Tales of CAT aspirants and IIMA stories: August 2006

Tales of CAT aspirants and IIMA stories

It's a tale from the students about CAT and IIMA. I shall be bringing in success stories from different students, their focused CAT preparation strategies. Also, posts will be there on the life and culture at IIMA, that you may be keen to know. It's an insider's view!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Managing Vocabs and DI

I received the following queries through orkut and my blog:

1. Which books to refer?

2. How to manage vocabs?

3. How to manage DI?


Now let me start with books. I prepared in Delhi. Often I used to visit markets like Dariaganj for books. I guess the market is flooded with scores of books on CAT, from vocabs to GD-PI. Now what to choose? Books were not that cheap too! Already I had bought GRE materials spending a fortune. One of my colleagues in IIML advised me not to buy any books and concentrate more on the IMS materials I had. Moreover, my room-mate took TIME coaching. So, there was enough material to study. Anyway, all that we needed was to brush-up the basics and focus on the quick judicious application of the same.

Now if you think you're weak in a particular area - you may refer to a book. But, I found it quite unnecessary. The IMS and TIME study materials was quite enough for us. We also got hold of the previous 5 years CAT question papers. Even some publishers sell previous 10 years question papers too. We had enough materials to practice for the next 3-4 months.

For RC we made conscious efforts to read quick and retain as much as possible. It took us 3 months to increase our speed to a reasonable extent through Self-help and we could read long paragraphs quickly enough without any panic. So, I won't suggest any books to refer, the coaching materials are good enough. At the end of the day, your ability to apply basic knowledge and clarity in thoughts is what tames the CAT.


Vocabs need to be cultivated. Baron's list of words and Word power made easy are the ones we found quite good; better than the materials supplied by IMS or TIME. I remember reading the Hindu (my room-mate thought of preparing for IAS too!) everyday, especially the editorial page. Reader's Digest was another mag we frequently read; I got a free subscription to it (still don't know who put in my name and address - but I thank him! The quality of articles in Reader's Digest was good enough to brush my vocabs). This part of CAT preparation took maximum time for me.

Grammar you can learn from any standard book. Even you can download a grammar book from internet. If you cultivate good reading habit, you can easily guess if a sentence is correct or wrong or which sentence will precede the other. It's kind of gets subconsciously stored in mind - the sentence constructions, the syntax, etc. and gives you power to guess the meaning of a word from the context quite accurately. Reading habits are magical!

One caution I would like to put in here. We generally tend to get a bit carried away on the vocabs part - same happened with me too. Once you can guess the meanings of words from the context - STOP there. No need to waste time on vocabs - even CAT is also gradually moving away from that part.

Data Interpretation

This is the section initially I found quite difficult. In fact one time I developed a phobia to graphs and tables. But, I had to overcome it somehow. A friend of mine was from economics background, he provided me with loads of data - ranging from cricket matches to India's PPP - all excel files. My job was to practice quick interpretation of large tables - imagine 23 states and their GSDP plus certain indices! I converted some to graphs and some I kept as tables. That exercise really helped me a lot. Practising with big tables make working the comparatively smaller tables easier in CAT and that's how I could do well in that section.

On DI, Businessworld published quite a good article - though very elementary. You can refer to it if it helps. Main thing is to familiarize with difficult tables and graphs - that will help in interpreting the CAT DI section.

Special thanks to all for encouragement. Pour in all your questions. I'll post an article on life at IIMA tomorrow.
Till then, keep mugging!

Issues of Low Grades and Specializations at IIMA

I received scores of queries on low CG and prospects of entering IIMA. In fact, I searched for a person with CG as low as 7. And Yes, I got 3 students out of 10 I randomly questioned with CGs hovering around 7 mark. So, in a way stop worrying about low CGs and concentrate on your CAT scores and interview. You never know what the professors are looking for in interviews. Though the list is not authoritative, but my experience tells if we do a priority list for CAT, the rankings would be:

1. CAT score: the higher the better. We all know that!
2. GD-Interviews: It's a make or brake story here. So, very vital.
3. Your extra-curriculars: Gives a sample of the talent you have or how creative you are. It's not a necessity but if you've it's always better!
4. Your CG: Does not matter if you're rich in the above 3 points.

In response to Abhijit's question, Entrepreneurial Experience is too good for the interviews - nothing like it! In fact, one CA two batches had a CAT score lower than others; he got selected primarily because he managed a CA firm for 2 years (even though the returns were not that great). Hence, stop worrying about everything else and concentrate on CAT. Try to get interview calls. No one can stop you in interviews - your entrepreneurial experience will sail you through there along with your IIT tag! Given your entrepreneurial experience you need not to worry about minor changes in your CAT score - you just need interview calls!

