Wednesday, May 06, 2009

ONLINE CAT - Issues and Concerns

It is said, that a person should give back to society what he has attained. I have not earned lots of money, to donate to charity but yes, I think this city has given me the pedestal to rise to be in an IIM. So I think it is my duty to give it back, by teaching the younger generations. Also, this would help me to pass time and be in touch with the collegians of today, thereby being abreast of the latest happenings.

Thus, I have started taking classes at T.I.M.E. – A coaching institute for MBA/ MCA entrance examinations.

In this regard, many students keep asking me about the possible effects of the CAT going online from this year, and how it would impact them. I thought, I should be taking this opportunity, and also enlighten my readers of the possible changes and how it should be handled, as I am sure many of you there are CAT aspirants waiting to nail CAT'09.

So far the information doled out by the IIMs,

  • Confirmation that CAT is becoming a computer-based test from 2009 (CBT CAT)
  • Prometric ETS has been awarded the contract for conducting the test
  • CAT 2009 will be conducted over 10 days at the end of 2009
  • More details will be communicated along with the advertisement (this is typically released in July)
  • According to IIM-B admission chairperson Subhashish Gupta, CAT 2009 is unlikely to be computer adaptive
  • Most likely there will be three tests a day over 10 days -- meaning a total of 30 different tests. (source : Rediff.com)

CAT 09 is very unlikely to be computer adaptive (that is the system adapts itself to the test takers according to their intelligence. If you answer a question right, the next question would be more tough and of more marks, and if you answer a question wrong the next question would be a slightly easy one). Making it Computer adaptive would not be feasible right now, as I don't think the IIMs would have the repository of the correct answers and the wrong answers attempted by CAT takers all these years. So deciding if a particular problem is difficult or easy would be purely based on the judgment of the CAT question paper setter.

One more issue lingering in the minds of the aspirants – is it not unfair, that I may get slightly difficult questions and my competitor might get easier ones? Well, very possible. But realize that no question is easy or difficult. It is only our preparation that determines that. Also, IIMs would ensure a fair competition and would set questions from different set of question banks dependant on the difficulty level or the time taken to solve it. Of course, there would be people cribbing that wish I had the paper given by someone else. Remember, the grass is always greener on the other side.

How are the IIMs going to compare or normalize the scores across various tests?

While the information has not been made public, we can extrapolate from the manner in which they compare scores for past academics for CAT aspirants.
If the IIMs decide on non-adaptive testing, they would be expected to normalise the scores across different papers using statistical distribution of scores for each test. A basic example would assume that the scores follow a bell curve. Then, the performance of students would be measured by how they have performed compared to the average performance.
If the IIMs decide on computer-adaptive testing, then each question will have a difficulty rating. A student will face a moderately difficult question first. Based on whether he gets it right or wrong, the level of difficulty will go up or down. There will be an algorithm that will generate the scores. (Source: Rediff.com)

A student very innocently asked, do I require any extra computer skills to attempt this exam? NO. It is just a question paper which comes on the computer screen. So if you know how to operate your cell phone, operating the graphics on the computer would not be tough at all. Moreover, I am sure the coaching institutes would have sufficient material and arrangements to give you practice. Also, the IIMs would ensure that you first take a practice test on their system before jumping into attempting the actual questions. Yes, it would help to practice reading on the computer screen, which is quite tiring.
About being able to do rough work, this I think is the biggest disadvantage of taking CAT online. The second one being reading huge comprehension passages online. For rough work, I loved doing it just next to the question on the question paper itself. Now as that would not be possible, IIMs would decide to give you rough sheets or maybe create special scribbling space on the computer screen like in GMAT.

Is there any change in strategy required? I would say, not really. Right now, it is more important that you prepare the normal way and stop speculating. Get your fundamentals right, and get trained for the three sections which sure are not going to change. There is no clarity if the entire question paper would be given at once online, or would it be question after question. Also, there is no clarity if one can return back to an unanswered question. So there is no point thinking about it, and rather follow and make up your strategy of selecting questions and answering them. Sure, if anything changes, you would have to dump the strategy later. Of course, start practicing reading comprehensions and content on the computer screen to increase speed.

These are some issues that could be discussed with the information in hand presently. Any more discussion would just lead to speculation and unnecessary wastage of time. So it is recommended that you rather concentrate on building up the fundamentals and ground knowledge. It could be adapted to whatever technology and form required. Yes, this year's CAT would be an unfair disadvantage to those who have been writing it for many years, as they must have gained considerable knowledge and built up enough strategies to attempt CAT like in the previous format. It would be a fresh start for them all over again.

Content in this article is inspired from an article in rediff.com, and due credit has been given wherever it has been quoted verbatim.


  1. Awesome article Bharat!A very Informative read!

  2. @ Neha: Thnk u so much!!!

  3. sanjana7:14 AM

    surely this article has relieved me of half ma tension abt cat goin online this year...

  4. @ Sanjana: Great. All the best!!!

  5. Hey Bharat,this article is very informative!!!!!!!
    Gud,Keep the show goin!!!!!!!

  6. @ Saswat: Thnk u so much dude. yup, the show would b on!!!