Anshu is a mechanical engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur with 3 years of professional experience in management consulting, strategy and product management prior to the MBA. His most recent appointment was as Product Director at ShareChat, where he led consumer experience and social connection for the next billion domestic internet users. He was the board topper for the AP State Board in 12th grade with 98.3% and scored CGPA 10 in grade 10 and 7.3 in UG. Outside of work, his interests lie in dancing and UX design. In this interview he shares his CAT preparation strategy and advice to future aspirants. Continue reading!
I started preparing for CAT2020 in August last year. When I was working in a difficult ownership position in a fast-paced organization, I was burdened with work and had little time to prepare. It was therefore important to optimize the preparation with the time I had. I was aware of the exam pattern and how difficult it was, so I planned to study on my own instead of taking part in coaching.
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I took part in 2 series of tests – TIME and IMS.
What do you think is the most important aspect of preparation?
I used to play religiously on the weekend and analyze my mistakes and refine my strategy during the week. In 3.5 months to CAT I have taken 15-20 mocks and this is the most important preparation anyone can do.
While doing mocks, I experimented with multiple testing strategies and it took me 10+ mocks to curate my own strategy. With CAT, it should be noted that it is not so much about individual topics, but about maximizing your overall score. For example, QA was a matter of course for me and I practically did not prepare for it, but even within QA there were topics like TSD that for some reason always confused me. So given the limited time, I didn’t focus on improving TSD, but accepted a pragmatic call to get out of the subject altogether. Mocks and their analysis will help you make such optimizations. TIME and IMS mocks are very similar to the actual newspaper and will give you a good idea of what to expect in each section and how important the different topics are. So, if you are good at algebra and ~ 30% of the questions are on this topic, they should be optimistic about scoring algebra questions rather than spending time on topics they have no knowledge of. Always remember that the North Star metric will maximize the intersection score – whatever helps you get it.
What area were you strong in? Since you were strong on this section, how did you focus on the other sections?
At every stage of your preparatory trip, you should be well aware of how good or bad it is in a particular section and optimize your efforts accordingly. Since QA was decent for me, I spent more time with VARC and DILR. For the DILR, I solved dozens of sets from every online resource I could get my hands on, and I maintained an Excel sheet listing the key features of any set I’d solved, the time it took to do them, and listed the knowledge gained in a table. I looked through this sheet once a month and by D-Day I had over 150 curated sets in my sheet. That helped me a lot with my DILR. Although I couldn’t translate it into a great DILR score on D-Day, the results were visible in my later mocks.
For VARC, my main problem was fluctuating apparent values. My main takeaways from the VARC season are that VARC should be treated as two different sections – VA and RC and these sections have very different approaches to preparation. For VA, working through questions from TIME, IMS mocks from previous seasons helps a lot. Solving 50 questions of each type in VA should be more than enough if you iteratively understand and improve the nuances behind them. For RC, the golden rule is to treat the section like DILR. RCs are more about logical understanding and extrapolations than the English language itself.
All in all, I spent 6-8 hours preparing on weekends and 1-2 hours on weekdays, and in my opinion this should be enough if you are comfortable with prep.
In addition to the basic preparation mentioned above, I also consciously focused on mental health. CAT is not a sprint, but a marathon, in which consistency in preparation and a positive attitude with low mock scores are of the utmost importance. Lots of people will give advice on preparation, strategy, and so on. So I want to focus on something else here. I want to emphasize the purpose of the exam and what happens on D-Day.
I would like to reveal a secret to all aspirants – perhaps inside information. IIMs not only test your quantitative, logical and comprehensible skills through CAT; There is actually a fourth hidden element. And so I would go on to say that CAT has 4 sections and each of them has deep practical reasons as follows:
Quality assurance: As a B school student and as a future manager, most of your decisions are heavily influenced by data. Hence, dealing with numbers and the ability to extract insights from data, perform backend calculations, and get results through simple data crunching is an important survivability.
DILR: Problem solving and logical interpretation, tested to the brim in CAT, find their practicality in almost everything we do as managers or otherwise; It therefore makes perfect sense to filter out intelligent people with these skills in the first qualification phases.
VARC: VARC is also more about logic than language and grammar. In fact, over the years, CAT has reduced its focus on grammar and focused more on understanding. As a B-School student and manager, one has to view and understand several dozen pages of case studies / BRDs / PRDs and then derive results from this understanding. Precisely for this reason, CAT tests the ability to go through passages quickly and interpret them logically.
So far, so good. We see that adding each section had a practical meaning. Now the fourth and most important section.
Print handling: This, in my opinion, is the most important thing that is tested in CAT. The ability to keep a cool head without losing efficiency is what turns you from good to exceptional! Dealing with pressure is not an explicit section, but it permeates every question in each section and is tested every second during those 2 hours (or 3 hours). The other three sections are indeed easy to prepare, but this one is tricky. What you do on D-Day is all that matters. To withstand the pressures of your expectations, the hyper-competition, the hopes of your parents, etc .; is what converts 99% to 99.9% and if you kink under that pressure, potential 100% becomes 95%.
From my own example I wasn’t really convinced of DILR and to top it off I got Slot-3 (RIP xD). When all of a sudden you see a new pattern of 6 question sets, each of which is unnecessary and impossible, you feel like you’re escaping the exam room. I felt that too.
There were 5 sentences …
I started the first one … spent 2-3 minutes ….. and I was empty …. no, I can’t do that …
The next sentence … looks even more difficult …. 2 min in it …. no, it can’t do that either …..
Third sentence… ..the most difficult sentence I have ever seen… ..
18 out of 26 questions were seen, 10 minutes were wasted and no idea what to do.
For a second it felt like CAT20 was over for me as it took at least 99.7% to get a decent BSchool and I wouldn’t get that with a 0 in DILR!
BUT at the moment I kept myself from feeling sorry for myself and in retrospect that was the most important moment in my work. I did a reality check – paper is actually hard – it gets tough for everyone – I just have to do my best and hope that it is RELATIVELY good enough – and that I had 30 minutes left.
I looked at the 4th sentence. This was only a set of 4 questions, but it felt doable. Still resisting the urge to do it, I went to the final set
Wow, that’s pretty easy … a standard Venn diagram set … did it in under 5 minutes
Back to sentence 4 … now in a better mental state … solved in less than 7 minutes
Went back to a 6 question set and worked on it for the remaining 15 minutes. I cracked the set with 30 seconds and as soon as I had entered all the answers (it was a TITA set) the time was over and the next section began. Even though I ended up making a stupid mistake that got the entire sentence wrong and lost 22 potential points, at that moment I knew it was the best I could have done.
After a messed up DILR, I didn’t let it affect my QA and got 65 points.
I sincerely believe that once you have this item sorted, nothing can stop your hard work from bearing fruit.
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