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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Are you in-line with CAT Online???

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Finally, almost a yearlong cloud of uncertainty vanished when the IIMs confirmed that CAT would be a Computer Based Test. In the FAQ released recently, the IIMs have sufficiently clarified that CAT will be a Computer Based Test and not a Computer Adaptive Test. This should come as a relief to the lakhs of s who have planned to appear for CAT this year. 

Before we get into analyzing the results of these changes to the students, let us try to understand the major changes.

  • CAT will no more be the traditional paper based entrance exam. Way to go for the IIMs. With over 3 Lakhs appearing for the test, an offline test was a huge logistical nightmare. CAT will however not be a computer adaptive test, but will be a computer-based test.

  • CAT is going paperless. Yes, you read it right. This year you will pay Rs. 1400/- (Rs. 700/- if you are an SC/ST) for a scratch voucher which will be available from designated bank branches from 9 September 2009 to 1 October 2009. No more bulky booklets for you!

  • CAT will be held over 10 days from 28 November 2009 to 7 December 2009. CAT was always conducted on a Sunday. Now, your boss can surely guess your absence on a working day during the above dates.

  • There will be multiple versions of the test. All the 30 slots will have tests that will most definitely be of similar difficulty. Even if there is a difference in difficulty for slots, then the students score will be normalized to ensure that the students are given a fair opportunity.

    The above are the major changes in CAT this year. Now, let us try to understand the effects of the above changes.

    A computer-based test is definitely a new experience for every test taker. The flexibility of making notes on the paper is actually gone. Sections like RC will now have to be tackled differently. There is now zero possibility of underlining the keywords or phrases in a passage. Students are now left with no option but to jot down the keywords, topic sentences and inferential information on a paper to answer the questions. Moreover, reading passages from a PC is not as easy as it sounds.

    In a section like DI, the test taker would find it difficult to solve questions with multiple tables. There is also a possibility that the IIMs will now reduce the above complexity by giving questions that do not refer to multiple tables. This would mean that the easier but daunting Observation based questions would now be replaced by the easy looking but calculation intensive/logical reasoning based questions.

    The IIMs have released information regularly on the test as such. However, the most important thing that would decide the test taking strategies would be the ability to re-visit solved questions. This would mean there would be a couple of scenarios, which we will have to consider.

  • There is a possibility that you would not be able to go back to a previous question. This way, you would either answer a question or skip it. This along with negative marking would end up punishing students twice. Exams like GRE, GMAT have no negative marking and this feature is extremely critical for a computer adaptive test. As CAT is not an adaptive test, this feature does not add any further value to the test. However, we cannot rule this out until the IIMs declare so in their next advertisement.

  • There is also a possibility to offer one question at a time randomly from any section. This coupled with the flexibility to go back to previous question would be an easy option. Nevertheless, this would take the zing out of CAT. CAT always tests a student’s test taking strategy and his approach to surprises and unpredictability. If this option is implemented, then answering would become robotic and CAT would be very different.

  • Then there is a possibility of asking students to answer one section at a time. In this format, all questions within a section would be easily accessible on a scrollable page. Movement between sections and sectional time limits are variables that the IIMs can tackle, which can change the rules of the paper.

  • Then there is a possibility of IIMs retaining the format of CAT 2008. Here the complete test would be available to the student. The student has a flexibility to move between sections and between questions anytime through the test.

    I personally feel that option three and option four are the favorites. If option three is implemented, then it would be three mini CATs within a CAT paper. Students will have to manage and tackle each section separately. This would be very interesting. To tackle this, students have to ensure he has a good grasp over every section and that he effectively utilizes the time to maximize the score in each section. This would severely affect students who want to maximize the score in one section to maximize their overall percentiles.

    If option four is implemented, then the students only have to tackle with the earlier discussed problem of reading questions on a screen and solving it on a paper. Eventually, CAT might move towards the GMAT format of an adaptive test. However, for now, the students have to ensure that they get their strategies right. Even prior to that, this is the time to concentrate on the fundamentals. CAT has always focussed on fundamentals and I am sure that even this time around, it would not change. Students with good fundamentals and with the ability to tackle the unpredictability of CAT will surely emerge winners.

    So, pull up your socks, gear up and go bell the CAT! Once the vouchers are available, go purchase them and try to book a comfortable slot. It being the last day of the test and on top of that being a Sunday might help the students. There will be nothing new about CAT by then.

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