to cancel that class, but mine went ahead with it; a clear sign that she respected the two individuals for showing up on 1stJanuary. A good first impression, I must say. She was to go on to become my strongest mentor and supporter in the days to come.
The next 9 months were the actual preparation period for the exam. People suggested that I was risking saturation by starting so early. They were right. It is actually tough to maintain the same intensity throughout and you run the risk of losing interest. This race had to be run as a long distance race. As Dhoni would say- rather than beginning well, it is important to peak at the right time in a long tournament. So I tread at a smooth pace for the first 5 months before steaming up in the months from June to September.
I have been asked this question often whether I felt exhaustion or found it difficult to manage my time between office, weekend classes, two mock test series’ and the inevitable cricket which I never gave up. My answer would always be the same –“I am just relieved to be sitting in a classroom.”Indeed I was relieved; relieved because I was proving to be a complete failure at work in my company and the classroom was the only place to relieve my bruised ego and earn some accolades. In my company, I literally used to hide behind people when we were assigned work. No one would mention it explicitly, but people thought I was a liability when it came to coding. It hurt. It hurt more because it was all true. What kept me going was the belief that the people around me in the office might be good at what they were doing and I was nowhere near their level, but I was better at many aspects which we were not concerned with in my office and I ought to give myself a better chance to uncover those aspects of mine somewhere else. So classroom became the place to be- every weekend –6 hours. It’s not that it was a cakewalk in the classroom. Maths was something I always struggled with, but I always used to look forward to the Reasoning and English class. My English teacher by now had grown fond of me, and she was more like an elder sister to me than a teacher.
And it was not just about the subjects or about the teacher. The classroom gave me two of my best friends – Anshul Utpal and Prateek Chaturvedi. We competed with each other and at the same time derived happiness from each other’s success in the tests. Anshul was more consistent of the three when it came to mock tests. I and Prateek had more in common – we struggled with Maths, loved English and swung between excellence and mediocrity in the mock tests. I loved the unique camaraderie that had developed among the three of us.
As the D-Day came closer, I studied harder. I, however, cut myself off from studies 3 days before my exam. I watched movies and TV series to lighten myself. The D-Day arrived on 15th October. The exam passed smoothly and Anshul was the first person I called after the exam. My words were – “I have attempted 26 questions in English and Reasoning section and I am quite confident of scoring well there (> 96 percentile). I have attempted only 18 in Maths but that is the most I have attempted ever in a test”. So it was an improvement but there was nothing extraordinary about it. A decent score was expected but nothing flamboyant, not after I had managed an average 88 percentile in my last TIME test and a lowly 72 percentile in my last CAREER LAUNCHER test.
A surprise awaited me when the results came on 9th January, 2013. I had got 99.56 percentile (96.42 in Maths and 99.74 in English). This is the most I had scored in any test and it was a coup of sorts for me. The result was hard to sink in and congratulatory messages flowed from everywhere. The news got leaked in my office as well. This was the best part because the loser from yesterday had suddenly got cult status among peers. People who had never ever talked to me wanted to congratulate me now. Old friends called too as and when they came to know about the result. There was no one happier than my teacher on hearing this news. She welcomed me with the brightest smile I have ever seen on her face when I went to meet her. What was my reaction to all this? – I just let the moment flow. After a period of mediocrity, this was a welcome change in my life. That night when Prateek asked my response to all this, all I said was that “I was relieved”; yes, again the same feeling of being relieved; because no one was going to take this score away from me and the possessive me had the right to hold on to it forever. I did not want to go to sleep that night because I did not want 9th January, 2013 to end. It was that kind of a day, one of the best of my life.
The whole process of CAT and its results can be a very draining experience for a candidate. If all goes well, it takes some time to soak in that feeling of success. Time can slip by quickly, and you suddenly find yourself staring at an interview. I had to make sure I did not fall in that trap. I started my preparation for the interviews the very next day of the result. The ease with which I had prepared till CAT did not replicate itself in this phase. The personality assessment phase is anyways considered tougher than the actual CAT and it lived up to its reputation.
