What Kind of Aspirant Are You? (2/3)

The Concentric Circles of CAT Aspirants

In our previous article, we laid out aspirants across a graph with rectangular coordinates. In this one, we go for polar co-ordinates (Go on, look these up).

We can categorize CAT aspirants into three groups – the first 300, the next 3000 and the 30000 after that. This categorization is based on where students stand based on their natural ability, say, about 6 months prior to CAT. This looks something like this:


The first 300 are the naturals – the ones who know the basic math and/or have years of practice at reading all kinds of stuff. These are the guys that answer questions even before you have understood them. If they take a few mocks and fine-tune stuff, they should have a shot at 99.xx at CAT. The next 3000 are the ones that are half a notch behind this first 300. They are good at one/two of the three sections. These are the ones that have to spend more time than the first 300 in order to crack the exam. The final 30,000 are a further step behind.

In any exam, this type of classification can be done. What is the idea behind this exercise, you ask?

It is important because although there is a correlation between natural ability and success, it is not very high. If you look at people cracking this exam, a large share comes from the final 30,000. A great many guys in IIMA will tell you that there definitely are 3000 higher IQ guys than them out there in the Country who took CAT.

The section of students cracking the exam looks something like this graph below.

What should be the preparation strategy for each ring?

‘Gifted’ brigade’ –If you are in this group, keep just one thing in mind – Do not become a junkie

Quite a few students hover around forums/FB groups and answer all kinds of questions at amazing speed. They revel in this and clamour for tougher and tougher questions all the time. Problem with this approach is that you end up preparing for a way-higher-than-CAT-level in one section (usually Quant) and are below par in the two others. You come out with a score like QA – 99.8th, DI-LR, 98.5th and VARC 88th to end with an overall of 98.4. This is a fantastic score, but probably 1.3 percentile points lower than what you could have scored.

I will let you in on one of the dirtier secrets of the CAT preparation industry. More than 90 percent of the questions posted in forums and groups are way tougher than what you will find in Quant. There are quite a few junkies out there. You cannot possibly run a public forum without attracting junkies; and junkies always clamour for tougher questions. So, in a bid to keep the forum interesting, the difficulty level of questions keeps creeping up.

How do I recognize I am becoming a junkie?

  1. What are the last two digits of 23478?
  2. 3a – 3b = 1800. What is the maximum possible value of a + b?
  3. What is the maximum number of bounded regions possible when we draw 10 lines on a plane?
  4. What is derangement of 6 items?

If you think the above are decent/relevant questions, you run the danger of junkie-dom. If you have heard of these terms while preparing for CAT  – Fermat’s last theorem, Eulers phi function, Cauchy-Schwartz inequality, Ptolemy’s Theorem, then you are preparing with the wrong crowd.  To put it politely, these ideas have not been tested by CAT in the last half century.

Truth is only about half the candidates in this brigade manage to get 99th percentile or above. This is because they get diverted and focus on all kinds of wrong things.

The next 3000 – thou shall not be intimidated

The second ring of 3000 students runs only one big risk – that of being intimidated by the first 300. Students in this group are usually slightly behind the first set, but often imagine the gap to be too huge. This fear factor gets exacerbated when you post answers in public forums and groups. Every time someone answers a question before you have even read it clearly, the pressure mounts. Keep in mind a few very vital things

  1. There are probably 200 very good students who have a fantastic chance of scoring 99.9+. Forget about them. It would be good to study with them, but they are not your main competitors.
  2. The public forums and groups usually exaggerate these differences.
  3. An overwhelming majority of questions posted in these forums are way tougher than CAT.
  4. It also helps to remember that many of the first 300 do not even crack CAT, and often are quite scared of this exam. They fall into the trap of over-preparing for one section. Too frequently, the pressure of being expected to crack the exam also gets to many of the first 300.

I can confess that I have been amazed at the speed at which students answer questions and been stumped by quite a few questions posed on these forums. Luckily enough these experiences came after I have done my MBA.

The next 30000 – Prepare in a cocoon

Prepare from basics till you have a clear idea of two things – 1) What is the level of difficulty of CAT? and 2) What is your preparation strategy for CAT?

Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I find a lot of students who fall into a similar trap. They visit all these public internet spaces for CAT and see a great many questions being discussed there. They see a number of students answering questions and discussing answers. They realize that they are not yet ready to attend these sessions (a great many of which are irrelevant for CAT anyway), but they keep going for these anyway. Do not be in this group. CAT prep has two components – Learning new stuff and assessing where you stand. Stay away from benchmarking until you are ready.

We recently ran a fabulous all-night marathon session on Facebook that was well-attended and an amazing amount of fun. But I can say with confidence that very few new things could have been learnt by attending the session. It was high on energy, provided fabulous practice and gave this kick of practicing and preparing with many others in a group setting. But if you did not know how to find the number of factors of a number before the session began, chances are you would not have learnt in that session. This is despite the fact that we provided detailed solutions as links from our own website.

Don’t get your confidence shattered by benchmarking aggressively before you are ready. Learn ideas thoroughly, practice aggressively, assess where you stand. Use Quora, Pagalguy and Facebook as a nice fun distraction and nothing more.



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One comment

  1. First of all, the post was very well drafted. It can also be included Verbal Ability’s regime. Above all, the illustrations given are even applicable for all the tasks in life, not limited to CAT prep stratagem alone.

    I love the fact : “Don’t get your confidence shattered by benchmarking aggressively before you are ready. ”

    These kind of read pieces are very nice and expecting more, but not of type junkie 🙂

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