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Updated: August 31, 2009 18:27 IST

The new CAT is no threat

DEEPA KURUP
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Times are changing: The trend of exams going online is bound to pick up in the years to come. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf
Times are changing: The trend of exams going online is bound to pick up in the years to come. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

Those unfamiliar with computers will simply have to practice more. There are no major advantages or disadvantages for any student.

This week brought some good news for the MBA aspirant in India with the announcement that four new Indian Institutes of Management are being started this year. This means that about 600 additional seats will be added to the overall kitty (140 each in phase-1 of the new IIMs).

This brings some relief to the IIM aspirant who is struggling to grapple with the uncertainty that surrounds the otherwise straightforward Common Admission Test (CAT) owing to the fact that it is the first time it will be held in its computer-based avatar. Further, this year’s CAT is also likely to see a huge jump in the number of applicants, considering campus placements have been low and job losses abound owing to the economic recession.

On Thursday, the Union Cabinet cleared the proposal to set up seven new IIMs, four of which (those to be located in Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh) will be operational from the next academic year (2010-2011). The remaining three in Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand will be operational later.

But given the scale of the exam (2.7 lakh candidates appeared for CAT 2008), these numbers mean little to IIM aspirants. For most candidates, the foremost concern this year will be training themselves for the computer-based test. While experts in the field of CAT training point out that this does not call for any additional skill-set and that the pattern is not likely to change radically, students voice concerns about whether they will be able to swap sections as easily this time or whether the fact that it is held over 10 days will give some candidates any undue advantage.

A myth

Experts point out that this is a myth because CAT will continue to measure comparative performance. Hence, there are no major advantages or disadvantages for any student as the conditions and mode of the exam remains the same for all students, says Ajay Arora of the Triumphant Institute of Management Education (TIME), a leading coaching centre chain.

In the months following the formal announcement, there was considerable confusion about the online CAT. This forced the IIMs to clarify before the release of the formal brochure that the test will be computer-based but not online, and will not be adaptive like its international counterpart GMAT (where the computer adapts the question set to match the aptitude of the candidate, and scores are based on the difficulty level too). It will be held during a 10-day window starting at the end of November 2009.

Students currently must try and get used to this new model and make small changes in the ways in which they would scan through the paper, the questions which they want to attempt, etc, Mr. Arora says. Though this does mean practising on a computer to get used to this new method, he points out that the basic knowledge set defined in three sections —Verbal Ability, Quantitative Ability and Data Interpretation — does not change.

For those who are unfamiliar with computers, experts recommend activities to increase comfort levels by exchanging more e-mails, typing letters, using word-processing software or surfing the Net. You don’t have to be a computer expert to crack a computer-based exam, Mr. Arora reiterates.

R. Shiva Kumar, Director-R&D of Career Launchers, says that students must simply take the plunge. Their practice should keep in mind that the process is gradual...from short tests to long-duration tests. This is to build the endurance in testing and focusing. It is just analogous to building one’s physique in a gym. There are a number of players who have come up with a number of testing products, he says.

The All India Management Association’s MAT (September 2009) gives the candidates the option of taking the test online. BITSAT (conducted by BITS Pilani) was the first Indian entrance exam to migrate to a computer-based model three years ago. In management circles, XLRI and Narsee Monjee have tried at having a CBT, both of which did not take off.

CAT this year will perhaps be the trendsetter for a lot more exams to go online or take the computer-based route.

Ramesh Venkateswaran, Director of SDM Institute for Management Development in Mysore, says that the trend of exams going online is bound to pick up in the years to come due to its easy accessibility and to avoid the cumbersome evaluation process. The logistics of result processing will be a lot easier.

If CAT becomes a test like GMAT/GRE, which can be taken at any time of the year, it would be a great advantage for both the test administrator and the test taker.

The test administrator has fewer numbers to test on any single day and the test taker has the advantage of choosing his time on any day of the year.

For the students, it means that they will have the flexibility of taking the test at the desired time and not wait for an entire year for the test, Mr. Venkateswaran points out.

RELATED NEWS

New CAT format: aspirants keep fingers crossedOctober 13, 2009

Removing online anxietiesNovember 2, 2009

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