CAT Strat, Motivation
Comments 24

CAT Retake: Resetting your head before you restart prep

I have always been a big believer in the principle that how we approach a thing — an exam, a project, a a relationship — the quality of our thoughts around the same, ends up determining the end outcome to a much larger extent than the actual strategies and the things we do since the mindset precedes all of these things.

So, before I post the three-part series on how to prepare for a retake, I thought I should do a short post on the right mindset that you should get into before you set sail once again.

Firstly, count only the “proper” attempts

I have seen a lot of people talk about attempts as if they were carrying a huge cross — this is my third attempt — as if they have given their lives for this exam and it just does not seem love them back!

Well, firstly unless you have taken at least 10 SimCATs, you cannot  legitimately say that you have prepared for the exam — it is not true love 🙂

You think you do but you do not have a clue about what this exam is, which you would have found out on D-day.

Stop saying this is your third attempt if you took it in your final year casually, and then in the first year of job took it semi-seriously but in both cases you did not take the minimum ten SimCATs — tell yourself that is your first attempt at the CAT; it will help you get rid of all the baggage completely.

You might say — Sir, but many people know that I have been taking the exam and they might say things like kitni baar lega test — just tell them that this is your first serious attempt.

And do not forget — those who matter do not mind; those who mind do not matter!

Think like a prospective MBA, not like a worker 

Those who are quitting or plan to quit their job to retake the CAT are perfect candidates to fall into “donkey-prep” mindset.

You have made a commitment to the CAT and for this sake you have left everything and so now you are going to prepare 8 hours a day for the same.

You are a prospective MBA, so start thinking like one — will you pay Rs.200 for what you can get for Rs.100, you will spend 100 hours on a project when all you need to spend is 50 hours, just because you really want to do the project well or you really want the product no. It is all about optimisation, right?

Similarly, prep for the time “you” need to get better and move from X to Y and not to show your commitment and put in those eight hours. 

The law of diminishing marginal returns applies even to working out and prepping out for CAT.

A student had recently asked me how much time out of the planned 8-hours every day should be allocated to revision and it just beat me!

Revise what for God’s sake? Practice I can understand — topics, area-test, section-test, full-length test — but revise?

Do you revise actually riding a cycle or a car, every day?

You either know how to drive a car or cycle or not and you train for a race.

Similarly, you should know what weighted averages are for the rest of your life and you practising solving problems of at the right levels to increase speed and accuracy but you should not have to revise what weighted average actually or the formulas!

To want to be an MBA (may be not in HR) and have to revise Arithmetic is literally the biggest contradiction there is since business is all about Arithmetic! The whole world runs on Compound Interest and if you have to keep revising the formula, God help you!

So, start thinking like the MBA you want to be and this is your first MBA project. Just like you need to maximise revenues for a firm in the future, you need to maximise your marks on the CAT — the difference is that here, you are raw material, you are worker, you are machine, you are manager, you are the CEO, so technically everything is under your control.

You need to take the right investment calls since no one will know yourself better than you.

Do not let your ego decide your prep needs

A lot of us measure ourselves based on external parameters — the brand of our college, our prior Academic profile, and even the intellect of our friends.

But you know better than assuming that all or one of the above — big brand college, great marks in non-Aptitude tests, super-bright friends — translate into great personal potential on the CAT.

None of the above factors have any bearing on your ability on the CAT — only your scores last year (not just the CAT score but also those on the SimCATs you took seriously) indicates your ability on the CAT and start with the premise that that is your current level.

Do not get into the — if I had prepared I could have scored higher since my actual level might be closer my friend’s who with similar profile took more mocks got a 95 — mode. Nope. You are what the your scores say; just accept that.

Do not decide your prep needs based on these assumptions that you might have made about yourself.

Take decisions on whether you need formal prep for the whole exam, for a section, or not at all based on how you are actually faring and not based on whether your friends who cracked it last year took help or not.

If you do this you will give yourself the best chance to give your best shot at the CAT.

