Here's a dream worth pursuing: Completing a management diploma from an IIM (Indian Institute of Management), and getting a job where your salary reads in 6 figures. (Seven if you are lucky!).

But hey... wait... hold your horses for a second! You will first have to lock your brains with the CAT (Common Admissions Test), then make your presence felt in a group discussion, and finally go through an interview where a few IIM professors grill you to the brink of tolerance. If you survive all of these, IIM is the next roadblock (that's two more years of working like a donkey), after which your six figure dreams will bear fruit.

The first stumbling block for admission to the IIM is the CAT. Applicants to any one of the 6 IIMs (Amhedabad, Calcutta, Bangalore, Lucknow, Calicut, Vijayawada) are first required to give the CAT. Held annually on the second Sunday of December, this exam essentially skims out the incompetent applicants by testing their mathematics, language, logical and analytical skills.

"The CAT examination is somewhat like the GMAT," enlightens Kuresh Khambatti, who gave the CAT examination in 1997. "There are about 185-200 questions over 4 sections that a student has to solve in 2 hours. The CAT is only for those who are effective time crunchers."


This year, the CAT is going to held on Sunday, the 13th of December. By now, you should have already gone through the process of applying. For those who need to familiarise themselves with the process for next year, here's a brief description of what's been happening this year.

Starting August 24, 1998, applicants procured bulletins and forms from a few selected nationwide branches of the State Bank of India. Both the bulletin and the form collectively cost Rs. 800.

In the form, along with the basic details, applicants checked the IIM's they wished to apply to. Depending upon their choice of a test centre, they were required to send their completed CAT form to a particular address provided in the bulletin. The last date for sending in applications was October 14, 1998.

In the second week of November, after the forms have been processed, a "Test Admit Card" will be sent to each applicant. On the final day of the test, the applicant must produce the Test Admit card.


The four sections in the CAT examination are

Comprehension - This section requires examinees to read passages (about 700 words in length), following which they answer three to four questions relating to the passage. Rachita Loke, who gave the CAT exam last year, says, "This section is the toughest, as one has to read the passage with utmost concentration. Answering questions from the passage is even tougher, as they are hidden somewhere deep in the throes. Speed and concentration are extremely necessary here." Grimly, Kuresh says "It takes about five minutes to read a passage, leaving us with only 30-40 seconds to answer each question. That's injustice!"

Mathematics - This section has questions that deal with the basics of algebra, geometry and trigonometry. Being an expert in mathematics, Rachita had no problem in solving this section. She says, "Each question in this section looks simple and straightforward, but on closer inspection, there was a smart trick cleavaged behind each query. I had to keep my eyes wide open to identify such stratagem." About his experience in solving this section, Kuresh says, "Practise made me perfect. After solving dozens of practice test papers, I identified where I made mistakes, and worked on rectifying them. When I did the Maths section in the CAT, I felt I was on home stretch."

Verbal - In today's corporate world, having good language skills are extremely important, especially in English. The "Verbal" section tests the grammatical and verbal skills of an applicant to check their understanding of the English language. Included amongst the questions are small passages (of which the examinees are expected to draw inferences), analogies, antonyms and synonyms, fill in the blanks, correcting sentences, arranging sentences in order, etc. Kuresh says, "This section was no sweat." Rachita agrees. Fondly remembering her CAT days, she adds, "In fact, I didn't know I was this good in English."

Data Interpretation - Popularly known as "DI", this section tests the analytical and logical skills of examinees by seeing how well they interpret data, which is in form of graphs, charts and tables. Explaining this section, Kuresh says, "We were required to answer questions based on the data available in graphs and tables. Analyzing the tables took some time, but once I got the hang of it, it was a breeze." Rachita was disappointed by the way she performed in this section. "It took loads of time to deal with the first 3 sections," she says, "so I wasn't left with a minimal amount of time to solve this section. I didn't answer a lot of questions because I wasn't sure of some answers. My logical skills took a thorough beating."

While answering a question, an examinee has to choose one out of four choices provided. This rule is consistent in all four sections.

Like all the exams, the CAT also has a few surprises in store. "While solving the CAT," says Rachita, "I realised that a few questions in the paper were completely new, as I didn't encounter them in the study material. It seems like the paper-setters of CAT don't follow a rigid structure while setting the test paper."


Every year, the number of questions in the CAT exam varies between 180-200. The 1996 CAT had 185 questions, and the 1997 CAT had 195 questions. Hence, the number of questions in the 1998 edition of the CAT cannot be guaranteed.

