Coming from the small town of Surat in Gujarat, Shubham Bajaj cracked CAT 2020 with 99.98 percentile and has converted number of top B-schools including IIM Calcutta. A B-Tech in CSE from IEM Kolkata, Shubham has earned about 3 years of work experience at Nomura Research Institute Financial Technologies India Pvt. Ltd, Kolkata working as Software Developer. Despite finding it challenging enough to maintain between the motivation for CAT preparation and work pressure consistently, Shubham did the balancing well and not only cracked CAT 2020 with a high score in first attempt but also converted IIM Calcutta, the top B-school of India.
With a firm confidence and planned preparation strategy, Shubham was confident to crack CAT 2020 with high score and get into his dream IIM. He did not appear in any other MBA entrance test apart from CAT. Apart from IIM Calcutta, he converted IIM Lucknow, IIM Kozhikode, IIM Shillong, FMS Delhi and all the nine new and baby IIMs which participated in Common Admission Process (CAP)
Shubham likes Solving logical puzzles, Watching and playing cricket, playing chess and cooking. MBAUniverse.com invited Shubham to share his preparation and exam taking strategy, GD-PI experience. Read on for his views and success mantras.
Q: How did you perform in CAT 2020?
A: It was my first CAT experience and I am happy that I cracked CAT 2020 in first attempt. I scored 99.98 overall percentile in CAT 2020; 96.08 percentile in VARC section; 99.99 in DILR Section and 99.93 percentile in Quantitative Ability section.
Q: Apart from CAT 2020, which other exams did you appear?
A: I did not appear in any other exam as I focused on CAT only.
Q: Which top B-schools have offered you admission and which one you have finally chosen?
A: Apart from getting final admission offer from IIM Calcutta, I converted IIM Lucknow, IIM Kozhikode, IIM Shillong, FMS Delhi and all the CAP participating IIMs. I finally decided to join IIM Calcutta
Q: What have been your academic back ground? Do you have some work experience as well?
A: I am a B.Tech. from IEM Kolkata in CSE. I have 34 months of work experience in Nomura Research Institute Financial Technologies India Pvt. Ltd, Kolkata as Software Developer. My home town is Surat.
Q: What was your overall preparation strategy for CAT?
A: My CAT journey began in the year 2019 around mid-June when I decided to pursue MBA due to the inclination towards the business aspect. I started my research with the exam format, reading a few experiences here are there. I took up a few mocks and analysed them to understand my strengths, weaknesses, and improvement sectors. But I received an onsite opportunity from my organization that clashed with the examination dates and decided to postpone the aspiration for one year.
I began my CAT preparation again in 2020 around April, and I found it challenging to maintain the motivation and work pressure consistently. I saw many people scoring reasonably well with their scores posted on PagalGuy, and I contacted them to form a study group. The purpose of the group was to help each other improve their weaker sections. We used to analyse mocks once or twice a month to understand everyone's perspective and learn better methods for solving a particular LRDI set or a QA question. This process helped a lot in improving ourselves. To summarize, my overall CAT preparation included giving around 30 mocks from a couple of coaching institutes, self-analysis of those mocks followed by group analysis. Also, it included learning few concepts from the YouTube free resources, participating in the free events organized by various online coaching institutes on Facebook.
Q: Please share your sectional preparation strategy for VARC and LRDI in CAT?
A: For VARC and LRDI, I relied almost entirely on the mocks and past year CAT papers. More than the quantity, it’s about the quality when it comes to resources. Focusing more on the mock analysis, having different strategies based on past performance and evaluating those to identify the best approach is critical for one’s success.
Q: Please share your sectional preparation strategy for Quant in CAT?
A: For QA, I needed to go through some of the concepts which were not clear enough because of long gap of 7-8 years when I last solved those concepts. I found Rodha YouTube playlist on Quants quite helpful for most of the basic understanding. Along with it, I referred to Prepzone daily events organized on the Facebook Page. During the later phase, I also attended free workshops on topic wise discussion organized by CrackU on YouTube. I also gave few sectionals to increase my attempts in this section.
Q3: Was there any particular section/area that you were weak at? How did you overcome this challenge?
A: Being an engineer and the love for logical puzzles, I was good at LRDI and decent in QA. But, the major concern was VARC. In most of the mocks, I could not even cross the sectional cut-off for this section, but I realized a few points during the preparation which helped me score 96+ percentile in VARC section in the actual CAT exam.
