My CAT Journey
I was in the third year of my graduation course in engineering, and like many other ‘engineers in the making’, I realised I was not too keen on pursuing the core subjects of engineering as a career. I decided to opt for management as a career path I'd like to follow. Coming from a science background, I was conscious of the fact that it could be tough for me, especially with respect to the verbal section. Yet I was ready for it and prepared myself mentally to work very hard.
I joined a coaching center locally, for my CAT preparation. I was quite focused from the beginning itself. I was very regular in completing all the assignments given, solving all the homework and what not. I was active and disciplined when it came to preparing for the CAT. But little did I realize that preparing for CAT was not just about solving and solving.
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“In school you are taught a lesson and then asked to take a test. In life, though, you’re given test that teaches you a lesson” - Tom Bodett
No one could have put the essence of CAT preparation in better words. The one true lesson about CAT training is this -
Take the test, analyze, improvise and take the test again!
And this where I goofed I guess. It had been almost three months since I began my preparation, and I had not given a single mock-test! I feel I became excessively overconfident and started losing focus on my CAT studies. I started taking the preparation very lightly and did not appear for any mock-tests. Fortunately, my mentors noticed it and suggested that I take at least one mock test just once.
My first mock test was an eye opener, I scored 79%ile in that mock! And, then I began to realise that I had to reorient my focus in order to achieve my MBA dream. Mock-Tests are CAT enablers. When you analyse a test, you do not just analyse your performance but also get analysis of yourself - your core areas, your strong & weak sections, your competencies like speed or accuracy and your areas of improvement. My first mock did just that. I analysed myself and worked towards forming an ideal game plan for CAT. With every next mock-test I worked on improvising my strategy.
But was ‘not taking the mock-test’ my critical mistake?
No, the most fundamental issue was in my attitude and mindset. Many bright students who practice their skills regularly and are able to solve many questions in a class, often feel they can achieve anything. They become overly sure of themselves and so, lose focus from their goal.
It’s much like the ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ story. Midway in the race, the overconfident hare stops running and takes a nap because he believes he has so much time before the tortoise can catch up. I won’t discuss the ending here because I believe that MBA aspirants are smarter than this. They can realize their weaknesses and correct themselves before it is too late.
For the Quant section, coming from a science background gave me an edge. I was quick with calculations and was very confident with this section. Selection of questions is the key to scoring a 99%ile. I was not comfortable with the geometry portion, so everytime I started the Quant section in my mock, I'd make a list of the questions I'd attempt in the first go and add the remaining questions to the second list. These were the questions I'd touch only if all the questions of list 1 are done with. By giving enough mocks, solving all the questions in the mock after it was over, and strategizing each section according to my weaknesses, I was able to perform well in the exam.
The LRDI section was a roller coaster ride, I liked solving sets and I thoroughly enjoyed it but I wasn't scoring in mocks, I had to strategize to pick up sets that I'll attempt. I started by attempting only two sets and by the end (before CAT), I was able to attempt 5-6 sets in each mock.
However, VARC was and is my weakest section amongst the three. I've not always been a reader, so I started reading novels and newspapers to improve this section. For a weak section to improve, you have two options - First, work on it to the extent that it improves, and Second, sharpen the other sections so much that they cover the lag you'll face from the weaker section. This is what I adopted for the VARC section as I wasn't able to improve much in this section.
Last but not the least, as mentioned earlier, the preparation or the strategy is not the key for cracking the CAT exam, it's the mindset.
I had given the JEE exam back in 2016. I was doing good in my mocks, but wasn't able to perform on the D-Day. This was majorly because I panicked. I gave my all to the exam so I was scared that what will happen if I don't do good. This is what we have to overcome, it's not the end. From my JEE experience, I learned not to panic in tough circumstances and it helped me to stay calm on the grand finale of CAT. I was never able to touch the 99%ile mark in my mocks but due to the positive mindset and clear objective my CAT exam went better than my own expectations and I managed to score 99.22%ile.
So, don’t make the one mistake of getting overconfident or panicked and letting your mind get out of your control.
Stay focussed & motivated, keep struggling, keep practicing, you'll get through it like a cakewalk. If I can crack the exam, so can you!