My journey to IIMB: A roller-coaster of emotions – Swastik Panda, class of 2023

Hello Sir,

Hope you are doing well. I gave it a thought and decided to share my CAT journey with you. I hope it can be of help to the current and future aspirants. Also, apologies if it goes a bit too long.!

First, an introduction about myself. I hail from Rourkela, Odisha which is also known as the steel city. I am a graduate from NIT Rourkela, batch of 2018. I have been working since the past two and a half years at Capgemini as a BI developer and analyst. I did my schooling from St Pauls School, Rourkela and had scored 95% in both secondary and higher secondary exams. About my hobbies, I am a foodie, an avid reader of thriller novels and a gamer. I have been playing video games since the past ten years, primarily the role playing games. Witcher 3 is my all-time favorite game. As, I am a CAT repeater, I have divided my journey into 5 parts:

Part-1: Initial Reasons to do an MBA

Swastik on a soulful journey !

It started a couple of years back in 2018. Throughout my years of under graduation, I had been part of a lot of management committees. I had a knack for leading teams and was serious about the responsibility that came along with it. During my first year at Capgemini, I quickly realized that I could contribute a lot for both to the company and my own personal growth if I get into the managerial positions. I would like to add an excerpt from Steve Jobs movie here. It goes something like this:

Steve Wozniak: I designed the Apple 2. I designed the software. Someone else designed the OS. Another team worked on the functionalities. Then, how come everywhere I go, I hear Steve Jobs is the genius??

Steve Jobs: You are right. You are a really good developer. If I arrange all developers we have, you would come right on the first row. But, all of you are musicians. I play the orchestra. That’s why, people regard me as the genius.

Part-2: Multiple Failures

I decided to give CAT 2018 but could not prepare much as I started the preparation in Sept itself. However, it was a confidence booster for me as I scored 97.6 just by self-study. Then, I was pretty sure that I would be able to crack CAT easily with a bit more effort and started preparing for CAT 2019 from Feb. However, all my hopes came crashing on the D-Day. I could only score 91 percentile.

After receiving such disastrous results, I started falling into an abyss of disappointment. I was pretty sure that this is where I want to build my future in, however, I felt lost and dejected with my performance. Adding to my woes, most of my friends who had prepared with me had cracked the most premium institutions of the country. It was a strange feeling, I was really happy that they did well and got what they deserved, but I was pretty agitated with myself for failing twice, even harder the second time. I did not have the guts or patience to try a third time. The self-doubt I had was increasing day by day.

Part-3: How essential is a support network

Swastik with his immediate support team, the cheerleaders of his journey, Family!

One thing that I am really fortunate to have is some good friends and really supportive parents. Just like in a chilly winter morning, a strong kick is required to start a bike, I needed a push to start it all again. This push was provided by none other than my father. He has always been a pillar of support and has stood behind me in all my decisions. I still remember the day in May when he asked why I was not preparing for CAT again, and I was like I might not be able to do it, I will think about it. After contemplating for some time, he just said don’t do it. If you are not sure you want to do it, you will fail definitely. This was a turning point for me. I thought about it for a long time and realized that the first thing I need to do is believe in myself. My mother was my second pillar of support throughout the prep and interviews. She was this ball of energy who inspired me every time I started questioning myself and helped me reach my goal. My brother was my third pillar of support who taught me the virtue of patience. His motto was good things happen to good people, you just have to give yourself a chance and wait for your time. I was also emotionally and mentally supported by some of my close friends.

