About Ratula Bandyopadhyay:
Ratula is an incoming MBA candidate at IIM Kozhikode(PGP 2020-22). She is an English Literature graduate, feminist and football fan. She is also a fan of Taylor Swift and Harry Styles.
Here is the brief conversation with Ratula about his journey to IIM K
Our readers shall like to know a brief about you before the bug named “CAT” bit you
My name is Ratula Bandyopadhyay, and I was born and brought up in Chinsurah, a suburb of Kolkata in West Bengal. I attended Presidency University in Kolkata, where I studied English Literature. The idea of taking CAT occurred to me while I was in college. In my free time, I like to read, write and indulge in rudimentary cooking. I have also become quite passionate about following football – this is an interest I always had, but my CAT journey heightened it. Some footballers like Lionel Messi became my sources of inspiration during the slog phase before CAT.
When and how did the idea to have “The MBA Degree” hit you?
It is difficult to pinpoint an exact moment, but I think it was during my second year of UG. I had been passionate about entering English academia before that, but my grades were not to my liking around this time, and that made me consider a different career path. However, I started preparing later – this was just the time when I acquired preliminary knowledge about the CAT exam.
How did you start with the preparation and what approach did you prefer?
I started with my preparation by being clear about the ‘syllabus’ of all the 3 sections – I soon came to know that VARC and DILR had no such pre-defined syllabi, so I consulted Career Launcher books to outline the areas I needed to study for QA, and jot down the relevant formulae. After that part was done, I used mocks and sectionals to acquire thorough practice of all the 3 sections.
I relied heavily on mocks and their analyses for my CAT preparation, and took around 30-35 full-length mocks in total from TIME, IMS and CL, selecting a few of each institute. I would analyse these mocks for about 5-6 hours after I was finished with attempting them, and they formed the major chunk of my CAT preparation. I prepared a diary where I had all formulae jotted down for ready consultation, and I would revise them every once in a while.
For DILR, identifying the broad types of set patterns helped me – sets could be grouped into categories like Distribution, Math puzzles, very random ones or DI-oriented ones, and this grouping helped me decide on which ones to attempt and which to leave in mocks. I stuck to my pre-ordained set choices across all mocks mostly, and practising the same types helped me gain a level of familiarity and expertise of these set types. For example, I always picked DI and Distribution sets to solve. In VARC, I believe one should first focus on RC prep, and move on to VA only if one is sufficiently thorough with RC – attempting 24 RCs can help you sail through the 90 percentile mark almost always. For QA, I didn’t attempt or even prepare complex PnC and Probability questions – I believe mastery of Arithmetic, Algebra, Number System and Geometry is sufficient, even though the last 2 require a lot of practice. Prepping these well gets you a 95+ percentile almost always – you can then move on to PnC and Probability(the difficult ones), if you want. Easy PnC and Probability, the low-hanging fruit, you shouldn’t leave.
All being said, you definitely shouldn’t leave VA behind if VARC is your strong section, like it was mine, or PnC behind if QA is your forte – this is not to serve as deterrent in any form. Always attempt 30+ in VARC and/or QA if you can, most CAT toppers do. I was talking to a general populace. I used to attempt 30+ in VARC myself almost always.
Also, please understand that leaving questions is as important as answering them – be fast in abandoning complex questions when you sense you aren’t making headway after a minute and half. This is also why set selection in DILR matters so much – a wrong or difficult set choice eats up 10-15 minutes of your valuable 1 hour, and messes with your confidence level big-time.
Which section did you feel would need the most work?
For me, it was DILR hands down. That section took at least thrice the work on my part compared to what QA and VARC did. It is a very neutral section, one that indeed gives a level playing field to aspirants from all backgrounds. In this section, I was partial to attempting DI sets as they were more QA and/or calculation oriented, and I was comfortable with QA. Also, easy LR types like Distribution sets were among my targets always. I used to target around 3 sets in mocks, and that was true for my CAT day as well, to achieve a 90+ percentile, which I felt was the best I could do about this section. I achieved a 92.6 percentile on CAT 2019.
To tackle this section, I took many sectionals, mostly from TIME Level Of Difficulty 3, to get comfortable, in addition to the mocks. Along with normal mocks, I attempted only the DILR section of around 15 mocks towards the end of my prep to check how I was doing in the final mocks of the season from the institutes. I did this because I had neither the time nor the requirement to solve all 3 sections of all mocks towards the end, and this strategy helped a lot. My mother came up with this idea actually, as also with my study plans – I am eternally grateful to her, of course. Also, I learned to tackle my nerves while attempting this section during mocks, which factor helped me get over the helpless and terrified feeling I used to initially have when faced with this section. I am very grateful I could do well on this section during CAT 2019 actually – it was one that had given me sleepless nights until the very end of prep.
How did you cope up with the tough times and hurdles?
I developed a solid belief system during this time – I came out of being an atheist and started believing in God around the time I started, and throughout, my CAT prep. Also, I used to talk to my mother, and some very good friends I had, to deal with uncertainty. I have found that seeing others going through the same hurdles you are facing, and developing a sense of shared suffering and finding support in that, helps a lot.
