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Cracking CAT: You need preparation and persistence
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September 15, 2008

With a little over two months 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, Sankar N, a student at IIM Lucknow, shares his experiences.

It's that time of the year again, when tens of thousands of Indians in their early twenties put pencil to paper and shade ovals at frantic pace, in preparation for the mother of all entrance tests. This year, November 16 has been chosen as the fateful day that will play host to the CAT, the objective test that lends a whole new meaning to competition.


When there is just over a week left for D-Day, test-takers are in different states of mind. While folks who have barely started 'prep' are tearing their hair in frustration when confronted with choice bits of vocabulary and indecipherable math problems that are helplessly beyond their ken, most are in a more advanced stage of prep, where they are either catching buses to the nearest shrines to pray for that seat at IIM, or plucking petals off daisies chanting, "Will I? Won't I?"

In my final year of engineering, I found it highly amusing that my co-hostellers were dedicating a whole year to prepare for a test to gain admission to a degree course which itself was only twice as long! Two years down the line, I laughed on the other side of my face. I'd had it with my lowly role at work and wanted to handle more responsibility. I wanted to get on the fast track, for which I needed an MBA.

A friend of mine, another IIM aspirant, had subscribed to a correspondence course. The nature of his work did not permit him to attend classes, as he was never in one city for more than a week at a time. However, the basic reference material was a permanent fixture in his travel bag. He dutifully did sectional tests in the dim yellow light of the compartment, as the train chugged from station to station across the length of India. But on buses, he cursed the BRMs for adding weight to his baggage.

On the other hand, I took leave from work for three months and sat at home to prepare whole-heartedly. Serious candidates prepare anywhere from two months to a whole year. Some opine that there isn't a more hyped test, while others cannot extol its virtues enough. Preparation is highly organised (commercialised, if you like), thanks to coaching institutes, which train students to outdo others who, in all probability, subscribe to other such institutes. The result: Legions of students refined to the point where they learn to strike a balance between speed and accuracy, cull easier questions based on areas of strength, and maximise score by attempting sections in optimal order.

My friend was not amused with the proposition of competing with the likes of them. He raved, "I'm a Metallurgist, working in Product Quality for two years. The last time I saw any Math was six years ago, back in school, and it's the same for folks from Arts/ Law/ Commerce backgrounds. I want to major in HR, for which we don't need this stuff. It beats me why we have to do this! I'm quant phobic!"

On the flipside, this section is child's play for engineering students who saunter in and crack it without any prior prep. But for verbal, either you know it or you don't. They say one should read a lot of books to improve vocabulary and reading comprehension. For most though, it's too late now.


I know a lot of people who've taken the CAT over four times. Their scores keep falling just short of what the IIMs dictate. But they've got to make it there, to leverage their credentials. The best of the rest is just not good enough, sometimes. Not too many people make it on their first attempt. More often than not, an aspirant will take the CAT for a dry run just for the feel of it, before giving it a serious shot.

In test simulations, I consistently scored above the 90 percentile, but showed no signs of complacence. I remembered that I had to slug it out with two lakh others across the country and be among the top 1 per cent for a fighting chance. The IIMs cut zero slack, so it is best to not leave anything to chance.

The CAT is a hard, forbidding taskmaster. "Belling the CAT" has become a cliche. Though it seems a steep target, the reward of a 'CAT call' is well worth it. Toppers lie in wait for this communication from one or more of the six IIMs inviting them in the next round. Where the game of percentiles ends, that of GD/PI (Group Discussion/ Personal Interview) commences.

Those who overcome this last hurdle claim their coveted positions in the elite group.

What a good score promises is not just a seat in one of the highly acclaimed IIMs but a change in future prospects as well. As the hype goes, it's that point in time when one's career could take a critical spin and a resume starts peeking into completely new propositions. For those who may have fared poorly with technical education or have simply been left out of the race, it is the chance to deliver the knockout punch, for what is really tested in CAT, more than aptitude for a subject, is the underlying attitude.

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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