An IIT Roorkee alumnus and seasoned CAT trainer, Neraj Kumar Naiyar has been in the education industry for the past 8 years. Sharing exclusive insights on ‘How to prepare for CAT’, he answers some crucial questions that grapple more aspirants, in an exclusive Q&A on CAT preparation.
He has trained and mentored thousands of students who have made it to premiere management colleges, including the IIMs. He is the founder of Kitabee Education Services, a startup institution founded to help CAT aspirants by providing classroom training and free online resources.
In one of the most detailed interviews on record, we get you answers to every question that an aspirant might have, straight from the expert.
How to prepare for CAT: What does it really take to crack CAT?
CAT is the mother of all B-school entrance exams; not because it is the toughest, but because a huge number of aspirants take it and the maximum number of colleges only consider CAT scores, including the prestigious IIMs.
Cracking CAT is dependent on a host of parameters- hard work, conceptual clarity, time management and above all, luck. But the most crucial traits that one must possess in order to prepare effectively for CAT are discipline, consistency and a never say die spirit. Cracking CAT is not about the three hours in the examination hall answering questions, but months of rigorous practice, sleepless nights and an indomitable spirit to fight it till the end.
It is a test of one’s endurance, intellect and temperament. If you are able to maintain your composure throughout the journey, you will eventually be able to ace it. You need to have nerves of steel and an inextinguishable fire to excel at CAT.
The best books, blogs, test series and online resources for CAT
When it comes to preparing for CAT Quant section, How to Prepare for CAT Quantitative Aptitude by Arun Sharma and Quantitative Aptitude Quantum CAT by Sarvesh Kumar are great practice sources for Arithmetic and Modern Math. For Geometry, theory can be studied from RD Sharma or NCERT(IX and X standard). Additionally, it is suggested that you obtain practice questions from Time, Career Launcher or IMS.
For Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation, solve Time/Career Launcher practice exercises. I’ve seen that the best questions appear in the mock tests of these institutes. So do join a test series, one that is aligned to the actual exam. In my opinion, IMS test series can be called more in line with the actual paper, as compared to others.
If you can get previous years’ mocks of these institutes, then try solving them as assignments rather than tests. This will give you exposure to different kinds of models that can appear in the actual paper. As far as online resources are concerned Art of Problem Solving, CEMC Waterloo University and International Mathematics Olympiads are great sources for some mind boggling Quant questions.
Over and above that, try reading various informative articles online to further your knowledge and reading speed. Puzzles from Shakuntala Devi, George J Summers or even credible online resources can help you build a logical mindset, required for acing the LR-DI section.
Some expert CAT Quant tips and key areas to focus on
I see Quant as a section that promises to be the most reliable when it comes to scoring marks. Unlike the Verbal section where there’s a lot of subjectivity, here the questions require a systematic problem-solving approach and you can arrive at the answers with a fair amount of certainty. Moreover, the syllabus is limited, so there aren’t very many surprises for students in the exam.
There’s only one mantra to excel in Quant- relentless practice. Additionally, I ask students to be specific about the areas in which they falter. For example, some students say their Algebra is weak; but it isn’t necessary that they struggle with every topic of Algebra. You might be good at Quadratic Equations, Series, Logarithms but find Modulus punishing. Thus, the most important tip to be an achiever is to know yourself and focus your energies on overcoming your shortcomings. But at the same time, it’s also crucial that you further your skills in the areas that you are comfortable with.
Important Quant Topics for CAT
When it comes to which areas are important, then Arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry constitute nearly 8o% of the questions appearing in CAT. In the past, Number System was very popular in CAT but over time you may see fewer questions from this section. Permutation & Combinations and Probability are slowly finding their way back. However, you might still find only three to four questions from Modern Math.
How should aspirants take the decision of when to pursue an MBA; before, or after work experience?
This is a tricky question. There are two schools of thought; one believes that it is better to gain some practical exposure by working and then go for an MBA. This helps one grasp the theoretical models studied during an MBA better. However, preparing for CAT while working is by no means an easy proposition. A job leaves one with a little time to prepare and the entire day’s fatigue further leads to distractions and a loss of motivation.