The best source for me to learn was to watch people better than me solve — my teachers, the odd peer, and then want to solve like that.

Some people need to watch it once, others need to watch it twice and some others quite a few times before they actually learn to solve like their teacher or peer, so choose your prep needs based on which category you might fall into on the test or on a particular section.

If you took more than 10 Mocks last year (without formal prep, only test-series) and

  • Scored less than 90 percentile — you will be better off taking formal prep for the whole test or for a section if your scores are very lop-sided
  • Scored less between 90-95 — you will be better of taking formal prep for your weakest section that stands between you and the 99; you need not do it now, you can do it post-June
  • Scored above 95 percentile — you probably will not need formal prep unless your score on one section is very low; you need not do it right now, you can do it post-June.

If you took fewer than 10 Mocks last year, and are not confident about your capabilities, then do not wait for this season’s Test-Series to start, take up a program right away.

If you took fewer than 10 Mocks last year, and are confident about your capabilities, then take up a Test Series straightaway and take a call post-June — once you have five SimCATs under your belt — on the specific prep needs you have.

I hope you give these things some good thought since many a times a poor result can be a result of ten minor things rather than sheer ability; and if you are doing it one more time you would want to ensure that you get everything right.


  1. Vrishank Vajpayee says

    Hello Sir,
    I am in this dilemma of either joining the CAP IIMs, IIM Rohtak or giving a retry. I am a GEM fresher with Computer Science Background with:-
    Grad- 89.13.
    I scored 98.74 in CAT 20 (71.29/99.66/98.47) and didn’t sit for placements to focus on CAT’20, even after reading your earlier posts I am unable to make my mind to either settle for New and Baby IIM’s or give another try keeping all the risks in mind.
    Hoping for a reply sir.


    • Hi Vrishank,

      The call on a re-attempt has to be made purely based on certain confidence that you can crack a percentile high enough to make the cut for the old IIMs. Given that you are a GEM fresher you need to score in excess of 99.50 to get calls from the old IIMs.

      Unless you know that if the same level of VA-RC paper turns up again you will have developed the skills to crack the same, it might be risky since the jump you have to make is the hardest.

      Do you precisely know how you are going to get there? The exact gaps that you need to plug and whether they can be plugged or you have maxed out in terms of your capability.

      Only if you strongly believe that you can cross a 90 on a similar VA-RC paper should you give it a shot

      As a fresher, you will not lose out on much, in terms of options, by joining the baby IIMs or IIM Rohtak.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  2. mahesh says

    Hi Sir, I was a science ( Bsc Horticulture) Student final year i have given the CAT 2020 with very low score of about 60 percentile In all the sections Please give me a suggestion to secure good percentile in further year to aim IIM A (FABM)


    • Hi Mahesh,

      If I could give you one suggestion through a blog comment that will take you from 60 to 90, I would have; if only it is that simple.

      Wait for the rest of the posts in this series, as well as the rest of the posts on the blog; the road is quite long.

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Gaurav Sharma says

    Hi Tony Sir,

    Hope you are doing fine. I had a couple of queries for which I needed some of your valuable advice. To give you a brief background, I had scored 97.94 percentile but did not clear verbal’s sectional cutoff. I just have calls from IMTG, IIT Rorkee, IIT Kanpur, and GIM. I am thinking of giving CAT another shot as it was my first attempt. I have 2 years of work experience and mostly it is in sales. I had to leave my job in August partly due to a family problem and partly because I thought it would help in my preparation. I am unemployed since then. But, now I am thinking about getting a new job. I am finding it a little difficult to find a good job that may be can align or help my profile for MBA. With each day passing, I am thinking of maybe getting a somewhat decent job which would not significantly improve my profile but will give me enough time to prepare seriously for CAT. As from your previous posts, I have learned that the more gap there will be, the harder it will be to justify it. I just wanted your opinion on this. What will you recommend?

