Interview with Shashank Prabhu, CET Rank 1

I got a chance to interview my dear friend and fellow test-nerd, Dr Shashank Prabhu, who has scored 99.99 percentile and rank 1 in CET 2020. Though we frequently end up discussing tests, especially during test season, we never got a chance to share these insights on a public forum.

In this post, you will find valuable suggestions with respect to preparation and is a must read for anyone who wants to understand a topper’s approach.

Congratulations on scoring 99.99 for the sixth time and topping the test. What was your reaction when you saw the result?

There is always a bit of nervousness when you are anticipating the result. The day I had taken the test, I was feeling pretty happy with my effort. I hadn’t expected a rank 1 but knew that I would be top 3 for sure in my slot. So when the result came out, it was a pleasant surprise to be ranked 1 overall. Also, I was relieved that the streak was still alive and I had managed to keep the law of averages at bay for another year.

Faculty members are sometimes criticized for taking the test and impacting chance of serious takers. What’s your take on this?

To all those who end up pointing fingers at the faculty test-takers, I understand the concern and as a matter of fact, had written about this very thing when I was a serious aspirant. It’s a fairly layered argument that I make in this regard and the primary motivation behind taking the test is to understand and live what exactly does an aspirant go through during the test. I have always relied on my own judgment when it comes to dishing advice to the aspirants and this act helps me do that more emphatically. As far as scoring high at the test goes, I believe it adds a smidgen of credibility to your advice if you are doing well when it matters the most.

As far as impacting the chances of serious takers go, except for my very first attempt (when I was a serious candidate), I have never turned up for the document verification round and have never featured in the final ranks that are given to the candidates. So, as long as I am not applying to colleges, I am not wasting a seat in any manner.

Having done it multiple times in the past, what drives you to take the test again? How do you keep yourself motivated when there is nothing remaining to prove?

Human beings get a high from various things, some that can be discussed on public forums, some that can’t be. For me, test taking gives me that rush of endorphins. I indeed have other responsibilities as a part of my work and life so, it’s a challenge to take these tests being dependent solely on your muscle memory. CET specifically is a test that manages to surprise aspirants every year through changes in level of difficulty and introduction of fresh question types. It’s difficult to be consistent at a test that has an element of luck involved and that’s what keeps me motivated.

Do you do any special preparation throughout the year? What’s your routine like?

None actually. I have somehow been able to not look at CET as a threat and considering that I enjoy solving questions quickly and accurately, CET is just about the perfect test for me. Considering that I am also in charge of operations, I find it difficult to sit at one place for 150 minutes and take full length mocks. The only preparation that I do is interact with the students and help them analyse their mocks. Also, I am a big believer in visualizing various scenarios before the test and so I am not surprised when I am taking the actual test.

How much time is required for CET preparation for a candidate who is just starting his/her preparation?

Anywhere ranging from 3 to 9 months is good enough. If one has his/her basics in place (or has prepared for CAT in the same season), it won’t take long to pick up the various question types and understand the strategy part of things. However, if someone has not taken an aptitude test in his/her life and isn’t sure of his/her reaction to competition and pressure, I would suggest starting a bit earlier, maybe around July or so.

As CET doesn’t have negative marking, people say that it’s the easiest test to crack. What do you think?

I believe that it is an illusion that’s created to distract students from the real issues to be honest. The lack of negative marking is there for all the students to take advantage of. So, it’s not going to affect a few candidates. And although there’s an element of luck involved in the final tally, at least at the top, a bulk of one’s score comes from genuine attempts. So, I feel that the CET is underrated in terms of level of difficulty and it is probably as nasty as say a CAT or a XAT.

Can someone who is focusing exclusively on CET crack the test?

I would strongly urge aspirants to not keep all their eggs in the CET basket. If you feel you are decent at speed tests, you should also be taking the NMAT, SNAP, MAT, CMAT, TISSNET, and MICAT at the very least to hedge your bets. As we have observed, the level of difficulty has changed (subtly or otherwise) every year and so, there’s no certainty that you are going to crack it the coming year.

What’s your approach towards the test? How do you decide what to solve and what to avoid and which section order do you follow?

