Major (Retired) Devashish Chakravarty is India's only two time CAT 100 percentiler (CAT 2004 and CAT 2006). He graduated from IIM Ahmedabad as the Best All Round Student of the Batch 2005-07.
In this interview he shares his story of his journey through the unimaginable - a 100 percentile score, doing the unthinkable - repeating his feat once again in an exam which everyone dreads to face.
Interviewing him is Anshul Gupta, IIM Kozhikode, Batch of 2008 and Devashish's team-mate from TenADay.in, India's most successful online testing site for CAT takers.
TenADay : Barood (Devashish's dorm name from IIM Ahmedabad) - much as I would like to hear about how you worked towards a 100 percentile score, I must ask a question which troubles everyone even more - why do you have a 100 percentile score twice? You were a 2nd year student at IIM Ahmedabad in 2006 so what made you attempt CAT 2006 and get another 100 percentile score?
Devashish: (Laughs) Most people find it difficult to accept, but actually the answer is quite simple. I had to attempt the CAT once again and obtain a 100 percentile in order to win a bet and not back out of a challenge thrown by a friend at IIM.
In August, 2006 when the CAT forms were out, we at Dorm-15 at IIM Ahmedabad were having a major argument over tea and pakodas in my room while it rained heavily outside. Hilao (his dorm name - real name Raghavendra) - an IIT graduate - strongly maintained that in any examination, several people have the capacity to top.
Who ultimately tops depends on the dynamics on the day of the exam which would include the toughness of the paper, the health of the individuals and even the weather. I opposed him equally strongly maintaining that only one person is destined to top an examination - the person who eventually does so and nothing can change that - not the weather, the toughness of the questions or the mood of the examiners. To decide who was right, our heartless dorm mates egged us on to fill up the forms for the CAT examination once again.
The rules of the challenge stated - if Hilao beats Barood OR Hilao scores a 100 percentile (he had a 99.7 in CAT 2004), then Hilao wins i.e. CAT is weather dependant.
If Barood gets a 100 percentile AND is ahead of Hilao, then Barood wins which means CAT is independent of the weather and a person who decides to defeat the CAT is the only one who will win!
So that's how CAT 2006 found the two of us sitting and sweating over the paper. When the results were declared, Hilao had scored 99.99 percentile and I had a 100 percentile. It was that simple.
TenADay : Of course it wasn't that simple either for you or Hilao since you would have to attempt CAT as seriously as any one else. But more of that later. Please tell us how did you study towards CAT 2004?
Devashish : When I was preparing for CAT 2004, I was serving in the Indian Army at the Indo-Bhutan border. The biggest problem at a remote location like that is that there are no resources to help you prepare. No coaching classes, no written material, no means of comparing one's performance with anyone else.
Since there was a telephone connection - there was also dial-up Internet connectivity. However there was no website offering test preparation and performance scores and analysis. (In Oct 2006, this would form the seed idea for TenADay.in but more of that later).
So while on leave, I picked up a large bunch of second hand CAT books and test-preparation material including old question papers etc and took them back with me. Everyday after work, I would sit down at night and start learning formulae, rules of grammar, interpreting graphs etc. That's how I prepared for CAT 2004.
TenADay : And how did you solve the problem of comparing and bench marking your performance?
Devashish : I figured it out that since I did not have anyone else to compare my performance with, I would have to benchmark my training against my own performance across the days and weeks to CAT. So accordingly I started plotting time taken and accuracy for every question that I solved.
Over a period of time I built up personal time v/s accuracy charts across the three major sections - Quant, Verbal and Logic/DI. I further created time v/s accuracy charts over different sub-sections in each of these sections e.g. Permutations and Combinations in Quantitative Ability, Comprehension in Verbal etc.
So as my preparation progressed over time, I would work on my weak sub-sections trying to attain a basic minimum speed and accuracy and fine tune my strong sub-sections even further to squeeze the maximum marks from every minute spent.
TenADay : How did that get around the problem of variability? I mean - every CAT paper is different. Sometimes the number of questions change, the marks per question change, in one paper the Comprehension passages are easy and in another they are impossible to crack?
Devashish : Yes - accurate and speedy question solving is not everything and these two alone are not enough to enable you to clear the CAT exam. For e.g. If there is a tough Reading and Comprehension passage and you attempt it correctly in 25 minutes - now that might be the fastest accurate attempt for that particular passage.
But was it a wise decision? That passage earned you 5 correct answers in 25 minutes. What was the opportunity cost of those 25 minutes? ('Opportunity cost' is obviously a term Devashish has picked up at IIM, Ahmedabad) You might have been able to answer 8 to 10 sentence and grammar correction questions within the same time. Hence question selection becomes an important skill to master.
Having arrived at that conclusion, I realised that there are two components to sharpen question selection skills - the first is an ability to speed-read and the second is quick decision-making. Speed reading is an ability I acquired by learning from speed-reading books and practicing the same while reading. Quick and accurate decision making in question selection comes from conscious and constant practice.
In a bunch of questions I would always try and select the easiest ones first and work my way through to the last question which should turn out to be the most difficult one for me. Since I would note the time taken for solving each question, I would check my chart at the end of each practice session. In a good practice session where my question selection would be accurate, the questions solved at the beginning of the session would show the shortest solving times, with the timings gradually increasing towards the end of the session.
TenADay : Phew - that is a lot of planned effort...
Devashish:... and the reward is worth it, don't you agree?
TenADay : Yes - definitely! A 100 percentile and an admission to IIM Ahmedabad is certainly worth all the effort that it takes. And did you follow the same strategy for CAT 2006?
Devashish : Actually it was quite different for CAT 2006. Of course - I started preparation in the same fashion. Only now - the circumstances were different. I would start preparation only after I had finished my studies for the next day of class at IIM Ahmedabad. In October 2006, my friends and later business partners - Bhushan, Vineeta, and Vishal - and I hit upon the idea of a testing website for CAT so that people could prepare from their desks at office and home and bench mark themselves instantaneously with other people across the country.
And www.TenADay.in was born with its now famous trademark 10 questions in 10 minutes test every day followed by an instantaneous national percentile and analysis. Launching the website and keeping it going meant preparing fresh and challenging questions for TenADay users.
Preparing quality questions was far tougher than solving them. A thorough knowledge of the subject, tricks in question solving and thinking patterns was required. Developing questions for TenADay.in honed those skills and my performance in solving questions automatically shot up. This helped towards scoring a 100 percentile in CAT 2006 again.
TenADay : So setting up a website to help people practice for the CAT actually helped you get a 100 percentile. I don't think that is a practical option for everyone. I would rather follow your first route towards a 100 percentile in CAT 2004!
Devashish : If you have the determination and are ready to make the effort to practice smartly every single available moment of the day - you will definitely crack the CAT! Trust me.