Five 99-percentilers who are now studying at the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) speak about what they did right when preparing for the CAT. Read through their experiences, you just might find a magic pill or two!
What to read
Shreyans Shrimali from IIM Ahmedabad with a CAT 2009 score of 99.99 percentile: "A lot of practice material exists in the form of books, papers, tutorials, etc for the uninitiated. To start with, the previous ten years' CAT papers serve as a very good source of getting acquainted with the basics. Most DI concepts get covered in these. For quant, the PaGaLGuY Quant thread is a great resource. Since I was working, I could never study from books. But I solved any and every mock test that I came across from previous years. Specifically, I used to choose the moderate and easy level questions from these tests and learn all their concepts. By the end of my preparations, I was pretty sure that given the variations in the questions I have seen, I will be able to handle new ones. This actually came true for me as the CAT paper in 2009 was a stereotypical one with very few variations. Even if CAT 2010 is not like that, practicing as much as possible will help in facing new challenges. Verbal was always tricky for me. I concentrated on three major types of questions for this section. I worked on Reading Comprehension by reading TimesBlogs and magazines. I learnt a lot of words and their usages; The WordCommand software and Thesaurus.com were a few sources for this. Finally for sentence correction, I relied on the Sentence Correction thread and the downloadable material on PaGaLGuY."
Rohitashva Tomar from IIM Ahmedabad with a CAT score of 99.55 percentile: "The best source (of material for improving reading) is The Hindu. With more emphasis on inferential questions in RC it is good to read quality articles and develop a good reading speed. In addition, it helps in interpreting complex passages and understanding their meanings. For quant I read a book called Quantum CAT before taking mocks and I recommend this to people like me who are weak in quant. This book has all the basic concepts and covers all the topics. For DI the only good source is last years mocks as no book provides questions of the level of CAT. Practise as much from these and try to solve a variety of questions so that every time you attempt the questions, they become easier to tackle."
Omkar Sathe from IIM Calcutta who score a 99.65 percentile in CAT: "I recommend reading books such as Shantaram, Nautical Miles, Ayn Rand. I recommend the Hindu editorials. As far as magazines are concerned, it's better to read those dealing with current affairs. Reading editorials and news magazine helps immensely in the GD-PI stage. The level of study depends on where you stand right now, and your target institutes. If you are aiming for the very best, then your preparation needs to reflect that in terms of your effort. To be part of that elite crowd, you have to put in efforts which say that you deserve that coveted seat. Since English was my strong section, (99.38 percentile in CAT and 99.86 percentile in XAT), let me speak about this section. Performance in verbal ability can be most effectively improved by reading good books, newspaper editorials and magazines. Reading will help improve your reading speed and comprehension, will enable you to develop a quicker eye for questions in Sentence Correction or Sentence Completion and will unveil new phrases and words (with their proper usage). Since there are only about 70 days left for preparation, it also would make sense to practice those types of questions where 'rules' can be applied. Generally speaking, one must try to develop expertise in at least two good sections. The disadvantage of having only one strong section is that if that section has very tough questions in the exam, capitalizing on that strength becomes tougher too."
Varun Rajaram from IIM Lucknow who scored a 99.62 percentile in CAT: "Reading material can comprise anything that ranges from your coaching class material to Arun Sharma's book for quant. Articles from the Internet for verbal and DI exercises from last year's mocks and previous CAT papers are also a good source. I believe verbal is the section that makes or breaks a good CAT percentile and it's this section which is often neglected. Regular reading can help tremendously. www.aldaily.com has some good articles that improve your reading speed and analytical skills as well. Ideally, 6-7 hours of daily study would do. This again is purely inferential from past experience and the average work hours that peers and colleagues did. Even 3-4 hours of undivided attention to books should clinch it."
Rohit Gupta from IIM Ahmedabad who scored a 99.85 percentile in CAT: "One must definitely read the editorials in The Hindu newspaper and the New York Times. The quality put out by both the papers is very very good. One should comprehend what is written. Reading both daily is possibly the best read while preparing for CAT."
How to approach mock-tests
Rohitashva Tomar: "There is no fixed number of mocks that you should take but drawing from my experience I would say that any one coaching institute's test-series is more than sufficient. The emphasis should be more on analyzing the mocks after the actual test and learning about your mistakes and knowing how not to repeat them. There are around 20 AIMCATS offered by T.I.M.E. so if one is taking 15-16 followed by good analysis then that should be enough."
