BIT Sindri Alumni Association interviewed Mr. Vikrant Tomar for the second episode of CAT-MAP Season 1. CAT-MAP is a series of intellectual interviews of BIT students who have aced one of the toughest examinations of India i.e., CAT. The agenda of the webinar was to aid students with their preparation, divulge all those tips and tricks, and imbibe knowledge from the expert. Vikrant Tomar sir scored a commendable percentile of 99.14 in CAT 2021. Sir has completed his B. Tech in Mechanical Engineering in the session 2017 to 2021 from BIT Sindri.

“Disclaimer: This article is a transcript of the interview conducted by BIT Sindri Alumni Association. Please find the YouTube link at the end of the article.”

Vikrant Tomar

1. Sir, kindly introduce yourself right from your school days.

My name is Vikrant Tomar, I am a resident of Jamshedpur. I completed my B. Tech in Mechanical Engineering from BIT Sindri from the batch 2017-2021. I did my schooling to 10th from Motilal Public School, Jamshedpur. During my primary and secondary schooling, I was a very competitive kid. I used to stay in the top three always, it was my yearly goal. I wanted to be in the felicitation program on the 6th of May, the birth anniversary of Pandit Motilal Nehru. That’s how my school days went. Then, I switched to DAV Bistupur, Jamshedpur for 10+2. The entire crème de la crème students of Jamshedpur accumulated in one place, one school, and the competition was fierce. I got lost. I used to struggle to stay in the top five. This is how I rolled downhill but kept progressing at an individual level. Then, BIT happened. There was a very massive change when I entered BIT. My first goal was to get into extracurricular activities. I hadn’t participated in much extra-curricular back in my school days. So that was one thing I wanted to do. I did that and it reflects in my scores, going from 90s to 80s in B.Tech. Despite this, I don’t regret it. I have made memories and got some very relevant experiences, friends, and seniors. That’s it!

2. Could you give us a walk through your BIT journey and the practices that led you where you are today?

Let’s begin with the freshman year. All of us entered BIT missing a few amenities that we used to get at home. That was concerning but adaptability being my strength, I adapted to it very quickly. My first hostel experience and staying away from home didn’t bug me much. I had nothing to compare BIT with any other college. It was my first experience, my prima facie. During vacation, I went to my friends and they were talking about placements and big four companies mass hiring from their campuses and other such things like electives and all. And I was like “Am I even in a college?” We missed these things. But BIT has a certain kind of kick to it. I used to say to my friends, “You all are going to become engineers. I am going to become a better person. I will be strong while you cannot. I won’t feel defeated in any situation.” I had decided to enter extra-curricular. So, I joined two clubs, one was Rotaract Club and the other was Sarjana, Sarjana happened at the very end of the first year. In the first year, we were very concerned about attending lectures. We had to take the long route, the infamous Murga road, and attend lectures twice a day.

Then, the sophomore year happened. Now, we could view our department buildings from our hostels. But now, we did not like to attend lectures. That was a drastic change from the first to the second year. I’m not telling you to not attend classes. Don’t do that. I’m just sharing what I did. Due to this, my scores tripped badly in my second year.

I don’t remember my 3rd year vividly. The first half of my third year was pretty much offline. We got the vibes of the B-zone, getting connected with our seniors. That was one thing I liked. I used to spend most of my time in the senior hostels. So that’s what I grasped in the first half of the third year. And then, what to mention about the online era! The e-B. Tech!

3. Mechanical Engineering comes with vast opportunities and a vast syllabus as well. Graduating from such a core branch, landing into the IT industry, why MBA?

I have been a fool saying that I don’t have anything to share about my third year. I would like to deform that right now. Back in my third year, the fifth semester we had two elective papers called “Operations Research” and “Project Management”. And that’s when I felt like studying something. Those subjects were quite interesting, especially Operations Research. It was completely application-based with very less theory. In the subject, you understand a method and work around a problem to arrive at its solution. This was very intriguing to me. That became one of the impetuses which led me to pursue an MBA further. I was good at the rest of the subjects in mechanical though I didn’t like all of them.

Undoubtedly, I wasn’t in the top 15 or top 20 of my batch or branch. During the placement season, I got placed at TCS. There was a limit to participating in the placements and I had used all of my opportunities. So, I couldn’t participate further and then I joined TCS. Later, I appeared for an interview at a different company and got placed. By that time, I had grown quite fond of this. I’m not from a CS-IT background, but then I worked as a Web Developer. I encountered new problems daily, researched, and had to figure out solutions. I kind of liked this. I usually wrote down a complete list of the pros and cons of switching to another job.

However, in the end, I decided to stay at this job and focus on my further MBA goal.

