CAT 2017 Topper Interview - Meet Aseem Garg, whose success story is an exemplar of the popular saying ‘It is never too late to begin’. If you are one of those who has decided to crack CAT 2018, but anxious if it is too late to start with CAT preparations, then this interview of CAT 2017 topper Aseem Garg, a student of IIM Calcutta, could help you in drafting your study plan.
Aseem took the decision to appear for the exam in the end of August 2017 when he was working with ISRO as a full-time employee. His overall preparation strategy, keeping in mind the time he was left with to prepare, was to focus on his weak areas at the start of the preparations and work on strong areas in the end. “People say there is no substitute for hard work and I completely agree with this with a little modification of making it Smart Hard Work. There were times when I felt that three months is too less a time to prepare for an exam like CAT which many people are trying for years. I had a belief that the exam is not so tough, if I can come up with the right strategy,” he says.
To further boost his preparation, Aseem enrolled for a reputed test series instead of coaching. He felt that he was equipped enough to crack CAT exam without any classes. Read on to know more about the CAT study material recommended by the topper, and section-wise preparation strategy which led him to secure an impressive 99.97 in CAT.
Excerpts from the interview:
Careers360: What was your CAT 2017 overall and sectional percentile?
Aseem: My overall CAT 2017 percentile was 99.97. My sectional scores are as follows:
Quantitative ability – 99.97
Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning – 99.73
Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension – 97.65.
Careers360: What was your preparation strategy? Please share section-wise strategy in detail.
Aseem: I took the decision in the end of August 2017 to write CAT exam which was scheduled for 26 November 2017. So, in all, I had roughly three months to prepare for the exam. I was also working with ISRO as a full-time employee during that time.
My overall preparation strategy, keeping in mind the time I had to prepare, was to focus on my weak areas at the start of the preparations. I wanted to focus on strengthening my strong areas in the end. I talked to my friends who cracked CAT last year to get to know their preparation strategy and tailor my own.
VARC – This section I knew was the weakest section for me and it became more evident after the
initial mock exams of the test series I joined for CAT preparation.
I started reading ‘Word Power Made Easy’ by Norman Lewis with the plan to finish that book in roughly 60 days with a target of 1session per day. I religiously followed the plan for one month but then stopped reading it as I found it less beneficial or we can say Return on Time Investment was low.
For the entire period of three months, I used to read two to three editorials/opinions every day from The Hindu, Livemint website and after reading used to think for some time whether I was able to
connect with the author and understand his viewpoint completely.
I solved two to three Reading comprehensions every day from different sources like Sectional tests
of Test Series, study materials, and books.
I gave two to three sectional tests of Verbal ability every day, as my whole strategy was to practice as much as I can for this section.
DILR – This section was a rollercoaster ride for me. I scored well in some of the tests and did not perform so well in some. Believe me, you will face a similar situation the actual CAT exam also. For the past few years, this section has been the toughest and the make or break section. I can’t stress enough on the importance of practice and analysis for this section in words.
I solved at least two to three sets of DILR every day and analyzed the solution provided by the
institutes to check if I could have solved this set in an efficient way.
The sets which are a part of CAT in the past few years are a mix of DI and LR, but I found
most of the books for this section focusing on either on DI or LR and fewer problem sets with a mix of two. So, ensure that you get enough exposure to such mixed problem sets. Enroll for any reputed test series where you will be exposed to plenty of them.
Don’t try to cram the logics or concepts for this section, understanding the logic and the best
method to solve a set is important.
QA – This section was the least worrisome for me in the initial days of my preparation but in the
middle of September, I spoke to one of my close friends (He is in IIM Bangalore) about it. He told me to maximise or aim for 100 percentile in QA as this is the section which will compensate for the less marks in VARC. I prepared a formula book of all the concepts and tricks for all the chapters of QA. I kept updating it with all the test series exams and this became my last-minute revision for all the concepts before the D-day.
I used to solve at least 30-40 questions every day of QA from past CAT papers, test series
sectional tests, book materials etc.
Careers360: How did you prepare – Self-study or Coaching? Please explain which one do you think is better?
Aseem: I enrolled for a reputed test series to have plenty of exams to prepare. I was not in favor of
coaching for basically two reasons-
1. I felt that I was equipped enough to crack CAT exam without any classes as after 1-2 mock
tests I realized I needed to practice and work on developing the exam strategy as I always
feel CAT is a more of a test of your strategy and time management as compared to
2. I was working during my prep time and if I would have joined coaching, there will be close
to 0 time left for self-study, which I feel is the most important thing to do while preparing.
Careers360: When did you start preparing for CAT?
Aseem: I had a total of three months to prepare for CAT 2017. I started preparing in the month of August 2017.
September 2017 – This month was focused on understanding my weak areas in all the sections,
developing strategy for each of them and chalk out a plan for the preparation. I focused mainly in
this month to get a feel of all the sections and focused on improving the weak areas.
