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Updated: June 6, 2013 14:29 IST

A different flavour to CAT

Vasudha Venugopal
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Confident lot: For CAT 2011, students will have to rethink their strategy and prepare accordingly. Photo: K. Murali Kumar
The Hindu Confident lot: For CAT 2011, students will have to rethink their strategy and prepare accordingly. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

The testing pattern of CAT 2011 will not only be on a par with GMAT or GRE, but it will also reduce the dominance of engineering graduates in cracking it.

The popular notion - it is easier for an engineering graduate to crack the Common Admission Test (CAT) - the gateway to the 13 IIMS and most reputed business schools of the country - might soon become history. Come this October, thousands of aspiring management professionals across the country will take the test, most famously known for its evolving patterns and difficulty levels. But this time the test would have a different flavour to it.

As intimated by the IIMs, this year, the test will have only two sections instead of three. The first section will focus on Quantitative Ability and Data Interpretation (DI), while the second on Verbal Ability (VA) and Logical Reasoning (LR). The sections, with 30 questions each, will be implemented sequentially with separate time limits of 70 minutes, which means the candidates will not have the option of jumping questions in between sections.

Incidentally, a very similar paper pattern to the one outlined above was used for CAT 1996 and CAT 1997 - except that there were far more questions, point out experts.

The new CAT seeks to not only place the testing pattern of the exam on a par with globally recognised entrances like GMAT and GRE, but also looks at making it easily attainable by graduates of all disciples, thus reducing the dominance of engineers, says Sridhar Madhavan, an educational consultant. It would not be a surprise if CAT soon opens up to year-long testing window in the coming years and starts focussing more on the ‘writing' component, he adds.

With not many days left for the test now, the focus of most aspirants is on thinking and trying out strategies to suit the timed format. Coaching institutes, on the other hand, are focussing on changing their mock test patterns.

“What is unclear by Logical Reasoning in Verbal is if they mean critical language reasoning as in GMAT or sequence reasoning questions like arrangements of cubes?” asks Anshul Arora, an engineering student from Bangalore, echoing a common doubt among CAT aspirants.

Explaining the reasons for this shift, Janakiraman Moorthy of Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta, who is the Convenor for the Common Admissions Test (CAT) 2011 says, “Students spend a lot of time on one section and thereby lose out on other sections. No point giving a time and section limit if we are going to allow the candidate to go from one section to another.”

The number of test days has been retained at 20 days within the window from 22 October to 18 November 2011. A 15-minute tutorial will be provided before the start of the test and the total time will be two hours and 35 minutes for the test including tutorial, say officials.

The new pattern, observe experts, also seeks to do away with many complaints about online CAT, especially on the varying difficulty levels of questions in different paper sets. Senior professors, however say, considerable effort has been invested in maintaining similar level of difficulty across papers.

“But now they have to normalize two sections instead of three. That is a welcome change. The number of questions remain the same and the candidates would get five minutes extra,” says Mr. Madhavan. However, students now will have to prepare equally for all the sections. Being good at selecting questions smartly, leaving out the tricky ones would not help, say experts.

The fact that everybody is going to be solving each section for the same amount of time, is indeed a fair way of assessing the candidates. Also, there is a fairer chance for the non-mathematical minds to crack this exam, says Mr. Madhavan. The change though, is not going to make much of a difference to students as there is no change in syllabus, says Nakul Nagarath of IMS learning centre.

But many would definitely feel the pinch for time for Quantitative Aptitude and DI, while finishing off the questions in verbal and LR a bit early, feels Kala Jayanthi, an alumnus of IIM-B, and an associate professor of marketing.

Interestingly, S. Chandrasekhar, an MBA trainer for 15 years, feels that the new pattern can be beneficial for people who find DI and math difficult. “For instance, doing well in DI and ensuring a few right answers in the QA section would be good enough. There is no more the compulsion to show your expertise in all four areas,” he says.

The 20-question per section in the last two years might have given enough leeway to balance the test with adequate questions of varying ease and difficulty. But with a flexibility of 30 questions might certainly do so, says Prof. Jayanthi.

The difficulty level is all set to go up, and student will have to rethink the strategy and prepare accordingly, she adds.

But one good thing is since the candidates have already been made aware of the changes, there might be fewer surprises, unlike previous years when everything was revealed only at the test centre, says Mr. Nagarath.

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