Posted by: catindiaonline | September 5, 2008

CAT exam strategy by IIM topper

CAT exam Strategy by IIM topper…

Aah.. Atlast, my marathon post has completed. Well, it is devided into several posts to fecilitate easy reading. Hope it helps all CAT aspirants out there.

CAT 2002 and aftermath.

During my engineering second year I have decided to take CAT. Basically I dont know why i wanted to go that way. but some reasons I could think of are,

1. a very decent pay 4-5 lpa
2. comfortable life for me and my family
3. the challenge the CAT poses
4. I am tired with my tryst with technical courses <first diploma and then engineering>

So, I have started gaining information regarding management education in India. Soon, I figured out the need to crack CAT to have any chances of entering into a b-skool. After some more investigation found that, lots of reading and good maths/calculation skills are necessary for cracking CAT. I have decided to improve my verbal abilty, communication skills and business knowledge to considerable levels before i can attend any coaching classes.

Subscribed to BW 3 year offer in late second year. then started reading reader’s digest, India today and other books. All the while also tried to do reasonably well in my acads.
Came december 2001 and I have decided to go for coaching. There is no choice available in vizag at that time. So, joined in TIME for cat 2002 coaching. Daily in the morning 6-8 used to attend those classes and used to feel proud for doing something extra. SmileIn the first 4 months nothing improved. just classes and some sectional tests. Never ever we were tested with actual papers. Then came the summer vacation. Convinced my parents and stayed back in vizag so that, i can attend classes as well as take some tests. But I have absolutely no plan or no idea of the amount of work to put in to crack CAT. Neither i am sure about what colleges i want to apply and what is it i am looking for in the whole ordeal. 2 months were a breeze <well, actually they were the hottest 2 months in my life with the summer peaking at temparatures like 45> At the end of 2nd month, I took my first ever real-mock cat <well, dont mind the oxymoron here, you know what i mean> and believe me, it was a shock for me. Whatever practise i have done so far seemed to be useless. and the results also turned out to be bad. At once i have realized the importance of doing mocks and practising cat-like questions.
Then the academic session started. not that i study for the exams, but we have to do 2 projects in final year, and the pressure is building up. Basically i like to do my work for myself. so, slowly i started takin my project seriously and by the time it was september, i had lost my position in mocks. ranks in AIMCATs camedown to 300+ and settled there. But I have always maintained them below 500. somehow i had a strong feeling that, i can crack cat if i maintain my ranks belwo 500. Apart from CAT, I have considered other options such as FMS, IIFT, XLRI, IRMA, NITIE and JMET. That is a cross section of colleges. But I was desperate to do mba right after graduation and applied to this many colleges.
Apart from the regular TIME Material, I have xerox’d some IMS papers and did them off and on.

Well, at last the d-day came.

as usual started of with verbal. But since my verbal is the weakest link of the chain, i spent considerable amount of time in that section and did almost 40 questions. By the time i am done with it, i was already 50 mins into the test.
quickly rushed to quant section. And if any one of you seen the CAT 2002 Quant paper, you know what i am talking here. that section was tough. But Quant is always my streangth. So, did it for full 40 mins and attempted some 27 questions there.
only 30 mins left. Started doing small DI sets. Again if you look at CAT 2002 DI paper, you know what are these small sets are. They have some 7-8 sets each with 3-5 questions. on any day, one can attempt 30+ there and get away with a score above 25 easily. But since i have managed to mis-manage my time, i could do only 19 in 30 mins. But, i thought that, i can score well there, because, in TIME AIMCATs 19-20 was always a very good attempt rate. Very less did i know that TIME AIMCATs DI/VA is very differant from original CAT DI/VA.

After the exam i felt that, i can get atleast 2-3 calls. All this illusions are result of my poor understanding of cat and lack of overall perspective. I have assumed that, i can get a score above 58 which is what TIME predicted as cutoff. Again this is due to my poor analysis of mocks/aimcats. I dunno what my accuracy is, what my strike rate is usually like….

The Results

They came one after another. First B then C. Later A I and K and atlast L. All of them had the same message for me. ‘Sorry….’
I was devastated. I could not do anything for 2-3 days. The thought that i am loser has consumed me like anything. Even in the mess I felt like i am shameless to eat food. It was my first ever major failure in life. And with no job in hand i was feeling like hell at that time.

