Meet Mr. Kumar-Co-founder, co-partner and the man partly behind the successful establishment of the recently-formed ‘TathaGat’ Institute (classroom extension of ‘totalgadha.com’ – every CAT takers virtual Bible). In this interview, he sheds light on the very ferocious CAT, how to tackle it and other factors that every MBA aspirant needs to know….
VP: How was it that you decided to come up with the revolutionary site – ‘www.totalgadha.com’ and then ‘Tathagat’? Why did you give up the chance to make quick bucks in the corporate sector and enter this field?
Mr. Kumar: Totalgadha is actually Sanjeev’s baby. He and Rati conceptualized the site and made it a success. When Sanjeev, Rajat and I met, we discovered that we shared the same goal of founding an organization which was an academic powerhouse. TathaGat was a runaway success, since Sanjeev, Rajat and I have spent some quality time in test-prep industry and share a respectable reputation amongst the aspirants.
As for the decision about not to stick with corporate sector…Well! To begin with, the market today is ripe with entrepreneurial opportunities. Besides, many a time, as organisations become larger, the original mission and goal start getting diluted. We all had been a part of larger organisations earlier, and acutely felt the need of servicing the students in a manner that could bring out the best in them. Hence, TathaGat.
VP: With so many CAT training institutes mushrooming all over, what according to you sets ‘Tathagat’ and the ‘totalgadha’ team apart from the rest?
Mr. Kumar: Multiple reasons:
A) We are the first to have given the country an “online” mock. With talks of CAT going online, I think it’s quite obvious why people have made the site “Totalgadha.com” their favourite within a short span of existence.
B) The content at the site is indisputably the best that the industry has to offer. No other site today matches us in terms of amount of content, user-friendliness, response time to queries, or the quality of posts.
C) The TathaGat team is a team of the best faculty members in the country.
D) And of course, you’ll have noticed that perhaps we are the only ones in the industry who do not advertise our classrooms. At the end of the day, quality DOES speak for itself
E) The students having taste of both TathaGat and TotalGadha get a double advantage- not only they find their faculty members learning more and more to keep up with the online queries, but also discover a bigger pool of co-aspirants online who are ready to help them or provide them with new problems.
VP: Having been in the industry for so many years, do you feel things in the teaching industry have changed in terms of pressure, competition and student’s attitude towards the most dreaded yet the most coveted Common Admission Test?
Mr. Kumar: What HAS changed over the years is the “commercialisation” and “exploitation” of gullible student’s aspirations, by many opportunist organisations in the country. ‘It’s good to make hay while the sun shines’, seems to be their only motto. And it is the student in the end who is losing out.
However, the students’ attitude has changed only in that they are now taking a more informed and educated decision. Competition too has increased, with a larger participation from working professionals and a huge number of engineers, doctors, and even defence personnel writing these B-School entrance exams (read CAT).
A logical consequence of this is that the test-prep industry HAS to adapt and calibrate itself according to the needs of this more “mature” set of aspirants. No longer will a mere brand name suffice. We need to constantly strive and meet this challenge. For us upstarts, this makes the entire scenario extremely exciting and optimistic.
As far as the pressure for the aspirant himself/herself goes, well, the burgeoning Indian middle class translates to many implications, especially in the context of “peer-pressure” amongst the increasingly emancipating youth. And the swelling number of CAT and other B-School test aspirants is testimony to that. With increase in foreign investments, a more open market and a more liberal fiscal policy, the need to maintain quality and satisfy this strengthened middle class consumer translates to a whopping need for more qualified professionals and hence the growth MBA as the most lucrative career option.
VP: Earlier on, in India the considered and respected professions were those of a doctor, engineer, soon followed by an inclination towards law and then the IT sector. Although, there is still a demand in these diversified fields, do you think education in India has always transgressed from one booming sector to the other?
Mr. Kumar: I think, more than putting a tag on “education” in India, the current situation speaks volumes about the Indian youth’s ability to gauge and capitalise on, what I call, “imminent opportunities”. In that I think the youth of India surpasses any global precedent. Nowhere, after renaissance, have we witnessed such large scale ferment towards acquisition of skills that present themselves to be the need of the hour.
And this could not have been materialised, had it not been for the impetus our education system has traditionally put on fundamental education till standard X. Although increasingly, the proponents of so called “modern” education tend to validate (more through unfounded assumption than through historical evidence) this growing hatred for “forced” and “uselessly non-vocational” education, I aver that the Indian youth currently symbolises the most rational and balanced mind- owing more to the system of “forced” primary education, than anything else.
VP: Finally, coming back to the much-talked about CAT, do you think there is a set formula for cracking the CAT or is it just a case of ‘mind over matter’? Either way, what is your advice to students who are particularly weak and are fretting day and night over the mother of all exams?
Mr. Kumar: CAT is an aptitude test-perhaps the most beautiful that has been in existence for quite some time now- which means, that at the end of the day a more conditioned aspirant has a greater chance of cracking it. Having said that, even if not all who appear for the test will get calls from the IIMs, the umbrella that CAT provides for entry into various other prestigious B-schools ensures that if the aspirant keeps a cool head during the two and a half hours of the test, he/ she can easily get to the B-School that is optimum in accordance with her aptitude.
