In this series, A2A (Asked to Answer), get answers to the most often asked questions by CAT and other MBA entrance exam aspirants.
With the CAT just months away, every year this time I get asked by working professionals whether it would be a wise decision to quit their job and concentrate on their CAT preparation.The first thing to understand is whether quitting or not can really make big difference to your chances of making it to a B-School, because if it doesn’t then the simplest thing to do will be to quit it.
The admission to most of the top B-Schools is based on a composite score which is usually calculated on the basis of your performance in the entrance exam as well as WAT/GD/PI and your PROFILE. Your profile is a combination of your academic background (where you studied, how much you scored etc), your extra-curricular and co-curricular achievements, your internships, your work experience (both qualitative and quantitative) and your professional/other certifications. So while it’s important for you to do well in the test, it is equally well to fare well on your profile parameters.
As a working professional, one cannot change their past (read academic background, internships & extra-curricular achievements) but can positively impact the returns from their work ex and professional/other certifications. Quitting your job will harm your profile and indirectly affect your chances of getting into a top B-School. If your current job is adding a lot of value to your profile (thanks to the role being performed or the brand you are working for), the cost of quitting can be significantly higher. And if the current job is not adding much value to your profile, the solution cannot be quitting and making the profile altogether stagnant – you should rather be looking at alternative options to enhance your profile (taking up another job or pursuing certification programs aligned with intended career goals).
Do you really need to quit?
CAT is perceived to be one of the toughest entrance exams and therefore it is not very surprising that working professionals wanting to prepare for this exam usually want to quit their jobs for one of the following reasons:
- CAT is tough, and I haven’t started preparing yet.
- I have a very busy work schedule and I won’t be able to manage my CAT preparation alongside my work schedule
Basically it boils down to two parameters – the amount of preparation time required on a daily basis and the available time for preparation on a daily basis. And the urge to quit the job stems from the perceived mismatch between the two. While quitting the job to take care of this imbalance is the easiest option, the question to be asked is whether you really need 24 hours of a day to prepare for CAT. The answer to this will vary from person to person based on their current level of preparedness for CAT. So, every CAT aspirant who is considering to quit his/her job to prepare for CAT must follow a 3 Step approach:
Step 1: Measure the time required by YOU to prepare for CAT on a daily basis.
The time required to prepare for CAT can be classified into four categories:
- Learning concepts: The maximum time of your CAT prep will be spent in learning Math and Verbal concepts. Math has around 30 topics while Verbal has around 15 topics that are usually assessed in CAT. Assuming that you take an average of 2 hours to learn concepts in each topic and further spend around 3 to 4 hours solving questions that are based on each of these concepts, the total preparation time amounts to around 250 to 300 hours. However, if you are already with good with some of the concepts, you will require far lesser time for this phase when compared to someone who needs to learn all the concepts from scratch. On a daily basis, one can stretch their prep for upto 6 to 8 hours without losing effectiveness.
- Learning skills: CAT preparation requires you to work on skills like reading comprehension, vocabulary, data interpretation and logical ability. While these areas do not have a lot of concepts that you need to master (unlike Maths), the emphasis here is on fine-tuning your skills through purposeful practice. So spending 20 to 30 minutes daily on each of these skills can go a long way in helping you gain mastery over a period of time. As a beginner, you may spend a total of 1 to 1.5 hours (across all areas together) on a daily basis for the next two to three months to gain some basic confidence in each of these areas. Again, if you have been an avid reader or have a good vocabulary already or have comfort with crunching numbers and solving logical puzzles – you can save some daily prep time.
- Practice with CAT level questions: This is one of the most critical components of your preparation – the more you practice with actual CAT level questions, the more you will be confident to tackle the CAT. As a first time CAT taker, one should look at solving a minimum of 2500 to 3000 questions across the three sections (this is an equivalent of solving 25 to 30 full length tests). However, let me clarify that the quality of practice is more important than the quantity – so, whatever the number of questions you practice with, the outcome should be a fair level of confidence to tackle similar questions in the actual test.If you were to spend 6 to 8 minutes on a an average on each of the above questions to solve and analyse, you will need around 300 to hours of thorough practice. On a daily basis, one may spend around 4 to 6 hours – stretching beyond this may not be very fruitful.
- Test taking practice: This will include taking around a minimum of 15 to 20 simulated full-length tests (SimCATs) followed by a detailed analysis of your performance. Each test should ideally take you an average of 10 to 12 hours (including the 3 hour test time) – making it a total of around 200 to 250 hours across all the tests. As in the previous phase, here too one is not advised to go beyond 4 to 6 hours in a day.
