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

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CAT Online preparation - Can 99.5 percentile assure a call from IIMs A B or C?

Beginning of a series of  "Answers to Frequently asked Questions"

We found a lot of questions that bug most of CAT aspirants, which are unanswered. So we decided to take up a few, and give them answers straight off the bat! Nothing catchy, no deceptive words, no jargon. As simple as that.

Here is the question that's discussed in this extremely lucid, less than 2 minute video: "X scored 99.5 percentile in CAT, but did not receive calls from IIMs A, B or C. Why?"

Rajesh explains how a 99.5 percentile does not guarantee a call from IIMs A,B or C.

Best online course available for CAT - online.2iim.com to thrust your CAT preparation and scores as well! 

The truth about Mock CATs and percentiles

Whenever you take a mock CAT offered by any provider and see a percentile score, you should bear in mind that most of these percentile numbers are from 'look-up tables'.

In the first decade of this millennium, mock CATs had a good run. Back in 2000/01, you could announce an All-India mock CAT series and expect to fill large colleges across cities with eager students trying to figure out where they would 'rank'. However, 2009 marked a turning point in proceedings. The number of people taking the exam started declining, the number of people preparing seriously also fell. This also coincided with the exam going online with the tests being conducted across a 'testing window'.

The exam providers have tried gamely to keep pace. They have all devised online mock CAT series that can be taken anywhere and at any place, while also offering 'proctored exams' for the more serious-minded souls. All the percentile numbers run of the data collected from proctored exams. Now, the proctored exam suffers from two serious issues - 1) Sample size and 2) Representativeness. Far far fewer students take proctored mock exams than the numbers that used to take the All-India mocks of yore. And these far fewer ones that take it are the ones that are ultra serious about CAT. So, instead of having a database of 20,000 students across the spectrum, we are probably dealing with a sample size of 2000 very serious candidates. The look-up tables are supposedly based on the scores in the 'proctored' exams, but they have to be 'adjusted' a little to account for the sampling bias.

So, effectively we have guesstimates of numbers for various percentiles. This word guesstimate is a classic MBA word. It is a combination of guess and estimate, both of which standalone leave you with a feeling that some arbitrariness is involved. "Guesstimate" however fills one with confidence and leaves one with the joyful feeling that one's percentile is in good hands. The guesstimation process probably follows some strand of what is seen below.

So, where does this leave us?

Dont sweat the exact percentile numbers too much. Take the mock CATs seriously so as to learn based on them. And keep in mind that the term All-India Percentile is very similar to World series baseball.

Pick the mock CAT series that is most representative of the actual CAT. By this I mean how close is it to the actual exam. Take a free mock test and make your judgement. "How many people take the mock exam?" is an irrelevant question these days. The big providers will tell you that 20,000 people take their mock CATs. They might not be interested in telling you that only about 10% of these took it in proctored settings from which they made hajaar adjustments to arrive at a look-up table.

In any case, all these inputs are for the second mock CAT series that you should be thinking about. Anyone preparing for CAT should definitely take the test series provided by 2IIM. :)

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."