After CAT, essay is your key to top B-school

  • Gauri Kohli, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 27, 2016 15:12 IST
Clarity of thought and well-structured essays are necessary to ace the written ability test at B-schools. (Agencies/File photo)

Now that the results for the Common Admission Test (CAT) have been announced, students are prepping up for the written ability test (WAT) and personal interview (PI) rounds at some Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and other B-schools. To start around the second week of February, the WAT and PI rounds will continue till March. The group discussion (GD) as a screening method has been scrapped by most IIMs and has gradually given way to the WAT.

“With the various IIMs and other B-schools already releasing their shortlists, MBA aspirants are now focusing on the stage two process of WAT, GD and PI. The stage two process is a test of different skill sets. The parameters on which the candidates are judged in this round are absolutely different from the parameters of round one, the written test. To begin with, GDs have taken a back seat at all the IIMs and also at most of the premier B-schools. WAT has gained wider acceptance and is now prevalent in the stage two of almost every B-school process,” says Gautam Bawa, MBA head, CL Educate.


Everything you need to know about the written ability test (ISTOCK )

WAT or essay writing is a tool to check a candidate’s clarity of thought, quality of expression and basic general awareness of the current affairs. At some B-schools which conduct GDs, students are asked to write about their GD topic. “Otherwise, usually the students are given a topic on which they have to write an essay of 300-400 words. The time limit varies from institute to institute. While IIM-Bangalore gives the candidate 30 minutes to write the essay, IIM-Ahmedabad allows only 10 minutes,” says Bawa.

According to Ramnath Kanakadandi, director, Triumphant Institute of Management Education, Hyderabad, some top institutes like the IIMs have been quite open and informed candidates what they should expect when tested at this stage. Others, however, have not.

“Typically, the IIMs have a written task also called essay on a given topic, a group discussion (many IIMs don’t have this component except for a few) and personal interview. Most of the other top institutes have one or more of GD, WAT, group task (especially Symbiosis), aptitude test (MICA often uses this), PI, group interview (SP Jain Institute of Management and Research is the only institute to conduct this). Since most of you will receive calls from several institutes, it would be wise to prepare for all such tests. At this stage, the institutes look at individual candidates and try to assess their suitability for a management programme. In order to do this, institutes focus on the candidate’s personality, past academic record, clarity of thought on various issues, general knowledge and work profile if the candidate has work experience,” he says.

A good essay must have a proper structure with an introduction, main body and a conclusion.

“One must have clarity of thought, a proper writing flow, use examples and reasoning while writing the essay. A candidate should be able to come up with a good essay in a structured manner within 20-30 minutes. It is also important to evaluate the issue from all angles,” adds Kanakadandi.

A few older IIMs, including IIM-Ahmedabad, IIM-Calcutta and IIM-Lucknow give 10% weightage to the essay, IIM-Bangalore, IIM-Indore and IIM-Trichy give it a weightage of 15%. IIM Kozhikode is the only IIM that still conducts the GD.


All B-schools have personal interviews or PIs, the purpose of which is to test candidates’ ability to think, to express and, in general, to judge your maturity level.

“The PI generally includes questions about yourself, your aspirations and your action plan to achieve what you wish to achieve. For questions that have a personal dimension, clarity of thought is expected. Apart from these, questions on your subjects and your work experience are also likely to be asked. For a fresher, the academic questions are a test to assess how serious you are in tackling your graduation course. Similarly, for the employed professionals questions about your duties at work and about the organisation you work for are a common feature. The crux of the matter is that stage two is the decider and it takes a good amount of preparation on your part to crack it,” adds Bawa.

After being ­shortlisted

All those who get calls from B-schools should carefully check the form sent by the institute and write appropriate answers. Badly drafted statements of purpose have often landed candidates in trouble as the selection panel is often strict in pointing out such errors.

One should get the form checked for errors and inconsistencies by a faculty before sending it to the institute. This is an important process as the entire evaluation or interview focuses on what candidates have written on this form, says Kanakadandi.

One should start reading a daily newspaper and a business newspaper to keep abreast of the latest developments across the world, especially political. For instance, the democracy wave in Arab states, economic issues like the Greek crisis and the Eurozone instability or the upcoming Budget and issues of national consequence must not be ignored, say experts.

Giving an interesting tip, Kanakadandi says, “The panel is more often interested in your opinion on contemporary issues than on the facts of the matter.”

In addition to reading, also try and form balanced views of various issues and keep discussing it with friends, family, and teachers to refine them further. The role of a mentor is invaluable. Having a mentor who has gone through this route before is a must, he adds.

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