We have also interviewed CAT topper Althaf K A, a 2017 graduate in mechanical engineering from NITK. Always a high achiever, Althaf worked hard and always aimed for the best and received more than 97 percentile for the CAT 2019.
This 2017 graduate, also fond of traveling, believes in taking every opportunity to the best of his ability and living a life not regretted.
- What were your thoughts right after the examination? Were you expecting such a score?
To be very honest, I would have to say I was very disappointed right after the examination. During my preparation for the examination, I attempted a lot of mock exams, and it wasn’t the same feeling of satisfaction that I felt after writing the actual paper.
CAT examination has three sections, Verbal and Reading Comprehension (VARC), Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DI & LR) AND Quantitative Ability(QA).
During my mocks, I used to perform very well at the Quants section, but during the actual test, I felt I could have done much better. I felt that I could score decently well at both the other sections though, which did make me feel better.
I got 182 overall, and yes I expected within and around that range itself.
- What is the one thing from college that you still miss the most?
Three years into corporate life, what I miss from college the most would definitely be the campus field/playground. I used to play football every evening almost and it was to be honest one of the best parts of my day. I miss the campus life, the whole vibe of the college during Incident.
It’s been three years and yes, I’m moving forward, but I still miss the campus life, so make the most of it when you can, make sure you don’t have anything you regret once you pass out.
- When did you decide to appear for the CAT? What is the story behind it?
Since I began engineering itself I knew that I would have to either write CAT or GATE. I knew that these two examinations would help me take on bigger challenges in life. During my years at college, I had two research experiences and after doing research, I knew that it was not what I wanted to pursue.
I planned on doing an MBA then itself, but one of the things about taking up an MBA is that work experience would definitely come in handy when applying and hence I then decided to write CAT in 2019 after a considerable amount of work experience. I entered the corporate world for two years, realised and learnt more things around me and how the corporate works. I knew it was time to boost my profile and grow and hence I decided to write the CAT examination.
- When did you start your preparation?
I planned to give CAT 2019 which was going to take place in November and started my preparation in January 2019. To be honest, I did not have any idea about CAT exam till then, I just had it in my mind that I would write this exam. I was not aware about the exam and it’s details like curriculum and such in depth. I just knew there were three sections but didn’t know how to go about preparing for the exam.
I went and enrolled myself in TIME Institute ‘s weekend classes, which is where I got to know about the structure of the exam and made me aware about the curriculum of the exam. These weekend classes, to be frank, maybe didn’t help me as such in preparation for the exam but the most important thing was that these classes gave me a schedule. It gave me a structure to follow which helped me remain consistent and complete my preparation more efficiently.
If you’re starting from scratch and not enrolling in any classes, your preparation will be chaotic and you will not have any structure to your preparation.
TIME gives you all the material required, the curriculum, all the topics etc. So I made a note of all the topics, made an excel sheet and prepared a timeline for the next three months and I meticulously followed that timeline. That is how the classes helped me for my preparation, it gave me a structure. Concept wise and theory wise classes might not help you.
- Any specific prep strategies you want to share with the readers?
I guess the best strategy for anyone would be to stick to the schedules that they have prepared for themselves.
CAT preparation is not a cakewalk. You will have some downfalls, you will experience some tipping points and that’s where you should not give up and keep moving forward.
You will be writing a number of mock exams and you are bound to get a few low scores in these mock exams, and it is going to affect your confidence and maybe make you feel like giving up but that is where you must stand strong. It is highly imperative that you do stick through the whole process.
It is important to take breaks, to follow your hobby, still do things that make you feel calm and motivate you every day.
Preparation for CAT definitely does require a huge amount of dedication but most of all it is important that you don’t leave your life behind in this preparation. Do not think that you’ll finish the preparation, the exam and resume to the fun stuff, no. You must prepare as well as pursue your hobbies in tandem.
Other than that, I would say, take as many mock exams as possible.
- What study resources do you feel benefited you the most?
I used mock exams from TIME institute, from an institute called IMS, and an institute named CRACKU. Cracku is not very well known but their content is very good. Using these resources, I gave 54 mocks in total. From January to June I cleared all my concepts and from July to November, I gave 54 mocks.
Every weekend I used to give 2-3 mocks. You need to keep attempting mocks as that is how you learn the best strategy to attempt the final exam. Take a lot of mock exams, build that strategy, build your stamina, your focus, and always learn from the mistakes you’ve made in your mock exams. You’ll slowly learn which set of questions to answer first, rectify your mistakes, gauge where you stand among your competitors, have a fixed schedule and endure it till the end.
Another important resources for me was newspapers. Newspapers can help you prepare for the VARC section and is definitely something that everyone must adopt into their habit as it will for sure help everyone and come to an advantage for anyone, be it CAT or even any interview that you are attending.
- Did your academic curriculum at NITK help you in your preparation?
The main advantage for any engineer for that matter, was the math courses available to us which kept me in the habit of solving questions, I didn’t lose speed. Calculation intensive courses and math intensive courses, hence kept me in the habit of calculation. Even though I had a three year gap after college, it was easy to come back to it. So I would say, it was not the curriculum, it was the habit at NITK which helped me.
- What was the biggest hurdle you came across in your CAT preparation?
Biggest hurdle was my reading habit. I didn’t have much of a reading habit and I knew that I would have to definitely improve my reading habit. Reading Newspapers is the optimum way to improve your reading habit and be aware of what is happening. I started reading newspapers which in turn improved my reading skill and my comprehension skill. VARC was the biggest hurdle for me and I came over it only through reading.
Another hurdle was scoring low in mock exams.
Scoring low can really tend to bring your confidence down and make you lose hope hence surrounding yourself with the people you keep close help a lot. You are bound to get frustrated and thus pursuing your hobby, your friends and family will help you a lot.
- How did you schedule answering the different sections? Any time management tips for the readers?
You don’t have the liberty of juggling between questions/sections in CAT. Each section is locked. Hence you must really be careful how you answer your questions in CAT. You need to have the right strategy for that, for e.g. in DILR you will be having 8 sets total and you won’t be able to solve all 8 sets. You will have to choose your sets wisely. You can find your optimum strategy by writing a lot of mock exams.
Learn how to read a table, histogram, pie charts etc. and make yourself familiar to all that so that when the time comes, it will be easier and will come to you naturally. Improving your reading speed and skill will also help you in VARC sections. DILR sections is very logic intensive, but you will be able to do it if you practise the material given to you by these institutes and learn how to read the graphs etc.
- What are your future plans?
I want to learn more, expand my network and explore opportunities. As of now, I hope to have a career in product management, finance or consulting. You should be open to explore new things, open yourself to opportunities. I am not very sure about what I want to do but I am still exploring and opening myself to everything.
- A word of advice for future aspirants.
A word of advice to everyone in college right now would be to build your profile. You have four good years in college where you are free to take chances, explore your options and learn Make the most of it that you can. It is important to have fun as well as not let any opportunity pass you by. My main thing was that once I leave college, I should not regret anything. I should not regret taking up more chances or not doing the best I could.
It is important to build your profile. Make the most of your experiences in these four years. Always remember, CAT is not the endgame, don’t put all your focus, and overemphasize on CAT.
It is not the endgame, rather it is just the beginning.
These four years in college are the prime of your life, you should be able to enjoy it and build something out of it.