October 2017 – This month was dedicated to giving as many mock CAT tests as possible and
analyse each one religiously. I believe that for a mock test of 3 hrs, one should at least spend 2 hrs
analysing it. I gave around 15-20 mock tests in this month, along with their analysis.
November 2017 – This month was focused more on strengthening my strong areas and re-analysing
some of the mock tests and giving mock tests on weekends.
Careers360: How did you balance your preparation with studies or job? Please share your time table.
Aseem: I was working in Chandigarh centre of ISRO. It was a five-day working office with timings like 9 AM to 5.30 PM.
I used to get up at 6 AM in the morning and used to spend one and half to two hours in the morning. After coming from office, I used to study for four hours approximately and then went to bed by 12 AM.
On weekends, I used to spend more time on preparation but did not follow a strict routine as such. I would sometimes even go and watch movies on some of the weekends.
Careers360: According to you, what is the most important aspect of preparation?
Aseem: People say there is no substitute for hard work and I completely agree with this with a little
modification of making it Smart Hard Work. There were times when I felt that three months is too less a time to prepare for an exam like CAT which many people are trying for years and even many people told me also that they don’t think I will be able to score well. I had a belief that the exam is not so tough, if I can come up with the right strategy. Also, my close friend had more confidence in me than myself.
I was persistent in the efforts which I put, and it resulted in such a confidence that was shown as I
came out of exam on D-day. I was sure I will get three consecutive 9’s starting from left!
Careers360: What are the best study materials for CAT or other exams?
Aseem: I am not fond of collecting study materials from many institutes or authors and not solving any of them religiously. I did not buy any material apart from a test series by a reputed institute. It
provided me with enough sectional tests, full tests etc. I went through Arun Sharma books for all the
three sections, but I feel all the concepts/logics/techniques required will be encountered if you give
the full-time tests of a test series and analyse the tests properly.
I used to read editorials/opinion columns/articles on ‘The Hindu’ and ‘Livemint’.
Careers360: When did you start taking mock test and what was the frequency? How did you get it analysed and integrate it in your preparation?
Aseem: I started taking mock tests in the month of September only as all my preparation was centred around giving mock tests and analysing them. Frequency increased in the month of October and continued till a week before CAT exam.
I used to analyse the mock tests in three slots, analysing one section in one time slot. I used to go
through each question again (whether I correctly marked it or not), check the solution provided and
analyse if I could have saved some time in solving the problem with other logic. (For detailed
description, check the answers written by Mr. Aviral or Mr. Prateek on Quora about analysing mock
tests). I used to keep track of my performance in mock tests in an excel sheet with section wise
details and overall exam details.
Careers360: How one with non-English background should prepare him/herself for the exam as the mode of the exam is only English?
Aseem: I would suggest that you can start by regularly reading newspapers and novels (written in simple language) and try to build your vocabulary by reading ‘Word Power Made Easy’ by Norman Lewis.
Careers360: What was your exam day strategy in terms of question selection, time management, accuracy and sectional attempts/cut-offs?
Aseem: People often talk about a trade off between accuracy and number of attempts. After several mock tests, I realised that guess work and increasing number of attempts always back fire. So, focus on accuracy and try to increase the number of attempts with accuracy as you move from one mock test to other.
VARC – I used to solve three RCs with six questions and one out the two RCs with three questions first. I would skim through Verbal questions and solve the last three RCs in last 10 minutes. For solving RC, I tried many strategies like reading the questions first then passage and so on. The one that worked best for me was skimming through the RC quickly, reading question and referring to RC again to find the answer.
DILR – I used to read all the sets first and used to solve those which I can relate to past sets which I solved in mock tests. The most important thing is to realise when to leave a set. There can be instances when you feel that you will be able to solve the set and have spent some 10-15 minutes on it but are not close enough to solve it. In that case, have courage to leave that set and move to other set. Don’t panic.
QA – I used to spend 35 minutes approximately to go through all the 34 questions. I used to solve
the easy ones which would take around a minute or so to solve. The questions which I would not be able to solve, I used to mark as moderate and tough. In next 25 minutes, I would work on the unsolved questions, keeping in mind not to spend more than three minutes per question.
Careers360: Preparing for CAT is a long and tiring process. How do you suggest one should keep his/her calm and confidence?
Aseem: For me it was not a long process. Tiring can’t comment. But I would suggest keeping the ultimate goal of why you want to do an MBA in the back of your mind and don’t get panicked or anxious from other person’s performance. Focus on and analyse your performance.
Careers360: What is your message for CAT 2018 aspirants?
Aseem: Don’t try to predict the difficulty of paper with the mindset that IIM-C is conducting this year so QA will be tough. All this is useless. Just focus on improving yourself every day and you will sail through it. Don’t make any section your favourite and hate one section. Try to bring all the sections at the same level of comfort. Give your best and don’t worry about the rest. CAT exam is not the end of the world.