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  • Writer's pictureSimran Somani

From “Hopeless at quant” to IIM-Ahmedabad - My CAT 2019 journey

Updated: May 29, 2020


Welcome to my first (of many more) blog post!

At the offset, I want to thank everyone who has been reaching out to me with warm messages and good wishes! Getting into the fabled IIM-Ahmedabad has been a dream come true and your kind words have made it all the more special! It truly means a lot to me to read such positive comments.

As promised to myself and many others, I have penned down my CAT 2019 preparation.

The what worked and what didn't. This is going to a long one, guys, so brace yourself!

Stick it out till the end of this post cause I do believe that you will leave with a little more clarity than you came with.

Maybe count this as your reading practice for VARC for the day? :)

A little background about me:

I am a Chartered Accountant (May 2018) and did my undergrad (B.Com Accounts & Finance) from IGNOU through the distance education medium.

Class X – 10 CGPA (CBSE)

Class XII – 97% (Commerce CBSE)

Under-graduation 66% (IGNOU takes the CA CPT + IPCC percentage)

CAT – 97.41%ile.

General Category

I did 3 years of article-ship from PwC India in Statutory Audit. Post qualifying, I worked with Nestlé India in the Internal Audit and Process Improvement team.

Read my IIM-A interview experience here.

My CAT journey:

I had dreamt of being in IIM-A since high school. In-fact, I had written an email to the IIM-A admissions office, when I was in Class XII, asking whether doing my under-graduation through distance education would render me unqualified for the PGP programme!

Fast forwarding to 2019, I resigned from Nestlé in August and decided to prepare for CAT full time. While quitting did work for me in the end, it’s definitely something you may have to justify during the interview stage and I would recommend some serious evaluation before you take that step.

The general perception about non-engineers is that they struggle with Quant more so than with VARC. Although we have an increasing number of people that are busting that assumption, I was definitely one of those non-engineers who could not hack it at the Quant section. So if you are in a similar situation, or just wondering how to up your percentile game, please read on!

Why is this an entire blog website & not just an article?

When I was preparing for the CAT and the subsequent interview process, I felt so alone in the journey!

I had very few people to guide me (Very thankful to the ones who did) & the internet in all it's vastness did not answer a lot of my questions.

I promised myself that once I get through this period, it will be time to give back to community of CAs, lawyers, economics & other commerce graduates who probably relate to this feeling all too well.

So, I will be using this space to pass on all that I (and many others) have learnt in hindsight to give you that extra edge in this process! :)

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My CAT preparation:

I did not join any coaching classes and also did not invest in a self-preparation guide. I bought the Handa Ka Funda course, which has all the CAT questions from 2003 solved on video, along with basic concept explanations for all 3 sections.

I also enrolled for IMS mocks (SIMCATS) and gave a couple of all India Career Launcher mocks.

Do I think this approach is for everyone? NO.

I was already very comfortable in the VARC section and decent in LRDI. Quant was my nemesis.

If you have the time/you feel like you are not ready to battle this without a support group, you should surely join class/seek help through books, etc.

But going on this journey completely on my own has definitely taught me a couple of lessons along the way that I think would help you all!

Understanding how the CAT works:

For the uninitiated, CAT is divided into 3 parts:

Each section is 1 hour long and follows in the above order. After a section is complete, the software jumps to the next one. A timer is available on the top right corner (and so is a calculator). While you cannot switch between sections, you may solve questions within each section in any order you see fit.

Coming to the scoring pattern itself, each question gives you 3 marks and a wrong answer fetches you a -1. It’s that simple! There are a few TITA (Type in the answer) questions in the mix as well. These have no options and no negative marking either.

How much do you need to score 99%ile?

Now that’s not so simple. Depending on the difficulty of the paper, this number could vary. That said, it’s generally around 155-162 marks. Just slightly above 50% in the paper!

The one thing which makes or breaks a CAT score is strategy. So before we look at each section, I’d like to get to some key points (or tips or tricks or नुस्खे) right off the bat:

1. There is absolutely no shortcut to hard-work and consistent preparation. Cue Po’s dad talking about noodles. There really is no secret ingredient.

It’s all Practice + Practice some more.

But not all work needs to be hard! Let’s look at some smart work tricks.

2. Sign up for mocks! These are undoubtedly the best way to assess yourself. Not only do you get used to the exam pattern and the experience of sitting for 3 hours straight, you also get to compare your scores with thousands of other aspirants. I used the mocks offered by IMS, and a couple of All India Career Launcher mocks. I've heard good reviews for TIME’s AIMCAT series as well.

Hint: If you’re unable to spend 3 hours at a stretch, try giving sectionals of one hour each. But timing your attempts are very very important, because CAT is a Speed + Accuracy game!

3. Only a handful of people will be good at all three sections of the CAT and that’s okay. Even the Quant 100%iler might have only 91%ile in VARC.

So, you need to identify your CAT matrix:

If you find yourself unable to assign these categories right in the beginning, don’t worry! It takes time to seek out your strengths (and target your weaknesses).

The simple formula is if you spend, say ‘n’ number of hours on VARC/LRDI/Quant each, which one of it will reap the maximum push in your score? I am going to refer to this as the “Least Input – Greatest Output” (LIGO) method from now.

In decreasing order of preference, that answer will be your Section 1, 2 and 3.

This approach will drastically improve your focused target areas and help you prioritize.

My matrix was as follows:

To make the post more lucid, I have broken down how to go about each section below:


After this post, we received several queries on CAT in general & what resources to use.

Check out the articles on both:

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