How to start preparing for CAT (IIM)

Last Updated On: September 3, 2016

How to start preparing for CATHow to start preparing for CAT? As mentioned by many, CAT (Common Admission Test) is one of the toughest exam to crack. It is the gateway to getting into prestigious IIMs and other top B-schools of India. A lot of CAT aspirants ask me how to prepare for CAT. Here I am sharing a few tips which I feel helped me in cracking this exam.

Understand the syllabus

This is a useful tip for almost any exam. Understand the syllabus by going through past year’s papers and official guidelines. CAT can be segmented into four broad parts-

  • Quantitative Ability
  • Data Interpretation
  • Logical Reasoning
  • Verbal Ability

The concepts used in this examination are broadly of class 10 level. However, the questions are little bit tricky to solve and require good amount of logical thinking. But it can be developed by practice.

Begin with the end in mind

Start your preparation with sheer determination. Whenever you feel demotivated, you can dream about the day when you will crack the exam and it will definitely motivate you. March-April is a good time to start preparation for the exam which will be held in October-November.

Should you join coaching?

This is based on a lot of things. If you have a lot of time, you can go for coaching. However, if you are into a hectic job and get very little time to study, you can prepare on your own without wasting that time in going to coaching. Coaching will only give you guidance. Rest depends on how sincerely you practice.

Also, the syllabus of this exam does not require any special training. Most of the things we already study in our school. There are few concepts which can be revised from books and other material. Rest is a lot of practice.

Books and material

First of all, get CAT preparation material of some good coaching institute.

For Quant, there are two good books- Arun Sharma & Sarvesh Varma. You can refer to any of these. I referred the latter one as suggested by one of my friends. However, I think the former is more popular with the students. Both the books are good. But don’t buy both. No need to unnecessary collect a lot of books & material. If you have limited time, solving one book is enough. Go for the second book only when you have finished the entire syllabus.

No special book for concepts of Data Interpretation, Logical Reasoning and Verbal Ability. You can rely on the coaching material for all the concepts and can solve all the practice questions. However, you can refer to some books on these topics only after you finish the entire syllabus.

For verbal, you also need to read “Word Power made Easy” by Norman Lewis. It is a very good book which helps in increasing vocabulary not by memorising stuff, but by understanding the ideas behind the words. It is distributed into 45-47 sessions meant to be read one at a time. It is a must-read book and should be completed within two months of starting your preparation.


You also need to read a few good story books as explained in the next point.

That’s it. Yes, you do not need any other book for concepts. This much is enough.

Note- For detailed list of important books, please refer my post “List of Important Books for CAT Preparation“.

Reading, reading & reading

Many students, specially engineers are already good at quant but perform badly in verbal. Earlier, CAT was heavily based on vocab and grammar concepts. But these days, it is more of a general English exam which tests one’s command over English in common usage. You should be very much familiar with English.

The only way to improve your verbal score is to read a lot of good books written in standard English. These can be fiction, non-fiction or anything, just written in good English. I have already written a blog post regarding this. You can read it here: How to develop the habit of reading. I have also mentioned the example books there. Reading 4-6 books during your preparation would increase your familiarity with English and you can easily score good.

Test Series

This is like the Holy Grail of CAT preparation. Subscribe to one good Test Series and write all the tests very sincerely in simulated environment. Fix a day, say Sunday, fix a time, say 9 AM, and give the test every week at the same time. Sit in proper position while attempting the test and tell all your roommates or family members not to disturb you at that time.

Once you write 15-20 such tests, CAT will no longer be a stranger to you. When you will sit for actual CAT, you will feel as if you have done this a lot of times and it will help you to remain confident during the exam.

Most coaching institutes try to set the Mock Question paper to be as near to the real exam as possible. Subscribe to a test series which is more difficult than actual CAT. You may find it difficult to score good in the mock tests. But it will boost your confidence when you will find the actual CAT to be easier than the mock tests. Many good test series are available.

News coverage for post-CAT preparation

Once you clear CAT, you need to qualify the Personality Test rounds of various colleges which include Group Discussions, Written Tests and Personal Interviews. Qualifying CAT makes you eligible to attend this stage and its your performance in these rounds which finally help you getting selected. Preparing for this stage immediately after CAT result can be difficult. Try to follow the basic news in your daily life from today itself. This will ease down the load of preparation for Personality Test rounds and boost up your confidence as well.

And that is all. I followed these things and I feel it helped me to get through this exam (Scored 99.41 percentile in CAT). I hope these tips will help you in preparing well for CAT. All the best for getting into an IIM!

You can also refer to my detailed interview published in a MBA preparation magazine (Careers360) here:

Note: I have not suggested any particular coaching center for coaching, material or test series because I do not know names of a lot of coaching centers. I know only two which are TIME and Career Launcher. I subscribed to TIME Test Series and referred to CAT preparation material from TIME. But I have heard that Career Launcher is equally good and you can refer to that as well. It all depends on your convenience and availability in your area.



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