Comments 21

How to manage work and prepare for the CAT

With the mountain called the CAT now in sight, most working professionals will be wondering how to mount another challenge to get into the old IIMs.

The biggest obstacle in front working professionals will be juggling a job and prepping for CAT at the same time. Some of you in this situation will have decided to quit your job, hopefully only after having read my post on the same and having understood the implications of quitting.

Those of you who have not contemplated the same might be wondering as to what can be a fool-proof plan to manage both. Most of you will be happy if I gave you a daily to-do list. But managing work and prep require more than having a to-do list. Unless you manage your life, work and energy in totality, even the best to-do list will stay just that — a to-do list. So, this post will take up the whole gamut of things that you will have to execute to ensure that you crack the this year’s CAT.

The most precious commodity is your energy

Most people focus on the fact that they get just a small window of prep time after work and commute. The bigger problem I feel is the limited amount of energy that you have left after a full day’s work.

Since our brains constantly crave rewards for each and everything that we do, the first thing that our brains and bodies want to do after a hard days work — RELAX.

What does this word RELAX usually translate into?

  • BAD posture: lying down or slouching in a way that seems to say I don’t want to give a ****
  • BAD food: something that will make us feel good, heavy and sleepy
  • BAD food for the mind: since the body has been satiated, the mind wants its fix of unending videos and memes and whatnot; with the stomach you know when its full, with videos, can you even say when your mind is full?

After two to three hours of RELAXing, I am sure Time, Speed & Distance will not really seem even distantly inviting. We all know what follows next — a strong decision to wake up early and practice TSD before going to work and a set the alarm with a clenched jaw 🙂 I am sure there is no need to elaborate what happens in the morning.

Revving yourself up in the morning

The first thing to do then do is to manage your energy better right throughout the day so that you don’t really crave the RELAX in the evening. If you can prevent the craving then you don’t need to resist the temptation.

I am not sure if Yoga and Pranayama are the cure-alls they are proclaimed to be but they definitely boost your energy and alertness levels drastically. This is both from personal experience and more so from the experience of my mother, who took it up at my suggestion and now has insane amounts of energy and doesn’t miss a Yoga class for anything (even if her children are visiting).

Given the limited amount of time at your disposal, you can’t possible enroll for a class but you surely can do some basic breathing exercises such as kapabhati and nadishodana pranayama just to rev up the lungs.

You should spend 15 to 20 minutes every day in the morning, after freshening up doing these breathing exercises.

At any time during the day, if you feel sleepy and sluggish you can always rely on straightening your back and taking deep breaths is the surefire way to getting back to alertness.

Resetting your body and mind in the evening

As much as the morning revving up is required, what is even more important is the evening reset. Our first instinct when we get back to our place is to plonk ourselves and start yapping with whoever is at home.

While one can do this it is best if one focusses first on resetting the mind and body to become fresh again.

Take a bath whether you feel like it or not and do another round 10-15 minutes round of breathing exercises.

Just do this every day and you will notice a subtle change in the way you feel physically over a period of time apart from higher energy levels:

  • reduced craving for food, caffeine, alcohol or cigarettes
  • reduced anxiety levels leading to a calmer disposition
  • reduced brain fog and higher alertness

Another really good cure for low alertness and brain fog are Brahmi capsules; whenever I have been short of sleep or feel groggy even after a coffee, a Brahmi capsule does the trick.

Save energy by talking less during the day

One of the big ways we expend a lot of energy without knowing is by talking a lot. If you treat the energy you have within you to be of a finite amount then, you will start conserving the same at various points of time during the day. You have to manage your salary to last the whole month, you have to manage your energy to last the whole day. So talk less and you will save and build up energy reserves leading up to the CAT.

Choose the right slots

It does not matter whether you are a morning person or an evening person, you have to choose the time slot to prep that is least likely to be disrupted due to work.

Whether it is before or after work, choose time-slot that will not be disrupted.

  • If you have flexible timings then choose a slightly skewed time slot, say an 8-4 or, a 11-7, instead of standard 9 to 5 or 10 to 6. This will give a longer undisrupted time-slot
  • If you have to work within fixed timings then ensure that you hit those timings, finish your work and get out.

I know that some of you might be working in projects in which there is absolutely no respite at all. You will be working weekends as well. If I say I have an answer for such case, I will be lying.

Plan for a break around the September-October period

No matter how diligently you prepare on a daily basis. It is necessary that for a brief period the only current that is passing through your nervous system is that of CAT. You need to get magnetized in a particular direction.

So you have to ensure that you have enough leaves and inform your boss in advance to be able to take this break.

What can prevent you from taking this break?

  • Losing leaves for family weddings that you have to attend. If it is not your direct sibling, it is something that can be and has to be avoided.
  • Losing leaves to trips planned by close friends. If a trip with friends is more important than getting into IIM-A then reconsidering your priorities are in order.

Do not take the break in November as it will be too close to the test for you to see the results of your prep.

The ideal break should be about 3 weeks long, even 2 weeks can suffice (I won’t be doing a post on the best stories to make your boss grant you leave).

