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CAT got your tongue?

Competitive exams are always fraught with risk. There is the risk of not scoring good marks and therefore, disappointing your parents. There is the risk of scoring good marks but not making it to a top college and therefore, disappointing your parents. There is the risk of scoring good marks, getting into a top college but knowing that two to four tough years of slogging lie ahead and therefore, disappointing yourself. Yet, despite all these perilous threats, thousands of students appear for these exams annually; a collective populace of headstrong youth fighting for the chance to make it to the top.

The Common Admission Test hosted graciously by the Indian Institutes of Management gives scores of eager, young, would-be CEOs the opportunity to put their mental health at jeopardy. So, year after year copious note-taking and several mock tests marks the arrival of ‘the decider’. I recall taking the much feared examination in 2003.This was the year the paper ‘leaked’ causing already anxious students even more heartache. The masses were up in arms. CAT-gate made it to the front page of the papers. The scandal rivaled those involving fodder and weapons. Talk was cheap and when one asked whether the CAT had been belled, one couldn’t answer because the bell had been stolen and some kids who didn’t want to study had it.

Then, in 2004, another googly was thrown. The marking system changed, so hundreds of brainy engineers with a lot of math and a little of English were left, literally, guessing. The result was further anxiety and even more pressure to perform. One could compare the progression of tension to that of a particularly stereotypical ‘Robert’ Hindi movie scene. Our hero is being sunk slowly into a tank of liquid oxygen (“Liquid usko jeene nahin dega, oxygen usko marne nahin dega”) with the only hope of escape being his own cunning. The cunning here being months of careful preparation and copious note-taking.

Eventually, cracking the CAT is all about preparation. And I don’t mean carrying two pencils to the examination hall. CAT preparation begins months before the exam itself. Ideally, the best way is to start with a time table. This time table is one that needs to be stuck to, unlike the ones made to satisfy New Year’s resolutions. However, quite often these time tables are very optimistic. My time table charted out eleven strict hours of study a day. The first day, I managed to complete three hours, with mini-breaks totaling 60 minutes in between. The remainder of the time was mostly spent finding pencils, sharpening pencils and getting rid of the sharpened flakes of pencils. So it’s always a good idea being a little realistic with what goals you want to achieve when you’re getting your timetable down.

It’s also a good idea to set targets for yourself. Say, by month X, I would have completed everything I need to know about mathematics. Ideally though, the targets should be shorter and time bound. For example, by the fourth of September, I need to have completed trigonometry. That’s a little more realistic and can be spiced up as follows. By the third day of the fourth India-Australia test match, I need to have completed trigonometry. This helps and by the time Harbhajan had historically destroyed the Aussie batting line-up at Kolkata I knew my sin from my cos.

The next thing you need in your quest for total CAT domination through preparation is the perseverance to stick to your task. You need to attend all the lectures of your coaching classes, all the mock tests and all the post-test tension sessions. It has to be done. One looking to crack the test must keep at it much like Po in the second half of the film Kung Fu Panda. Take something that motivates you and make that your reward for being consistent. When I would complete a mock test with at least 75% of the answers right, I would reward myself with a Kit Kat Chunky bar. In fact, if not for my continued patronage and loyal test taking, Kit Kat Chunky’s summer 2003 profits would have not looked so great.

And then, before you know it, November has arrived in all its wintery glory. The shivers of the cold pale in comparison to the tremble of a young heart five minutes away from the bell that signals the beginning of the test that could change his/her life. The tension begins on the morning of the test. Shoe laces become harder to tie, toothpaste becomes harder to squeeze, tight jeans become tighter to, er, fit in. Then there’s the travel to the test center. Best of luck text messages come flying in from all corners of the globe depending on how extended your family is. Some of these messages have little SMSey graphics in them like a thumbs up, or a rose; unfortunately none of these are quick fix solutions to CAT problems. A message that said “Tick C for all maths problems that have a diagram in them” would be a much bigger help than a smiley face and a “God bless beta.”

Finally, the test is over and if you thought life would be back to normal, you obviously thought wrong. Other institutes have their own tests and fretting about them is just about to begin. But you’ll feel much better now; you’re a bonafide risk-taker!

Note: For an easier way to get through the CAT and other admission tests without the tension and anxiety, head to CPLC for the best advice on how to crack B-school admissions. Fortnightly in JAM, same time, same channel.

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