CAT 2016 Topper Interview: Prepare test taking strategy and stick by the plan, says 99.42 percentiler Sreenath S. Nair


A first year PGDM 2017-19 batch Marketing Management student at SP Jain Institute of Management Management and Research (SPJIMR), Sreenath S. Nair not only is an academic genius but also a dutiful citizen as he runs his own NGO named INSPIRE at such a young age. In an interview to Careers360, Sreenath gives an insight into his preparatory schedule and exam strategy that helped him ace the exam with flying colours. He firmly believes in his credo of consistent effort with keeping a mental self-calm as the mantras for his success in CAT.

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Read the full interview below:               


Careers360: Congratulations on your admission to SPJIMR. What was your overall and sectional score in CAT 2016? Did you appear for any other entrance or competitive exam? If so, please share the score for the same.

Sreenath: My overall CAT score is 99.42 percentile (VARC- 94.11, DILR- 99.32, QA- 99.12). I also took XAT exam where I secured 98.53 percentile.


Careers360: Which was the most challenging and easiest section in the test?

Sreenath: The most challenging section I had to endure in CAT was the Verbal and Reading Comprehension (VARC) section. Although, the answers to the various problems may be simple, coming down to the right choices amongst the various options took some practice to get used to. Reading the newspapers and various blog articles on a daily basis helped me a great deal to overcome the issues I had faced with the comprehension part. However, the easiest section in the test was the Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR) section as I did not have to rely heavily on techniques and methods but, on figuring out the right logical solution to the given problem or scenario, which came naturally to me to a great extent.


Careers360: How were your preparatory days like? Did you manage to balance your professional life and entrance preparation time well?

Sreenath: While I wrote the CAT 2016, I was working simultaneously with my own NGO called Inspire. Managing time initially was really hard as CAT demanded a regular and consistent commitment rather than putting in a whole lot of hours at once. As the months went by, I had managed to devote two to three hours every day for the CAT preparation. I continued to practice consistently all the way till the final date of the exam.


Careers360: Did you join any coaching institute? Do you think coaching is necessary for aspirants to bag the top rank?

Sreenath: I was a student at T.I.M.E. Trivandrum centre. I do not believe that regular coaching by going to classes is very important, however, the mock exams and their analysis I undertook there played a crucial role in helping me scrutinise my mistakes and manage the three hours time more efficiently than what I used to do prior to the coaching. Attending the coaching classes, nevertheless, did help me in a small way by giving me the required direction as to how to prepare for the exam and also gave me an idea as to what type of questions I can expect in the final exam.


Careers360: Please share your specific section wise strategy for VARC, DI & LR and QA.

Sreenath: My section wise strategy for the CAT exam is as follows:-

VA Strategy-  The VA section was where I had faced the most trouble while preparing for CAT. My grammar and vocabulary skills were not up to the mark as compared to most of my peers. So, I knew right from the beginning that I had to put in a lot of effort in order to match up to the standards of the ones appearing for the exam.

  • One strategy that I had stuck with right from the beginning till the end was reading newspaper editorials and various blogs on the internet for about two to four hours every day.

  • I used to work regularly on various reading comprehension and grammar exercises from various study materials.

  • Apart from these, I used to regularly take various time-bound tests provided by T.I.M.E in order to keep a track of the pace at which I was solving problems.

DILR Strategy- Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning was the section I took to right from the beginning, hence, I made it my strong section. My primary motive was to maximise this section’s score in CAT. According to me, the only way to ace this section is to work on it and be familiar with as many models you can find in any study materials both online and offline so that it is much easier to relate to any model during the final exam. Once you have made yourself familiar with all the models, the main task then is to make sure that you are able to solve the problems within the stipulated time and the only way to do that is by practicing through the time bound tests, which my coaching centre had provided me with.


QA Strategy- QA section was the one that required the most practice in terms of number of hours needed to be put into studying various types of problems. The quantitative problems are never hard to solve, you can solve all the problems provided you have unlimited time, hence, the main challenge is trying to solve the maximum number of problems within the given period of time.


The first challenge for me was to try and understand the multitude of concepts embedded in various questions that can be asked in the CAT exam. This is where my coaching centre had come into play. The material provided by the centre covered almost all the topics with a framework to work on them. I had divided the initial few months of my preparation solely to try and understand various concepts and figure out the way to solve various types of questions in each topic.


Once I got familiar with all the concepts, it was all about trying to come up with various shortcuts to solve the problems in as little time as possible. For this, I had received help from various online sources as well as my coaching centre. Along with this, solving as many questions of each type as possible made the concepts and their shortcuts thorough and clearer.


Careers360: How did you tackle the challenging sections and topics?

Sreenath: When it comes to the challenging topics in QA, the only way to learn them is by practising as many questions as possible. By solving multiple variants of the same questions, I was able to overcome a major part of the sections. CAT gives you a wide range of topics to study from. Choosing your strengths and more importantly figuring out your weaknesses was one of the key factors that helped me get better in the QA section.

Similarly, in the VARC section, one problem I constantly endured was in the grammar and the vocabulary part of it. Going back to basics and figuring out the areas where I was going wrong helped me correct my mistakes, although it took a long time for the concepts of grammar to get registered. Regarding vocabulary, I used to keep a track of all the new words I learnt, be it from newspapers, blogs or magazines. This habit helped me register more words in my mind.


