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Shakti Sen Singh: My Tryst with CAT

It is funny how many people suddenly remember you when you get admission into IIM Cal. The constant stream of congratulations tends to get a bit tedious and the conversation is inevitably repetitive:

“How does it feel to be in IIM C man?” --------“Feels Great”

“So how did you manage to crack IIM C anyway, what’s your secret?” ---- “Oh, I just got lucky”

Yea right! As if luck has anything to do with it. But well, I wouldn’t just regale all and sundry with the tale of my epic journey? But share it, I must. This then, is the story of how an average frustrated engineering student made it into IIM C.

Engineering Blues
I feel I was born to be a back-bencher. Or was it engineering that drove me there? What I do know is during the course of the four years of engineering my grades slipped further and further backwards till my marks were also on the ‘last bench.’ I was certainly not the hardworking career minded type, and I had no idea where the future was headed except that it was some place I’d rather not be.

And then one day in the final year, everything changed! I found a couple of friends poring over a CAT problem, completely flummoxed by it. I found the solution rather easily, and was instantly regarded as a genius by my friends. It had been a while since I had been considered even a little okay in academics, and suddenly I felt here lay my salvation. Surely, with my street smart commonsense, I stood a much better chance in an aptitude test!

With the sudden glimpse of a possibly glorious future, I became completely obsessed with the CAT. It represented my sole ticket to a brilliant future and I held on tight to it. I immediately joined a popular coaching class and as soon as my final year exams ended, I dived headlong into my CAT preparation.

CAT 2008
I felt I was destined to crack it. I sat on the last bench in packed classrooms while professors took all the time in the world explaining things I had been taught in school. I felt I was way ahead of my peers, at least the ones who sat beside me. I prided myself on my speed; I could solve problems faster than anyone else could, although my low accuracy was a bit of a worry. I felt it was a sure bet and the mock tests only confirmed my belief. I was occasionally getting 99’s in the Quant and DI sections with over 95 percentile in verbal. The scores tended to fluctuate wildly, but I was not too worried. I didn’t really bother to analyse the mocks, after all I was getting great scores wasn’t I? My preparation consisted of doing tests. Test after Test, and then checking the results.

On the day of the test, I had my first real taste of what CAT was like. I realised that the only thing that the coaching class had prepared me for was to get high scores on their mock tests. Nothing had prepared me for the 40 questions that came in verbal as opposed to 25 each in Quant and DI. With a hastily drawn up strategy, I allotted a disproportionate amount of time to the three sections, and when the bell rang I was a shattered man. I walked out of the test room, in complete shock; what I’d assumed to be a meowing kitten had actually turned out to be a fierce predator, and I’d just become the prey.

I had no hopes at all from CAT and I grimly focussed all my efforts at getting a job. After my CAT debacle, the Gods decided to humour me a little I think, for I got a double bonus. I got selected in Satyam and I met the love of my life.

Flirting with GRE
Every engineering student considers GRE at one point or the other. For most it is the lure of the USA, for me it was the call of love. My girlfriend was very practical. She had taken the GRE and got a great score; she would now go to the US, do an MS and live happily ever after, with or without me. The only way I could be part of this happy ending would be if I took the GRE myself or cracked the CAT. After my previous encounter with the CAT, I was not even thinking of going anyway near it. Every night after a gruelling 12 hour shift at Satyam, I happily picked up the Barron’s and began my daily ritual of mugging up words. I worked with my girlfriend, we were going to the USA and life looked good.

On 7th January, my world crashed of course. The Satyam scandal broke through, and at the same time my parents withdrew support from my GRE plans. They didn’t like the girl that much, or rather her particular caste, and more importantly they were in no mood to spend their retirement savings to fund my college fees, or even help me get a bank loan. Added to this, was the nightly humiliation I faced at the hands of all those Barron’s words. I could not tell sycophant from psychopath and I was in sever risk of turning psycho myself under all that stress.
In the end, I had to dump GRE (let me maintain not because I couldn’t mug up words, I could have done it for love, but because there was no way I could fund my education without my parents’ support).

Well I can proudly declare that I was one of the first to be laid off by my ailing company. Life seemed to be getting better and better. Ok guys, it’s still a bit hard for me to joke about the final straw: Saying goodbye to my girl at the airport, and staring dumbly at her tears, unable even to promise her I’d come to get her, unable even to tell her I loved her. I could just stare and blink.

CAT 2009
Well loveless, jobless, hopeless- I felt like a lone ranger. There was nothing better to do than go for broke. I enrolled for CAT training, this time with another coaching class. There was a difference in my approach this time; I was more humble and more eager to learn. But much of the same thing followed. This time, I sat on the first bench, but nothing changed. The faculty breezed in, taught, or rather performed, and then breezed out. In packed classrooms, there was hardly any room for discussion or doubts. I got frustrated with this, and decided to do most of my preparation myself. I did a lot of online tests. I clinically analysed my mocks after solving them, I practised the material. I worked much harder this time, but with not much confidence. In fact, my fear and absolute lack of options helped me get good scores in the mocks. My software job left me with 3 hours to slog every day and the occasional emails from my girl from USA only motivated me further. My scores in the mocks were occasionally good, but on the whole completely and wildly fluctuating. On the days when I would get into the top percentiles, I would dream endlessly into the night, and when my scores fell, I would fall into the darkest depths of depression. I didn’t know what much to expect from the new online version of the CAT, and had not much self confidence, but on the test day, I had the calm of a man who had nothing to lose. I felt I had done well, and I dared to hope. Just like the last time, I didn’t appear for any other exams as I was so fixated on my dream of getting into the IIMs. I guess those months till the day of the result were quite serene, and hope shared with your love can make the waiting much sweeter. But this was just the calm before the storm.