Shreyans Shrimali: "The real test is not just of aptitude but of confidence and outlook. The real time simulation that mocks provide can never be matched by preparing all by oneself. While I was attempting my CAT, the structured approach that I followed was the result of the mocks I had taken. I was sure of my strong areas, how I should distribute the time and the format. More than these, I was prepared to handle the next big surprise I will get as I click the NEXT button. Some of these things can only be experienced, but without ample practice of the test format, one is sure to lose a few crucial minutes figuring out the progress while attempting the final test. Attempting ten mocks in all should ensure familiarity with the test as well as about personal areas of improvements. Everything you do over and above this will add to your skills as well as instill confidence to face the C-day. I personally followed T.I.M.E. but the rest are equally good. Just make sure that the number of participants taking your test-series is large enough for your scores to mean something."
Varun Rajaram: "Ideally, you should take 35-40 mocks before CAT. Merely attempting mocks doesn't help; the most crucial part of the process is the analysis of mocks after the exam."
Rohit Gupta: "Mocks have to be taken but not too many. Mocks help you judge your speed as well as knowledge. Take mocks till your analysis skills, knowledge and speed are upto the mark."
To what extent do coaching classes help
Rohitashva Tomar: "I took CAT coaching during my college days and from my experience I can say that they do help in streamlining your preparation. If one is in college and is taking CAT for first time then joining coaching is a good idea. It is not needed for someone who is taking CAT for a second time as it will not add anything to the preparation process. At that stage, the emphasis should be more on taking mocks and brushing up areas in which the person is weak."
Shreyans Shrimali: "Though I did not attend classes this year, I did earlier during my preparation for CAT 2007. Classes can be very crucial for those who are at a loss to understand where to start and how to go forward. Attending DI sessions can be very useful as the material available for the subject is neither enough nor of standard quality. But there is always the threat of time wastage if one attends all the classes. Identify your weak areas and seek guidance for them specifically at the classes."
Rohit Gupta: "Coaching classes are necessary only if one uses them as a supplemntary study source. They cannot and should not be your main study focus. The problem arises when students consider them as the main source of study and depend entirely on them."
Varun Rajaram : "Coaching institutes help to the extent that they provide material for practice both inside the classroom and outside of it. However I quit my coaching classes within a month of joining as I felt they were not being beneficial. Mock tests at coaching classes are a must, though."
Cut down on social life?
Rohitashva Tomar: "A big no. One should not cut down on social life at all. A person cannot study for the whole day and if you do that then you lose steam after some time. During CAT preparation the most important thing is to remain motivated and for that its necessary that you are not overburdening yourself. It does not mean that you waste time, but just take things one at a time and dont overburden yourself."
Shreyans Shrimali: "Life does not end with CAT. If you succeed, you still need friends and family to share your happiness. If you fail, you need support before you return and strike back. In fact, the CAT score becomes useless once you get an MBA admission, but your close ones stay with you. Do not cut off from them. Go out occasionally, have fun and feel rejuvenated. CAT is not about the number of hours put in, but the amount of effort put in within a fixed preparation period."
Rohit Gupta: "If one is working, then one is bound to cut down on social life a little at least. Otherwise where will the time to study come from? If one is not working, then there is absolutely no need to cut down on social life because of CAT preparation. "
Omkar Sathe: "I firmly believe that cutting down on social life should only be a last resort, to be exercised only in the most dire of circumstances. In fact, it helps to expand your social circle to include more people with similar aspirations, because they will be the ones who will help you when you get those depressingly bad mock scores. So having fun, enjoying oneself is equally important as is preparation for the CAT. Of course, that does not mean one should go out to party the night before CAT."
Varun Rajaram: "Cutting down on social life is purely a personal choice. I would advise against it as a good social life inadvertendly leads to a good frame of mind which effectively translates into good scores. So a good balance is required."
Keeping the right attitude
Rohitashva Tomar: "Remain upbeat all the time. Never get bogged down by low scores in mocks; instead learn from them and realize that you have to do better the next time. Keeping yourself motivated is the key to good performance. Dont lose confidence, motivate yourself, learn from the mistakes and analyze mocks thoroughly."
Shreyas Shrimali: "I won't think twice before promoting attitude to the top of the list of things a CAT taker should get right. Start with confidence of success in your mind. Picture it, live it. Whenever you fail in any mock test, think about success again. Very few people are consistent throughout the preparation period. The rest equally falter, not just once or twice but many many times. I scored to be in the 99 percentile only four times out of the 16 mocks that I took, but it never deterred me from believing that I could succeed. Also, a strong driving force in your mind works wonders. I had a reason why I wanted to work hard and I kept reminding myself about it. It helped me come out of the lows caused by scoring in the 80 and 70 percentiles during the preparation."
Varun Rajaram: "I think the hype leads to half the pressure in CAT. Its important not to be bogged down by pressure and work coolly.There will be bad phases but there will be more good ones provided studies are regular."