You have limited time, so use it judiciously

Today, anyone who tries to learn or do anything first googles it. The avalanche of information available from blogs, forums such as Quora and Pagal Guy, to Facebook groups is insane.

I myself did this a while ago when I started off on a fitness trip. Very soon I was so deep down the rabbit hole that more than actually doing anything I was just trying to make sense of this maze of information hitting me from so many quarters. What I forgot during this search was setting myself realistic, achievable and enjoyable goals for me.

Even for CAT prep, you can end up spending a lot of time on forums accumulating information that might or might not directly help you prepare for the CAT. We live in an age where we can easily accumulate tons and tons of content and never really use or enjoy the same — music for instance.

So, be very aware of the point after which there are diminishing marginal returns on time invested in information gathering.

Regulate your phone usage time

A smartphone has to be the most addictive time-sink known to man. I had a seen a graphic quite a few years ago that Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter formed the Bermuda triangle of productivity.

I think they don’t even compare to what Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube can do. It starts with just one episode and then it’s almost dawn.

Do not try to limit your consumption, just remove the temptation, remove the apps from your phone.

But your brain will crave for a fix, decide on that one cheat day a month and watch whatever you want for a specified time.

Getting into monk mode

All great sportsmen speak about getting into the zone — Michael Jordan and Ayrton Senna (F1 fans or not everyone should watch the documentary Senna by Asif Kapadia) to name a few. What does it mean, this being in the zone business?

It essentially means that there is only action, the actor (not to be confused with films) is not aware that he or she is acting, he or she loses “I” consciousness.

This happens occasionally, but exceptional performers always get close to this zone, where the mind is no longer dragging them down with doubt, worry and thought, they are aware that they are acting but there is no drag.

It is not possible to reach these states all of a sudden. It starts with the practice of breathing exercises and mediation (Senna was fully into it) and also reading texts that give you the perspective that keeps you grounded.

Of all the books that I have read, the format and style of I Am That and Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Shunryu are the ones best suited to daily reading.

Each book can be read over and over and over again. Both of them will more than test your CR skills. (I am not to be held responsible if any of you start reading the books and decide that CAT and MBA are just illusions!)

Every year I meet a lot of students with great potential and lots of plans to crack the test, sometimes it is things beyond their control that derail their dreams but most of the time it is the huge chasm between the dream and the everyday choices they make, that come in the way of their plans being realized. Every choice you make, every single day has an implication.

As I have written previously as well, most of us do not align our short-term actions to our long-term goals. We wake up only when we can feel the deadline of our long-term goal is breathing down our neck.

The idea of this post was to make you aware of the many things that go into converting a dream into a reality, especially if you are away from home and working.


  1. Lokendra says

    Hello Sir,
    It was good to see you in SimCAT4 VARC analysis video. Please continue doing it.
    What I’m going to share might seem to be a little off topic here but i wanted to convey this message to you directly.
    This is regarding SIMCATs Analysis..
    Can we please have a default mode (that does not show our attempt or the correct/incorrect status of every question) in the Mock Review section…

    This would help us in the analysis part. While analysing or re-attempting, we can mark our answers without time constraints and see if we get the same answers as we did during the mock. This would be a great help…

    Please do the needful at earliest.

    Thank you.


    • Hi Lokendra,

      I will be doing the VA-RC feedback for SimCATs 8, 12 and 16 in addition to the VA-RC masterclasses and Last Mile To CAT sessions.

      The idea behind having the “show answer” button was to not reveal the actual answer so that students can answer the question again.

      I do not think that knowing the answer I marked does not make any difference in QA and DI-LR.

      It is only in VA that some students might not want to know the answer they marked or the status.

      The reason we do not want to hide everything is that different students have different amounts of time available and if they want to figure out the right answer to only the incorrect questions, and they want to see the answer they marked, why it is wrong and why the right one is right.

      This is the norm on review mode not just at IMS but on almost all international prep platforms that I have used. What you have asked for is an exception and it will not be possible for us to change the whole software only for a few use cases.

      As a recent test-prep aspirant myself (I took the GMAT in 2017 with a bit of prep, few mocks) I know that it is just about turning off a switch in your head and resolving as if you were doing it the first time, even knowing the status does not matter.

      As a mentor, I have sat with the reviews of students and solved their papers as well.

      As a student, back when I was preparing and the CAT was paper-based, I used to come back with my Mock Paper full of my rough work and marked answers and sit for three hours and re-solved the questions I needed to.

      The key to a good VA-RC re-solving is to focus on the process before you arrive at the options, if the process and technique before arriving at the answer are right then the accuracy will be quite high — this process as you see has nothing to do with the answer marked or the status of the question.

      So, it boils to the level of concentration you can bring into your review and look at the process before you reach the options.

      All the best!


  2. Tanya Sharma says

    Hello Sir
    My accuracy in tone based questions is very poor. If you could please suggest some source to cover various tones.
    Thank you


  3. MarineBiologist says

    Hi Tony,

    Thank you for such a wonderful post! I have a question, you suggested to take a break around Sep – Oct instead of Nov. Can you please elaborate on the same? I was planning to apply for leaves from mid Nov till D-day but I will have to change my plans, it seems. 🙂


    • Hi,

      Glad you found the post useful.

