‘XAT Not More Difficult than CAT’ Nandagopal V Busts the Myth; Scored 99.99%ile in XAT 2023; Declines Top IIMs to join XLRI Jamshedpur - MBAUniverse.com Interview

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MBAUniverse.com News Desk |
December 30, 2023
MBAUniverse.com presents the motivational interview with Nandagopal V from Kochi, who cracked XAT 2023 with 99.99%ile and CAT with 99.15%ile and declined the admission offers from IIM Lucknow, Kozhikode, Indore and has joined XLRI Jamshedpur PGDM-BM 2023-25 batch. He busts many myths about XAT in his interaction. A Mechanical Engineer from BITS Pilani, Nandagopal has gained 2 Yrs of Work Experience with ZS Associate before joining XLRI
XAT 2023 Topper Nandagopal

MBAUniverse.com is excited to present inspiring success stories of XAT toppers who secured admissions in XLRI and after taking judicious decision made it to their dream B-school. Get motivated from their well-planned preparation strategies, valuable insights on MBA entrance exam readiness, Personal Interviews, and MBA college selection.

Today, meet Nandagopal V from Kochi. He busts the myth that XAT is a higher difficulty exam. In his view XAT is not more difficult than CAT. He scored higher percentile score in XAT than in CAT. Nandagopal cracked XAT 2023 with 99.99 percentile and CAT 2022 with 99.15 percentile. He declined admission offers from IIM Lucknow, IIM Indore, IIM Kozhikode and joined XLRI Jamshedpur PGDM-BM 2023-25 batch as XLRI conforms to his criteria of choosing the best B-School.

A B.E. in Mechanical Engineering from BITS Pilani, Nandagopal has a work experience of 2 years in the Consulting area with ZS Associate, Pune from 2021-2023 where he drove customer engagement by 33%, and sales lift of 40% across the portfolio; Led end-to-end operations in the Digital Customer Engagement space for a Global 500 Client. His parents are Lawyers in the High Court of Kerala and his brother is currently in Class 12.

A Quizzer, bits and pieces photographer, an avid cricket fan and a music enjoyer, Nandagopal’s CAT and XAT preparation journey is full of lessons. For instance, he overcome his weakness in DM section, and very well used previous papers and mocks to maximize on his strengths. 

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So, with this introduction, let’s get going with the interview!

Q: How did you perform in XAT 2023?
In XAT 2023, I scored 99.9902%ile overall and 99.7871%ile in QA; 99.2965%ile in Verbal; 99.9561%ile in DM and 96.6078%ile in GK

Q: Hod did you perform in CAT 2022?
I scored 99.15 overall percentile in CAT 2022. I also appeared in CAT 2021 in which I scored 99.17%ile.

Q. How different/unique is XAT as compared to other MBA entrance exams in your opinion?
The Decision Making section in XAT is what that separates it from CAT (I cannot speak for other entrance tests). Additionally, XAT is a 3 hour paper, while CAT is only for 2 hours. Speaking of the other sections, Verbal is very variable, when it comes to the difficulty and predictability of questions, as compared to CAT. While questions in QA can be considered more difficult in XAT, the extra 1 hour provides a good enough buffer to handle the section with relative ease. Also, since XAT has 5 options for each MCQ as compared to 4 in CAT, the process of elimination may not be always the best approach to solve questions.

Q: Any myth you would like to bust regarding XAT exam or its preparation?
There are two myths about XAT, I would like to comment on them:

  • People assume XAT to be more difficult than CAT when it comes to the level of questions. It really is not, and is a fairly high scoring exam.
  • People also assume that Decision Making (DM) section is easy, and that is a myth

Q: What was your overall preparation strategy for XAT?
I had prepared for the MBA entrance tests myself, and did not go for any coaching. Like many others, I did not specifically prepare for XAT, except for the DM section. Someone who is preparing for XAT would have prepared for CAT as well, so the QA and Verbal sections can be covered by CAT. The best way to prepare for DM would be to solve only DM sections from past year papers. This section is very subjective, and more often than not, 2-3/5 options might feel correct. They could even be correct, from a different perspective. Unfortunately, XAT does not care about the subjectivity, and that is why it is paramount to practise the previous year papers. This way, the candidate will be able to understand how the examiner is thinking, and will be able to curb their natural thought process to arrive at the correct answer.

Q: How long should a candidate ideally prepare for XAT?
QA and VA will go hand in hand with CAT. Maybe in the month of December, between CAT and XAT, the candidate can focus on the DM section. Also brush up on GK, specifically current affairs.

