How Doordarshan Anchor, Kathak Dancer and Graduate in Tourism, Shefali Chhaya cracked CAT 2019 and Got into IIM Ahmedabad

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Updated on September 17, 2020
DD Channel Anchor and Graduate in Tourism Administration with 2 years of work experience in Travel & Media Industry, Shefali Chhaya cracked CAT 2019 and converted many top B-schools including IIM Ahmedabad. Her CAT journey and finally converting IIM Ahmedabad despite coming from diverse academic back ground is an inspiration for CAT aspirants. Read her CAT preparation and test day strategy and how she finally got into her dream B-school
Shefali Chhaya: CAT 2019 Topper

A big motivation and help for working professionals and non engineers to crack CAT 2020, comes from Shefali Chhaya, who crossed all hurdles to get into India’s best B-school – IIM Ahmedabad. Despite struggling for time as shefali was working professional in Travel & Media Industry, she has broken the myth that cracking CAT and getting into Top IIMs is only for Engineers.

Shefali Chhaya, a Bachelor in Tourism Administration had worked as a travel consultant before moving to the Social Media Team of Doordarshan Sports. Before joining IIM Ahmedabad, she was working as an anchor at various DD Channels. A trained Kathak dancer, Sheafali has been practising Kathak for past ten years.

Now IIM Ahmedabad student of PGP 2020-22 batch, Shefali was working full time when she started her CAT exam preparation. She had to balance between her working hours and CAT preparation yet successfully managed to achieve her aim of getting into IIM Ahmedabad. Shefali’s success also shows how IIM Ahmedabad is changing its admission approach to welcome students who come from diverse backgrounds, and may not be the Top candidates on CAT percentile yardstick alone.

Shefali converted  IIM Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Lucknow, Kozhikode, Shillong and other IIMs. She also appeared in NMAT and SNAP and converted NMIMS Mumbai, SIBM Pune. However she preferred to join IIM Ahmedabad as she found it the best choice for her. Her journey wasn’t a cakewalk. It required persistence, focus and ability to effectively juggle multiple roles. invited Shefali to understand her CAT preparation journey, how she cracked IIM Ahmedabad interview and more. So, read on for getting inspired and accelerating your CAT journey.  

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Q: Let us begin with your performance in CAT 2019. How did you perform in the exam?
A: CAT 2019 was my first attempt. I scored fairly well in it. My diverse back ground also helped me in getting shortlisted by IIM A,B,L,K,S and other IIMs. 

Q: Apart from CAT, which other exams did you appear?
A: Apart from CAT 2019, I appeared in NMAT and SNAP and was shortlisted by NMIMS and SIBM Pune.

Q: So, which B-schools did you finally convert?
A: Apart from getting final admission offer from IIM Ahmedabad for PGP 2020-22 batch, I converted IIM Bangalore, Lucknow, Kozhikode, Shillong and other IIMs. I also converted  NMIMS Mumbai and SIBM Pune

Q. Great Achievement, tell us about yourself and what motivated you to do MBA after doing B.A. Tourism and working for 2 years in a lucrative job of your interest?
Many think that tourism is something you experience rather than study. This is a complete myth!  Coming from a family with a business background, I always had an inclination towards understanding what goes behind making a business plan successful in a holistic approach and decided during my first year of graduation itself that I want to pursue an MBA but after gaining a little work experience. 

Q: What are your academics, interests and family back ground? Please also share about your work experience as well?
I scored 8.2 CGPA in BA Tourism Administration. The percentage of marks in class X was 85 and in class 12 it was 88 percent. I belong to Delhi and my father owns an international travel company by the name of Shivantika Bon Voyage. My mother is a homemaker. My personal interests are Anchoring, Travelling, Baking.  I have worked for 25 months in Travel and Media Industry. 

Q: Coming to your CAT preparation, what was your overall preparation strategy?
A: I started my preparation in January 2019 as I had to prepare along with my work. Given the pattern of the exam, any person like me without a background in Mathematics would get discouraged; however I was aware of my weakness and started my preparation with clearing my basics of mathematics. I initially did easy-medium level questions and then after I was sure of the topic, I moved on to tough ones.

I kept regularly practising and revising the topics. The thing is the more you practice the better will be you speed and accuracy. On Saturdays I would give 6-8 hours total and Sunday’s were for taking and analysing mocks only. I made sure that I solve the questions I found easier first and then move onto difficult ones if time permitted. I only marked answers I was sure of to increase my accuracy. Later when I started getting around 85-90% accuracy I worked on my speed and increased the attempts gradually.

Q: How did you prepare for VARC section?
A: VARC was something I liked; I would spend 1.5 hours before leaving for office every day. Reading the newspaper and diverse topics is the key to making yourself comfortable with any comprehension. I read the editorial from The Hindu, Washington Post and Economic times mainly.

I tried various different approaches about which questions to attempt first, as in this section it’s not easy to identify question’s difficulty level. I finalised on doing VA questions before RC as they don’t have negative marking and then attempted RC depending on the topic. Because of mocks and a lot of reading I understood what genres I like and was easier to solve and thus attempted those first.

Q:  Please share your preparation strategy for DILR Section
  This is the section that is most time consuming but if played according to your strengths can be highly scoring. After office, I used to cover LRDI and QA topics alternatively for 2-3 hours depending on workload.  

My tip is to first scan all the sets quickly and then mentally choose which ones you want to do first. Just because you think a topic is your strength, don’t get stuck on a set or a question. The ideal time to spend on any set is 10-12 minutes maximum. I would suggest to master tables from 1 to 20, knowledge of fractions from 1/1 to 1/20, basic addition and subtraction, etc. for faster calculation that will save a lot of your time.

