CAT 2021 Topper Interview: Parth Chowdhary believes habits take time to build, but once done, there is nothing like it

CAT 2021 Topper Interview – Parth Chowdhary is one of the top-scoring candidates of CAT 2021. He secured an overall percentile of 99.99 with a sectional percentile of 99.98 percentile in VARC, 99.72 percentile DILR, and 99.99 percentile in quant. Parth is a final year BA (H) student at the Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University. The result of CAT 2021 was released on January 03, 2022, at 5 pm. In an exclusive interview with Aglasem.com, Parth has revealed all about his preparation strategies, future plans, fear, and anxiety, etc. Go through this article carefully to know all about it.

CAT 2021 Topper Interview

Parth has done a face-to-face interview with Aglasem.com. Watch the complete interview below.

Below is the interview of Parth Chowdhary.

Q. First of all, congratulations on scoring the 99.99 percentile. Can you tell us about your sectional percentile?

A. Sure! So I secured 99.98 in VARC, 99.72 percentile in DILR, and 99.99 percentile in quant.

SectionPercentile
VARC99.98
DILR99.72
QA99.99

Q. What was your first reaction when you saw your result? Were you expecting such brilliant scores?

A. I think because CAT already gives the response sheet in advance so you already have your raw scores. There are a lot of predictors also which are available, you also have a right range in your mind. So, it was something that I was expecting to a certain extent. But obviously, when it actually comes out and its actually “official”, that’s always a great moment.

Q. So, was this your first attempt at CAT?

A. Yes, this was my first and only attempt at CAT.

Q. Okay, so can you tell us about your academic background?

A. Sure! So I did my schooling at Delhi Public School, Baroda. I was a commerce student and in my 12th board, I had secured a 98.80 percentage. So, I was the state topper for that year. I am currently in my final year pursuing BA honors in economics from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University.

Q. So, you are not from an engineering background and you have a 99.99 percentile. That makes you one of the three non-engineers to have secured this many marks. There is a myth about the CAT exam that you have to be from an engineering background to score good marks, especially in quant and DILR. So, what’s your take on that?

A. You’re absolutely right when you called that a ‘myth’. In fact, that’s one of the things that I am most glad about. I hope everyone reading this can realize, that you don’t have to be from engineering or any other STEM background for that matter, to do well in CAT or any of the other entrance exams. The idea is that, if you prepare well, and if you prepare strategically according to what works for you the best, irrespective of your educational background, you can crack it.

Q. Tell us, when did you start preparing for CAT, and what was your preparation strategy?

A. I prepared for CAT for around five-and-half months, starting in mid 2021. About my preparation strategy, an important thing to notice is that I also gave entrance exams after my twelfth. That was something that played a pretty good role in terms of me having a strong foundation to build on. So when I started the preparation for CAT, it was almost like seeing all of the things for the second time, and that provided me with a lot of comfort with the concepts.

About my preparation strategy, rather than needing to begin from the ground up, it was more focused on the questions themselves, because questions also lead to a certain level of development of the concepts. So, obviously if someone is beginning from the ground up, they will have to undergo a different process. But if you’re someone who has a certain level of experience or comfort with aptitude tests, I think focusing on questions, and then with the help of those questions, identifying the sections where you need to work more, and then prioritizing your time and efforts accordingly, is the best way to go.

Q. So you said you attempted various entrance examinations after the twelfth. Can you tell us a bit about them?

A. So after twelfth, I was AIR 1 in Symbiosis, Narsee Monjee, and MSU Baroda. And I was AIR 7 in IIM Indore IPMAT. So, I had prepared quite thoroughly. In fact, I had also gone through a few CAT-level books at that time. So for me, giving CAT right now was mostly a matter of passion and interest, more than anything else.

Q. The syllabus of CAT is very vast. How were you able to complete it, and how much time did it take?

A. You’re right that the syllabus is very vast. But ultimately, the syllabus can be broken down into certain broad themes. Like if you look at quant, there’s arithmetic’s, there are numbers, time speed distance, geometry and so on. So if you are breaking things down in a certain structured manner, I think that helps you keep a track of what you’re doing better. For me, I devoted around two months on first getting a good grasp on the topics themselves by practicing. Then I sort of switched gears and shifted my focus to mocks to develop that testing ability and that testing strategy.

Q. Did you join any coaching for preparation? And what role do you think coaching institutes play in the preparation of CAT?

