CAT story of a GEM
Common Admission Test (CAT) is the entrance examination taken by most of the people looking to get into one of the top B-Schools in India. In this article I will be sharing in brief what the format of CAT is and in detail, what the preparation strategy should be for anyone targeting to score a good percentile in CAT.
Before we get into the pattern and the strategy, I would like to tell a bit about myself. I have completed my engineering in 2020 from BITS Pilani in Electrical and Electronics. I have taken CAT exam twice as a General Engineering Male (GEM) Fresher and have scored the following:
Firstly, let us address the paper pattern. Normally since the past few years, the CAT paper had been of 3 hours having 2 slots conducted on the same day. Each of the 3 sections, VARC (Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension), DILR (Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning) and QA (Quantitative Ability) had one hour each with 34, 32, 34 questions respectively. This year, due to COVID-19, the paper pattern was changed to 2 hours with 3 slots conducted on the same day, with each slot having 40 mins each. The three sections VARC, DILR and QA had 26, 24 and 26 questions respectively.
Considering this year,
- The VARC section had 26 questions with 4 RCs across 18 MCQs and 8 VA questions having para jumbles, odd one out and para summary type questions. VA included some TITA type questions which do not have negative marking.
- The DILR section had 24 questions with 5 puzzles, 2 of which had 6 questions each and 3 of which had 4 questions each. They were a mix of MCQ and TITA type questions.
- The QA section had 26 questions with questions spread across topics like arithmetic, geometry, algebra, modern math and other such topics which again had mix of both MCQ and TITA type questions.
Now let us come to my preparation strategy that I followed and the strategy I would recommend to anyone appearing for CAT. It is important to note here that one strategy does not fit everyone and one needs to adapt and change as he/she goes on with the preparation. My aim here is to give a direction to the people preparing for CAT.
- So, my preparation started last year for CAT 2019 and that itself was the majority of my preparation.
- I decided on doing an MBA around July 2019 which was also the time when my placements were going on in my final year. I was unsure whether to do an MBA immediately after graduation or after an experience for a few years.
- I started with taking one of the free mocks available online. This was one of the easier mocks and I ended up scoring poor marks in VARC, decent marks in DILR and good marks in QA. But this was an eye opener as to what the format of CAT is and what all I know about the syllabus.
- Once my placements were done about mid August 2019, I analysed the first mock I had taken and realised that I was well versed with most of the topics of QA and there were hardly any conceptual gaps. DILR was most about logic and clicking the puzzles fast (which would require practice) and VARC was something I hated completely.
- I took mock test series of mainly TIME and IMS and started taking their proctored aimcats and simcats regularly.
- I started with scores of around 110/300 around August 2019 end which went up to 190/300 by November 2019 end.
- My main source of preparation were these mocks and the mistakes I made in them.
- I took a total of 35+ mocks before the final exams and also tried CAT 2017 and 2018 papers in the week leading up to CAT 2019.
- A point I would highlight here is that I cleared the cutoff in VARC (85%ile) in only 3 out of all the mocks I took. I even saw a low of 23%ile in a mock with regular scores around the 50%ile mark in VARC. However I did not lose hope and believed in myself during my lows, hoping to clear the cutoff in CAT 2019. My scores in DILR and QA were good enough to ensure a decent percentile overall. But even a 100%ile in CAT is of no use unless you clear all 3 sectional cutoffs.
- For CAT 2019, my aim was to score around 90%ile in VARC, 99.5+%ile in DILR and 99.9+%ile in QA.
- I ended up achieving my targets in VARC and QA but missed out on DILR due to a critical error during the paper. One important thing to note in CAT is to not let your ego come in the way of your attempts. My aim in DILR was to attempt 24/32 questions. I started with the first puzzle and hesitated to move on even when it did not click me in the first 5–7 minutes. Eventually I ended up after utilizing 20 mins of my time and yet haven’t solved even a single question. I panicked and could only attempt 17 questions in the remaining time. I was very upset after the DILR section but I did not want this to affect my QA section. So in the first 2–3 minutes of QA, I closed my eyes, got my focus back, forgot about the mistake I made in DILR, decided not to let my ego come in the way and then began solving. Eventually ended up scoring 99.98%ile in QA which was the sole driver to pull my overall percentile to a 99.85.