There is a two-hour period to answer all the questions, which is spread over 4 sections. However, solving all the questions in this time period is considered impossible by many. "Speed is of utmost importance in the CAT," feels Rachita. "While trying to keep a tab on my speed, I committed many errors, which ultimately cost me a few points!"

To be considered for admission to IIM, a minimum of 20 points is required in each section. An overall score of 120 points (On 185 or 195) is considered to be competitive enough. Guessing a wrong answer can cost points, as the examiners deduct 1/4th (one-fourth) of a point for every wrong answer. That translates to one lost point for four wrong answers. Don't guess too hard!

The results of CAT are not disclosed to the students. The scores are sent directly to the IIMs where you have applied, and they are the ones who see an applicant's CAT score. Based on the score, the IIM will then call you for a group discussion and a personal interview. If you do not get a call from any of the six IIMs, then just assume that you have done badly in the CAT. In the end, it is only the institute that gets to see your CAT score, not you.


There are some institutes that offer study material and preparatory classes for the CAT.

Institute of Management Studies
1/45 Tardeo AC Market Building
Mumbai 400 034
Tel 4953100 / 4954637
Fax (022) 4931584

KITS (Khurana Information and Trading Systems)
United Business Center
311 Balaji Darshan
Tilak Road
Santacruz (W)
Mumbai 400054
Tel: 6492592. 6492595, 6051642
Fax: 6051643


IIM is not the only institute that considers the CAT score a criterion for admission. Management Development Institute (Gurgaon), BITS, MICA and others also depend upon the CAT for the admission of students to their courses. Some institutes prefer an applicant's CAT score over their own entrance test scores. That shows the importance of the CAT if you are trying to gain admission into management.

So, put on your thinking cap, retrieve that old mathematics book from your dusty cabinet and burn the midnight oil. Who knows, some day you might end up doing mathematics with loads of hard cash!

How often have you heard this statement : CAT is not a test of Math and English ? Your faculty or friends who have taken the test will testify to this maxim. CAT actually uses Math and English as tools to assess whether the aspirant has the potential to be a manger.

One of the biggest mental hurdles while preparing for the CAT is the over emphasis on learning the ropes in Math and English and not understanding the hidden agenda underlying the various topics. Across the CAT, while the topics vary, they are all assessment tools to check managerial qualities. Thus be it Problem Solving and data Interpretation in Maths or Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension in English, right through the 2 hour test, a student is tested on the inherent managerial qualities which can be polished when selected for admission to a B-School. While English tests one's language and communication skills, Math essentially tests your analytical and conceptual skills - two very critical traits in an effective manager.

Thus when seen in this light, the following aspects of the CAT stand out:

It is one of the most fascinating aptitude tests in the country, if not the toughest. It is complex not because of the level of Math and English, but because of the competition.

It is the test of one's managerial potential and not whether somebody is already a manager.

It is not a test of one's subject knowledge but of one's aptitude to be a corporate manager.

Thus one of the most critical qualities needed to crack the cat is strong fundamentals and loads of common sense.

All this obviously does not mean that one can ignore the importance of Maths and English to crack the CAT. In a relay race, the baton is the tool for success. If the baton is not used properly, success becomes elusive. Thus, make no mistake about it, Maths and English are critical for success in CAT.

The first mistake is to take the test too seriously. The hype created by the media and preparatory institutes create an unnecessary tension in the minds o f the students. When one goes to the exam hall, an average student maybe a bundle of nerves: raring to attempt questions without waiting to pause and think.

Usually, the moment the paper is received, the candidate starts attempting without giving thought to the test taking strategy. But, after a while, when one sees that very few questions have been attempted, one tends to panic and then one tends to panic and mark indiscriminately. This is suicidal, because the number of mistakes will increase and so will the negatives.

The most important lesson to be learnt is to to keep your cool. That is the only thing that separates the winners from the also-rans.

As one attempts the paper, the clock keeps ticking away and in the end one may find the number of attempts below one's expectation. This is all right because it is not the number of attempts that are important, but the final score.

Keeping cool, is obviously easier said than done. Usually the pressure mounts when one compares oneself with others and one feels hopeless. When this happens, remind yourself that you are competing with none other but yourself. What others do, or not do, is meaningless. If you can conquer your emotions during the exam, you have one half the battle.

When the pressure rises, and you find  that you can't answer a question despite reading and re-reading it, just close your eyes and shut off your mind for a moment. You will find that you will most probably be able to solve it. It's a bit like rebooting the computer, it always speeds up the machine.

