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Expert Insight: Focus on 'controlling the controllable' thro

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As far as CAT and the selection to the IIMs is concerned, there are a bunch of issues on which students expect more certainty than is available -

1. If I score 99.6th percentile, will I get a call from the top IIMs, given my academic record? (or some version of this).

The accurate short answer for this – “I do not know”. Based on past cut-off trends, the scores they give for 10th standard, 12th standard and under-graduation scores, we might be able to hypothesize which IIMs one is more likely to get a call from for a given CAT score. But we can do little better than that. More importantly, the answer to this question does not (should not) make the slightest difference to your preparation. Think about this, suppose some expert says “with your record, a 99.5 should get a call from all the IIMs”. Are you likely to leave a couple of questions in each section to ensure that you do not end up scoring more than 99.8th percentile?

Very often, fixating on this question before CAT leads to under-performance in CAT. Specifically, two types of errors creep in – i) I can any way not get into the best IIMs because of skeleton X in my cupboard. May be I need 2 more years of experience in order to crack this process. Or ii) I need to get 0.5 percentile more than anyone else, so I need to attempt more questions. The former leads to a defeatist attitude, the latter to one that makes you attempt the ‘wrong’ questions.

2. CAT follows a normalization process for getting to the final score. Does this mean I am better of attempting the tougher questions?:  Do not bother with the normalization process. Questions you consider tough may be benchmarked easy and vice versa. The team conducting CAT has conveyed that questions carry marks based on levels of difficulty, but we do not know what the exact process is. As it is, students need to worry about ‘n’ different things in an exam hall; this is one you can live without

3. This is my favorite irritating question - If I start now and prepare well, will I definitely make it to one of the top colleges?: This is similar to hypothetical questions we generally come across on Indian news channels. Students can start in August and crack CAT with a disciplined preparation plan. This is not a genius-testing exam. This is a simple aptitude tester. The best colleges prepare you to deal with uncertainty well. Take the testing process as a starting point for that. The IIMs are far more transparent now with their process than ever before in their history. But that does not mean you can predict everything before-hand.

Control the controllable elements: Although this may sound like a cliché pouted by some self-help guru, it is a powerful mantra for simplifying your preparation plan. What kind of paper would suit me best? Should I take the test in the early part of the window, or is the later part better? Should I take it over the weekend or weekday? Should I attempt at least 17 questions in each section?  All these questions are about as relevant as “Should I wear red T-shirt to the exam” (At least this could have some psychological impact if red were your favorite color). Forget these distractions.

As the saying goes, don’t die wondering. The more irrelevant questions your mind ponders, the less bandwidth it has to for the relevant ones.

Author of this article, Mr. Rajesh Balasubramanian, an IIT, IIM alumnus, & 2011, 2012 CAT Topper and the author of CAT books published by ‘Access Publishing India’, guides CAT Aspirants through a series of expert articles on

In his previous articles, he guides on

a 3-step process that you must go through for each topic in Quant section,

Striking balance between speed and accuracy in mock CAT papers&       

What do the 99th percentilers do differently?

Stay tuned to for more CAT prep features form Top CAT experts.

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