How to prepare for the CAT Exam (2021)? (My Personal Experience)

How to prepare for the CAT Exam 2021? | How to ace mocks? | Syllabus of CAT | Bonus Tips to Crack CAT

Written by Aditya (CAT Aspirant & my good friend)

With changes introduced by IIM Indore in CAT 2020 Paper pattern, you have to get accustomed to the new pattern.

So, how to prepare for the CAT Exam?

Cracking CAT requires firstly, coming up with an excellent strategy. Secondly, making a study plan accordingly and executing it on a daily basis without any failure.

I wouldn’t lie to you, CAT isn’t an easy exam. It is demanding and highly competitive. It checks your patience, confidence, logical abilities but with the right approach and determination, you can do wonders in this exam.

Also, be rest assured if CAT 2021 is your first try as even a beginner can fetch a good percentile with the right strategy.

In this article, I’ll guide you through each and every aspect of CAT and how to crack it. Be patient and read till the end to get a better insight.

Let’s begin!!

Changed paper pattern

Changed paper pattern of CAT Exam

Knowing the changes is important to make a strategy accordingly. I’ll give you a detailed analysis of the CAT 2020 paper by IIM Indore.

The CAT paper was of 2 hours (120minutes) with 40minutes provided for each(3) section.

There were overall 76 questions.

The VA & RC section had 26 questions with 18 questions i.e 4 sets on RC and 8 questions in VA.

The DI & LR section had 24 questions with 3 sets of 4 questions each and 2 sets of 6 questions each.

Finally the QA section had 26 questions.

Overall Difficulty level was moderate.

The 99 percentile achieved by toppers had 95-105 total scaled score.

The first slot was the easiest comparatively and the difficulty level kept on increasing in slot 2 & slot 3.

Syllabus of CAT

Now for cracking the paper the first step is to know the syllabus and then to learn the formulas, concepts, and tricks to solve the questions.

VA & RC 

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Para jumbles
  • Para Completion and inference
  • Critical Reasoning
  • Sentence completion
  • Fill in the blanks
  • Error correction
  • Odd one out of Jumbled paragraph


  • Bar graph, line graph, pie charts
  • Venn Diagram
  • Seating Arrangement (circular & linear)
  • Games & Tournaments
  • Caselets
  • Puzzles
  • Ranking & ordering
  • Input-output
  • Critical Reasoning
  • Routes & Direction 
  • Cubes, Calendar & Clocks


  • Algebra
  • Arithmetic
  • Modern Math
  • Geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Series & Sequences
  • Mixtures & Allegations
  • Commercial Maths

How to prepare for CAT 2021?

How to prepare for CAT 2021?

The first step is to decide which mode of preparation best suits you: self-study or online classes.

The only difference that lies between preparing through self-study and online classes is that if you are a beginner at this then the latter allows you to ask queries from the mentors.

So in this article ahead I will tell you about how to start preparing for cat by self-study

Preparing for cat without coaching requires you to start setting daily targets.

  • Firstly, one may start with knowing the syllabus. One might also go through previous cat papers to get a better insight into the frequency of each topic asked in the paper.
  • Secondly, opting for the best books for CAT preparation. 

For clearing the basics the best books available in the market are of Arun Sharma (practice LOD 1 & 2) and Nishit K Sinha. 

  • Thirdly, knowing (strategies) how to ace each and every section.

I’ll guide you how to prepare each section individually to get a tight grip on the topics.

Also Read: Why Job satisfaction in important?

Reading Comprehension & Verbal Ability!

Reading Comprehension & Verbal Ability!

Prepare for VA & RC with tips stated below:

Reading articles of diversified fields (this will make you versatile and any RC that comes in your paper wouldn’t look alien to you) so that one could easily comprehend the passages.

Reading Newspaper (esp. Editorial Section) is a must.

Word Power Made Easy( a book to improve your vocabulary). Finish it in the starting and go through it at least two to three times.

Watching videos(YouTube) of verbal ability to know the right way to crack para jumbles, para summary, etc.

Download Manhattan Pre Reading Comprehension book (it will teach you how to tackle questions related to inferences, except type, central idea)

Start giving sectional tests of any coaching institute (personally I would recommend TIME & IMS). Their difficulty level is divided into three categories. One starts with beginners and goes up to an advanced level. It helps in polishing your basics.

Analyzing the tests thoroughly is the most important part which usually people end up taking lightly. You can take an entire day and do the analyzing part in slots.

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Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning

Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning

Prepare for DI & LR with tips stated below:

Arrange DI & LR book by Arun Sharma or any coaching’s study modules to learn the basics and to have a good hold on each and every topic.

Watching videos (YouTube) of how to ace questions from different sources related to puzzles, games, pie charts, etc. 

I recommend you to visit Unacademy and Elites Grid YouTube channel.

Going through previous year question papers to know what kind of sets are usually asked and get a good look at how the toppers have attempted the paper.

Start taking Sectional tests & analyze them (even the sets you haven’t attempted).

The best tip I could give you is to have a good glance at the paper so that you have an idea of where the best seats are placed.

You should choose the best (easy) sets first.

So the formula could be 

Glancing -> choose  -> attempt 

But all this to be done keeping in mind the time and accuracy. Remember CAT is not where you have to attempt all the questions but the idea is to attempt a decent amount within a given time period with impeccable accuracy.

