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CAT 2009: Preparing on your own

By Sidharth Balakrishna
April 28, 2009 11:17 IST
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Some students, for various reasons, may decide that preparing for the CAT and the other management school entrance exams on their own is better than joining a coaching institute. This article examines how students can go about their preparation should they choose not to join a coaching institute. However, it must be pointed out that coaching institutes do offer some benefits that may not be possible to replicate if you prepare on your own.

Self discipline

Should students decide to prepare on their own, they need to be extremely disciplined. Normally coaching institutes ensure that you stick to a schedule, holding regular classes of a fixed duration. Left to themselves, some students tend to be lazy and not work/ give less time to their preparation on some days. Or they tend to get distracted by factors such as cricket matches, telephone calls etc. Plus coaching institutes will ensure that all the topics that could appear in the CAT exam are covered.

So, if you are preparing on your own, make sure of the following:

  • That you remain very disciplined in your approach, by using a structured approach: prepare a time-table covering what you plan to study on which days, by when you plan to finish a particular topic, how many hours you will put in etc. Then, most importantly, stick to your schedule! For example, if you have planned to read at least four articles on a daily basis to improve your reading comprehension skills and speed and decided to practice at least 25 maths questions daily, then make sure that you do so, without fail.
  • Ensure that you complete the syllabus: While there is no defined 'syllabus' for CAT, the topics and type of questions that could appear are more or less known. Make sure that you cover all these adequately, whether it be geometry, analytical puzzles, time-speed-distance questions, algebra, trigonometry etc

Study material

If you are preparing on your own, it is needless to say that you would need appropriate study material. Try and ensure that:

  • You can borrow material from students who have taken the CAT in previous years, so that you are aware of the topics, and have some practice material.
  • Get your hands on good reference books. Speak to those who have already taken the CAT. Remember to choose a book that explains the concepts well and has adequate questions for practice.

Interacting with others

Interacting with others is a crucial aspect of classroom coaching. Very often, students learn more from their peers, through informal interactions. At coaching centres, you generally meet other students of different backgrounds and interests. You can share knowledge with them; plus you can benchmark your preparation with others and see how you are progressing.

If you can't join a coaching centre, then:

  • Aim at forming a group of your own with your friends and meet regularly. However, do ensure that others in your group are also serious about their preparation. Help clear each other's doubts and teach each other, as appropriate.
  • Share in the group what you think are important types of questions or crucial concepts. This may help you understand the CAT pattern better and be well prepared for the actual exam.
  • Working in groups could be very useful while preparing for group discussions (GDs) and interviews. Mock GDs can be organised within the group and perspectives could be shared on important issues or the latest current affairs developments.

Mock tests

Make sure that you practice some mock tests. This stage of preparation is important, for the following reasons:

  • Mock tests are likely to provide you a flavour of the actual environment that you would experience on the day of your CAT exam, and thus add to your comfort level. This is particularly relevant for those taking the CAT for the first time.
  • Mock tests will help you understand what to expect in the actual CAT. You will be more familiar with the exam pattern, and know how to crack it.
  • You will learn some important skills, such as how to allocate adequate time for the various sections etc. Remember that there are sectional cut-offs, so you need to score a minimum in all the sections of the CAT exam. In addition, taking practice tests will help you benchmark your preparation and you can understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. Are you, for example, strong in algebra or geometry? Verbal ability or reading comprehension within the English section?

Should you not be able to join a classroom-based coaching centre to prepare for the CAT and other management-school entrance exams, make sure you still are able to prepare properly. You must set out a schedule for yourself and cover all the topics that could appear in the exam. Try to form a group with other students and learn from each other. Make sure that you have good study material; and think about practicing mock-tests so that you are well-versed with the test pattern.

The author is an MBA from IIM Calcutta and is employed with a management consultancy. He is also a visiting faculty with MBA coaching centres in New Delhi and a freelance writer on travel and management related issues. He can be contacted at

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Sidharth Balakrishna