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Saturday, April 17, 2010

CAT CONFUSION


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Author : AJEET KHURANA

CAT 2009 IN ITS DEBUTANT ONLINE AVATAR OPENED A CAN OF WORMS, LEADING TO A SIMMERING DEBATE ON WHETHER THE GOOD OLD PAPER-PENCIL TEST IS STILL THE BEST OPTION. AJEET KHURANA TRIES TO EXPLORE THE NATURE OF CAT 2009, AND ATTEMPTS TO FORECAST THE EXPECTED SCORES

  When I envisaged writing this article, I nicknamed it the ‘postmortem of the CAT’. Little did I know that as the first ever online CAT unfolded, the term ‘post mortem’ would get to be so appropriate! Though many managed to attempt the CAT without a hitch, others experienced bizarre problems. Any forecast is fraught with risk, and this year’s CAT fiasco makes the job doubly difficult. Here are some of the factors that might make a significant difference to the CAT scores of many applicants: 

   Many candidates were able to get far more time than the allocated 135 minutes for the test. If the computer froze in the middle of the test, the clock stopped. While the largely clueless supervisors tried to reset the system, the candidate would get extra time to solve the question that she/he was attempting before the computer froze. 

   Many candidates got lesser time than allocated, again owing to computer problems.
   Some candidates did not get to see all 60 questions, literally. This is because the screen blanked out part or whole of some questions. 

   Some candidates were made to attempt the test more than once. 

   Many questions, as many as 10 per cent of the total, were repeated from earlier administrations of the CAT. Amazingly, the questions were exact replicas of questions from CAT 2003 to CAT 2005. Since the actual CAT test papers of those years were officially made available by the IIMs, many applicants had thoroughly studied those papers. I have personally come across innumerable students who knew the answer to several questions by heart. They spent mere seconds in selecting the correct answer choice! In an exam where admission to the top b-school in the country can be secured by getting 30-40 questions right, a gift of as many as six free questions can make a career-altering impact. 

   Conventional wisdom suggests that students who remain calm and relaxed during the exam tend to do well. But CAT 2009 test centres were filled with noise, confusion, delays, and tears. I have personally witnessed students breaking down and begging authorities to help them. The difference in level of difficulty of tests on different dates was substantial. And it was much more than what can be statistically eliminated by scaling scores. The ‘Next’button to move to the next question was dangerously close to the ‘End Test’ button! Click a few millimeters off and it’s bye-bye CAT 2009. In this scenario, only a retest seems like a reasonable solution. It is my strong belief that we are indeed headed for a paper-and-pencil retest of the CAT. As always, we will keep you informed if and when that prediction comes true. For now, let us explore the CAT that was and evaluate your performance. If you have been a reader of Education Times, you would recollect that we were the first to predict that CAT 2009 was likely to get easier than earlier CATs. In the CATs from 2003 to 2008, even bright students barely managed to attempt 50 per cent of the questions. This time around, a large proportion of candidates managed to attempt as many as 70 per cent of the questions. Never before have candidates attempted almost all questions. This year several students attempted over 55 of the 60 questions asked.

HIGH OVERALL SCORES

There are several factors that convince me that the cut-off scores in the CAT of 2009 will rise significantly. Some of them are: The questions were easier For attempting 60 questions, candidates were allocated 135 minutes, thereby giving them well over two minutes per question. In earlier CATs, the corresponding time was two minutes or under   Several questions were repeats of earlier questions. Especially in the later administrations of CAT 2009, many students breezed through some questions, as they knew the correct answer choices by heart!

EXPECTED CUT-OFF

Each one of the 100+ institutes that accept CAT 2009 scores decides it own cutoff, but my expectation for the overall cutoffs for the top three IIMs (Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Kolkata) is a net score of 58.3 percentage. Given the negative marks for incorrect responses, here is an example of how you could score 58.3 percentage: 

   Quantitative Aptitude: 

   Attempted: 14/20. Correct: 12
   Verbal Aptitude: Attempted: 16/20. Correct: 13
   Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning: Attempted: 13/20. Correct: 12
   This would put your overall attempt at 43/60, with 37 corrects and six wrongs. With a one-third negative for each wrong response, you would end up with a net score of 35. This score should be adequate to get you a call from all of the top IIMs.