Part -4: Believing in Yourself (CAT 2020 Prep)

There is a saying: “When you’ve reached rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.” When I started my prep for CAT 2020, it seemed like a herculean task, both emotionally and mentally. I knew that guidance is going to be crucial for my success and with the Covid scenario, I looked towards online coaching facilities. I found Unacademy classes to be really good and enrolled in that. I realized that there were some fundamental gaps in my understanding. Preparing with a 9 hour job which sometimes stretched to 11-12 hrs was also gruelling. I knew that I would need to strategize and plan my day to be successful. I generally spent 3-4 hours in the weekdays with 2 subjects in a day. Weekends was all about practise and mocks. I spent somewhere between 6-8 hours in the weekend for the prep. Regarding various sections, this is how I prepared :

VARC: The most important part was the passages. For solving the passages, two things are essential: Speed and retention. Speed can be built up by reading books, novels and inculcating a general reading habit. When it comes to retention, it’s all about how quickly and easily you can comprehend the passage. This requires reading diverse topics to improve understanding and your own perception of things. I utilized the unacademy practice tests, AEON essays, The Guardian, NYT and some novels for increasing my reading habits. Parajumbles and summaries are all about practice.

LRDI: I had believed earlier that LRDI is all about practicing sets. But I can say it’s not true. It’s not just solving sets but also understanding the concepts and theory behind that. Also, visualization of the sets play a critical role. It’s a combination of practice, concepts and sometimes a bit of luck. 😀 I had solved close to 500 LRDI sets across unacademy classes, mocks, practice papers and some youtube videos which helped me crack 4 sets in the exam.

Quant: This had always been my Achilles heel. One thing I made sure in my preparation this time was I did not leave any topic. More often than not most of the questions are multi layered, you would need knowledge from different topics to solve the question.  I covered the basics of each topic and tried to cover the depth in those units which was interesting to me.

Mocks: I took 20-25 full mocks and 5-10 sectional mocks for each section. My percentiles ranged from 57 to 98.9 and it was pretty erratic. However, analyzing the mocks is by far the most critical part of the preparation. Just as in a war, you have all weapons with you, but unless you know the battlefield and create multiple plans, you are likely to fail. Similarly, to bell the cat, you need to know your strengths, weaknesses, question pattern, time distribution and maximization of correct attempts.

Part-5: Introspection and knowing thyself (Interviews-2020)

After such a long journey, I got a border line 98.54 percentile in CAT. Being a GEM, I knew that it was going to be very dicey for me to get into the BLACKI IIM’s. Moreover, this was the first time I was going to give the MBA interviews. So, it was uncharted territory for me. I quickly started researching on how I could get some guidance and asked some of my friends and peers.

I finally decided on purchasing the CL PDP course, which turned out to be a great decision. All the talks and discussions of the heavyweights of CL really helped me understand what the interviewers look for. The design of the program was also great. I was assigned as a mentee to Abhishek Singhania Sir from IIM Lucknow CL. He really helped me understand my own personality better or as he would say “tumhara attitude pura grand hai, ye tumhare SOP mai bi reflect ho rha hai. Thda kam karo” 😀 . I am really grateful and thankful to Abhishek Sir for being available at a short notice and guiding me to understand my own personality. Overall, I gave 14 interviews and converted most of them. The interview experiences are a story for another day. I can say that I am a proud student of the PDP program of CL and it helped me open my mind to unexplored regions of my personality, improve my perception of issues and take better informed decisions.

The day I got the results that I have been selected in IIM B, I was hit by a barrage of emotions. My family and friends were elated. Mostly, I was just relieved and at peace. I could not help but remember the final lines of the movie: Pursuit of Happyness –this part of my life, this little part, is called “Happiness”.

Finally, I would say that the destination is no doubt important, but the journey even more so. It shapes your personality and tests your resilience. We should never give up and we will get to our goal someday.  The journey may be excruciating, but it would always make a better you, better equipped to fight and conquer your goals.

Thanks for reading such a long story. May the force be with you.!

Swastik Panda

Converts: IIM B,IIM L,IIM I, new iim’s, NITIE, NMIMS Mumbai, SIBM Pune, XIMB-BM

Swastik : We are eagerly looking forward to your second edition of the story – explorations, introspection, experiences and learning during the interviews !!

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