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CAT: 'Mock tests are not the answer'
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October 13, 2008

With a little over a month to go for CAT 2008, the pressure on B-school aspirants is mounting. Strategising, mock CATs, time management -- each have their own importance and value when it comes to making your CAT attempt meaningful.

To help test-takers, we asked students who have taken the CAT to share their tips and tricks. Here, Nagendra S, a student at IIM Lucknow (Batch 2008-10), shares his experiences.

When you buy a travel ticket to a certain point, you are 99 per cent sure of reaching your destination. However, there are some journeys wherein the chances of reaching of reaching your destination is less than 1 per cent. The ticket sales for this journey have ended recently and hundreds of thousands of students are anxiously awaiting the magical train. The train is scheduled to arrive at different platforms in different parts of the country on November 16 at 10 AM. A major portion part of the journey will be covered in the ensuing 2.5 hours. Yes, the journey we are talking about is 'CAT'. I have attempted to complete this magical voyage thrice and managed to do so this year, albeit after a lot of struggle.

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For many young Indians, making it to the IITs is always a matter of pride. The JEE leading to an IIT admission has been classified as one of the toughest in the world. Unfazed by this, several students across the country religiously prepare for it. Many of them don't make it and it pretty much is the end of the road. There is too much pressure to take up a bachelor degree when you are 18 so that you can graduate at the "right age". So, apart from a few really focussed souls, the rest give up on this dream after one trial. And so did I.

This is not the case with CAT though. CAT gives you a fair chance to take it up again. CAT tantalises you when you realise that the elusive cut-off was only 1 correct answer away! CAT gives you hope when people around have been appearing for the past several years (like me!). In short, CAT is something that people hope to crack and back themselves.

Not being blessed with extra-ordinary intellect, let's say I was among the hopefuls rather than the achievers. I first gave CAT in 2005, during the last year of engineering. After attending coaching classes and taking up the de-rigueur mock tests, I was brimming with confidence. I got the shock of my life when I saw my results. I had not even touched the 90 percentile mark! It was a major wake-up call and more importantly a 'back on earth" feeling that left me numb and shattered.

Two years later, "after some work-ex", I took up CAT again. This time I acted with much more caution. I concentrated a lot more on the mock tests. Result: virtually unchanged. My percentile refused to move beyond the 90s. Thankfully, the sorrow was drowned by the news of an on-site visit which had me packing bags soon afterwards.

Back from my travel, and friends were already taking CAT 2007. It was then that I told myself (in typical dramatic fashion) "This is it. It's now or never. Give it one last shot. Give it all you got. If you can't do it this time, then just give up". The positive tones of the self-pledge overshadowed the negativity of the last part. I sincerely prepared for CAT 2007.

I sacrificed all my weekend pleasure and long sleeping hours for practising mock tests. Being a working IT professional, I was forced to stay awake late hours to better understand the solutions of the mock tests. I realised that answering more and more mock tests was not the solution. It was how effectively I could analyse the solutions and use them when I spotted a problem of similar nature sometime later on. This was the key difference in preparation in comparison to previous times. And then magically things started to fall in place.

My office work timings thankfully got better. I got more time to prepare. My scores which were nowhere near the 90s now started inching towards the cut-off scores. By the time I was half way through the mock test series, I was consistently clearing the cut-offs. I must say I was feeling good at this point. But the previous failures were always on the back of my mind. The positive frame of mind was better re-enforced when I was called for the "high achievers workshop" conducted by my coaching institute. It really felt like I was getting ready to hit the home run.

I approached D-day with much more confidence than any of my previous attempts. After a slow and cautious start, I gradually picked up momentum and along the way, spotted some crucial mistakes I had committed when I was rushing through the questions. With a "can't say how I performed" look, I returned home and did not look at the solutions that were being put up by the coaching institutes a couple of hours after the exam.

Back to work the next day and the now the agonising wait for the results. After about five weeks, they arrived. After a lot of heart-in-your-mouth moments in front of my PC, I got it. I finally managed to clear that magical barrier! The result sheet read 98.2 percentile with interview calls from IIM-B and IIM-L. Fists pumping in the air, I was literally acting like a man possessed. For a brief moment my family must have thought I had gone crazy. I hadn't. I was just letting out all the pent up energy from the previous year.

The rest of the process was much more methodical. I trusted my speaking skills to a far greater degree. I took up GD and PI classes from the same coaching institute that I chose for my mock tests. The GDs are initially very noisy and only the ones blessed with loud vocals were able to make an impact. Later, after many sessions, the volume levels were toned down and most of us were able to communicate well in about 2-3 weeks.

It is important to note here that it does not matter how many times you speak during the GD, it is about what you are contributing to the GD every time you speak. Keep this in mind and pretty soon you will catch the fancy of the group as well as the moderators'. Try to bring in points which will induce further debate. Do not get into the cliched and oft used methods like "Friends, let's come to a conclusion", when the group is not yet ready. It is not always necessary to conclude the GD. If the moderator wishes so, he / she will explicitly ask for it.

And now, lastly the interviews. After a good GD and a writing session, I was pretty confident in facing the panel. Confidence, or should I say "presence" is the most important part of the interview. In those 10-15 minutes when you have a one-on-one chance of making an impression, don't let go of it. Prepare for the stereotypical questions ("Tell me about yourself" for instance) no matter how confident you are of answering it well.

Putting down your thoughts on paper never does any harm. For as many questions as you can foresee, have answers in mind. I don't mean that you need to know them word-by-word. Just know the content well. Use the context of the question to put your prepared points in place and deliver with clarity. Try to present a pleasant face to the interviewers no matter how long you have been made to wait. A smile always induces a positive effect.

With all this done, keep in mind that the interviews and GD rounds are meant to "select" rather than "reject" people. Do not give the interviewers a reason for rejection. Avoid spelling errors in your forms, dress up well, reach the interview location on time and try to be pleasant to your fellow students. Never get overly emotional or personal either during the GD or interview. Present the truthful side of yourself always.

Well, anymore advice and I am sure you will close the browser and move on. So, I stop here. Here is wishing you all the very best and I hope that each of you finds the institute of your choice. You have the tickets in hand by now. Make the most of the journey. Enjoy the process and the outcome will naturally follow. Like a wise man once said: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes".

Have you aced the CAT? Do you have tips that could help students improve their scores or stress-busting strategies to beat pre-CAT nerves? Send in your advice to and we'll publish your strategies right here on



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