The fact that this was my first experience with CAT and thereafter meant I actually encountered many surprises at this stage. When the calls started coming, I realised scoring a near ton in CAT was not good enough. With a score of 75.2% in 12th Board, I missed out calls from IIM-A, B, C, K and I. Anshul (94.08 percentile) and Prateek (96.72 percentile) found the going tougher. A score in the range of 94-97 percentiles is the perfect case of ‘so near yet so far’. Besides, there are the perks to deal with if you are a general male engineer candidate, as the three of us were. My score ensured that I faced less hassles as compared to Anshul and Prateek. But there were definitely more roadblocks ahead in my way than what I had imagined on the day the CAT scores had been announced.
But withstanding all that, it was time to move forward. Filling the forms for the next stage was a tedious affair. I had a tough time coming to terms with the current affairs of the world because my GK was pathetic. I did not speak a word in my first 3 mock GD’s because I felt irritated at the idea of raising my voice in a fish market where we were actually supposed to make sense. I often wondered what the right approach in an interview was because every faculty who took my interview had a different opinion and prejudice about the interview procedure. The mock interviews were still crucial because they familiarized me with the basics of what I might face. The mocks also taught me to judge the fine line between being honest and being stupid in an interview.
I had 13 interviews scheduled; 3 in February, 7 in March and 3 in April. I had to travel a lot for the interviews and mentally I started getting so tired that I took the step of resigning without a single convert in my hand. I paid off my notice period and thus gave myself ample time to travel, relax and study. Before resigning, the interviews appeared like a burden. After resignation, they became a merry ride. The process became enjoyable.
I have many memories from these interviews. The one which completely caught me in alien territory was my interview for IIM-L (6th March). They would just not let me take the interview towards the area of my strength and kept attacking my weaknesses. Despite coming up with a decent GD and Essay, I failed to convert that call. It did not help that the same interview score had to be transferred to the new IIMs too. As feared, I could not convert the new IIMs too. One instance where I became very nervous was the GD round in FMS (22nd March). They had 14 people sitting there for the GD! FOURTEEN! I was absolutely blown away in that GD, and it was curtains to FMS then and there.
Most of the other calls I converted. The one that I enjoyed most was the experience of IIT-Delhi. After the terrible experience of GD in a group of 14 in FMS, here I was sitting in a Board-Room type of set up in IIT Delhi, on a huge round table, with 14 people in the group. Yes, that dreaded number 14 again! Bad memories from FMS came flooding back. I decided that there was only one way to tackle this GD. Instead of getting lost among the voices somewhere in between, I thought that the best way to tackle such a situation was to start the GD come what may! So as soon the buzzer went off, I spoke. I spoke as if my life depended on how much I speak at that moment. I was soon cut short by another participant and I did not speak again in the entire GD. A flawless interview followed and I converted IIT-Delhi in the first list.
However, the college I finally went to is yet to find a mention. It was, in fact, Shailesh Jain Mehta School of Management, IIT Bombay. It was the only interview (8th March) in which I was asked the question, “Why MBA”. It was the first interview where they took interest in the fact that I loved cricket. So a barrage of questions followed from cricket; and I answered them all. I was at my happiest after this interview. It was also a very pleasant experience being in the IIT Campus and the chance to become a part of that campus was exciting to say the least.
There are two ways to look at this eventual result. The first way to look at it says- “I succeeded in making it to a college like IIT Bombay and I should be proud of that”. The second way says- “In spite of getting 99.56 percentile, I could not make it to a big IIM and I should be sad about it”. At this moment, I would like to remember what my teacher told me- “There are no good colleges or bad colleges around here for MBA. What we eventually get into should be the ‘Right College’.” In some ways, IIT Bombay seems like the right place for me. The cut-off score in IIT Bombay was 99.08 percentile this year. All my to-be batch mates, after a score of 99 plus percentile, must have dreamt of making it big into an IIM. The fact that they could not and instead ended up being there in IIT Bombay means that they were all imperfect in their own ways. This gave me a chance to be one among equals. So instead of being unhappy about not making it to an IIM, I was happy and thankful to God for what I had got.
P.S: – The faculty I have mentioned in my story is Ms. Shreeleena Bakshi of Career Launcher,Pune. Anshul made it to XIM, Bhubaneswar with his XAT Score while Prateek made it to IMT- Ghaziabad with his CAT Score. We are in our 2nd year now and we have had a roller coaster ride of MBA. We still remain in touch and hope to continue this friendship for a long time to come. Touchwood!