Every year I see hundreds of students not performing up to their optimum level. The primary cause is the undue pressure students heap upon themselves during those test-hours. At TathaGat, we have tried to ensure that any student who prepares with us, is, at the end of the day, happily ridden of this greatest evil- pressure.
Bottomline- YES- CAT can be cracked! All you need is a lot of hard work before the D-day, and a lot of smiles (read ‘confidence’) ON the D-day!
VP: Some people excel in verbal, some in DI and some in Quant, what techniques can be followed to overcome this one subject-centric approach and embrace all three just the same/even out in all the areas? Also, how much time should be allocated to each area on a daily basis?
Mr. Kumar: Since it is a 2 ½ hour exam, ensuring that one has the capacity to sit for three continuous hours everyday, is a prerequisite. Also, one must try to sit for at least 2 hours for each of the three sections -everyday. CAT is 3 ½ months away, and that still leaves us with some (if not much) time to optimise.
Make sure you are following the aforementioned advice, at least till the first week of October. Thereafter, you should, depending on your performance in various test-series available, give maximum focus on the sections and topics that you think you are more comfortable with. This is no time for fresh experimentation or novel learning. The basic ideology should now be: strengthen your strengths and forget about your weaknesses. This medium being limited in terms of scope, I cannot deal with this question adequately. Students, however, should feel free to write to me for specific queries at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be more than happy to be able to help.
VP: Do you think joining a coaching helps or self- study at home is a better option or do they vary from one individual to another? Also, please shed some light on the importance of Test Series and GD/PI.
Ans.7. For someone who is writing CAT for the first time, it makes absolute sense to join an institute. A classroom environment gives the student first hand experience of real-time competition. It also helps him/ her assimilate and incorporate ideas that an isolated desk in front of a window/wall is completely unlikely to inseminate.
One of my B-school professors used to say “the donkey works hardest!”, implying that smart work goes a longer way. In this, the instructor’s role in a classroom acts as a catalyst to propel the student’s hard work in the right direction. Lack of self-discipline and improper time-management also act as impediments to self-study at home.
As far as the test series are concerned, I am of the opinion that a student should join a minimum of two test-series. It takes away the subjectivity of one set of people who repeatedly prepare questions for one test-series.
GD/PI is perhaps the most crucial stage of the admission procedure, as here an aspirant faces stiffer competition. So, one has to take it seriously. Again, the scope of the medium limits my elaboration for its preparation.
VP: IIMs are definitely not the end of the world. What is your advice to students who don’t fulfil their penultimate dream of making it to these highly- ranked institutes?
Mr. Kumar: IIMs are decisively the best brand in the country as far as B-Schools go. However, I would like to remind the aspirants that merely getting into an IIM does not ensure ANYTHING in life. One has to actually prove one’s worth in the corporate world through one’s hard work and integrity, none of which are virtues enslaved to an admission in the IIMs. These are qualities that can be inculcated even without admission into a B-School.
There are plenty of good B-Schools which offer the same curriculum, but perhaps do not enjoy the popularity IIMs do. But the learning, nevertheless, remains as substantial as anything else. At the end of the day, I ask this to all your readers- How many IIM graduates do YOU know?? After the first break that you get, it’s up to you to make your mark. And if you have it in you, failure to get into an institute CANNOT stop you from making your mark.
VP: The common perception in the industry is that people with jobs/work experience are preferred over graduates. Is this entirely true or is it all just hogwash? If true, what are the remedial options available to the graduates?
Mr. Kumar: It is purely a myth!! The fresher stands as much of a chance as the working professional does, provided that the fresher is able to do justice to the three/four years of his/ her graduation.
The working professional DOES have an edge though, in his/her mental preparedness, since the sense of insecurity is far less while one writes an exam or faces an interview panel; the security cover being, but of course, his/her job!
VP: What steps should be taken by students who have taken a gap year to remain at par with the rest of the lot? Does the fact that they have more time to prepare as compared to the others act as an obstacle in their path?
Mr. Kumar: Yes, it does. The aspirant needs to make sure that he/ she has done at least something in the gap year in order to be able to satisfy the interview panel’s apprehensions. Hence, the best option is to take up a job or enrol oneself in a PG course, as a backup.
However, in the event that a student is not able to do either, he/ she should make sure that he/ she has ample ‘strengths’ in his/ her resume to lead the interview and be able to justify her candidature.
VP: Any predictions for the upcoming CAT? Lastly, any words of wisdom for CAT aspirants.
Mr. Kumar: CAT thrives on its label of “unpredictability”! So to hazard a guess would be suicidal for me! But yes, traditional wisdom says only two things about CAT. First, there has been almost no exception to the rule, that no matter what, CAT cut-offs NEVER go dramatically above 33% of the total marks, which means, that no matter what the difficulty level of the paper, one should NEVER panic about a particular section’s difficulty. Second, always remember, that more than your knowledge, these guys want to test your ability to remain calm under pressure. If you are able to do that, you’ll have passed the test with much more than you had presumed your capacities permitted. All the best!