Now that the CAT scorecard is out, the time to start preparing for WAT-GD-PI has come. But how does one go about it? Especially in a year, or should I say season, such as this (somehow I feel that the New Year will truly start only when the mask becomes unnecessary, until then we are living in the pandemic’s orbit not the planetary orbit).

From what we know so far some of the schools — FMS, SPJIMR, TISS, and IMT — have already announced an online PI and others such as IIM-K have scrapped the GD.

I think we will not be too far off the mark in assuming that this year the only process will be an online PI — a bulk of the professors are not really young, spring chickens with tons of immunity to go around, so getting them to travel to different cities and conduct interviews even as the vaccine is getting rolled out is not a risk that professors and schools will be willing to take.

And if it is an online PI then the logistics of conducting and evaluating a WAT or a GD become difficult. I wish for once they just stood up and gave clarity well in advance (at least in the pandemic). Alas, Indian b-schools like Indian firms (and most definitely the Indian cricket team’s management) rarely take the bull by the horns and provide clarity at the earliest, the usual strategy is to take things as they come, which is nothing but another word for groping in the dark until the last moment (in contrast international employers announced work from home well in advance for a long period so that everyone can make their arrangements).

So how do you go about preparing in the face of such uncertainty since preparing and not preparing for WAT are, on the face of it, two different things altogether?

Prepare for an All-In-One Personal Interview — A longer PIs with a dedicated OAT section

Since they might not be able to conduct WATs and GDs, I will not be surprised if the selection process will allocate more marks and time to PIs, (given the logistical ease of online PIs) and ensure that the things that are tested in WATs and GDs are tested in the PI.

So within the time set aside for a PI they might carve out a 5-10 minute space to test your views through an OAT or Oral Assessment Test during which the panel might probe your take on an issue as follows

  • what is your view on the farmer protests
  • do you think their fears that MNCs will take over is valid
  • do you think there are issues that have been ignored by both parties
  • what are the learnings from large-scale, privatised farming in countries such as the US
  • what do you think of protest as a tool in general
  • have you ever protested at whatever level

Another thing they might do is first give you time for an Extempore (you will be given a minute and a topic to speak uninterrupted) on a topic and then probe and discuss it.

If they genuinely want to test your awareness of the world around you, setting aside the other skills that WAT and GDs test, then an OAT or an Extempore is a very likely possibility.

The reason I think that this might be possible is that they have anyway over the years made the PIs primarily about your General Awareness in the context of your life, all they need to add is the General Awareness of the world around you, which they tested through GD and WAT.

Do an audit of the big talking points this year

Given what we discussed so far, you should make a list of the big topics, like the Farm Bills mentioned above, this year and do a thorough audit and prepare for the same along the lines:

  • Pandemic
    • Which country has the highest numbers?
    • What are the numbers in India, in your state, your city?
    • What are firms manufacturing the vaccine?
    • Which countries tried to implement herd immunity?
    • Which countries had the lowest numbers?
    • Are there countries which are COVID-free?
    • How did the pandemic change your life?
    • What are pros and cons of work-from-home or study-from-home?
    • How do you think India handle the crisis?
    • Did you bang the thali?
    • Did you travel during the pandemic?
  • Brexit Deal
    • What were the main points of contention between the EU and the UK
    • What is a backstop?
    • What are political implications of Brexit with respect to Scotland
    • What are the economic implications of Brexit?
    • Which countries are likely to benefit from Brexit?

After reading up enough on the various topics, practice speaking out your take on the same into a camera with a 1-minute time-limit

These are just the most important issues, IMS students can attend the WAT-GD-PI Webinars that have started and that will comprehensively cover all the other major issues as well as knowledge inputs (basics of economics etc.) that might need. You will have other resources as well the details of which can be found here —

As far as the rest of the questions go, going by student testimonials and transcripts over the last few years, barring IIM-B, none of the schools seems to have a fixed yardstick for asking questions.

If panels have one thing in common it seems to be their mistrust of candidates and the claims they make. Most panels start with the premise that the only thing the candidate wants is to make more money and hence it might be useless to start asking them The Big 5 Standard Questions —

  • Tell us something about yourself
  • Describe your work experience
  • Why do want to do an MBA
  • What are your long-term and short-term goals
  • List your strengths and weaknesses

They would rather test out your mettle by grilling you on the things you mention in the form or on current affairs. They will use the standard questions as a surprise element when you are least prepared for it or they might not use it at all.

So do you go about preparing for this randomness apart from the Current Affairs prep?

Draw the largest circle with yourself as the center

The PI is primarily a test of the stuff of you are made of. So right at the center of it — a lamb to the slaughter or a gladiator in the Colosseum (though it is best you don’t think of yourself as either the latter or the former) — is you.

So draw a circle with you as the centre and divide it into four quadrants.

Quadrant 1 — Your Personal Background

This quadrant contains all the information that is relevant to you as a person

  • the meaning of your name,
  • the number of districts, rivers, Lok Sabha Seats, the recent events, the future elections, famous personalities, anything and everything to do with the state you are from or the state you were born and raised in
  • your parent’s profession in case there are questions there, for example, a defense kid might get asked about the services

Quadrant 2 — Your Educational Background

This quadrant as the name suggests deals with all questions that can be relevant to your educational background — yes, your engineering subjects will haunt you for one last time.

Usually, the questions can fall into two types

  • Lowest Hanging Theoretical Concepts in your discipline — The panelists might not be from your discipline but they will have enough top-level knowledge about a wide range of subjects to ask you basic questions from any are. For example, students with a commerce background might be asked the difference between single-entry and double-entry accounting, a mechanical engineer might be asked questions on thermodynamics and an electrical engineer might be asked about Kirchoff’s laws. So you need to revise the basic concepts across the most important subjects in your graduation.
  • Practical applications of your discipline — This applies more to engineering and science graduates. Panelists may ask an electronics and telecommunications engineer the difference between 3G, 4G & 5G or how Bluetooth works or what is iOT, a mechanical engineer about how CVT or automatic transmission works etc. IMS students will get a book with all the previous year’s questions, scouring through that is the best way to find out the kind of questions that have been asked in the past.

Quadrant 3 — Your Professional Background

Working professionals will be expected to know more than the projects they are working on. So everything ranging from the turnover of your firm to those of your major competitors, the CEOs of the big firms in your industry, the recent controversies or happenings in your field ( if you work in the auto sector, you might be asked about electric cars and Tesla and Musk) and the major trends shaping your industry.

Quadrant 4 — Your Hobbies and Interests

Whatever you mention as your hobbies and interests you need to have an in-depth idea about the same. What do I mean by in-depth?

If you say you love football, then you need to know everything from the weight of the football, circumference of the football, dimensions of a football field, dimensions of the goal-post and everything about your favorite team.

If you say you love trekking, then you need to know what the highest mountains in the world are, what the highest motorable road in the world is etc.

This would technically be the largest circle you can draw around yourself that you need to fill with every GK or CA question that can be asked within this circle.

It goes without saying that you might not be able to learn everything about football. For example, a panelist might ask you, do you remember Zidane’s Champions League volley? You might say yes, very much, it is one of the great goals in football, the panelist might say, which team was Real playing against in that Final. Some of you might know, some of you might not. So do not freak out thinking about the most random things that can be asked.

On any topic, there is a circle that denotes your knowledge and a circle that denotes the panelists’ knowledge. Your job is to maximize the chances of overlap.

And remember, the harder you work, the luckier you will get.