The road to success may not be lined with Eureka moments, but what matters is the discipline to keep going with entire honesty, even if the journey appears to be long. Mr. Ashish Deopa, alumnus of BIT Mesra (Electronics and Communication Engineering) and former Events Head of N.A.P.S. graduated with a CGPA of 7.97 in 2019. He began his career with PwC as a Technical Consultant and worked as a SQL Developer for over two years. He is currently pursuing his MBA from IIM Ahmedabad (Class Of 2023) after achieving a 99.91 percentile in the CAT examination in 2020.
We, at News and Publication Society, got a stellar opportunity to indulge in a conversation with Mr. Ashish Deopa where he shared his golden strategies to excel. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Q.1 We’re all aware that having a strong strategy in place is critical for nailing any competitive exam. So, in your opinion, what is the best way to prepare for the CAT exam?
Ans. I gave my first CAT exam in 2018 when I was in the final year of college. That year I appeared for the examination because everyone else was appearing for the same. Frankly speaking, I genuinely wanted to ace the exam but I didn’t get the time to prepare. So that was just a demo attempt. I scored about 96 percentile in my first attempt at the CAT examination which is not a very high score. Next year, I again appeared for the examination after joining my job at PwC but this attempt too was without preparation as when you join a new company you are more excited about the job profile that falls upon you and due to this, I again scored a below-par percentile which stood approximately around 97. When the pandemic happened, and all of us were locked in our homes, I realised that I wouldn’t get an opportunity like this in the future. It was the best time to make use of the opportunity of being locked inside. Therefore, in June, alongside my work, I started preparing for the exam strategically. My foremost focus was on analysing my weaknesses and strengths as far as the syllabus of the exam was concerned. There are three sections in CAT: Mathematics (or quants), Verbal Ability and Data Interpretation. From my past experiences and the performances of a few mock tests that I gave, I realised that English and Verbal Ability were something that I didn’t need to worry about. But Logical Reasoning and Mathematics require practice. Even if you are good at maths, unless you practise, you will most likely waste a lot of time in the exam. You won’t be able to choose which questions to answer and which to ignore. I started focusing on quants and logical reasoning from June and continued to do so till October. Try to solve as many questions as possible. I didn’t join a coaching institute as most of the resources were available online for free, and I didn’t require any guidance. All I needed was a chance to practice. I also couldn’t quit my job because that was a necessity. I had to take out chunks of time on the weekdays to analyze my performance in the mock tests, for which I had to use my weekends that required an intensive 3-hour routine. I kept small notebooks in which I would scribble down the answers to problems I couldn’t answer. Revising the questions and formulae that I had been getting wrong accidentally helped me brush up on my arithmetic concepts. If you do that for a long period before the exam, you can be fairly confident that you will be able to pass the exam. Of course, in these circumstances, you can’t ignore the role of luck and fortune. It doesn’t matter if one has been preparing for 10 months or if one terrible day is all it takes. I simply went in with the mindset that I had given it my all, and now it was up to the examiner, the centre, and sheer luck.
Q.2 For the year 2020, the CAT exam pattern has changed. What made this experience different from your past tries, and what were the advantages and disadvantages you encountered when taking CAT 2020?
Ans. We were initially taken aback by the rapid change in pattern, which occurred in the middle of our planning. The exam’s duration was shortened from the typical 3 hours to 2 hours due to the change in the schedule. The best aspect of this move, in my opinion, is that I no longer have to stay in front of a computer screen for three hours straight, as sitting in one position for so long without a break is quite tough in the winter. The major issue with this move, on the other hand, was that you couldn’t afford to make mistakes during preparation or the exam because making mistakes means wasting time. So, based on my previous experience, I believe that even if the examination pattern changes, there will be something great and something negative associated with it for each candidate. It is up to the candidate to choose what he took away from the situation, and there is no such thing as a blanket statement in this regard.
Q.3 Do you think that being good at a particular section offers some kind of advantage for the candidate?
In comparison to the other two sections, each candidate has a superior command of one. As a result, everyone should aim to maximise their scores in the sections where they excel, which will have the greatest possible beneficial impact on the final results. Nobody can conquer each section in the same way. The most important thing to remember while attempting the paper is that your final percentile is what matters in the end. Nobody is going to look at your results or watch you perform. So, if someone excels at a particular aspect of the curriculum, they should aim to get as much skill in that area as possible to achieve a fantastic final score. For example, I struggled with math. So, I maximised my score in the verbal segment, which was my strength, and I achieved close to 99.9%ile in this section, however, I was bad in mathematics, so I prepared appropriately and scored a fair percentile. I would not have achieved such a high percentile if I had focused entirely on my faults and ignored my strengths.
