CAT Strat
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How to prepare for a CAT retake – Part II

In the previous post, we discussed the mindset with which one should approach a CAT retake; in this post, we shall look at a few more aspects with respect to a successful CAT retake. Since each one of you readers will have a different back story with respect to your first attempt and there will also be some non-IMS students among you as well, the focus of this post will be a bit wider.

To take up classroom coaching or not

The first voluntary disclosure from my side is that I took up classroom coaching for my first attempt. I attended classes regularly but I would put my regularity more down to the fact that I liked spending half an hour after classes chatting with a couple of my fellow aspirants who are till date my closest friends. Another added factor is that I was not working and distances in a small city like Visakhapatnam were barely a hindrance.

In recent times though there is a discernible trend, given the distances in metros, in some cases the work schedule, and in others the perception about the level of difficulty of the CAT, towards self-preparation.

Well, firstly I feel that unless you have scored well in excess of 95 percentile and have taken classroom coaching (and attended sessions regularly), some form of classroom coaching will always be helpful. It need not be a full-length program, you can choose the duration depending on your aptitude and how much effort you put into your first attempt. Here are a few reasons why:

There is nothing like a well-designed class sheet to learn from

CAT 2017 year was my 13th CAT and my colleague J at has taken it 3-4 times more than me, and as some of you would know has nine 100-percentiles to his credit and has been teaching for more than a decade now. So when we designed the class-sheets together, along with a few others, we were looking at not just the CAT of the last few years but at the very nature and essence of the test as it has filtered through the various avatars it has taken over the years.

A well-structured program with well-designed class sheets will relieve you of the headache of having to scour various sources to design a comprehensive program for yourself.

If you know how to solve all the problems in the IMS class-sheets that you will be given, you will have covered all the concepts and patterns that you will need to learn to ace the test.

A good teacher always brings something new to the table

While there are enough books with concepts, questions and shortcuts there is always something unique that a good teacher brings to the table. Whenever I discuss a problem with my fellow teachers, I always find that each of us takes a very different approach to the problem and it is not always the same one who comes up with the best method.

One huge baggage that we carry is the traditional long-form of problem-solving. Written content because of its very nature ends up using the long notational method whereas the spoken way of solving can use logic. So one of the ways of going beyond your usual default-settings in terms of approaching and solving a problem is to learn from others.

I remember how during the time I was preparing I looked at the way my teacher solved the problem and I thought — I want to be able to do it like him. It did not matter that I too had got the answer (in almost the same or slightly longer time) I found that his method was more efficient, more elegant.

This is not to say that all teachers everywhere are like this but there will always be something that a good teacher can show you.

There is a lot you can learn from a good peer

It is always great to have a good peer or peer group for your prep. I know the same is available online through various forums and social media groups but isn’t it better to have someone to immediately in person to discuss the doubts you have while solving a particular question that is part of the same syllabus that both of you are following?

Also, I have found that at times some students come up with better ways of solving questions than the instructors. I used to observe the guy who always used to top the tests during our prep and silently determining to solve questions the way he used to — with minimal writing.

Online resources —  Commentary is not coaching!

Things have changed a lot since the days of my prep and one of the biggest changes has been the emergence of forums such as PG and communities on FB. While they are necessary — a great way to gather information, share content and build a peer network — they are by no means sufficient.

It is important to note that what forums offer is similar to commentary — the people doing it might be ones with credibility and their advice and observations genuine but can a batsman going through lean patch only listen to commentary and get better? Do they not usually work with specific batting coaches and bowling coaches to fix their game.

During the SimCAT season (and otherwise) I spend a lot of time meeting students in the evening. When students come to me and say that their scores are not going up and they have done this and that, I usually throw them a problem and see how they approach it —do they have a problem with concepts, are they reading the question properly, do they have a tendency to make silly mistakes, if yes, what is the source of the same.

Most of the time each student has different skill sets and different problem areas — it is both a question of kind and of degree. It is equivalent to watching a batsman in the nets and observing where the bat is coming down from, the way the feet are moving, the way the head is positioned.

So relying purely on online forums is in my view something that will not help you maximise your score. While a peer can help you to a good percentile, a mentor who knows the CAT inside out can take you to your best percentile.

I hope all IMS classrooms students are aware that they are entitled to free repeat classroom coaching!

