2IIM's blog to discuss the CAT paper, exam strategies, preparation plan and other CAT-related stuff

Thursday, March 19, 2015

CAT Preparation for verbal - What should one read?

The most important component for cracking the verbal section in CAT is reading ability, this much is obvious. Swaminathan does a fine point in driving it home in this piece giving an outline for the prep plan for the verbal section.

This takes us on to the next question - What should one read?

The simple answer is "anything works". Fiction or non-fiction, humour or thriller, newspapers or magazine, short articles or long pieces, it does not matter that much (anything better than Chennai Times or Mumbai times is useful). If you do not have the reading habit, you need to pick that habit up immediately. In the initial phases, read stuff that is easy to read. Read from topics that you like reading about, and read material that is not too tough to 'get'. We can expand the range of reading slowly. It is absolutely vital to build the habit in the first place. If you pick something too hi-funda to begin with, then there is a chance that you will be put off from reading.

I am going to give a simple reading list here - broken into two parts; for beginners and then for students who already have the reading habit. For beginners, the stress will be more on the "unputdownability" (if that is not a word, they should include it) of the book. For more seasoned readers, it will be based on the need to pick up a wider range of ideas to read from.

Beginners list
Magazines and Newspapers: The Open Magazine, The Hindu editorials, Times of India center page articles. Blogs from Swaminomics, (here and here). Cricinfo has excellent reading material as well.

Novels: Dan Brown is brilliant - "Angels and Demons", "Da Vinci Code" are tough to put down. Sidney Sheldon's "If tomorrow comes", "Rage of Angels", etc are good. Jeffrey Archer's "Kane and Abel" and "Shall we tell the president" are good. Books by Alistair Maclean also move at lightning speed. These are readable books, with decent writing. More importantly, they are gripping. In many of these books, the story unfolds at a reasonable clip and should set the pace well.

List for someone who has the reading habit
Magazines: Economist, NYtimes, NewYorker, Guardian (select articles). Hindu Opinion articles, Blogs from Ramachandra Guha, MJ Akbar, Slate is also considered good.

Novels: Anything written by PG Wodehouse. You can expand and read more stuff from books written by Jeffrey Archer, Sidney Sheldon, John Grisham, etc. Among Indian authors, Aravind Adiga and Ashish Taseer are good.

You do not need to read the classics. As you get more comfortable with reading, consistently look to expand the variety.

As a way of preparing for the interviews as well, you can read "India after Gandhi". You can read stuff from the Economics Times and Business Line as well.

Friday, January 30, 2015

CAT Preparation - What do teachers expect from students?

As a teacher, I meet gazillion students every year, and am often amazed at how confident they are now compared to how we guys were 15 years ago. Having said that, going hand in hand with this confidence is a feeling of entitlement that is as puzzling as it is unwarranted. Students these days believe things have to be laid out for them on a platter and that they have to be "inspired" and "guided" to do even the bare minimum.

During this time, we have also seen reams and reams in print on how the education system should change to help students. In all this while, I think we have not clearly articulated what the students are expected to do. Ergo, this post.

Do the drill. 
This "replace hard work with smart work" management-speak has taken students to a point where they do not appreciate the old-fashioned drill. Doing 150 questions on quadratic equations creates links in your brain that are worth their weight in gold when you are practicing for a competitive exam. It is not just the speed that you gain, it is the role played by the automaticity that is priceless. You save energy on the regular stuff and this blesses you with more bandwidth for the trickier bits.

I hate to be this old man narrating his experiences, but I think my experience might be relevant here. A group of my friends and I were preparing for CAT in 2000. We had all cleared JEE barely three years before that (back when JEE was a tough exam) and dealt with Fourier and Laplace transformations as part of our course curriculum. A bunch of the guys had done well in assorted Olympiads and as a group, we were ultra comfortable with math,

Largely because our seniors had given us some material for CAT preparation, we started with some speed-test book. We started with percentages and within 5-6 questions realized that the material was largely BS packaged as genius content (a tactic still followed by the industry) . We still powered through and did all 50 questions in that topic and knocked off topic by topic over the next 2 weeks, practically just for the heck of it. The material did not really push us, but we gave it a go chiefly for the sake of "completion". Now, 15 years later, if you ask me to find 42% of 707, I would think of it as slightly less than 3/7th of the number and guess in the ball park of 300. All because I did gazillion questions rather unscientifically 15 years ago.

