Here is a statistic for you: of the total number of aspirants who attempt the CAT exam, less than 4 percent end up getting admission to one of the twenty IIMs in the country. The acceptance rate reduces further when you look at only at IIMs ABCLIK, which implies that Harvard Business School has a greater acceptance rate than the top six IIMs. With such degree of competition, it doesn't help matters if you have been out of touch with quantitative problem solving for many years due to your non-engineering background. So does that make it impossible for non-engineers out of touch with quant to crack CAT? Absolutely not, and here is a shining example of it in the form of a hotel management graduate with no background in mathematics who cracked CAT 2020 and got shortlisted by top business schools, including IIM Kozhikode.
Meet Debansu Mukhopadhyay - 99%ile In CAT 2020, Shortlists From IIMK, XLRI, MDI, IIM S, CAP IIMs
Debansu Mukhopadhyay is a hotel management graduate from IHMCTAN Mumbai, and achieved a 99th percentile score in CAT 2020. Debansu has previously had no background in mathematics, last studying the subject in high school. Over a span of 7-8 months, Debansu not only strengthened his weak area (QA) but also built upon his strong areas (DILR + VARC), eventually scoring well in CAT and getting shortlisted by IIM Kozhikode, IIM Shillong, MDI and CAP IIMs.
The following was Debansu's CAT preparation strategy that led him to a 99th percentile score in CAT 2020 and shortlists from some of India's top-ranked business schools.
Deciding to take the CAT is akin to committing to running a marathon. The process is very similar - you start from scratch, spend months preparing, put in your blood, sweat and tears and finally give your best performance on the big day. Contrary to what you may believe when you begin the journey, acing the CAT is less about whether you can solve the most difficult questions and more about how well you perform in a timed, high-pressure test.
Mental Composure And Test Preparedness - The Two 'Additional Sections' In CAT
I believe that over and above the 3 sections of the exam, another 2 are tested - your mental composure and test preparedness. There are a few things you can do to be fully prepared for these two ‘additional sections’ :
- Even before you study your first concepts, you need to truly believe in your abilities. There will be days when you doubt yourself, your mock scores dip and you want to give up. Self-belief is the only thing that will keep you going. Tell yourself every day that you can ‘bell the CAT’, and you will.
- You need to have sufficient practice writing different kinds of mocks - enroll in two mock series so that you get accustomed to varying difficulty levels of each section.
- Before each mock, prepare a mental strategy of how you will handle the pressure if the sections are more difficult than you expect. Repeatedly bracing your mind for different challenging scenarios will help you on the final day.
- During the preparatory phase, ensure that you do not spend every waking hour studying. Devote sufficient time to your hobbies, exercising and meditation to help your mind stay fresh and prevent a burnout.
- Enjoy the process! Honing your aptitude will help you in your professional life regardless of which path you take.
The preparation journey from now till the D-day can be divided into three broad phases, with different strategies for each.
How To Prepare For CAT 2021: May To July
- Start with taking a past year paper (2017, 2018 or 2019) as a mock. You will find multiple sources online which provide these for free. You may feel nervous or want to avoid it because you have no preparation yet, but it is important to view this mock as a 100m run to gauge how you will prepare for the marathon. You will only get better from here.
- After the mock, you will get a sense of which section you’re more comfortable with versus which ones you are a little jittery about. This will decide how you divide your preparation time, and which section you allot more time to. Don’t forget, you don’t need to score a 99 percentile in every section to get a 99 percentile overall.
How To Prepare For CAT 2021: August To October
If the first 3 months were spent learning how to drive in 1st and 2nd gear, this is the time to go full throttle in the 5th. With your basics in place, this is the time to shape up the most important aspect - your test-taking strategy. This is done by taking mocks, aggressively analyzing them, identifying gaps and plugging these by either refreshing concepts or more practice.
Here are some pointers to remember while taking mocks:
- Segregate mocks into ‘experimental’ and ‘performative’. Experimental mocks are those where you try different strategies to see which one works best for you - doing VA first, doing LR before DI, etc. Here the score is secondary, and your aim is to craft the best strategy. Performative mocks are those where your aim is to maximize your score.