The quality of your practice material is as important as your practice

Given the plethora of free options abounding on the internet, a lot of students easily fall into the trap of accumulating all the free content they can get their hands on to. While the tendency is understandable, it is something that should be strictly avoided. Having worked at and headed the IMS Academics Dept.  I more than know what a good question is and what goes into the making of a good question.

A small anecdote just to throw light on the art of question making. When entrants to the Academics team were given a question-making assignment, they usually tried to impress those of us who were already there, by trying to make a really, really complicated question. They tried to fit two or three concepts into one question and introduce a trick as well; the effort usually ended up being clumsy (and sometimes very funny, I remember a colleague maintaining a word document of bloopers churned out by newcomers).

So when one such newcomer presented me with one such clumsy effort, my advice to him was to imagine himself beginning to train to be a chef. Would he on the first day itself try to make an elaborate biriyani to showcase his skills. I told him that what he should be trying to make was the perfect idli with a perfect chutney (unlike in Chennai, in cities north of the Vindhyas, it is really tough to find a good idli itself,  a good chutney — no way!)

A good question need not necessarily have to be a tough question. A good question is one that is articulated into English without ambiguity in the simplest words and is designed to elegantly test the application of a particular concept. One of my favourite questions to demonstrate this is the GMAT question below.

If s and t are integers and s/t=64.12, which of the following could be the remainder when s is divided by t?

  1. 2
  2. 4
  3. 8
  4. 20
  5. 45

It is deceptively simple. It tests the most basic of concepts and yet many good students stumble trying to get a handle on it.

Good questions cannot be rolled out of an assembly line just like that. Just like any other skill, the art of making questions is something that one learns from a mentor and perfects over a period of time. It goes without saying that brands that have been around for a while and hence have well-established academics teams are the ones that produce the best content.

As far as CAT Prep goes, the oldest players in the industry are the established classroom brands and not online brands and hence it makes sense to use content from any of the established classroom brands. It does not matter how convenient or how fancy the software is if the question is not reflective of the CAT. (In fact, when it comes to the GMAT I do not even advise the use of any brand, Indian or international, except the official questions and tests released by the GMAC since I feel none of them replicates the nature of questions posed on the GMAT).

There are a couple of books such as the one by Arun Sharma that serve as a good supplement to your prep but for tests, you should stick to one of the established classroom brands.

I wanted to focus on these two aspects since I feel that the fact that many students fall short of what could be their best percentile by 3-8 percentile points, is due to an agglomeration of material from various online sources. I am not against the use of the web and of technology.

It is just that I genuinely place a premium on two things — the quality of practice content and a great mentor.

I am taking some time with these posts since we need not rush into an action plan. We can focus on the larger things and slowly drill down to the specifics.

In the next post, I will deal with preparation strategies for each of the three sections.


  1. Kartik says

    Hello Sir, First of all, I want to thank you for guiding me in Cat 2019. I scored 95 Percentile in the VA section. All because of you. Although I scored only 89 percentile which was heartbreaking for me. But now finally I have taken a decision to go for CAT 2020.I want your guidance. I want to score 99+ in VA this time. Not just VA as an exam but I want to excel in English as a language. I have read your blogs too. I have two big questions.
    1. Can you please write a blog on how to score 99+, as right now I have ample time?
    2. How to excel in this language?


    • Hi Kartik,
      Glad you found the blog useful. I want to know how you fared overall in CAT 2019 – what are your percentiles in the other sections.


      • Kartik says

        I did not do pretty well in other sections. My Overall Percentile was 89. Around ’80s in Both the remaining sections.


  2. Junaid says

    Blog is really informative. Even the learn math session you took yesterday was good. Thank you


  3. Thank You sir…
    I have one doubt… when practicing for QA and DILR, should we aim to solve w/o taking into account the speed and concentrate only on the concepts first or we should practice with the ticker in the mind?


  4. Hello Tony sir, I hope you are doing great. Sir how do I score 95+ in the VA-RC section? I am facing a lot of problem in choosing the right passages to start with in the exams. I have followed the para to questions method as suggested by you and it works. But sir, choosing the correct passages is becoming difficult for me. Don’t know why. During the first 5-6 mins I go through the first para of each passage, and mostly I find them easy (hence I mark them with 7,8/10)but when I start reading it again, I start finding it difficult, and after wasting 4-5 mins I have to move in to some other paragraph. During the first SIMCAT 1, the easy passage were marked by me with a 6 while the tough ones was marked as a 7. I ended up scoring only 31. Please help me out sir. I can’t just miss out on CAT 2020.