Careers360: Mention section wise books and study materials you referred to.

Sreenath: Below mentioned is the section wise list of books and study materials I referred to:-


  • The Hindu (Editorial and Open page)

  • Word Power Made Easy – Norman Lewis

  • Arihant – Mastering Verbal Ability for CAT

  • Material provided by T.I.M.E.

  • Previous CAT question papers.


  • Material provided by T.I.M.E.


  • Previous CAT question papers


  • Quantum CAT- Sarvesh K Verma

  • R D Sharma – Mathematics texts class 8,9,10

  • Material provided by T.I.M.E.

  • Previous CAT question papers.

Careers360: What is the significance of mock tests in your success? When did you start taking mock tests and what was the frequency?

Sreenath: Mock exam is one of the most important factors for any candidate aspiring to crack CAT. No matter how much effort you put into your individual section wise studies, unless you are able to perform according to the time constraint, you will not be able to ace the exam. The mock exams do an amazing job in replicating the scenario of the actual exams. Hence, taking as many mock exams as possible helps you stay mentally prepared for the actual exam.


I started taking the mock exams as early as July 2016, roughly five months prior to the CAT exam. The mock tests were a huge eye opener for me as I had no idea regarding the exam pattern as well as how to go about the final examination. Initially, I used to take around three to four mock exams per month and as the date for the final exam drew closer, I increased the frequency to seven to eight mock exams a month. Taking as many mock tests as possible and analysing them gives the aspirants an upper edge over all the other candidates appearing for the exam.


Careers360: How did you get the mock tests analyzed and how did you modify your strategy accordingly?

Sreenath: I attempted the mock exams provided to me by T.I.M.E. and the detailed results of the tests were also provided to me by the centre. This had given me enough information to work upon regarding the analysis of the mock exams. More importantly, I would spend anywhere between three to five hours on the analysis of the mock exams, even longer than it actually took to write the exams. I would go about it by trying to solve all the questions given in the mock paper, both the attended and the unattended ones. Once, I was done with the solutions, I would cross check it with the answers provided by the institute and then try to come up with a shortcut method to solve the problem. Comparing the answers to the questions I got during the exams with the actual solution helped me a lot to optimise the time in order to solve the maximum possible question in the actual exam.


Careers360: What was your time management strategy for section wise preparation vis a vis the exam day?

Sreenath: Given below is my section wise strategy:-


VARC- Initially, I faced a lot of problems regarding finishing at least half of the section in stipulated time period. My reading speed was not up to the mark and I was also not able to comprehend the passages well, so, I had to keep going back to the passages in order to narrow down the choices. However, I increased my reading speed through regular practice and started completing all the reading comprehension on time. But, even then I did not get enough time to complete all the grammar and vocabulary questions. So, I decided not to try and complete all the questions, instead, I decided to complete as many reading comprehension as possible first and then if any time was left, I would move on to the grammar questions and eventually attempt the vocabulary section which was my weakest section of the lot.


DILR - DILR was my strong side and I knew that I had to make up in this section for the marks I had lost in the previous one. My approach was simple, go through all the questions in the first five minutes, gauge the difficulty of each question and then start working on the easiest questions first in both DI and LR sections combined. By doing so, I was able to maximise the marks in this section without actually spending much time on thinking how to go about a difficult question. This strategy worked for me during the final CAT exam as well.


QA – Regarding my QA strategy, it was a little different as I wanted to go through the entire section thrice, wherein, I would attempt a different level of difficulty of question in each round of the section. I did it so that I would waste minimum time initially on any difficult question. In my first round, I answered all the questions which required less than a minute to answer, such as direct substitution type questions. In the second round, I attempted the moderate level difficulty questions and gave an upper cap of one to two minutes per question. If I was not able to solve the question within that time frame, I left the question and moved ahead. In the final round, I took a look at the difficult questions along with the unsolved medium level difficult questions.


Careers360: How did you utilise the features like calculator and non-MCQs in CAT?

Sreenath: I seldom used the calculator while preparing for CAT as well as for the final exam, as a lot of my time was being wasted trying to operate the calculator. Instead, I learnt the basic multiplication table and division techniques for a large set of numbers which made the calculation part pretty simplified. I avoided the non-MCQ questions in VA because it was my weakest section and I took a lot of time to come to the conclusion as the answers were always very subtle. Whereas, in DILR and QA section, I did not pay heed to the MCQ and non-MCQ types because I had gone about the questions depending on the difficulty of the exam.


Careers360: Would you like to share any suggestions with the CAT aspirants?


  • Consistent effort till the day before the exam

  • Learn to keep your mental self-calm and composed regardless of the level of difficulty of the paper.

  • Come up with strategies before entering the exam hall and stick to your strategy no matter what.

  • The analysis of the mock exams is more important than the mock exams themselves.

  • Come up with a proper plan of action as to how you plan to go about studying for the CAT exam.

Finally, good luck to every CAT 2017 aspirants.


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First Published On : 21 Sep 2017 11:33 AM IST

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