Comments 23

Preparing for a pandemic PI

Now that the CAT scorecard is out, the time to start preparing for WAT-GD-PI has come. But how does one go about it? Especially in a year, or should I say season, such as this (somehow I feel that the New Year will truly start only when the mask becomes unnecessary, until then we are living in the pandemic’s orbit not the planetary orbit).

From what we know so far some of the schools — FMS, SPJIMR, TISS, and IMT — have already announced an online PI and others such as IIM-K have scrapped the GD.

I think we will not be too far off the mark in assuming that this year the only process will be an online PI — a bulk of the professors are not really young, spring chickens with tons of immunity to go around, so getting them to travel to different cities and conduct interviews even as the vaccine is getting rolled out is not a risk that professors and schools will be willing to take.

And if it is an online PI then the logistics of conducting and evaluating a WAT or a GD become difficult. I wish for once they just stood up and gave clarity well in advance (at least in the pandemic). Alas, Indian b-schools like Indian firms (and most definitely the Indian cricket team’s management) rarely take the bull by the horns and provide clarity at the earliest, the usual strategy is to take things as they come, which is nothing but another word for groping in the dark until the last moment (in contrast international employers announced work from home well in advance for a long period so that everyone can make their arrangements).

So how do you go about preparing in the face of such uncertainty since preparing and not preparing for WAT are, on the face of it, two different things altogether?

Prepare for an All-In-One Personal Interview — A longer PIs with a dedicated OAT section

Since they might not be able to conduct WATs and GDs, I will not be surprised if the selection process will allocate more marks and time to PIs, (given the logistical ease of online PIs) and ensure that the things that are tested in WATs and GDs are tested in the PI.

So within the time set aside for a PI they might carve out a 5-10 minute space to test your views through an OAT or Oral Assessment Test during which the panel might probe your take on an issue as follows

  • what is your view on the farmer protests
  • do you think their fears that MNCs will take over is valid
  • do you think there are issues that have been ignored by both parties
  • what are the learnings from large-scale, privatised farming in countries such as the US
  • what do you think of protest as a tool in general
  • have you ever protested at whatever level

Another thing they might do is first give you time for an Extempore (you will be given a minute and a topic to speak uninterrupted) on a topic and then probe and discuss it.

If they genuinely want to test your awareness of the world around you, setting aside the other skills that WAT and GDs test, then an OAT or an Extempore is a very likely possibility.

The reason I think that this might be possible is that they have anyway over the years made the PIs primarily about your General Awareness in the context of your life, all they need to add is the General Awareness of the world around you, which they tested through GD and WAT.

Do an audit of the big talking points this year

Given what we discussed so far, you should make a list of the big topics, like the Farm Bills mentioned above, this year and do a thorough audit and prepare for the same along the lines:

  • Pandemic
    • Which country has the highest numbers?
    • What are the numbers in India, in your state, your city?
    • What are firms manufacturing the vaccine?
    • Which countries tried to implement herd immunity?
    • Which countries had the lowest numbers?
    • Are there countries which are COVID-free?
    • How did the pandemic change your life?
    • What are pros and cons of work-from-home or study-from-home?
    • How do you think India handle the crisis?
    • Did you bang the thali?
    • Did you travel during the pandemic?
  • Brexit Deal
    • What were the main points of contention between the EU and the UK
    • What is a backstop?
    • What are political implications of Brexit with respect to Scotland
    • What are the economic implications of Brexit?
    • Which countries are likely to benefit from Brexit?

After reading up enough on the various topics, practice speaking out your take on the same into a camera with a 1-minute time-limit

These are just the most important issues, IMS students can attend the WAT-GD-PI Webinars that have started and that will comprehensively cover all the other major issues as well as knowledge inputs (basics of economics etc.) that might need. You will have other resources as well the details of which can be found here — https://www.imsindia.com/GD-PI/

As far as the rest of the questions go, going by student testimonials and transcripts over the last few years, barring IIM-B, none of the schools seems to have a fixed yardstick for asking questions.

