Journey vs Destination? — A GEM’s story
This is gonna be a long post through my journey right from me thinking about an MBA to CAT to IIM to actually getting a score, preparing for interviews, converting the preferred call and finally joining my dream B-school as a GEM (General Engineering Male). I feel happy and extremely lucky to be able to write this article. I feel that every individual has a unique story but not everyone writes or talks about it. This is my story. It is not intended to boast, brag or gloat in absolutely any way possible and if you might feel that way then can consider to not read any further.
Childhood and upbringing:
My name is Mihir Dharap and I come from a typical middle class family. My parents were born and brought up in Mumbai and so was I. My father, engineer by profession from a local engineering college in Mumbai, started manufacturing and selling innovative house hold products in the final year of his engineering as a means of providing for the family. Right from my childhood I was blessed to have parents who allowed me to live the way I wanted to and pursue whatever interests I had. I have always been the one who was interested into math and logic and numbers. Soon I got interested in technology and told my parents to pursue my career in Science after my 10th. My parents supported me completely and it was around then when my father shared with me a dream of his — to see me graduate from IIT Bombay, IIM Ahmedabad. Not that I made this dream of his a primary motivation in life, I had this destination in the back of my mind always. Having visited the IITB campus many times for various competitive math exams and Olympiads, I feel in love with the IITB campus and dreamt of joining the same. However when the results of JEE were out, I was advised by some very close well wishers of mine to prefer the branch of choice over the campus of choice as long as it passes a certain bench mark I had in mind. Thus I ended up choosing BITS Pilani as the choice of college to pursue my engineering in Electrical and Electronics.
BITS Pilani for me were the golden days of life so far. The institute enabled me to explore various fields, try out various hobbies, make friends, try extra curriculars, talk to some of the best minds of the country and most importantly, taught me to value the journey as much as the destination. It taught me how failures are the part and parcel of life and come in different magnitudes. It taught me that the journey is different for everyone and that there can be many paths which may or may not lead to the same destination. It taught me to have a well rounded approach in life, value others’ opinions and always consider what the other person is thinking before passing a judgement. It taught me to think — about each and every thing. Being an “Extroverted Introvert”, I socialized, I played sports, I studied in groups and basically tried everything what was possible for me. But there were days or even weeks when I tried to lock myself up in my room, barely speak to anyone except my mother and the people I lived with. Those were the days mainly when I was self introspecting — my likes and dislikes, the choices I had made, the people I talked to, the reasons why we like certain things and the reasons why we dislike others, career, life, basically everything. I probably have had more conversations with myself than with anyone else. Friends who know me from before have pointed out various times that I became quieter, which was infact true as I was generally thinking about something which I don’t normally share.
Somewhere towards the end of my third year, I was having similar such conversations with myself about where my career was headed and trying to answer the most common interview question — where I wanted to see myself in a few years. Right after my third year I had a summer internship. I decided to focus on that and consider if I like that domain as a career option. Even though I loved the work I did there, I somehow felt that I was not made for it and that even though I liked my job, it might not be able to realize my full potential. Thankfully, I was offered a PPO by the company which I decided to accept as I liked the organization as well as I liked the role. Towards the end of my internship, I had began thinking of MBA as a career option as I thought my interest was along the lines of products and technology. Through discussions with many seniors and cousins, I realized that maybe working on the business side of a product might be a better fit for me than working on the code behind one. This was when I first considered the option of CAT and decided to write the exam in my final year as a fresher. In my final year, I had another internship for 6 months in a different industry. I liked the work there too, was offered a PPO there as well, but realized fairly convincingly that I was not cutout for that role in the long run and hence decided to join the former offer in case the MBA thing does not work out as planned.
Decision to write CAT:
Having decided to pursue an MBA, the first question which came up was whether to pursue it from India or abroad. For people who might be unaware, the top MBAs abroad generally require a good profile among the global candidates, a good GMAT score and a minimum of 2 years of work experience (Same is the case for ISB). However, the top IIMs require a good profile mostly among the Indian candidates, a good CAT score and a profile with work experience is preferred but not mandatory. Considering this as well as many other choices like ROI and employability, I decided to write CAT and pursue my MBA from India. Even though it was my father’s dream to see me join IIMA one day, I considered all the factors and after researching about the top B-Schools of the country and came to a personal conclusion that the 3 IIMs — Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta provide similar opportunities across domains. These 3 colleges were my target and I felt that I had realistic chances to fulfill my dream.
