After months of work, mocks, interview prep and PIs, penning my story probably seems the hardest thing I’ve had to do so far. I guess the reason for that is me not knowing where to begin. A popular adage in India goes, “One first becomes an engineer and then decides what to do with their life.” This quote holds true for me in many different ways. In this B-school season, as we celebrate so many stories of success and hard work and overcoming the odds, I cannot help but look back. To me my CAT journey seems something out of a fairy tale. Even a year back, had someone asked me where I see myself in a few months (forget five or ten years as interviewers like to ask), I probably would have painted them a very different picture. Before we get into my story however, let me give you a brief about my profile;


I belong to an Army background and completed my schooling from Army Public Schools all over this country (CBSE Board – 10th: 10 CGPA, 12th: 94.4%). I joined NIT Jalandhar in 2014 in the department of Instrumentation and Control Engineering and graduated in 2018 with a CGPA of 8.50/10. From my college, I was placed in Deloitte Consulting USI where I worked as an analyst in technology consulting and have a total work experience of 30 months.

I prepared for Civil Services, 2018-2020 and attempted thrice.

CAT 2021: 99.88 %ile

Calls Received : All IIMs, FMS, XLRI, SPJIMR, MDI, IIFT, NITIE

Calls Converted : B,C,L,K,I,S, CAP, MDI, SPJIMR, XLRI BM, NITIE

Joining : IIM Bangalore, Class of 2024

This briefly covers my profile and should give you a fair enough idea of my profile going into CAT.


My story begins in the final year of my college, when I decided to pursue Civil Services as a career goal. Like many others in this journey, I too wished to become a part of the IAS. The job appealed to me. The diversity of service, the opportunity to serve at some of the highest roles in the government, and maybe even the challenge of the whole journey; they all excited me a great deal. When I started my preparation, I was already working. My routine therefore made it tough for me to have a life outside of the regimen I had created for myself. My weeks mostly revolved around work and studies, and then some more.

In 2019 as I appeared for the prelims exam, I still remember the nervousness I felt as I sat through the 2-hour paper and remember the disappointment afterwards, knowing that I had not made the cut. However, when faced with such failures, you pick yourself up again, re-evaluate your approach and then try again; and that’s what I did. And so, after a brief break, I picked up from where I had left off.

Life in 2019 had a different story written for me. This was a phase when my work got intense and difficult. The projects that I supported in my organisation became very busy and I was forced to keep extremely long hours, with support provided over the weekends. Amidst all this, I carried on pushing the study wheels, one hour at a time, one session at a time. It was by no means easy. There was no scope for a break and never any end in sight. It was depressing, insanely hard and at times extremely overwhelming. The challenge of the whole situation seemed too difficult to overcome, as if I would drown under the burden of it.

And yet, despite of all this, I began to get better at my work. The life at work began to get easier. My leaders started trusting me with responsibilities and also began to give me the freedom to set my own work hours. My preparation continued in full swing and just as I thought that things were finally improving, COVID hit. Less than 2 months from my exam, my set patterns changed completely, and my life turned suddenly.

As a senior resource now, I was expected not just to support but to lead many transition areas for my clients. At home, the comforts that I had set around myself changed completely, and the changes again began to affect my routine and study patterns. More importantly, it threw away my schedule and months of planning down the drain. All my pre-approved leaves went out the window, and my project schedules changed and overlapped with my exam dates. On top of that, my flatmates went home as we shifted to remote work, but I could not move back because of my exam centre location and the uncertainty during COVID. So, this phase of my life was extremely lonely and took a heavy toll on my mental well-being.

For anyone who has worked in the technology industry, you would understand the importance and the pressures of a Go-Live in a project. I still remember my exam day vividly. My exam was on a Sunday and the actual Go-Live was on Monday. My whole project was working over that weekend, and I somehow took time away to go and give the exam. In the chaos of the work, I had completely stopped all preparations in the last 2 weeks before the exam. This time as well, I carried no hope for myself. I knew I had prepared, but my revision had simply not been up to the mark.