Regarding Rohit's question: Yeah, IIMA's policy is not to offer specialized degrees on marketing or finance. Instead second year students are given options to choose finance or marketing courses or both through a bidding system. So, in a way, you can learn both or focus solely on finance or marketing. Majority guys/gals concentrate on both - to keep options open. If you need, I can provide you people with a list of courses offered by IIMA.

Keep mugging!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Placements and Salaries: Myths and Realities

Today I received special requests from a dozen of readers to write something about salary. Hmmm... fat salary, money.. the basic reason for majority to come to this coveted institute! Tonight, I am going to break some heart, I am sure :). But, for many this write-up will be an eye-opener.

Let me begin with a table:





Overseas placements




Indian placements




Highest salary Domestic

12 lakhs

12 lakhs

14.5 lakhs

Average salary domestic

6.2 lakhs

7.1 lakhs

7.9 lakhs

Highest salary overseas

90 thousand USD

96 thousand USD

152 thousand USD

Average Overseas Salary

58 thousand USD

58 thousand USD

80 thousand USD

% of investment bankers




These are not any private data, all available at Can you see what I am pointing here? Number of investment bankers are hardly 15%; 2005 placements are misleading, only 15% got overseas I-banker placements as usual - rest were all domestic I-bankers. In 2006, the number of overseas I-bankers have increased big time but you can't take that as a trend. I was there, a certain foriegn I-bank went crazy and hired every possible face! That may happen once in 10-15 years. So, everyone joining IIMA can't be an I-banker, isn't it?

Your next option is then consultancy, isn't it? That's what you dream of as a next alternative. There is a hope then dude! In 2003, only 6% got consulting, no overseas placements there. In 2004, 16% - no overseas again. In 2005, staggering 20% with 9 overseas placements.

The story is that on average people get 7-8 lakhs as compensation - that too cost to the company. What's that? The figure 8 lakh is a big bluff - let me tell you. Company will cut certain money as tax, benefits, etc. etc. After tax et al. one gets 60% of it as cash in hand. So, 4.8 lakhs say as a mean value. Turns out to be 40K per month. So, why are people crazy about IIMs then?

That's because in five years, the rise you can get is phenomenal. I know people joining at paltry 5.6 lakhs as cost to company and now after 5 years of joining, enjoying salaries above 20 lakhs per annum cost to company... turns out to be 1 lakh cash in hand! That's pretty good!

Now coming to 2006 story! We had a very good placement. The official data are not out yet. But the trend is better than 2005. Average salary (domestic) went over 8 lakhs, may have crossed 9 lakhs too. We had some very experienced candidates and they got salaries over 30 lakhs per annum. Hence, the rise in average salary. Mean is many-a-times a misleading number, mode was almost similar to last year.

So, the story is that almost half of the batch gets below 8 lakh job after graduating from the place! That's the fact! Moreover, the 100,000+ overseas salary that you read in newspapers are of those graduates who had more than 2 years of work-ex in reputed companies like McKensey, Anderson, etc.; they are not the freshers. Freshers generally get in-an-around 80K USD annually. That's also good - post-tax 4000-5000 USD per month as a starting.

Now personal feedback from some I-bankers - I-banking jobs suck! Yeah, that's true. For first hand experience, contact any I-banker you know and ask them about the work profile and how interesting their jobs are - you'll know the reality. Personally consulting seems more appealing to me. I have a friend who inspite of being I-schol (rank holders@IIMA are called I-schols) rejected pre-placement and during placement offers from big I-banks and joined a premier consulting company. His summers was in an I-bank from where he bagged a PPO (pre-placement offer). Life is quite amazing! Isn't it?

Let me know how you feel about this write-up.
See you tomorrow!

Some common queries about CAT answered

Hi all,
Thanks for the enthusiastic responses. I received 100s of questions, I'll try to address here the most common questions posed.

1. Do I need experience to be in the IIMs? Should I go for a little work-ex before applying, some internship, etc.

The answer is NO. Almost 50% students in the recent batches are freshers - experience is not a very big criteria here. Add along with it, another 20% students have 2 months or less experience. Hence, people having 0-2 months of work-ex are the bulk here. So, why need to jam your head with work-ex and stuff... you better practice.
Internship or part-time job is not considered as work-ex here. Here, the authorities look for a healthy mix of freshers and experienced and as such there is no preference.