CAT 2019 Preparation:
My preparation started when I wrote my first ever mock around August once I had accepted my PPO and had a job I liked as a backup in place. Being an engineer and someone fairly above average in Math right from my childhood, I felt comfortable in my Quant section, 50–50 in my DILR section and extremely weak in my Verbal section. After talking to some seniors especially Anamaya Jha (BITS Pilani ’19, IIMC ’21) and Anmol Gupta (BITS Pilani ’19, IIMB ’21) about how I should go about my CAT preparation, I was advised to take up mock test series from atleast 2 coaching institutes and take as many mocks as possible. This advice from the two most wonderful seniors was the key behind my scores in both CAT 19 and 20.
I purchased and solved mocks mainly provided by TIME and IMS in the form of AIMCATs and SIMCATs. Mocks were my primary source of CAT preparation. I took 39 mocks (not all were proctored and a few were taken not very seriously). So personally I am a very lazy person who hated the process of analyzing a mock. For most of my mocks, I skipped the analysis of my VARC section (as I hated it), checked the mistakes or questions I did not solve in QA on my phone itself as soon as the solutions were released and checked the mistakes I made in my DILR section from my laptop. Being lazy, I skipped the sets which I did not get to read in the mocks.
Later on introspection, I realized how wrong I was and what mistakes I made during my CAT 19 preparation. I tracked my score in an excel sheet after taking every mock which looked like:
The benchmarks mentioned at the top were set by me and it was fairly evident from my sheet that I was a clear underperformer in VARC with clearing the red score in just 3 out of 39 mocks I took. An average performer in DILR with fluctuating scores with even having some very good and some very bad scores. Quant felt to be above average and gave me confidence that I can cover up my VARC low percentile with a good QA score. Only task left was to do well in DILR. The target I had in mind was to score a total of atleast 200/300 but had been fairly unsuccessful to reach that mark in any of the mock tests. My main confidence came when I tried the past year CAT papers in the week leading up to the D-Day. I touched yellow sector in VARC in both my mocks of CAT 2018 papers and breached the 200 mark in one of them. These were my last two mocks before CAT 19 and I think affected my result in a big way. As I became confident that I can crack the VARC cutoff in an actual CAT paper if not the mock test set by coaching institute and reach close to the 200 mark.
If you check the image above and check the total scores you might observe that there is a gradual improvement mock after mock (which I feel is very important). The average scores are not the top at all — pathetic in VARC, average in DILR and decent in quant leading to below expectations in overall scores. But still the target I had always was the same — to score 200+ overall which mostly translates to 99.9+ percentile overall and to clear the VARC cutoff.
I was a part of random online Facebook and Whatsapp groups related to CAT and often used to solve quant questions posted there mentally. This used to improve my mental calculations and speed and I have always advised my friends to do the same. I was very glad to receive some very good form of positive competition from Rishi, Lucky, Aryan, Bitanesh, Lakhshya, Sowdith, Kaushik and few other fellow aspirants. These fellows motivated me, helped me and guided me in ways they can.
CAT 2019 D-Day:
Through 39 mocks, I was fairly aware what my strategies were in the final examination. I knew that I wasn’t good at reading speed and thus had decided to leave one RC. I knew I was better at LR than DI and would be attempting that first (solving 6/8 sets at the very least was the target). I had to maximize the speed and accuracy in Quants to cover up for my VARC.
The VARC section went as planned, but then things started going south once the DILR section began. 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.
Calls and PI Prep:
With a score of 99.85%ile (96.25/98.13/99.98), I ended up receiving interview calls from FMS and all IIMs I had applied to except A, B, K. I joined Prepzone for my GDPI preparation as I had known Shubham Ranka since a while by then. All my interviews were scheduled for March end and April of 2020. Right then it was when the Covid happened and all interviews were postponed with any intimation of the proposed PI dates. I barely had done any interview preparation and the delay in the interviews reduced my motivation even further in preparation. With studying only about Covid and budget among the current affairs and some basic math, I gave my IIM C and L interviews towards the end of April 2020 and had skipped my interviews for IIM I and S. I got waitlisted in both and missed my IIMC convert by a bit. By the time waitlists moved, I had made my decision to pass on the thought of MBA in 2020 due to covid situation, online MBA and inability to make it to my targeted colleges — IIM A, B, C.