- Initially, I was of the belief that you need to increase your number of attempts in VARC as it is a scoring section and people attempt entire section. But, I believe it is not at all necessary and having an attempt percentage of 80 with 80 percent accuracy is much better than 100 percent attempt with 50 percent accuracy. So, I decided to attempt one RC less on the D-day and spend a little bit more time on evaluating the attempts better.
- One basic and important thing we need to understand is that VARC is not a lot about having a very good vocabulary knowledge or extremely great grammatical skills. For people who are having difficulty to score the sectional cut-off, they need to understand that its more about comprehending what you are reading. Do not assume any thing from your own. Do not bring your personal bias into the picture.
- As most of the experts say, go for option elimination. In most of the cases, you will easily eliminate 2 options out of four and for the remaining 2 options, you need a little bit careful attention. In mocks, there might be ambiguity and both the 2 options maybe close enough and you might not agree with the answer, but in actual Cat, it doesn’t happen.
Q: What role did Mocks play in your success? How many mocks did you attempt before the exam?
A: I was more or less dependent upon mocks for most of my preparation. And I wanted the mocks, where the number of people attempting the mocks are more. So, I chose Time and IMS (both having 15k people approx).
I personally believe that you need to keep solving the mocks on a regular basis, may be one mock or two mocks a week. Some people believe in completing the syllabus and only then attempting the mocks. I believe that even if a particular portion is incomplete, you should attempt the mock and test the concepts which you have prepared. Also, for the chapters which are not completed, you will understand on how to have the roadmap for preparation for that particular topic.
But along with the mocks, mock analysis is extremely important. Giving 20 mocks and analyzing them is much better than appearing for 50+ mocks without analysis.
Q5: Did you self-prepare or attend a coaching centre and why?
A: I relied mainly on self-preparation because I had the basic hold of the concepts and I believe coaching is mainly from two perspective. One, if you do not have the basic concepts covered and the other is if you are unable to manage time.
But, I did have the study group with people scoring consistently scoring above 99 percentile, and I was also a member of the Pagal Guy Dream Team (a team of 30-40 people selected based on Past CAT Score, mock scores and their attitude towards the Cat Examination). These two proved beneficial to me as I could reach out to anyone in case of doubts or strategy discussion.
Q6: Please share your strategy for the CAT Day. What was your last-minute preparation? How did you plan your CAT test taking?
A: I was a working person, and I did save my leaves initially to take a couple of weeks leave before the D-day to keep my mind calm, composed and focused towards my goal. I did not appear for a lot of mocks during that time and on alternate days appeared the past CAT papers from 2017-19.
On the D-day, I was allocated Slot 3, and had already heard from Slot 1 and Slot 2 about the difficulty of LRDI and VARC. But, I did not let that affect me and focused on my strategy. I always believed that if a particular section is difficult for me, it is for everyone in the slot as well.
For VARC, I had the strategy of attempting the RC’s first and then the VA part in last 10 mins.
For LRDI, I went in a sequential manner and was able to solve 4 out of 5 sets in first 34 mins. However, could not complete the last set due to shortage of maybe a couple of minutes.
For QA, I had the strategy of attempting questions sequentially and have a check on my number of attempts after every 10 mins and start skipping few questions if I am slower than the speed of 5 questions/10 minutes.
Q: How did you prepare for GD/PI/WAT?
A: After scoring fairly well in the CAT 2020, I was pretty confident of getting a good number of calls, and wanted to make most of the opportunity.
I had a pretty good knowledge of my WorkEx and Mathematics, decent knowledge of academics but lacked in General Awareness, Current Affairs and Personal Questions. My GD-PI-WAT preparation involved following strategy
- I focused more on improving my weaker sections.
- I started going through a few YouTube channels like KhanGS and Dhruv Rathee to understand the major issues in the country and the world.
- Also, I had joined Prepzone GDPI course which had a daily discussion on one of the topics among the aspirants. This provided a lot of information regarding those topics.
- I kept giving mock interviews to understand different kind of perspective and cross-questions based on my answers.
- I went through multiple rounds of transformation of my answers to basic 8-10 common personal questions like “Tell us about yourself”, “Why MBA”, Strengths, Weaknesses, etc.