2. My graduation CG is very low (higher than 50%); can I get a chance?

Yes, you can get a chance. I know quite a few guys with graduation CG quite low. Primary emphasis is on CAT-GD-PI, graduation CG comes as a last priority for evaluation possibly. Otherwise, with only 60% people wouldn't have cracked CAT.

3. I am not very good in English. Do I need to read lot of English literature books? How do I increase reading speed?

I don't think IIMs look for Shakespeares. If you can write grammatically correct english, that is good enough.

To increase reading speed, my suggestion is make a conscious effort to read, read and read. Take a clock and try to read a para as fast a you can. See after one minute how much you retain. Sometimes, taking a glance at the first line, middle line and last line also helps to comprehend what's in the para. Try it!

4. How many months are required to prepare for CAT?

It depends! To some, 5 months X 5 hours a day proved good enough, some may need more time. Start giving mock CAT exams, you'll understand yourself. CAT is a test of confidence. If you are confident how many months hardly matter. If you can answer 90 questions with over 95% accuracy, be sure to get calls from all the IIMs (generally speaking and also depends on the difficulty level).

Keep posting your questions in my scrapbook and mail.
Catch you tomorrow.
- Boss

How to crack CAT? IMS Vs T.I.M.E.

Hi folks,
I checked in this page, it has a nutshell view of CAT.
IMS Catbulletin

Yesterday I was talking to 10-12 students, just to assess which coaching institutes churn in the most number of students. I thought it would be IMS as I personally has consulted their materials - though I did not take their coaching. But, to my amusement both IMS and T.I.M.E. churn out almost equal number of students! The first years rate both the materials as equally good. Their quants materials are much much better than other coachings. TIME provides, according to some, somewhat better material on VA whereas IMS is ahead in DI part. It's now your choice.

This week I had a talk with a student with IIT Kgp production engineering background. He did not take any coaching for CAT, he was preparing for GRE; the GRE materials, especially those of Baron's helped him a lot for CAT. Everyday, he practised for about 5 hours daily - 3 mock tests of GRE/CAT every week and rest four days would be his feedback time. In feedback time he thought about possible strategies and where his preparation is going wrong or what he is doing right. He also prepared in a group - total 4 students, all of whom landed in IIMs. Hence, a good, sincere, intelligent group definitely helps! His strength was Quants and he did extremely well there. He did farely well in other sections too. His cat percentile was 99.9. Impressive!

For GD-PI he enrolled in IMS. Everyday browsing of ET, Business India, etc. helped him to feel confident. His GD was on a single page case on Xerox Inc. He was not very vocal initially but kept a note of whatever everyone said. Last 10 minutes he spoke where he validated and extended some student's points and rejected others with a solid argument. Two students got change from his GD group.

His PI was for 45 minutes. Main questions were from acads. The panel consisted of 5 professors from IIMA, they did not ask him anything about industry but were focused on his academic career and his software background. One question was asked about a corporate entity, he said he was not much aware of the present scenario in different sectors.

So, what do you gain from this? That -
  • In nutshell, concentrate on your strengths for CAT, get a very focused group, practice-practice-practice together and learn from others.
  • In GD, Over-enthusiasm sometimes hurts, be sure about what you're talking with good logic and rationale, take a note of what others are talking too.
  • In PI, Profs will ask on your strong points mainly - so need to mugg everything up overnight. Mention topics on which you know quite deep- shallow knowledge won't help!
  • If you don't know, say no in PI - don't make a story there.

Keep preparing and Enjoy!

Monday, August 28, 2006

How to prepare for CAT?

I don’t claim to be an expert in preparing for CAT; but, what worked for me can work for you as well. Let me start from the very beginning. This is what I did.

Starting preparation: I wasn’t from engineering background or even maths background. So, I started with a refresher of my maths knowledge, especially geometry and trigonometry from Standard X and XII th books. This took round about 15 days – for me to become expert in basic maths! Most importantly, make a close knit CAT preparation group (2-3 members or else it will be a chaos) who will share every bit of knowledge with each other. The intention is everyone of your group should crack CAT. Remember, in CAT you’re not competing with your friends but with yourself. Yeah, that’s true! Everyday give at least 2 hours for learning something new and 1 hour for discussion within the group.