4. Sir, as you mentioned, from the third year itself you started preparing for CAT. Between all those semesters, vivas; college assignments and tackling new challenges every day in the IT industry, how did you manage your preparation for CAT?

First of all, I never started preparing for CAT in my third year. In the third year, there was an event called “Operations Research” that happened which later became my motivation to go for further study in it. I diligently started preparing for CAT, three months before the exam in September 2020. Before answering the question, let me share an anecdote of why I wanted to pursue CAT in the first place as a sophomore. When we landed in the second year, seniors, our friends, and batchmates used to say that you have to figure out a further goal beyond placements, say further studies. Everyone in mechanical was crazy for GATE, so I just downloaded one of the previous year’s GATE’s papers. The first section was aptitude, I went through the aptitude section and I was like, “Okay! It’s doable”. Then, I went to the technical area and got a feeling of déjà vu, it’s JEE Advanced all over again and I don’t want to go through that ever. ‘What other option do I have?’ This was my instant reaction. So, the first reason to prepare for CAT was, “I don’t want to do GATE”. It was like options elimination. I was like a kid back then; the reasons have completely changed now.

Let’s come to the “How do I manage” part now. If you say that you’re going to pursue MBA and you’re asking this question then that’s kind of paradoxical. That’s what we have to do. It should be a cognitive skill that you develop of managing everything. You have to be a problem solver.

5. Even after acquiring all the technical skills, we cannot survive in the professional world if we are not able to present ourselves properly to the interviewer, for that you must acquire good communication skills. What is your take on this?

Communication skills and technical skills are related to each other. Communication is important for an organization for its efficient management and improvement of industrial relations and it also affects technology by making it easier, quicker, and more efficient for people. However, remember, you must have the content or subject to speak on i.e., your technical knowledge or ideas. In my opinion, both go hand in hand.

6. This is the hack we all want to crack in life. Sir. What is your strategy to avoid pre-exam jitters?

It depends on your preparation and strategies for the exam you are looking forward to. To deal with these situations, one needs to be calm throughout his/her preparations and exams.

7. Let’s hear about the Subject-wise Strategy. Let’s start with the Quantitative Aptitude (QA) Section. Could you share the tips and techniques that you followed for this section?

First and foremost, we must examine the previous year’s question paper to comprehend any exam and to determine trends. Arithmetic, geometry, algebra, modern math, and number system are the five major components of the QA. For this CAT exam, I hadn’t prepared the last two categories because I didn’t feel confident in those areas. So, I skipped them.

The majority of the QA is up to Class 10th as CAT is given by people from various streams including arts, commerce, etc. and everyone reads math to Class 10th. So, the exam setter set questions to ensure that everyone is on the same level. We have an advantage over those students who are not from a science background, but we must apply our knowledge while keeping the cost-benefit ratio in mind.

I’ll give you an example suppose you have one minima-maxima question. As a Science Student, your first thought would be to use differentiation to find maxima-minima. However, if you use this approach, you’ll be in a lot of trouble because differentiation is a time-consuming process. However, the same question can be solved using AM, GM, or Option Elimination. These tips and tricks can be learned by practicing mocks and previous year’s papers.

There are many online resources for preparation, but I primarily rely on YouTube, Unacademy free courses, Bodheeprep, 2IIM, and Inside IIM. If you diligently follow all of these, then you will end up with a decent percentile to achieve your dream college.

8. Now, let’s talk about the Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation (LRDI) Section. What was your strategy for these sections?

I had already taken a hit from LRDI in CAT 2020. So, I was intimidated by it and what added to my agony was that I had picked the wrong question on the wrong side and when I attempted that same paper six months later, I was able to solve all six sets. That was very painful for me. “Why didn’t I solve these during the actual exam?” So, the key to LRDI is Set Selection. To develop the set selection technique, you require practicing Mocks and Sectionals. The syllabus of LRDI is not fixed. You can only expect the syllabus of QA to be fixed, the other two subjects’ have a few general patterns like a 4-Set Venn Diagram.

I was good at LR and not in DI, I loathed DI. I liked Solving Arrangements in LR. You have to fall in love with the process of Problem Solving. You have to fall in love with the puzzles. That’s how you get away with the LRDI. When you go through the mocks, you would find the set screaming to you, ‘Pick-me!’. When you find you’re done with your mouse, you’ll realize there’s a set and even though the language is very lengthy, so lengthy that at the first glance an amateur would completely skip that question but you have taken a few marks, you’re almost a pro and you look at the question, it screams to you, ‘Read me. At least, spare me a minute or two’ and you read that to find you can solve it. Now, this is an automatic process, a cognitive skill that you develop while solving mocks and sectionals.

9. Moving towards the VARC section. For many CAT aspirants, this section seems to be a nightmare. So, what was your strategy for preparing for this section?