Q: Please share your PI questions at IIMs?
A: Sharing below the PI experience at IIM Calcutta. IIM Lucknow and IIM Kozhikode
IIM Calcutta PI Round Q&A
P2 — Tell us something about yourself that could increase your chances of getting in…
P2 — What is a binary function
Me: Two operands and one operator.
P2- Given a function for X with binary values and result also as binary… How many such functions are possible…
Me: First told, it depends on the operators. If we can only use one operator, we can have only one function for n variables.
P2- Function considering input boolean value and output boolean value
Me: understood he wanted a relationship between domain and range… And I told 2^n
P2- asked how many for 1 variable
P2 — Then how it is 2^n…
Me: Could not answer and said sorry sir…
P2 — Where do you stay
P2 — Which college for engineering…
P2 — Police commissioner of Kolkata. (My job and college is in Kolkata)
Me: I do not know, sir…
Done from my side…
P1- You are from Nomura heard about Softbank?
Ans Heard the name when I visited Japan but do not have much information regarding the same.
P1 — where did you see on hoardings?
Me: Yes, on hoardings as well as there were offices of Softbank
P1 — who funds these startups like Paytm, Zomato…
Me: Started telling ways of funding…
P1- Interrupted. He wanted to know exactly who funds.
Me: Told Angel Investors (not sure again)
P1- Who regulates the price of Sensex or sets the price of Sensex…
Me: I told it’s an index based on the price movements of 30 companies with the largest market Cap and reflects the percentage change from reference year…
P1 — Still, who regulates the stocks and commodities trading
Me: SEBI (Securities and Exchange Board of India)
P1- Who is the head
Me: not sure, sir, but it is Ajay Tyagi…
Verdict: Converted in 1st list!!!
IIM Lucknow PI Round Q&A
P1 — Tell me something about yourself.
P1 — Anything else
Me: Added onsite opportunity and 1 line about family.
P1 — Nothing about family?
Me: again said that same thing.
P1 — Why MBA?
P1 — So, being an engineer, can you tell me 2 things
1.Why do the Ganges and all rivers flow from North to East.
2.Why are sewers round in shape?
Me: Sir, I am not sure if there are some mechanics involved still, I would try and answer based on logic.
P1 — Interrupted, are there Mechanics involved?
Me: Sir, for the 2nd one, I am not sure, maybe due to the flow rate or CSA, which can change the force or something…
P1 — Okay, what about the rivers?
Me: Sir, not all rivers flow from North to East, I am from Gujarat, and the Tapi river flows towards the West and meets in the Arabian Sea and not the Bay of Bengal. For the Ganges, I believe it is the slope of the hill that makes it flow towards the East.
P1 — Do you invest in stocks?
Me: Sir, I am starting to research and follow a bit but have not invested till now.
P1 — Okay, one last question, Why is the market increasing despite the economic condition.
Me: Sir, there are multiple reasons.
P1 — Interrupted, tell me 3 main reasons.
Me: FII, Positive response of the budget, Better performance in sectors like IT, which had a lesser impact during Covid-19.
P2 — Do you code as a part of your daily job?
Me: Yes, sir, not daily, but a major role in development.
P2 — Tell me about the application of your company? Is it a web application or software…
Me: Fumbled a bit was unable to express (calmed myself and answered)
P2 — Asked about my role, front end or back end?
Me: Told both, but majorly, I work on the backend code
P2 — Which language?
P2 — Why Java is known as a compiled and interpreted language both unlike C/ C++
P2 — Do you use any framework?
P2 — For connection to the database?
Me: Hibernate as the ORM
P2 — Advantage of Hibernate over embedding SQL?
Me: Reusability of Code as it is DB neutral.
P2 — Don’t we need to change anything when switching databases?
Me: Sir, we need to. The details of the connection for the underlying database.
P2 — Where do we change that?
P2 — or we can change the XML.
(he had in mind application-context.xml, I suppose)
P2 — Why is Java slow as compared to C/C++?
Me: Told one reason and told I don’t recall other reasons.
That’s all, folks!!!!
Verdict: Converted in 1st list!!!
IIM Kozhikode PI Round Q&A
M1 — Are you still working?
Me — Yes
M2 — What is your Job profile? Coding or something else
Me — Told
M1 — Your surname is Bajaj. List down 5 companies under Bajaj Group.
