Test-takers are a happy lot as supervisory staff offer help readily.

Four days of CAT (Common Admission Test 2010) are now behind us. Across the country, practically no technical glitches were reported. More significantly, the new and improved CAT had something that was missing last time around: a contingency plan in the event of any technical failure. In fact, Prometric ground officials told The Hindu that in some places there was a back-up for as many as 50 per cent of the test takers.

A student coming out of the CAT testing centre at IBMT Business School in Banashankari on Day One said it all. Five minutes to closing time and he experienced some sort of a ‘technical glitch.' Within minutes the staff shifted him to another computer and he was able to resume the test from the point where he had left it. “The staff was not only helpful, they also ensured I was given exactly five minutes extra to do it,” he said. The staff was in control, asked him to relax, told him that in case he could not resume he would be given an alternative date and that most of all, the software had been re-designed in a way that the internal timer would stop where the computer hung on him. The software interface showed some marked improvements, other students said.

Compare this to CAT 2009, the maiden attempt of the Indian Institutes of Management at moving from their traditional ‘paper and pencil' format to the computer-based test, and you know that Prometric — the U.S.-based implementing agency for CAT — had done its homework and learnt from its mistakes. Last year, the media was inundated with reports of how the CAT experience was marred by the fact that their tests had not been stored and that there weren't enough “spare computers” at the testing centres.

Moreover, with a 20-day testing window, the maximum number of students taking a test on these days was less than 7,000 — some centres had as few as 100 students in one session. On Day One, around 4,300 students appeared for CAT, compared to the whopping 12,000 last year.

Another major topic of discussion last year was how can 20 different sets of questions be of the same difficulty level? This time around CAT has 40 different sets of papers.

Students who wrote exams on Day One and Two, who spoke on condition of anonymity given that the IIMs have strict non-disclosure rules in place, said that on both days the ‘Quantitative Analysis' section was tough. Of course, there were no surprises in the format: the same 60 questions, 20 from each of the three sections.

Some found the Verbal Ability section a tad tricky, others said that the Data Interpretation/Logic Reason section was “slightly lengthy and time consuming.” The response varied from person to person. However, online forums have been discussing that CAT 2010, while putting up a good show, has been an easy and, some say, dumbed-down affair. However, experts, many of whom take tests to sample the papers, say that this is not true.

Says Ajay Arora, Regional Director of the Triumphant Institute of Management Education, a leading coaching centre chain, “From what our students have told us, that is far from the truth. The difficulty levels on different days are more or less consistent. As long as people tell you that they found some part of the questions difficult, you know that the CAT's ‘standards' have not taken a beating.”

A word of caution

Still seen on many of these forums are dejected candidates who narrate their bitter CAT experience. Why bitter? Because they either forgot — yes, forgot! — to take their photo identity cards or vouchers or that their admit card was an old one (where their centre was not the same as the one they were turning up at). Of course, with stern rules and verification in place, Prometric and CAT officials are required to be strict, and not let you in.

At a centre in Bangalore, sources said that on Day Two at least a dozen candidates turned up with inadequate documents. In a recent interaction with The Hindu, CAT convenor Himanshu Rai said that this is a major issue and that students need to be told that carrying these documents is extremely important. “The first thing that students must do is make a list of what they need to carry and right on top of this list are the various documents, starting with the ID card, the CAT voucher and any other certificates (if applicant belongs to any category),” says Prof. Rai.

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