With the new pattern announced and quite a few changes, mostly superficial, being made to change the test taking experience, there is a concern among the aspirants regarding the amount of time one requires to prepare for CAT and the ‘sacrifices’ one needs to make to be in the best shape come CAT 2015. Lets try to dispel some of the myths surrounding the generic advice that many aspirants are subjected to.

Spoiler Alert: This article focuses on generic guidelines and analysis of certain myths that are prevalent among the aspirants. We will be coming up with specific scenarios and preparation strategies soon to tackle the common problems aspirants face during preparation. If you have such specific queries, comment on the post below or drop us a mail and we will cover it in the coming few days.

Myth 1: More hours of preparation per day = more success

A common query by many CAT aspirants is the number of hours they would need to put in to ensure success. A casual chat with your faculty or any of the ‘experts’ would tell you that there is no specific answer that can guarantee success when it comes to CAT. Because CAT does not have a syllabus, you need not have a rigid time table as such. The emphasis is on quality more than on quantity. So, what should be your plan to crack CAT?

Even the most fluent and consistent of the aspirants cannot tell you for sure that s/he is completely prepared to face the test. Simply put, the preparation never stops. The important thing here is to maximize the type and depth of concepts that you can cover before CAT. To start with, you need to sensitize yourself to the type of questions that appear in CAT. For that, solving all the CAT papers from 1990 till 2008 (when it used to be conducted in a paper-based format), should more than suffice. You can drop in a comment or a mail (learningroots42@gmail.com) and we will forward you the same if you do not have it already.

Once you are done identifying the various question types, you would need to figure out a way which works the best for you. Shortcuts and reverse engineering methods, however exciting they might sound, are not really useful in the tense exam environment. Plus, with the announcement that some questions might not have options, it becomes all the more important to get better at the technical process of arriving at an answer.

Our suggestion(s): A couple of mocks per week plus dedicated quality prep 2-3 hours a day is more than enough to get better. Quality is the key word here. Solve all previous year CAT papers on a priority basis and make a note of the various question types (section-wise, topic-wise and sub-topic-wise) and then prepare the topics which you feel you are lacking in. 4 months of dedicated prep would definitely add value to your invested time.

Have an objective before sitting down to study. Randomly reading articles and taking sectionals/mocks without any objective would add precious little to your preparation status. It might create an illusion that you are working hard but in reality, you would be going nowhere.

Myth 2: Leaving my job would mean a better chance of success

Even if you feel that your current job is holding you back and you cannot give time to CAT preparation, take a step back and think twice before quitting. As we saw earlier, you would require 2-3 hours of prep everyday plus a couple of mocks a week. If you can eke out time for that, it should be enough. If you are thinking that quitting would allow you to study for 24 hours a day, it is far from reality.

We have interacted with quite a few aspirants over the last many years now and most of them who have quit their jobs end up studying for a maximum of 5-6 hours a day. Anything beyond that fatigues your mind and lowers your concentration levels thus adding little marginal value for every extra hour put.

So, in short, pros of leaving your current job:

  1. If you are extremely stretched (getting less than 1-2 hours of prep every day) then quitting your job will make sure you get enough time to build your prep status
  2. It might work for some people who are good at keeping all their eggs in one basket
  3. For people with more than 3 years of work experience and who are thinking about switching careers, it might actually do a bit of good to your CV

The flip sides of leaving your job are:

  1. For someone who is eager to put in 6-7 hours of prep and beyond per day, there would be some degree of shock after the first few days
  2. There would be no plan B in case things don’t work out well (God forbid!)
  3. With the cost of a 2-year MBA in mind, it won’t be a bad idea to earn that extra bit in the next 10 odd months
  4. It is always easier to talk about your work profile during an interview than to focus on why-you-needed-to-do-one-thing-at-a-time
  5. For some, it might induce a false sense of complacency and in combination with myth 1 above, it might actually be dangerous

A couple of examples of people who balanced prep with their jobs without quitting (and got into IIM Ahmedabad) can be read here (part 1), here (part 2) and here.

Our suggestion: Don’t quit unless it is absolutely necessary.

Myth 3: I need to gather as much material as I can and finish it off before <insert month here>

The material that you solve is usually redundant and there quite a bit of overlap. This is not your usual Kung-Fu movie that advises you to practice one move a thousand times. The more exposure you have to quality problems, the better off you would be. The key to solving material is to understand when to let go of it. Solving 10 consecutive similar questions involving a known funda from LCM and HCF would add little value in that 1 hour. With 4 months to go, the more ground you cover, the better it will be for you. Solve the material, but do it smartly.

Our suggestion: Take a mock or a previous year CAT paper and figure out the topics in which you need help. Then go through the material till you have identified all the probable types of questions and then start working on a fresh topic.

Myth 4: To crack CAT, I should not have a life and prepare like a zombie

You might have to make some compromises but rest assured, you need not do anything radically insane to convince yourself (and your family, and your friends) that you are preparing for CAT. With a bit of planning, it is very easy to balance your CAT prep, work/college life and your personal life. The latter will keep you from burning out and so, it is very important that prep does not become a liability; it should become a part of your life which you enjoy doing. Remember that peaking at the right time is very important and so, you need to be in the best mental shape when you would be appearing for the test.

Myth 5: Taking as many mocks as one can is definitely advantageous

Almost all the success stories are based on how important mocks are and how it helped the toppers prepare for the big day (even I had taken more than 80 odd mocks during my serious attempts). But it is not necessary to model your prep on that of the past toppers. Everyone has a style of learning unique to oneself. Some like to study a topic thoroughly before appearing for the test, some like to hit the ground running and some will put in effort only when the situation demands it the most. Get to know your style and prepare accordingly. The purpose of mock taking can be either to strategize or to build content. Those who take many mocks, almost always, solely rely on them for building content as well. If you are one of those, it would be good to take as many mocks as possible, sometimes, up to 3-4 a week. If building content through material and solving practice questions and sectionals is your thing, even 1-2 mocks a week would do.

Myth 6: If I don’t get into an IIM, all is over

Many aspirants make it a do-or-die thing. If pressure brings out the best in you, it is actually productive to think on those lines. But then, there is a thin line between pressure and stress. Once it starts becoming stressful, it would hurt you more, by the day. So, it is always better to have a strong backup (in terms of another institute, a job, alternate career plans, another attempt, etc.).

Also, many aspirants overestimate their abilities and get disheartened by minor setbacks. Few others underestimate their abilities and are happy with insignificant victories. It won’t do you any good if you are stuck at either of these two ends. Once you have a definite goal in mind (one which is neither too easy nor too difficult to achieve), you can work towards it effectively. Getting into a b-school is only the first step of your journey and there are quite a few aspects that are not in your control. So, considering your ability, your current state and desired state, your expectations, best and least probable outcomes in case you decide to ‘compromise’ are key while making this decision.

Our suggestion: Appear for all those tests and apply to the institutes in which you have even a slight bit of interest. You can always decide whether to join or not depending on your status during April/May next year once you convert the institute.

The mental aspect of CAT prep is something that many candidates (and so, institutes) don’t focus on which leads to a lot of unanswerable queries and idiopathic fluctuations. I hope some of these have been addressed. Do drop in a mail/message/comment in case you feel there is something specific that you would like to read about and we will try to accommodate it in the coming few articles.

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