I write as a hobby, and that sustained me during CAT prep as well. I do a bit of journaling, and I write for activism platforms like Feminism In India – both these helped during my CAT prep. I also used to watch videos of footballers like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé for inspiration – their struggles always made mine feel like trifles. ☺
What was your “one getaway” to rejuvenate your energy?
I believe that would be writing, and socialising with people I liked.
Which all Exams did you give?
I appeared for CAT, XAT and IIFT. I received calls from IIM Kozhikode, Shillong and all new and baby IIMs, MDI and SPJIMR via CAT. I received both XL BM and XL HRM calls via XAT. However, I could not clear the DILR cut-off in IIFT, and therefore received no call.
Tips for our readers for the penultimate and D-Day?
Good sleep is a must, and something I unfortunately missed out on both days due to pre-exam nerves. Also, one should avoid eating things that make one unhealthy, and engaging in very negative talk or consuming unsettling entertainment. You can opt for mild exercise both these days.
If you are appearing in a centre far from your home, make sure you set alarms for the proper time before the examination and double-check all the documents you need to carry – missing out on any of these steps could be disastrous.
Above all, never for one moment stop believing that CAT day is going to be your day, the most spectacular day you’ve had in your life so far. Even if minor blips on your part occur during the paper, pay no heed and move on. You must believe in yourself for the world to believe in you.
After the first inning (of all the examinations part) ended, how did you start with the second inning (GD-PI Part)?
I had quite a few calls from good institutes I was interested in joining, so I enrolled in GD/PI prep classes of both TIME and IMS. I attended a few classes at the centres of both these institutes, especially the GD classes as I had never appeared for any GD before, and it can be quite unnerving to speak on a debatable topic with a group of people one barely knows. For shy or introverted people, the experience can be more taxing. I am a very extroverted person and enjoy any form of speaking and debating, so I had it somewhat easier than some people there.
Personally, I found IMS’ online GD/PI portal extremely helpful, and it has 30+ videos with national head mentors walking you at length through every possible question you can face in a GD or PI. There were several detailed videos on GK questions and current affairs too, and most of my GD/PI prep came from this amazing portal. I am someone who cultivates a healthy interest in acquiring random general knowledge, and I did quite a bit of reading on my background, my interests and related current affairs issues. On the whole, GD/PI prep was a very fun and enriching experience for me.
Which all interviews did you give and what was your strategy to choose the final Institute from the converts you had?
I attended interviews of SPJIMR, IIM Kozhikode, XL BM and XL HRM. I converted SPJIMR(Marketing) and IIM K, and got waitlisted for XLRI HRM.
I know well that XLRI-HRM is one of the most coveted courses for MBA aspirants in this country, but I was unsure about locking myself into one specialisation before knowing the nuances of an MBA curriculum, and therefore let it go. Between SPJIMR and IIMK, the choice was more difficult as both were among my dream institutes. One reason for my choosing IIMK over SPJIMR was that I would not be locked into Marketing before starting my MBA, and another was the value of the IIM brand, which I gathered yields more long-term value than a lot of other considerations, from speaking to several seniors and teachers.
Top 3 learnings you have for our readers.
The top 3 would be:
- Do not be afraid to dream stupidly big: being an English major, many people doubted my ability to deal with at least 2 sections of the CAT exam. A lot of my teachers and even family members were unsure whether I should be entering this professional domain at all, but I persevered because I’d always had a healthy risk appetite, and because I knew in my bones I wanted to do this and nothing else. Two quotes come to my mind to encapsulate this learning: “Do one thing every day that scares you” (Eleanor Roosevelt) and “You can overcome anything, if and only if you love something enough”(Lionel Messi).
- Network a lot: I reached out to several mentors and seniors during my prep phase, and their inputs significantly improved my performance. People are mostly willing to help if you ask them, and you can make use of platforms like Quora and LinkedIn to seek help. Also, be helpful when juniors ask you, in your own turn.
- Work very hard: foolish risk-taking works out only if you are willing to go the extra mile, every day over a span of years. There is no short-cut around that. Sometimes, after a bad mock, and when there is a festival going on in your home-town, your dedication is going to be tested, and it makes a difference whether you sat with your books and pen even on that day. Here’s to hoping you rise to the challenge!
Top 3 things that aspirants should avoid.
The top 3 things to avoid would be:
- Relentless comparison of yourself with others: everyone is fighting a battle you do not know of. Guard against growing complacent or fearful based on where someone is today, where you are not.
- Thinking that an exam is a be-all end-all: there are several things all exams on earth will never be able to measure, and a lot of those things make you special. Guard against tying your self-worth to exam performances.
- Giving up: whether you are too overwhelmed to start, or too demotivated to pick up where you left off, remember all of us have been there. It only gets better. ☺
Top 3 Suggestions for aspirants to answer the ultimate question “To reappear or not”
Ans. I believe there is no one size fits all answer to this question. Generally, you should decide on the ROI of a college offer you have in hand vis-à-vis your current job, your monetary and physical resources if you choose to spend another year on CAT prep, your unique state of mind at this juncture, and a good estimate of what you believe you are capable of, before you make a decision. Of course, several other factors exist as well, like the MBA domain of your choice vis-à-vis the school offer you have in hand. Taking all these into consideration should give you a clear picture. I recommend going through 2IIM’s Rajesh Balasubramaniam’s Quora answers and IMS’ VKpedia blog to help you decide on these questions – they helped me.