    • Hi Aveek,

      Am doing well, I think the lockdown suits me 🙂

      So I assume, you are happy with the accuracy you are getting and the problem is with passage selection.

      The key while reading that first paragraph is to seriously test for three things — complexity of language, the complexity of arguments, and familiarity/fondness with the topic, You need to examine what you are basing your choice on — are you giving equal weightage to all three parameters, are you choosing passages just because the topic seems familiar and not looking at language or arguments, or are you looking solely at language and trudging through topics you do not like, or are you failing to see that the passage is argumentative though the language is simple.

      This judgement, while it seems easy on the surface, is not easy to cultivate. So examine the process of your choice by going one step and come up with the precise reason why you thought it was easy and what happened later.

      Alternatively, it can be that your technique — the one I discussed in the RC Masterclass year, and is also the process by which this year’s SimCAT 1 VA-RC was analysed — is not perfect and you are not following the process to the T, leading to you making more mistakes than you should be.

      All the best!


  5. Himanshu says

    Hello sir
    Hope you are safe and healthy
    The the best call i have as of now is SCMHRD Pune. I want to persue my MBA in finance. As SCMHRD is best known for its HR so i have doubts. Should i go for it or not?
    Other converts as of now: IIM vizag, IIM sirmaur
    Still hopeful about : new IIMs and MDI


    • Hi Himanshu,

      I am doing well, thanks for asking.

      SCMHRD has decent non-HR placements as well as per my students, and given the situation, you are much better off graduating from a college with an established recruiter base than from Vizag or Sirmaur.

      Also, if you really want the top draw Fin jobs you should do a CFA unless you are already a CA. If you just want jobs in the BFSI sector as such you can always get them at SCMHRD and off-campus as well.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!


      • All the new and baby IIMs are just that new and baby. Expecting great first jobs from there is not a great idea unless you are expecting to go there and top. Also, while doing an MBA and rejoining the economy in 2022 is the best thing one can do, I don’t think graduating from a baby IIM in a recovering economy is that great an idea.

        So my vote will be a for the safer SCMHRD option.


  6. himanshusingla2000 says

    Thankyou for your valuable advice sir 🙂 I am a commerce graduate so do i still need to do an CFA for core finance jobs? Also please suggest me something that i can do for next 2 months (when the session starts) to improve my proficiency in finance..


    • You will be competing with CAs and CFAs, you will always be preferred next to them, and rightfully so because they have invested more and money into their chosen career and will thus be better fits, they will end up having one bachelors and 2 professional degrees, you will have each.

      Latest I am hearing is CAs are doing CFA!


  7. himanshusingla2000 says

    Hello sir
    How do you rate IIM udaipur against SCMHRD pune. (For finance) ?
    I know i am asking this question again but every convert creates another dilemma. I have heard much positive news about IIM udaipur and personally it’s looking very good.
    What do you say sir ?


    • I asked a recent graduate of IIM-U, who was part of the placements cell there as well to compare IIM-U with schools such as SIBM/SCMHRD?NMIMS. I am pasting it below, hope this helps.

      1. Academics
      Both IIM Udaipur as well as SIBM Pune are almost similar when we talk about academics. Courses as per the industry expectations and standards are offered in both campuses. Hence, nothing much to comment about it. However, candidates having a specific inclination towards a particular specialization are advised to check the courses offered in each institute, which you will get from the respective website.

      2. Recruiter base
      Placement scenario in a campus can be directly linked to the alumni strength it has. The older the institute is, the stronger will be its alumni network and these alumni will help bring companies to the institute. SIBM Pune has a clear advantage of the alumni network because it was established in 1978. That’s a network aging close to 40 years. However, IIM Udaipur was established in 2011, which means as of 2020,
      the alumni network is only 8 years old. However, IIMU has significantly grown its recruiter base over these 8 years.

      3. Placements
      Placements, it is altogether a different game. I have seen really deserving students failing to get shortlisted in a company, probably because his/her graduation marks might be less than the cut-off specified by the company (just one out of numerous reasons). Likewise, there are multiple factors when it comes to Placements, and hence, one should not be overly biased with the list of recruiters that an institute has. Also, one should be aware of the fact that most institutes populate the historical list of recruiters on their website. There could have been companies that used to visit the campus till 2015 but didn’t visit in 2019, but you might find the name of that company on the recruiters’ list. (I am not saying all institutes follow this, but a significant number of institutes follow this practice.)

