From Himachal Pradesh to NMIMS – my journey
If you google “mushroom city of India”, the top result will be Solan, a small-town midway between Shimla and Chandigarh. That is the place where I grew up. Having spent the first 22 years of my life in Himachal Pradesh, I never imagined ending up in Mumbai at the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies pursuing my MBA. An average profile with above-average work experience, this is my journey from a small town to one of the finest B-schools in India.
Solan town in winters
My profile is no different from 90% of the candidates that appear for management entrance tests in India – GEM: General, Engineer, Male. I completed my engineering degree from Himachal Pradesh University majoring in electrical engineering. In the final year, I got recruited by a subsidiary of TATA Steel Limited, Jamshedpur, where I worked as an electrical engineer for 4 years. I gained valuable work experience, putting my academic knowledge to test. As most of us new working professionals experience, I too, soon realized that I was stuck in a monotonous routine, with little scope left to grow. I wanted new challenges, new experiences which could not only help me turn myself into a holistic professional but also foster my personal development. Having gained considerable work experience, a business management degree would compliment my existing skillset and further shape my personality and professional abilities. Considering all the options available, I eventually narrowed it down to CAT – the holy grail of all management exams in India. As inexperienced as I was in this domain, I made mistakes – an awful lot of them.
Main gate ISWPL – my workplace
I initiated the preparations with a simple Google search, downloading old question papers and textbooks which I thought would help me get ready for the exam. Having no mentorship and guidance, I started solving questions, having no objective in mind, and focused on completing the given questions rather than understanding the logic and concepts behind them. Writing only a total of 3 practice tests, none of which I completed entirely, I did not put myself under the time constraint and pressure that these tests offer. The outcome, unsurprisingly, was abysmal. I scored less than 40 percentile. Thankfully, I did learn a few lessons from this experience. Firstly, this test is more than just solving questions – you need to solve the right questions. Secondly, you must subject yourself to time constraints, or the test pressure will eat you up in the actual exam. And lastly, you can’t aimlessly go about preparing for the exam. A clear plan and objective are needed which most importantly, should include rigorous testing.
I ended up joining a coaching institute so that my preparation got streamlined. And it did! Structured classes, mentorship and regular tests did wonders to my overall preparation as compared to the previous year. I also came to know about a host of other competitive exams for other B-schools. Unfortunately, the preparation took a hit this time because of my increasing workload. All the working aspirants can relate to it – finding time for studying after a tiring day at work can get difficult, and this is where I faltered. I lost touch with my concepts, missed classes and eventually practice tests, so much so that I started writing practice tests just for the sake of it. I did not analyze my mistakes and never worked on my weak topics. The result – not only did I end up getting a sub-par score at CAT, but also had an adverse effect on other competitive exams and at the end of all of it, I was eventually left disappointed. The lessons I learnt this time around – consistency and discipline are extremely important, practice tests are not merely limited to appearing for them, they need in-depth analysis and introspection to get the most out of them. However, the most important learning was that I just could not depend only on CAT, I needed to diversify my risk and create a safety net for myself.
The fact of the matter is that, not everyone can make to IIM A, B or C, and it would be wise to have a contingency plan by preparing hard for other exams. Fortunately, the preparation for all of them is more or less the same, with some minor tweaks which could be easily adjust by writing practice tests.
Having gone through multiple exams and preparation cycles, I had far better clarity on how to go to about the test preparation, and this time I asked myself a bigger question – should I quit my job and prepare full time, or not? Did I quit my job? Yes. Do I suggest it? No. My thought process during my third and final attempt at CAT was to take the “all or nothing” option, and I eventually ended up quitting my job.
This time, In-person classes, I felt, were not needed. They are great to have of course and are irreplaceable, however, a great online course with a quality test series would also suffice. I also oriented my preparation as per my strengths and weaknesses, focusing on the former and working on the latter. One does not have to solve all the questions, rather one needs to work on his/her accuracy. These tests are filled with lots of questions with easy or medium difficulty and missing out on them can reduce your score considerably. To get an eye for such questions, it takes a lot of practice and analysis, which further increases the significance of taking an ample number of quality mock tests. Additionally, I made sure that other management tests such as XAT, SNAP, IIFT and NMAT also had their share of efforts. The results were positive, my scores significantly increased in the practice tests. I did not make it “big” in CAT or XAT, but I did get shortlisted for SNAP (SIBM, SCMHRD), IIFT and NMAT (NMIMS-M). The next steps, the GD/PI/WAT stage, is a different ball game altogether and would need a different article to cover it in detail.
Inside the building, NMIMS Mumbai
Starting from Solan, followed by Jamshedpur, I eventually ended up in NMIMS Mumbai. And to summarize my journey and my learnings – consistency and discipline are the most important. Your 99 percentile in your first mock test means nothing if your performance tanks to a below-par score by the time you reach CAT. Anyone can solve all the questions in any management exam – if you have unlimited time – which is not the case. Hence always time the preparation – even when you are practising. And finally, always have a safety net – do not keep all your eggs in CAT’s basket, prepare well for other B-school exams as well. You never know when they may come to save you, just like they did in my case!