The Common Admission Test (CAT) – Myths, Dos and Don’ts

“Let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you, and in the end you are sure to succeed.”  – Abraham Lincoln

I remember the feeling of nothingness I had at exactly the same time of the year. The feeling is irreplaceable and believe me when I say that it is very normal to be nervous. There will a degree of uncertainty, there will be a quantum of anxiety, there will be an iota of uneasiness. The key is not to get bogged down by this incertitude and squander the hard work you have put in for the past several months. All I would say is that if you are nervous, be rest assured that you are on the right track.

Before I go to the Do’s and Don’ts let me just add that they are my mantras that I followed for CAT 2011. It may work or may not work. The key is to intake the mantras that work for you. Always remember that it is your originality that is going to take you forward, so if you find a point that you think might not go too well with your strengths, it is perfectly fine to ignore them.

Myths

#1 CAT is only for engineers and the test is designed to eliminate non-engineers

Reality: This is not at all true. CAT is not designed to eliminate non-engineers. Infact last year, for my slot, I found English much more dicey and difficult than the Quant section was. And also from my current experience at IIM Bangalore, I find that the students from non-engineering background are doing much better at courses than the students from engineering background. And just to say that you are not alone, almost 24.5% of students who gave CAT 2011 had commerce, accountancy or management as their undergraduate degrees

#2 CAT is not designed for people with work-ex

Reality: This is not true again. And it doesn’t help to bring such negative connotations at this stage of the exam. Just to help you a bit with your confidence I had a work ex of 1.5 years before I attempted CAT last year. Infact a large majority of students >50% at IIM Bangalore have some work ex or the other. Just to add another fact, almost 32% of the test-taking population had more than 6 months of work-ex[1]

#3 Females are at a disadvantage while taking CAT

Reality: This is not true again. Infact some of the most brilliant batchmates at IIM Bangalore are women. 2/3 Aditya Birla Scholars from IIM Bangalore again are women and 100/377 students at IIM Bangalore (from the first year) are again women. If they can do it, why can’t you? And just to add, you are not alone – 27.3% of women took CAT last year and this number is only going to rise this year (extrapolating from the trend of the previous years)

Don’ts

1) Do not take up more than 3 full length mock tests during the last week. The rationale behind the point is that you would have already taken enough mock tests in your past few months. It is better to go over them than and build up your confidence than taking up fresh mock tests (The other reason is that you might end up screwing one or two of the mock tests and as a result denting your confidence)

2) Do not just sit idle in the last week (It is important to keep your grey cells ticking) not taking up any tests (it is always advisable to take some small tests). While the point 1 above says the contrary it always helps to keep in touch with the test writing practice. Even though the ideal thing is to refrain from full length mock tests, I would say, that you can take 1 or 2 full length mock tests (if personally you feel that it would help you)

3) Do not fret over the fact that you did not get 90% (or x%) as your friend had got and would hence be at a disadvantage when the shortlists for the prestigious IIMs are out. The rationale is simple – you cannot go back and change it. It is a sunk opportunity. The best that you can do is perhaps do the best you can to score a high percentile in CAT. Thinking about the past would do nothing but increase the stress levels (you need your mind to be there fully with you during those 2 hours and 35 minutes without a trace of stress – because if you have other tensions you might not be able to fully concentrate on doing your best for CAT).

4) Stay away from speculations and rumors (includes reading mba forums). While it is important to gauge the test before you take it, it is equally important to have a clean slate isolated from any prejudices or notions. The rationale is that expectations are often associated with emotions. For instance if you go into taking CAT believing that Quant has been coming easy and supposingly you get a tough quant for your slot, you have a higher probability of screwing up your paper than if you go without any prejudices.

5) Don’t focus too much on learning new words. In my opinion go over the word lists you would have already prepared while giving mock cats.

6) Don’t isolate your self too much from either your worklife or normal life. It really helps if you get away for a while from the stressful CAT preparation mode and relax and enjoy a bit (It is not a crime if you watch 4-5 overs of the T20 worldcup to see your favorite player score a few runs)

7) Don’t over discuss exam and CAT with you friends and family members. More often than not you would end up getting free advice and a bunch of expectations in a way such as “You don’t have to worry, you have been scoring 99+ percentile in all mock cats – even the eternal gods cannot stop you!”. Such things only help build up pressure.

Do’s

1) The first and the foremost recommended mantra is to go over your notes you would have compiled over the last n number of months preparing for CAT. There would be 1-2 questions from each mock CAT you would have taken that you would want to revisit just so that if a similar question comes up in the actual CAT you don’t end up screwing that question up and having that feeling of “Gosh, if only I could have revised that question”

2) While doing 1 above make a mental map of strong and weak areas in your mind (you would already made such a map if you have been in a regular habit of practicing ).

3) Make sure you take up 2-3 speed maths test daily until your day of CAT (would hardly take an hour of practice in the worst case). Believe me when I say that if you are good and fast with your calculations it really helps you to prop up your accuracy, save time and builds your confidence of an answer being right in the actual CAT

4) Make sure you do not give up your habit of reading in the last week. In my opinion this is a must and a must. Having a good and fast comprehension would really help you not only in cracking the CAT but also in the longer run. In my opinion spend about half to one hour reading newspaper articles.

5) For the section that is weak for you, do take up sectional tests. Or for instance I was weak in English and for the last week I took some 5-6 1.5 hour tests for VA from different mock tests to make sure I was still in match practice mode for them.

6) Get plenty of sleep, you would be needing each and every iota of your energy on the D-Day. Also make sure that you do no indulge in activities risk injury.

7) Make sure you do not end up missing on the easy questions in the actual CAT. From my experience, it is often the easy questions that serve as the normalizing factor across slots and if you end up erring on them, you might just end up screwing your actual percentile even though you would have done significantly well in the other questions. Another rationale behind it is that the easier questions are often the differentiators (if you could spot them and capitalize on them) and it is an absolute crime to mess up on them.

In end the end I would just like to say that CAT is not the be all and end off of everything. You do not need an MBA to become the next Steve Jobs or the next Dhirubhai Ambani or the next Sunil Mittal. Prepare well, persevere and have faith – the results would follow.

I would just like to end with the famous quote from Les Brown of the Band of Renown fame

“Too many of us just don’t live our dreams because we spend the life living in our fears”

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Mohit hails from the holy city on the banks of Ganges, Varanasi – the oldest city in the world. After his engineering from IIIT Hyderabad in Computer Science, he worked at Amazon.com as a Software Development Engineer for 2 years and is an IIM Bangalore alumnus. Mohit scored 99.93 percentile in CAT 2011 and had calls from all IIMs except IIMK. He ended up converting IIM B, C, L.

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