Q: Please share your sectional preparation strategy for XAT? How did you prepare for Verbal & Logical Ability?
I may not be the right person to answer this, since I never prepared specifically for Verbal sections, for either CAT or XAT. I would recommend going through mocks. To fine tune the candidate’s grasp over the English language, one can learn maybe 5 new words a day. In addition, there is a small yet significant difference between CAT and XAT Verbal reading comprehension. A candidate preparing for CAT from a coaching institute might be instructed to read a passage by skimming through it after reading the opening and closing statements, go through the questions, and then come back to the passage. While a great strategy, this may not always work for XAT, since the XAT passages focus on a comprehensive understanding, deeper than the surface level, to answer the questions. Hence, I would recommend spending time reading the passage, and understand its essence properly.

Q: How did you prepare for Decision Making?
Decision Making is the most important section in XAT. It can make or break your entire score. If you are attempting XAT, you would be targeting over 99%ile. Let’s face it, everyone who ends up with this percentile are good in QA. Most are really good at Verbal. As a result, DM becomes the differentiating factor between a 99%iler and a 99.9%iler. Putting numbers into context, 99%ile started around 50-55% if I remember correctly. 99.5%ile was at around 60%, and 99.8 around 65%. So there is a huge traffic in the 60-65 range, which implies that 1-2 questions can be very pivotal in gaining a huge advantage. Also, it is very easy to not clear the sectional cutoff for DM. So to prepare for DM, my recommendation would be to practise previous year papers, as many times as you want, specifically the DM section. Each of us has a unique perspective that might give us different yet valid answers for the questions in DM. Unless this perspective matches with the examiner’s, there is no point in our justifications. So, that’s why by practising previous year papers, the candidate will be able to get into the mindset of the examiner.

Q: How did you prepare for QADI?
A: I prepared for the QA section in CAT by practising questions from the Arun Sharma book. Most people with over 99%ile are engineers, and are really strong in QA-specifically arithmetic, algebra, ratios, probability and such, since they would have already prepared for JEE math. However, what most of these engineers are weak at, and generally ignore, are concepts in geometry and mensuration. Yes, I know they are boring, but the competitive advantage of putting in the extra hours in them are two-pronged. Primarily, you won’t shy away from answering them since you have prepared. Additionally, now that you are prepared, you might know some theorems and lemmas that can help you solve these questions really fast, thus saving time. Hence, just bite the bullet, and go through these topics thoroughly.

Q: How did you prepare for GK & Essay? How important they are in your view in XAT?
For GK, I looked only at current affairs. If you are going for coaching, just do what they say. If you don’t, like me, just search for material online (Reddit has a lot of quality and free stuff), or leech off your coaching friends. Do not spend too much time prepping for these sections, just try to score 90%ile (14-15 correct out of 25), and get it done with. Regarding the essay, I feel you can do it without any preparation. Just go through common topics – events of national importance like G20, climate crisis, political events and such. (I personally did not even know there was an essay until I saw the questions.)

Q: Was there any particular section/area that you were weak at? How did you overcome this challenge?
I was weak at DM. I probably still am. I don’t think anybody can call themselves good at DM. I honestly did not prepare for the section until 1 day prior to the exam. I decided to attempt the previous year paper, where I scored 2.5 marks in the DM section, with which I couldn’t have even cleared 50%ile. Next day, during the actual exam, I got around 18/20 right, with a percentile of 99.96. So it is quite variable, and luck can play a huge factor. Another day, I would have scored 2/20 in the same paper. Hence, all you can hope for is to just stay composed, try thinking from an examiner’s perspective, try to critically question each option, and arrive at the best answer.

Q: What role did Mocks play in your success? How many mocks did you attempt before the exam?
I attempted 2-3 past year papers. Yes, mocks are the most important tools for the exam. Apart from the normal reasons why mocks are good, let me explain why they are needed for XAT specifically. You would have given maybe 10-20 mocks for CAT, and would have been used to the 2-hour long exams. A 3-hour long paper like XAT on the other hand is a totally different ball-game. In cricketing terms, CAT is like T20s, while XAT is like ODIs. Now that your body and mind have been habituated to attempt 2-hour long papers, you could feel lethargic after the 120 minute mark, and may not be able to utilize the 3rd hour as much as you would have wanted to. This is why, once CAT is done, mandatorily write a few XAT mocks, so that you can get used to the 3-hour mindset.

Q: Did you self-prepare for XAT Exam or did you attend a Coaching Centre and why?
I prepared on my own. I was working also at the same time, so I did not have the bandwidth for coaching. Personally, I don’t think a students who would have already prepared for engineering entrance exams in 12th would require coaching. Self-practice would be sufficient.

Q: Which books did you refer/ would you recommend during your preparation and how effective were they?
I followed Arun Sharma’s book on CAT Preparation for QA. It gives access to a lot of questions per chapter, which you can practice to excel in the topics.

