How to prepare for CAT?

Be clear about why you want to go for CAT

CAT is one of the most competitive exams in India, and it opens avenues for management studies. There are multiple reasons why different students pursue CAT. It could be a change in career profile, promotion to a management position, better salary or exposure to run your own business. And while all the reasons are justified, you need to be extremely clear on why you want to clear CAT and pursue MBA from an Indian college. CAT preparation is exhausting, and it is easy to lose motivation if the big picture is unclear. So the first step is Introspection. 

While you had limited exposure while deciding on your undergrad college and degree, this time is an opportunity to figure out what you want and chase after that. If you wish to change your career profile, there are other options besides MBA. Are you not interested in any of those? If promotion is your concern, many people get better promotions with work ex than an MBA degree. Is MBA needed for you to reach that promotion? Students in tech fields often make better pay than an average MBA graduate. Do you still want to do an MBA for better pay? Also, viral articles about hefty MBA packages might differ from the correct data source. Very often, 1 out of 1000s of students get that kind of package, and median salaries published by MBA colleges have many hidden components in calculations. Some of the most successful people created their businesses from the first principles. Do you need an MBA to run your startup? Many students also pursue an MBA abroad; should you consider that instead of CAT? Whatever your reasoning, You need to do exhaustive research on various aspects and figure out how CAT will help you reach your goal. If you don’t have a clear answer, we suggest you reconsider your decision.

How much percentile do you need?

Once you have answered your reason for CAT, you need to figure out what percentile you would need to reach your goal. You have cut-off data available for different colleges for different categories, gender, work experience & background at multiple sources. If your goal is IIM Ahmedabad, having a 90 percentile as a general student will never help you reach your goal. So, you need to figure out your target percentile and prepare accordingly. Following is the tentative cut-off for you to go through. Though your profile, background, work ex, gender & category can make a lot of diiference as per specific college criteria:

CollegesCAT cut off (General)CAT cut off (NC-OBC)CAT cut off (SC)CAT cut off (ST)CAT cut off (DA)
IIM Ahmedabad99.5+99+85+75+70+
IIM Bangalore99.5+99+80+70+70+
IIM Calcutta99.5+97+75+70+65+
IIM Lucknow99+85+65+55+55+
MDI Gurgaon98+No quotaNo quotaNo quotaNo quota
IIM Indore98+85+65+55+55+
IIM Kozhikode98+85+65+55+55+
SPJIMR Mumbai98+No quotaNo quotaNo quotaNo quota
IIM Shilong96+85+65+55+55+
IIM Ranchi95+75+60+40+40+
IMT Gaziabad95+No quotaNo quotaNo quotaNo quota
JBIMS Mumbai95+No quotaNo quotaNo quotaNo quota
IIM Udaipur95+70+60+40+35+
IIM Raipur95+70+60+40+35+
IIM Trichy95+70+60+40+35+
IIM Kashipur95+70+60+40+35+
IIM Rohtak95+70+60+40+35+
IIT Delhi95+70+60+40+35+
IIT Bombay95+70+60+40+35+
IIT Madras95+70+60+40+35+
IIT Kanpur95+70+60+40+35+
XIM Bhubaneshwar90+70+60+40+35+
GIM Goa90+70+60+40+35+
K J Somaiya90+70+60+40+35+
IIT Kharagpur90+70+60+40+35+
IIT Roorkee90+70+60+40+35+
IIM Nagpur90+70+60+40+35+
IIM Vizag90+70+60+40+35+
IIM Amritsar90+70+60+40+35+
IIM Sirmaur90+70+60+40+35+
IIM Sambalpur90+70+60+40+35+
IIM Bodhgaya90+70+60+40+35+
IIM Jammu90+70+60+40+35+
FORE, New Delhi80+70+60+40+35+
IFMR, Chennai80+70+60+40+35+
IRMA, Anand80+70+60+40+35+
MICA Ahmedabad80+70+60+40+35+

When should I start preparing?

If you have a clear picture of how much percentile you would need tentatively in the CAT exam, there is no reason for you to procrastinate on your preparation. Irrespective of how much time you have left before the next CAT, it will always be less. Start your preparation right away. 

Should I quit my job?

While some students quit, focussed and cracked CAT, we suggest you not quit the job yet. There are 3 major reasons for the same:

  • Most colleges will give weightage to your work experience and all the colleges will prefer someone engaged in either college or a job during interview time. You need talking points in the interview; in most cases, these will come from your recent experience. If you quit your job just to prepare for CAT, you are unfortunately judged to be someone who can’t juggle multiple responsibilities simultaneously. Moreover, your work experience is going to be useful even after your MBA life.
  • CAT is extremely unpredictive because of its format, normalization and the weightage process for admission. If you fail to secure an admission, you have lost 1 year doing nothing on paper.
  • Financial burden of staying without a job for a year

Should I start preparing if I am still in college?

