Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Confessions of a serial CAT 100 percentiler

Confessions of a serial almost-100 percentiler
By Munira Lokhandwala

There are some, for whom, drinking 40 bottles of Pepsi in one go is a feat. There are others who would settle for nothing less than summiting Mt Everest. But here we present to you, the Great-Grandma-of-Them-All Muneera Lokhandwala, who will settle for nothing less than a 100 percentile or close, in CAT year upon year upon year upon… Okay, we shut up now, and pass the mic to Munira to give us the dope about smacking time management into submission for cracking CAT.

I am Munira Lokhandwala, a Math graduate from St. Xavier’s college, Mumbai. I took the CAT in my final year of graduation i.e. Dec 1996 and got calls from all 4 IIM’s (IIM I and IIM K had just started that year and I hadn’t applied to either). After my GD/PI I got calls from Calcutta and Lucknow. I completed my post graduation from Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (batch of 1999). When I was preparing for my CAT, I didn’t even consider taking the other entrance exams for various institutes. Was this arrogance? Let’s see.

Here I would like to take what is fondly called in film making: a flashback. All of us remember the seventh standard scholarship exam that tested the math, verbal and visual skills of students. In that test I scored 36 out of 100 in Math (64 in Verbal and 50 in visuals). So you can definitely say that I wasn’t born with the aptitude to crack such examinations.

So after the background, you can see where this will lead to. How does someone who is not born with the required aptitude skills go ahead and crack the CAT? Not just crack it, as in, just manage, but crack it with confidence. Incidentally even I had started my preparations for the CAT in February of (hold your breath) 1996. Whew! I was in the same boat as most of you are. I was in the second year of my Bachelor’s studies. So I started in February, took a break in April for my exams, in May for some holidaying and started again in June and continued till the end. There were two weddings (no, not mine) of close family members in between, so there was a slight break there. Excluding these breaks, I was preparing for the CAT, 2-3 hours a day, 6 days of the week, every week. So finally we can roll our sleeves and get down to the task. This article is not about what to do during the CAT. It does not talk about the shortcuts you can apply during the paper, the food you should eat to score better at the CAT and all the numerous facts / statistics /precautions/ rumors that you have heard about the day of the CAT. This article is about the long period before the CAT right from when you decide to take it to a nice slightly chilly Sunday morning when you are checking your pencils, eraser and admit card.

1) Plan backwards

You will never really remember when your CAT preparation started, but you will always remember when it ended. Did I hear 19th November? No, it will end on the 17th November. The CAT is an exam where presence of mind is essential, studying till the last minute or till the last day leads to an exhausted mind. So it is a good idea to stop preparing on the Friday evening before the CAT. So currently your deadline is 17th November. The last few months will be spent primarily on taking comprehensive tests. Let’s try and work that out.

Right now is a good time to decide how many comprehensive tests you will take (including sims/ mocks/ aims). I think 30 tests are fairly sufficient. There is no point taking a test everyday or worse still, taking 2 tests per day. Working with 30 tests will easily take you between 70-80 days. This is because if you take a test with feedback on day 1 you will revise and take some area tests on day 2. Also you may need one or two days of break. So, assuming 75 days for comprehensive tests, takes your deadline to the end of August.

Taking full length tests right after covering your basics, is like walking into harsh sunlight from an air conditioned room, it will definitely lead to discomfort and if you are unlucky then perhaps headaches and vomiting too. Hence there should be some middle layer which acts like room temperature, in our analogy. That middle layer is going to be your section tests. So in the last fifteen days of August, you should take around two section tests at least from each area and spend some time going through the analysis and feedback for the tests. This will be the first time usually when you really start solving with the second hand making a loud noise every second. So get used to the idea before you venture into the comprehensive test territory.

So finally we have come to our first major deadline 15th August i.e. Independence day. Symbolically, it will be an independence of sorts for all of you. Independence from the normal area of basics and theory. Independence from learning and honing what you already know. From 15th August, you will be looking at applying what you have learnt and if you have learnt well. Then believe me you will enjoy the process.

2) In-depth Scheduling

With 15th August as the deadline, you should make a list of what is the kind of theory you want to complete, till that time. I have made a rudimentary representative list here to work from:


Word List


Book on Verbal Ability questions

Book on Reading Comprehension questions

Book on Analytical Reasoning

Book on Data Interpretation

Practice book for Math

Your maximum time should be spent doing two major activities: reading and Math.

3) Daily schedule

Make a daily schedule which incorporates all your routines and breaks. If you watch movies a lot then it would be silly to make a schedule which does not consider 3 hours a week on the week-end spent in catching the latest release. Also try to shuffle the subjects, so that you do not get bored with one subject. A good time table for 2 days can look like this:

Day 1:

Half an hour of reading

Half an hour of “word list”

2 hours of math

Day 2

Half an hour of reading

half an hour of “word list”

1 hour of analytical reasoning / data interpretation

1 hour of reading comprehension exercises / verbal ability

4) Reading

For those who read as a hobby this will not be a major problem. For others, it is essential that you take out anything between 30 minutes to one hour for reading, daily. For the uninitiated reader, you can start by reading fiction but there is no use if you spend 3 months reading one big book by, say, Ayn Rand. Instead pick up any collection of short stories by assorted authors and start reading those. You will get used to various styles and different settings and, of course, different content. After reading fiction for one to one and half months, you can graduate to non–fiction. So, the next time you log onto pagalguy.com, open another window where you google on various CAT topics (a list of CAT topics is given as an appendix) and read articles related to them. The advantages are two–fold. Firstly, you will get used to CAT-like passages and secondly, you will start gaining some knowledge on these topics. So the next time you have an RC on the same topic, you will not feel completely lost. For these reading sessions, never focus on speed. Only focus on understanding, if you read enough your speed will automatically increase.

Reading will not only help you in the verbal section, but also increase your comprehension in the other sections. It is the single most important factor that will help you crack the CAT.

5) Word List

There are very few questions that directly require knowledge of words. But knowing a lot of good words and improving your vocabulary will never harm but always help your CAT preparations. So pick up a good word list and start working on the word list every day or if your vocabulary is already good, then every alternate day. Even if you do an alphabet a week, you will take around 6 months, to complete the word list. Having a good vocabulary also ensures fluency in GD/PI. This is the part, where students are lazy, but after the CAT if you feel that just knowing one word would have fetched an extra mark in no time, thenit really hurts.

6) Math

Math, based on strengths and weaknesses, should be done either every alternate day or every day. Go through the theory, solved examples and then tackle exercises. If you cannot solve a problem do not rush to the explanatory answers, give it some time. Think. Get your mind to oil those rusted math gears and levers.

  • Try solving problems in the head, minimize the use of pen and paper
  • Make a note of important relationships in a topic.
  • Make a note of innovative approaches.
  • Remember writing a lot is very unhealthy for the CAT, but after you solve it in your head writing the explanation will clear doubts and reinforce learning. So please make good notes.

Munira Lokhandwala is an alumna from IIM Calcutta, batch of 99. She has been associated with cat coaching since 2001. In 2005, she started catalyst group tuitions for cat. (www.catalyst4cat.com) she is a regular cat taker herself. These are her scores:
year overall percentile
2005 100 %ile
2004 99.99 %ile
2003 99.98 %ile


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