If panels have one thing in common it seems to be their mistrust of candidates and the claims they make. Most panels start with the premise that the only thing the candidate wants is to make more money and hence it might be useless to start asking them The Big 5 Standard Questions —

  • Tell us something about yourself
  • Describe your work experience
  • Why do want to do an MBA
  • What are your long-term and short-term goals
  • List your strengths and weaknesses

They would rather test out your mettle by grilling you on the things you mention in the form or on current affairs. They will use the standard questions as a surprise element when you are least prepared for it or they might not use it at all.

So do you go about preparing for this randomness apart from the Current Affairs prep?

Draw the largest circle with yourself as the center

The PI is primarily a test of the stuff of you are made of. So right at the center of it — a lamb to the slaughter or a gladiator in the Colosseum (though it is best you don’t think of yourself as either the latter or the former) — is you.

So draw a circle with you as the centre and divide it into four quadrants.

Quadrant 1 — Your Personal Background

This quadrant contains all the information that is relevant to you as a person

  • the meaning of your name,
  • the number of districts, rivers, Lok Sabha Seats, the recent events, the future elections, famous personalities, anything and everything to do with the state you are from or the state you were born and raised in
  • your parent’s profession in case there are questions there, for example, a defense kid might get asked about the services

Quadrant 2 — Your Educational Background

This quadrant as the name suggests deals with all questions that can be relevant to your educational background — yes, your engineering subjects will haunt you for one last time.

Usually, the questions can fall into two types

  • Lowest Hanging Theoretical Concepts in your discipline — The panelists might not be from your discipline but they will have enough top-level knowledge about a wide range of subjects to ask you basic questions from any are. For example, students with a commerce background might be asked the difference between single-entry and double-entry accounting, a mechanical engineer might be asked questions on thermodynamics and an electrical engineer might be asked about Kirchoff’s laws. So you need to revise the basic concepts across the most important subjects in your graduation.
  • Practical applications of your discipline — This applies more to engineering and science graduates. Panelists may ask an electronics and telecommunications engineer the difference between 3G, 4G & 5G or how Bluetooth works or what is iOT, a mechanical engineer about how CVT or automatic transmission works etc. IMS students will get a book with all the previous year’s questions, scouring through that is the best way to find out the kind of questions that have been asked in the past.

Quadrant 3 — Your Professional Background

Working professionals will be expected to know more than the projects they are working on. So everything ranging from the turnover of your firm to those of your major competitors, the CEOs of the big firms in your industry, the recent controversies or happenings in your field ( if you work in the auto sector, you might be asked about electric cars and Tesla and Musk) and the major trends shaping your industry.

Quadrant 4 — Your Hobbies and Interests

Whatever you mention as your hobbies and interests you need to have an in-depth idea about the same. What do I mean by in-depth?

If you say you love football, then you need to know everything from the weight of the football, circumference of the football, dimensions of a football field, dimensions of the goal-post and everything about your favorite team.

If you say you love trekking, then you need to know what the highest mountains in the world are, what the highest motorable road in the world is etc.

This would technically be the largest circle you can draw around yourself that you need to fill with every GK or CA question that can be asked within this circle.

It goes without saying that you might not be able to learn everything about football. For example, a panelist might ask you, do you remember Zidane’s Champions League volley? You might say yes, very much, it is one of the great goals in football, the panelist might say, which team was Real playing against in that Final. Some of you might know, some of you might not. So do not freak out thinking about the most random things that can be asked.

On any topic, there is a circle that denotes your knowledge and a circle that denotes the panelists’ knowledge. Your job is to maximize the chances of overlap.

And remember, the harder you work, the luckier you will get.


  1. Sudarshan says

    It was Bayer Leverkusen. I remember because in almost all the iconic replays, the figure of Michael Ballack (one of my favourite players) is just floating behind Zidane. Amazing article as always sir, thanks for the inputs. I hope to get many more football questions wherever I go. 😛


    • Yeah, Ballack can say, I was there :-)I guess you are a Ballack fan from his Chelsea days.

      Glad you found the post useful.

      All the best for the next leg!