If you are still in college, you are lucky. You will never get so much time to prepare for CAT once you are in a job, no matter what job you do. Even if you miss the CAT by some margin, you can make it up in your next attempt while preparing along with the job as your foundation would already be strong compared to someone who is starting afresh.

Analyze your current level

While now you know how much percentile you need, what you don’t know is where you stand now. Every student will have a different starting point. Someone who slogged during his JEE days will have the upper hand in quant. Some students with good reading habits will find verbal comparatively easy. Everyone is different, and you need to figure out where you stand. Learntheta can help you assess your current level for Quant. Try any previous CAT paper under strict exam conditions and figure out your percentile. You have many resources online to access previous years’ papers and cut-off details.

Preparation strategy

Once you know where you stand and where you need to reach, break down your entire schedule from now till 1-2 months before CAT is recommended. Go through the entire syllabus for Quant, LR, DI, and VA, and break down what portion you will cover in which week or month. You will need to join some mock test series and fit that into your schedule. Also, incorporate a good time to review your mock attempts in the schedule. Please leave the last one to two months just for fine-tuning your exam strategies & building confidence. Do not assume your strength and weakness yet, as you have not even started the preparation.

Figure out coaching, online videos, and books for study, whichever suits your style but make sure you have enough time commitment for this. There are students who started with less than 50 percentile in their first CAT attempt but ended up getting 99+ with sheer hard work. The good thing about CAT is that if you practice enough, you can bail it for sure.

One study session should be somewhere between 1.5 to 3 hours. This will also prepare you for long sitting on exam day.

How to prepare for VA/ RC (Verbal Ability/ Reading Comprehension)

Most students have a big misconception that you need to be a literature Pundit to crack CAT VA/ RC. First of all, let’s understand why VA/ RC is important for managers & what B schools are trying to test out of you. As a manager, you must be thorough with your communication, including both speech & written aspects. Also, you should be good at understanding as well as communicating. And this is exactly what CAT tries to test through VA/ RC. They will give you reading comprehension to understand if you can read and infer.

Another myth which students have is regarding reading speed. You do not need to be a fast reader to solve RCs. A normal person can read at least 200 words per minute, and you have a maximum of 600 words per RC in CAT. Even if you are an extremely slow reader, there is no way you will not take more than 5 minutes to read the entire passage once. The problem is that most students try to use tricks like reading only a few parts of the RC, or they try to go very fast, skipping half the info, or worst, reading questions and then just trying to dig answers from the passage without even reading it completely. We recommend reading RC at least once perfectly and then answering each question patiently. CAT is testing your understanding ability and not your reading speed. If you solve an RC properly, there is no way you will spend more than 10 minutes on it. You just need to keep a cool head and go reading at your comfortable speed. Summary, para jumble & odd one out are also trying to test you on similar aspects.

For preparation, just develop the habit of reading something. Read fiction or nonfiction, whatever you like, and then gradually start reading other genres. One, it will help you get into the habit of reading. Second, it will prepare your knowledge base for GDs. If you have never read a book, start with smaller books of interest or those you always thought you would read one day. You can also start reading newspapers slowly. Not necessary; you read the entire newspaper. Start with 15 mins & by your GD days, you will be knowledgeable.

As a preparation strategy, you need to do a lot of practice and try to analyse your wrong attempts in depth. If you don’t know the root cause of your wrong attempts, you will not be able to improve. 

Correct attempt >>>>>>>> no of attempts

How to prepare for LR/ DI

For LR, no matter how well prepared you are, you need to be very selective about your attempt. One wrong selection of LR, and you may spend 40 minutes solving just one LR problem. For LR questions, partial solving is useless. So, select a question you can solve completely and attempt all parts of it correctly. For LR 

Right selection >>>>>>>>>> Right solving.

DI, on the other hand, is relatively more predictable. Though it could be lengthy, there are more chances of solving it correctly if you are good with basic calculations and graph reading. As a practice strategy, focus on improving your mental calculations, graph visualisation and approximations. There is no harm in solving by writing it down till you pick up your mental calculation abilities. For this section

Correct attempt >>>>>>>>>>>>> Fast attempt

How to prepare for Quant

A terror for many students, especially if you are from non-engineering background. But honestly, even engineering students struggle a lot with this section since aptitude tests you on your concepts rather than knowledge.

For this section, you must be extremely diligent in grasping concepts while studying the chapter and practice a lot to get a good grasp of it in your subconscious. It is common to feel like you have understood the concept, but one tweak in the question and students struggle to figure out where to start. Please refrain from chasing tricks and shortcuts. Even if you solve from basics using first principles, you can solve all the questions as long as your concepts are crystal clear. If you use tricks without a solid grasp on the concepts, you will be just piling up negative marks. Also, try to analyse which chapters are your strength and which ones you struggle with so that you know which question to attempt first and which one towards the end.

