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How to join a top B-school
Gejo Srinivasan
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November 28, 2006

Is there life beyond earth? Is there life beyond death? We're sure, at this juncture, you are not concerned about getting answers to two of the biggest questions mankind is yet to resolve. The question you want answered is 'What's life beyond CAT?'

Fortunately, you don't have to wait a lifetime for the answer. Just follow this 3-point road map to maximise your chances of getting to your dream destination: a top-ranking B-school.

Step 1: Prepare for other management entrance exams

Financial experts say, 'Never put all your eggs in one basket.'

MBA test preparation experts say, 'Never pin all your hopes on one MBA entrance exam.'

What if you don't get through CAT? Be prepared for this eventuality. Study for other tests that can lead you to a top ranking B-school -- tests like XAT, FMS, IIFT, JMET and IRMA.

How do you prepare?

The good news is that the basic components in these tests are more or less on the same lines as CAT. There may be minor changes in terms of structure, style, format or additional areas like general awareness. This means you don't have to prepare from scratch. Your CAT preparation is more than enough. All you need to do is keep your focus, revise, and maintain that positive bent of mind.

Test structure


Duration (minutes)



Areas Tested

Negative Marking



175 + 1 essay

3 + 1 essay

Problem Solving

Data Interpretation

Verbal Ability





No sections

Problem Solving

Logical Reasoning

Verbal Ability






Problem Solving

Data Interpretation

Verbal Ability

General Awareness






Problem Solving

Data Interpretation

Verbal Ability

Logical Reasoning






Problem Solving

Data Interpretation

Verbal Ability

Logical Reasoning

Social & General Awareness


*The data in this table is based on last year's structure.

Step 2: Prepare for Group Discussions and Personal Interviews

If you've ended up taming the big CAT of all competitive exams, celebrate. But make it a short celebration.

You have yet another battle to win -- the GD-PI. A tougher battle, considering the fact that, now, you will no longer be battling students with IQs lower than yours; the people you will be competing with will, at the minimum, be your equal.

What's a GD?

Picture yourself as a manager in a boardroom, in the middle of an intense discussion. What would it take for you to score? It would take a combination of knowledge, logic and communication. Knowledge about the subject being discussed. Logic in the thoughts or ideas you put across. Effective communication to get your point across.

A GD is an exact simulation of this boardroom. You'll be seated amidst a bunch of competitive students. The group will be given a random topic. The idea is to discuss ideas and opinions on the topic in a team environment. Once the discussion gets the green signal, you'll have roughly 15 minutes to either make or break your top B-school dream.

So how do you go about perfecting your GD winning triple-combo?


Imagine a lawyer in a room full of doctors. S/ he will end up being just a listener since s/ he has practically no knowledge of medicine. A B-school aspirant could experience the same embarrassing silence in a GD if he has no clue about the topic. So read up. Newspapers, magazines, online articles and all other information sources you can lay your hands on.

Gain knowledge on areas like current affairs, politics, technology, world affairs, religion, philosophy and even humour. Knowledge also helps broaden your perspective about a subject. This way, you'll be able to look at the larger picture instead of holding a limited view, you'll be able to look at the larger picture.

Here's a sampling of typical GD topics:

Bottomline: Knowledge is your first step to participating actively in a discussion.


In a speed contest, a contestant typing 140 words per minute will score over a contestant typing only 60. A GD, however, doesn't work this way. It's not how much you say but how much sense you make in what you say that'll win you the day.

For instance, you are given the topic, 'We should ban alcohol since the gutka ban was a success'. Let's say you have knowledge about the effects of both alcohol as well as gutka. So you reason, "The effects of alcohol consumption differ from those of gutka. Therefore, it would be illogical to equate a ban on alcohol with a ban on gutka." Once your logic is in place, like in this case, you're ready for the third and final step: communication.

Bottomline: Ensure you are thinking logically before you start speaking.


Would a Nobel Prize [Images] gathering applaud Einstein if he had spoken in Arabic? Or if he hadn't spoken anything at all?

Let's say you have knowledge about the GD topic. You have figured out the logical sequence of your arguments. But if you are unable to communicate clearly, you lose.

A GD is a time-bound competitive event. To win, you have to put across your measured views clearly, assertively and quickly. Here's a tip -- keep your communication simple. You don't have to use esoteric language. Your focus is to get your thoughts and ideas heard and understood.

Bottomline: All thought and no speech will make Jack a losing boy.

What's a PI?

A PI will see you face to face with a tough-as-nails interrogator who will rip you with questions specially handpicked from books you'll never have read, television programmes you'll never have seen... get the point? Check out these sample questions:

Q1. What is the difference between Euclidian Geometry and Pythagoras Geometry?

Q2. What is the difference between Legislature and Executive? What are the directive principles?

Step 3: Explore other options

An optimist will fold his hands after the CAT. A pessimist will throw up his hands. A realist will ask: What if I don't make to the B-school of my choice? You have three options:

1.  I will compromise and join any B-School.
2.  I will not compromise and try once again.
3. I have work experience and I will create alternative paths.

If your response is the first one, then you must understand that compromise is not the right solution. However, in the event that you are forced to compromise, do a careful evaluation of B-schools before making your final decision.

If your response is the second one, then you have a winner's attitude. Alternatively, if you are a fresher, you could consider gaining valuable work experience in the interim period, which will only add weight to your resume.

If your response is the last option, you could spread your wings by looking at the global arena.

An IIM-C alumnus, the author is head of products at IMS Learning Resources Pvt Ltd, an educational services provider that prepares candidates for leading competitive examinations like CAT, GRE and GMAT.

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