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CATastrophe: 2004 A CAT Story


CAT 2004, with its new format and differently marked questions, threw a lot of MBA aspirants off guard. Vinay Prasad lived to tell the tale.

I graduated two years ago and have been working in a software firm ever since. Like most disgruntled ‘techies’, I decided to take the CAT with the inspiration that an MBA degree will get me an even fatter paycheck and a high-profile job.

Let’s zoom in to that fateful day of the CAT. I have done all the right things: I have actively prepared for the test for around 3-4 months. I have done time at a premier coaching centre. I have brushed up my fundamentals; and have under my belt Vedic mathematics, multiplication tables and squares till 30, educated guessing and elimination techniques, tricks on faster calculation and what not. I have also taken more than 15 mock-CATs and numerous sectional practice tests.

With such solid preparation, I am brimming with confidence. I receive the question paper and read through the instructions expecting 150 questions and 3 sections. The first bouncer – the paper has fewer questions, just 123. This makes things a little more challenging. But the second bouncer does not give me much time to duck. There are two sub-sections in each section, and questions carry 1-mark, 2-marks and even 1/2 marks. This paper is definitely a googly. I have to throw my much-practiced strategy out of the window and quickly devise a new one. I have 10 minutes before the paper starts. What should I do? Attempt the 1-mark questions first because they will definitely be easier? Or should I go for the 2-mark ones because they might include ‘sitters’? I don’t want to miss out any easy 2-mark questions. Even before the paper starts, the adrenalin rushes; a trickle of sweat runs down my forehead.

The bell rings, we are asked to start. I rush to my weakest section ‘Quants’ and start attempting the 1 mark questions. They aren’t as tough as I imagined, and after doing a couple, I jump to the 2 mark questions and surprisingly find them pretty easy too. 40 minutes and a good number of attempts later, my confidence is back; self-doubt is not even on the horizon. I move on to my strength ‘DI’. This section is a ‘googly’ alright. The questions do not require complex calculations where my ability to multiply 24 into 23 in 0.15 seconds can help me. They require more of analysis.

Some sets are really wicked. I can’t solve any of the 2-mark questions. I am lost. I get stuck and waste too much time on sets I can’t comprehend at all. Mr. ‘Self-doubt’ has pushed me into a corner and has a firm grip on my throat. By the time I reach the neutral section ‘Verbal’, I am a mess. This section is pretty tough too. I struggle a lot more because I am worried about my attempts in the previous section. Will I clear the ‘DI’ cut-off? Maybe I should give it 5 minutes more at the end just to be safe. Maybe everyone is finding it tough. I waste a couple of seconds counting the number of attempts I’ve made.

When the time’s up, I know I have lost. I am crushed, defeated by the devious paper-setters, those evil strategists who want to bifurcate the ‘haves’ from the ‘have-nots’ to select the cream of the Indian talent pool. This gets me thinking and a question rages in my head: “What is the difference between those who crack the CAT, and those who do not??” Is it hours of dedicated preparation? Is it strategy? Is it luck? Genes? Is it just fate – ‘that you are at your best on that fateful day and everything goes just right?’ According to me, CAT is just a ‘mental game’. The tougher you are, the better your chances of coming out a winner. It’s more about your frame of mind, your ability to take quick, correct decisions, your emotional stability, and the ability to not bow down under extreme pressure to perform. That is the profile of students the IIMs look for as future managers, and if you want to be studying at the IIMs that is what you have to be.

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