100 percentile @ CAT: “My goal was very clear”

Ittiam Systems employee Lakshmisha, a CAT 2008 topper, has also won offers from IIM (A, B, C, L and I) and will be joining the venerable IIM-Ahmedabad. He talks to us about the IIM interview process, coaching centres and preparing for the CAT.

Q. Congratulations, Lakshmisha! How did you prepare for CAT? And for how long?
A. I started about six months before CAT. I could give only about an hour a day, and with a hectic work schedule, at times even that was difficult.  The last two months before the examination I could not do anything except attend some mock tests.  I did something like 15 or 16 mock tests and usually scored about 99 percentile. The 100 came when it mattered the most, at the CAT 2008. 

Q. Did you have any specific strategies for taking the test?
A. My vocabulary is not extraordinary, but my speed is good. So I would keep the verbal ability section for last. The idea is that in CAT, since one can never finish all questions in the allotted time, half the battle is won if you are not under pressure in the last moments. And doing what you are fast at last is the best strategy. 

Q. How was your interview? Was this the first time you faced an IIM board?
A. No, this is not the first time. In 2006 I did face an IIM board, but I didn’t get in. This time I went through all the IIM boards, and even did some non-IIM interviews. One thing I liked was each interview is a different, unique process.

Q. What was the difference between 2006 and 2008? Is it you, or the board? What clicked now?
A. The difference, as I see it, is that I was more open when I went for the interview this time. Last time, the decision was based on someone else’s suggestion.  This time my goal was clear in my mind, so the whole process of preparation was a really focused effort, although I got much less preparation time this time around.

Q. Did the fact that you are working help you?
A. Yes. While working I saw real managers in action. I understood just how much is involved in management and that gave me a clarity which I could never have gained otherwise. But in one interview they did ask me, with a well paying job in hand, why are you desperate to get an MBA? I was clear; I am not desperate to get out of my job but very much desiring to get into management. Yes, work experience does help.

Q. Did coaching help you?
A. The mock tests are important. They help you assess your standing vis-à-vis your peers in an exam setting. As far as the interview goes, what they tell you in a coaching institute are very basic guidelines which you need to personalise. Since most of the questions in the interview are based on what you wrote in your application, you need to be clear about what you are and what you stand for. For instance, if you’ve studied from a particular college, you should know everything that a person might generally ask about that particular college. 

Coming to the group discussion (GD), the coaching institute provides you with that platform and you get to participate with the kind of people who might actually be there on the day of your interview.  You know the level of competition and the level of knowledge required. So, in that way GD coaching is quite useful. 

Q. Any advice for our readers? 
A. If you are preparing for the IIM entrance, the CAT exam is the easier part. The interview and GD are tougher. So, start preparing for the GD and interview from the very first day. And preparation involves nothing much; you just need to read a lot of newspapers and business magazines, make sure you know about current events. Clichéd though it sounds, the most important thing is to understand your strengths and weaknesses and communicate clearly. It does the trick.