Second step – Get a good coaching: All the coaching institutes nearly provide the same materials – A set of materials on basic maths and English along with a set of question papers. Give at least one month to browse through the basic stuff before hunting down the question sets. Increase your word power through books like GRE Barron’s word list (it’s really helpful) or sites like Grammar you can learn from Baron’s and Princeton’s, otherwise from internet too you can download grammar manuals. My technique was to read a word and it’s meaning every morning when I woke up and memorize it during brushing my teeth. I hope you have a CAT discussion group. Use as many words that you learn appropriately while discussing with group members. If someone else’s jargon is incomprehensible, don’t hesitate to ask him/her the meaning. That’s how you learn.

Third step – Start taking tests: Now is the real challenge! Start taking tests everyday. Call your group members at your home or go to his/her, open a test paper and start taking tests. Follow the following strategies:

  1. Try to answer equal number of questions from each section within the stipulated time limit (2.5 hours).
  2. No guess work during practice. Remember it very well.
  3. Try to eliminate the difficult ones and pick the easy ones. At least 60% questions would be easy and your skill is to pick those up without digging into the difficult ones. They will only waste your time without any fruitful result.
  4. Once the time limit is over, check the number of correct answers. Don’t worry even if you manage only 15 to 20 correct in each section – main aim should be accuracy. Accuracy should be in the tune of 95% to bell the cat. Overtime your accuracy and speed will increase.
  5. Now, take 2 hours to solve the difficult ones which you were not able to answer. Search internet for the solutions if the solutions are not given in your material.
  6. Make a note which are the sections you didn’t do well. Revise that portion next day.

Take as many tests as possible. The only way to crack CAT is to PRACTICE, PRACTICE and PRACTICE.

Fourth step – Stop 10 days before exam: Enough of tests, assuming you practiced for 6 long months. Now stop! Take a break, hang out and chill. You have put in your efforts and now is the time to relax. Don’t worry about your speed and skills. Just enjoy life!

On the D-day, take a good shower and feel confident. Go in front of your mirror, look at yourself in your eyes and say – “You can do it mate!” You have put in your efforts and leave the rest on God. Follow the same strategy as you did in practice tests. Well, the test question paper may be a surprise with different number of questions and sections – don’t get nervous. Start from your strength, if your strength is quants, start with it. Give equal time for each section and try to pick the easy kills. Remember, if you’re facing difficulty after so many months of hard labour, others will face it too! So, relax and start answering with an eye on the watch. Don’t make guesses – unless you are Houdini. Of course, you can make intelligent guesses at your own risk. Save last 5-10 minutes for again browsing through the sections. Try to check if you’ve answered equally from each section. This is important as the evaluation is not on a single section but on the overall paper where you’ve to clear each section’s minimum.

You can get a glimpse of your chances on browsing your coaching site, which will inevitably put in a probable average score and what score would be enough. Personally, I think if you’ve answered at least 50-55% questions with over 90% accuracy your chances are high, depending on the difficulty level. If the question paper appears easy to you, you know you have to answer more.

So, in essence, the basic mantra of preparation, as you have understood by now, is to PRACTICE. It’s the magic mantra! In total you would need about 8 months to prepare; that would be good enough for CAT.

Have a nice day and PRACTICE. Send me your comments to

All the best,


Sunday, August 27, 2006

What you know and don't know about IIM Ahmedabad

Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad - IIMA
IIMA, like any CAT aspirant, was my dream and it's a dream come true for me to be studying here. Well, it's not an ordinary blog about CAT in general - it's not only about the strategy: how to crack CAT and enter this coveted institute? It's also about how to survive in the institute! Yeah, surviving here is more difficult than clearing CAT! If you don't believe as any IIMA alumni you know. You won't get such personal first-hand information from any other blog - I am going to tell the inside story of IIMA, ranging from nightouts to studies. If you have any question or suggest me some topic to write on, drop a line at For the outsiders view of IIMA, please visit

First, Why IIMA?
Because IIMA is the best business management school in India. Simple! No other degree will offer you such coveted salaries. All questions about salaries and placements - don't be impatient! I'll post everything here. Wait for future posts.

Second, Does IIMA teach different from other b-schools?
No! Here they teach basically the same material. But, the teaching pattern is case study based (which I'll discuss subsequently) and the pressure is enormous here. I'll discuss about the pressure and how people handle it well to have all the fun and still study.

Third, What are the degrees offered here?
Basically four degrees are offered here.

