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The IIM CAT... And After

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Come September and the heart beat of lakhs of aspirants preparing for the IIM entrance examination, becomes faster. It is the final countdown to arguably one of the most competitive and prestigious examinations in the country. The IIM CAT (Common admission test), held typically in November is taken by lakhs of aspirants wanting to enter the hollowed portals of the Indian Institutes of Management. The number of these aspirants just keeps going up every year! What does it take to succeed in the IIM CAT and other components of the IIM admissions process? This article tries to answer this and much more.

Lets begin with the IIM CAT, which is just the first hurdle (though maybe the most critical one) an aspirant needs to cross in his journey to get into an IIM. The CAT has questions on English, mathematics, data interpretation and logical reasoning. But do you need to be a quant geek or an expert in English to crack the CAT? The answer is a simple No! If the IIMs really wanted quant geeks they could have specifically asked for Mathematics PhDs. If they wanted literary people, they could have required only English majors to apply! The CAT expects you to have decent ability to solve problems and have a good knowledge of English. Beyond that it actually tests you on two important aspects. The two essential ingredients of success in the corporate world (and even in life in general) are time management skills and stress management.

The IIM CAT really tests you on these two skills. We all function well when we are in our comfort zone. How do we react when faced with a surprise or uncertainty? So many test takers become nervous just on seeing a new exam format on the day of the CAT. If you are used to there being three sections in the IIM CAT and in the actual exam, there are five sections, what do you do? If you start sweating on seeing a new type of question or a totally new section, you have just lost the battle even before it started! It is important to be prepared for surprises and welcome them. This requires that one doesn't go with any preconceived notions or fixed mindset about the exam. It also helps to have taken a number of mock tests, which ideally should cover a variety of formats.

Another important success mantra is not to get bogged down by a difficult question. If after spending, say 30 seconds, on a question, you feel you can't crack it easily, just move on. You are not looking to get a prize for cracking the toughest question. Your aim is to answer the maximum possible questions correctly. If you spend too much time answering one question, you may have just lost the time and opportunity to answer some very easy questions (which may actually be hidden towards the end of the question paper!). Give your ego a rest during the exam- don't wrestle with questions that bog you down; crack the questions which come from your strong areas. Another problem is that most examinees fall in love with a particular section or feel comfortable with one section. So, if one likes English, he or she tends to spend a disproportionately higher time on that section with an aim to get a great score in that section. Remember- you not only need to clear the overall cut off, but also the sectional cutoffs.

It doesn't help if you get 40 points in the English section and get 5 points in the mathematics section (whereas the cut off for both sections maybe 15!). You need to allot your time and attention in an equitable manner to all sections. Last but not the least, be relaxed on the day of the exam. I know that this is easier said than done. Everybody has some amount of tension. It is said that little bit of tension is natural and actually keeps you alert. However, if you let that tension get too much, it makes you nervous and you get disoriented. These tips may sound basic, but a majority of people (which includes some of the brightest!) just don't pay attention to these things during the day of the exam.

Well, so, let's assume you have cleared the CAT. Welcome to the next round, which is the Group discussions (GD) and Personal interview stage. Now that you have made it among the few thousand to have got the coveted GD and interview call, don't squander the opportunity. Each IIM that shortlists you, has its own separate group discussion and interview process. It is as important to be prepared for this stage, as it is to work hard for the CAT. The group discussions are meant to test your interpersonal skills, confidence, and ability to put forth your ideas in a group. Practice makes a man perfect. Only when you take part in a few mock group discussions, would you be able to assess your strong points and areas of improvement.

Sometimes, the topics in GDs are abstract (e.g. Red is Bad!); sometimes they are on current affairs (e.g. The Nuclear Deal with USA) and for some IIMs you may get a case study to discuss and solve. One needs to be prepared for all types of topics. One good habit which would help you is reading newspaper and magazines (business aswell as current affairs) and it's never too early to start doing this. In the group discussion, you don't get points for hogging the limelight and length of speaking time. You get points for making meaningful contributions. Being well informed and having a perspective on variety of topics is important. For if you don't have a point, what will you contribute in the group discussion?

The group discussions are followed by the personal interview the same day. The interview is meant to assess who you are beyond the grades, test scores and other data points. It is a test of who you are as a person. It is important to come across as a balanced, well rounded individual.

You should have clarity of goals- why you want to do an MBA? Why now? What are your career goals? Interviewers would be impressed with people who know what they want from their MBA, than those who come across as 'trying to be part of the hot MBA Bandwagon'. Again, being well informed about what's happening in the world and having a perspective on key issues facing society is helpful. You should try to treat the interview as a conversation, rather than an examination. Appearing to spit out memorized answers is going to seriously harm your chances of making an impression with the interviewers. It's also important to be yourself. Trying to portray yourself as what you are not, will show through. Do remember that your interviewers have years of experience and have interviewed hundreds or maybe thousands of applicants!

Once you have cleared this round aswell, you are all set to enter an IIM. How's life at an IIM? Well, it's about hard work, but it's also a lot of fun. It's a great experience sending two years with a bright, eclectic and typically fun loving bunch of people. You would definitely learn a lot and get great jobs. AT the same time, one of the biggest takeaways from your stay at the IIM would be some of the most cherished, lifelong friendships that you would develop.

So, all the best for your journey to get into the Indian Institutes of Management!

Harshdeep Jolly is a MBA from the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore and works with a management consulting firm in India. He was a regular student with T.I.M.E., the No.1 Coaching institute for MBA/ IIT JEE/ GRE/ GMAT/ SAT/ TOEFEL. At present 51.5% of the students at the IIMs are T.I.M.E. students. He is also the author of the book "Everything You Desire- A journey through IIM". Everything you Desire is a story set at an IIM and brings out the different aspects of life during two years at an IIM.