The approach is to build your conceptual understanding and start with easy questions. Gradually, start practising tougher questions and build your confidence. If you are unclear on any steps of any problem, you must be very thorough with the underlying concept. Otherwise, a different twisted problem will bite your back in the exam. Additionally, practice mental calculations when free and for fun. Be thorough with tables, squares till 20, cubes till 10, and square roots and cube roots till 5. For quant, you should also sign up for learntheta’s adaptive platform to update you on real-time preparation levels.

Again, for this section,

Correct attempts >>>>>>>>>> no of attempts

How to take maximum benefits from mocks

Mocks are your only way to simulate exam situations. We suggest you do mocks in classrooms and not in the comfort of your home. Small things like uneasy keyboards, different monitors, uncomfortable chairs, commotion from students, technical errors, and no washroom break are part of your exam simulation environment and can not be replicated at home.

Secondly, you will never be fully prepared for CAT. So attempt each mock as if this is your real CAT attempt, irrespective of how much you have prepared. Your goal is to maximise the marks & percentile in the mocks. Your real attempt scenario will not be very different from mocks if you have taken your mocks religiously.

Your target should be to improve your accuracy and attempts in every mock irrespective of where you stand currently. Once your mock solutions are out, try to analyse where you have gone wrong in the mocks and how you can improve on them. If you are making too many wrong attempts in Number System, your outcome is to practice more Number system questions in your free time. Or you should be attempting Number system questions towards the end. Also, the recommendation is not to take too many mocks. One mock every month is more than enough. The idea of a mock is to understand your performance and improve on the gaps. If you just keep giving mocks without doing anything substantial between the two mocks, there is no way you will improve in the next mock.

There is only one purpose to be considered while attempting your mocks: maximise your marks. Everything else is a distraction. Don’t take it on your ego if you get stuck in the questions. Every question carries equal weight. If you want to solve tough questions, do it after your mock in your free time. Right now, you just need more marks. If you mark more than 20% of answers wrong, you must slow down in your subsequent mocks. If your accuracy is improved, you improve your attempts gradually. The whole idea of mock is to go through this journey.

Please note that mock tests and actual CAT will still have some variations. Elements of surprises, preparation differences, different student groups, lot of factors come into the picture. So, do not take your mock results with too much heart. But as a rule of thumb, your percentile in CAT will be much better than your mock attempts since only the serious candidates appear for mock while you will have much wider students in CAT.

A month before CAT

Hopefully, you have completed your syllabus by now. There is not much to revise when it comes to exams like CAT. If you have practised enough, you have already imbibed it. What you need to do now is take complete mocks and be clear on what is your strength & weaknesses. You need to strategise for the exam day. We suggest you first attempt questions from your strength area and gain confidence at the beginning of the exam. You should decide on your exam strategy and try to replicate it during the mocks at this time.

Please make a habit of attempting the mock or studying in the same time slots as your CAT slot. This will train your brain to be most functional in that duration by aligning your body clock. Proper sleep, food and exercise is the only way to keep yourself healthy during this crucial time of the year. It is not unheard of the students to fall sick because of stress or other unhealthy habits just at the last moment.

CAT Day tips

You should know where exactly is your centre. It is a good habit to check it a day in advance to avoid any surprises of map location, traffic, etc. Please do not stress yourself with last-minute preparation. Try to do the best of your attempt based on whatever you have absorbed so far. You have practised enough; nothing can go wrong if you keep your cool. So just relax and do your best. 

Do not try anything new on exam day. Eat light food, and park the junk for post-CAT days. Sleep on time, as exam anxiety is a common issue. Please have less water as there is no washroom break. 

In addition, be prepared for surprises. Your system is loading slowly, the keyboard button is hard to type, and some kid is playing near the window, disturbing everyone. Exam centres suck, but you have prepared for this day during your mocks. And worst of all, you can see some unfamiliar questions in the CAT. But remember, it will be tough for everyone if it is tough for you.

Other exams than CAT

Few other exams are happening during CAT months, and many students are unaware of it. XAT, NMAT, CMAT, IIFT, SNAP & GMAT are some examples. Most of these exams are very similar. Since you are ready for CAT, you must attempt each of these even if you have not prepared for them. Nothing like it if you can also prepare for these exams, but take the attempt. Sometimes you might have a bad day on CAT but a good day with NMAT. Even if you do not convert, you will know how far you are from the selection for next year.

Post CAT

You can check answer keys availble online and estimate your marks/ percentile. If you have a chance of conversion, it is high time you start focusing on the next steps: college-specific preparation for GD, interview & essay writing. By the time students get their confirmed shortlist, they are hardly left with a few weeks before their interview date.Don’t lose your heart if you don’t seem to be qualifying. The good thing about CAT is that you can re-attempt it next year, and you are already prepared to a good extent. Also, maybe you want to focus on something else and not MBA. It’s the right time to reflect on it. No matter what, take a little break and start again on your next goal with full enthusiasm. It’s not the end of the world.

If you have read this far, you are already serious about your preparation. All the best from Learntheta. We are here to help you with all your quant needs

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