1. PGP - Post graduate programme in Business Management. It's the flag-bearer of the institute. It's a two years diploma (yeah, diploma! But with better value-addition that other MBA degrees). First year is loaded and no time chill - second year is quite chill, because second year CGs don't count. For details please visit the IIMA page. Batch size was 250 nearly but need to check this year after the new quota regime.

2. PGP-ABM - Post graduate programme in Agribusiness Management. It's a very good opportunity for the Agri graduates, though now it's not mandatory for all students to be from agri background. Same 2 years duration as PGP, but in second year pressure is more as they are supposed to learn agribusiness subjects too. First year course work is same as those of PGPs. Only they have a couple of subjects extra. For details, please visit IIMA page. Batch size is 25 currently.

3. FPM - Fellow Programme in Management. It's the doctoral programme. Earlier it used to be equivalent to doctorate, now it's full fledged doctoral programme of 4 1/2 years duration. First year course work is the same as PGPs, with two subjects extra. From second year onwards, the FPM courses primarily aimed at reasearch starts. Stipend is Rs. 12,000 per month with a contingency grant of Rs. 100,000. Eligibility is a 4 years bachelors degree or Masters for non-technical degrees. Details are available at IIMA page. There is no batch size, in general 20-25 students are granted admission each year.

4. PGP-X - One Year Post-Graduate Programme in Management for Executives. As the name denotes, it's a one year programme. Mainly software engineers are the participants in the first batch. The participants are provided with a really good residence (AC, TV, refrigerator, etc.). Details can be found here. This year total 60 students (who are mid-career executives) were admitted but the number of seats are supposed to increase soon.

The latest programme to be launched next term is the
PGP-PMP: One-Year Post Graduate Programme in Public Management and Policy. It seems to be primarily aimed at the IAS/State service commission officers. Details about the students' profile will be known only when the first batch arrives.

These apart, a number of management development programmes are offered here. I can get the details if the readers want and post it here.

Fourth, How to apply?
Three strategies are there:
1. CAT: Common Admission Test, held every year on second Sunday, every November. Forms are distributed between July-August from any SBI branch and from the IIMs. A detailed discussion of CAT will follow is available here. I got entry through CAT.
2. GMAT: Please visit for detials of GMAT. Average score required is above 700. I know 3 guys who took admission with scores in the tune of 720+.
3. GATE: GATE clearance can help you skip CAT for FPM programme and directly appear for the interview. But, you have to fill a separate form for that.

For FPM programme, along with CAT you need to fill a separate form. That form can be obtained online here. Right now it's not available. But once the application time comes, it will be available online.

Fifth, What's the teaching strategy at IIMA?
Here the teaching or pedagogy is very unique. Primarily it's through case-study method. Now what's that? The institute will provide you a bunch of case-materials or cases. These are real life stories about some companies in distress or in need of a new challenge. Your job is to study the case and analyze, then present your analytical view in-class. Here the students speak more - rather than taking notes in boring lectures. They do, what is known as, Class Participation. It means that students are asked to present their views in-class and others share their opinion too. The professor intervenes only when the discussion is going no-where or digressing from original topic. Marks are alloted to each and every student on the basis of class participation.

Add to it, there are surprise Quizes. Yeah, surprise! You never know when a quiz will strike you. At the end of the class sessions in the afternoon, there will be quizzes at least 3 days a week. We had a week in which we had quizzes all 7 days. Quizes are primarily based on learning and intelligence and not memory - thank God! I will discuss about the weightages in near future.

Also, there are announced mid-terms and end-terms every one-and-half months, to test the overall learning.

Sixth, What about placements?
Final Placements usually happen in February-March. There are companies coming to campus offering six or seven figure salaries to students. Three day placements take place - Day 0, 1 and 2.

  • Day 0 (zero) is mainly for investment banks & big consultancies. Almost 40 students get placed during day zero which runs for 2-3 days.
  • Day 1 is mainly for banks, consultancies and HR related jobs. Almost 90% of the batch gets placed during day 1.
  • Day 2 is for marketing/sales jobs. Hardly 10% students are left. This year only 5 students were left on Day 2.

Each day runs for minimum 2 days. 2 days? Yeah, that's what the lingo here.

Summer placements also follow the same line. The process has already started, students are making CVs etc. Here the CVs have a specific format and it's very crispy and attractive. Every year some hopes are made, some are lost during summers. The main training lasts about 8-10 weeks during April-May. In June, the classes start again.

Please keep checking this blog everyday. I'll post something or the other about the life here. Mail your questions to me and I'll put the answers in my blog. All the best to the CAT aspirants. May your dream come true. Post your queries at


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