Me — Could tell only 3 (Bajaj Auto, Bajaj Finance, Bajaj Allianz)
M1 — Since you are a cultural minister at school, who was the cultural minister?
Me — Could not answer.
M1 — Minister of minority affairs?
Me — Again could not answer.
M1 — What is NASSCOM?
Me — Told that they are involved in providing funding to startup
M1 — What are Unicorns in terms of startups?
Me — A company worth 1 billion (used word revenue and market cap initially).
M1 — Cross questioned whether market cap or revenue?
Me — Told basically the total valuation of the company. (again tried to pressurize). I remained with my answer.
M1 — Does India have any unicorns?
Me — Told Paytm (a decacorn), Cars24, and Zerodha.
M1 — How would you plot a graph between shoe-size (x-axis) vs. Cat score (y-axis)
Me — Told something.
M1 — Can you answer using “r” in statistics?
Me — Sorry, sir, I do not know about that.
Over to M2
M2 — Since you like logical puzzles, how would you design a program for sudoku?
Me — Explained the restrictions of Sudoku (column, row, and small square). I told them I would keep populating the numbers and use a backtracking algorithm for reaching the solution.
M2 — If I was a consultant and I need a program to compare any logo with existing logos, what approach would you use?
Me — Asked for some time. I told them I could compare the primary shape of the logo, then maybe the count of sections and sub shapes. Used IIMK logo and tried to explain how it will show greater similarity with Mercedez and BMW logo.
M2 — He asked if there is any simple way to do that?
Me — Told that maybe we could superimpose one logo over the other and try rotating the logo and comparing the superimposed image. I just told, what was coming to my mind.
M2 — What are your hobbies?
Me — Told. (including Cooking)
M2 — Do you bake?
Me — No
M2 — Do you know about the classical languages of India. They had a chat between them and said “Shrestha Bhasha,” as it is called.
Me — Could not answer.
M2 — Saw a photo frame in my background with musical symbols? Asked what are they called?
Me — Musical Notes?
M1 — the Prof is asking what the individual symbols called, like the “&” symbol and so on are?
Me — Told no idea.
M1 — Which all calls do you have?
Me — Told
M1 — Okay, Thanks
Me — Thank you, sir.
Verdict: Converted in the 1st list!!!
Q: In this pandemic situation, was you PI-WAT conducted in person or was conducted Online? How was your PI-WAT experience?
A: I did not have a WAT as it was scraped off by most of the colleges. The PI was online for all the calls that I received. IIMA, called us to a centre, but it was a video conferencing call from the centre as well. So, we can call it virtual as well.
One of the difficulties in online mode is judging the body language. It might be both advantage or disadvantage based on one’s perspective. But, for a person who is more confident in the body language and expressing themselves, it is a bit of disadvantage.
Another problem I found was during one of the interviews, I was given a logical puzzle and I could not solve it entirely because I interpreted it wrong which I later realized as highlighted by some of my friends after the interview. If it would have been an offline interview, the professor would have seen on the paper how I am interpreting, and could have guided accordingly (Not necessarily, but from the experiences, I have read, they do in such cases).
Q: What motivated you to choose IIM Calcutta over other B-schools?
A: There were few reasons why I chose IIM Calcutta over other B-schools :
- It is the oldest IIM in India and has a time-tested pedagogy with a very strong alumni base all over the world. Also, the scenic beauty of Joka Campus, is like a cherry on the top.
- I have an experience in the Fintech organization and it was my work that made me inclined towards business aspect. And IIMC, is known as the Fin Campus, and it could help me in finding myself with a position in one of the finance companies.
- It is one of the Holy-Trinity!!!
Q: Your final message and tips for candidates preparing for CAT 2021.
A: For CAT 2021 aspirants, I would like to say that do not take this as an examination. Rather, take it as a journey of 3 years of MBA life (1 year of preparation + 2 years of college life). Also, make sure that you are not pursuing MBA under peer-pressure or family pressure. Try to read experiences about people who failed, who succeeded, their stories, and learn from those experiences. Also, don’t worry about factors which you can’t change like the past profile and work more towards what lies ahead of you. I had a profile of 8/8/8 and I am from a Tier-3 engineering college but if you have the skillsets, you will definitely make it to one of the top institutes.
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