The pre-preparation days


It was a cold, rainy night in December, 2017 that I decided that I would be doing an MBA after deliberating so many other options like pursuing a career in music or astronomy since I was really passionate about both. I had been exploring my options one after another until I stumbled upon an online course about stock markets. I’d never been into stock markets or into any current affairs of any sorts. So I had next to no knowledge about how trading works. However, I got really curious as the course went on and I realized that it piqued my interest more than any other concepts I’ve come across. 

However, there was a catch. I had been working in Infosys since 2016, and it had already been a year since I started working when I decided I’ll give CAT a go. And what was the problem with that, you ask? I had to take the exam in 2018 and by the time I join a college in 2019 August, I’d have 3 years of work experience unless I quit earlier which was not really an option for me because of financial reasons. But yet, I decided to go for it, enrolled for weekend classes in a reputed coaching institute in Jan of 2018.

I had never worked hard enough in my life for what I wanted. The problem was I was lying to myself that I was working hard enough, even though in fact, I was not. So during the initial one month from January to February I thought just attending classes would cut it. I never used to prepare after work, never used to think about CAT outside the weekends when I attend the classes.

It all changed when one fine day, I sat down with my books that my coaching institute provided and I was finding it really difficult to solve the problems in them. I realised that attending classes would not suffice. One has to put some hours outside the class hours to really prepare themselves for the storm that is waiting for them – which for me, was just 8 odd months later. That damp realisation started giving me cold feet not just because of how much time was left, but also because of how was I going to manage to study after work given that I work 9-10 hours on top of 2-3 hours of travel every day which gives a minimum of 11 and maximum of 13 hours of work including travelling up and down. Hence, on the best days, assuming 8 hours of sleep and 1 hour of other needs, I have 4 hours of leisure and on the worst days, I have 2 hours of leisure – which doesn’t really paint a good picture.

But I was really determined to crack this and hence I decided to put in 3 hours of studying every day and 2 hours on the days where 3 was not possible. 

The preparation days

There were three sections to prepare – DILR, Quants, and VARC.

I decided I would start with Quants since it had been almost five years since I last had them taught and nothing really stayed in my head. And also, math has always been my strongest area. So starting there would help me boost my confidence I felt. And so it did. I was solely focusing on Quants and ignored VARC and DILR and kept them aside for later. I used to go chapter by chapter and solve all the example questions as well as exercise questions top-to-bottom. I never omitted a single chapter or a question.

As I entered April, I was going really strong putting in a decent amount of hours every day. I changed my routine so that I will go to work early and get back early. The earliest I could get back from work was around 6.45pm. So I used to start studying by 7 pm and go on until 10pm. I never missed out on my leisure time too. I always make sure I read some books or play some video games for 30 minutes tops before I go to sleep. It felt like a reward every day after 9 hours of work and 3 hours of studying which helped me keep going.  

However, I felt it would take me until June, July-mid to complete Quant entirely. And I realised it would be too short a time to pick up the other two sections which will add a lot of pressure to myself. 

Hence I devised a strategy. 

I used to spend around 1.5 hours on snacks and lunch, breakfast at work- and another 30 minutes on leisurely scrolling facebook and other websites. I thought, “why not put those two hours to work”? That would give me the flexibility of either putting more hours on studying once I get back from work or having extra leisure time on rainy days where work was really hectic.

So, I used to read all the news articles at work. I cut down my lunch, snacks. I skimmed through as many articles I could from TheHindu.com, Mint.com, Economic Times, and The Quint. The editorials in Hindu are really good which helped me immensely with my vocabulary. And also, reading these news articles also helped me with current affairs and politics which were very useful during my GDs and interviews. 

Thus, I was preparing for VARC during my work and Quant during after-work. I was scoring 92-95%ile constantly in the mock exam series I was taking which 10000 other aspirants were also taking. One place I was lacking was DILR. But I always believed being in the right frame of mind and being sharp during the exam is really important for DILR and that would be that. 

Exam strategy:

VARC

There are two key things in VARC.

  1. i) Reading Speed
  2. ii) Vocabulary

Because of my months and months of reading news articles online, it helped me massively improve my reading speed. Hence I always knew that was my biggest strength. I used to finish reading a passage in half the time my friends used to. However, that comes at a cost. You cannot comprehend the passage as much as you want to. So what I did was, I decided to read every RC passage twice. First time, I read to get the context. The next time I read, it helps me get the entire picture and gives you better clarity. It’s more like watching a movie twice and realising it helps you see the plot much more clearly. However, if anyone is planning to use it, I’d only recommend it if you have a really good reading speed. 

Vocabulary helps you in RC as well as the VA section. For jumbled sentences, I look for sentences that can start and then take it from there. Look for connectors like “but”, “then”, “however”, etc. They never start a sentence –though in rare occasions, they do.

Quant:

I had a pretty straightforward strategy here. I used to go through all the questions in the initial 5 mins, and then I go from the top and finish off all the questions that would take <1 min to solve. There should be somewhere around 5-10 questions which can be solved in <1 min, which gives you easily 15-30 marks there with over 45 mins left for the section to end. In this 45, I go for questions which will take some time for calculation but only if I have the entire flow framed in my mind. If I find any stumbling block, I skip it. This way, I go through the section 4 times. One for skimming, another for the low hanging fruits, another for the moderate ones, and another for the really difficult ones.

DILR:

I used a similar strategy like quants for the DILR section too. There are always 1-2 sets which are low hanging fruits and can be solved in <5 min each. I used to target 2 such “easy” sets. And then, 2-3 “moderate” sets and if I finish off all easy and moderate, I used to go for difficult sets. Always remember, the difficult sets are a decoy. The one who set the paper is testing how good you are choosing which questions to solve rather than how good you are solving “all” the problems. So, choose your sets wisely.

Conclusion:

I always used to believe that everyone has a cap – a maximum potential that one can’t breach. And I believed it was more important to identify that cap before it is too late. Not everyone can get 99.9%ile. Even technically it is not possible (since percentiles are relative). So identify your cap and try to get as close to it as possible. Your cap is always 4-5%ile above what you get on an average day. I used to average 92-94%ile. So I always believed my cap was somewhere around 98-99%ile. And bar my silly mistakes during the CAT 2018 exam, I would have achieved that. I ended up getting 95.1%ile which was quite good given the constraints that I had. 

If you are working, try taking a breather before the exam – it helps clear your mind. I took 2 weeks off from work before CAT. And the day before the exam, take your mind off the books. Never touch the books. I played video games all day on Nov 24th. The next day, I went to take the exam.

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