Saturday, April 17, 2010

CAT, How do you crack it?

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If there is one question that everybody is going to ask you after you crack the CAT it is, “How did you prepare?” Now you might think, “Well, I haven’t yet, I mean I might but…” I would say a huge part about tackling the exam is mental/emotional and believing that you are going to make might just be the perfect starting point.
When I decided to write the CAT a lot of people around me thought it was the prefect plan for disaster. I had done rather well in my Bachelors and an academic career seemed to be the safest and most obvious thing to do. I had my own reasons to go ahead with my plans and did just that.

All this was fine but had to be put in action. So I joined a coaching centre in Kolkata (a relatively smaller one, not one of the bigger names). Faculty was very good but did not bother to check if the students were really keeping up.

Having done my Bachelors in English literature, I had assumed I would have a bad time with quants. However, most of the topics are pretty basic and it was only the level of difficulty that was a challenge. I worked for about 2 hours on QA and 1 on DI and vice versa on alternate weeks. I was solving Arun Sharma and given time was able to crack a decent number of the LOD III problems and was feeling quite pleased with myself.

Then the first simulated CAT happened and I didn’t feel that great after all. I realized I wasn’t even able to concentrate for 2 and a half hours at one stretch. Also, I realized that while I was reasonably comfortable handling the quants chapters, doing the section as a whole meant quite something different. I also needed to pull up my DI scores.

For the QA section I started solving sections from old material (plenty available and impossible to do those many mock-tests). Also, I subscribed to the Quant a Day thread from Pagalguy.

My scores started picking up in both the sections but overall it was a bit skewed. I spent barely any time on the English section and consequently the overall score wasn’t as high as it could be.

A lot of people were enrolled at multiple places and that sometimes worried me a bit. So I enrolled for a test series at another institute as well. It was hectic but I guess it wasn’t a bad decision. I managed to balance the two and performing at both places certainly boosted my confidence.

I made it a point to review each test I wrote, no matter how pressed for time I was.
That was pretty much it for the written part. It’s obviously not a prescription. Cracking the test is about finding the right balance and I have just told you how I found mine.

When the results were out I was naturally happy but worried as well. Having come this close I didn’t want any slips. Also getting leave for all the interview dates seemed to be a problem. I was barely on my sixth month at office and wanted a few scattered days off for a reason which I didn’t want to disclose. I was lucky enough to have a supportive boss so at least the leave bit was taken care of.

For the interview I did the routine: read newspapers and magazines, brushed up college stuff and got down to the details about the project I was working on. Also joined an IIM batch for mock GDs and PIs. I won’t say each session was very valuable but it’s good to be part of it. You’ll get to know the people you will be competing with and can form a small group where you can share articles, tips etc.I definitely gained confidence and it showed with time.

The interviews had a few googlies. At one particular interview I was asked to compare Mahadevi Varma to Mahashweta Devi. I had studied Hindi in school, else wouldn’t have known what to say. One might say a student of English literature should not be expected to know this. I have also had Chemical engineer friends who complained that they were asked questions about Chemistry not Chemical Engineering. So this kind of thing is quite possible and I suppose it’s your poise and demeanor that saves you then.

Again there are some typical questions and some prescriptive answers too. A lot of things are said to be total no-nos. Then again there will be some story doing the rounds about how this totally arrogant guy took on the panel heads on and wowed them completely. It is best to be oneself of course and confidence isn’t a bad thing at all. Also the vibes you get from the panel would give you a sense of how to handle it.

So that’s what I remember of my CAT prep, have fun with yours!

Tanya Choudhary
IIM- Ahmedabad

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