Converts: FMS Delhi and some IIMs related to CAP
Waitlist: IIMC and IIML
CAT 20 Preparation:
Having been unable to join any B-School of my choice, I decided that I will be joining my job and that since I had a backup in hand and being a fresher I had enough chances to repeat. I was willing to take a risk of repeating CAT as I was just a fresher and knew that the profile curve just improves with additional months of work ex. Hence giving myself a chance to target my dream colleges IIM A, B, C yet again.
As I had done decent in CAT 19, I knew what and how to prepare. Mocks were gonna be the key for me yet again. After the waitlist movements in May 2020, I decided to take a break for the month of June and start taking mocks from July. Once again I enrolled for the TIME and IMS mock test series and started taking mocks. This was the time I came across few fellow aspirants through a platform called Pagalguy and we decided to study together. Aiming high was the only thing we were good at, so we named the group “Almost 100 Percentilers”. This group was initiated by Shubham Bajaj and it ended up being the most active and one of the most fun groups for me which helped me survive the pandemic mentally. However, these people will receive a special mention soon.
Coming back to my preparation I started taking the mocks in July and took one AIMCAT and one SIMCAT every weekend. Once again, I maintained a sheet which looked like:
My 15th mock for the season came at a difficult time in life for me. I do not exactly remember all the reasons but involved Covid, virtual onboarding in the new job and the gradually losing touch with college friends. I performed terribly in that mock and got pissed with myself. Even though I was hitting more yellow sectors in VARC as compared to last season, slightly better performance in DILR and amazing quant performance, that one mock at the wrong timing put my preparation in a bad shape. I decided to take break from mocks for a couple of weeks and then come back strong yet again. However this just remain a hope and I never came back to taking mocks. The exam pattern shifted from a 3 hour exam to a 2 hour exam. So I decided to take a 2 hour mock leading up to CAT to get a feeling of the pattern. But I was totally not in the write frame of mind (pun intended) to take that mock and just quit it within the first half hour. So effectively I had not prepped anything related to CAT from September through November. This time I had not even been a part of any of the Facebook/Whatsapp groups like last year to practice some questions there. So effectively it was a gap of 3 months of prep before CAT.
CAT 2020 D-Day and CAT result:
Having played CSGO with BITSian friends till late night one day prior to CAT, I decided to complete my sleep properly and attempt my CAT exam with a fresh mind. I had complete confidence in myself even though I was rusty of preparation from 3 months. I knew that my preparation of 39+15 mocks over the two years was huge and that I can do well if I believe in myself. I decided to attempt the exam with a free mind without having any preconceived goals, trying to attempt one question at a time and focusing immensely on the accuracy as my speed would have become rusty because of the lack of practice.
My VARC performance of the second season was better than the first and so was my confidence. In DILR, I attempted one question after the another and ended up attempting 4/5 sets completing 20/24 questions. Apart from a silly mistake, I ended up getting 19 others right which made my DILR hit the purple sector with that 100 percentile. In quant my speed as well as accuracy dipped. I got blank for around 8 out of the 40 mins in which I was not doing anything except for looking at the screen, not even reading the question. I was probably feeling a discomfort because of sitting for a long time for the first time wearing a mask. My attempts as well as accuracy as well as percentile eventually dropped in this section as compared to last year.
Since I did not know how well my DILR had went and VARC always being an unknown, I was fairly unhappy with my Quant section. But within a few days, the official answer key was released and the happiness I got seeing my DILR score overpowered all the sadness I was experiencing due to quant.
Through various CAT percentile predictors, I was expecting a percentile of around 99.95. The 99.99 came out of a pleasant surprise and I was quite delighted. On the day of the results, I was on a vacation at Goa around the New Year’s. The result was expected at 5pm and I had a Kayaking slot booked for same time around sunset. So I had thought that I will check my result after coming back from the beach. But to our surprise the results were out around 4:30pm. I was talking to my college friends at that time and told them my result first. I immediately received a video call from Shantanu, one of my closest friends from college and soon the others joined. I went to the other room and told my cousin with whom I was on the vacation with about the result and immediately called my family and gave them the good news. Soon I was off for Kayaking in an absolute delight and then we celebrated at the dinner with my favourite food items.
At night me and my group “Almost 100 Percentilers” (mentioned before) started to discuss if we achieved the aim or not. To our surprise, in a group of 20, we had one 100 percentiler, three 99.99 percentilers, three 99.98 percentilers and close to ten 99.9+ percentilers. Most of us were truly happy with ours and the group’s result but on the other hand were also feeling very bad for the folks of our gang who did not have the best of days on the exam day and did not do as well. However we all got together and started along with our PI prep.
