What’s common between a gym and a CAT coaching institute? Both of them have a very high dropout rate. Most people start going to CAT coaching institutes only to realize later that cracking CAT is not their cup of tea. They gradually lose interest and start prioritizing other endeavors.

Read this article to find out: 1.) Whether you should prepare for CAT; 2.) How you should go about it; and 3.) How much time you need to invest to get a good percentile.

Should I prepare for the Common Admission Test (CAT)?

First of all, assess whether you should be looking at an alternate career at all. Consider your grades till the fourth year of BDS, both theory and practical. Assess whether you consistently outperform your peers in clinical practice/hand skills. If you consistently outperform your peers, an MBA should not be your first choice. However, if you feel that though you might become a pretty good dentist, you don’t want to work in this field for the rest of your life, an MBA may be your best bet to branch out and do other things.

If you are not doing so well in dentistry, and think your future will be better in some other industry or line of work, you may look at an MBA.

MBA may become your default option if you meet the following conditions:

  • MUST: You are reasonably good in your quantitative abilities, and have performed well in mathematics in your class X board exams (i.e. scored at least 85%, or equivalent).

You should also meet at least two out of the three conditions below:

  • You have a good command over the English language. Students who have had the privilege of studying in English medium schools have a distinct advantage while attempting CAT.
  • You have an analytic bent of mind, and clarity of thought when it comes to analysis.
  • You are an extrovert, and enjoy the company of people.

Other factors to consider:

Apart from your academic prowess, you should also consider other factors such as your financial position. Ask yourself:

  • Is there an expectation for me to start earning right after completing BDS?
  • In an extreme scenario, will I be willing to invest one additional year for CAT preparation?
  • Am I willing to invest Rs. 10-20 lakhs and 2 years of my life to attend a good B-school program?

How do I go about it?

Look at past 3 years’ question papers of CMAT, XAT, and CAT. Don’t demotivate yourself by directly looking at CAT papers, as you may feel dejected by attempting CAT papers directly.

  • If you are able to score more than 80% in CMAT exam mock papers, or previous years’ question papers in the allotted time, you are good enough to start preparing for CAT.
  • If you consistently score below 60% in CMAT exams, you should reconsider your decision to pursue a B-school program.

If you get more than 80%, feel bold enough to attempt XAT and CAT question papers, especially the Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning (DI & LR) and the Quantitative Ability (QA) sections. Don’t worry, you will be mauled in the QA section, and that’s alright. Don’t feel disheartened at all. If you are struggling with the DI & LR section as well, then take it an indicator that you will need to invest a lot more time and energy than your engineering counterparts to score the same percentile or get to the same college.

By now you may have figured out that engineering graduates will be your most formidable competitors. Reality check: Engineering graduates are much better placed than you in this game.

Assuming that you fulfill these necessary but insufficient conditions, consider investing time and resources (read: money) to join a decent CAT preparation center. Do not join a coaching institute that clubs you with other engineering graduates. You will have to research, discuss with seniors, and like-minded peers about the institute. You may also go with friends and bargain for a dedicated batch for non-engineering graduates. Assuming you are able to find such an institute, start preparing for CAT.

Make sure you budget time to prepare, apart from your regular studies. A basic rule of thumb is for anybody with basic to intermediate quantitative abilities to dedicate a total of 1700 hours for CAT preparation.

  • Verbal and Reading Comprehension (VARC): 600 hours
  • Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning (DI & LR): 400 hours
  • Quantitative Ability (QA): 700 hours

In you are based out of a small town or city, you may take up weekend classes in a large city up to 2-2.5 hours away, as faculty in larger cities tend to be substantially better than smaller towns, competition is more intense, and you are likely to meet like-minded people.

Try to create a study group of like-minded people preparing for CAT within your college campus.

You should start by November-December of the preceding year before you attempt to take CAT, with 60-70% time spent in the first 5 months. Suppose you start in the month of December of the preceding year, and CAT happens in November. Then you should have completed at least 60% of the syllabus by the end of April. Reserve the last three-four months for attempting as many online test papers as possible. Most CAT coaching institutes offer complementary access to these mock tests.

Within QA, you should focus on topics such as permutation and combination, basic algebra, basic trigonometry, and surds. These are topics that non-engineering graduates are not exposed to. Cover these topics in the first half of the study plan.

What’s at stake?

Along the process of preparing for the CAT, calculate the return on investment (ROI) that you aim to achieve. Apart from foregoing your salary for 2 years, you will end up spending Rs. 10-20 lakhs for the MBA program. So, look up the placement reports of the institutes you aspire to get into. Check which companies recruit from these campuses, and the kind of salaries they offer. Even if you know the positions that these companies hire for (e.g., management trainee), salary aggregators such as Glassdoor will give you a fair idea of the salaries you may expect after completing your degree.Look up the alumni of the institute on LinkedIn and see where they are 5 years after completing the degree.

A lot will, however, depend on your CAT percentile. The salary difference between someone who scores a 95% and 99% could be more than one lakh rupees per month. There is a running joke in the MBA community that whether you get one question right in CAT or not will decide if you will end up spending your honeymoon in the Maldives or Manali.


(The author is an IIM alumnus and a former trainer at Career Launcher)

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