Latest Posts

What after a horrible CAT?

Be it the day of the CAT or be it when the final admits results come out it is not easy to be a mentor — on one hand you are happy for students who crack the exam and get an admit and on the other hand you are also tinged with sadness for those who have a bad test day or fail to convert. The toughest thing was always to meet a student who is happy, knowing that the one waiting outside is sad. So with the years one develops a certain equanimity since one cannot be so happy that one is not able to empathise with the ones who are having a hard time and one also cannot get so bogged down by sadness that one cannot partake in the joy of the successful.

In some cases students just disappear, somehow they take it very personally, that they have failed, they have failed even after reading all the blogs and all attending all the sessions, they feel almost as if they have let me down. And I am left wondering, whatever happened to that guy. The others thankfully come down to meet me or reach to me through the blog comments even if it is just to feel lighter instead of heavy and burdened.

There are two things about cliches — they are dead boring since they have been repeated so often but at the same time, they are also true, so are all the cliches about failure, I won’t repeat them but I will attest that they are true.

In one of the recent posts, I spoke about how every one has to face a test and how heroes in myths are defined by overcoming obstacles. The thing about myths is that they rarely show heroes failing at a task spectacularly — they only show heroes’ failings or weaknesses (Rama in the way he treated Sita post his rescuing of her).

But if we look at real life successes, almost every spectacular success has had a a big failure or inability as well. I am not linking failure to success or calling it a pre-requisite.

All I am saying is, everyone fails, so do not go beating yourself about it.

There is nothing to be gained from self-flagellation

The first reaction understandably is to hit oneself with an emotional sledgehammer and of these the worst one is — I am useless, I am not smart enough, I suck, I do not have the skills to crack this exam, no matter what I do it will not change a thing.

Firstly, I will be happy if you are telling yourself all of these in anger rather than through a bucket of tears since anger with oneself can be a very good motivator.

But whether you are telling yourself these things through anger or through tears you need to quickly move from “I suck” to I suck at this particular aspect of CAT, from being emotional to being strategic.

  • This was the first time I took an entrance test and I was overwhelmed by it
  • My reading speed was the biggest hindrance when the paper became tough
  • Before the test I did not talk myself through what I was going to execute during the three sections
  • Before the test I did talk myself through things but everything went out of the window once the test started
  • I did not hunker down and solve 2 DI sets but flitted from set to set
  • I could not solve tough QA questions from Arithmetic, my level plateaued at easy and moderate questions
  • My technique to solve evaluative RC questions was not really upto the mark

My favourite story when it comes to dealing with doubts about one’s ability is Brian Lara’s answer when questioned about being McGrath’s bunny (he has got him quite a few times), Lara did not talk about the number of centuries he scored against Australia or the single-handed manhandling of a peak Australian team over an entire series, all he said was — someone from the opposition has to get me out sometime, right?

Evaluate the extent of damage and your options and view things in proportion

The right lens to view things should not be through your success or failure at CAT but in terms of your prospects of doing an MBA from a premier b-school.

Just like the extent of damage in a war varies across the various battlefronts, the damage, if any, to your MBA dreams, varies across different profiles.

Who are the aspirants who are worst hit?

Those who already have 4 years of work-experience and had a horrible CAT are the worst hit since another shot at the CAT and the 2-year MBA is effectively ruled out; they only have the rest of the exams in this season to make it count. (It is not that you will get rejected, you can still get an admit into a 2-year program but the number of recruiters looking at a 5-year profile will be fewer; you will still be able to get the career growth you are looking for in your domain)

Those who have three years of work-ex will still have a marginal shot at the CAT next year but to stay close to the average profile in a b-school (having 4 or more years of work-ex will make the profile a bit of an outlier) they should crack one of the remaining exams in this season.

Those who have 2 years or fewer have work-ex have nothing to worry about as far their MBA dreams go, they are well and truly alive, you can still get there, not when you wanted to and in the way you wanted to but you can still get there.

Some of you might wonder whether you have it in you to take another shot. We you do not have another option.

Roger Federer played from 2012 Wimbledon to 2017 Australian Open, 17 Slams, without winning a single slam, being stuck at 17, losing to players who were not in the same league as him. At every single slam during those five years my friend and I would talk, just before the semis or finals, about how well Fed was playing, the new things that he was inventing — the SABR (Sneak Attack By Roger) — and as usual the crazy points in the matches until then, only for him to lose again.

There were articles asking why he was still playing. I was supporting him saying that it need not be #1 or nothing, as long as he is easily making finals and semis and believes he can win he should play since he is still ranked in the top 4 and since unlike in a team sport, he is not delaying a transition or eating into the prime years of a youngster. In effect, even I had ruled out the chance of him winning again, I was happy that he was competing well.

Federer is great not because he has won 20 Slams but because he believed in himself so much, believed in himself through four years of heart-breaking failures, four years of aging and his body breaking down in 2016, while others were catching up with him.

