How a CA, NTSE Scholar and a Published Poet cracked CAT 2021 with 98.49% to get into IIM Ahmedabad

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Updated on October 19, 2022
A published Poet, NTSE Scholar, EU Essay Contestant, Animal Lover, a Chartered Accountant, CAT 2021 topper, Padmasandhya S cracked the exam with 98.49 percentile and has converted number of top B-schools including IIM Ahmedabad. Before joining and improving the academic diversity at IIM Ahmedabad, she earned 31 months of working experience at Barclays. Read her CAT preparation strategy and success mantra
CAT Topper Padmasandhya S, IIM Ahmedabad Student

A Published Poet, one of the top 5 contestants in European Union (EU) Essay contest, a scholar in National Talent Search Exam, a Chartered Accountant, Padmasandhya S was able to discharge multiple roles as a working professional and also prepared well to crack CAT 2021 with 98.49 percentile with a 91.18 scaled score and has joined PGP 2022-24 batch at IIM Ahmedabad.

Padmasandhya was a working professional at Barclays while preparing for CAT 2021 exam and preferred self preparation with the help of CAT books by Arun Sharma instead of joining some coaching. Despite being weak at DILR and Quant, she overcame the challenge with her determination and scored a high sectional percentile of  95.36 in DILR and 94.73 in Quant. In VARC was her strong area in which she scored 98.69 percentile. Apart from IIM Ahmedabad, Padmasandhya also converted IIM Lucknow, IIM Indore, IIM Kozhikode, IIM Shillong and all the new and baby IIMs.

Hailing from Chennai with a major part of her life spent at Bangalore, Padmasandhya S belongs to a family of working professionals. Her father is a retired General Manager from Indian Oil and her mother was a Maths teacher for high school and college students. Padmasandhya is an animal lover also. She has three cats Yogi, Shaggie and Bikkie who are also an intrinsic part of her family. Padmasandhya has an excellent academic profile. She scored complete 10 CGPA in Class X from CBSE Board and 97.2% in Class XII. A Chartered Accountant, Padmasandhya S has earned 31 months of work experience at Barclays before joining IIM Ahmedabad.

With a firm confidence and planned self preparation strategy, Padmasandhya prepared and appeared only for CAT exam. She cracked CAT 2021 and got into her dream IIM. She focused on balancing the time between her work and preparation. Padmasandhya has great interest in Writing and Singing also. invited Padmasandhya S to share her preparation and CAT day strategy, how she cracked IIM Ahmedabad interview and more.

Q: Why did you decide to pursue an MBA program? What were the key motivators?
I had two main reasons for deciding to pursue an MBA. Firstly, I had always wanted to explore career options beyond finance. These choices were generally accessible and available to me only if I had an MBA. I wanted to develop my perspective holistically and not limit it only to finance. Secondly, as a CA without graduation, I never got to experience college life. I felt an MBA at a reputed institute would provide me with that experience.

Q: Is prior work experience important for an MBA Student? How does it help during an MBA program?
I do feel it is an important factor among many other things. Talking from experience, having worked for 2.5 years, I am not who I was as a fresher. Work teaches you how to interact with different kinds of people, how to get things done, how to communicate, how to prioritise and most importantly, help you discover your unique talents and challenges. This knowledge, I have found, is immensely useful in your MBA journey. Further, since we follow the case study method in the classroom, I find many of the topics relatable. You match what is discussed in class with your own experiences at work and analyse what could have gone better or how it could have been resolved. As a result, the learning becomes personal and once something has a touch of “you”, it’s hard to forget it.

Q: In your opinion, is there any advantage of being a fresher in MBA program?
Being a fresher brings its own set of advantages too. My peers who are freshers bring unique dimensions to the classroom. Plus, if you are straight out of college, it helps to have the academic momentum going!