Q.4 Aside from a well-thought-out preparation approach and a thorough comprehension of the pattern and syllabus, I believe that the availability of high-quality resources is equally vital in preparing for such a competitive exam. So, could you tell us about the resources you used during your preparation?
Ans. I depended entirely on the online repository of old mock papers because I did not enrol in any coaching classes. TIME, IMS, Career Launcher, and other well-known coaching classes have their test series. Someone compiled all of the old test papers and turned them into PDFs. So, thanks to the internet, I was able to locate them and download them all, after which I began solving one paper per day. Aside from using internet resources, I took part in the IMS and TIME test series. The IMS test series is comparable to the actual CAT paper, but the TIME is more difficult. As a result, I had a well-balanced test series experience. I recommend that everyone subscribe to at least one, if not two, test series. However, in my opinion, two test series is the optimal number of test series to subscribe to if one wants to seriously prepare for this exam. In terms of other resources, I never followed a specific book during my preparation because I believed I didn’t have enough time to read over those large contents. I concentrated solely on last year’s papers and practise exams. And, at the end of the day, it’s all about practice, therefore one can practise questions from any source that comes to mind. In addition, I would advise applicants to follow appropriate YouTube Channels for their studies, since some YouTube creators provide quite beneficial content for students.
Q.5 Many people have struggled during the COVID era. You might have had a different experience preparing for the CAT, and you were also working. What challenges did you experience throughout the pandemic, and how did you overcome them?
Ans. To begin with, I don’t want to compare my experience to that of others because many people have endured adversity such as job loss, the death of a family member, or have been diagnosed with COVID. It would have been quite difficult for them to prepare for both exams at the same time. The issues I was having were small. Due to the lockdowns and limitations imposed during the pandemic, we had to abandon our house-help who used to come to prepare our food and clean our house while I lived in Kolkata. So, there was one of those times when we had to juggle all of our household chores with our office work. Furthermore, as a result of the work-from-home scenario, most organisations began to take their employees’ time for granted, causing them to be overworked. When I returned to my hometown, though, my family was extremely supportive, which aided my preparation. These were a few of the issues I had to deal with throughout the pandemic. However, in comparison to the experiences of those who have endured real difficulties during their training, I would not describe my path as particularly difficult.
Q.6 Was there ever a moment when you were so dissatisfied with the everyday job routine that you didn’t mind putting in the minimal effort for CAT? If yes, how did you get through it?
Ans. In 2019, I was content with my employment; but, in 2020, I stopped being content with my position. Even if it hadn’t been for the tests, I would have considered changing jobs or doing something else. I chose CAT because it was a more streamlined option for me, and it was a field with which I could identify. I also believe that now is the best moment to apply to a B-school since as you get older and develop experience in a business, it becomes increasingly difficult to carve out time for yourself and leave everything else to enrol in a new college. As a result, I thought that this was the last year in which I could make or break it. As a result, I didn’t consider the possibility of quitting my job preparation or something similar.
Q.7 In college, you were a student majoring in ECE. We’re all aware of the time-consuming courses offered by BIT Mesra’s ECE department, as well as the fact that you were involved in numerous groups and extracurricular activities. So, how did you prioritise your tasks, and what recommendations would you give other freshmen taking the exam?
Ans. As you get older and more responsible, sorting your priorities becomes increasingly important. When we first start college, we don’t have a lot on our plates, but as time goes on, things start to pile up, and you have to choose events and activities based on their relevance. Even in a B-school, you must be extremely clear about what you want to do after graduation. By our senior year of college, most of us had a good idea of what we didn’t want to do with our lives. I knew I didn’t want to continue with my degree programme, and I wasn’t very interested in coding and such, so I selected PwC, and after that, I had a complete year to focus on other things I want to pursue. In terms of my priorities, I was unsure whether I needed to take the CAT tests in my final year, so I prioritized clubs and college fests ahead of everything else, because you attend a good college to experience these things, and your final year of college is a phase that you will never experience again. In addition, the memories and experiences you collect in college will aid you in your future ventures. So, if you’re in your final year of college and you’re certain that you’ll have to take the CAT in the future, spend the first three to four months learning about the exam. However, don’t neglect other activities because the CAT is only the first step; you’ll need to face interviews after passing the written exam, so you’ll need to develop a strong resume and an influential personality to ace the interviews, and these experiences will assist you in developing these qualities.
Q.8 Do you believe your result would have been different if you had started your preparation earlier?
Ans. I believe that if I had begun my preparations in college, I would have scored slightly higher in the examinations. However, I cannot guarantee that I would have converted my interview call into a college acceptance offer because the final conversion that you get is a blend of multiple factors. The CAT score is one among them, but it isn’t the only one. If I had begun earlier, I might not have had the two years of post-college work experience that I did, I might have lost out on numerous significant events that I took part in during my undergraduate years, and so on. So, in my opinion, this is a highly subjective topic, and the answer differs greatly from person to person.
Q.9 Can you please share some last moment preparation tips and also advise us on how to prepare for the interview round?
Ans. The CAT exam is scheduled for November, so by the time November arrives, you should have a firm grasp of the majority of the concepts. In the final month, you should concentrate on all of the weaknesses that you noticed during your preparation, and you should continue to revise your weak parts throughout the curriculum. You must also keep revisiting the solutions to the more difficult questions and following the clear methods to the longer difficulties. In the last month, you should not focus on learning new concepts. Your priority should be to review what you’ve already learned in the past. In addition, you must devote an equal amount of attention to your strengths. Make an effort to take as many mock tests as feasible. Continue to analyse your mistakes in the mocks and strive to improve on them. Low scores should not demotivate you. Throughout my preparation, I was a below-average performance, but what matters, in the end, is how you perform on exam day. So, keep that in mind and try not to make the same mistakes you did in the exam hall during your preparation. Maintain a positive attitude toward the exam and approach it as if it were any other exam, you’ve ever given. Eliminate any past baggage that you are bearing on your shoulders and try to maintain a positive attitude toward the entire CAT experience. The interview process is a whole other adventure in itself. You should begin working on yourself as soon as you acquire your CAT score. The interviewer is just interested in learning more about you. So, at its core, you must examine your personality and a review of who you have been over time. In addition, you must read the daily newspapers regularly to appear intelligent and informed about what is going on in the world in front of the interviewers. The interview will put every facet of your personality to the test, so you should prepare properly. And if you have confidence in your personality, you will succeed with flying colours.
Q.10 If you could get another chance to go back in past and start your preparation for the CAT exam all over again then what would you do differently? What advice would you like to give to your past self?
Ans. I would probably devote more time to mathematics because I couldn’t master it even by the end of my preparations. I would also have avoided becoming upset and stressed out about not performing as well as others. These thoughts will undoubtedly enter the mind of every aspirant and will consume a lot of time and mental peace. I would try to keep myself away from all negative emotions and focus on my preparation rather than the outcome.
Q.11 Can you share some of the college memories that you hold on to dearly?
Ans. I cherish the four years I spent in college. I distinctly remember the pact I had made with my friends to attend each cultural event held at the auditorium in its entirety. I clearly remember that I didn’t miss a single event, whether it was the music night, band night, or ‘Dramzest.’ You also have the opportunity to go out in your final year because you are almost free by the eighth semester. I used to go to Royal Retreat every other weekend. These are indispensable as far as college life is concerned. And, of course, running around the college during the 3-4 days of ‘Pantheon’ and ‘Bitotsav’ and getting to interact with the juniors as well. It’s so much joy to be in your final year of college because virtually every other day, someone is getting placed, and you either get a treat or offer a treat. I also recall getting suited up and making it to each photo session.
Q.12 Lastly, can elaborate a little about your life and routine in IIM Ahmedabad, the crowd, culture and how eager are you to explore the campus?
Ans. My classes are going to start from 5th July but we have been overloaded with multiple assignments and activities beforehand, ranging from acquiring proofs for the points that we would like to append to our CV for the coming placement season to getting to know and mingle amongst our batchmates. We have been divided into separate groups and assigned dynamic activities to do. We have had sessions with the staff and the faculty members of the college to discuss how things work at IIM Ahmedabad. It’s overwhelming for all of us in the first place. I didn’t see a lot of people from our college in that institute. I started feeling like an outsider after seeing how many IITians and NITians were there in the institute. But over the past months, I believe I also have been able to register this on my mind, that it doesn’t matter if you aren’t from an IIT or NIT because everyone here is an overachiever. Finding your place takes time and is overwhelming because the imposter syndrome hits you severely. Once I had taken care of that thought, I was able to interact more openly with individuals. I’m aspiring to forget all the negatives that I carried and create a new identity within the institute. And I’m very much eager to explore the campus.