  2. Gaurav says

    Hi Tony Sir, Thank you for such a valuable post. I had few questions regarding PI. Can one talk about their upbringing and environment in which they were raised in PI. Also, being a mechanical engineer I have never worked in the core domain (because I had zero interest in engineering and my grades are also very low in engineering 66%), would that be a problem in PI. One out of the context question, I am not really sure if I would be able to get a good college this year because I have scored 97.94 percentile this year but my verbal percentile is 45.40. I am little confused whether to try for CAT next year as I will have 3 years of work experience by then or whether it would be better to go for MBA this year ( may be from tier 2 college). The problem is sometimes I think what if I am not able to score again next year and then I would waste 1 more year and will also have more experience that will make it more harder to get into a good b school. I kind of know that no one can predict the future and it will mostly depend on me but I just wanted some insights of the person who is an expert of this field. Thank you in advance.


    • Hi Gaurav,

      I think it is best to take it one step at a time.

      As of now wait for all calls that you will get despite not clearing the sectional cut-off.

      Prepare seriously for the PI and convert. To accept or reject is a call that you can take later.

      As far the questions in the PI go, how to answer each PI question is handled in detail in the IMS GD-PI product, as part of the product I will also be doing a module similar to LMTC, called NAW, National Achievers’ Workshop, which is tentatively scheduled for the 23-24 weekend, that will handle these queries.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  3. Hello Sir,

    First of all, thank you for coming up with such a detailed post. Your posts have helped me a lot throughout my CAT prep.

    I am a GEM fresher presently in the final year of my B.Tech in Computer Science. I secured a percentile of 99.68 (99.97/81.52/99.26) this year. As a fresher, I don’t have much work experience to talk about except a couple of digital marketing internships. So, I think I will be asked questions from my engineering syllabus and will be brushing up on my departmental subjects.

    I wanted to ask you whether or not I need to brush up my calculus (vector integration and all that). Or can I stick to just Graph theory, Discrete Mathematics etc. considering that those are the mathematical tools used frequently in the departmental subjects?

    It would be great if you could help me with this as I am preparing for the likes of IIFT as well and might not have time to cover everything in my engineering syllabus.

    Thanks in advance.


    • Hi Arka,

      Congratulations on the CAT Percentile! Glad you find the blog useful.

      As I mentioned, first prepare for all the lowest hanging fruit topics — so Calculus need not be Vector Integretation but just the basics — like the topics you have stated; revising the whole engineering syllabus will be impossible!

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Harsh says

    Sir, Can you write more blogs on how to prepare for GD & PI? Also how to explain year gap & No work exp after graduation?!


    • Hi Harsh,

      As far as how to prepare is concerned I have outlined all the things that you need to do and the resources.

      Just like Last Mile to CAT sessions covered all the next level aspect of test-taking, I will be doing a National Achievers Workshop in the third or fourth week to cover the questions such as the ones you have raised.

      All the best!


  5. Vishnu Vardhan says

    Hello sir,
    Thanks for the detailed article.
    I am a GEM with 17 months of experience. I gave cat and scored OA 88.08 (va-27, lr-97.75, qa-92). This score won’t fetch me a seat in top tier colleges. So I want to go for colleges which are decent and with no sectional cut off. And I found IIT kanpur is one such college. Can you please let me know if it is advisable to apply for the college with my academics being 10th-9.3, 12th-92.8%, BE-7.24. Also what are the chances of me converting?

    Thanks in advance.


    • Hi Vishnu,

      Chances are decent but at this point, it does make sense thinking of chances; your task is simple — doing a great interview irrespective of what your chances are.

      All the best!


  6. Ritweek Sureka says

    Hello sir,
    Reading the article really pumped me up to face some grilling and prepare extremely thoroughly about myself. i have a question though, i have worked in a very small financial company (turnover less than 7cr) which sells mutual funds and insurances for just over a year as a business deveolpment executive. i was wondering what kind of questions can i be possibly bombarded with in the interview in this relation as the job is not too technical and the esposure via the company is limited too. Ergo what am i expected to know and in how much depth?

    Hoping to hear from you, thank you.


    • Hi Ritweek,

      Learn up as much as possible on the stocks that your fund invests in, basic stuff such as what is NAV, what is the fee charged by the fund, what is the average rate of return.

      Also, learn up about the precise terms and conditions of the insurance products you sell — what are the conditions covered etc.

