“It was my first attempt and I had convinced myself that this was going to be my only one”- Gursimran Ahuja, 99.83%ile (CAT 2015)

“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day” – Jim Rohn

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CAT (Common Admission Test) is considered as a monumental exam and cracking it in the first attempt and getting a coveted seat at India’s topmost three B-Schools is no child’s play. We got a chance to talk to Gursimran Ahuja who has recently successfully converted the calls from IIM Ahemdabad, IIM Bangalore and IIM Calcutta. We are presenting the major excerpts from our talk in this post.

Hello Gursimran! Congratulations for getting an admit to India’s 3 topmost B-Schools- IIM Ahemdabad, IIM Bangalore and IIM Calcutta. How does it feel?

Honestly, at first, it was relief more than anything. After getting a good CAT score, the feeling of being very close to your dream B-School gets very pronounced. The wait after the interviews were over was extremely excruciating and I was really hoping that if I have come this far and worked this hard, it would be the best thing in the world if I could get into the best university. And today, I really feel like the runner with the coveted ribbon at the finish line. Really happy and excited.

Tell us more about yourself.

Well, I have an often-encountered profile, I guess. I am a final year Integrated Dual Degree student pursuing my degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering at IIT-Roorkee. I have been an extremely studious person all throughout my school life, which, I believe, really pays off in the shortlist process. My scores in the major exams go something like: 95% (10th); 97.4% (12th; State Topper, CBSE) and my grade point so far is 8.60.

Was it your first attempt in MBA Entrance Exams?

Yes, it was my first attempt in the entrance exams and frankly, I had convinced myself that this was going to be my only one, just to get the push that I needed to get me through the preparation.

What was your daily routine while preparation?

Being a final year Dual degree student, my course structure was not that demanding as far as the hours were concerned, especially in the CAT stage of the process. I don’t have an exact number for the hours that I put in because where my preparation was concerned, I think I almost always had a question in hand, be it on my phone, on my tab, in between classes, sometimes even during meals. I can safely say that a lot of my preparation was done on the run. But, one thing that I made sure was that in this quagmire of questions, I had an inherent system to what I was studying so that I didn’t miss out on anything. And this included doing 3 RCs, 2-3 LRDI sets and reading up on the basics of one Quant topic every day.

Which resources did you use for your preparation?

I think I was initially at a disadvantage as I didn’t join any classroom program for my preparation, especially with regard to the structure that I was going to follow. Only after I got myself the study material of a coaching institute, did things really start to fall in place. I just focused on the basics for a while and once, I started to be sure of myself, I moved on to the books like Arun Sharma. The best and most useful resource, for me, has been the mocks. I had enrolled in two test series and took as many free mocks as were available. There was so much to learn from the 3 hours that I spent taking every mock that in the whole season, though I haven’t counted, I probably took around 70-75 mocks. And I still believe them to be the most effective tool to enhance scores, if taken seriously.

What were the major challenges that you faced during your preparation?

Like I said, my major challenge was related to the structure of my preparation. For a lot of time in the beginning, I used to constantly find myself with a lot of missing links, when I took mocks or saw different questions. That took a while to ward off. Apart from this, I have been someone who always dreaded the LR-DI section of the exam. Probably, even today, if I am asked to take it again. It is a fun section, but can get extremely annoying if one doesn’t get the hang of it.

Please share your IIM-A interview experience

My IIM-A interview is probably going to be one of the most memorable moments of my life, not because of the fact that I got through, but just because of the sheer brilliance with which it was conducted. It was one of the interviews where I really felt that the interviewers were trying to know every facet of my personality. Here goes the experience:

Taj Chandigarh, March 5, 2016

WAT Topic: A case to evaluate the correctness of a decision taken by the LEGO board to fire the Chief Operations Officer for introducing a product based on the Harry potter theme, that was not really in line with what the company had been doing all these years.

I was second in my panel (coincidentally, I have had the #2 position in all my interviews), meaning that I got just enough time to straighten myself after the WAT when I was called in. There were two panelists-let’s say P1 and P2.

P1: So, you are a final year IDD student. Surely you must have a project you are working on?

I: Yes Sir, I am working on a project that aims to increase the robustness of the Speech Recognition systems that we use in our day to day life.

P1: And how do you plan on doing that?

I: Most of the systems presently in use, like S-Voice, Siri etc. falter a lot when it comes to recognizing speech in noisy conditions. I, for one, can never get my S-Voice to work on a train. So, we try to incorporate the video component into the audio one so that both can be used to get a better outcome. My research, in particular, is based on reducing the errors that changes in a person’s pose bring about to the video component.

P1: How much difference do you think it makes? Introducing the video as well? Is it worth the costs involved?

I: Sir, it does make a lot of difference, especially when it comes to speech recognition in noisy conditions. Technically speaking, introducing video increases the signal strength by somewhere around 8-10 dB, which is too huge a difference.

P1: So, if I am sitting facing my webcam, how will your system recognize what I say? Do you take the whole face?

