Majority of CAT aspirants are either college students or recent graduates with one-two years of work experience. Since the exam isn’t as knowledge-intensive as others like UPSC or JEE, most aspirants prepare for it alongside their college or work, as the case may be. This makes sense, especially if you have more than four-five months at hand. The trick then is to be able to balance the requirements of CAT preparation with the obligations at your college or workplace.
Chalk out a plan
A good way to plan your CAT preparation from now till November end, when the CAT is typically scheduled, is to see it as 45-week time period, and have a weekly schedule in place. It should allow you to balance your CAT preparation with your other engagements.
One must understand that CAT is more a test of skill than knowledge. The skills that one needs to develop are how you think about problems, simplify them, make use of options by either selecting the right one or eliminating the wrong ones and get to the right answer in as less time as possible.
Even when it comes to other skills like painting, acting, sports or music, you only get better with regular practice and not with sporadic bursts of effort. Two hours a day would take you farther than 14 hours dedicated to studies in one single day of the week. You can study regularly alongside your college or job.
Know your strengths
A thorough CAT preparation would require around 800-1,000 hours of time investment, depending upon when you start, your strengths and weaknesses. Usually, one-third of this is spent inside the coaching classes. There you will learn various topics, cover syllabus and use of shortcuts. You will also develop lateral thinking and learn test-taking and strategic inputs to maximise scores. At the same time, you must ensure that you make the best use of the remaining two-thirds of the time on your own.
For this time that is roughly around 600-650 hours, it is imperative that you have:
1. A weekly plan that ensures the discipline that skill-building needs.
2. A knowledge of your stronger and weaker areas that ensures optimum investment of time.
Add self study to coaching
Assuming that you are engaged with a formal coaching for two days a week, which for most regular college students and working professionals might be the weekend, you essentially need to plan for the remaining five days for two hours a day.
For the first few months of your preparation, this time should ideally be invested in getting basics right in various topics. This will prove invaluable later when you practice mock CATs and also when you actually appear for the CAT, because it allows you to select questions or leave them as per your strengths and weaknesses.
The right start
In the initial stages of your preparation, you could look to devote 90 minutes to VARC (verbal ability and reading comprehension, which is basically English), DILR (data interpretation & logical reasoning, which tests your logical ability and ability to infer from data) and QA (quantitative ability, which revolves around mathematical concepts) in rotation on fixed days of the week.
The remaining 30 minutes daily should ideally be devoted to the areas such as reading, listening, watching, writing and speaking. Language as a skill proves invaluable not only during the written test i.e. the CAT, but also during interviews, written-ability test and group discussions that form the final step in the selection to various top MBA colleges.
Reading from as diverse sources as possible regularly improves performance in reading comprehension portion at the CAT, which has been the single biggest component of CAT, with 24 questions out of a total of 100, over the past several years. A day of the week should be devoted to the weakest areas of VARC, DILR and QA. Weakest areas allow for the maximum scope of improvement.
A break is important
Day-seven should ideally be the rest day – that allows you to take a break and re-energise. A good performance in CAT requires you to be fresh in your mind rather than being exhausted and jaded by the time the CAT arrives.
Change the strategy when required
Your plan will need to change once you start getting closer to the CAT, with more focus needed on mock-CATs, analysis and temperament. But remember, a beautiful building wouldn’t last long without a solid foundation. That is exactly what you need to focus on right now — maintaining the right pace and peaking at the right time. And while you are at it, don’t forget to enjoy the process.
—The writer is founder MBAGuru