I am sure no victory tasted sweeter to him than the 2017 Australian Open when he finally won a Slam again. (I have never felt more elation at the end of a sports match than while watching him win the 2017 Australian Open)

All of you are so young, this exam season is still young, you have enough time to acquire the skills your skills to crack the CAT at another shot (if required).

Cut all the negative voices out of your head, your own voice, that of your parents as well, if necessary (since all most Indian parents seem to care about is the timing of your wedding and how another shot affects that).

They will release the paper with your response soon and based on that we will release a tool to calculate your score — this can cause another meltdown, it is never easy to actually see the marks if you know you did not do well do not try to find out, let the results come out when they come out.

Some of you might be raring to smash the other tests to smithereens, and others might be feeling out of gas and motivation to pick yourself up.

The latter, please give yourself a break, do the things you like to do, eat the things you like to eat, and relax for the rest of the week, restart next Monday.

There is little you can do right by pushing yourself without a break or good rest and being a bunch of ragged nerves.

Getting ready for the next event

It is not easy to crack the test on your first or second attempt unless you are on the top of your game for at least 10 to 15 mocks with additional reserves to handle a tougher-than-usual paper. I cleared the test on my second attempt.

Even those who have set their sights firmly on the old IIMs will be taking a few more tests, at least the IIFT exam and the XAT. Now that you have the CAT monkey off your back go ahead full-throttle on these other tests.

Even if you have decided on another shot at the CAT and IIM-A, give the other tests you have registered for seriously, crack a final admit to IIFT, NMIMS, SIBM, or even XL and then reject it. — achieve something this season and set yourself higher goals for next year.

Some of the comments to this post are very good and some of you might find an echo of your performance, current state, and questions in them.

P.S: The picture with this post is not of Federer but of Marin Cilic (crying) after he lost the 2017 Final to Federer.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Getting ready for CAT D-day

You have around a week or so left and some of you might still be awaiting answers to some questions such as — should I listen to what happened in the earlier slots, what should I do if I know I might not get sleep Saturday night etc.

Last year I made an audio clip that answered all of these queries, queries that deal specifically with the three days leading up to the test and all the pending questions.

Getting ready for CAT D-day

As promised I am also taking a stress buster session — Anything But CAT — along with my colleagues on Friday.

We will host five rooms where we will discuss specific non-CAT topics of interest: Cricket & Tennis, Football and other sports, Harry Potter & Fantasy Books, Music Room, Quizzing.

I’ll be handling the Cricket & Tennis room along with Amit Sir and Param sir (and all of our other stalwarts will also be there in each of the other rooms).

I am looking forward to evening sessions and interacting with all the cricket, tennis and sports fans among you.

All IMS students will receive a link for the same.

How to crack the DI-LR section of the CAT – I

Just like I keep getting queries on how to increase RC accuracy, despite the Masterclasses and the Last Mile To CAT sessions, I keep getting queries around the DI-LR section as well.

In this series of series of posts  I’ll dive really deep down into actual CAT DI-LR sets and see if I can come up with some kernel of truth beyond just the solving of the set that can help aspirants approach the solving of the sets better.

Read More

How to select the right DI-LR sets

After the previous posts, a few of you had commented saying that you are eagerly awaiting the post on the DI-LR section. The earnestness is understandable since most of you who are facing the SimCATs will know that the DI-LR section is one that will make or break your CAT.If it goes well, you will take that confidence into the QA section finish strong. If your performance on the DI-LR section goes south then you will start feeling the fatigue and will fade away in the last section. The latter has been the case with most test-takers over the years. Read More

How to increase your VA accuracy on the CAT

One thing that has always bothered me a lot whenever I interact with students, is that they seem to be very reluctant to let go of their playing-the-percentages attitude to tests. Throughout school and college, we tend to study by playing the percentages — giving importance to topics as per the number of questions that appear from that topic in the exam. While this might be a great strategy for school and college exams, as far as aptitude tests go, this strategy is suicidal purely because of the fact that the difficulty level and the number of questions across areas do not follow a fixed pattern.

How is this related to Verbal Ability in the current pattern of the CAT? Read More

Why your actual abilities might not be as good as you think they are

The purpose of this site has been to examine the problems that students keep bringing back to me over the years, and as the important ones get addressed I keep getting other questions that depending on how one looks at it are either simple or hide more than they reveal to the casual observer.

One such conundrum is this one, a paraphrase of a problem that I have answered in many comments:

I do not know what happens to me during the test — I do pathetically, sometimes I am even ashamed to mention how much I score — but when I sit after the test, I find that I can answer all questions easily.

How do I deal with this nervousness, how do I tackle this?

You are looking in the wrong mirror — your post-test performance does not really count

The biggest thing test-takers discount is that they are solving the whole paper for the second time!

