The Rollercoaster CAT Ride
Updated: Oct 3, 2021
Like every other dreamy-eyed aspirant from the massive pool of 3 lakh+ students, I started my journey towards this coveted goal in January 2020 with a little nervousness, a little excitement and truckloads of hope. The task at hand was going to demand all my strength, but if achieved, it was going to be more than worth the grind. I fed my head with any sort of motivation, even the silliest ones, like “this is your chance to redeem yourself after not getting into an IIT” and “this could be my gateway to a life as lavish as the neighbouring Agarwal uncle who graduated from IIM Indore”. 4 years of scientific research at IISER Pune had made it clear to me that neither did I want to live like the PhDs I worked alongside with nor like the professors I worked under. They had all my respect (and sympathies), but I was not cut out for working in a lab-space for my entire life. And so I left, with Akash (a CAT aspirant friend from college) on his motorcycle, hunting for the “best” coaching classes around campus. The uncle at Career Launcher bored the hell out of us and the uncle at IMS charmed us into buying his fancy named program. There, we had already gotten our first Sales and Marketing lesson. Although we got a hefty discount on the price for belonging to a premier institute, I remember asking dad to make the payment and making a promise to myself that this was going to be one of the last times when I ask him for fees. The initial few weeks were a breeze. I was put into the weekend batch (remember offline classes?) where I was able to manage the load even without having done the homework. I was able to gauge that VARC was my strength, DILR was manageable depending on the difficulty level and Quants needed some practice. But given the chill environment of class, I was under the impression that this was going to be a cakewalk. The timer was yet to enter my life.
In March, it had only been two months since the classes begun when we had to say goodbye to the outside world. We left the campus with plans of coming back in 10 days, little did we know it was going to be a long haul. In a couple of days, the gravity of COVID was made apparent to the world with countries declaring long lockdown periods. With the first 21 day lockdown in place, chances of going back to campus looked bleak. There was a hint of gloom in my head but “It’s a blessing in disguise”, my mother said from behind. And hence, with the honeymoon phase of home-workouts and Dalgona coffee in the backdrop, my CAT preparation began in full swing. CAT Classes were more frequent now and the college coursework was lenient. I started maintaining notebooks, ages after the JEE preparation years, only to make my mother almost tearful. I engaged with as many study groups as I could with no discrimination against the platform. It could be Whatsapp, Telegram or Facebook, all I was concerned with was the quality and quantity of questions being posted and the solutions given out. Turning a blind eye to the increasing wrath of COVID, I made my life revolve around RCs, Puzzle sets, Arithmetic and Algorithm problems. Test series started and although I scored a 94.7 percentile in the first test, my percentiles kept fluctuating as time progressed. It was evident that I was not progressing enough in comparison to my fellow aspirants. My mother used to prepare biryani on Test Sundays and when the score was good, it was a party. On other days, it was just lunch.
It was mentioned by one of the teachers that to succeed in CAT, you will have to live CAT. It was hardly a task to implement this as when I was not studying, I was busy surfing Youtube for videos of top b-schools. I was introduced to Pagalguy where I found that every aspirant is dying for any information related to b-school admissions. You could find hundreds of questions with people mentioning their profiles and seeking information from others about the percentile required to crack
a particular b-school. The ones answering were making blind guesses nonetheless. The anxiety was so high that every day I used to catch Youtube live sessions of owners of CAT coaching classes which used to deal with topics remotely related to CAT. They were a great source of motivation and it had become a routine. On one such day, I stumbled upon a video of Inside IIM where a lady called Seema Bansal talked about her drive to work for the society after graduating from IIM Calcutta. Her work for the education system in Haryana and Rajasthan had a huge impact on me and I binged on her videos for a day. I guess that was the day when I truly realised the importance of an MBA and the impact that I will be able to bring to the world if I achieve this feat.
