How I cracked the CAT - a CA's story

Updated: May 30

It has been almost two years since I became a Chartered Accountant, but that is not where I wanted to stop. Therefore, even though I could not succeed in my interviews the first time around, I did not give up and managed to convert IIM-Ahmedabad and IIM-Calcutta calls in my second attempt.


Get to know me:

CAT 2018, my first attempt, was just four months after I had cleared my CA exams. Having succeeded in all my academic pursuits in the first shot throughout my life, I wanted nothing different from this. I scored 96.8 percentile, and fortunately, that, and my past academic profile, were enough for me to have an interview call from IIM-Ahmedabad (Also, IIM-K, IIM-I and the other IIMs not part of the top 6). However, the results were unsatisfying, since I did not convert my IIM-A call. My emotions came out in the form of a poetry, and if you have read it, you will know that my family and friends helped me out of it.

CAT 2019 went much better wherein I scored 98.94 percentile. Read on to know how. Yes, this time I received an interview call from ALL the IIMs.

Brief about CAT 2018:

1. VARC: Unfortunately, I did not have a reading habit, and faced troubles here.

2. DILR: As a person who has always loved solving puzzles, DILR came to me naturally. It was not tough for me to solve 5 sets on an average throughout my practice.

3. QA: I had a hard time solving QA questions, and I am sure that most CAs (and other people who do not have a strong mathematics background) will relate.

It is at this point that, you, as a reader, should realize the importance of recognizing your strengths and weaknesses. For instance, DILR was my strength and I needed to work hard on the other two sections.


CAT 2019 plan:

I have been working in the financial services sector for over a year now and I did not take leaves for CAT prep. Instead, I woke up early in the morning every day, and practiced questions for an hour, before leaving for work. During weekends, I took mock tests and analyzed them. Analyzing tests is very important, as you will realize in the ‘test strategy’ segment of my sectional write-ups.

VARC:

In a year’s time, my reading habit had improved significantly; partly out of conscious efforts to strengthen my VARC section, and partly because my job demanded regular and extensive news reading. For my conscious reading efforts, I started reading multiple newspapers (as opposed to my earlier habit of only reading one) and I also read a few novels over the year. It doesn’t matter what topic you’re reading, or whether you’re reading fiction or non-fiction. As long as you get habituated to simultaneously reading and understanding long strings of text, most of your problems in the VARC section will vanish. After all, VARC is primarily about reading long passages AND staying with the author throughout. I would highly recommend extensive news reading, as it will not only improve your reading habit, but also nourish your general and current knowledge.

Test strategy: During mocks, try various strategies of doing RCs first then VA or vice-versa or a mix of both. Apply what you think suits you best. For RCs, also practice strategies like reading the questions first and then the passage or vice-versa.

DILR:

This section is the best example of practice makes perfect. For someone who could easily solve 5 sets in an hour, right from the beginning, I did not spend a lot of time practicing this section. I used my time for practicing VARC and QA. However, if you struggle here, practice, practice, practice!

Test strategy: Quickly go through all 8 sets in the first five minutes and decide the order in which you want to solve them. Taking multiple mock tests will help you figure out the kind of sets you are comfortable with, and those sets must be solved first.

QA:

This section was tough, even after a previous experience at the CAT. QA was especially dreadful, because I knew that majority CAT takers had a much better mathematics background than I did. The fear of not being able to score even a decent percentile loomed over my head. I, therefore, increased my efforts manifold for this section. Most of my morning practice would involve QA questions. I even reserved a few hours for QA on the weekends. It is important to identify the topics that you are good at, and the ones you need to work on. Try mastering your strong topics by practicing tougher questions. For weaker sections, practice enough to be able to solve the medium difficulty questions at least.

Test strategy: When you see a question, decide whether you will be able to solve it in around 60-90 seconds. If yes, solve immediately, else move ahead. For questions that you think you may be able to solve, but aren’t sure, mark it for review, and move ahead. Trying to solve it may not be helpful as you may miss out on easier questions in the later parts of the test.

In a nutshell:

1. Familiarize yourself with the topics across all sections by practicing a lot of questions.

2. Practice enough mocks to be able to face any kind of test pattern set in the actual CAT.

3. Keep calm and do your best. Do not let one bad section affect the other. Consider each section as a separate test.

4. Please do not solve mocks for up to 3 days before the actual test. Instead, go through formulae or important points that you would have marked over your course of study. Or, just relax.

Endnote:

All your efforts will pay off. The feeling of looking at a congratulatory screen on the IIM-A (or your preferred institute) website is indescribable. Yet, I have tried to describe it here. In case you guys want a separate article on my ABC interviews, do let me know in the comments section.


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