When I checked the answer keys, I knew that I had fallen well short of the cut-off for clearing the exam. I guess my only saving grace was that I had improved over my performance in the first time.

Gap Year

It was in October of 2020, that I finally came back home. My work was remote, and after my exam, I could finally come back home. Finally, for the first time, I got a chance to clear my head. In times of trouble, being around family members and supportive friends can be a great boost to your overall well-being. I remember a conversation with my parents, where they convinced me to now prioritize. They felt that I should resign from my work and give myself a final year to aim for something higher in my life. Most importantly, after working in such high stress environment, and having done well, I now had the confidence to take this time away for myself.

However, my past experience had taught me that this exam was nothing if not unpredictable. You could do everything right and yet the sheer odds may defeat you. Therefore, in November of 2020, as I resigned from my job, I decided to set CAT as a backup should my plan A fail. I knew that an MBA would set me up for a similar high stakes career, that attracted me to the IAS; and so, it began.

The Plan

My initial plan, had me taking the UPSC prelims exam near May end of 2021. Should I clear, I prepare for the Mains examination, which was scheduled for September. I planned to study and take the CAT after that in November. I know I was cutting the whole prep plan too close, and some would even say I was underestimating CAT. However, I reasoned that since I was studying full time at home, 2 months of CAT prep technically translates to 4 months of prep that people who were working would typically have; and I had known people who had done it in this time frame.

And so it began! For the first time, I felt I had the time to fully prepare for my dream. I was focussed and working with a determination. End January I completed my notice period…….4 months to D-Day. February was spent in completing topics from the core subjects……3 months to D-Day. March went into completion of minor topics and current affairs upto November of 2020. However, something in the world seemed to be changing…….2 months to D-Day. April was when I started preparing with a focus for prelims and started revisions. This month saw COVID second wave hit the country with its full blast………1 month to D-Day. 13th May 2021. I remember the date as a pivotal one as 2 momentous events happened on that day; I got my 1st dose of Vaccine and UPSC postponed the prelims exam to 10th October 2021.

And suddenly, there it was all over again. Something completely unexpected just days (actually what felt like moments) before the exam. The new timelines were again problematic. I knew it would be suicidal to leave CAT preparation to the end. However, preparing for CAT and UPSC at the same time would have me put my feet to two different boats, with their motors running in completely opposite directions. I had to now improvise!

The New Plan

I knew I had been left with no choice. My deadline of a year was sacrosanct. I was not going to break that. This was the one constant around which everything revolved. Therefore, I had to prepare for both exams now, together.

I knew that what seemed like a complex problem was essentially a challenge of scheduling. I began to think like my previous attempts. The key difference, I now prioritized my UPSC prep like it was my job, working 9-10 hours on this exam daily, while CAT became the additional study. And so it continued for the next few months.

For CAT, I enrolled myself in two different test-series (one of them CL), and borrowed some booklets from a friend. I started my actual prep in the month of June. This month was simply focused on completing the bare basics. I knew QA needed some revising, and that was my primary focus point for the month. I focused on completing the syllabus from the booklets I had. For DILR, I would merely glance through sets at this point, just to get an idea of what this section was like. For VARC, considering my time constraints, I decided to rely on my natural language abilities. However, making time for the prep was tough. At no point could I study for more than 9-10 hours a week for CAT, considering the mountain of work I had to cover on the other side.

From the very beginning, I knew I had to focus on mocks as they would be the make-or-break factor in this prep. I started mocks in July by zeroing in on my target scores. I knew that I wanted an ABC score at all costs. That required me to go through the selection criteria of each institute, analyze my own profile and then set my target CAT percentile to crack these institutes. I gave my first mock test in the month of July. It was not a great experience. I did reasonably bad across all sections and my VARC score was a special surprise for me. However, I knew I had to wade through this. So, I gave another mock, and another and another after that.