I have been moderately good with VARC. I didn’t prepare much but consistently for about five to six months. I gave CAT 2020 and realized that my weak point was VA. RC was all about comprehension skills on which I had a bit of command. But I was content with it as you can say it was my Achilles heel. So, I searched some online resources and used them to solve summary, para-jumbles, and odd one out every day for at least one hour. Also, I spent 2-3 hours developing consistency which helped me to improve my score in VARC this year.

As most people say the habit of reading can help you in VARC, I was a diligent reader back in intermediate. I had quite an interest in spending time in libraries reading books of interest. But once I entered college, I decided to explore the extracurriculars and physical activities as well. So, I kind of lost the habit of book reading. This affected me quite a lot in the VARC section. So, the advice is valid and justified. I would recommend everyone to read books and novels.

Also, watching anime with subtitles helped me in increasing my reading speed. You should learn from everything around you and take a few skills from them.

To sum up, I would say the key to any challenge is your problem-solving attitude. Set selection is also a skill that you develop as you go through mocks and sections. For VARC, it is consistency that matters and even after 3 months, you have to practice every day. Also, you can skip QA and LRDI but never skip on VARC.

10. Everyone dreams of becoming a CEO before opting for MBA. Have you figured outyour specialization and the college you are targeting?

Who does that? I don’t believe that’s a consensus.

Let me talk about the specialization. In my second year, I went for project training at Tata steel. While going through it and visiting the plant, I came across so many aspects of the operations like the maintenance of the project, the daily works, working of the plant, other technical departments, and a lot of things. My project was on hydraulics. So, I was supposed to focus on that but other things intrigued me. Most were the organizational behaviour and the employer-employee relations, the relations between the management and their subordinates.

When lockdown happened, we had a lot of free time and I utilized that free time in introspection of what interests me and where do I see myself, where do I want to go; what do I want to pursue. This interactive thing, this sense of human interaction dominated my mind. This helped me figure out that I would want to go for Human Resource Management. There was another reason for this inclination of mine. In college, during my minimal 2.5 years of B. Tech, I used to stay active in club activities. I would like to play roles that affected the members and always looked forward to inductions and how the inductions would be planned. When the lockdown happened, we had to change a lot of methods, especially in Sarjana. We had to take a very traditional written assessment and interview method to a completely online format. Designing those new methods pushed me to realize that I would want to go into a role where I get to interact with people.

11. You have already mentioned that you are not so good in terms of an interview. What would be your strategy when you will be having an interview?

I assumed I’m not good at interviews because most of the interviews that I’ve faced have been technical interviews and I’m not so good at the technical stuff.

Last year, I attended two B-school interviews, the first one was a complete mess as I went in completely unprepared; it went terrible. The second interview was for MDI and I knew that I wasn’t going to be getting in with such a low percentile and no work experience but I decided to give everything to that interview. I prepared thoroughly for that interview. It happened on April 14th. Till April 13th, we had our offline exams at the BIT campus. I left the hostel in the morning, reached home, and attended the interview. It went well. However, I couldn’t give my hundred percent because I left for college at 7:30, was sleepy and hungry, and hadn’t had a good sleep last night as for us, it was the last day on the campus. The final year didn’t happen to us, it doesn’t exist. The batch of 2017, went through the final days, not the final year. I couldn’t afford to miss the golden days and the last night with my friends.

I believe that I had improved quite a lot in that interview and that I will improve this year much more than that particular interview. I’m not focusing much on my communication skills though it’s quite apt, it’s quite good for an interview. I’m preparing all the content. I got to interact with a few seniors, some of them from the premium B-schools and got their input regarding what I can expect. Some seniors guide you so well, you just cannot fathom the fact that they give you a question you wouldn’t even think of. For the interview preparation, not completely but I am majorly relying on my seniors’ experiences.

Questions by Audience

1. How to perform better in VARC?

According to me, ‘Consistency’ is the key to VARC. Go to bodhiprep.com. You can find free resources there. Attempt RCs, para jumbles, para summary, and odd-one outs. These four topics cover the VARC portion. Solve them every day diligently. Pick two RCs and after a month or two go for three or four. You don’t have to keep a track of time when you solve these stand-alone questions, but you need a timer in the mock.

2. Does reading a newspaper help a CAT aspirant in the way it does to UPSC aspirants?

Definitely. By reading the newspaper, you can get a hold of current affairs which form crucial questions in the examination. I would suggest the students who will be appearing in the CAT exam this year not just focus on VR and LRDI but GK as well. Because if you didn’t perform well in CAT exams then, the other way out is either XAT, Snap, MAT, or IIFT. In XAT and IIFT, there is a section for GK. GK carries a sectional cut-off. Taking my instance, I had scored 4.5 marks in GK in XAT while the sectional cut-off was 5.5. So, I would advise everyone to never avoid GK while preparing for CAT or any other similar exams. You should read newspapers and in specific, articles on politics or business columns depending upon your interest. Also go for current affairs, national news, and everything. You can also go through coaching centres that provide a very good collection of reading materials in form of news bulletins. Even if you don’t like reading the newspaper, you should start from where you are.

