Why CAT 2022 & IIFT Topper Pushti Shah declined 11 IIMs to join IIFT Delhi; How She cracked Exams – MBAUniverse.com Interview

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Updated on June 26, 2023
A Fresher and Biotech Graduate, Pushti Shah declined the admission offers from IIMs and has joined IIFT Delhi (MBA-IB) 2023-25 batch with a business aim. Pushti cracked the CAT 2022 with 98.38 percentile and IIFT entrance with 99.63%ile with her preparation with IMS. She had converted 11 IIMs, IIFT Delhi among other top B-Schools. Read her CAT preparation strategy and success mantra and why she opted IIFT instead of any IIM
CAT 2022 & IIFT Topper Pushti Shah

With CAT 2023 expected on November 26, 2023 and IIFT in Dec 2023, MBAUniverse.com in its series of CAT 2022 topper interviews, brings before you success story of a CAT and IIFT exam topper who cracked CAT and IIFT not with 100 percentile, but was offered admission by IIMs as well as IIFT Delhi and preferred IIFT to IIMs.

Coming from a modest family of Mumbai, Pushti Shah, a Biotech graduate and a fresher without work experience, cracked CAT 2022 with 98.38 percentile and cracked IIFT Entrance exam with 99.63 percentile with her well devised preparation strategy and support from IMS Coaching Institute. Despite getting admission offers from 11 IIMs, she decided to join IIFT Delhi MBA-IB 2023-25 batch, coming down all the way from Mumbai. A Bachelor of Science (Biotechnology) from SVKM’s Mithibai Degree College Mumbai, Pushti has no work experience and also has a gap year after graduation before appearing in a series of MBA entrance exams and getting admission offers from top MBA colleges. Pushti loves Reading (Ergodic and Mythology Genres), mixed-media painting, junk journaling, solving crosswords, bookbinding and Formula 1 racing

IIM Lucknow to Conduct CAT 2023: Check Exam Date, Pattern, Syllabus, Preparation

MBAUniverse.com invited Pushti to share her preparation and CAT day strategy, how she cracked CAT and IIFT, why she preferred to join IIFT Delhi instead of IIMs and more. Read below the her Interview with preparation strategy

Q: How did you perform in CAT 2022?
I scored 98.38 overall percentile in CAT 2022 at a scaled score of 76.83. I scored 97.40%ile in VARC, 85.25%ile in DILR and 98.46 %ile in QA.  

Q: Apart from CAT 2022, which other exams did you appear? How was the performance?
Apart from CAT 2022, I appeared in IIFT MBA Entrance and scored 99.63%ile. I also appeared in NMAT and scored 257 marks; Appeared in XAT 2023 and scored 92.11%ile and appeared in MAH-MBA-CET 2023 and scored 99.87%ile.

Converts – IIFT Delhi, XLRI Delhi, IIM CAP, IIM Rohtak, IIM Amritsar, NMIMS Mumbai ; Finalised IIFT Delhi

Q: With such good scores in all the MBA entrance exams that you appeared, which top B-schools shortlisted you for PI Round?
I was shortlisted by IIFT, SPJIMR (Marketing), IIM Rohtak, all the 9 CAP Participating IIMs, IIM Amritsar, MDI, XLRI (BM) and NMIMS

Q: Which were your final Converts after PI Round?
 I converted IIFT Delhi, 9 CAP IIMs, IIM Rohtak, IIM Amritsar, XLRI Delhi and NMIMS Mumbai

Q: Before we understand your preparation strategy, please share your key criteria why you preferred to join IIFT instead of IIMs and other top B-schools?
As I am someone with no formal education in business administration, I had realised I wanted to do an MBA solely for the learning experience and someday revive my business and creative dealings with proper industry knowledge and contacts. As such my top three criteria to decide on which B-school to opt for admission are Tag Reputation, Placement Figures, Peer Group and Alumni Diversity. Of all my converts, IIFT fit the bill and its flagship program on International Business was in line with my startup that involved importing and selling journaling supplies from Malaysia and the Philippines. Thus, I finalised on IIFT Delhi as my college.

Q: This is really great to have researched so well before finalising your B-school. Let us now understand what was your overall preparation strategy for CAT?
The decision to take MBA entrance tests after my graduation in 2022 with a BSc in Biotechnology came with its own set of challenges. I hadn’t studied English, Mathematics, or Data Analysis for about five years and hence, I chose to put my business on hiatus and dedicate 4 months to exam preparation. Right off the bat, I took mocks to keep a track of my progress and would dedicate hours to analyse and figure out my weak sections. As per my mentor’s advice, I would also take time off from studies periodically to rejuvenate. Aptitude tests are not about knowing everything, but just knowing enough. A fresh and a calm mind can do wonders in the high-pressure exam scenario.