Q: How do the Academic & Gender Diversity help in MBA Program?
Diversity is what sets apart an MBA program from other post-graduation courses. My peers are from various interesting backgrounds: engineering, journalism, CA, literature, science, psychology, law etc. When you gather folks from all these different facets and bring them together in a classroom, the discussion takes on a multi-dimensional avatar. As a manager or an entrepreneur, it is important to develop such a holistic perspective to ensure you take the best decision possible. Often, instructors engage us in class debates with each other where we find ourselves grappling with points made by our peers we had never thought of. As a bonus, having a diverse class helps you understand different subjects. You take the help of the scientists and the engineers in quants-related topics and of the psychologists in subjects on understanding human behaviour.

Gender diversity is another important element of an MBA education. Conscious efforts are being undertaken all over the world, including India, to have better representation of women in the corporate sphere. While participation of women in the workforce is improving, their presence in the upper echelons of the commercial world is still sparse. Having equal number of women on board is required for the simple reason that they make about 50% of the population, if not for other more complex reasons. The best way to make women leaders is by empowering them right from where the corporate world begins – the B-School.

Q: What role do the Extra curricular achievements like Sports, Music and other areas play in admission process?
Extra curricular achievements are good-to-haves but not must-haves. While they do not have much weightage in the shortlisting process of most IIMs, they make for good talking points in the interview. But do not worry if you do not have significant achievements in this area. A lot of my peers and I don’t have them and yet, we made it!

Q: Did you self-prepare for CAT or did attend a coaching centre?
I did self-study for all the sections because I was most comfortable with it. The practice stems from my CA days where I did self-study for almost all the subjects. Further, since I was working, I wanted to give myself the flexibility to be able to prepare when I wanted and not force myself into a class after a tiring day at work.

Q: What was your overall preparation strategy for CAT?
A: I started preparing for CAT 2021 somewhere in the middle of June 2021. I took a mock test to understand my strongest and weakest areas. I made a relaxed schedule of about two hours daily when I would cover different topics from the Arun Sharma set.

Due to work commitments, I could not study much in September and October. During this phase, I attempted a few mocks over the weekends and spent an hour each analysing them. In November, I took a few days off from work and revised concepts I had already learnt. I took mocks till the last week before the exam.

Q: Was there any particular section that you were weak at? How did you overcome this challenge?
I found number theory in QA and DI to be challenging. The only way to deal with them is to do more types of problems and build your confidence by taking sectional mocks.

Q: Please share your sectional preparation strategy for CAT? How did you prepare for VARC, DILR and Quant in CAT?
A: I started off with my weakest areas which were in QA and DI. I started LR in August 2021 and did not specifically prepare for VARC (except for mocks).

Q: What role did Mocks play in your success? How many mocks did you attempt before the exam?
A: Mocks played the biggest role in my preparation. CAT is more a strategy game than of knowledge. Knowing what questions to pick, which question to do first and how many to answer, are all you need to crack the exam.  More importantly, being calm and thinking straight even when the going isn’t great, is what would help with sailing through the test. Mock tests helped me in fine-tuning my strategy and build my mental stamina.

Q: Please share your CAT Exam Day Strategy. How did you plan your test taking?
I had the morning slot for the exam. In the morning, I revised a few QA concepts from a small journal I maintained while preparing. The journal also had an index of mistakes that I had committed while taking mocks/sectional mocks.

Once in the exam centre, I ensured I had a full bottle of water and that my stationery was in order. When the exam began, I followed the strategy I had identified during my preparation, occasionally making small deviations to suit the situation.

Q: How did you remain Motivated through your preparation journey? Please share the Motivational strategies that helped you prepare well
I was not always motivated. There were times when I questioned myself as to whether I was on the right track. In fact, I scored a 53 percentile in the last-but-one mock I took before the exam (highly do not recommend)! But some strategies that kept me going are listed here:

  1. Take time to enjoy life: I would go out every weekend to spend a few hours with my friends or family. We would eat out, go to the beach and shop at the mall.
  2. Make a practical schedule: My schedule wasn’t strict and tight. It allowed me to make progress without getting stressed.
  3. Do what you like when you like: Supposed your schedule states you must do QA right now but your brain itches for a nice seating arrangement puzzle, do the latter. Forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to would lead to disappointment and demotivation.
  4. Envision yourself in your dream college: When the going gets tough, remind yourself why you decided to take up this journey. Imagine yourself taking a stroll in your dream college and the experience you are waiting for.
  5. Read success and failure stories: Read the success stories which are abundantly available and realise no one had it all easy. Read the failures too (which are harder to find) to prevent yourself from making the same mistakes.