Powering through is very instructive. Do not underestimate this. I hate it when students say they get "tired" after doing 4 sets of Data Interpretation. That is just nonsense. The idea of finishing something off, solving ALL possible questions, etc have become old-fashioned notions. Getting questions under the belt can change the dynamic in unforeseen ways.

Retain humility (for some students this should read as "acquire humility")
A simple requirement for learning anything new is to have some humility towards what you are learning. These days I see some students get so cocky by the time they reach level of difficulty of 7 that the brain shuts down for levels of difficulty 8, 9 and 10. Respecting the content also might enable to get some joie de vivre during the preparation process. This again is vital for competitive exams; else the pressure will drag you down.

My colleague, K.S. Baskar has been training students for nearly 20 years and took his CAT nearly 25 years ago. If you handed an interesting question to him today that left him stumped, it would immediately put a smile on his face. Purely out of the joy of having learnt something new. Its a shame that many students do not even get to see this feeling of joy.

Note that I asked for students to respect the content, and not necessarily the teacher. Contrary to popular perception, teachers do not yearn for gratitude or thirst for approval from students. If you learn well and have a great learning attitude most teachers wont care whether you are grateful to them. Or whether you hold them in high esteem.

Dont fret about the imponderables
I am going to start this bit with a personal warning. The next student who asks me "I have scored 75% in 10th, 62% in 12th standard and 65% in undergraduation, what are my chances of getting into IIM-A?" risks serious physical injury.

To get into IIMA is incredibly difficult. Someone who has been mediocre throughout has even less chance than someone who has been exceptional so far. So, if you have a middling record, your chances are low. It is understandable that you think you are way more capable than what your past record suggests. It is also unlikely that IIMA will share this blinkered view. The simplest and most fool-proof way to bring them around is to get a good CAT score. So, work on that.

So, if your track record is sad, you should have a simple rule - Start waffling after getting a decent CAT score.

I had a rather unremarkable CGPA in my undergraduation. Unremarkable enough for me to fret about admissions into the IIMs. I felt so apologetic about this that I avoided mentioning this. I was so afraid of defending my poor record that I dreaded going to the interviews because of this. These days, students talk about a poor record as if they had nothing to do with it.

The poor marks in 10th standard and 12th standard are because you goofed off. Not because of anything else. Dont expect someone to say "You are good in spite of this". You might be. If you want the world  to believe it, prove it.

Dont sit around waiting for a great preparation plan, or worse, for inspiration.
Before you think about having a grand preparation plan that is a ten-step ride through to IIM-dom, actually consider some preparation. Print the following statement and stick it on your bedroom

"An hour of preparation is worth 12 hours of preparation planning". 

Too many students waffle about having a grand plan and start dreaming too early about going places. If half the time spent on early-stage planning were replaced with actual preparation, it would be brilliant. You should not require someone to say "There is a genius waiting inside you" to solve 25 questions in algebra.

And lastly, own your preparation.
Have a simple preparation plan, and execute this well. Do not outsource your preparation entirely. See where you stand periodically, and set ambitious targets for the amount of effort you put in. The result will follow (it always does).

I realize that I risk coming off as a cantankerous old man hankering after good-ol' times. If it were not already clear, we teachers do not really care that much about what students think of us. I think I speak for all teachers when I say "We are here to put hajaar fight for you. But as the old saying goes, one can only take the horse to the pond."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

CAT Interview Preparation - Economics: Inflation

We continue with the video series on Economics. In this particular video, we are going to learn about definition of Inflation, differences between CPI, WPI and GDP deflator. We will also touch upon which metrics central banks use for taking policy decisions.

Friday, January 16, 2015

CAT Interview Preparation: de-jargonising Economics - GDP

In this series of videos, we hope to simplify some ideas on key topics on Economics. The focus is to explain the terminology and lay down the framework for further reading. Note that we may have erred on the side of oversimplification on some of these ideas. So, kindly do more reading than this in order to get ready for the interviews. Since most of the interviews happen during budget season, these terms are "in the air", so be well prepared for them.

In this particular video, we are going to learn about definition of GDP, key components of GDP, difference between GDP and GNP, difference between real growth and nominal growth, meaning of purchasing power parity and other related terms.