With the registration for Common Admission Test 2015 (CAT 2015) announced last week, Varun Govindaraj shares his thoughts on handling CAT preparation during the placement semester. 

Varun Govindaraj graduated with a Dual Degree in Chemical Engineering in 2015. He is currently working as an Associate at the Boston Consulting Group in Chennai. In the CAT 2014, he scored 99.73 percentile and was offered admission to IIM-A.

Try and recall any half-respectable course you’ve taken in college so far (no, WS1010 doesn’t count). I’m sure most of you would agree that putting in a few hours of effort every week would have probably gotten you a lot closer to an S than any last minute fundaes you were given by the batch maggu. Just think of the CAT as you would any one of these courses. While it may seem like a pretty obvious thing to say, it still certainly needs to be said. Once the semester begins, it is quite easy to procrastinate starting on anything till October, and once you actually want to, you’ll realize that you’re swamped with a thousand other things you need to handle. In my opinion, you honestly don’t need to over-exert yourself or put any night outs for the exam, just devoting a few hours a week will get you where you want to go. Of course, different people have different ways of doing things, and what worked well for me need not work for you at all. So before reading any further, please be prepared to take any advice you encounter with a pinch of salt (and maybe a willingness to watch one fewer episode in your daily sitcom binge).


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Assuming you start today, you’ll have about 4 months of preparation time. I cannot begin to stress enough on how important it is to have a tentative plan of how you’re going to spend that time. More often than not, you will have other things on your plate to deal with, so account for quizzes, talks, tests, events, resume deadlines and everything else you’ll need to handle in a placement semester. Spend the next few days with the goal of understanding where your strengths and weaknesses lie (from a purely CAT point of view, of course). You’d have a rough idea about what you’re good at already, so use that as a starting point. For example, I had given my GMAT in early August, so I was quite sure about my verbal skills. I knew that I’d have to focus on quant and logical reasoning. I did a couple of practice tests, and that more or less confirmed what I needed to work on. Also, finish up any administrative work that you need to get done as soon as possible  (like signing up for CAT classes). I would suggest registering for T.I.M.E.’s program at this point, their office is somewhere outside Velachery gate. They have a number of options, depending on what you’re comfortable with/looking for. I opted specifically for their test pack, which had a lot of mock exams and practice questions. It’s a solid amount of material to get started (and finished) with.This whole process should not take longer than a couple of days, or if you’re feeling particularly lazy, a week.

For the next month or so after that, just practise. Try to spend at least an hour a day focusing on your weak points. Make sure you practise stuff you’re good at as well, but if you’re confident, there’s no need to over-prioritize it. Familiarize yourself with the types of questions you’ll see in the exam, how to solve them, and how to guess intelligently if you’re unable to solve. Something I generally do in any objective exam is guess, quite shamelessly, when I don’t know an answer. The CAT usually works on a +3/-1 pattern, and questions do not have different weightages (at least they didn’t last year) so guessing can be worth your while as well if you’re willing to take a bit of a risk. Normally, you’d be able to eliminate at least one option per couple of questions, and in that case guessing should work out in your favour unless you’re extremely unlucky. But this really flies in the face of conventional CAT advice, so do it at your own risk. Once you hit early-mid September, it will probably start to get a little difficult to be diligent about your CAT prep. You’ll have enough placement and acad related stuff going on, which will take up a lot of your time. But if you’ve actually spent a month on general preparation, all you need to do from this point onwards is mock exams. For the last month and a half before the actual exam, all I did was 2 mocks a week. I think this is more than enough, but you need to make sure you analyze and understand what kinds of mistakes you’re making and work on not making them again. Ideally, do this right after you’re done writing each practice paper. It’s something that people put off quite often, which is understandable, since it’s quite tiring to re-look through a bunch of questions when you’ve just spent 3 hours on them already. If you are able to do all this, though, you’re pretty much going to be set for the actual exam.

Honestly, you do need your fair share of luck when giving the test, and that’s something you don’t have any control over. Anything can happen with these kinds of things. But I can say with absolute confidence that CAT prep has benefits that are not limited to the 3 hours you spend writing it. I found most of the placement tests pretty easy to clear, as did many of the others who studied (for the CAT) seriously. I thought it was useful while practicing  case interviews as well, where I had to be quick with numbers. I think it certainly built up a certain level of discipline early on, which kept me sane through what was a very hectic semester. So at the end of the day, even though I didn’t join an IIM, I think the time I spent studying to get into one was time well invested. In conclusion (and I’m trying my best not to sound too preachy here), if you take the time to plan ahead for whatever you’re aiming at, prioritize between the options you have at hand and prepare for them accordingly. Getting something you’d be happy with becomes a lot more likely then. You’ll be surprised at how little effort this takes once you’re over the initial inertia of getting started. I hope this article was able to give you guys a small push towards overcoming that. Good luck for the next four months!

More details about CAT 2015 can be found on the official website here.

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