A. After my twelfth, I was enrolled with IMS Vadodra for the preparation of entrance exams. That’s an association that I continued even for my CAT preparation. I think coaching has two aspects to it. One is the material and the resources side of it, and the second one is the people or the mentor side of it. In terms of the resources, I think, according to what I’ve heard from my friends, the resources that you’ll get and the study material, are quite fine across the institutes.

So I think what plays a much more important role is the mentorship that the faculties there offer. And I think even in my experience with IMS, that was something that played a very important role in how I shaped my journey. Because ultimately, many people can teach you how to solve a particular question, but the idea of the mindset that you need, what’s the kind of approach you should have, how should you choose which questions to answer and which one to leave, that kind of strategy, sometimes when you need a little motivation, all of those things are something I feel, an institute or more importantly a mentor, plays the key role in it.

Q. You said that mentorship is very important. So, who was your mentor at IMS?

A. I think I am quite glad and I can say that I am quite fortunate to have too many people that I was in touch with at that time. Of course, the faculty that I was most regularly in touch with was Tridal Sir at IMS Vadodra. But I was also in frequent contact with Vipul Sir, Digant Sir, Shruti Ma’am, and Suchita Ma’am. So think it was always efforts coming in from a lot of sides that helped me get the score.

Q. In the CAT syllabus, which was the most challenging section for you? And how did you overcome that challenge?

A. Personally for me, I think from the very start of my preparation, I was quite balanced across the sections. While looking at the actual result, you can say that my percentile in DILR was relatively low than the other two sections. I think that’s just a natural variation that happens from test to test. So if I’ve given, say ‘n’ number of mocks, for me it was always equal in terms of which sections I am doing well, or which sections I am relatively behind. So it was something which was a very natural variation. But in terms of specific preparation, I’ll just go and talk about each section one by one. Starting with VARC, I think that this section is quite different from the other two.

The difference is in the sense that the is a certain level of subjectivity involved. So even if you know that you need to know about it, you can’t always guarantee what score you’ll get. Now because of that, I think the idea of developing a habit here becomes extremely important. Because if you have a habit, what it does is that it intuitively shows you a path towards the right answer. So even if in certain questions, multiple answers seem close, you’ll always have a certain gut feeling that this is the right one. And most of the time that’ll be right. Because might not always be able to tell that why exactly this particular option seems the most appropriate, but you’ll develop that kind of sense.

So I think in VARC, practicing on a daily basis is something that is extremely crucial. In fact for everyone preparing, I would suggest that you maintain some sort of tracker. Of course, everyone does have a different way. You can use excel, you can do it on paper, or you can do it mentally. But ensure that you’re doing 3-4 RCs per day, a certain number of VA questions per day, and you maintain that habit. Now for DILR, I think DILR by its nature is more like four distinct questions. There are almost no connections between the sets. So it’s important to understand that you need to expand the course of questions you’ve seen. So that when the test day comes and the actual questions, which counts to your future, come in front of you, you have a certain surety that at least 3 out of the four questions will be those that either you’ve seen before, or at least you’re not scared by.

Because if you get scared of a question, you just keep spiraling there, and you’ll probably not be able to do it right. So that level of familiarity I believe goes a long way. In terms of quant, I think quant is a section where probably most of the strategizing goes into the game of CAT. Because quant by its nature has different sections or topics and many people tend to have different levels of comfort and skills with those topics. For example, if the geometry is something that you find hard. probably you can expect that out of 22 or 24 questions, maybe there will be 4 or 5 from geometry. So the approach that I would recommend is that you ensure that you have a certain basic understanding of all the types of questions. So even in geometry, if there is at least one question that is easy, you should at least get that one easy question. And that the other three, you see if you have time and you’re done with everything else, then you spend your time on these, or else you skip it and that’s totally fine. So in that sense, I think it is a sort of iterative practice to achieve what you think is the most appropriate way what you think is for you to target the exam. I think that is the goal which everyone should work towards.

Q. You talked about the mock tests so, how many mock tests did you attempt? And how it helped you on the exam day?

A. I think, the simplest way to answer how it helped is to say, for example, if I was enrolled with IMS and their mock series is called SimCAT, there are 16 SimCATs that happen. CAT day should feel like mock seventeenth. I think that’s the way it should be and that’s again the same idea of comfort is something which comes in. And I think it is just the basic phycology that if you’re in an environment which you feel familiar to, then you’re just much more in your element and you’re much more in your right frame of mind for you to give your best shot. That’s where the role of mocks comes in. Of course, learning, time management, choosing questions are equally important outcomes of giving mocks. But I think the familiarity with the testing environment is an equally important aspect, but often ignored. In terms of how many mocks I gave, I think I would say that I had given a total of 20 to 25 nocks.