By the time it was april last week, i had only one final admission and that is from IRMA. I was not very sure as to whether i should go there or not. I told my parents that I want to try CAT again in 2003 and for that i want to stay back in vizag. They told me that, it mite be difficult for them to support me after engineering. And when i told them about IRMA, they said, i can go for that rather. I started applying to companies for job franetically. But no one seemed to be interested in hiring a fresher. I have envisaged the options of working as a faculty in engg. college or something like that. All this because, somewhere in my heart i know that, IRMA is not the place from where i want to do PG.
At last, in May first week, i got an offer from the present employer through campus placement. Decent pay and no bond. I accepted it immediately and decided to go for cat 2003.

What went wrong with my approach in cracking cat 2002?

1. I never did the fundamental material/brms
2. My preparation for english is very much haphazard. All i did is reading news paper, writing unknown words in a book, doing some silly grammer excersizes. And I never did practise papers and i never paid heed to rc. to be frank i even dont know what my speed is like.
3. I never analysed my mock/aimcat papers. What ever little analysis i did was focussed in quant section. I never knew clearly what are my strengths/weaknesses. I paid little attention to my accuracy and strikerate. My single focus was rank in aimcat.
4. I dunno the differance between a sitter and an ordinary question. My approach had been start from 1 and do till 50.
5. my preparation was totally random. i never had a proper timetable. Even if i had one, it was cluttered with non-important non-urgent tasks. I thot reading books will help in cracking RC in CAT. But morethan reading books, i need to change the approach . My reading was poor. Thanks to my vernacular background.
6. My time management was poor and emotional. and by emotional i mean that, if i feel that i am not doing a section well, i used to sepnd some more time there to satisfy my ego. and this lead to an erratic and random score pattern. nothing was consistent in my mocks. not just marks, but the number of mistakes also vaired.
7. lack of overall perspective and competition.

CAT 2003

May – August, 2003

I took one week break to adjust myself to the new workplace. At abt may 19 or so, i took one Diagnostic CAT and my scores were reasonable. But i knew that i need a systematic approach to crack it. So, I have planned the next 3.5 months for every day.
My work schedule at that time was something like, 7-8 journey, 8-6 office, 6-7 journey. So, I have 3-4 hrs in the night to slog. May be even less on somedays.
I have categorized the entire syllabus for CAT into 4 broad areas.


Then, I have identified the important topics in these areas. First three have abt 15-20 topics in each area. Last one was vast. So, i gave more preference and time to it.

For each topic in first three areas i have alloted one/two days and my aim is to complete that topic from either material or X class textbooks.
During the office hours i used to solve problems posted on cat-2003 Y! Groups/PG. It was really helpful and used to motivate me alot.


The first one was on 29-jun-2003. AIMCAT 401. At that time my preparation was only half done and i have so many topics to complete. But, the experience from last year helpmed alot. I have managed to get an AIR of 60, even though my netscore was just above half of my rank. But this thing happens with TIME First mockcats. After this mock, i made it a point to record my mock performances in an Excel sheet. The format was something like, Sl. Number, Date and Mock #, Vocabulary, RC, Quant, DI DS Logic, Comments. I have recorded almost all mock performances in this sheet. I used to write in about unknown words, shortcuts, question numbers, silly mistakes i made and mistakes in my strategy in that sheet. Before taking another mock, i used to go through that sheet. This helped me in consciously avoiding the mistakes i have commited in earlier mocks and fine tuning my strategy.

Some guidelines for taking mocks:

. Stick to time. If you are taking a 2 hour test, take it for 2 hrs only. Be merciless, especially if you are taking them in your room/home. Dont let anything disturb you in those 2 hrs.
. Use a watch and make it a habit
. Have a strategy in mind before you start the test. Take 2-3 mins to analyse the paper and say to yourself something like ‘VA is verbal heavy, there are 4 rcs, quant has some diagrams and sets of questions, DI is lengthy, some ds questions were there, LR is absent, let me start with va and then move to qa and at last di’. Once you know the order of sections, stick to timelimits with in the section. Never let your ego come into the picture in those 2 hrs. I used to feel like, ‘hmm.. VA was tough, let me spend few mins more here’ to avoid that, i have devised a new method. I used to give timelimits as 35 mins for each section. And at the last i used to visit the toughest/easisest section and make up for a good overall score.
. Most importantly realise that, you have to get most out of the test. dont be egoistic and solve a problem for 2-3 mins. If you get it in 1 min, its ok, beyond that, learn to leave problems. Try to read as many as possible and decide what to solve quickly. This knack for identifiying so called sitters comes from taking 30-40 mocks in a span of 3 months.
. After the paper, dont rush to key. Take a break, relax for sometime and start looking at the paper. Try to findout correct answers without key. Analyse your answers and see if there is any fast/better method to solve the problems/questions. Try to reason out, why you have not attempted that RC or DI Set and cross check whether that is really a tough one. Try to estimate your score before jumping to the key. This will help you in giving a better idea abt your accuracy. After the analysis is over, then verify the answers with key and if needed go through the detailed answers. For me, most of the times, my mistakes used to comeout in the analysis phase. Checking with key was something like validating my analysis.
. Always try to share your mock scores/analysis with others. This will give you a better overall picture and good understanding of your relative standing. Use PG/Y! groups for this purpose. For many ppl, these groups are for posting scores. But realise the fact that, they are not notice boards. Instead, try to analyse the paper and post that also. With that you are helping no one else but yourself.
. Always calculate accuracy/speed figures for individual sections and net. And try to maintain a stable figure of speed and acc. If there is an abrupt change in those figures, try to investigate and findout the reasons. Ideally 60% speed with 80% + accuracy will help you in getting good scores. But speed sometimes varies with easiness of the paper. Identifying the trends of speed/acc in aug/sept will help you to fine tune your strategy before the d-day. for me, i was a 75 speed 70 acc person earlier. after some hardwork, i was able to cut on my speed and improve my acc.

Some guidelines for Individual Sections:


I cannot over-emphasize the need for identifying sitters in this section. Most of the times solving 15-20 questions out of a 50 question paper will give you a 90+ percentile ( sometimes, even 99+ ) For me, QA has always been a strength. So, i used to do 25+ questions in most mocks and needless to say used to get good percentiles too.
From what i have realised from my preparation,

. Everyone has some weak areas in quant. For me Probability/perm/combns was a weak area. I used to leave all questions in that.
. Most of the times, solving the questions from 1-50 will not work.
. It is always better to give a shot to sets of questions. Somethings like ‘A and B started from P and Q with 20 and 30 kmph speed at 10 pm on a day……’ and then some questions on that. if you know the concept you can crack all the questions in that.
. you must know 3 of the following topics to have an easy sail thru the section. Algebra/Number Theory/Mensuration/Geometry. See the last 3 years CAT papers and you will know what i am speaking.
. Before starting the first mock, try to complete as many fundametals as possible on QA topics. Use a notes to jot down the unknown formulea/shortcuts.
. While analysing the QA Section, try to findout the sitters/easy ones you have missed out during taking the mock. And try to reason out.

. have some thumb rules based on your strategy. For me, I always,


– read and try to attempt 1-2 liners no matter what
– read and try to attempt questions on menuration/geometry ( you can recognise them easily, coz, they have either numbers or figures in them )
– read and try to attempt questions on logs/algebra ( same funda again )
– start from somewhere in the middle of the section. never go from 1-50. It is always page by page.
– read and try to attempt sets of questions ( especially those on if a+b = a*b^2 or on graphs or on functions )

. Most importantly never compare. Yes, If you QA is not your strength, dont even bother about toppers. Just try to clear the cutoffs and that is all. Dont crib about ppl attempting 35 questions. Instead try to beat them in your strong points.


i have only one line to say



Well, by now you have recognized the poor english in my posts. So, I am not good enough on commenting this. I never have been a topper in this area. But ppl say that ‘Read alot, it helps’

August – November, 2003

During this period, I have taken atleast 50 mock tests. And i feel that, from august last week you can start taking tests and try to culminate by nov 3rd week. But this period is again dependant on your present stage. My opinion on differant mock tests,

TIME AIMCATs – definetly the best as far as qa/di/ds/lr are concerned. This year va/rc have been better. But nowhere near what cat va/rc are like.
IMS SimCATs/ACT/MCT/FCT – very good va/rc papers. DI and QA were calculation heavy and sometimes kilometers away from what CAT tests. overall, decent papers.
CL MockCATs/FLTs – decent english,qa and di. sometimes, brilliant DI. and no doubt one of the cheapest packages available in the market. I got some 30 tests for 2000.

apart from the the above three i subscribed for Ascent Mocks, 10 of them for some 900. they were decent. But Qa is not that good.