3. What would be your advice to the students of the first and second year in BIT Sindri?

There is nothing new I would like to advise other than, “Get yourself involved in extracurricular activities as much as you can”. You can also plan meetups with friends of the same cities and if you live nearby the college then you should visit the campus and explore the localities as well. Regarding the preparations, you don’t need to stress a lot from the first year itself. You can start from the third year. The real preparation for CAT exams is done in the final year itself. Just plan a routine and work consistently on learning the concepts. After that, you can work on the accuracy and speed of solving questions.

4. There’s always a dilemma among young graduates regarding the path they should pursue. How long did you take to discover that you have the requisite managerial skills and you would be pursuing MBA in the near future?

Let me assure you that it’s a perpetual process by sharing one of my life’s experiences. I worked as a Web Developer. From time to time, I got the feedback that it’s not developed completely from the business point of view, ‘What’s the business point of view?’, this ignited my curiosity to study about it. ‘Why am I even doing this with half-baked knowledge?’ ‘When management is so crucial, why am I not getting into it?’

Here’s another incident I would like to share. When I entered BIT, a professor had said, ‘You are in Mechanical, you are not going to become Engineers but Managers’. This often kept me wondering, ‘Why did he say that?’ During the pre-final and final years, I got to interact with my seniors and the professionals who were working in mechanical jobs. This changed my perspective of placements from Mechanical Engineering, most of them were in Managerial Roles.

Everyone has two ways to get into management. First, get placed, get hands-on experience in a Company and You are a manager. The other is attending a college, going for a theoretical study, doing internships and then You become a manager. I kind of chose the latter one. Eventually, you are going to become a manager. That’s not changing.

5. What were the hindrances that came your way during CAT preparations? How did you deal with them?

Lack of direction, lack of clear sense of direction. During my internship, I was nowhere thinking of appearing for CAT. I had devoted myself to freelancing; making money and paying bills.  I was not even contemplating giving back CAT exam. I just wanted to get placed. However, in August, I attempted the previous year’s paper and started preparing just for the sake of gaining experience. I was not very keen on getting into a college with no work experience. Eventually, I got placed in the IT industry and got exposed to a very different perspective of management.

Now, I didn’t want to delay my studies further. I wanted to be consistent. I didn’t want to take a gap after my B. Tech. I have been working for seven months now and wanted to be consistent with that as well.

There were a few instances when I was reminded, ‘This App that you have developed is not complete by the Business Standards’ ‘Why am I even working?’ This also was one of my many reasons for keeping up with CAT.

6. B-Schools have a very tight schedule during the entire course. How are you planning to handle the pressure?

I am not planning anything right now. My major concern now is getting into a B school. I’ll plan after I get into one. I’ve been managing everything to date and will continue to do so. Life goes on.

7. Do IIMs, the big premiere schools prefer candidates with work experience? Should one grab a placement, join a company and then go for MBA or directly go for it?

First, figure out which college you want to enter. For my specialization, I wanted to do HRM but there are very selected colleges that provide specialized courses of Diploma in HRM. So, my dream school is Numero XLRI. Even though I had a low XAT score, I looked forward to my interviews and I got a call from XLRI, for both programmes. So, first see which college you want to go to, check the eligibility criteria, their 10th and 12th cut-offs, and trends. 

Go online and you will get your answer. If you want to get into MBA college, freshers form the major chunk of the batch, going up to 30-40 percent as freshers bring in a consistent perspective. It’s completely up to you. You can go to a workplace if you think you can manage your preparation, I wouldn’t say prepare with your job.

“Preparing for CAT is like learning swimming or cycling. You never forget that.” These are skills and not something which you can mug up. So, it’s completely up to you. I just shared my take on this.

Conclusion

What will be your final message to the viewers?

The word ‘final’ as I mentioned before, is quite painful for us who didn’t get to experience our final year, which by the way doesn’t exist. My message is ‘Believe in Yourself’. Everything I say comes from my experiences. I had cleared a few latest IIMs but chose to go for an IT job. Society criticized my family and me a lot saying, ‘Your son just left the IIM tag and went for an IT job, he’s a complete fool. What if he doesn’t crack CAT next year?’ If you were in my shoes, you would have to face that situation but have a belief in yourself; prove everyone wrong improving each day. And don’t let such things affect you and your family ever.

This is the video link of interview: https://youtu.be/Nx6U8zPndWE

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