CAT is one of the most competitive tests in the country and the IIMs, the conducting body, some of the most sought after B-schools (in the country and the world). The word CAT reminds me the third Sunday of November (November 18 in my case) when lakhs of students set out to crack this test in order to be able to fulfill their dream of being a part of one of the six (now seven) IIMs.
I was one of them, with the dream to study at an IIM one day. That was the sole driving force when I decided to take the CAT. Hard work coupled with a little bit of luck -- that's what is needed to get into the IIMs. At least that was what was needed for me to reach where I am today -- IIM Lucknow.
My journey to IIML started around a year ago. Cracking CAT is not just luck (though that's a small part of it). What matters most is hard work, perseverance and the zeal to ace the CAT. There is no shortcut to succeed in CAT. You need to work hard and practice hard if you want to be able to score well.
Now let's get to the nitty-gritty. How do you prepare for the CAT? According to me there is no set way or methodology to prepare for it. It is a very subjective thing. The way you prepare or study for CAT differs from one individual to the other. So there is no standard framework or rule which should be followed while preparing. Here's how I approached the test, my strategies to crack it and some mistakes I made, which could have been avoided.
The first and foremost thing is to identify your strengths and weakness amongst Quantitative Ability, Verbal Ability and Data Interpretation. Once that is done, the next thing to be done is time allocation. One needs to devote more time to the section one feels one has difficulty in. That does not mean that the other two sections should be neglected. On the contrary, they too should be given importance; in fact you should make sure that you get next to perfect in your strong section, so that it should be able to compensate for the not-so-strong section.
Regular practice is what is needed. Last-minute preparations will not help you to crack the CAT. Those who spread out their preparation through the year rather than the last few months are the ones who will most probably crack the exam.
Quantitative Ability is something that demands a lot of practice. You can never be perfect in this section, so the more you practice and try different types of sums, the less the chances that you will mess up on the final day. Thus, it is advisable that you solve as many different types of sums from different class notes or some standard books before you take CAT.
A word of caution: do not read the sums (as in first the sum and then its solution). It does not serve any purpose. It is only when you solve the sums that you can judge where you went wrong or where you need to focus more attention. I personally concentrated a lot on this section. Initially I too made the mistake of reading through the sums (all engineers have this habit, right?) , but I soon realised my mistake. So, I changed my strategy. I not only solved class sheets from my coaching institute but also solved class notes of other institutes. One more thing, the Quantitative Aptitude book by Arun Sharma is very helpful. The level two and three sums in this book are really good.
Now, let us look at Data Interpretation (DI). I found this section very interesting. The sums in this section are varied, ranging from Data Interpretation to Logical Reasoning (LR). The DI section was always my strength. The best part of this section according to me is LR. I generally gave preference to all the LR questions over mathematical DI questions. Family Tree type problems particularly interested me. Since I always felt confident while attempting DI questions, I tried to maximise my attempts in this section in the minimum time. The time I saved here, I generally gave to the Verbal Section. For example in CAT 2007, I just gave 20 minutes to this section and still managed to 99.7 per cent in DI.
The Verbal section had always been my weak point. I was never comfortable solving those long and boring Reading Comprehensions (RC). Even while preparing at home, I always used to neglect this section. I would hardly practice any RCs. But as the Mock CATs started, in the initial few tests I realised that I was struggling to clear the cut-offs in this section. I would comfortably clear the sectional cut-offs in Quant and DI but not is Verbal. That's when I started to take this section more seriously.
I did a lot of RCs at home, but by this time it was already too late. By doing all this, I could just manage to clear the cut-offs but could never score in this section due to which my over all percentile always suffered. This also cost me my IIM A call as I failed to clear their Verbal percentile by a mere 0.8 per cent.
To end, I would just like to say that practice is the only way you can ace the CAT. Also last-minute preparation does not help much. Also, never neglect the section you find difficult or boring to solve. On the contrary, concentrate more on these sections. I was lucky to have scraped through even though I neglected the Verbal Section. But not everyone can be so lucky, so why take a chance?
Finally I would like to conclude by saying that CAT is not rocket science. It's just another exam. If I can crack it, why can't you?
The author is a students at IIML, Batch 2008-10