I: No sir, we basically just consider the lip and jaw region to study the spoken word. The first step in the design of any such software is to segregate the lip region and construct a model out of the features. Most of the time, it is a Hidden Markov Model with a probabilistic outcome determination using the Viterbi algorithm.

P2(who was just listening all this while) : But, how do you plan on handling that pose thing?

I: (frankly, I hadn’t done this part of the project yet, so I knew just some theoretical background and nothing else) Sir, most of the research till now has just solved this problem by means of a regression matrix wherein the side pose is interpolated onto the frontal one to normalize the views and cover up on the missing links. (I still don’t know why I said “interpolated”)

P2: Interpolated? (Passing a paper to me) Can you explain the mathematics?

I: (should have said I don’t know much about it, decided to go ahead with what I knew anyway, probably a low point in my interview) Sir, for instance, if the frontal region of the lip is given and the side pose, we construct two matrices based on the appearance-based models that we draw out of the lips and then we have to find out the regression matrix averaged over a series of subjects. (drew two lips on the paper and wrote the matrix equation)

P2: What is in these matrices?

I: Sir, it is the pixel values for the seven strategic points on the lips that we use to demarcate the boundaries.

P2: I don’t get it. Okay, you have a matrix, you have all these equations and models. But, how are you going to get the pixels?

I: Sir, we have algorithms to mark the boundaries of the lips, including the crossbow structure and extremities. I have used one of those algorithms itself that use the hue and luminance to get the lip boundaries.

P2: But lips are so different across geographies. How do you plan on handling that?

I: I agree that people from different ethnicities have different lip structures and colors. But the algorithms that we use focus on the difference in the color of the skin and the lips, which works fine across the different ethnicities.

P2: Can it be used commercially? This project of yours?

I: Sir, though I am now working on a limited vocabulary based system, but it can of course be scaled up to create a vast database across different phones and consequently, the words as well.

P2: You mean if I say “apple”, your software would not even recognize it? What good is it then?

I: Sir, every research begins with the most basic of problems that need to be solved in order to create a system that is free from every kind of error that an end user may experience. And, in any case, this project, in its present state, can be scaled up to incorporate different phoneme combinations.

P1: You know, I still didn’t get that equation of yours? Explain again.

I: (not this again!! I explained it the same way as before, but I think that he saw through the fact that my knowledge on this part was limited)

P1: Have you actually implemented this pose problem?

I: No Sir, I still have not. I know the theory and the models on which it works, but I have not implemented it in code form yet.

P1: Okay. Tell me what else do you do?

I: (Phew!!) Sir, I have been a freelance writer for a US-based virtual assistance firm since 2014.

P1: What do you write?

I: Initially, I did projects for the firm itself, based on medical virtual assistance, virtual offices etc.. But, now, in addition to that, I have also started writing health and lifestyle blogs for a client of theirs.

P1: Do they pay you? How much?

I: Yes Sir, they do.

P1: And what else do you like to do when you are free?

I: Sir, I am a very avid reader. And by that I mean, I like to read everything, right from something like “Confessions of a Shopaholic” to “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”. And I am a Kathak dancer as well.

P1: Can you tell me how many gharanas are there in Kathak? And who are their major exponents?

I: Told

P1: What is the difference between these gharanas?

I: Told

P1: What is the latest book that you have read?

I: Sir, I have read ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan

P1: What is the ideology of ISIS?

I: Described Salafism and other aspects related to the misinterpretation of Quran by the group.

P2: But, why did terrorism become so big after 1990 only. Muslims were there. Quran was there. Why now?

I: Sir, the spirit and thought process in which terrorism finds its roots has been around since time immemorial. But, in its present form and ideology, I think it had a lot to do with the radical literary interpretations of Quran around 1990. (Mentioned Syed Qutb and his works)

P1: Do you think producer or consumer societies are the major victims of terrorism?

I: I think consumer societies are not just victims, but they contribute to the perpetration of terrorism as well ( Gave the example of Pakistan and its tryst with terrorism in the wake of a floundering economy)

P1: (to P2) Anything else?

P2: No. Just take a candy from the bowl. Thank you.

I: Thanks a lot

All in all, I feel I could have done better, especially the academic part. But, all is well that ends well.

You were active in some of the “Group Study Sessions” organized by Oliveboard and you attempted Oliveboard Mock test series for CAT. Can you please share your experience with Oliveboard for the future aspirants?

The Oliveboard Group Study sessions, in addition to being an excellent source for topic-intensive preparation, are an extremely interactive way to get the intricacies across. They are a very good source when you are bored of conventional book-based preparation and want to make your learning a lot more fun. As for the mocks, no doubt they are really beneficial. But, the way they are segregated based on the difficulty level is just a stroke of genius because a lot of the times in your preparation, you are really in need of a specific kind of mock and that is where they come in and help.

What are your post-MBA plans? Where do you see yourself 5-10 years post MBA?

Honestly, I am more of an “Move with the Wind” sort of person. So, I am just looking forward to the IIM experience for now. But one thing that I am absolutely sure of is that wherever I am and whichever organization I am a part of, I really will want to be someone whose presence makes a difference.

Disclaimer: This post is based on a written interview by the Oliveboard team.