Caught on the wrong foot

DID YOU GET IT RIGHT? Candidates discussing the question paper at an examination centre in Kozhikode after the Common Admission Test.

DID YOU GET IT RIGHT? Candidates discussing the question paper at an examination centre in Kozhikode after the Common Admission Test.  

The Common Admission Test (CAT) this year lived up to the surprise element usually associated with it. The change in the test format left most of the candidates shocked and flummoxed. Interestingly, a few of the students felt that though the pattern change was a surprise, it had not affected their performance.

The CAT 1999 and 2000 papers had three sections with a total of 165 questions, which were further reduced to 150 between 2001 and 2003, but CAT 2004 had only 123 questions. The pattern was further complicated by having sub-sections in all the three sections and with a different scheme of awarding marks. Usually, each correct answer will fetch a candidate one mark, although a wrong answer will invite negative marking.

But in CAT 2004, there were different marking schemes and sub-sections within each section. In every second sub-section (marked as Section-B) each question carried two marks. In the third section, which tests reading comprehension and verbal ability, the first section had a group of 10 questions, which had only half a mark each. (CAT has three sections - Data Interpretation (DI), Quantitative Ability (QA) and Reading Comprehension and Verbal Ability (RA & VA)

This apparently upset many of the students' strategies and time management plans. S. Renu from Ernakulam, a B.Tech. degree holder, says that she was so accustomed to the mock CAT papers that she took at a coaching institute that the surprise element of this year's CAT paper affected her performance slightly. "My mind was set in a different manner before I took the test. Now I realise that depending on the previous year's pattern will not work."

Many complained that their time management plans, based on which the candidates decide how much time of the allotted 120 minutes is to be devoted to the three sections, was totally disrupted due to the change in pattern, number of questions and mark distribution scheme. Students were confused as to how much time they should allot to two-mark and one-mark questions. This affected their overall performance.

Aslam Ummat, faculty member of an MBA entrance coaching centre who had taken the CAT for the last three years, was of the opinion that the current year's pattern had made it easier for the candidates to identify the less tough questions by differentiating between those with one and two marks.

As an afterthought, some of the students felt that they should have picked up easy questions from the ones with one mark each and cracked those.

There were reports that the Indian Institutes of Managements (IIMs) were looking at getting the cream of the candidates by changing the pattern this year in a bid to keep away those candidates "who mug up the previous two months based on the CAT pattern for the last 2 years."

Many observers feel that the IIMs were looking to test the mental balance of the candidates this time. They were focussing more on Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ) than Intelligence Quotient (IQ).

"Remembering things and reproducing them on paper is what the usual university examination demands. CAT is different from that. Here, the IIMs want to select those candidates who would act after sufficient thinking when placed in a crisis situation like a change in question pattern," observes Balpreet Singh, a second year student of IIM, Kozhikode.

"Since the number of questions were less this year, a student could take less time to scan the questions, spot the easier ones and crack those," observes Nishad Gopuram, director, Kozhikode centre of T.I.M.E.

John Rodriguez, a B.Com. graduate agrees that the surprise had shaken him a bit. "The sub-sections and the change in the mark distribution affected my performance." He found the Quantitative Aptitude section (mathematics) tough and Data Interpretation easy. But the Data Sufficiency questions in it were confusing, he adds.

Vimal Raj, an engineering graduate from National Institute of Technology, Calicut (NIT-C) with two years work experience, observes that the surprise element did not unnerve him. "I employed the same strategy that I adopted last year during the CAT."

Vimal, who had left the job to have a crack at CAT for the second time, did well in Section III (RC and VA test of ability in English) and scored around 30 marks. "Those who are comfortable with English would have found the section very easy. Also, QA was comparatively easy. DI was a slightly difficult for me." He hopes to get a call from an IIM though he is not quite confident of clearing the cut-off in one of the sections.

Deepak Balachandran, a second year student of IIM-K, is of the opinion that the pattern change would not have affected the performance of candidates who had prepared seriously.

Experts in the field have more or less agreed that a candidate getting a cut-off of around 55-60 or even one or two marks less can expect an IIM call. It clearly sends out the message that this year's paper could be scored off like the last year's one, since the cut-off of marks for both the years seem to be more or less the same.

Pradeep James of Kottayam said that though the coaching centre he had enrolled in had forewarned him to expect a change in pattern, he was really shocked to find 123 questions. Being a B.Com. graduate, he found both QA and DI difficult.

Gopul E.R, M.Sc. food technology student, said that the change of pattern also shocked him. Many of the students also felt that they had not prepared themselves enough for such a competitive examination. However, they have not lost heart and are pinning their hopes on other forthcoming MBA entrance tests like XAT (Xavier Aptitude Test by XLRI, Jamshedpur), IRMA (Institute of Rural Management, Anand) and JMET (Joint Management Entrance Test for admissions to MBA in IITs).

Balpreet observes that though this year's paper was more difficult than that of the last year, DI was the toughest of the three sections. In terms of toughness, QA was average, with a mix of easy and difficult questions. The same was the case of English, Balpreet said.

Balpreet advises future CAT candidates to be always prepared for surprises. He advises those who have decided to try CAT next year to get a job and then prepare themselves. This is important since it will aid personality development. Personality and work experience will be certainly counted in selection process of the IIMs after the CAT.

Vimal advises them not to start too early, lest they lose steam as the CAT date approaches. Since the candidates from metros in the country have an edge over the others in English, candidates from the State should improve their English.


Photo: S. Ramesh Kurup

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