Quantitative Aptitude

Quantitative Aptitude

Prepare for QA with tips stated below:

Arrange a quantitative aptitude book by Arun Sharma or Nishit K Sinha or any of the coaching’s study modules to get a tight grip on topics.

The next step is to strengthen those topics by practicing sectional tests and analyzing them thoroughly.

For QA I would say practicing sectional tests rigorously and giving mocks and going through past year question papers is enough to score 99-100 percentile.

Again having good speed with impeccable accuracy is what needed the most to have an upper edge.

Many students keep on complaining up till the end about the scores and the main reason learned behind it is lack of speed and accuracy, so keeping a hold at it is a bit tough but once championed at it nobody can stop you.

Also, the tables and reciprocals till 25 should be on everybody’s tip. You can also use some apps like brain games to get good at number crunching.

After clearing the basics and having a good insight into each section, one needs to start attempting the mocks. 

I’ll explain to you in detail how to ace mocks because that is the direct representation of how you are going to perform in the actual exam.

How to ace mocks?

How to ace mocks?

You should start giving mocks by the beginning of July/August. You could buy the portal of two coaching institutes and simultaneously practice on both.

SimCAT from IMS and Simcats from TIME are the ones that are somewhat similar to the actual CAT papers. Sometimes might be comparatively difficult but that too to just prepare you for unprecedented situations as CAT is known for its surprises.

So one must be prepared for it, as every year the difficulty level of different sections changes.

You never know which section might turn out to be tough, which moderate, and which easy. Be ready for surprises.

You should start your mock by attempting RC’s (experts & mentors recommend you to first attempt RC then VA dividing the time generously)

For comprehensions, one must give 25 mins and the rest 15 mins must be dedicated to verbal ability.

To choose the best RC one needs to read the first paragraph and have an idea of the topic and difficulty.

Make it a point to read RC within 4-5 min

While reading questions, reason yourself (what solution does the examiner wants) and reasonably eliminate the options.

Always remember to watch out for each & every word while referring.

In VA firstly try to solve the easiest- moderate questions.

Hence, the formula for RC & VA is:

 Referring -> decipher well-> Eliminating 

 Now comes the DI & LR part

 Choosing the best sets in first 5 mins is the strategy.

The best set could be the one that by just reading you can formulate the solution in your mind, at least the steps required.

Attempting 4-5 sets will fetch you a great (97-99) percentile.

Now comes the last section QA. 

The best strategy could be to:

 Attempt 15 questions

Starting with the easiestestestest… one’s

Always attempt those that come to you easily and when you are done with them you can start attempting those which are slightly difficult. And leave those which appear difficult to you. If you want to try, try at the end.

Bonus Tips:

Bonus Tips
  • One must refer to the ABC approach of the IMS coaching institute. It’s the same as stated by me above.

A- easiest ones. Do it instantly.

B- slightly difficult or lengthy. Mark these and move ahead and do it after A.

C – don’t attempt the very difficult one’s or those you have no idea about.

  • Taking a quick glance at the question paper in the second & third sections gives you an idea of where the best questions are present.
  • Don’t get stuck. Give 5-6 mins to a DI/LR set or 2 min to a maths ques but not more than that. Move Ahead!!
  • Studying at home through self-study might panic you so taking one or two days off and enjoy with friends or family may help.
  • Would recommend the crack app. It gives you free tests.
  • Practicing meditation will keep you calm and confident.
  • Practice. Practice.

In the end, I would like to say that you have great potential and with determination and hard work one can easily achieve 99-100percentile. 

Aim for the top indian mba college’s and work accordingly.

Be ready for failures, frankly it is a rollercoaster ride but one doesn’t need to lose hope.

Also even if you are preparing for CAT without coaching or through self-study one needs to get in touch with other aspirants to get a boost and to get help through others by joining Facebook or WhatsApp groups.

Analysing your errors with confidence is what you need to do. I guess now you understand how to prepare for the CAT Exam?

Come up with a plan and crack it!

All the best!!

FAQs On CAT Preparation

  1. Is 1 year enough for CAT preparation

    Yes, It’s an ample amount of time to clear basics and practice mocks.

  2. How can I prepare for CAT exam 2021

    As I have stated above clearing the basics first and then giving mocks. You must schedule your daily study routine and execute it with perfection.

  3. Is CAT exam really tough

    Yes, it is. It demands time ,dedication, patience and hardwork.

  4. How long does it take to prepare for CAT exam

    It varies from person to person. If someone is a beginner at this, he/she might require around 9-12 months while others may require 6-8 months.

  5. Is coaching necessary for CAT

    Coaching like IMS provide you with a mentor who keeps a vigilant eye on your progress and gives you assignments. So for people who feel that they work better under pressure can go for coaching.

  6. Is CAT 2020 getting tough

    Cat 2020’s overall difficulty level was moderate. Some found the DI/LR and Maths section in slot 2 & 3 was tough.

  7. Which is the toughest section in CAT

    CAT is full of surprises. Every year the difficulty level of different sections changes. So this is something which cannot be told or guaranteed

Sagar V.
Sagar V.

Hi, I'm Sagar Verma, founder of 9to5Job. I quit my job in 2019 to pursue my passion for blogging and digital marketing. I'm very much interested in sharing my little experience of corporate life, make money-related topics with all of my lovely users. Read more