    I would also like to know your opinion about all the colleges I have mentioned above. I have received a call letter from IMTG for their BFSI program. I am actually not much interested in the program but would love to know your opinion. Lastly, do you think having around 3 years of work experience in sales will restrict my options of pursuing other specialization?

    I know I have kept it a tad bit long. But, I would love to hear your valuable advice. I only got to know about this blog last year. But, I can say I have learned a lot from you and hope to learn even more in the future.

    Thanks in advance


    • Hi Gaurav,

      I would recommend getting a job and taking another shot since you will not need a full-day for CAT Prep for 9 months to crack the exam given where you are currently.

      since the colleges you have mentioned might not offer roles that can help you maximise your sales experience and directly fast track you to good marketing roles. The IMT-G BFSI would not do justice to your capability based on your CAT percentile.

      Three years of work-ex going into an MBA is not very high; it gets problematic only at 45 months or more. You can definitely look at General Management and roles in e-commerce and stuff but Finance and Ops will not happen.

      It will seem a bit tough since the job hunt is not going well but it always demands a lot of patience. In the meantime, see if you can pick up some NGO experience by volunteering for the same.

      I am not sure if you are the same Gaurav with whom I interacted during the webinars and Masterclasses.

      Glad you find the blog useful.

      And yeah, hang in there and keep trying; sometimes (maybe most times) is the most important quality that one can have is patience.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  4. NIKHIL BORSE says

    hello sir,
    i scored 32% in CAT 2020 and 196 in NMAT2020 ,now i retry for 2021 this is my second attempt also im working with one startup form dec 2020 i will have atlest 6 month of experience im also working with ngo.
    my academics are 10th – 85% ,12th- 68% and graduation – 64%
    im BBA graduate also have NC-OBC.
    please suggest me the minimum target percentil for 2021 depends on my academics and profile also please tell me my acads and profile is good or bad.
    thanks in advance.


    • Hi Nikhil,

      Your academic profile is actually below par.

      You should target a percentile above 92 and that can fetch you calls from baby IIMs; they will be your best bet.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  5. Saurabh says

    Hi Tony Sir,

    Hope you are fine and doing well.

    I am working in an IT MNC with 44 months of experience. I have attempted CAT 19(87%le) and CAT 20(80%le). Both the times, I have received CAP IIM calls(EWS) and converted few of them in 2019.
    My Profile:
    10th- 93%
    B.E – 76%

    I am looking to get admitted in top 15-18 B-schools in India for two year program. So, ideally CAT 2021 will be my last attempt for this. But, I am in the dilemma currently for following
    1) Whether I should go for CAT 2021 or for Executive MBA.
    2) Will my experience hamper the CAT 2021 interview process and recruitment in b school (here, I am optimistic for getting into top 15-18 B schools).?

    Your suggstion and opinion will help me a lot.

    Thanks in advance.


    • Hi Saurabh,

      Given your work-ex, while it is not difficult to make the cut into the top schools, the interviews should not be a problem; you need to be aware that your profile will be an outlier for recruiters.

      So, this would mean that a bulk of recruiters might not have roles for you since they visit 1-year programs for your profile.

      I suggest giving the GMAT, applying to the best 1-year programs, in addition to taking the CAT.

      Choose the best program out of the options you have.

      Hope this helps.

      All the best!


  6. Hai Sir
    I have given two serious attempts until now,getting a percentiles of 92,96 didnt clear VARC in the first attempt and DILR in the second attempt,I got a call from NMIMS Mumbai through NMAT(score=249) but choose to leave it to join better colleges next year.I am GEM (2020 passout)with acads 88/96/72 who will be having 1 year of work ex by the end of September 2021,is there any chance for me to get call from BLACKI or top 2 IITs or other top non IIMS like NITIE,MDI Gurgaon after CAT 2021,How much should be my percentile to get and convert those calls