The preparation time calculation for a beginner with little or no preparation will look like this:
|Total time required||@ 4 – 6 hrs per day|
|Learning Concepts||250-300 hrs||50 – 60 days|
|Learning Skills||1-1.5 hrs daily||–|
|Practice CAT level Qs||300-350 hrs||60 – 70 days|
|Test-taking practice||200-250 hrs||40 – 50 days|
|150 – 180 days|
So, one will need around 150 to 180 days for their CAT preparation if they were to spend 4 to 6 hours on a daily basis. Make a chart that is more specific to your needs across the four categories to arrive at your prep time requirement. If you are just about to start your preparation, take a preliminary test (SimCAT Zero in IMS parlance) to benchmark your needs across the four phases. If you have already been preparing, then your performance in the last mock test (SimCAT) should help you measure your gaps and thereby the daily prep time required to bridge them. My experience with past students suggests that your daily requirement may vary anywhere from 2 hours a day to 8 hours a day on an average.
Step 2: Decide how many hours on an average you can commit on a daily basis for your CAT preparation (if you were to not quit your current job).
Draw up your weekly schedule with a list of all activities that you are involved in (including your work hours). Once you have made this chart, identify and cross out all wasteful activities (outside your work schedule) that can be avoided during the course of your CAT preparation. You may also cut down on some sleep (6-7 hours of sleep is more than sufficient on a daily basis – if not anything it will prepare you for your life at the B-School. Allot available time-slots across the week to your CAT prep (be careful to choose slots where you are in the right frame of mind to learn and not when you are tired or stressed out). Based on this analysis you could draw the following chart for yourself:
Observe that the number of hours you invest on a daily basis may vary based on your actual schedule. Once you commit to the time-slots allotted for studying as per the above schedule, it is imperative that you strongly stick to your commitment.
Step 3: Arrive at the solution
If you are able to extract as many hours a day on an average across the week as was required from your analysis in Step 1 – you are sorted and ready to go. If you are still falling short, you now need to evaluate if could save some time or extract some quality time from your work schedule so that it can be devoted to your CAT prep. Here are a few options you could consider:
- Can you work from home – so that you save some time that you would otherwise spend on commuting as well as wasteful activities that you indulge in at the work place.
- Can you convince your manager/boss to reduce your workload – so that you can spend some lesser time at work (even reducing it by 2 or 3 hours daily can be a great help)
- Can you change your role in the organisation – take up a role that is less demanding and would consume fewer hours
- Can you ask for a sabbatical or study leave (even leave without pay is an option) for 2 or 3 months starting around September so that you can catch up on lost time during this period.
So, if any of the above options are possible, you will not need to QUIT your job. But if none of the options are viable, the next alternative would be to look for a job change – either in a similar role or in alternative roles that are in alignment with your intended career goals. (A new job may be less stressful for the first 2 to 3 months during the so-called honeymoon period). A change in job is better than quitting your job altogether.
If changing your job is a difficult proposition and you have also exhausted all other options, you can consider quitting your job if you are desperate to crack the CAT this year itself.
If you have less than two years of work experience or are working for a reputed firm, I would still advise to continue in the job and give CAT your best shot – if your best is enough to scale the peak, you would have achieved your goal without adversely affecting your profile. And just in case, you don’t make it you can still try again next year – the preparation put in this year will only help you perform better and without having punctured your profile.
If you have more than two years of work experience or are working for a not so well-known firm, you may quit your job to prepare for CAT but I would still suggest that you pursue some additional options like certification programs or NGO jobs that can add some value to your profile. In any case CAT preparation wont take more than 8 hours of your day – you may as well use some hours to positively affect your profile.
If you decide to quit, then you may consider the following points before deciding your date for quitting:
- The CAT form usually asks for work experience as on 31st July – so you may as well maximize your work experience duration till then.
- If the benchmarks of 12 months or 18 months or 24 months or 36 months are within striking distance, then it makes sense to meet them and then quit – 24 months is much more significant than 23 months, however there is no real difference between 26 months and 25 months.
The COVID impact
This year the B-Schools may be much more accommodative when they evaluate your work experience or lack of it. But since this will be true for all aspirants, you could very well do with some differentiation. The composite score calculations may change but work experience on your profile will continue to have a positive influence on your chances of selection. So, COVID or not, follow the above approach to decide whether you should quit your current job.
It is not a good idea if you are deciding to quit your job simply because you are sick of your job or you do not like your boss. Follow the 3 Step approach prescribed above to evaluate if you really need to quit your job. Quitting the job should only be the last resort – if nothing else really works. And even if you quit, you should look for ways to keep enhancing your profile using whatever additional time you have on hand thanks to quitting the job. Remember that in the second stage of the selection to a B-School, it will not be just your CAT scores that matter – your overall profile will be as important, if not more. And having a job at that stage can make a serious difference to the quality of your profile.