Prateek Bajpai cracked CAT 2015 in his first attempt by scoring a perfect 100 percentile. Though most candidates join MBA coaching classes for preparation, Bajpai did it all on his own while working in Algeria. At present, he is pursuing PGDM from the prestigious IIM-Ahmedabad. He tells us how he prepared for the exam with the help of online content and reveals his exam strategy:
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Tell us a little about your academic background.
I did my schooling from Indore and B Tech in civil engineering from NIT, Trichy. I would consider myself an above average student. I was quite active in sports too.
Did you always wanted to do MBA?
No, I didn’t plan to go for MBA during my under-graduation. After completing B Tech in civil engineering, I took up a role as a civil engineer in Shapoorji Pallonji Group and worked with them first in Chhattisgarh and then in Algeria, North Africa, but in a year or so, I felt that a post-graduation is essential considering long-term career prospects. That’s when I decided to go for an MBA due to my underlying interests and capabilities/skills.
Which MBA course are you pursuing and was is it the same course that you were targeting since the beginning?
I am pursuing PGDM from IIM Ahmedabad and it is a dream for almost every MBA aspirant in India. I was not targeting IIM Ahmedabad. I just tried to do well and make it to a decent B-School. Getting into this institute is like a cherry on the top.
People have certain myths that CAT is extremely tough, especially because of maths. What would you like to say about this?
It is not tough because of the difficulty level of questions but because of the competition that a person faces in CAT. Given enough time, all the questions are solvable by most of the people but to do it within the stipulated time is the real challenge. Maths is certainly a bit challenging for those with non-maths background but with decent practice, anyone can crack it easily.
Did you take coaching?
No, I didn’t. I was working in Algeria and I started my preparation there only. Forget coaching, I didn’t even have any books with me to study from. Most of my preparation came from various content available online and mock tests.
How much your B Tech degree helped you in preparation?
I don’t think B Tech degree will help any person in cracking CAT. Maths certainly helps but knowledge of engineering, be in Civil/Mechanical/C.S etc would not be of any help as it is not at all relevant.
What was your exam strategy?
My exam strategy was to rely on my speed and I ended up attempting all 100 questions in CAT. Also, DI/LR was my strength so I wanted to do really good in that. During the exam, I was extremely calm and composed due to the amount of practice I did beforehand and I think that helped me the most in doing well in the actual exam.
How did you manage to balance between work and preparation?
It was all about discipline. As this was my first CAT attempt and I didn’t have anything specific to study from, the preparation was even more challenging. I made sure on a daily basis to study for two-three hours and on Friday (weekend in Algeria), six-eight hours. I utilised even the travel time to office for some meaningful activity like revising formulae etc. The biggest challenge was my work itself as I was on-field construction engineer which iwas quite physically taxing. However, being‘discipline’ did the trick for me.
You seems to have an interest in smartphones? Do you see a full-fledged career in it?
Yes, I enjoy following the industry and particularly, recommending people which one to buy. I even write a blog about smartphones which is not that active currently owing to the hectic MBA life. A full-fledged career in the smartphone industry, I would love that, particularly a sales and marketing role. However, I am not restricting myself to just that as of now. In the long run, who knows, maybe.
How did you unwind?
During CAT preparation, I was in Algeria. The people there, the beaches, the experience etc. was more than enough to keep me refreshed. One thing I enjoyed a lot was swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.
What advice will you like to give to aspiring students on the CAT preparation?
1) Always solve questions by setting a time limit. This way, you can develop the art of leaving questions which is very important for doing well in a speed based exams such as CAT.
2) Maintain a thick notebook with all the QA formulas and keep updating it with every mock/sectional test you give. Revise it once every 15-20 days. By October, these formulae should become an extension of your mind. Recalling them instantaneously during mocks/CAT is important. You can utilise travel time to office or other free time for revising this like I did.
3) Mental calculations are very important. Make these calculations a habit and a part of your life. Trust me, it will help you in more ways than you can imagine even long after CAT is over.
4) For VA/RC, instead of investing time in novels/newspapers, invest that same amount of time in solving RC passages on various themes and topics (with a time limit of course). This way, you will practice a lot of reading as well as also practice spotting answers for questions.
5) Mock tests are the single most important step in your CAT preparation. It prepares you for the final battle by simulating the same. Start giving mock test if you haven’t already and analyse it properly afterwards.
6) Once you start writing mocks, maintain an excel sheet to keep track of questions in VA and QA topic-wise. After every mock, during analysis, just fill this excel sheet. After 10-15 mocks, you’ll be very clear about which topic you are attempting less, where your accuracy is pathetic etc. It will help you much more than you realise. When you’ll be finalising a strategy for the final exam, this data will help you in deciding how to approach the paper. It definitely helped me a lot.
7) Do not try to do too many things. Keep it simple. Don’t ask for too many suggestions. Talk to a few good people, make a good plan that you feel will work for you and just do it.
8) Do not get affected by a change in pattern or any other changes. Take it as a challenge and as an opportunity to develop yourself as per the need. Remember that this change is for everyone, not just you.
9) Develop a balanced performance across all three sections. This is very important. Devote more time to your weak areas and work on it until you are good at that too.
10) Keep calm. Develop this skill with every mock you write. This way, you will not get all tensed up during CAT and will be able to perform to your full potential. You will be able to take CAT just like another mock test.
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