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Self help tips for CAT applicants

Last updated on: July 5, 2011 13:07 IST

Image: Rediff archives

For those who intend to study for CAT on their own this year, Sidharth Balakrishna suggests a few useful tips.

While many students opt to join coaching institutes to prepare for the CAT and other B-school entrance exams, a number of students may decide to prepare on their own. This article examines how such students could go about their preparation.

Study material

If you are preparing on your own, it is important that you get hold of appropriate study material. You could try and get hold of this by borrowing books and other material from students who have taken the CAT in previous years, so that you are aware of the topics.

Candidates are advised to find out the names of good reference books. Speak to those who have already given CAT. Remember to choose a book that explains the concepts well and has adequate questions for practice.

You could also look at my book 'An Introduction to CAT-Tips from an IIM Alumnus' published by Pearson Education, ( that gives detailed tips and explains how you could prepare for the CAT exam on your own and what all you need to keep in mind.

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Sidharth Balakrishna is an alumnus of IIM Calcutta and is the author of three CAT books like An Introduction to CAT-Tips from an IIM Alumnus, Reading Comprehension for the CAT- A Winning Approach by an IIM Alumnus and Case Studies in Marketing.

Use a structured approach

Image: Use a structured approach
Photographs: Rediff Archives

Practice and Self discipline

Should candidates decide to prepare on their own, it is vital that they exhibit high levels of self discipline. This is because coaching institutes normally help ensure that you stick to a schedule, since they hold regular classes of a fixed duration. Coaching institutes will also ensure that all the topics that could appear in the CAT exam are covered. Students must try to replicate this structured preparation technique.

If you are preparing on your own, then make sure of the following:

  • Use a structured approach. Prepare a time-table covering what topics you plan to study on which days, by when you plan to finish a particular topic, how many hours you will put in etc. Most importantly, stick to your schedule! For example, if you have planned to read at least five-six articles on a daily basis to improve your Reading Comprehension skills and have decided to practice at least 25 Maths questions daily, then make sure that you do so. Do not get distracted by factors such as cricket matches, telephone calls etc!
  • 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

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Try and form a group of your own

Image: Try and form a group of your own
Photographs: Rediff Archives

Peer interaction

A crucial benefit that classroom coaching offers is a forum to interact with others. Students learn a lot from their peers, and more importantly, they benchmark their performance against others. Keep the following points in mind:

  • Remember you can learn a lot from others for an exam such as the CAT. For example, many questions can be solved in more than one way. If someone else may have found a better or shorter way than you, you can learn this from him/ her.
  • You could try and form 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. 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 day.
  • Working in groups is also very useful while preparing for Group Discussions and Interviews. Mock GDs could be held among the group and perspectives could be shared on important issues or the latest developments.
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Mock tests will teach you time management

Image: Mock tests will teach you time management

Mock computer-based tests

It is important that you practice taking mock tests on the Computer (CAT is now a Computer-based exam). Such tests will provide you with an understanding of what to expect on the actual examination day and thus add to your comfort levels for the actual exam. This is particularly relevant for those giving CAT for the first time.

Mock tests will also help you understand what to expect in the actual CAT paper-the exam pattern, time you can give to the various sections etc.

In fact, time management is an important skill, and such mock tests help you get better at this. Keep in mind that besides the overall cut-off, there are sectional cut-offs as well, so, you need to score a minimum in all the sections of the CAT exam.

Mock tests also help in benchmarking your performance since you can assess where you stand relative to others who took the same test. You can thus understand your strengths and weaknesses better and tailor your preparation accordingly. For example, asking yourself questions like are you strong or weak in Algebra or Geometry? And the like.