The results were out, and forget about the IIMs, I had not even managed to score as much as I had in CAT 2008.

Let me not go over what happened in the next month. Let’s just say that the system, kind of, crashed down.

ERUDITE and CAT 2010
You would think I’d be crazy to even think of CAT after that, you’re right I didn’t. All I thought of was when I would get to sleep after a hard day at work. I set new records in sleeping. Finally, my sleepwalking through life was interrupted when a friend called me up after a long time to say he had got call from all the IIMs. Great!! I could hardly keep the envy down as I asked him how he had done it. He said his secret was private coaching. Intrigued, I found out that actually he had joined a coaching institute named ERUDITE, which prided itself on its classroom training. You won’t believe it, but even after two hard knocks I still went to ERUDITE for an enquiry. I guess you just can’t keep the CAT bug down once you’re bitten. I became a familiar face at the institute because I went time and again with new doubts. The counsellors patiently answered me and when one day I was convinced and decided to join, they asked me to take a CAT mock test. It was a tough one all right, but they gave me a 35 % discount on my course fees based on my score.

Then began a completely new phase in my CAT saga. I was in a class of just 10 students and the classroom sessions were more like intense brainstorming sessions than a lecture. At the end of two hours I would be left both drained and exhilarated. What an enormous difference it made when instead of trying to fight sleep at the back of a packed classroom of 60 people, here I was right in front of the teacher, who kept firing questions at me. The group soon became extremely tight knit and we fed off each others’ strengths. The faculty had tons of experience, but what made the experience really amazing was the way they helped me and the others believe in ourselves. We were actively encouraged to ask questions and no matter how stupid the doubt seemed to be the faculty acknowledged it, validated it, and patiently explained the concept in different ways till it was completely grasped. This is something I’m very grateful for, because it did wonders for my confidence. I asked any doubt that came to me without hesitation and it went a long way in my getting rock solid fundamentals. We found that each of us had unique strengths and that our weaknesses could easily be overcome. The faculty encouraged competition and in a short time, every class turned into an intense race; against time, against the others, and mainly against myself and my performance errors. In some time, I found myself thriving under this challenge and we all started improving by leaps and bounds.

It was then that we received a huge blow. The mock tests started and we all got pathetic scores. I’m very grateful to the faculty for walking that thin line between being too strict and too lenient. They were encouraging but with raised eyebrows, that seemed to challenge us saying “Is this all you’re capable of?” That’s when we knew that we had to rise to the challenge and whenever we faltered; our teachers were there to prod us. The classes reached a new level of intensity and the competition also heated up tremendously.

No matter how hard we tried, the mocks just seemed to get tougher and tougher. This was completely different from my earlier experiences where I used to get good marks in those institutes mock tests. But at ERUDITE, each mock test seemed to raise the bar several notches and we had to struggle all the time to keep up. Now I realise that because of the high level of difficulty of those tests, we never got complacent and put in that extra bit of effort. The faculty constantly advised us on revising our strategies according to the mocks. They helped us realise that the primary purpose of mocks is to experiment with different strategies and fine tune our own unique one. The faculty would analyse each mock with us after the mocks to work out a strategy that would work for each one of us.

In the last lap, the final month; we literally lived at the ERUDITE centre. Endless practice, followed by never ending doubt clearing sessions became the order of the day. By the day of the actual CAT test, I had done so many mock tests and practised so many problems, that I had become almost too machine-like to be stressed.

C-day was a revelation. For the first time, I had my own strategy in place and had no time problems. At the end of it all, I realised with surprise that I had made a fair number of attempts and that the test had been a breeze. But my mind started playing tricks again and I felt that I could never be good enough to crack the CAT.

It was then that my mentor at ERUDITE counselled me that my craze for the IIMs was silly. He convinced me to try the other exams too as it would greatly help my confidence and also increase my chances. There was no time to breathe then, as one after the other I tried XAT, FMS, IIFT and some others. Even after the last exam, there was no relaxing. We gathered at the centre every day to discuss current issues, explore different topics and for impromptu GD sessions. The regular GD and PI sessions contributed a lot to my confidence, and I forgot that i once had an intense complex about my communication skills. The GD and PI became a task like any other that could be improved and even perfected with practice. These sessions ensured that I had no case of nerves during the actual tests and could concentrate on the task at hand. Instead, I was surprised with the ease with which I could handle the GD / PI sections and I attribute it to the extensive practice I got at ERUDITE.

Now, when the fairy tale was over, when the war had been fought, all that was left was to pray, and wait, for the results.

Happy endings: Happy beginnings

Well, I think you already know the ending to this particular story. I converted C, L Ranchi, Rohtak and IIT B.

And as I count down to when my program starts at IIM C, I look back at my journey over 3 years and feel that it’s all been worth it. Perhaps I could have saved 2 years if I had joined ERUDITE earlier, perhaps my girlfriend would have then never left for USA; but it’s easy to dismiss such thoughts when you know you’re going to IIM C. Funny thing is when things go bad, it all goes down together, but now when things are going well, everything I touch seems to turn to gold. The immense respect and admiration i have suddenly started to enjoy amongst my peers and relatives is something I can never tire of. But the most beautiful part is that my girl, who has held on hope against hope so long, has finally told me that she believes we can make it. And you know what, I believe that too. If just getting admission can give me so much self-belief, I wonder how much the course would empower me. As I begin a dream journey, I want to thank the entire faculty, staff, counsellors and my classmates at ERUDITE for helping me achieve my dream. I will never forget my training at ERUDITE, which in many ways, prepared me for my career in management. Those amazing classroom sessions will stay with me forever, and so will the greatest gift that ERUDITE has given me, the ability to go for my dreams.

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