As a part of our Conversations With CAT 2019 Toppers, we bring to you Althaf Abdulla! Althaf will join IIM Bangalore (Class of 2022) and has scored 99.73 %ile in CAT 2019. He hails from God's Own Country, Kerala, where he has done his schooling and he, later on, went to pursue Mechanical Engineering from NIT Surathkal. During the conversation, Althaf detailed out his exam preparation strategy, how he made time for his preparation, his advice to CAT 2020 aspirants and why one shouldn't hesitate to take help from people Read on!
Team InsideIIM: Hi Althaf. Congratulations on scoring 99.73%ile in CAT 2019 and on making it to IIM Bangalore! Please share your academic background, overall score and sectional scores with our readers.
I had a 10 CGPA in 10th standard and 96.4% in 12th standard. I did my undergraduate degree in Mechanical engineering from National Institute of Technology Surathkal and graduated with a 9.47 CGPA. I have been working at Bosch ltd for 3 years now.
Althaf's CAT Preparation Journey!
TI: How did you prepare – Self-study or Coaching? Which one do you think is better?
I enrolled for coaching classes at TIME. I did so to gain insights on the curriculum of CAT and get study material to start my preparation. TIME also enabled me to devise a structured approach for my preparation.
The “better option” depends on the aspirant’s familiarity with the exam. If they are already acclimatized with the exam style and pattern, self-study will suffice. But if someone is starting from scratch, I recommend joining a coaching centre.
TI: According to you, what is the most important aspect of preparation?
The most important aspect of preparation is to have the zeal to learn and keep moving ahead. There will be a lot of ups and downs; it is imperative to keep the motivation at its peak throughout this journey. One should learn to enjoy the process.
TI: Which mock series did you enroll for? How many full-length mock tests did you take?
I took test series from TIME Institute in January. But each institute has their own style of setting a question paper. So in order to get acquainted with different styles of question papers, I took test series from IMS in July and Cracku in September. I also took 2 All-India open mocks from Career Launcher.
I took 50 full length mocks in 5 months. I took around 10 sectional tests in VARC section and 40 sectional tests each in DILR and QA section.
TI: What was your approach while taking mocks?
I attempted every mock exam as if it were the real CAT exam. My key strategy was to get accustomed to giving this 3-hour long exam so that on D-Day, it feels just like another mock exam.
TI: How do you think the mock tests helped you in your preparation?
Mock exams helped me build the stamina to sustain for 3 hours without losing focus. They helped me attain that flow state of mind to give the exam. Moreover, they helped me realize where I stood among other aspirants and gauge my potential. Scoring a good percentile in mocks was a huge confidence booster. I used the mock exams to test different strategies and figure out the strategy that worked best for me.
TI: Which section were you strong in? Since you were strong in that section, how did you focus on the other sections?
QA was my strongest suit. But I never took it for granted; I solved 50 questions, on average, every day for this section.
While most aspirants tried to master the set-selection technique in DILR, I focused on increasing my speed so that on D-Day, I wouldn’t spend time on selecting sets. I solved numerous questions and took sectional tests to improve my speed. During CAT 2019 DILR, I started solving from the 1st set to the last set and was able to identify and skip the time-consuming sets in less than 3 minutes. This strategy worked best for me by allowing me to avoid juggling back and forth between sets and narrow my focus to only one set at a time.
To improve my VARC performance, I had to advance my reading habit. I meticulously read the newspaper daily. I also read articles from the website aeon.co; this enhanced my reading speed and comprehension skill.
TI: Which section was your Achilles heel? How did you overcome that?
VARC section was my Achilles heel. I could not perform consistently in this particular section owing to my poor reading habit. I developed the habit of daily reading the newspaper and articles from aeon, Livemint and Economic Times. I spent at least 2 hours reading The Hindu on a daily basis. The portion of the newspaper I gave my utmost focus was the opinion page. This helped me not only boost my concentration, which is crucial since not all the RCs in the CAT exam are fun to read, but also increase my awareness of current affairs. As a result, I was also better prepared for the WAT-PI process.
TI: How much time did you devote to preparation on a regular basis?
I had a packed schedule every day. I used to come back from work at 6 in the evening and would hit the gym after that. I would read The Hindu till 11’o clock and solve DILR and QA questions till 1 or 2’o clock in the night, depending on my energy level.
Whatever I did after office hours prepared me mentally and physically for the exam. To stay on track throughout the journey, it was essential for me to pursue my hobbies and have a disciplined routine.
TI: Tell us about the lowest point in your preparation journey and how did you overcome that?
Around September, there was a brief period in which I consistently scored low in my mock exams; I almost decided to give up as I felt that CAT was not my cup of tea. I shared how I felt with my family and a few friends; I cannot thank them enough for motivating me to get back on track. They made me realize that I was saturated and advised me to take a break and resume preparations once I was mentally refreshed. This advice worked wonders and I wouldn’t be giving this interview with InsideIIM if it wasn’t for the support of my family and friends.
My honest advice to all the CAT 2020 aspirants is to not hesitate to seek help from people.
Althaf's Advice To CAT 2020 Aspirants!
TI: What resources would you suggest to 2020 aspirants?
Mock tests are an inevitable part of CAT preparation. Subscribe to as many test series and questions banks as possible. The major ones in the market are the ones from institutes like IMS, Cracku, TIME and Career Launcher. I personally did not use any other resource.
TI: What according to you are the DO's and DON'Ts of CAT preparation?
- Work on your weaker section and improve it. At the same time, give equal importance to your strong section and maximize the score.
- Make a strict time plan for the next 5 months covering all topics. Allot more time to your weaker areas and ensure that you strictly adhere to this time plan.
- Take as many mock exams as possible and analyse each of them religiously. Initially, I used to spend around 7 hours to analyze one mock exam.
- Pursue your hobbies.
- Make sure you take a break whenever you feel saturated. CAT exam is not a sprint but a marathon.
- Do not ignore the section that you are weak at assuming that you’ll balance your overall score by scoring high in your strong section. Anything can happen on D-Day and you cannot afford to leave any stone unturned.
- Sometimes you WILL score low in mock exams, do not get fixated on that. Learn from it and move on.
- Do not sacrifice your social life. Keep your family and friends close.
- Do not take any mock exam on the week prior to CAT exam. That is the time to relax and take a break. Just keep in mind that you have done all that you can in the past months and not much can change in the last week.
TI: Which mock series would you like to suggest to CAT 2020 aspirants? Is one mock series sufficient or do you suggest a combination of 2 different mock series?
My personal favourites are SimCAT (IMS), DashCAT (Cracku) and AIMCAT (TIME). I would suggest that every aspirant subscribe to at least 2 test series to get used to the different styles of question papers.
TI: What would be your final advice to CAT 2020 Aspirants?
CAT is not the end. Most of us, during this CAT journey, tend to forget the destination. Scoring in CAT is achievable with a little bit of practice. Cracking WAT-PI is the hardest part; start working on that aspect simultaneously with your CAT preparation. Work on improving your soft skills, confidence level, general awareness and ultimately, make your personality so pleasing that the interviewers are left with no choice but to offer you an admission letter to their institute. These skills would also help make your interviews a pleasant conversation rather than a Q&A session.
This was something that I worked on since the beginning and this helped me convert all the 5 interviews that I attended, i.e. IIMB, IIMA, IIMC, IIML and XLRI.
Thank you for your time, Althaf! We wish you all the very best!
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