SECTIONAL CUT-OFFS

Predicting sectional cut-offs is murkier business especially as the level of difficulty of CAT 2009 varied significantly from day-to-day. But a good estimate of the sectional cut-off for the top IIMs (for each of the sections) is a net score of 50 percentage. Here is how you could score 50 percentage in a section: 

   You attempt 14/20 with 11 corrects and three wrongs. With a one-third negative for each wrong response, you would end up with a net score of 10, i.e. 50 percentage. If you attain this score in each of the sections, and achieve an overall score of 58.3 percentage, you should get a call from all of the top IIMs.

COMPARISON WITH EARLIER YEARS

The estimates mentioned above are significantly higher than the actual cut-offs observed in earlier years. Overall cut-offs have usually been close to 40 percentage and sectional cutoffs have been in the vicinity of 33.

WAS CAT 2009 TOUGHER?

Whenever any test is administered on multiple days, there is the risk that one version of the test would be of a different level of difficulty than another. The statistical process of ‘scaling’ irons out these discrepancies ensures that scores of all students can be compared. Though the actual process of statistical scaling is quite complex, a simplistic explanation would be: ‘scale down the scores of students who got easier tests and scale up the scores of those who attempted tougher tests’. The estimates provided earlier are for the average CAT 2009. So, if your specific version of the CAT was easier than average, you would have to score a little more. Likewise, if your version of the CAT was more difficult than the average CAT, you could get by with a little lower score too. But, regardless of how difficult your CAT was, it is unlikely that the overall cut-off would be lower than 50 percentage and that the sectional cutoff, in any section, would be lower than 45 percentage.

CAT 2009 WAS DIFFERENT   

Ungrouped questions: Usually, if a test has four questions on, say, jumbled sentences, and then they all appear in a group. This year, such grouping was absent other than in the case of Reading Comprehension and Data Interpretation. So question one could be on jumbled sentence, two on English usage, and three on jumbled sentence again. This was one of the few ways in which CAT 2009 raised the level of difficulty. 

   Reading passages were shorter: Once again, as first reported in this paper, the length of the Reading Comprehension passages was shot down. Interestingly, most students received three passages despite the reduced number of questions. But unlike any earlier CAT some passages had as few as one or two questions following them. 

   There was a substantial questionvariety: Despite the reduced number of questions, the test makers managed to introduce substantial variety in the questions. As a result, there were very few questions of each type. 

   Quantitative Ability in different versions was substantially different 

   Education Times had predicted that algebra, geometry and number systems would be the most important topics in the Quantitative Ability section. We were proven right. In all versions of CAT 2009, at least eight out of the 20 questions were from these three topics. In some, as many as 12 out of 20 questions were from these three topics. This means that if you had studied only these three out of the total of 20 odd Quantitative topics, you could possibly clear the sectional cut-off! Within these three topics, some versions of CAT 2009 were substantially different than others. On the one hand there were versions with as many as six questions from geometry, while others had as few as one geometry question. If you hate geometry, you would have a tough time if six out of 20 questions were from it!

THE FUTURE COURSE

As far as the CAT 2009 is concerned, one needs to be mentally prepared for a retest. Though there is no guarantee that this will take place, there is a high likelihood that it will. So do not pack those practice tests away yet. In any case, there are several top MBA entrance exams that are just around the corner. And syllabi for these exams are largely similar. Do not forget to prepare well for the GDs and interviews that will follow a successful attempt at an MBA entrance exam. Make sure that you read news and views (editorials) on a regular basis (b) practice group discussions (c) introspect about what you are really seeking from your career.
(The author is Director of Peak Seekers) Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are those of the author. This publication and the author’s organisation may not necessarily subscribe to those views.


Source : Times of India
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