IIM - CAT Coaching: Experts' Insights

2IIM's blog to discuss the CAT paper, exam strategies, preparation plan and other CAT-related stuff

The road to pressure-free CAT

♠ Posted by Arvind Rajagopalan

I took CAT in 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2015.

My first shot was a full-fledged, one year of classroom training, final-year-student-has-lots-of-time-to-prepare attempt. I scored 88th percentile. Second attempt was when I had entered corporate life. I was in a tough job that drained me completely. Went into the exam with one evening of revisiting formulae, with no conscious reading prior to that. Scored 66th percentile.

The third attempt was my best shot at cat. Prepared with help of another CAT coaching center. Was still in the same Job and had enormous pressure to perform. This was my ticket to glory, way out of the job etc. Got a middling 85th percentile .

I got calls from 6 new IIMs, NITIE, IIM Indore, CAT 2012. Converted all six new IIMs and NITIE. Didn’t attempt Indore interview because of some personal reason.

Fast forward to Feb 2015, got an opportunity to work with 2IIM Chennai. I had wanted to be in the educational space for a long time. Once the opportunity came, I couldn’t have refused it even if I wanted to. 

Started marketing online product and managed classroom and online businesses. We all (who work at 2IIM) take CAT for the joy of it (FYI: Rajesh happens to have nailed CAT multiple times). I also started taking classes for CAT and XAT. I teach basic math classes. I did not prepare for CAT Quant. 

I read vigorously during the last three months prior to CAT. On any given day, I spent considerable time on three different books. Reading schedule comprised one Fiction, one spiritual/non fiction, and old editions of economist. Learnt DI from online.2iim.com. LR was my favourite part in CAT. Did not prepare at all. Took one mock the Monday before CAT.

Fortunately (or unfortunately as others might call it), got CAT allotted in Pondicherry (I am from Chennai. Pondicherry is about 170 kms from Chennai). Everyone else I knew had their exam centre in Chennai. Went on a biking trip on Nov 29th. It was two days before the infamous Chennai floods. Had a raincoat, waterproof bag and a Royal Enfield! Reached Pondicherry, happily riding through rain. My CAT was in the afternoon slot. I had a pleasant time talking to parents who were waiting for their kids attempting their CAT. We spoke on B schools, CAT training, and several other related topics.

I went in completely relaxed and happy. Slept inside the exam hall between 1.15 and 1.50 pm. Exam began at 2.00 pm.

Verbal section was okay-ish. I always used to have doubts between last 2 options. This time, surprisingly, very few questions ended in a coin toss (4 to be precise). Had ten minutes to spare at the end of the session. Thoroughly checked through all questions and unmarked 4 doubtful questions.

Then came the nightmarish DI LR. Spent 5 minutes going through all questions. Couldn’t decide if any question was doable. Time pressure started. So had to start somewhere. Fifteen minutes (overall 20 minutes) into Data interpretation questions, I had completed only one set. Next ten minutes went nowhere. It was already 30 minutes, and I had to start Logical reasoning. Took two puzzles, solved them completely in 22 minutes. Had 8 minutes remaining. Wanted to try my luck at a Non mcq based DI puzzle. Did all 4 in that set. In total 16 questions. What started as a nightmare had actually ended pretty well.

I had close to zero preparation for Quants so attempted only 13 questions (all from the topics I was used to teaching). Any questions that I noticed on Number theory, Geometry or Permutation Probability was ruthlessly ignored.

In total I attempted 57 questions (28+16+13). My guess from normalised scores is that 22 questions right (with 18 in RC), All 16 right in DI LR, and 10 correct answers in Quants.
Overall scaled score is 144.55 and percentile is 95.1.
VA-RC – 95.26, DI-LR – 97.66, QA – 79.21.

The takeaway from this experience is that, removing pressure off the thoughts play an enormous role in scoring well. I had exposure to how CAT looked and felt from my prior attempts, however the most serious attempts had that element of pressure built in to the system. There were times when I went into exam hall after eating Munch/Perk, expecting them to kick in after sometime so that I would get sugar rush. But without all that elaborate planning and expectations, the exam felt more enjoyable. I believe even Rajesh would reiterate the same. The sense of Joy, lets you enjoy the exam better than taking it under pressure.

I know it is incredibly tough to remove all pressure when you are taking a competitive exam. But it is vital to de-emphasize the pressure aspects as much as possible and to enjoy both the preparation and the exam-taking part as much as possible.

All the best for CAT 2016.

The author Bharathwaj works with 2IIM, building the business & teaching. Excellent counselor, bonds with students like no one else, passionate about what he does & Travels a lot. blogs @ bharathwajuday.blogspot.in

CAT 2015 – General Thoughts, attempts, percentiles

♠ Posted by Rajesh Balasubramanian in ,,,
Now that we are out of the immediate aftermath of the exam (and after the weather gods in Chennai have given us a breather to head to office), it is probably a good time to have a look at how the paper went

Paper was slightly tougher than last year, with DI-LR being substantially tougher 
Verbal and Quant were broadly at the same level of difficulty as was seen last year, but DI-LR was substantially tougher. A good student could attempt ~30 questions in verbal, ~24-ish in Quant, but only about ~14-15 in DI-LR. In the past few years, the variance in difficulty levels across sections had fallen, but this time it was stark. I personally do not think this was by design. Our dear test-setters probably wanted to crank up difficulty in order to offset the advantage given by having a calculator and ended up overcompensating.

