The story of a 19 to 91 percentiler

When you start preparing for one of the toughest exams of the country, you have just one question looming in your mind –
" How do I score more than a 95 percentile in CAT? "
(at least for the modest ones, as an optimist would target a 100 percentile)
I took the CAT exam in 2007, the final year of my graduation. Today I will talk about my journey from CAT to thy B-school. But before that, a little flashback!
I belong to Chandigarh, the so-called modern city of western India. I was born in a family of officers and ambitious housemakers. I completed my schooling till tenth in a convent school and then went to The Lawrence School Sanawar for high-school. Perhaps the interest in economics and accountancy convinced me to pursue my graduation in Commerce. And at the prime time of bachelors I was suggested I had two options - CA or MBA. The latter seemed more dynamic and rewarding in those times. And therefore, I decide to take the grand entrance exam for MBA admission - the CAT exam.
When I began preparing for CAT in 2006, it all seemed very well-thought out. Coming from convent schooling, English should have been a cakewalk. Fortunately enough, I was also blessed with genes that had sound mathematical abilities. So I really never suffered from a common ailment of ‘Math phobia’ despite coming from a non-engineering background. The plan was well laid-out. Prepare for the CAT exam, take some coaching, and dive into, to take a plunge at the CAT exam. Yet as in every Bollywood movie, no matter how well you strategize, PLAN A will always fail!!
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I began my coaching a year before I was supposed to take the CAT exam. It didn’t seem like an impossible task then. But two months later I took my first Mock test. Very confident that my score would be at least ‘80ish’ percentile, I kept searching my name in the top of the list; until a friend found it just a little above the bottom. I had scored a mere 19 percentile! A sudden shock, a sarcastic comment and a day or two’s whining was what it took to push me up from the cushy seat of overconfidence. Fortunately, my decision to start early greatly benefitted me. I had some good 9-10 months and the entire mock test series ahead of me. After some initial consultations, I came to know that the CAT exam is not merely about solving questions. It involves experimenting and trying to create a near-perfect strategy that is not only best-suited to you but also flexible enough to change as per the exam pattern. The strategy is knowing what is the ideal number of questions to be attempted from each section with the right play of speed and accuracy.
So, the next few months went into rigorous experimentation with exam tactics, repeated revision of old & new concepts, solving advanced level questions and extensive reading of diverse topics. There was no overnight change in scores and percentiles. The first few mock tests only saw an improvement from 19 to somewhere around 50 percentile. I think I cracked a 80+percentile after the sixth or seventh mock-test. This was a motivation booster. I could see now that if I kept working hard through my preparation, one day I would be able to get a good score. And that’s what happened. My tenth mock-test I cracked a 91 percentile! I had finally been able to reach an optimum strategy. I continued with this ‘strategy’ for the next few mocks and saw a constant rise in my score. I touched a 98.7 percentile in the last mock test that I took a week before the final CAT. I was clear-headed by now and took my CAT with confidence. I scored a 95+ percentile in CAT and got a call from all IIMs except A & B.
Yes! I didn’t have a call from IIM Bangalore in the beginning. And getting a call from there is the favourite part of my journey. I was in Pune with my father for an MBA interview at the Symbiosis centre. After a day of grilling rounds of group activities and interviews, I came down to the lobby where my father had been waiting the whole day. As I approached I saw a huge grin on his face. My mother in Chandigarh had just informed him of a letter from IIM Bangalore stating that I had been shortlisted for their interview round. I still remember my interview with the acclaimed faculty of IIMB. We were having a conversation about the inflation rate in India and they had proven me wrong on my hypothesis. I came out of the room feeling I had no chance of making it through. Yet, the result was contrary and I cleared. Perhaps, it was my use of logical arguments and an amicable acceptance of opposite views in the discussion that convinced them that I was a good fit for MBA.
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This was my journey from CAT to IIM. I took this platform to share my experience with all MBA aspirants with the objective of highlighting a few lessons and take-aways. Firstly, it is very essential to start your CAT preparation early on, so that you can afford to hit and try your strategies and bounce back from any set-back. Secondly, progress cannot be abrupt or instantaneous. It is gradual and requires one to stay motivated to work hard and smart. Finally, your hard work can give you some surprise packages in life. I never expected a call from IIM Bangalore at the percentile I had scored. But somewhere in my heart I still like to believe that the ‘letter from IIMB’ was a surprise gift to me for those late nights and sheer dedication. Abiding by my school’s motto, I give just one message to all the current and future MBA aspirants,
" Never give in! "
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