The second school of thought advocates that one must prepare for CAT while pursuing graduation and enter B-school as a fresher. This gives one ample time to prepare and as one is already in touch with studies, maintaining the momentum is easier. But the downside is that MBA colleges give preference to candidates with some work experience, as compared to freshers. As a result, a fresher might lose vital points during his/her selection procedure.
My take is that if you want to pursue an MBA post some work experience, then you should set aside a longer duration for CAT preparation in order to compensate for the fatigue and loss of momentum. As for freshers, I would advise them to aim for a higher percentile to make up for the lack of experience and to try and maintain a good CGPA during graduation.
The CAT preparation strategy and study plan that aspirants must follow
There’s no tailor made one size fits all study plan for CAT. It has to be customised according to one’s strengths, weaknesses and limitations, which will vary with every aspirant. But what I strongly advise candidates, is to be consistent. You must spare two-three hours every day for CAT preparation. I believe that at least 8-10 months of extensive preparation are required for a candidate to score a phenomenal percentile. Target to finish off the entire syllabus by August end or September first week.
Then focus on the most important aspect, taking mocks and thoroughly analysing them. LRDI and Reading Comprehension need to be practised every day as these are sections that can be mastered only with regular practice and persistence.
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Is CAT coaching absolutely necessary? How can aspirants make the most of it?
Certainly not. Cracking CAT requires one to have a logical mindset, good analytical & reasoning skills, in addition to a good command over English. Good coaching helps you streamline your efforts, see your competition up front, get structured help & expert guidance for your weak areas, as well as access to some great Mentorship for your journey. Since acing CAT is a psychological game, a good Mentor will help unfasten mental blockages and push the student to transgress the boundaries and limits imposed by the mind.
To be able to extract most out of coaching, you must be regular with classes and complete assignments on time. Also, ensure that you are able to get doubts cleared in time and that tests are a regular feature of the preparation.
Is it advisable to leave one’s job to prepare for CAT? If yes, how does one justify it during the GD/PI?
I don’t advise students to leave their jobs but instead suggest them to take a sabbatical or thirty/forty-five days of medical leave, if possible. If neither is feasible, I ask them if they are ready to take a risk. If you are truly passionate about CAT, then leaving your job is perhaps an option. But I recommend that even if you are planning to quit, you should do so about three months prior to CAT.
Three full months should suffice, considering you have already been preparing since eight to ten months(prior to CAT); studying over weekends and investing at least one-two hours every day.
In this case, you can be honest during the PI-WAT and tell panellists that you left a demanding job to prepare dedicatedly for CAT, since it wasn’t possible to put in the requisite amount of hard work without it.
For more guidance, it is best to get in touch with people who have successfully aced the PI-WAT and are current IIM students.Get Mentored By IIM Alumni(Free)
How does an average student decide whether an MBA from a non-prestigious B-school is worth it?
The criteria you must keep in mind which picking an MBA college are, the average package, alumni, quality of faculty, as well as the pedagogy and the industrial exposure one gains while pursuing the MBA. It is very crucial for a student to do extensive research on the above factors before taking a call. The student networks and societies in such colleges can help you gauge the quality of education and gain other useful insights.
After all, you do a post graduation once in your life and carry the tag for the rest.
The best B-schools in terms of placements and ROI in your opinion?
The best B-schools for pursuing MBA can be divided into tier1 and tier 2 colleges.
Tier-1: Older IIMs, FMS, SP Jain, XLRI Jamshedpur, MDI, JBIMS, IITs like Mumbai and Delhi, NITIE, NMIMS, SIBM Pune etc..
Tier 2: Newer IIMs, IMI, IMT Ghaziabad, FORE, TAPMI, GIM, MICA, Great Lakes, KJ Somaiya, XIMB Bhubhaneshwar etc..
Of course, the ranks in the above list kept shifting as per their placement records and the list remains dynamic.
You should also consider the fee structure of these colleges and the look at the placement records before taking a call.
Is an MBA really worth it in this age of MOOCs and entrepreneurship? What is the real ROI on an MBA?