In July, I gave in all about 5 mocks. That was a total of 10 hours of tests, and maybe another 10-12 hours of analyzing the tests. Beyond this, I could not make time, and in the blink of an eye, came August. 13th August, was when I gave my last mock before I put a halt on all CAT studies. By now, I had given about 8-9 mocks, and had done well in a few of them. I was averaging above 95 in these, and had hit a high score of 99.7 (my target) in one of these mocks. Most importantly, I had found my flow with VARC and had covered sufficient ground in the other 2 sections. This seemed like a good point to take a pause.

Beyond UPSC

I stopped CAT prep in August because it was now the final push towards UPSC. On the D-day, I felt extremely good after my exam. In that moment, I knew that this was my best attempt of all and I was nervous and yet excited. When I checked my answer key and scored my attempts, almost all answer keys told me I was missing the cut-offs by 1-2 marks. I wouldn’t lie, it was really tough. However, I knew that this was not the time to mope. It was the time to get to work.

After a 5-day break to celebrate Durga Puja with my family, I got back to work again. This was the final push. There was nothing after this. After 3 years, the end was in sight. I spent the next month focussing on my CAT prep. In 40 days, I completed upto 30 mocks, worked hard in improving my techniques in QA, spent time in solving Logic Puzzles and improved my calculation.

For CAT I was in slot 3. The day itself is like a blur. I remember meditating the whole morning to calm myself. I was confident that I was going to make it. In the exam, I focussed on each section as it came and focussed on maximising my score at each point. After the exam, I felt I had done reasonably well in VARC and DILR, but not so well in QA. Somehow, my strategy for QA did not work out and I was only able to solve 10 questions in that section. I knew my odds of a high percentile in QA were really remote.

After a week of the exam, as the answer key came out, I could not believe my scores. I had aced VARC and DILR and even in QA section, I got all questions correct. Of the 47 questions I attempted in the exam, I got 43 of them correct. That was the best accuracy I had achieved till date and all percentile predictors beyond this point predicted a 99.8+ percentile for me.

This turned out to be true. When the final scores came in, I scored a 99.76 in VARC, a 99.52 in DILR and a 98.56 in QA. My overall percentile was 99.88. These scores were better than I had ever imagined. The beat all the targets I had set for myself, and quite rightly, I got calls from every institute I applied to. The icing on the cake was that I also cracked XAT and IIFT and got all the calls there as well.

I knew that this was a once a lifetime opportunity in front of me, and I needed to truly give my best at this point. My story had taught me the value in being prepared at all times, and so I enrolled in the CL PDP. My first interaction with Sreeni sir was on the heels of my PI for SPJIMR. I remember the long interaction we had, the strengths in my profile and the areas I needed to work upon. The Who am I section and the first PI were probably the most pivotal points of my PI preparation. They truly helped me realise my own strengths, analyse and remember my journey, and taught me how to present my story in an interview.

PDP helped me a great deal in polishing my personality and giving me a direction. However, that’s only half the job. The other half requires self-work, on a daily basis to improve yourself and your personality. I scheduled a lot of PIs, got a lot of practice and finally, started giving the B-school interviews.

Fast Forward to today, as I write this story, I have 11 converts out of the 12 PIs that I gave. Among my dream ABC, I got converts from IIM Bangalore and Calcutta. A year back, I could not have even dreamed of this outcome; When I started this journey, I was headed in a different direction but I’m excited to explore the new world of possibilities that await me.

Sorry for this long post. I decided to document my journey more than anything else, because I felt that at many points in life, we underestimate our own abilities. Moreover, candidates for UPSC often don’t have the awareness of their fallback options. I hope that my story adds value to your lives as you read this.

To anyone preparing, and struggling, every inch of effort matters. In my experience, all my UPSC prep gave me a great base to crack VARC, and I aced CAT because of it. My technical background, gave me an algorithmic approach, that made DILR easy for me. Finally, being an engineer, QA came naturally to me. In the end, it was less about actual preparation and more about how I had focussed my life till that point, the decisions I had made till then, that determined the final outcome.

I really hope you find value here. All the best to everyone reading this! I hope that you too “Bell the CAT”!!

Class of 2024, IIM Bangalore

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