So, what would be the percentile for xx number of attempts.
To begin with, percentile guessing is a mugs game. Further, accuracy is a critically important, and unavailable datapoint for doing this exercise. Still, we all like to pretend that we can forecast stuff with reasonable accuracy, so here goes. Remember the caveats.

Verbal ability
~24 attempts – 90th percentile
~26 attempts – 94th percentile
~28 attempts – 98th percentile
~30 attempts – 99th percentile
~31 attempts – 99.4 percentile
Anything higher – Higher percentile

Accuracy matters for all three sections, but is particularly critical for verbal. With this type of paper, almost anyone could have attempted 25 questions. Attempting 31 questions and getting 30 correct will be dramatically better than attempting 32 and getting 5 wrong. There were not too many questions with a ‘catch’. So, small details will matter a lot in this section.

DI-LR
~12 attempts – 90th percentile
~14 attempts – 94th percentile
~17 attempts – 98th percentile
~20 attempts – 99th percentile
~23 attempts – 99.4 percentile
Anything higher – Higher percentile

This might turn out to be the section where there is a huge gradient in the attempt vs. percentile chart. For instance, someone with 13 attempts and all correct might end with 93rd percentile, while a student with 13 attempts and 3 incorrect could get buried at 60th percentile.

Quantitative ability
~18 attempts – 90th percentile
~21 attempts – 94th percentile
~24 attempts – 98th percentile
~26 attempts – 99th percentile
~28 attempts – 99.4 percentile
Anything higher – Higher percentile

This probably falls bang in between Verbal and DI-LR

Overall
~52 attempts – 90th percentile
~57 attempts – 94th percentile
~64 attempts – 98th percentile
~69 attempts – 99th percentile
~74 attempts – 99.4 percentile
Anything higher – Higher percentile

Remember, that all of these are just guesses. And all of these are predicated on the fact that accuracy is at very decent levels (maximum of 2 questions wrong in each section). I do not really understand the phrase “around 70%” accuracy. Around 70% accuracy is just management-speak for 60% of so accuracy, which is just humbug. Weather forecasters do a better job than that.

So, how does this change preparation for CAT 2016?
Nothing much needs to change. Prepare from the basics, work a lot on the drill, take gazillion mocks in the run-up to the exam – this mantra worked for CAT in 1990, 2000, 2010 and will work for 2016 also. 


The second clear inference is this – Take the 2IIM online preparation course. We have taken the horse to the pond, demonstrated how one drinks water and exhorted the horse to drink water. We still continue to improve the product as well. It is already way better than any classroom course. God knows how good it will be in 8 months’ time. From CAT 2017 onwards, a third of the guys will be preparing online. ‘Discovering’ a good online course will be like saying Indian cricket team plays well on turning tracks. Duh. 2016 is the year where you can be savvy and get yourself an advantage. J

Apologies on this slightly-delayed post. We guys at 2IIM operate out of Chennai, and Chennai has just begun crawling out from under the rocks. But 2IIM, like the rest of Chennai, is back on its feet, and we will be there to help you guys with the interviews in 3 short weeks. Best wishes for CAT results. 



What to do the day before CAT?

♠ Posted by Rajesh Balasubramanian in ,,
The simple answer to this is 'Nothing'. The more elaborate answer is "Nothing much". But since I cannot pass off two words as an article, I am going to do the MBA-thing. Say lot of words that convey the same point.

Dont let lack of sleep get to you.
Everyone is going to tell you that you should sleep a lot the day before the exam. But if you have prepared with any amount of intensity, you will find falling asleep tough. Acknowledge that. Keep in mind that the adrenaline on the day of the exam will drown out any fatigue from sleep-deprivation. If you can get 8 hours of the good stuff, great. But if you manage only 4 hours of it, the worst thing to do is to go into the exam beating yourself about this "mere 4 hours". 4 hours is more than enough. Sachin Tendulkar has slept less than that and scored centuries the next day. Going into a critical exam, it is likely that you are too switched on and cannot sleep that easily. Dont worry about this.

Do something that you enjoy, but do not overdo it
Watch a movie, play football, watch youtube videos of Lionel Messi, take a nice ride/drive. Do whatever it is that puts you at ease, but dont do this 2 am.

Get the small details right
Fuel your vehicle, check the hall ticket, verify if the photograph is the same, set aside your favourite pen etc.

Dont fret about preparation, now is not the time to regret the long weekend you took to goof off
However well you might have prepared, give your best shot with that. Do not go in feeling that you are under-cooked. The last day is to gee yourself up, so focus all your attention on conning yourself into believing.

Fly off the blocks, let adrenaline do its thing
In the minutes before the exam, bin all thoughts of percentiles, formulae, strategy, cut-offs and other nonsense. Simplify. Think what Usain Bolt would be thinking before  a 100m dash. He might have prepared his entire adult life for the race. But on the eve of the race, he is going to operate with a simple framework "Hear starting gun, run for 10 seconds". Solving questions is the best way to relax yourself. The least you can do is give yourself a chance.

Remember, this is not such a big deal.
Anyone who does well in the exam has to be reasonably sharp; while the converse is not true. This exam is but one outlet to showcase your mettle. Nothing more, nothing less.

Best wishes from the entire 2IIM team for CAT 2015.