In my opinion, an MBA is a learning experience where you compete with some of the best brains in the country. While pursuing an MBA, you are in an ecosystem that constantly pushes you to redefine your mental and physical limits, which is crucial to shaping your future. MBA gives you the opportunity to network with the right people, which is very important in a day and age where the startup bug has gripped everyone.
Theoretical knowledge gained through an MBA curriculum and guest-lectures by stalwarts from the corporate world give you some incredible insights.
The real ROI is the learning and the brand name you gain, which stays with you for a lifetime. And of course, an MBA does help you earn heftier packages, that further is a stimulus for many.
What do 95+ percentiles do differently in their CAT preparation strategy, that makes them succeed?
Achievers don’t just do different things, they do things differently. A common trait of all such achievers is that they are very specific with mock analysis and try to assess them thoroughly. Most students appear for mocks but when it comes to analysis of the same, they don’t do it scientifically. Analysis means that you need to solve the mock again without looking at the watch and check whether they are able to solve the problems you couldn’t during the mock.
If you succeed, then it implies you need to work on your temperament. If you don’t succeed in solving them, then it means you lack conceptual understanding of the topic and thus, need to work on getting the fundamentals rights.
Also, discipline, self-belief and conscientiousness set the achievers apart from the crowd.
MBA abroad vs MBA in India?
This is a conundrum that many students face. Of course, an MBA from a foreign university looks glamorous, but it is an exorbitant proposition. Moreover, one needs to have work experience of three-four years, an exceptional GMAT score, in addition to an outstanding academic and extra-curricular profile, to be able to get admission in a premier institute.
Since there are no campus interviews at foreign universities, you’re pretty much on your own and have to apply individually to companies, which remains a tiresome process. Also, visa issues and labour laws prevalent in the country of study often create hassles in seeking good jobs.
If you do bag a good package, the taxes and cost of living will drain away a significant portion of your salary. Moreover, you will have to stay in the country for a sufficient duration to be able to recover the exorbitant expenses of your MBA.
On the other hand, an MBA from an Indian university is less expensive, offers campus placements, poses no visa issues and more importantly since India is the most promising among emerging markets, it is a fertile ground for MBA graduates.
Also, if you are smitten by the startup bug, then having worked in Indian markets will give you requisite insights and knowledge about customer behaviour and preferences.
Thus, in my opinion, it is advisable to pursue an MBA from a reputed Indian university.
Your take on the coveted, ‘Why MBA’ question
For some, an MBA is a degree to earn a heftier package, while for others it presents the opportunity to study and learn under the best faculty, with the brightest minds in the country. Then there are some who look at it as a means to change their stream and even those who view an MBA as a backup option since they aren’t sure about what to really do in their lives.
Your answer to ‘Why MBA’ cannot be vague and will directly reflect on your thought process as a candidate. It can be a strong contributing factor in deciding the fate of a student.
Thus, I recommend students to prepare well for cliché questions like ‘Why MBA’, ‘Tell me something about yourself’, ‘Where do you see yourself ten years down the line’ etc as they are very likely to be thrown at them during the interview. These answers reflect on one’s vision and are helpful in identifying the merit of a candidate. Thus, frame these answers fittingly and accurately.
How is Kitabee different in its approach, when coaching aspirants for CAT?
Kitabee is an institution that offers personal attention to every student catering to their individual needs and helping them chalk out as well as follow a customised study plan. Each student needs varied guidance and we ensure that they are given special consideration. We are able to achieve this as the batch strength varies from 10-12 students and helps us give each student the focused attention they deserve.
Once the syllabus is over, the students go through rigorous training for the next three months with frequent revision sessions, workshops and mock tests to give them the thrust they need to perform exceptionally well on the D-day. Also, at Kitabee, every entrance exam is given equal importance and we train our students accordingly to excel in each such exam.
The phenomenal results of our last batch speak great volumes about the quality of training that we impart to our students. Also keeping an affordable fee structure allows everyone to join Kitabee and get access to the exceptional coaching and learning.
Have anything to add to our ‘How to prepare for CAT’ Q&A? Share your own inputs and learnings from your CAT preparation journey. For unresolved questions and queries that need expert guidance, write-in to us in comments.
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