      As I wrote in the post, it does not make too much sense to take a break to close to the test since it is also about seeing results and developing confidence and making changes if required in the test-taking approach. CAT is not a memory-based exam, like all the exams you might have taken so far, for which taking a break close to the exam is indispensable; it is a skill-based exam and thus needs more time, if you can take 4-6 weeks off then nothing like it, take a break from Mid October but if you can take only two weeks off then it is better done before November so that November will give you time to fine-tune the skills you develop during the break.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


      • MarineBiologist says

        Yes, it does make a lot of sense. Would you recommend taking a week off before the CAT to get our minds off work and other engagements? To sort of get into zen mode?

        Something tells me there will be an article about it in the coming months but since corporates ask you to apply for long leaves in advance, I want to plan accordingly and make my leaves count 🙂


      • Yes, if you can get enough leave then there is definitely no harm in taking a week off before the exam!

        There will be articles on everything you need to train your head to do 🙂

        All the best!


  4. Siddharth B R says

    Hi sir,
    i have taken around 6-8 mocks over the last 2 months, my percentile has more or less stagnated in 95 (+/-2) . I have scored poorly in quants in most of the mocks, although i feel most confident with quants among the three sections, even when i analyse quants post the mock i end up solving all the questions well under 3-4 mins with an exception of around 5-6 questions. i feel this might be due to the exhaustion after VARC/LRDI sections, do you have any tips apart from practicing by giving multiple mocks over the next few months?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Siddharth,

      While fatigue can be a reason it cannot be the sole reason for the performance going from poor in the exam to awesome at home.

      But that awesome does throw up a few things to think about:

      1. Your after exam performance is not an indicator of your true potential since you have already read the question inside out and tried quite a few things — so when you look at it at home again you will notice parts of the question that you did not in test conditions and you will take routes that you did not in test conditions. So yeah, it is like getting it right after giving more than one shot and not at first shot.

      2. Tiredness alone cannot explain how you can solve 25 questions or more at home in well under 3-4 minutes and far fewer during the test. It can be that since your core strength is QA, you believe that you can solve every single question and do not use the A-B-C approach to select questions when coupled with tiredness it can mean that there can be a domino-effect — you start with trying to solve every question right at the beginning and failure just compounds the pressure.

      I suggest the following

      1. Set a modest goal to start with instead of trying to match your post-test performance since as I said in point 1 above it might not be a true indicator of your potential.

      2. Take your average QA score so far and add to it. Aim for the number of questions you need to solve with 80 per cent accuracy to achieve that score.

      3. Watch the A-B-C approach demonstrated in the detailed sectional analysis videos of SimCAT 1 and SimCAT 4 and execute it to select the easiest questions to meet the set targets.

      Once you achieve this goal in three tests, then add ten more.

      Slow and steady does win the race 🙂

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


      • Siddharth Rajkumar says

        Thank you so much sir, your blogs are incredible and analysis are perfect. Thank you for taking out time to attend to all the questions in the comments.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Renuka says

    Thank you sooo much for this post, sir. You have solved the majority of my problem by bringing up this.
    Regarding preparation, I need your opinion on this. The practice module has ~2000 questions with varying difficulty levels. In how much time am I supposed to complete it?

    *This is my 2nd CAT attempt and I have done the concepts required. I am also taking mocks at regular intervals.*

    Thanks in advance.



    • Hi Renuka,

      Glad you found the post useful!

      You do not need to solve all 2000 solve only the ones that are relevant to your current level based on your SimCAT performance. We give so many questions because there are students at different levels, everyone does not need to do everything, prioritise weaker areas over stronger areas and choose levels as well accordingly.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  6. Fardin khan , says

    Hi sir,
    I have been following your Two pauses and Five pauses technique. And solving 3RC every single day but my accuracy isn’t increasing.


    • Hi Fardin,

      I do not how ling you have been doing the 3 RCs a day wiht the technique but you would need to solve atleast a 100 passages before you get a good hang of things and before you start doing well on the SimCATs.

      If you have practised a lot and are still not able to improve it might be that reading the whole passage and answering questions might not be the best approach for you. I will cover a alternative approach in the next Masterclass.

      You will also find posts on RC Strategy here —

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  7. Aditya Jaiswal says

    Hi Sir,

    I want to start my cat preparation as I’m aiming for cat 2022. I struggle alot with quants part also I wanted to know that having a work experience of 50 months disadvantage for me. Request you to please advise me.


    • Hi Aditya,

      With 50 months of work-ex already you will have close to 65 months of work-ex, which is very very high for a 2-year program. This does not mean that you will not get an admit into a 2-year program at an IIM but just that there will be very few recruiters visiting 2-year programs for profiles that need your level of work-ex, essentially bulk of the items in the buffet will not be open to you.

      Given this and the fact that your Math is weak, I suggest taking the GMAT and applying to ISB and other premier 1-year programs, the IIMS, SPJIMR, XL and GLIm (backup).

      This will be the best course of action.

      All the best!


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