Aanchal is a senior student at Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies at the University of Delhi seeking a Bachelor of Management Studies (BMS) specializing in finance. In this article, she sets out her detailed preparation strategy that helped her achieve 99.77% in the 2020 CAT and then helped her crack the Holy Trinity as a freshman.
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Class X .: 10 CGPA | Class XII .: 97.2% | Graduation: 9.5 CGPA
Converted: IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore, IIM Calcutta, FMS, XLRI Jamshedpur
How did you prepare – self-study or coaching? Which do you think is better?
I took CAT coaching from TIME, which I started in January 2020 and dedicated almost 10 months to CAT preparation. While coaching will help you cover the curriculum in a well-structured way, simply taking courses may not help you get that extra mile. The extra hours of self-study that you schedule in after these coaching courses make the biggest difference. Practicing the study material beyond what is covered in the classroom will help solidify the concepts better. So I suggest a combination of both!
How much time did you regularly invest in preparation?
The number of hours you spend on CAT preparation each day doesn’t matter. Nobody is rewarding or punishing you for the pace at which you are learning. Just be aware of your strengths and weaknesses and you will know how much effort to invest. Also, more important is not the number of questions you practice, but the number of questions that you conceptually understand. So count the number of new concepts and techniques you learn, not the number of questions you practice. You won’t get exactly the same questions in CAT; it is your conceptual understanding that comes at your service.
Which mock series have you signed up for? How many full-length trial tests did you take?
As a TIME student, I had access to the AIMCAT and SAMCAT mock series from the coaching institute. I also signed up for the Career Launcher test suite and appeared for last year’s CAT papers as well. In total, I took about 60 mocks.
Is one mock series sufficient or do you suggest a combination of 2 different mock series?
I strongly recommend a combination of 2 test series. You get a better mix of questions and how to deal with different paper structures with varying degrees of difficulty. The solution approaches of different institutes can also differ and you will receive alternative approaches for some questions. You won’t be used to just one type of user interface, either.
When is the right time for the first mock?
I did my first mock in the first month of my preparation. Don’t wait to complete your curriculum. CAT is not about knowing everything, so mocks are not only used to test how much you know, but also to develop crucial skills for taking tests, such as choosing the right questions, time management, and pressure management .
What do you think is the most important aspect of preparation?
Mocks and the in-depth analysis of each and every one of them definitely played an important role in my preparation. Mocks help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. In addition, you can improve your time management. Try to appear in a simulated environment for all mocks. Make each model feel like the actual CAT exam. It will also help you get used to the pressures of exam day. Most importantly, if you are going to spend 2 hours on a mock make sure you spend at least 3-4 hours analyzing the same. You can also keep track of your performance by maintaining an Excel. It will help you get a better idea of your improvement in each section.
How did you go about analyzing mock tests?
A quick checklist that might help you with your mock analysis:
(Please note that this is not an exhaustive list)
- Try to find alternative and better solution methods for the correct answers
- If you answered incorrectly, try solving the question yourself again to see if the error was due to the timer ticking or a conceptual error.
- For those who haven’t tried, try to solve on your own before looking at the solution. If you can, find out the reason why you left it during the mock. If not, learn it as a new concept and practice 3 more similar questions.
- Analyze the time spent on each question, right or wrong.
- Identify the weak points, write down all of these topics, and then practice those from the study material
- Analyze your decision-making regarding the choice of questions. CAT does not give extra marks for time-consuming questions. If you left 2 simple questions for just that one time consuming question, it is time to work on your selection strategy.
- Check the accuracy and number of attempts for each section
If you already perform on mocks, how important do partial exams become in the overall preparation?
In these three cases I showed up for section tests:
- To experiment with different strategies in terms of time for each question and / or the order of answering the questions. I’ve tried all of the variations to see what works best for me.
- When my performance was unsatisfactory on a section of a mock, I ran section tests on that section to work on the problem areas.
- Subject tests after completing a chapter in the book helped me test my understanding and satisfaction with the subject.
What area were you strong in? What helped you master this section?
Contrary to popular belief, QA was my strongest section, even though I’m not an engineer. I used a combination of TIME study material and section tests from TIME and CL to prepare for this section. Two preparation tips that can help future aspirants pass the QA area are:
- Do the study material twice! In the first round, when you are working on a topic for the first time, try every single question in the book. Start the second round after you’ve completed your curriculum for a full revision. You can selectively answer the questions this time.
- Don’t leave an issue standing! Even if you find a topic extremely difficult, you cannot risk leaving it entirely. At least do the basics. The CAT does not place any particular emphasis on any topic and the number of questions asked on each topic varies each year.
Which section was your Achilles heel? How did you get over that?
VARC was that section for me and I experienced the maximum fluctuations in VARC section values among the three sections in mocks. In addition to the study material, the partial and topic tests, reading newspapers regularly can be very helpful. This will also help you prepare for the interview at a later stage as you will be kept up to date with the current state of affairs. You can refer to sites like Aeon and Guardian for high quality articles. I also used the official GMAT guide for additional practice with RCs.
What was your sectional approach when you made mocks?
While performing for Mocks, I tried different strategies for each section before finalizing my final CAT day testing strategy. Try everything for yourself and see what works best for you. However, it is very important to be flexible. Even if you find that a particular approach will work most of the time, there is always the possibility that the actual paper is not what you expected and you may need to change it accordingly. I have listed below various strategies that I used during my mocks
- Try all the RCs first and then move on to VA
- Starting with VA and then moving on to the RCs
- 2 RCs followed by VA and then back to the remaining RCs
- At the beginning, take a few minutes to scan all of the sets, select the ones you want to try, and determine the order in which you will try them
- From now on with the first sentence. When you come across a set, if you are comfortable with that type and it doesn’t take much time, you might want to leave it for the end or drop one set together and move on to the next one can be solved.
- Answer the questions in the order given
- Divide the section into 2 subsections, giving each 30 minutes
- Divide the section into 4/6 subsections, giving each 10 minutes
What would be your final advice to future aspirants?
The entire journey of CAT preparation will be filled with its own ups and downs. It can get overwhelming with bad seeming days, days when you feel down and insecure. It’s okay to take a break, it’s okay to feel frustrated, but enjoy the journey and learn with each day that goes by. Be sure of your efforts, because every minute of your effort will be worth it. Best regards to everyone!
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