How to plan a GMAT attempt along with a CAT re-take

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B-School Selection / CAT

In the aftermath of the CAT, a lot of aspirants who did not make it will be contemplating their next move and the GMAT as an option will be looming large on the horizon. I feel that for those aspirants who have a good profile and are aiming at top-tier colleges the GMAT should definitely be an option to consider.


Is it worth spending $250 on the GMAT if you are looking at colleges only in India?

This is may be the first question to answer — What options does the GMAT give you in India? As most of you would agree the best options via the GMAT in India are ISB and SPJIMR.

Even among the two ISB is considered too expensive by most aspirants. I feel that while that is definitely true, if one only looks at fee, the ROI becomes better if one considers the fact that it is a one-year course; you will be earning for a year if you do a 1-year MBA at ISB as opposed to a 2-year program, so if we subtract the savings of a year then the net ISB fee will come down by 10L (assuming you manage to get a 15L job and save 10L). This still makes ISB around 5-8L costlier than the old IIMs but that is to a certain extent compensated by the international faculty and learning at ISB. Also the purely financial ROI for an MBA is better calculated over the longer-term, say 10 years, and not just your first salary.

SPJIMR takes the GMAT for its flagship course and the cut-off for a profile based call is a 650 and a 720 will more or less guarantee a score-based call.

It is anyways unwise to put all eggs once again into the CAT basket and you should be taking other tests.


When should you take the GMAT if you are planning a CAT re-take?

The most important part of cracking both the GMAT and the CAT in the same year is the timing of the two tests. I believe that even if one scores above a 95 percentile on the CAT and is looking at a re-take, a successful re-take — a percentile well in excess of 98 — one should take at the least 12-15 proctored tests. Proctored tests usually start by the end of June, so a CAT re-take prep should start no later than 15-July.

One thing that I would absolutely advise against is taking both GMAT and CAT Mocks simultaneously since they are as different as chalk and cheese or to be more precise Test Match and T20 cricket respectively. Playing a test match like the GMAT followed by a T20 like the CAT is definitely not going to help you ace both.

In most such cases, where aspirants are preparing for both tests even after July, I have seen that one of the two tests goes for a toss. There will always be exceptions but I am talking about the ideal way to prep to ensure that you ace both.

So if you are planning to do both GMAT and CAT in one year, you should finish the GMAT by June-end or July first week and then begin your CAT Prep.


How is the GMAT different from the CAT?

By the test match analogy it will be clear that the GMAT is a different kettle of fish altogether. The VERBAL on the GMAT is of a tougher level than the CAT with Grammar accounting for a third of the questions. The RC and CR as well are very different in terms of the technique required when compared to the way they are tested on Indian tests.

Also in terms of timing the Verbal section on the CAT has 34 questions in 60 minutes, making the average time available per question 1min. 45 sec whereas on the GMAT it is 41 questions in 75 minutes at 1 min. 49 sec per question. The crucial catch though is that on the GMAT you have to answer every question and move on — no skipping, no coming back, while on the CAT you need not answer all questions, 25-28 attempts with a good accuracy will ensure that you clear the cut-off.

In essence the GMAT Verbal is tougher than the CAT and would need some solid prep before you attain some mastery.

The Math while much narrower in terms of number of concepts to be covered involves a higher amount of reasoning in that it comprises of 18-19 Data Sufficiency questions.

Most importantly the GMAT is a very structured test, which means that your scores will not fluctuate wildly during the Mocks, as is sometimes the case with CAT, especially on the Verbal section.

This also means that you need not take as many Mocks for the GMAT as you need to do for the CAT since you are not training to handle varying sectional and overall difficulty levels to ensure that you clear the cut-off in all conditions.


Do you need training for the GMAT?

I feel that GMAT Verbal is something for which almost all Indian test-takers need to take training if they intend to crack scores in excess of 720 over a 3-month period.

Even so the best way to determine whether you need coaching is to take a GMAT Official Computer-Based Mock by downloading the software from mba.com or the Diagnostic Test from any copy of the GMAT Official Guide (learn how to convert the OG Diagnostic Test to the 800 scale here)

If you score a 680 and above and it is the first time you are taking a full-length GMAT Mock, you will not need training. You can do your prep by going through all the posts on this GMAT blog that I run. It covers advanced concepts and strategies for all question types in Quant and Verbal.

If you score below 680 I suggest taking up a Verbal only program; IMS students can connect with their nearest IMS centre for the same.


You should book your slot first before starting your prep

Whether we like it or not we function better under well-defined deadlines. If you do not book your GMAT slot right now and decide to do the same only after your prep then you will prep but not in all earnestness. Your prep will only really pick up steam once you enter June and invariably there will end up being a month or two of overlap between your GMAT and CAT Prep.

Your chances of cracking both the GMAT and the CAT in the same year hinge a lot on how well you utilise the months of April and May.


If you are looking at international applications or ISB, take up admissions consulting assistance

Most Indian aspirants have a tough time framing answers and making a strong application when it comes to filling up the forms of schools such as ISB and international schools.

The form does not have a major impact in the selection process of Indian b-schools since the form usually comes after the WAT-GD-PI shortlist is announced on the basis of test-scores but in the case of ISB and international schools, the shortlist is given on the basis of the score and a strong application form.

If you have friends who have made it to ISB and top international schools and will be willing to take out time to help you out extensively with your essays then you would not need any professional help. Else I suggest it is absolutely a must to take admissions consulting assistance to help you select the right schools abroad, evaluate your profile in-depth, enable you to come up with answers and edit your essays as well.

To get your profile evaluated for an international application you can write in to consulting@imsindia.com


All of you will know that good planning is half the job done. The idea of this post was to help you do the same. Over the years I have seen that students kind of go into hibernation-mode post the CAT to wake up only in June-July, all kicked and pumped up to crack both tests.

From my personal experience of  taking and teaching  for these tests, I know that each test deserves to be respected and prepared for in its own right. Relying on a carry-over of prep from one test to the other is not going to result in great scores and there is no point in taking a test that costs $250 if one does not prep for it with the focus it deserves.

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