Q: A lot of MBA aspirants struggle with distractions from Social Media. How did you manage it?
Social media can be a distraction or a preparation tool. It depends on how you view it. I would check WhatsApp and Instagram once every few hours to know what is going on around me. My Instagram feed has current affairs posts, cat videos and memes – each either helping me with my prep or helping me relax. Discipline is key. Every time I opened these apps, I would not spend more than 5 minutes on them. I did not want to uninstall because only working and studying would have led me to burn out.

Q: What are the mistakes that aspirants should avoid during entrance exam preparation?
The biggest mistake I have seen, is students following another “successful” student’s exam-taking strategy. You must realise that the strategy works for them because they worked hard to tailor it for themselves. You need to find out, by trial-and-error, what works for you. Do not follow the herd. You have unique strengths and challenges, and your exam-taking strategy must answer to that. Do not think of it as a waste of time. It is the best investment you can make.

Second, do not get too stressed. This exam is not the end of everything. There are so many options in today’s world that you could explore. If you place the exam as the focal point of your life, it will cause a lot of stress and may lead to sub-optimal performance. Regard it as just another exam.

Third, ensure your devices are in order at the examination centre on the D-Day. This is a mistake I made, and it cost me about 6 marks (which is expensive)! Check them before the exam starts and should there be an issue, please reach out to the invigilator immediately.

Q: What were the key components in final selection round at IIM Ahmedabad?
The key components were the Analytical Written Test (AWT), the Personal Interview (PI), academic profile, work experience and the CAT score. IIMA does not award marks for gender diversity and selects students from specified academic pools.

Q: How did you prepare for the final selection round?
For the PIs, I participated in a few mock interviews taken by my PI mentor. I made a list of topics from my CV relating to my academics, work experience and achievements from which questions could be asked. I also read the editorials of reputed newspapers to help me form opinions. Lastly, I analysed and prepared answers for common questions like “Why MBA? Tell me about yourself” etc.

Q: Please share some of the key questions asked in the Personal Interview?
My interview revolved around technical questions from my work and CA subjects, domestication of cats, poets from Tamil Nadu, favourite author, detailed questions on the works of my favourite author, current news, how to travel by land from Ukraine to India, control over the Black Sea, tiff between IOCL and Reliance, refineries in India, distance between India and Sri Lanka, current news affecting the banking industry.

As you can see, the questions were asked from a wide range of topics but were mostly connected to my CV. I did not answer some of them and I could have answered some of them better!

Q: Was your Interview conducted Online?
No, it was in person interview

Q: What were your key criteria while selecting a B-school for admission?
I looked at college rankings, courses offered and career opportunities.

Q: Apart from IIM Ahmedabad, which were the other top B-schools that Shortlisted you?
Apart from IIM Ahmedabad, I was shortlisted by IIM Lucknow, Indore, Kozhikode, Shillong and all the new and baby IIMs.

Q: Which all top B-schools offered Final Admission to you, apart from IIM Ahmedabad?
All of the above IIMs offered me final admission apart from IIM Ahmedabad

Q: Now that you are in a top B-school, tell us your impressions of Life in a B-school?
Life at IIMA is far more hectic than I had imagined! There is a deadline almost every day for various assignments, club activities, competitions or cultural events! But what makes it all worth it is the amazing cohort you share the classroom with, the camaraderie that flows easily among the peers and the second-years who guide you every time you need help.

Q: Finally, what is your message and tips for candidates preparing for CAT and other exams?
My message for CAT aspirants is

  • Believe in yourself. You are worth it
  • All the effort you are taking today would pay off.
  • Do not compare yourselves to others. Everybody’s journey is different.
  • Compare yourself with who you were yesterday.
  • If you have understood a new concept today – congratulations, you are better than who you were yesterday.
  • Take baby steps and be patient.
  • Greatness takes time.

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