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Common Admission Test or CAT, despite being one of the most competitive and prestigious MBA entrance exams in India, has been shrouded with controversy and troubles ever since the mode of the test turned computer-based in 2009. Many issues or questions are yet to be addressed by the IIMs, which conduct CAT for admission to their different MBA programmes.
In the name of confidentiality in their process, IIMs have denied access to information rights that test takers deserve. So what exactly are the problem areas of CAT about which the IIMs have maintained a silence so far? Let us assess.
Transparency in Normalization
The very word ‘normalization’ sounds like a complex and heavyweight term with a complicated meaning. The purpose of CAT normalization is to equate the scores or performances of the test-takers who appear for tests conducted over multiple days and slots.
As per the official website, “In order to ensure fairness and equity in comparison of performances of the candidates across different test sessions, the scores of the candidates shall be subjected to a process of Normalization. The Normalization process shall adjust for location and scale differences of score distributions across different forms. After normalization across different forms, the scores shall be further normalized across different sections. The scaled scores obtained by this process shall be converted into percentiles for purposes of shortlisting.”
So, we know what normalization is and what it aims to do. But we do not know how it is done. There is a lack of clarity about the formula or computation method of the CAT score normalization process that is followed by Indian Institutes of Management. As officials further state in the official website, “The process of Normalization is an established practice for comparing candidate scores across multiple Forms and is similar to those being adopted in other large educational selection testsâ¦ For normalization across sections, we shall use the percentile equivalence.”
Candidates lack the understanding of the formula that is exercised for preparing the score card of CAT. All they have mentioned is that the process is similar to GATE. The GATE website, on the other hand, has clearly depicted the score calculation formula. Now the question is, why can’t IIMs declare the actual formula for normalization?
Moreover, despite normalization or equating the scores across test forms, the candidates are not confident about the integrity of the scores. The following reasons will further state the cause.
While taking the test, candidates and experts have noted erroneous questions or lack of correct answer option in the years 2009, 2010 and 2013. Since the questions appear on the computer, there is no procedure to report such questions in absence of proof. Moreover, the Non-Disclosure Act (NDA) followed in CAT compels the test takers not to share or discuss any element of the question paper or the test, which legally binds them to not talk about such questions in public forum. This allows IIMs to unilaterally decide fate of dubious question or answer options of such questions without any public scrutiny.
In 2013, when around 300 candidates confirmed about wrong question in the Data Interpretation section, Dr. Rohit Kapoor, CAT 2013 Convenor had stated, “We know that there was an error in DI question at some of the centres. We have convened a CAT Group meeting to plan what can be done to the affected candidates.” Although there was no response later on the fate of those affected candidates, major fiasco followed after the declaration of the result when around 95,000 candidates secured 55 percentile despite attempting none of the questions in the CAT paper that year.
Making Question Papers Public
Ever since CAT turned computer-based, the question papers are no more accessible to the candidates or others, after the test. This often raises questions regarding score credibility and authenticity as the test takers cannot go back to the question and estimate their score.
Till 2013, the test was conducted in a window of 20 days, 2 slots each day. This meant, there were 40 question papers, which might not have been feasible for the authorities to upload. However, in 2014 the test was conducted in 2 days with 4 slots and the window was further reduced to single day with 2 slots in 2015. With a shorter window, the IIMs could have conveniently shared or uploaded the question papers which would have only helped the test takers. It would have also helped the future MBA aspirants to know the types of questions to expect, important topics, difficulty level etc. Despite having a shorter window and lesser number of slots, IIMs are still not open about making the question papers public.
Making the question papers available is a standard practice which is followed for many high profile competitive exams like JEE, NEET, UPSC etc. Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), which conducts the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) for the engineering admission to IITs, NITs, IIITs and GFTIs makes question papers available not only for offline paper but also for the test conducted in computer-based mode. This raises yet another question for IIMs. Why cannot we expect IIMs to release CAT question paper after the exam is concluded?
Releasing Answer Key
There is a standard practice of releasing answer keys with questions papers. This makes the test process completely transparent and helps strengthen its credibility. Also, the answer keys help test takers to estimate their score and help them plan admission at a suitable B-School. Like the question paper, the correct answer options are also not released by IIMs. Owing to the non-availability of answer keys, the candidates are often confused about their own performance on the exam day.
Making Answer Sheet accessible for test takers
Test conducting authorities like CBSE (Joint Entrance Exam) and XLRI Jamshedpur (XAT) make individual answer sheet of the candidates accessible to them on their individual login ID, making the process further transparent after releasing question paper and answer keys. For CAT, IIMs deny any such access to candidates to go back and see what they have marked in their answer sheet.
If IIMs release all three above documents, question paper, answer key and answer sheet, then the major issues related to lack of transparency can be addressed. The need to release the important documents are realised even more when controversies like securing 55 percentile in CAT despite ‘no’ attempts ensue.