  • You have already spent 40 or 60 minutes with the 25 to 35 problems.
  • You have already tried half of the problems for atleast 2 to 3 minutes each
  • You attempted all the rest of the questions at least for 1 to 2 minutes.
  • You have understood all the superficial aspects of the question
  • You have already tried the obvious methods

When you read it for a second time

  • your brain registers what it missed or took for granted the during the exam
  • your do not draw the same table or represent the information in a DI-LR set the same way that you did during the exam
  • you actually understand the anchor condition because in the exam you did not give it enough thought
  • you thus start correctly solving the questions you spent 2 or 3 minutes on during the exam
  • you gain confidence and then correctly solve the questions you spent 1 or 2 minutes on during the exam
  • you conclude that your problem is nervousness

You completely and conveniently ignore the fact that in reality you spent, on average, 4-5 minutes on every question, or in other words you took twice the time to solve the same section.

You took two stabs at the question.

You are adding the score of first and second innings into a single score!

Estimating your capabilities by post-test performance creates a vicious cycle

In your head your actual capability on a section is 45-50 marks because of the way you ace it post-test whereas your actual scores are in the 15-25 range.

After every successful post-test solving you approach the next test with the same mindset — I am awesome at this section, this time I am going to score 45-50.

What happens when you go in with this thinking?

  • To score a 45-50 you have score attempt around 20-22 questions and get 17-18 right or attempt 4 sets or all RCs
  • This means that you going to attempt almost 2 out of 3 questions
  • More importantly, this means that you have just about 2 minutes per question
  • You feel under the pump right from the beginning
  • A few questions go wrong in the beginning and the downward spiral starts
  • You desperately try to keep your head above the water for the rest of the section — everything but your head is still
  • You come back home, pick yourself up, resolve the section, and feel good
  • You think my level is 45-50, next time I will nail it
  • The cycle, unfortunately vicious not virtuous, continues

And another thing also happens because of these misplaced targets

  • All the question-selection strategies and solving techniques that IMS mentors, including me, keep going on and on about in Masterclasses and other videos are thrown out of the window
  • You think that all of these strategies & techniques are not practical in actual test conditions
  • You relegate the processes to the background and go back to being you and doing you.

Accept your true ability and set realistic goals

I am not saying that you can never score a 45, you sure can, but not right now! Right now may be your ability is somewhere in the middle — not 15-25 or 45-50 but 30-35.

This might be tough to accept —

  • you think you are good at VA-RC since you read a lot
  • you think you are good at QA since you like Math a lot and have done well in the past

But the fact is that this exam and the question types and the format have nothing to do with your capabilities in general.

It has everything to do with performing in the format of the test. The only true indicator of ability is your performance on the test. You are a good test cricketer does not mean you will be an ace at T20 and vice-versa! You play exceptionally well in India does not mean you will play exceptionally well in England!

So, this is what you should do.

Set your ego aside completely, put the test above you.

Set a target of your current average score plus 10. If you are currently scoring around 15, do not aim for more than 25.

Solve only as many sets/questions that you need to solve to reach this score.

If you are used to aiming for 4 sets out it is okay to aim for only 2 of the easiest and get them right.

What this does is that

  • the pressure of the timer disappears
  • you have enough time to execute the selection correctly
  • you have enough time to execute the processes correctly
  • you are more likely to achieve your target

Once you achieve a 25 for 2-3 tests, add another 10 marks, let your score stabilise at 35 and then add another 10.

Some papers might be damned difficult but if you are selecting right then you will clear the cut-off and get a good percentile despite a lower-than-target-score since your targets were realistic to start with.

Your problem is nervousness only if

Nervousness is a valid problem only if you are scoring exceptionally well in the TakeHomes and tanking only in the Proctored SimCATs

Your performance in sectionals are not a valid indicator of your ability since you are not comparing apples with apples; the comparison is valid only in VA-RC since it is the first section and you have as much energy in the SimCAT as in the sectional.

So, if you fall into this category — great TakeHome scores but drastically reduced scores in Proctored Sims — then, yes, nervousness is a problem. I will be doing a session about the same later in the season.

But in the meantime you will not do badly to set reduced expectations, that in itself will decrease the pressure.

There is enough and more time from now until the end of November.

Enough time for you to set the right targets and slowly work your way to higher scores, provided you do not slave mindlessly but work strategically

  • identify the your problems with test-taking correctly
  • set the right targets, and
  • sit down to prepare, be it practice or testing, every single time with a clear goal — I need to select better, or I need to execute processes better, I need to cut down on errors due to misreading and miscalculation.

The goal is not to score hundred but to score a good 35-40 during which

  • only the right deliveries were played at,
  • every shot played hits the centre of the bat,
  • every shot is played right into the gap and
  • gets you as many runs as the ball deserved

Walk, jog, run, and finally, fly.