Q. I believe that one of the most important aspects of the CAT exam is achieving accuracy. So how did you manage the negative marking in the exam? And if you can share, how many correct answers in each section did you manage to get?

A. Sure! So first of all in terms of general strategy, I think again something which is very important is reading speed. It is not something which I want to ask you a question on that how fast can you read this particular passage. That’s not the question. But because CAT is a timed examination, it is something that actually plays a role in every single question. So if you’re someone who has a good reading speed and you can read pretty fast with a good level of understanding, it is going to give you an extremely strong competitive advantage. So this is something that I would recommend everyone to build upon.

Now why that helps, in my case, starting with VARC, in every single mock that I gave, in 40 minutes of the sectional time, I was able to complete the VARC section at least 5 minutes early in every single mock. This is something that happened even on CAT day. Now why that happened is obviously because of the reading speed. So because of this, in the VARC section, I have always had 100% attempts. In CAT I was able to attempt all 24 questions. Now in terms of accuracy, I’ll just say again about the idea of habits here. So in most of the mocks that I gave, on an average count of 24 questions, I’d have 6-7 wrong. For some reason, it was just fixed. But in the actual CAT exam, I got just 4 wrong. And that was something that probably except one or two mocks, I was not able to achieve that sort of a low number of incorrectly attempted questions.

Now someone may call it luck, but I just think it’s the compounding effect that comes in. Because when you build great habits its almost like rewiring your brain to think in the right way and the benefit of it is something that you do not realize on a daily basis while preparing, but by the time the actual exam comes in front of you it will show in your scorecard. Now moving onto DILR, again 4 sets, also depends on your reading speed and solving speed. I was again in CAT for all four questions. Actually, DILR was the only section where I skipped one question. So out of the 66 questions, I had attempted 65. So this section I think was split into difficult and easy sets. 2 sets were quite easy. Almost everyone was able to do them with almost everything correct. 2 sets were extremely difficult. So those difficult sets became the decider.

In my experience, In DILR, you just need to have the skill to think of the set in different ways. So if one approach is not getting you an answer, you just need to have the comfort in switching your approach and thinking about it in a different way, and getting the answer with that method. Now about quant, I had all attempts. I was able to wrap the section up with 4 to 5 minutes left. I had 20 correct out of the 22 questions. So that gave me a raw score of 58 in that section. In that sense, I think quant was something that was again a moderate section thin year in terms of difficulty. And when it’s a moderate section, every mark becomes much more important. Because they are the questions that everyone is going to get right. So at least people in the bracket that you’re targeting, are going to get it right. So for you to differentiate and get ahead of others, you just need to get some of the difficult questions right.

Q. Did you follow any particular strategy for the CAT exam day?

A. My genuine day on taking would be that you should have a zero exam day strategy. Because, in my CAT experience, probably by coincidence, the exam was on November 28, and on 24, 25, 26, and 27, all four days, I was attending the weddings of my close friends and family. So I was there the whole day. So in the last four days, I had almost next to no preparation that I did for CAT. And I believe that this is the kind of goal that you should work with, that even if there is no time left for last-minute preparation due to any emergency, you should be prepared in advance and you should be prepared with the long term vision that you don’t have to rely on the last minute preparation. Of Couse, in a normal scenario, it is extremely important that you have a certain last-day strategy and in that sense, my only approach is that you need to be as relaxed as possible. In my case, I drove to the center alone on my two-wheeler, the whole time I was just chilling and singing songs. So by the time I was actually in the exam hall, I was in the right frame of mind. Even then, the right thing to note is probably people from our generation will feel much more trouble in waiting before you actually get to start solving the exam. Doing nothing and just sitting in front of the blank screen is very, very boring. It just drains the energy. I just discovered this on the day of CAT just to keep myself going in and just to ensure that I don’t lose my mind on anything, I just started writing random stuff on the sheet that they give us, like the squares of numbers, and some of the formulae and all of that. Of course, if there are some questions that need those, it might be helpful. And even if it doesn’t come into use, its just something that would keep you an inactive frame of mind.

Q. Can you tell about your interests and hobbies?

A. Absolutely! So I think in general I am a kind of person who believes that you have to stop living life if you want to achieve something serious like CAT. But I don’t think you just need to become a monk in order to score good in CAT. In my experience, I think that giving up your phone, or deactivating your social media accounts can make a big difference, at least for me. I think its much more about discipline and self control. With that, in terms of what I like to do otherwise, in fact during my CAT phase, the placement season was going on in my college. So, in between, I took a certain gap for that. I am also extremely interested in reading books. In 2021, along-side my CAT preparation, I think I read around 56 books in the whole year. Averaging around more than one book a week. So, that there. Even otherwise I am someone who just likes enjoying in general.