Another way to stop panic is to approach the exam with an open mind. Don't crowd your mind with cut-offs and minimum attempts and other such thoughts. Just leave it to the day. If the paper is easy, you will automatically attempt more questions and if it's difficult, the attempts will drop. Also remember that 99.9% of the people taking CAT are normal people like you with a similar level of preparation. So if the paper seems difficult to you, it's almost same for all others and so the cut-offs will almost surely be lower. So never resort to guess-work to increase the number of attempts. Especially in a tight low scoring paper, since the marks that you may lose on negative scoring due to guess-work, may prove to be the difference between success and failure. So go to the exam thinking anyone of the following thoughts.

1. I am very good and have prepared thoroughly and so will do very well. OR

2. Nothing bad can happen to me. It's only an exam, not the end of life.

You should have your strategy outlined very clearly during your preparations stage. Do a large number of full-length tests based on different patterns. Experiment with yourself, attempting different sections and different order in different tests. Soon you will be able to discover what is your best way to attempt the paper. This will help you decide: (i) which section you should do first; (ii) the kind of questions you should attempt and avoid; and (iii) your optimum attempt.

The strategy will, of course, vary from person to person. Remember, there is  no fixed strategy which is a "magic formula" that can guarantee 100% success. On the day of the exam, just follow the strategy that you have perfected. Don't get confused on seeing the paper. The paper will look formidable at first glance, but don't let that bother you. Spend a minute to see how the questions and sections are arranged.

Always strategize the order in which you are attempting the sections. The classic order is first VA&RC followed by PS and then by DI/DS. This is because VA is the easiest and fastest section and completing it first will give you confidence and momentum which will carry you through the next 2 sections. You may follow ANY ORDER in attempting the sections. But the thumb rule is start and end with the sections that you are good at and have the weakest section in the middle.

For more test taking strategies, click HERE.

A common question asked by students is, "how many questions should I attempt" ? This is a faulty question,  because there is no point attempting questions if one can' t keep a measure of accuracy. Too many mistakes simply spoil you score. Each person will have a different level of attempt.

Generally speaking, the number of mistakes should be kept at about 20 in a full 2-hour full length test. Remember, no one knows for sure what is the scoring pattern for CAT. It is assumed that there is negative marking of minus one-fourth per question, but you never know for sure. There could be progressive negative marking, which means that as the number of mistakes increase, the deduction per question also increases.

I don't really want to scare you, but the ideal number of attempts in a paper of 3 sections/ 150 questions (3/150) should be 90-100 attempts with around 20 mistakes. That's what most toppers would be attempting. If you are near that range, you have a very good chance of getting calls from B-L-A-C-K-I, that's an acronym for all 6 IIMs (IIMB, IIML...etc)

At the same time, please don't avoid or favor any section or type of question. This is because the CAT paper clearly mentions YOU WILL HAVE TO DEMONSTRATE YOUR COMPETENCE IN ALL SECTIONS. So you may get 99.9+ percentile in your favorite section, but you can be rest assured that if you have neglected any section, then you will be extremely lucky to receive any IIM calls.

What aspirants of CAT need to do is work SMART rather than work hard. This means that the candidate should be able to spot what is required rather than work it out by lengthy calculation, Whether it is PS, or verbal, many questions can be done simply by looking at the questions. Same for DI and DS. The technique is called THINK WITHOUT INK. The trick is to try to spot the clue in the question. For example, in a quadratic equation, it is always faster to obtain answer by substituting the options rather than solving the equation.

Remember, CAT is not like your college paper, where you had to write lengthy answers ( especially those from Utkal University). Here, you can score even when you don't know the answer. YOU just have to find the 3 WRONG answers and your job is done !!

SO how does one get into the habit of working smart ? frankly, that is an attitude that one must acquire. It comes with the way you approach life in general. It is not about solving questions only. If one is smart in other areas of life, cracking CAT would not be difficult.

Ultimately, it maybe said that CAT is not difficult to crack. It can be done, simply because so many people have done it in the past. Simply put in your best effort, solve each question on it's merit and stay cool and composed for the entire 2 hours. That is the formula for success.

Do the basics first.

Do a large number of section tests and identify strengths and weaknesses.

Attempt all sections: don't ignore any.

Work out the best way to tackle problems and look for smart way of doing things.

Work out your own success strategy by doing a large number of full length tests.

Do the past 10 years CAT papers.

Control the number of mistakes to about 20 : avoid wild blind guessing.

Look at all sections before attempting.

Don't panic, keep your cool and follow your strategy.

Avoid the hype of the exam; don't compare with others but always compete.

If you lose control, close your eyes and reboot..

BELIEVE IN THE LORD. He never lets you down.