  7. priyadarshani says

    hi tony sir,
    I have scored 58 percentile in cat 2020. I am pursuing BBA and this is my final year. my academic profile is
    10th CBSE 10CGPA
    12th CBSE 86.8% Commerce
    GRAD 77%
    NC-OBC Female Non-engineer student
    I am currently associated with an NGO .
    i want to give one serious shot to CAT 2021. what percentile should i aim to convert BLACKI .
    Thankyou sir 🙂


  8. Draxler says

    Hello Sir,
    I scored 97.6 percentile in CAT(all sectionals cleared)! However, since I am a GEM I have only the new/baby IIM calls, apart from which I have MDI, SPJIMR and IIT calls.
    I have converted Nm Mumbai.
    If I get through SPJIMR/MDi I am very clear that I will take the admission.
    However, If not then I am in a dilemma whether to retry or settle for nm Mumbai.
    I am not someone who craves only for ABC(in fact I want SPJIMR more).
    What should be my lexicons to be considered while making a decision?
    I have 20 months workex in a consulting firm as of today.
    Thank you for always motivating!


  9. Prathamesh Borade says

    Hello Tony Sir,
    I’m a 2020 pass-out graduate. I scored 75% in CAT 20 and my DILR and QA section were 80+ percentile but my score lowed because of VARC. I’m retaking CAT 21 and also CET hasn’t shown up till now . Where should I focus right now? Should I start with CAT full-fledged ? My final destination is to get admitted to MICA.How much should I score and how should I proceed with that?
    I know for sure you’ll give the best suggestion so thank you in advance!


    • Hi Prathamesh,

      I think you can start with CAT-Prep once CET Prep is done; whatever happens, start CAT Prep with the first SimCAT.

      For MICA there is no special prep that you need to do at this point since clearing the Verbal cut-off is crucial. The MICAT-specific prep can be done later.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  10. Prerna Prasad says

    Hi Sir,

    I have a total of 31 months of experience in IT sector (MNC) till march 2021.
    Grad B.E= 65%

    This will be my first serious attempt for CAT 2021.
    I am targetting for only good colleges.
    Please suggest is it practical to spend a year again or should look out for other career options?
    Want it is min percentile I should target?
    (I am totally clueless)


    • Hi Prerna,

      A PG-degree is a must if you want to progress in your career over the longer-term, so I do not think another shot is a bad idea in any sense and am not sure what other career options are there.

      Given your XII and Grad marks the old IIMs will be tough to crack. I think given the work-ex and fender diversity you will do well to crack the new/baby IIMs and schools such as Great Lakes, which offer good business side roles in tech, e-commerce and IT.

      For this, you would need to target a percentile around 95.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


    • Hi Archana,

      I cannot answer that on an absolute scale — you have to make that call based on whether the salaries being offered and the firms visiting are relevant to your profile; it is a good Tier-II college.

      All the best!


  11. Ananya says

    Hello Sir,
    I did not enroll in any program for my first attempt and scored 77%ile. Seeing the Covid scenario, I’m skeptical about classroom program actually happening. Should I start with an online learning program or should I stick to self preparation?


  12. Dhriti says

    Hello sir,
    I am a general category female student from B.A. English literature with academics as: 10th – 93%, 12th – 81%, Graduation – 81.11% (9.1 CGPA)
    I scored 96.45 percentile. With 99.23 in DILR, 91.14 in VA RC, and 83.79 in QA. I got calls from IIM A and Cap IIMs, along with Shillong. I have tanked my MDS interview.
    I got rejected from IIM A.
    I’m considering to retake CAT but I’m unsure if it’s worth taking the risk. Is there any college that I can consider joining or should I go for a repeat?


    • Hi Dhriti,

      You have a very good profile with the added advantage of gender and education diversity.

      If you are very confident about getting a higher percentile next time around, can manage to get a job and work as well instead of only doing CAT Prep, then go ahead and take another shot.

      If you are really jittery about all the above then join the best school you have out of the lot, which is Shillong (if you convert MDI, which is what is think you meant by MDS, then join MDI)

      There is always a bit of risk involved but there is no reward ever without any risk.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


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