Q. After the results of CAT has been announced, colleges are trying to approach students. Have you received any call from any B School?

A. I think till now IIMs have been slightly waiting to make the calls. As of now, I have received no calls except for IIM Kozhikode, but that’s a stage one so it was not really an interview call. But this score of 99.99 with sectional percentiles all above 99.5 percentile, I would expect calls from, at least the top six where I’ve applied which is IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore, IIM Calcutta, IIM Indore, IIM Lucknow and IIM Kozhikode. I have planned to give the interview for IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore and IIM Calcutta. What I am interested most towards is IIM Ahmedabad, primarily because they offer a deferral option, and that’s something that I’ve planned on trying for.. They offer a one or two year defer, and that’s something that I am looking forward to because I have a college placement towards McKenzie and Company and it is my priority at the moment to join McKinsey and then look at going for an MBA. Because I just want to be much more industry-ready by the time I am going for a Master’s in terms of Business Administration. So that’s my plan right now, let’s see what happens!

Q. So, have you started preparing for the GD/PI?

A. Yeah so in general, right now I have started becoming much more aware of everything around me just keeping up with what is happening ensuring that whatever interesting that I have and whatever topics I am following, I am just trying to study those in a much more thorough way right now, so that in the interviews, is the conversation is going in a certain way, I don’t have just a superficial idea, I have a certain in-depth idea of whatever we are talking about so I can offer more value. So that’s where I am in my preparation right now. Going ahead I will probably shift gears and dive deeper into some of the specifics. But as of now I am trying to lay the base for that.

Q. Besides CAT, have you applied for any other entrance exams also?

A. No, I have not applied for any other domestic exams. I have recently given the GMAT. I gave that on the 6th of Jan and have scored 770 with 51 in quant and 44 in verbal, with an 8 on 8 in IR and 6 on 6 in AWA.

Q. So, was the preparation for GMAT different from CAT or did you follow the same preparation strategy?

A. I think, yes and no. Because in general the kind of skills and analytical skills and aptitude, the mindset that you need to develop is general in CAT and GMAT. But in terms of how the exam happens, the kind of questions and the difficulty level, on these elements, both the exams do differ. So the preparation strategy for them also differs.

Q. Who or what is your biggest motivation in life?

A. For me, around the end of the 11th standard I lost my dad and till today, he was and remains my biggest source of motivation and inspiration for me. So whatever I have achieved like 12th boards, beat all entrance exams like CAT, GMAT. Every single element is dedicated to him.

Q. If we ask you to sum up your success mantra in one line, what would it be?

A. Habits! They take time to build but once they’re build there is nothing like it.

Q. Is there any word of advise you’d like to give to future CAT aspirants?

A. I think the biggest advise that I have is just that the general principal that its always going to be a personalized experience. So of course you should listen to other people, talk to your seniors, get an idea of what their experience was. But never copy. Just understand the important milestones that they saw. Just get ideas from the. But how you implement those always and always has to be your personal experience. And for that to be fulfilled you need to develop a much stronger sense of your strengths and weaknesses. Because if you just follow the typical path, it’ll always be inefficient for you. You will be spending time on things which you don’t need to spend your time on. So I just think in general I’d say that, Be You!

Q. Nowadays, people feel very anxious and scared about exams. Did you ever feel any fear or did you ever feel anxious about CAT? If yes, how did you overcome it?

A No, I think first of all its something which has always been there. In fact it is probably great that people have started talking about it, like you’re asking me, so people can just be more open about it. And on the same note, I think if you’re feeling fearful and anxious of what will happen in the exam, first, it’s absolutely normal. In such examinations, they are pivotal moments, so its quite normal to feel worried about everything. In that case the only advise that I will give is, I think these are not do or die moments. These are, if you do it, great! You will get an absolute advantage in terms of where your life is going. But if you don’t do great in it, it is not the end of the world. If your CAT doesn’t go well, there are 10 other examinations. If none of them go well, there is another year for you. If that doesn’t happen you can do something on your own. You just need an MBA! There is always going to be another option available. That doesn’t mean you stop working towards what you are doing. But you don’t need to tie up all your goals around that one goal

Parth has shared all about his preparation strategy in detail with all of us. His dedication and focus is something that we all should learn from. His goals in life are clear, and this clarity is what all of us should try to achieve in life.

We wish Parth all the very best for all his future endeavors.

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