- Till July, aim to take one mock a week. These will be more experimental in nature as you get accustomed and try out new tactics.
- From August to October, you need to take at least two mocks a week. Towards October this can even go up to three a week if you have the time.
- While analyzing the mocks, pay special attention to accuracy. You should prioritize accuracy over attempts as an incorrect answer only deducts from your total score.
- Don’t take mock percentiles to heart. It is essential to remember that this percentile is vis-à-vis 10,000-15,000 of the most serious aspirants, whereas the actual exam will have anywhere around 2 lakh candidates.
- The number of mocks you take is very subjective and shouldn’t be based on how many someone else is writing. Some aspirants are able to score 99+ percentile with just 20 mocks, whereas I wrote close to 50. What is important is to have sufficient time between each mock so that you can analyze your performance - which your strong areas are, where you are taking more time and which concepts you need to refresh.
- Once you have recognized which area you need to work on, spend at least a day or two practicing questions from there.
How To Prepare For CAT 2021: November
Now that the basics and test taking abilities are in place, you need to polish everything up and give your best on the big day. Avoid learning new concepts, focus on refreshing the things you already know. Do not write any mocks in the week leading up to CAT, no matter how the last one goes. As I mentioned earlier, at this stage the only preparation that you can do is in your mind. Go for the exam with it well-rested and fresh.
How To Prepare For Each of The Three Sections of CAT
The following was my preparation strategy for each of the three sections of the CAT exam. While preparing for CAT 2020, my strong area was the VA-RC section, my weak area was the QA section, while an area for improvement was the DI-LR section.
How To Prepare For The Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension Section of The CAT Exam
- Skills To Build: Faster reading speed and better comprehension skills.
- How To Build: The only way to build reading speed is to READ. The more you read, the faster you get. However, you will only notice improvement after some time so it is important not to give up.
» Read at least one newspaper end-to-end and 20-25 pages of a book daily.
» Follow online blogs such as Aeon. They post articles on topics varying from philosophy to economics to the environment, and will get you used to reading on topics you are not comfortable with as well as build the habit of reading from a screen. There have been instances of CAT RC passages being picked from Aeon.
How To Prepare For The Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning Section of The CAT Exam
- Skills To Build: Faster calculation speed and problem solving skills.
- How To Build: Similar to reading, calculation speed is something that comes with practice. If like me you have always had a phobia of numbers, now is the time to overcome it. The Rodha and Takshzila channels on YouTube are some free and great resources to improve on your mental maths. In an exam where every second counts, solving a small addition or multiplication mentally could mean getting an extra question in your bag.
- Pro-Tips: Pick the DILR sets from past year papers and solve them without a timer. Do not resort to checking the solutions quickly, spend sufficient time probing the questions and trying to come up with alternate approaches. It is important to develop an understanding of what the question wants and how that can be extracted from the information present.
How To Prepare For The Quantitative Aptitude Section of The CAT Exam
- Skills To Build: Strong conceptual clarity and faster calculation speed.
- How To Build: Get an understanding of the different topics tested and their weightages in CAT. For the past few years, the maximum number of questions have been from arithmetic, followed by algebra and geometry.
» Purchase Arun Sharma's book on Quantitative Ability. The questions are divided by topic, and difficulty level. Practice at least 35-40 sums every day.
» Learn squares and cubes of numbers from 1-30 and the values of fractions till 1/20.
» Maintain a small booklet or diary where you note down important formulae/values.
At the end of the day, doing well in CAT is just about crafting a strategy which works for you, refining it repeatedly and then implementing it. Remember that this is a marathon where you may stumble, falter and fall. No matter what happens, the one thing you cannot do is give up. All the best for CAT 2021!
Need hard-hitting tips to crack CAT that actually work? Check out this series of interviews with CAT toppers on the InsideIIM-Konversations YouTube channel!