      You should know all the information/definition/terms that a customer is likely to ask you during the sale or post-sale and the information/definition/terms that you are likely to use during a sale.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  7. Esha Ag says

    Hello sir.
    I hope you are doing fantastic.
    I have been following The CAT Writer and your sessions for a long time now, and it has been immensely helpful. Sir, I want to connect with you in person. Please let me know if that could be done and it would be great if you could oblige me by sharing your email address/ contact details.
    Looking forward to hearing from you soon. I hope you have a wonderful week ahead.


    • Hi Esha,

      Glad you find the blog useful.

      I am afraid I do not interact with students 1-1, this is the only platform through which I communicate with students.

      If I share my details and take 1-1 questions then I will not be able to do any work that my role at IMS demands.

      So please put whatever query — it is regarding your career so don’t hesitate to put it on a public forum — you have here and I will answer.

      All the best!


  8. Sristi says

    Hello Sir.

    I hope you are doing good.
    Can you post something on how to strategize for IIFT just the way you did for XAT. I did watch the video on Ims’ youtube channel and it was helpful, but I must say, reading your blogs are enlightening in its own way. Would love to get some tips from you.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sristi,

      I usually put up stuff only for the tests for which I have at some point in time I have prepared for and taken by spending my own money — CAT, XAT, GMAT, GRE. The rest I leave it for my colleagues to handle as well for the students (at some point I will let go of the bicycle and they will have to drive themselves :-))

      All the best!


  9. Sir, my home address has been changed; should I update that in my CAPs form?
    My graduation scores have been updated now, as I got my final semester’s result as well; should I update that?
    In my 10th class scores the grade of additional subject was already included in my final CGPA; I was not aware about it and thus added it separately which lowered my percentage from 85.5 to 83.xy, should I update it?
    Sir, In my hobbies I have realized I love reading fiction, learning facts and watching you tube videos(informative or those of kids playing and doing innocent stuff) Should I add these. Or hobbies like running (at halt due to pandemic) and sketching(at halt due to CAT) be included?


  10. Viraj says

    Hello Sir,
    My name is Viraj Anil Mekhe, I scored 86.33% in Cat2020, because I’m NC-OBC I got CAP, VIZAG call till now , is it possible to covert call at this percentile.
    Academic Background-
    10/12/UG- 90/70.35/7.43
    12 month work experience.
    Participated in some extra curricular activities.
    Please reply.


    • Hi Viraj,

      This is a question I get asked a lot. I can understand the state of mind that prompts this question but never the utility.

      If I say, yes, does it mean that you do not need to prepare since you will anyway get it, or does it mean that since you will get it you will work harder?

      If I say, no, does it mean that there is no way that you can get it so there is no point preparing?

      A story to put things in perspective:

      I was interviewing a student and somehow I got a feeling that it was not his first attempt, he said, yes, I got a 97 percentile last year, NC-OBC, old IIM calls, everyone said it is a sureshot, I took it lightly and walked in, did not covert a single call.

      To give an interview is a great opportunity to fine-tune your skills and there is no better dress rehearsal than an actual IIM interview even if it is for a baby IIM.

      Your task is simple, prepare as well as you can, get as many marks as you can in the interview.

      CONTROL what you CAN control — your prep, your performance — IGNORE what you DO NOT know or CANNOT control.

      All the best!


  11. UTSAV says



    • Hi Utsav,

      My knowledge of colleges outside the top 30 is fairly limited; you will have to speak to students studying there.

      All the best!


  12. Hello sir, hope you are doing well
    My dilemma is regarding the work experience for which I might get battered during the interviews.I have handled fair share of projects in digital marketing domain but those were just my sidekick as I had the knowledge & thought of applying it somewhere,considering full time experience I have invested past couple of years in my family business as a sales rep. I am planning to do my further studies & eventually job & my family business simultaneously (which can be done). So will I face any backlash for not choosing a singular path for my career. If yes, then how should I be able to tackle them.
    A reply would help alot. Thanks.


    • Hi Sagar,

      From what I understand your full-time job has been that of a sales rep for your family business, for which you have salary slips and have actually worked, and you have also taken up digital marketing projects on the side.

      So, I do not understand what backlash you are talking about. Are those with family businesses not supposed to work in them, are they not supposed to do an MBA and go back to them to make them bigger?

      Will they ask you questions about your family business and what you did? Yes. Will they expect you know stuff about digital marketing? Yes.

      As long as you are able to answer those questions and meet those expectations you are good.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

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