Calls and PI Prep:
I soon was back from Goa and the interview calls started rolling in. Thanks to my percentile, I had calls from all IIMs I had applied to. I had not applied to any other college like FMS this time as I was fairly clear that I wanted to join one of my targeted colleges only and was willing to repeat yet again if I do not achieve my target.
I joined Prepzone yet again for my GDPI prep and was fairly serious this year when it came to interview prep. Apart from that we were always helped by our fellow seniors/mentors Sohum Sen (IIMC ’22), Praveen (BITS ’13, IIMA ’18), Scrabbler (Those who know, know. For others, he is a 11 times CAT 100 percentiler among other legend things), and others at PG DT ’20 (Pagalguy DreamTeam). Even though I was getting my resources and study materials, I was immensely helped by the same study group of mine in preparing answers, preparing SOP, asking each other question, counter questioning, preparing acads and others. I had also made some friends who were fellow aspirants at Prepzone who helped me with the same.
Eventually I gave all my IIM interviews except IIM Indore and the experience was a much better one than last year.
Converts: IIM A, IIM C, IIM K, IIM S, some IIMs related to CAP
Waitlist: IIM B (PGPBA), IIM L
Reaching the destination after 2 years of a journey and thanks:
After having the sweet privilege to choose among IIMA and IIMC, I found myself to be very lucky as very few people in the country get the opportunity to choose. I eventually ended up choosing IIMA (PGP 2021–23) as that was my dream college and also fulfilling my father’s dream. I feel very happy to have done so. It means a lot to me to see my parents and sister proud of me. Throughout this whole process my family has supported me immensely and I have seen my mother and sister probably happier than me with my achievements and I am grateful for having such a family.
I cannot thank enough the friends I made in this journey and the help these people have done to me in some form or the other. Mentioning some below, I sincerely request you to forgive me incase I miss any name.
Almost 100 Percentilers:
Aaryan, Anand, Aravind, Arvind, Ashish, Bitanesh, Deepak, Dilip, Ekansh, Gaurav, Kevil, Krishnakant, Lakhshya, Lucky, Prabhat, Rishabh, Saksham, Shantanu, Shivam, Shubham, Utkarsh, Utkarsh, Vipraw, Vivek
For this group the study group part ended in a month I guess, after that it has all been multiple video calls in a week, codenames, skribble, quizzes, trading and crypto discussions, IPL auctions, “ee sala cup namde” mocking and all other sorts of fun only.
PG DT ’20:
Apart from the above people who were also the part here — Ashwin, Aniruddha, Anshu, Ayush, Jitesh, Raj, Rishi, Shivani, Tanayaa and all the mentors.
Aaditya, Abhinay, Aditi, Akshat, Ashish, Himanshu, Kruti, Medha, Pragya, Saket, Shreyansh Shubham, Supriya, Veer and all other aspirants and mentors (Shubham, Prashant, Hari, Yash)
I am pretty sure I would have missed some names. But if we connected on any level at any time in this journey then I am thankful for that to everyone.
Even though it is said that the part of the journey is the end, I believe that this is just the beginning. I am extremely excited towards this start of my MBA in one of the most prestigious B-Schools of the country and being a WIMWIAN.
Me along with my study group also decided to mentor future batch of CAT aspirants in the small ways we can and give back to the CAT aspirant community. For this I created the discord server called “To CAT and Beyond” and we will continue to help and mentor the next batch, maybe make a group of serious/high scoring aspirants like DT who can continue to beat the records of our batch (PG DT ’20) as we were told we beat those of the previous batch.
Advice for the future batch:
There is nothing which you cannot deduce from the above read, but still if there is someone who skipped the read and came to the bottom for advice, here is some which I can think of:
1. Have a study group having positive competition (The Discord server can help you here if you wish or if you have joined any coaching then that is also fine)
2. Mocks are a must and take as many as you can
3. Help others in their doubts and everything possible. From what I have learnt is that you improve the most by teaching.
4. Focus on your weak areas and do not hesitate to ask doubts (Preferably ask your peers as they might think like you can in the exam)
With this, a big thank you to everyone who helped me in this journey and wishing the future batch the best of luck in reaching their dream destinations.
Mihir Dharap aka kakunamatata
BITS Pilani ’20, IIM Ahmedabad ’23