Common Admission Test (CAT), the MBA entrance exam accepted by the premier B-schools in India is one of the most rigorous exams in terms of preparation. On an average, it takes 11-12 months to prepare for this exam with a majority of aspirants starting their preparation in the month of January. For an exam as tedious as this, a student must embrace himself or herself before-hand to prepare accordingly.
I did my bachelors in commerce from Kirori Mal College, Delhi University in 2018. I was a fresher when I took the CAT exam for the first time. It was after 11 months of coaching from the TIME Institute and 6 months of self-preparation for the Quant section that I was able to score 99.09 percentile in CAT'17. I had calls from all the IIMs and FMS and got accepted into all the IIMs except IIM Bangalore. I finally joined the MBA program at IIM Ahmedabad in the batch of 2018-2020. I worked in the sales & marketing domain for 1.5 years with Cadbury and now I create content full-time on my YouTube Channel and Instagram account.
CAT Preparation Challenges
There is no denying that most students give up during their CAT preparation journeys because of the very nature of the exam. Here are a couple of challenges that students face while preparing for CAT and the solutions that helped me overcome them during my time:
I. Vastness of the Syllabus
CAT exam comprises three sections - VARC, DILR and Quants. Even though VARC and DILR can be prepared with minimal familiarity to the syllabus, the same is not true for the Quant section. It has further 5 sub-categories of topics:
The challenge that is faced by most of the students is in covering this vast syllabus, especially if they are starting late i.e. after July. I dealt with this problem by doing the following:
Started with Arithmetic: Arithmetic chapters are the most intuitive to students because they are covered during our foundation days in school while we study mathematics. So, starting with Arithmetic makes the process easier.
Set a Deadline: From the beginning of preparation, I knew that the syllabus won't be easy to cover if I keep solving questions as per my whims and wishes i.e. without a track of how many questions were left to be solved. Hence, I set a deadline to finish them off by a certain month.
Prioritised Chapters: If you look at the CAT syllabus, you'd realise that some chapters occur more frequently in the CAT exam over the previous years than others. So, prioritising such chapters helped me skip some redundant topics.
II. Forgetting the Concepts
In an extension to the previous point, since the CAT syllabus is vast, a lot of students forget the concepts they had studied previously. By the time they start taking the mocks or working on their weaker areas, they forget the formulas, concepts and tricks they had come across while preparing.
To solve for this problem, I maintained a formula book from the beginning of my preparation. It was a repository of the important concepts, formulas, tricks and question types that occur very frequently in the CAT exam. If you have already started preparing for the CAT exam and don't have the time to make a formula book yourself, you can use this ready-made formula book too.
III. Staying Consistent
Many of the MBA aspirants know where they wish to be at the end of their preparation season, they are even ready to put in the efforts but when it comes to consistency, they often fail. They work in waves of motivation - sometimes studying 5-6 hours a day while other days missing out on the preparation entirely.
Though there were days in my preparation that I didn't feel like studying for the CAT exam, I managed to:
Set Weekly Targets: Giving yourself weekly targets ensures you're giving yourself some autonomy to cover the syllabus. On some days you may want to do a lot and on other days nothing at all, but as long as your weekly targets are being met, you will succeed.
Do Daily Tasks: There should be some tasks that shouldn't feel like preparation but your daily routine, e.g. solving Sudoku puzzles or reading editorials or other websites for building your reading speed. These tasks will keep you in touch with your preparation even if you don't feel like solving questions.
IV. Staying Motivated
The most dreadful part of the CAT preparation journey is mock-taking. When students take their first mock after a few months of preparation, it is generally a sight of despair. They feel demotivated and discouraged to continue. To tackle this situation, I'd suggest these:
Discount 10 Mocks: Don't worry about the scores of your first 10 mocks. They are a trial, an opportunity to get familiar with the pattern of this exam. So, don't worry about them. Instead, use them as a simulation to experience what the exam will be like.
Trust the Process: One of my juniors from IIM Ahmedabad cracked the CAT exam in just 3 months by not letting herself get demotivated by the mock scores. She was scoring 50-60 percentile when she started and eventually scored 99.59 percentile. It is all about trusting the process.
It is surely possible to crack the CAT exam with discipline and strategy. All you need is a focused attitude towards this exam and your goals for a period of 11-12 months. In case you want a glimpse of the life after this rigorous preparation, this should help: