Of the registered 2.30 lakh MBA aspirants, as many as 1.92 lakh candidates appeared for Common Admission Test (CAT) 2021 last week at 438 centres in 156 cities across the country.
The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) may offer a preview at the 75 best management institutes in India, but every year, thousands of applicants hope to secure a seat in the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (IIM) branches of Bangalore, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Calcutta, Kozhikode and Indore (BLACKI), as well as Delhi, among others.
While results will tentatively be announced by the second week of January next year, cautiously optimistic candidates have already begun their preparations for the IIM Common Admission Process (CAP).
IIM graduates on Quora set expectations, share tips and tricks:
‘CAT 2021 tougher than last year’
Conducted in the online format in three slots of varied difficulty, CAT 2021 had a total of 66 questions in the categories of Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (24), Quantitative Ability (22), Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation (20).
Rajesh Balasubramanian, an IIM-B graduate who runs an e-learning company for CAT preparation, attempted the first slot and described it as difficult. “VARC was decent enough, LRDI was weirdly tough (at least for me) and Quant had some pretty time-consuming questions. Overall, I would argue it was tougher than CAT 2020,” he wrote.
IIM-Shillong graduate Sanchari Das, however, pointed out that the first step of the process might just be the simplest one. “CAT is the easiest part. If I could, I would give CAT another time than face the interviews. Although, you don’t have to worry about them now, you will have to one day. The best way is to be prepared,” she wrote.
‘One step away from your dream college’
Candidates make it to the next round(s) after meeting the cutoffs of individual sections of CAT and also the overall cut-off, which, for the general category, is in the 99th and over percentile for the oldest and topmost IIM institutes. The newer ones, however, usually shortlist candidates with overall CAT percentiles ranging between 90 and 99.
“Just one step away from your dream college! This is not the time to relax and enjoy your sweet victory, rather to buck up and bring forward your A-game!,” wrote Akshay Sirsalewala, an IIM-K graduate. Regarding preparations for the Written Ability Test (WAT), Group Discussions and Personal Interviews (GD-PI), he said key areas to focus on include domain knowledge, current affairs, knowing one’s CV, ‘HR questions’ and ‘MBA questions’.
“The candidate needs to be thorough with the subjects they have studied. [If not,] I think this is the biggest interview-killer. It won’t hurt to revise your graduation subjects, at least your favorite ones. I urge you to go through some of your past books and get a feel of the important topics. Brush up on current affairs. Read the newspaper daily,” he advised.
“Be thorough with your interests. If you are a Kathakali dancer, mention it explicitly. Don’t say ‘my hobby is dancing’, you might be asked about salsa, bollywood, hip hop or jazz styles,” he added. “Some questions you need to be crystal clear with are strengths and weaknesses, biggest achievements and failures, and long-term and short-term goals. In all probability, you will be asked, ‘Why MBA?’ Write the answer, vet it by two-three peers and professors and learn it by heart.”
Meanwhile, IIM-A graduate Hareesh Kumar said applicants must practise GDs with a group of friends who also made it to the next round. “A wide range of topics can be found on online forums like PaGaLGuY; some members even collaborate to do Skype GDs. If not, find a good institute with a moderate batch size. [For my preparation], I talked to an instructor and was floored by the way he asked me questions,” he wrote.
While some IIMs don’t hold GDs at all, several replaced the WAT with an online PI last year in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. When conducted though, Quora users say, they’re usually centred on critical analysis of current affairs. IIM-A graduate Shweta Arora suggested referring to previous years’ WAT topics to get a better understanding.
“When you’ll scroll through these, you’ll find that the majority of them are opinion-based. [In 2019, there were questions regarding] the relevance of the MeToo movement; views on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Indian society, and whether technology is good or bad for the current industry scenario,” she wrote. “[In 2018, there was a question on whether] writers should be free to express their views, even if it challenges beliefs of certain individuals or groups, [while in 2017, one was on describing] the effect of Facebook and Twitter on our personal and public life.”
Conversion: the final stage
Each IIM differs in the specifics of their admission criteria, which are announced soon after the declaration of CAT results. The composite score is usually considered on the basis of combining a candidate’s CAT score, WAT and GD-PI scores, Class 10 and 12 marks, undergraduate and postgraduate marks, and work experience, if any.
According to IIM-S graduate Saurya Shubham Chauhan, components such as “gender” and “academic” diversity are also considered.
Elaborating on the admission process of IIM-C, he claimed, “If you are a female applicant, you would be getting four extra marks in the gender diversity component. So, you can score around 16 marks less in CAT and will still be getting a composite score equal to a male with the same academic marks as yours. A male [applicant] who is an engineer won’t be getting any marks in the academic diversity component. [But] with 25 months of work experience, he will be awarded six marks.”
Does work experience help?
IIM-L graduate Srikanth Sharma opined that having work experience as an MBA aspirant is an “absolute must”. “If you are a fresher, you would definitely not appreciate the significance of a lot of subjects you would learn in IIMs. Books teach at a micro-level, but an entry-level job also teaches you macro-level skills. If you do MBA without work experience, you miss out on that learning, as a job post MBA will be more of macro-level learning. The major disadvantage here is that you would not be able to connect well with your subordinates,” he wrote.
IIM-A graduate Aviral Bhatnagar, who said that his alma mater stresses on academic diversity, said work experience will always serve as a good talking point. “IIM-B has historically tended to prefer candidates with work experience, while IIM-A and IIM-C have had a sizeable share of freshers,” he wrote. “All in all, I would say make your experiences your own, make the interviewers live them, and be earnest. Work experience or no work experience, you can always show why you are a good candidate.”
“The most important thing that I learnt was that they are looking for a reason not to fail you, but to select you,” he added.