- Having decided to not join any B-School as the classes were going online, I decided to take CAT again in the beginning of July 2020.
- Again I enrolled for mock series and started taking mocks. As I was confident this time about CAT and was taking lesser pressure, I saw a rise in the mock scores as compared to 2019. I was still struggling to clear VARC cutoffs in a few mocks but the situation was much better than 2019. DILR scores fluctuated from very good to poor but QA scores were consistently good giving me the confidence I needed.
- I took around 15 mocks in July and August before scoring miserably in one of the mock tests. After that mock, I was quite disappointed and thought of taking a break from mocks for a week or two. One thing led to another and I ended giving up on CAT preparation completely except one odd mock which I took a few days before CAT 2020 just to understand the 2 hour format.
- On the day of CAT 2020, having done any practice since August, I knew that I was out of touch but once again I believed in myself. I believed that if I did decently well in the sections, I will be able to clear my score from last year.
- In VARC, I did what I could. In DILR, I decided to take one question at a time and do the best I can, without worrying at all about total attempts or scores or other such mistakes which I committed mentally in CAT 2019. This mentality helped me immensely and helped me score a 100%ile in this section. The quant score could definitely have been better but I have no regrets as this is the section you require the most regular practice in, which I lacked.
Preparation strategy one could follow:
- Ideally 6 months should be enough for CAT preparation. According to me CAT is not a very tough examination as compared to the entrance tests one appears for during his/her 12th grade. CAT tests one’s practice, focus, mentality and ability to take quick decisions during the exam (qualities necessary in someone soon to be a graduate of a top B-School)
- The first thing one should do is take a mock test. This will help you figure out your starting point and the amount of effort you require in each section.
- For those who identify VARC as their weak section, I would advise you 3 things which even I should have followed. Firstly is regular reading articles and books from varying genres. This will help you increase your reading speed. I always had to leave one RC as my reading speed was slow owing to my poor reading habits. Secondly, practice as many mocks/sectional tests as you can and analyze every question thoroughly. Lastly, take help from the video solutions and your friends who are good at VARC to understand the thought process leading up to the right answer. I was blessed with a good study circle who explained to me how they thought of eliminating particular options in VARC questions.
- For those who identify DILR as their weak section, which many people might, I would advise to check for a few videos on YouTube which many coaching institutes provide. DILR has limited types of puzzles and few coaching institutes come out with videos showing how to solve one puzzle of each type. I had used one such video to revise before my CAT 2019 and it was of great help. Once you are aware of the puzzle types, the next and most important thing is practice. As it is very rare for someone to attempt all questions from the DILR section genuinely, the most important thing here becomes the attempts and the accuracy. Practice through mocks and sectional tests will improve your speed and accuracy and the puzzles will start clicking faster. I know of people who practiced so much that they hardly ever have to think as to what the beginning of the solution could be.
- For those who identify QA as their weak section, the first thing you should identify is whether it is a conceptual gap or an out of touch issue. I have observed that for many people who are not from engineering background, find some topics to be a bit different as they are solving math questions after many years. For some people with workex, they feel that they know the concept but the formulas don’t click to them immediately. If you have conceptual gaps, pick up a book for quants for CAT and check the concepts which you feel are unknown to you. For people who feel that they are out of touch, insane practice will do the trick for you. For few engineers and other people good at math, might feel comfortable with this subject. But I will still advise them to take mocks regularly and focus a lot on accuracy, as by the time of CAT, hard workers will reach your level of comfort in quant and then accuracy will be the deciding factor in the percentiles. I myself was hardly ever attempting all the questions in quant but had a close to 100% accuracy which helped me having high percentiles in mocks in this section.
- Once you are done with your preparation and D-Day is near, remember that CAT is not an exam which you can take only once. You can repeat the exam however high or low you score (speaking from experience here). If you consider that your entire career/future lies on that one exam then there are high chances that the pressure will get to you and you might screw up letting your ego of scoring well come in between (like it did for me in CAT 2019). Also, even if you are a consistent good scorer in mocks, do not feel overconfident at all. I have seen consistent 99.9+%ile scorers in mocks ending up with a under 99%ile in the final exam, or scoring well in 2 sections but not clearing the cutoff in the third.
Hopefully this could give you a direction or at least a start in your CAT preparation journey. For further queries, feel free to reach out to me. Will try to the best of my capability to solve them.