Fault in test administration
The debut year of computer-based mode of CAT was badly stung by the technical snag across the windows and test centres. With Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) taking up the role of CAT testing partner from 2014, the glitches have been lesser, but it can’t be said that the testing process has been sanitised. Minor glitches keep popping, especially from tier two cities which lack advanced technical infrastructure. Moreover, such issues do not even get reported owing to weak facilitation processes. But that does not lessen the gravity of the impact for the affected candidates. For instance, your computer suddenly shuts down in between the test. You report to the invigilator but by the time he/she attends the candidate and restarts the computer or changes the seat, a good 15 minutes are lost. Even if the test starts from that very point and extra time is given to the candidate, the focus and concentration that is lost cannot be gained back easily. These are the intangible losses which cannot be compensated despite providing extra minutes to submit the test.
Another area where majority of the test centres falter is in terms of discipline. Very few centres actually maintain the timing mentioned in the official website. For the first slot, the candidates are instructed to reach the centre by 7.30 AM, whereas they are not allowed to enter till 8 AM. At times, the test timing gets delayed owing to several discrepancies such as late entry of candidates, delayed functioning of computer machines etc. Moreover, despite having a wooden screen or plank in between 2 computers, the possibility to catch a glimpse of the monitor of the adjacent computer cannot be ruled out altogether.
Virtual keyboard and Calculator
IIM Bangalore decided to continue with the features in CAT 2016 introduced in CAT 2015 by IIM Ahmedabad, like non-MCQs or questions where you need to type the answer and virtual calculator. While the intention behind introducing the features was to make the test-taking experience of the candidates more convenient, the candidates had a different opinion. As per the test takers, they were not allowed to use the keyboard for answering the non-MCQs and had to use the mouse and virtual keyboard which was time consuming and inconvenient for them.
Talking about the virtual calculator, Annant Jain, 99.74 percentiler in CAT 2015 and a first year student of SJMSOM, IIT Bombay says, “The on-screen calculator was not very useful. I personally used it for just 3-4 questions in DI, and found it very cumbersome since it was time-consuming. One can calculate faster on his/her own instead of entering the inputs and spending time over it.”
Scope for retest
Every year, the CAT conducting body releases a disclaimer which states, “As with paper and pencil testing, or virtually every other human endeavour, a very small number of problems could occur that might prevent a test from being delivered and/or a result from being generated. In the unlikely event this does occur, every effort will be made to correct the problem, up to and including the administration of another test.” However, it seems that the statement has been made only for records. As so far, no parameters have been stated for the interest of the candidates. The test takers are clueless about the conditions under which they are eligible for retest, process to follow and the point of contact. Most of the candidates are not even aware about such a disclaimer as the information is not highlighted or given much visibility.
Having the maximum number of test takers among the top MBA entrance exams, the onus is huge on the IIMs to bring transparency in their system and strengthen the credibility of CAT, scores of which is also accepted by many top B-schools in India.
IIMs have been conveniently ignoring the trouble areas of CAT over last 7 years.
It is time that IIMs, which conduct CAT on behalf of the elite league of MBA institutions address key problem areas of India’s most coveted MBA exam.
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You have to score a minimum of 99 percentile to get at least one good IIM call as your academics are not good. You could get a call from new IIMs if you score 99 percentile as the top tier IIMs will not give you a chance due to your poor acads.
Colleges you could look for are like IIM Nagpur, Kashipur, Shillong, etc. These colleges if you study well will provide you with a good package of 10-12 lpa.
Hope this helps. Thank you.
You will not be able to get any good business school like top IIMs, MDI, IIFT, or FMS. However, you can still get a good MBA tier 3/4 college if you increase your percentile to 98 percentile.
However, according to your grads, you must not be disappointed if you don't get a call at 99 because your marks are not good.
Hope for the best. Thank you.
Eligibility for CAT is graduate in any discipline from a recognized university with 50% aggregate, for SC/ST/PwD it's 45%.
So, people from any background can apply for CAT, provided they have required aggregate at their graduation level against their category.
Now, coming to the syllabus for CAT, there's no specific syllabus for CAT, one needs to rely on past years sample papers to get a fair idea about the pattern and weightage given to each topic and section.In general, questions are mostly from middle school level English and Mathematics.
There are mainly three sections in CAT-
Logical Reasoning & Data Interpretation which includes topics such as Tables, Graphs, Data Caselets, Seating Arrangement, Blood Relation, Syllogism etc.
Quantitative Aptitude which includes topics such as Geometry, Algebra, Time and Work, Mensuration, Number System etc.
Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension which includes topics such as Sentence completion, Questions based on reading comprehension, Para-jumbles & para-summar, inferences etc.
To know the detailed topics, kindly go through the following link-
Honestly there is a difference between just finishing the syllabus and preparing for selection in cat. See you can finish the syllabus if you'll work really hard in one month but trust me only unless you are extraordinary you won't be able to get selected for iims or other good colleges. But don't loose hope you should fight till last.
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