I made it a point that, i take as many mocks as possible from august. In the beginning i used to take 2 mocks a week. In early sept i made it 3 mocks a week and stick to it till the end. Now, there is something called ‘Burnout’ If you feel that, you are going too fast and reach a peak before nov 21, then, take a full one week break and start again. moreover, dont take too many mocks in a week. at the most 4 mocks for a week should suffice. But again, this is highly personal and you can decide based on your performances.
during the last 30 days, i have tried to analyse my old mocks once again. During this period i made optimum use of the excel sheet i have compiled based on my mock scores. Plus, during the last few days, i realised that, my accuracy is goind down. So, I tried to record all my errors in a notebook. And this helped me alot in cutting down on my mistakes.

December, 2003 – February, 2004

Most of the december and first few weeks of jan, i spent time on other exams and work. tried to do some RC preps and was successful in improving it a bit. After my fms exam on 18.01.2004, i tried to focus on CAT. There is nothing special in this period. It was all the same. Mocks and analysis. There is little i can do apart from that.


Aah, atlast the day came. I was excited about my results in other exams ( IIFT, JMET, FMS ).
As usual started the paper with verbal and could do 36 in 35 mins.
Then moved to QA and tried to maximise my gains there. Spend 40 mins and read most of the questions and attempted 32 there.
Then moved to DI. Contrary to what ppl think, this section was tough. Could do only 25 in this section.
so, over all 93 attempts. feeling the butterflies in the stumoch came out, but my result turned out to be better.

As they say, the rest is history.



  1. Thank U for UR suggestions &ideas

  2. amazing article… just wanted to ask is learning table (especially till 25 ) necessary… squares n cubes till 20 they say….

  3. @aditya,
    The requirement is to be able to calculate things faster! One of the ways in which one can improve his/her speed of calculation is by memorizing tables till 25 and squares-n-cubes till 20. If you can do the calculations faster by using any alternative method of yours, just stick to that. Making yourself perfect in one or two basic techniques is much better than being imperfect and pathetically slow in a slew of fast calculation methodologies. Vedic mathematics is one of the popular alternative which is “sold” by various coaching institutes. However, in my experience, I have seen that sticking to a method with which one has a long standing familiarity pays richer dividends. Hence, my recommendation regarding tables and squares-n-cubes. Hope this helps.
    Good luck!

  4. good boss………
    i hope i’ll do as like you


  6. Confidence giving article!
    Direction needed –
    I started my CAT preperation by March 2008 and was picking up well. Between due to some valid reasons I was back to square one, directionless at that time. Now having come out of those withholding thoughts, I strongly wanted to pursue CAT. But my preperation for it is nowhere, just that started now. I wanted to take up CAT 2008 but I know how my result is going to be. At this stage a month to go for CAT , should I continue starting from my basics or start solving mocks? Mocks solving too I’m not confident. Please advise as how to go about.

  7. @Janani,
    You have mentioned that you began your preparation for CAT 2008 and were picking it up well. However, we all know that CAT is a very unforgiving exam. The exact route that you should take must be decided by you based on your level of preparation as well as your aim.
    Having said that, if I were you, I wanted to go to IIMs only and were pretty sure that I would not make it to IIMs this year, then I would have taken a middle path.
    *I would have taken at least half of the remaining Mock CATs seriously as a tool for diagnosis of your preparation needs.
    *In all these tests, I would have tried to pick and attack questions from a handful of topics for which my preparation is already good.
    *I would have continued with my regular preparation for CAT 2009 without getting too much affected by results in CAT 2008 Mocks.

    Hope this helps.

  8. Hi, KUDOS to u and ur skill & will. This post is really a marathon one as you mentioned. The most alike thing with you and me is that I was you, as u were in 2002. I too am from an engg. background, tried CAT 2007 once, missed by a mile in vocab and am even going to try that tomorrow(CAT2008) and i was too late to read your post, but not a prob if i succeed tomorrow i can also post another long run story of my own OR else i will try to be u by the next year CAT2009(may be a online one too)

  9. sir
    I want to some books name & writer name for MBA Cat examinition

  10. Hi,
    this 1 iz amazing.
    cud u plz advise me on 1 thing…whether i shud join a coaching center or prepare by my own?
    as it wud be a bit difficult 4 me to go 4 a regular 8-8 job n classes as well.