The exam was nearing and I was struggling to keep my percentiles high. A lot of effort had gone into making the perfect strategy for me to ace the exam. It was announced that IIM Indore was the conducting body for 2020 and speculations started running on how the paper might come out to be. In the final lap of the preparation, 1.5 months prior to the exam, the pattern was changed. All hell broke loose. There was utter disorder as coaching classes started conducting sessions to devise new strategies. I started taking mock tests everyday now. It was difficult to increase my percentiles at this time but I kept at it and results were showing. One fine day, I got a mail from my college that I have to report to campus on November 4th, 25 days before CAT. It was going to be an inconvenience as I had to change my exam centre city and stay quarantined in college just before the exam. I was in the middle of making arrangements when I started having pertinent fever. I got tested positive for COVID on 26th October. My family dealt with the situation calmly. I was quarantined in my room for 14 days and my parents made sure that I could focus on studying. Though COVID had made me weak, I managed to give put in the last ounce of effort. As soon as I tested negative, I reported to campus on 14th November and the batch of students I was supposed to be in, left the quarantine floor on 17th November. For the next 11 days, I stayed alone on the top floor (with 55 rooms) of a hostel with no connection with the outside world except the food delivery person. My dad jokingly said that it was like I was in sanyaas. It pretty much was, because I used my time in getting into the right frame of mind for the exam. My quarantine ended on the day of the exam.
I stepped out of the hostel ready to take on the exam. I was to take the exam in the second slot and there were reviews pouring in about the first slot. I listened to them passively and was indifferent to them. There was nothing that could stop me from acing the exam that day. As the exam started, I nailed the VARC section as it was my strength. High on confidence, I began the DILR section. It sounded Greek to me. I was stumped. Before I could even make sense of the questions, half the time was lost. I barely managed to attempt 7 questions before the section was over. I thought to myself “shayad T.I.M.E. ke mocks kar lene chahiye the”. With whatever was left of my confidence, I attempted the Quants section. I struggled. And the exam was over. The DILR section had managed to destroy my performance in Quants and in my mind, it was all lost. As I came out of the centre, I tried to put on a smile for my parents. How could I tell them that the efforts of the entire year had gone down the drain? My mother had prepared biryani for me. Sitting in the car, we started eating. You can never act well enough for parents, they had realised that I wasn’t feeling good. I took the first bite of the biryani and a tear rolled down my face. The biryani saw yet another dejected lunch.
As time passed, the resentment against the exam had become quite popular. The comment section of IIM Indore’s Instagram page was quite a scene the next day. All public forums discussing CAT were flooded with posts by infuriated aspirants, rightly so. Every other moment, I got flashbacks of yet another dumb mistake that I had committed in the paper. I mustered the courage to check my answers. The score wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Amidst the plethora of speculations of normalisation and percentile estimations, I decided to throw myself into working on my final year project. I was on my way back from a trip with friends on New Year’s when the result was declared.
With butterflies in my stomach, I put in my credentials. The percentile drew a smile on my face which quickly transpired into a laugh. We rocked to Himesh Reshammiya bangers for the next hour in the car.
The interview calls started coming in my mailbox and the process for collecting numerous documents began. Finally on 25th January, the most awaited mail pinged my phone notifications. I was about to get interviewed for the Post graduate program of IIM Calcutta in precisely one month. And thus began the series of cramming all the current affairs you could. I never knew it could be this difficult to talk about your life and the decisions you made. It was an uphill task to study for the interview while managing a project under a not so cooperative boss. But it was an opportunity of a lifetime and I was not going to miss it. Calcutta interviews were known to be Math heavy and hence I started revising my JEE books. There had been a huge gap since I had encountered pure mathematics and it was my Achille’s heel. On the D-day, with a heart thudding at levels unknown, I sat in front of my laptop screen in the most presentable form of me. The interview began and a sweet elderly gentleman greeted me. The questions began and I kept answering with confidence. As a biologist, my strategy was to drive the interview towards COVID and I was successful at it. The moment a question about the COVID strategy of India and the world was asked, I knew it was my moment to shine. With each exchange between me and the interviewer, I could see myself inching closer to the gates of Joka. I’m unaware of the data regarding how many candidates are asked maths related questions, but I wasn’t asked a single maths question. All the hardships and unlucky days had paid their debt and the COVID which had made my journey so arduous, saved me on the day that mattered. I converted IIM Calcutta on 29th May, 2021 and we celebrated with biryani.