Should you even try to ‘Bell’ the CAT?
There are multiple questions — beyond exam prep and syllabus — that one must cogitate over, before deciding to appear for one of the country’s toughest competitive exams
Every year, over two lakh aspirants apply for the CAT, as a majority of the MBA, Postgraduate and Fellow Programmes at the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) accept applications primarily or solely through the CAT. This year, the exam is scheduled to be held on November 28, and will be conducted in three shifts from over 150 test centres across the country.
There is much information available on the Internet about the CAT, but a majority miss out on raising the most important questions, let alone providing answers to them — those that we must ask ourselves before appearing for the exam or even preparing for it.
The first question is why should you appear for the CAT? If your answer is “because everyone in my peer group is doing so,” or “because IIM graduates’ campus placement packages are impressive”, hich does not put you, your interests, inclinations, or strengths and abilities in the centre of decision-making, then, you must rethink your decision. The inherent drawback is that CAT then becomes the end goal instead of a means to the end. This leads to candidates focusing more on the exam and the preparation, while losing sight of the bigger picture — the learning opportunity, access to high-end resources, and the platform to showcase and improve your ideas. Research shows that, for long-term success and satisfaction, career choices should be in line with the person’s interests and capability. Therefore, to judge your suitability for an MBA, reflect on your interests. Do you enjoy listening to or reading business news? Do you wonder how socio-political events around the globe affect different businesses and the economy? Do you notice how some companies have products/services focused on only a few customer segments, while some others have a variety covering many more segments? If such topics do not interest you, perhaps doing an MBA is not the best decision for you.
On the other hand, you find these questions interesting and would like to investigate them, then, consider appearing for the exam, with a binding condition that you will not appear for the personal interviews if you have not read up about them before the results are out (tentatively, mid-January 2022) or, if upon reading up, you don’t feel tempted to dig deeper or wider. In that case, it might be better for you to work for a couple of years and perhaps connect better with these issues. After this, based on your work experience and opportunity cost, you may decide to apply for two-year MBA programme, one-year Executive MBA, or pursue specialised diploma/certifications. Remember that most IIMs, in their admission process, provide additional points to candidates with prior work experience, and that there is no age limit for the CAT. However, keep an eye out for the optimal level of work experience for such points.
Once you have decided that you do want to appear for the exam, ensure that your preparation also prepares you for the MBA. For example, do not try to mug up new words using vocabulary flash cards. Instead, inculcate the reading habit as it will not only allow you to build your vocabulary but also develop perspectives on issues of interest. Similarly, try to analyse and interpret data given in newspaper reports, periodicals, and magazines, as it will not only help you speed up your mental calculations for the exam, but also help develop business acumen. Similarly, do not just solve Maths questions to arrive at the correct answer. Instead, think of the business contexts/processes where these concepts are applicable.
Remember that, while scoring a good percentile and getting into an IIM is rewarding, if it is not the right career choice it may result into a huge opportunity cost and undue stress.
The writer is Associate Professor and Chairperson, Admissions, IIM Calcutta