  11. First of all congratulations
    A very beneficial and moral boosting experience.Thanks a lot
    Sir i am still an engg 5th sem student and want to b an business administrator.I am definately thinking for some coaching programme.could u pls guide me to the best institute for coaching and the basic strategy to crack the CAT paper.Is there some work experience necessary to take admission into IIMs?
    ill b very thankful.

  12. hi… m pursuing my graduation nd ill start 4 my prep after my second year xams .. cud u plz give me guidelines whether ill be able to crack CAT just by preparing 6 months or suggest me smthing, wat to go for to atleast score a great one. i wanna score atleast 95 percentile …. currently i just read books nd newspapers nd all …actually i dont have more time to spend but i can give it completely only after april.

  13. @Deepti,
    Coaching helps an aspirant by bringing in a regularity in his/her preparation. If you are motivated enough, to maintain that grueling routine regularly on your own, then do not join the coaching classes. Not joining the coaching classes definitely saves on commute time and also helps you focus your study hours on the topics of your choice. In a coaching, you will have to go along with the rest of the class. Also, with the plethora of online tests and study avenues available online, it has become easier and more sensible to chuck coaching classes and prepare on your own.

    There is no work experience whatsoever required to get admission to IIMs. Having said that, it is universally contended that people who join a MBA course after some experience are able to appreciate the course contents better. And consequently, learn more from the course.
    For coaching institute, you should contact your seniors. One coaching institute may be good in one area/state/city but not in another. The choice of a coaching institute should be completely guided by its local reputation. However, if you want to go for correspondence course, then Time and IMS have good study material. CL has also good material and is quite extensive as well.

    And now a very very short best strategy to crack CAT:
    1. Take mock CAT tests (at least 5 of them) and analyze your performance critically. Online tests come in extremely handy as they provide very insightful analysis. You can take mock CATs at
    2. Analysis will reveal your areas of strength and weaknesses.
    3. Analyze past 3-4 years of CAT papers (again you can take the tests online as well as find analysis on and figure out what is the score required to get into IIMs.
    4. Given your areas of strength and weaknesses and required target scores to enter IIMs, determine the topics you need to focus upon, estimate time required for it and enroll for a coaching/correspondence classes as per your needs.
    5. Work hard, Stay focussed, Work hard, Stay focssed!

    That is all! Good luck!

  14. @Shruty,
    Time is required for CAT preparation differs from aspirant to aspirant. People from top colleges typically need less time as the rigors of their academics makes them more tuned to tough tests. Again, smart well read people have it easy in verbals. Engineers have it easy in quants section. So, whether six months is sufficient or not, depends up on your background. However, you are in your second year. One year of preparation is sufficient to get any percentile that you want. I have seen enough people from not very top notch places, who have scored 99 percentile and above with just one year of preparation. CAT is a lot about hard work and focus than pure smartness. So, just go for it without thinking too much about the results. Good luck!

  15. excellent article man!
    really of a true help!
    incredible suggestions!
    carry on this good work

  16. hi first of congratulation for cracking CAT
    Sir i have already given CAT 08 and scored meagre 75%ile in it.Now i am preparing for CAT 09 but due to recession i don’t have any job to do so can it go against me in PI’s of Bcollegesthat i have done nothing in this 6 months after Engg. but only prepared for cat.

    Secondly i like to know which test series should i join for CAT 09 . I have already joined time and i want to join atleast one more options are: PT ,CL & IMS

    Lastly sir can u give me timetable for this 6 months of what to study and when to study last year i have joined PT i have that material is it sufficient?

  17. The article above is extra ordinary in content and style. There is no doubt CAT aspirants like me shall be immensely benefited. He has not left any single stone unturned in his pursuit for excellence…. Kudos to him…..!!!!

    But you have not posted what is his name and what is his final score and percentile section wise… Please do that….?

  18. the article is really awesome,it really find a passage to my heart.i really got inspired………….wat can i sy more??
    one more thing plz can u tell me abt how to really start my prep,actuallly i will join ims coaching in my 6th sem.
    plz do help me by ur words for me

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