Further to my introductory article on a decision to take the CAT 2021 or not and having concluded that if doing an MBA is what you wish to, then taking the CAT Exam is the best decision to ensure that your MBA is done well and you start a career in management and succeed. 

Deciding to take the CAT is easy but preparing for the test is a different cup of tea. Trying to take the CAT without due understanding of what the examination is, is dangerous. It is important to know the objective of the test. Also, it is important to know how the B-School gatekeepers use the CAT performance as a selection criterion in their admission process. I will discuss these points in this article. 

CAT is the Common Admission Test that is administered by the IIMs every November (tentative), once a year, and is usually an objective type test run over 2-3 hours duration. The area of testing is predominantly in areas of high school mathematics, English comprehension, and a sense of Logic testing using data. The CAT has been in existence since the time there were just 2 IIMs – Ahmedabad and Calcutta and has continued on and so is a fairly old testing system, but it has evolved over the last many decades. 

Any selection process, whether it is by an organization recruiting employees or a school/ college selecting students, involves 4 steps: (a) Knowledge (b) Aptitude (c) Communication Skill, and (d) Who are you? A business school does test all the above 4 criteria. CAT is the second stage in the process. 

The first step is testing Knowledge. Knowledge is something we accumulate over a long period starting with our primary school learning through our high school and then our undergraduate degree. It runs over 14-15 years and the business school ensures that you have a reasonable sound background in most academic areas like mathematics, English language, and a sense of Logic. The eligibility bar here is very low – normally a 50% grade in the examinations undertaken in X and XII and undergraduate degree for the general category students and a bit lower for the disadvantaged students. This is, of course, easily trumped by most of you. 

The second step is CAT. Since CAT is an aptitude test, it tests your aptitude to apply or use what your knowledge is especially limited to areas of mathematics, English language, and Logic. The key here is not problem-solving but the ability to spot and apply concepts and in most cases choose an answer option, amongst four options provided. Preparing for CAT is about understanding this approach of detecting and using concepts expressed in a question and then applying the concept to choose the answer option, except in Type in The Answer (TITA) questions, where an answer needs to be calculated or problem solved.

This need to utilize concepts rather than just focus on problem-solving is where I have found most students struggle. Their school/ college pedagogy system rewards them for problem-solving and hence the penchant to memorize formulae and theorems and attend tuition classes, starting from Grade VIII and perusing the list of 100 important questions likely to come, a day before the examination, etc. prevails. All of the above is counterproductive when it comes to CAT and invariably ends up getting a negative mark! In Quantitative Ability, the key is to wait for the “eureka” moment when the concept strikes you and then the algebra/ arithmetic will be pedestrian. Reading Comprehension (RC) and Sentence Sequencing/ Summarizing Paragraphs, is about having a sound understanding of English Grammar and its various “parts of speech” (Wren & Martin stuff). More familiarity with different types of topics will definitely catalyze your success in RC. Time is taken to understand each question in RC is a definite advantage. 

Preparing for CAT requires a mindset change. Why solve a problem, when the problem is already solved and 4 answer options are given? It is likely trying to cook a meal when a buffet is laid out. Pick up your fork and spoon and enjoy the meal! A mindset change needs practice, as it cannot happen overnight. 

The next important part of preparing for CAT is to know what the goal or target is. Being a competitive test, performance is not evaluated absolutely but on a comparative basis and hence we often hear of “percentiles” and not “percentages”. What exactly is a percentile? It just indicates to you what percentage of the people who took the CAT are with you and/ or below you. It does not, in any way, reflect on how you performed in the test in terms of percentage or absolute marks. You could get a 99 percentile and still get 40 percentage! There have been CATs, in the past, where getting an absolute “0” mark (i.e., not attempting even a single question in the test) could enable a 30+ percentile – which indicates that 30 percent of the people who took the test over 2-3 hours struggled to get negative absolute marks!

I strongly believe that the CAT is a very easy test. Can you ever imagine any test where the curriculum is high school mathematics and English and most questions have the answers to them, given in your paper and still needing barely 40 percentage marks to achieve 95+ percentile! How can this test be ever called a difficult test? What makes the test difficult is not the test but you. If you lack confidence that you cannot handle a high school curriculum, with answers already provided in your paper and achieve even 40 percent absolute marks, then why blame the CAT? Remember, the “percentile” is just a resultant reflection of how badly others did compare to you and you have to believe you can always get, at least, 40 percent marks in a test which is based on the high school curriculum. 

I have covered many of these incidents that past students have struggled with and managed to get over their fear and lack of confidence in my book 99 PERCENTILE and will recommend that you buy and read the book to learn from mistakes made by past students and succeed in CAT. You are also welcome to visit my website at www.99percentile.co.in to reach out to me for advice on the same.

There is only one person who can stop you from succeeding in CAT and that person is the person whose image you see in the mirror when you brush your teeth tomorrow morning. Tell that person tomorrow morning that you can handle the high school curriculum and get more than 40 percent! That, my friend, is taming the CAT.

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