Q: So, how did you prepare for Quant Section?
A: I spent extra time on this throughout my preparation as I knew this was my weakest area. It might sound weird but I started off from 9/10 basics of Maths since I didn’t have Maths after 10th. I started with Arithmetic initially doing to easy-medium level questions and then after I was sure of the topic moving on to tough ones. My tip is to never leave a topic after it’s done. Once you move on to next topic, take the previous one along with it.

Q: How did you overcome challenges for Quant section?
A:  I found the QA section of CAT to be a bit daunting. I overcame my fear of Mathematics by focusing on clearing my basic concepts and focusing on my strengths which I got to know by giving regular mocks.

Q: What role did Mock Tests play in your success?
A: Mocks are an integral part of preparation for CAT, I used to give mocks every two weeks initially. Gradually I improved my mock scores but there were also mocks where I scored less than the previous one. This is where analysis of mocks becomes really important. During each mock, I made sure that I analyse which topics and which type of questions were my strong areas. While analysing mocks, just don’t check whether your answer is correct or not but also make sure to understand why your answer is wrong and what actually should be the answer. After a while of giving mocks, you’ll eventually figure out topics which you are most comfortable with. This will help you to pick which topic to do first in exams. I gave around 35-40 mocks in total.

Q: Did you self-prepare or attend a coaching centre and why?
A: It surely wasn’t a cakewalk and did become hectic but I didn’t want to leave my job as I love what I was doing at Doordarshan and knew if I managed time properly I could still crack CAT. It does not matter which coaching you take, self-study and persistence actually bring in the difference while you prepare yourself for the CAT exam.

Q: What was your Exam Day strategy. What was your last-minute preparation?
A: I didn’t give any mock or pick up new topics two weeks before CAT. I utilised that time only to work on my final strategy which I had made over the period and revised concepts that I already did. I practiced questions that I knew were my strength in order to be sure and minimize error. 

Q: How did you prepare for PI Round? Please share PI-WAT questions at IIM Ahmedabad
A: Coming from my niche background, I didn’t really have any material or individual to connect with. Due to my Anchoring experience, I had good communication skills and confidence. I formulated my own strategy to approach the GDPI WAT. Reading newspaper helped in keeping my general awareness at par.

IIM Ahmedabad AWT Topic (20 min): Galileo and Pythagoras should be respected more than Shakespeare and Mozart because they impact civilization as it is today. Give logical points against this argument

Q. What tips you would like to share for MBA aspirants preparing for GD-PI-WAT?
A. In my view the tips for PI round are:

  • Interviewers don’t want to know the news, but your opinion on that so always give a balanced view rather than a skewed one no matter how much you personally want to bias.
  • Prepare your subjects in graduation well, focus on 3-4 favourite ones for which you should have in depth knowledge but don’t miss out on other subjects.
  • Give mock interview as much as possible, this will allow you to expand your expected questions bucket, treat mock as real interviews.
  • Don’t panic if you don’t know the answer to 1-2 questions, rather than beating around the bush, just tell them that at the moment you aren’t sure/aware.

Q: What motivated you to choose IIM Ahmedabad over other B-schools?
IIM Ahmedabad was always my dream, and there were no second thoughts about it because of the quality of peer learning from diverse backgrounds, as well as the robust alumni network. IIM A was one of the few colleges that were interesting in knowing about me and why I am the perfect fit for their college rather than bombarding me with feedback that I shouldn’t do an MBA. Interviewers gave me a feeling that I was valued, and trust me nothing makes you stronger than the academic and overall development that IIM A does.

Q: So, how has been the experience of online classes at IIM Ahmedabad?
A: This is the first time I have attended a class in this format and really didn’t expect them to be effective but surprisingly, they have been worthwhile. Considering that we are going through a pandemic, IIM A has made sure that we get all the support needed to enhance our virtual experience. Professors, management and our seniors have initiated various ideas like online club runs, new ways to participate in class and much more. It is however important for one to be self-disciplined since the rigour is no less than usual.

Q: What are your career goals after doing MBA from IIM Ahmedabad?
From past professional experiences, I found fulfilment knowing that the results of my work could influence the direction of a company. With creative solutions to marketing challenges I want to progress in brand management. Also moving forward I want to explore the option management consulting and amplify my impact by applying the same data-driven decision-making framework to a broader range of problems.

Q: Your journey is a great motivation…How can Non-Engineers do well in IIM Admission process?
A:  Interviewers look for something that makes you stand out of the crowd, especially how well you performed in your particular field. Colleges look for students who are the best in their respective fields so it’s important to put your best foot forward in both academically and extra circular areas. For the GDPI-WAT process you should give equal focus and be thorough with HR questions, your past academics/work experience and other general awareness topic. 

Q: What is your message for Non-Engineers, who may be afraid of Quants, but still have talent and aspirations…
A:  First of all start believing that it is possible and you can do it. Many non-engineers who studied Maths up to class 10 have made it to the top IIMs. So you too can make it. Lay the foundation and brush up the concepts. Practice with a timer and do not use a calculator, especially while practicing Data Interpretation. Analyse each mock you take. The more mocks you take, the better the strategy you will be able to form.

Q: Your final message and tips for candidates preparing for CAT 2020.
A: The important thing is to believe in yourself, trust me diversity is more than welcome by business schools and it would actually play in your favour. Give it your best shot, don’t be afraid of failures and you’ll make your way to your dream college!  

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