      5 .Corporate Competitions
      Previously IIM Udaipur did not have major achievements in corporate competitions, but over the last few years, there has been some active participation. Bottom-line, IIM Udaipur is not really known for corporate competitions. However, campuses like SIBM Pune, NMIMS, etc., have been in the frontline when it comes to major corporate competitions. There are details of such competitions won by SIBM Pune on their website (direct link). So, bottom-line, IIM Udaipur is on the national and international lagging end when it comes to corporate competitions.

      6. Campus Life
      I am not eligible to comment on the campus life at SIBM Pune, for the obvious reason that I haven’t studied there. Having said that, I am qualified enough to comment on the same for IIM Udaipur. IIM Udaipur has one of the best campuses in India. IIMU is the first of the new IIMs to move to its permanent campus, and spread over 300 acres of land. Few areas of the campus are under construction (which is in no way affecting the day to day life of a student) like artificial lakes, additional hostel blocks, landscaping etc. The magnificent site is characterized by sharp slopes and deep valleys. The institute is located in the Aravalli ranges, which adds to its scenic beauty. I open my hostel room window to beautiful hill ranges (not everyone has that fortune because I was lucky enough to get a mountain facing room). Bottom-line, I would say, Campus life is really beautiful and you won’t regret a part of it. Please get in touch with any of your close friends from SIBM Pune to get granular details of the campus life.

      7.Placement Cell Culture
      If you have gone through various pages like PagalGuy or InsideIIM, you would have heard horrible stories about how opaque and harsh the Placement Cell representatives are in many B-Schools. However, I can say with conviction that the Placement Cell at IIM Udaipur is significantly transparent (to the allowable limit, because there are many details that the Placement Cell cannot share with the batch, and that is done to safeguard the interests of the batch as well as the institute and its relationship with the recruiters). Don’t take my words for granted, please talk to your direct or indirect connections from IIM Udaipur and do the same with other institutes and draw your own inferences. I wanted to bring this up in this document, because I have seen many of my peers from other institutes cursing their PlaceComm for their
      harsh, selfish and opaque behavior.

      I have one more point to add in this section, which is actually not a difference between these two campuses. IIMU and SIBM Placement Reports are IPRS (Indian Placement Reporting Standards) audited. This means that the numbers you see in the report are not inflated in any manner. Institutes that does not follow IPRS standards can inflate the placement statistics by considering components of salary that
      are not reflected annually. For example, if a company offers you a 3-years completion bonus of 6 lacs INR, then in most cases your CTC figure will capture the number as 6 lacs. However, logically speaking, the annual value of the 6 lacs is only 2 lacs (ignoring the time-value of money) because you are getting 6 lacs after 3 years, and that too on the assumption that you stay with the company for 3 years. Non-IPRS audited reports will misuse such instances to inflate their mean and median salaries. However, IPRS audited reports can’t do that even if the institute wishes to do so.

      Other factors to consider

      The other factors that one should consider are

      Fee structure – IIM Udaipur has comparatively less fee than SIBM Pune, however in my opinion, small differences of maybe 2-3 lacs should not significantly influence your decision while choosing an institute.

      Specific companies recruiting from the campus – If you are in a dream pursuit of a particular sector, and you have decided that you will work only in that sector, then you should look at the

      Placement Reports of both campuses and decide accordingly. However, I would like to remind you two facts that I mentioned earlier as well.

      One fact that Placements are influenced by multiple factors and the other fact that one company visited a particular institute in a particular year is not a guarantee that it will visit the institute in the next year as well. It depends on a lot of factors, the main factor being the performance of the student(s) hired from the previous batch. Also, we can’t really predict the extent of damage COVID would create for next year’s placements. It will depend on industry-wise. Some will go up, some will go down, and there is a lot of subjectivity in
      analyzing all that. Honestly, I am not qualified enough to comment on any of these, so I would rather leave it for your call.

      Entrepreneurship support – Candidates looking for entrepreneurship or incubation center support are advised to check the website and get in touch with the Professor in charge for more details. Also, get details regarding the Placement Support Policy, Deferred Placement Policy, and other related institute specific matters with the Placement Cell representatives of the institute. Since institute policies are dynamic in nature, I would not like to comment on IIM Udaipur, even though I am a graduate from IIMU. I suggest the candidates verify those matters.


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