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How to crack CAT: Think like an examiner -- and READ!

Last updated on: January 13, 2012 16:30 IST

How to crack CAT: Think like an examiner -- and READ!

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Sri Ram Prasad Pemmasani, who scored a supercool 100 percentile at CAT 2011, on how he achieved the unthinkable.

One question. Four options. The right answer will add to your scores. The wrong one will cost you the marks you've earned.

Worse, what if you are looking at the question for the first time... and don't have the faintest idea about a possible answer?

The clock is ticking away... What do you do?

"Eliminate any two. Then go for the most probable answer among the remaining two," recommends Sri Ram Prasad Pemmasani, a final year student at the Indian Institute of Technology-Ropar, Punjab, among the nine toppers who cracked the CAT 2011 with a perfect score of 100.

Is it as easy as he makes it sound?

"Not at all," says Pemmasani having shared one of his most exploited strategies to ace the exam. "Guessing is the last thing you should resort to in an exam like CAT."

So why did he do it? "It was my first attempt and my English is weak. So I mastered the art of elimination."

"If you are not sure of the accuracy, the key is to maximise your attempts," says the 21 year old sagely.

Pemmasani, who appeared for CAT on October 30, 2011, scored a record 100 percentile with 99.99 in Section I (Quantitative Ability and Data Interpretation) and 99.18 in Section II (Verbal Ability and Logical Reasoning) -- and he is still to come to terms with his achievement.

"I can't believe I cracked it in the first attempt," he says.

The youngster hails from Aditya Nagar, Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, and is the older of two siblings. His father, who initially owned a movie distribution company, is now into plantation farming on the outskirts of Nellore. His mother is a housewife and younger brother Sri Krishna, in Class 12, is preparing for his IIT-JEE exam.

Pemmasani is pursuing an electrical engineering degree from IIT-Ropar and intends to turn entrepreneur like his father.

The main drawback of growing up in Nellore, for Pemmasani, was relatively less fluency in English, which he solved patiently and methodically by reading as many books he could lay his hands on.

He tells Divya Nair how he belled the CAT at his first attempt.

Also read: CAT topper's success mantra: Focus. Speed. Accuracy

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Image: Sri Ram Prasad Pemmasani celebrates with fellow aspirants


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'Did you check it properly, my mother asked'

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How did you first learn about your results?

I was very eager to know my scores. So I logged into the CAT Web site at midnight. But the server was busy and it was taking too long to respond.

I waited for an hour and realised that the service at my end must be bad. So, I phoned a friend of mine and asked him to check for me. He was the one who first told me that I had scored 100 percentile...

... And you believed him?

Of course not! It was only after he e-mailed me a PDF of my score certificate that I called up my father to share the good news.

What was your parents' reaction?

When I told my mother, she was not willing to believe me. Like a typical mother, she said, 'Did you check it properly?' She wasn't convinced!

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Image: Sri Ram's CAT score card

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'I took about 100 mock tests'

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You are training to be an engineer. Why do you want to pursue an MBA?

I wasn't quite sure about pursuing an MBA until mid-2011. While I had always wanted to do it, I thought of gaining some work experience beforehand.

So I was least bothered about CAT and did not plan in advance.

When I started an internship at TERI (The Energy Resources Institute) in New Delhi, I realised I was too young to handle career responsibilities.

I was also always aware that I am not cut out for a nine-to-five job. That's when I took a reality check and decided that I wanted to finish with my education first.

Once I made that decision, I was determined that if I were to pursue an MBA, I would rather do it from one of the IIMs. That's how I thought of appearing for CAT.

When did you start preparing for CAT?

I started preparing for CAT in June 2011. I enrolled in two test series -- TIME and PT Education, so I could condition myself to the test pattern and get access to more test material.

Do you think the test series helped you prepare for the exam?

Partly, yes. Between June and October, I took about 80 to 100 mock tests. That really helped me get used to the pattern and accordingly devise a strategy that worked best for me.

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Photographs: Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

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'English has been my weakness... because we are not an English-speaking country'

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Which was the most challenging section of the exam and how did you prepare for it?

Quant (mathematics) has always been my strength. Also, being an engineer helps because your fundamentals in mathematics are clear. But English has been my weakness.

I also believe that this is because we are not an English-speaking country. We can't do anything about that.

We must be observant, spot mistakes and strive to learn from them.

Instead of learning new words or sentences by making notes, I opted to read novels. This helped me get a better grasp of the language, as my grammar and vocabulary improved gradually.

I also spent time blogging on various topics.

What helped you ace CAT at the first attempt?

There is no winning strategy as such. Frankly, I think I just got lucky.

I wasn't expecting 100 percentile at all.

Throughout my preparation, my objective was to take as many mock tests as possible. Each time I appeared for a test, I would think like an examiner.

First analyse the pattern of questions in a given exam and gauge the expectations from the point of view of an examiner.

I treated every mock test like the real thing. So that helped me deal with the pressure at the actual time of the exam.

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Photographs: Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
Tags: CAT

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'I am a huge fan of Rahul Dravid'

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What are your career plans?

It's too early to decide, but I would like to join one of the leading IIMs. I will apply to all of them. Let's see how many calls I receive.

What are your hobbies?

I love reading. I have read all four books by Chetan Bhagat. I also enjoyed Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. I recently finished The Immortals of Melluha by Amish Tripathi.

I am a movie buff. I watch movies in various languages. I also enjoy playing cricket.

What is your passion in life?

I have realised that I am not a nine-to-five person. I want to pursue an MBA so that I can understand what management is all about.

I want to be a successful entrepreneur. I have a few business ideas, but I really don't know how good they are and how I can pursue them.

I want to understand the basics of managing a business. And I think that's what an MBA is all about.

Who or what inspires you to succeed?

I am a huge fan of Rahul Dravid. He doesn't boast of his achievements, gives brief interviews and is happy to support the team as a member of the crew. He doesn't put on the airs of a celebrity and that's what keeps him a cut above the rest.

Any advice for MBA aspirants?

What worked for me may not necessarily work for you. So, there is no one rule for everyone to crack the exam.

All I can say is: You are your best judge.

Take as many tests as you can, use different strategies at different times and see how it reflects on your score. You may then decide what strategy works best for you.


Image: Rahul Dravid
Photographs: Reuters

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