Q: Please share your strategy for the XAT Day. What was your last-minute preparation? How did you plan your XAT test taking?
I knew that my strongest area was QA. My strategy was to maximize my score in QA (targeted over 90%, got 82% due to some silly mistakes). Since I had flunked the DM section from the previous year one day prior to the exam, I was very precarious regarding DM, so I started with it. I was confident in my abilities to solve questions in QA really fast (thus the silly mistakes :P), and therefore, I spent close to 70 minutes only on DM, analyzing each option multiple times. I do not recommend this strategy, unless you are really strong at QA and Verbal. Since I already spent a lot of time in this section (usually I would have spent hardly 25), I had to compensate for that during Verbal. I had to leave a few questions in Verbal. Also, I was already tired by the time I started attempting them. The Verbal section was fairly simple when I wrote, at 71%age my percentile was only 99.3. Verbal can be a very high scoring section.

Q: Which top B-schools shortlisted you for GD/PI Round?
I was shortlisted for PI round at XLRI BM, HR and LSCM programmes, IIM Bangalore, IIM Calcutta, IIM Lucknow, IIM Kozhikode, IIM Indore among others

Q: Which top B-schools offered you final admission?
I converted XLRI BM and HRM programs, IIM Lucknow, IIM Kozhikode and IIM Indore

Q: How did you prepare for GD/PI Rounds? How different was your preparation strategy for BM and HRM interviews?
We never had a GD, but it could be reintroduced from next year onwards. I prepared two questions – Introduce yourself, and why MBA. Though nobody asked me these, you must mandatorily have a solid answer for both. Especially to introduce yourself, be prepared to talk about yourself for at least 3 minutes. Also, keep it to relevant things, like your family background, maybe an interesting fact about your hometown, what did you do in your schooldays outside studying – I used to talk about cricket, music and quizzing, then fast forward to your college days, the committees you used to be a part of, your academic achievements if any, and if you have workex, briefly explain what you worked on without throwing any jargon.

My HRM Interview at XLRI
I had scheduled my HRM interview first since I was not interested in joining HRM, and wanted to use it as practice. The panellists will grill you on why you want to join HR, and they can clearly see through bullshit. So just be honest. I had written in my SOP and mentioned during the interview that I was not interested in HRM, still I had received an offer.

My BM Interview at XLRI
For the BM interview, they will grill you on 2 items definitely:

  1. The subject which you mentioned as your favourite in your SOP (specifically for freshers)
  2. Your workex/internships if any, and company/industry details

As I had mentioned Supply Chain management as my favourite subject, and an Operations Professor was my panellist, so I was heavily grilled on the topic. He asked me a lot of questions on Toyota Production System, including Japanese jargon.

Regarding my work ex, since I had worked in data science, they asked me conceptual questions from the topic, which are fundamental, but tricky.

I had worked in ZS, a leading analytical consulting firm, most of whose clients are big pharma companies. Hence, for both interviews, I was asked a lot of questions from the pharma industry, many related to Covid vaccines. So, prepare accordingly for the interviews, know what is happening in your industry.

Q: Something you think went really well for you in your interviews?
A: HRM Interview
: I felt this interview went really well, despite me telling at the start that I am not interested in HRM. It felt more like me doing a standup than an interview. My panelists asked me why most of the candidates from my college were from Mechanical Engineering, and after I gave them a detailed statistical answer, the panel burst into laughter. Maybe my candidness fared well with the panelists.

BM interview: After the interview, I felt that it was a disaster. It was a proper stress interview, and was very technical. It went on for almost an hour. Usually interview panels have 2 good cops and 1 bad cop, but in mine it felt like everyone was a bad cop. The exact opposite of my HRM interview. But, the panelists are not looking forward to what answers you are giving. They are more concerned about how well you can handle the pressure. I was unable to answer many questions related to data structures, even fundamental ones, and regarding the pharma industry as well. But I had anticipated questions regarding Toyota Production System, and had prepared accordingly for it. So though the interview went very technical in this front, I was able to tackle the questions.

Also, if you do not know the answer to a question, just say that you do not know, and move on to another question. Otherwise, you will be struggling to answer the questions which you have limited idea of, giving the panelists a wrong impression of you. Not knowing stuff is completely okay, faking things are not.

Q: What were your top three criteria for deciding which B-school to apply or take final admissions to?
According to me, Fees, legacy and placements are the top three criteria for deciding on a B-school admission. I wanted to work in consulting, so XL was an easy option among all others. For me, my priority order was IIM Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, FMS, XLRI, IIM Lucknow, Kozhikode, Indore. I didn’t get the first 4, so it was an easy choice.

Q: According to you, overall, how can B-schools make their MBA admission process less cumbersome for MBA applicants. 
I don’t feel the B-schools need any improvement in their admission process prior to the results. It would be great if the results of all colleges come in the same week. Otherwise, with multiple rounds of iterations, it becomes hard for students to make decisions.

Q: Finally, your message and tips for candidates preparing for XAT 2024
My message for XAT 2024 aspirants is Just keep your calm, write as many mocks as you can. Do not be complacent if you score well or depressed in case you don’t. Just trust the process, the results will really come through.

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