I believe that a good test taker has to have a better sense of the questions that s/he is supposed to leave than those that s/he is supposed to solve. I go through the entire test rarely making any bad decisions and that helps. Plus, I have a decent reading speed and am good with numbers so, that helps. Typically, I have four parameters to understand whether or not I would want to solve a question: one, length of the question (more than 2 graphs/huge RC passages with inferential questions/big LR arrangement-based questions), two, number and nature of the concepts involved (I am not particularly fond of questions based on SI CI, installments, replacements), three, familiarity with the numbers given in the question and four, the nature of the options (integer or decimal, close or far apart, countable or huge). The idea is to move the entire framework to your subconscious and not spend a ginormous amount of time on each question deciding whether to solve it or not.

As far as the order of attempt goes, I have always had this philosophy of doing the difficult things first and the easier things at the end. So, I generally start with the Analytical Reasoning section and spend a good hour on it. Next, I spend around 20 minutes on the Visual Reasoning section. Typically, I am able to crack all 25 with the exception of maybe a couple of questions in this duration. However, this year I was unable to run through the section and felt it to be a sticky wicket. Next, I make a mad rush through the Verbal Ability section. Unless it’s a tough year (like say 2017), it’s generally a breeze and I can manage to finish it off in around 30 minutes on most occasions. And I like to end with Quantitative Ability, which I believe is my strongest section. Even if I get stuck in one of the earlier sections and am left with around say 30 minutes to solve the QA section, I still back myself to achieve a decent score in it. This strategy and time distribution has worked for me almost every time and so, I have stuck to it over the years. However, I would recommend aspirants to use it carefully after analyzing their strengths and weaknesses and in general, their attitude towards life.

What are some of the mistakes that aspirants do when they prepare for a test?

The biggest mistake I believe most aspirants make is that they lack regard for competition and underestimate the level of difficulty of the test. It is very important to be practical in this matter and be accepting of one’s level in terms of aptitude and test-taking skill. I have seen people trash institutes even before taking the test (college XYZ is the worst and I would not take it) and then end up missing the cut-off for said college by miles.

Also, mock taking and analysis is one of the areas that a lot of students take lightly. It’s a very important part of any aspirant’s preparatory journey and gives good insights into his/her strengths and weaknesses. However for most, analysis simply means looking at the score and worrying about it without actually understanding the implications of the score and improving with each passing mock.

How important is mock analysis and is there a process that students can follow?

I generally ask students to do their rough work in an organised manner and preserve their rough sheets so that they know where exactly they got stuck and what was their thought process while solving the test. At an overall level, I look at the section that was the least rewarding in terms of marks per minute. If one ends up investing a disproportionate amount of time on this section, it’s generally going to result in a disaster. Then comes the classification of questions on the basis of speed and accuracy. A thorough understanding of each and every question type helps expedite decision making while solving the test and leads to saving of precious time which counts for those extra 5-10 marks at the end. Prasad had shared an article on mock test analysis incidentally on this blog which I would recommend every serious test taker to go through.

What’s the ideal number of mocks that one should aim for?

Around 10 at the very least is what I would recommend. Over the years, I have seen aspirants take anywhere ranging from barely 5 mocks to even 60! The idea is to understand yourself and your prep well. Some people strike gold in the first couple of mocks, some go on a journey of self-exploration that takes a while. It’s very important to be patient throughout and focus on improvement with each passing day. Also, it’s important to give a good run (3-4 mocks) to a strategy before discarding it. A lot of aspirants end up desperately switching strategies every mock and that doesn’t help understand it in its entirety.

What tips do you have for students who will be taking CET 2021?

Prepare hard, keep your options open and stay practical throughout. The test is fair and nicely designed and with adequate preparation and ability you can crack it and start your management journey from a decent institute. Talk to people who understand the test through your journey and you should be able to see the results sooner or later. And do not forget to follow the Cracking CET blog! There’s a treasure of information and insights available on it. All the best! 🙂

Hope these posts are helping you. Please get in touch if you need any help. If there are any queries, please leave them in the comments below and allow me a few days to get back. Share this with your friends and co-aspirants. Happy prepping! 🙂

8 thoughts on “Interview with Shashank Prabhu, CET Rank 1

  1. Pingback: NMAT 291: Long Debrief – Cracking MBA CET

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