Q: Please share your sectional preparation strategy for CAT? How did you prepare for VARC?
My voracious reading habit was my saving grace for VARC. A good reading speed and comfort with difficult vocabulary could turn tables in your favour and allow you to complete the entire paper with time to spare. Most recommend reading non-fiction material for preparation but I feel otherwise. To develop a reading habit, it is important to enjoy reading and that comes when you can keep up with the material and be engrossed. Fiction eases that process and eventually helps you to scale up to Aeon or the Hindu editorials. Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis is an excellent resource for building vocabulary, especially for IIFT, SNAP, CET. VARC interpretations depend on the paper setter and hence, it is not about picking the right option but eliminating the incorrect ones. Initial 3 minutes of the paper I would decide the order to attempt RCs in according to my areas of comfort (science being foremost, followed by economics, and then philosophy). I would attempt 3 of the 4 RCs, solve VA section, and then attempt the last RC. This sequencing is best decided over multiple mock experiments.

Q: How did you prepare for DILR?
There is no set strategy for DILR. The only way to prepare is to solve a couple of sets DAILY to get a hang of the different types of set that could crop up in the exam. Aptitude Jab, a YouTube channel, uploaded a new set daily with It also helped me identify my areas of strength and how to prioritise sets in the actual exam. It is a section that will most test your resolve. Do not flit between sets and build up pressure. Decide on a set to crack and hunker down until you realise it is taking too long and is best left.

Q: How did you prepare for QA?
Like any other non-engineer, QA was my weakest section. Quite often, I would have difficulty clearing the sectional cut-off. I started my prep with solving all the course material provided by IMS. Once I was done going through all the chapters, I relied on PYQs to get a hang of what kind of questions to expect in the paper. While it is a good strategy to rely on your strong areas for quant, be thorough with the basics of every chapter so you do not skip sitter questions in the actual exam. Those extra marks will make the difference between clearing the cut-off and scoring 99%ile in the section.

Q: What role did Mocks play in your success? How many mocks did you attempt before the exam?
Mocks are your biggest asset as an aspirant. They’re the best markers for how far along have you progressed with your prep, how well you prioritise questions in a high-pressure situation, and how your environment can affect your performance. To truly map your progress, take one mock before you begin your prep and then one every week, even if you score terribly. I started off with a 52%ile in my first IMS mock in June and ended with 98.38%ile in CAT 2022. Mocks add highest value to your preparation when you analyse it thoroughly.

Q: Did you self-prepare for CAT Exam or did you attend a Coaching Centre and why?
As I did not have formal education in any of the tested subjects and only 4 months to prepare, I joined IMS. This turned out to be a prudent decision since all the mentors at IMS helped me analyse my mock performance in depth. The online IMS portal had resources to strengthen my weak sections and keep me updated with a concise GK compendium. The peer group I met through IMS Club 100, a nation-wide group of mock toppers, also helped me improve.

Q: Which books did you refer during your preparation and how effective were they?
For the core material, I only relied on coursebooks given by IMS. They covered all levels of difficulty and sufficient to proceed to PYQs. Word Power Made Easy by Normal Lewis was an excellent source for vocabulary building. Reading novels in general helped me keep pace with critical reasoning for VARC and developed a faster reading speed as well. I’d recommend starting with crime and mystery thrillers to keep you hooked to reading and then slowly progress to tougher literature and non-fiction material. For GK, I’d read The Hindu and brush up on current affairs through weekly IMS GK Compendium. Manorama Yearbook is also a good source to brush up on static GK and key events of the year.

Q: Please share your strategy for the CAT Day. What was your last-minute preparation? How did you plan your CAT test taking?
My CAT day strategy and last few days strategy before CAT was:

  • I decided to attempt NMAT two weeks before CAT to test myself in an actual exam scenario and get the hang of test taking. That worked well in my favour and I was better prepared for my CAT attempt. I took my last mock a week before CAT.
  • I started the final week revising sums and concepts I had bookmarked throughout my preparatory journey for two days. Next two days were spent in revising formulae and attempting a few key DILR sets.
  • As instructed by my mentor and through my own experience, I did not touch my books 2 days before CAT. I relaxed (or tried to) with my friends and family, read my favourite books and rejuvenated myself. The friends I made through Club 100 were very helpful during this time. We would have online sessions to talk about our hobbies and interests and just indulge in light-hearted banter. I also took care to maintain a good diet.
  • I had been allotted the evening slot for CAT and reached well in advance to avoid the traffic. I avoided talking to anyone and listened to music to stay calm. When the test started, I sailed through VARC with my reliable strategy of attempting 3 RCs, followed by VA, and was left with enough time for attempting the 4th RC in leisure. It helped to have friends in the morning slot who had informed us of a new question type for VA – sentence completion. I was thus prepared when that popped up in my paper.
  • DILR was the section that tested my grit. Of the 4 sets, I saw a set with numerous graphs and decided to drop that – it was actually the easiest of the lot. The two sets I had picked turned out to be tough to crack and with 5 minutes left in the exam, I had two half-baked solution and the dawning realisation that I would probably have to be back for CAT 2023. I remembered my mentor’s words – It’s not over until it’s over. Knowing I had nothing to lose, I attempted all 13 MCQs based on my rough calculations and skipped TITA. It was JUST enough to help me sail through the cutoff with an 85.25%ile in DILR.
  • So liberated I was with that whack performance, I gave it my all in QA and attempted as many questions as I could. That led me to bag 98.46%ile in my weakest subject.
  • After CAT, I put behind all thoughts of the exam and turned to other exams – MICAT, IIFT, SNAP, XAT – all of which were scheduled a week apart. I spent the interim between successive exams adapting to the different paper formats.
  • IIFT required planning since it had sectional cut-offs but allowed you to switch sections. GK, being objective, was the first section I attempted and it was focused on major current affairs and basic history. Verbal was scoring for people comfortable with vocabulary. The level of difficulty varies every year and it is crucial to adapt to the paper quickly and not lag because of pre-decided number of attempts

Q: How did you prepare for GD/PI/WAT Rounds?
 I began WAT preparation soon after CAT since I had those sections for MICAT and XAT. The key aspects of my preparation were:

  • GDPI preparation is done best with a study group. All the members of my group would evaluate each other’s WAT daily, indulge in group discussions, and cover different newspapers for an all-rounded perspective.
  • For PI, I’d recommend typing out your life events in a Word document. I also listed all my achievements, hobbies, extra-curricular activities, PORs and their impact on my life.
  • I also worked on curating water-tight backings for all the chinks in my profile. Then, according to past year transcripts of the college and the CV forms, I framed answers from the raw document. My mentors at IMS had gauged me well enough and sat with me through multiple reiterations for CV forms. Even the smallest event in your life could be your saving grace. Knowing yourself is of utmost importance. Stay authentic. I once had an interview discussion based solely on what my name meant and how I justify it.
  • Your performance improves only over the course of multiple mock PIs. IMS lined up multiple mocks for each of my interviews over a 3-month period and never was a question repeated. Being grilled in a mock interview and losing it, is better than being caught off guard in an actual interview.
  • One important aspect is to thoroughly research your college before appearing for the interview, knowing the companies that come to recruit, their brands, and why that college is a good fit for you.
  • I was also extensively grilled on domain knowledge for Marketing at SPJIMR and your academic background is no excuse for it.
  • Think School’s YouTube channel is a storehouse of case studies. Citing multiple case studies in my interviews covered up for my bad academic record and lack of work experience.
  • My IIFT extempore was based on privatisation and my answer on Air India acquisition and ITC’s e-chaupal initiative fetched me a straight convert and also sparked a discussion on my career trajectory in FMCG.

Q: According to you, overall, how can B-schools make their MBA admission process less cumbersome for MBA applicants. 
As is evident, Aspirants go through multiple, extensive CV forms and applications during the course of their preparation, my view is that the common troubles faced across all B-schools is due to their website’s unfriendly user interface, glitching response sheets, defunct examination centres, and unresponsive helplines. These factors are at the forefront in building the initial impression of a college in the mind of an aspirant and should be improved.

Q: Finally, your message and tips for candidates preparing for CAT 2023
My message and tips for candidates preparing for CAT are some golden words from my mentors that sustained me throughout the journey. These are – 1. Never attempt the paper with a pre-decided number of questions. Adapt to the paper difficulty and attempt as many as possible. Remember, if it’s easy for you, it’s easy for everyone; do not get complacent. But also, if it’s tough for you, it’s tough for everyone; hunker down and focus on solving. 2. Be a duck – paddle furiously under the surface and stay calm above. 3. It’s not the end of the world if you get rejected – if the college wants a circle and you’re a triangle, nobody’s at a fault. You’re just meant to be elsewhere. Read More CAT 2023: Check Exam Date, Pattern, Syllabus, Preparation   

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