IIMs to tweak CAT to test knowledge, not just aptitude

Category: Higher Education,  News Source: Engineering Entrance,  Updated-On: Aug 16 2011

AHMEDABAD: The Indian Institutes of Management will tweak their Common Admission Test format this year to evaluate aspiring MBAs more for accuracy and knowledge than aptitude in an attempt to "establish CAT as an Indian exam of international repute," like the GMAT and GRE, according to CAT committee convener Janakiraman Moorthy. The exam, which had made a controversial switchover from paperpencil format to computer-based testing two years ago may become computer-adaptive , an international format where the difficulty level rises with each correct answer .

"Currently, it is a computerbased test, but once the format stabilises , we will have to decide if we want to make it computer-adaptive ," says Moorthy, who will supervise the exam this year. In the new-format test, students will get 140 minutes to answer 60 questions spread equally over two sections, down from the earlier three. Candidates cannot move on to the next section till 70 minutes are over, unlike last year, when they had 135 minutes to attempt the same number of questions without any section-wise time restriction. The section-wise time allocation will end race against time in the exam which always puts speed at a premium.

The exam will be conducted between October 22 and November 18 across 36 cities; Bhilai , Jammu and Dehradun being the new centres. "We have seen students spending too much time on a particular section and consequently find less time for other sections. Now, they will have only two sections with 30 questions and 70 minutes each. This will ensure that they concentrate on one section at a time. The new format will help students focus on quantitative ability and data interpretation in section I and verbal ability and logical reasoning in section II," adds Moorthy, maintaining that there would be no impact on the results.

Earlier, the CAT paper would have three sections - data interpretation & logical reasoning, quantitative ability & verbal ability and comprehension "CAT was more of an aptitude test some 10 years ago when students had to solve 180 questions in 120 minutes. The number of questions has been decreasing and now, it is a test of knowledge . The new format offers almost double the time to solve one question ," says Gautam Puri, vice chairman and MD of Career Launcher. Students believe there will now be more of a level-playing field for students from non-engineering backgrounds.

"The new format gives equal importance to mathematics and English. Thus, BCom students too stand chances of scoring well," says Atul Sudhakaran from Kannur in Kerala. Most students who crack CAT are from an engineering background . The new format has raised hopes among candidates from other disciplines to tilt the balance in their favour. The new format is another step in the direction to make CAT a global-level examination like GRE and GMAT, says CAT 2010 topper Ankit Kala. "Making CAT computer-based was the first such step. However, CAT is still Computer Based Test while GMAT and GRE are Computer Adaptive Tests.

The number of questions have been decreasing in CAT since 2003-04 . I can say that if students give correct answers to 26 questions in the first section and 18-20 questions in the second section , they will score more than 98 percentile and can go to IIM," says Kala, who scored a 100 percentile in 2010. According to him, the time limit for each section is a good change but students will have to ensure that they do not attempt the questions which they find difficult, to avoid negative marking. Trainers at coaching centres believe the new format will need a new strategy.

There won't be any impact on teaching style because content and subject matter have not changed, but the approach to the test will be crucial, especially with negative marking in place. The centres are a vital link in MBA admissions, with 70% of the CAT applicants seeking professional guidance at various institutes across the country. Test-taking strategy (time management , selection of questions, and so on) will change drastically, feels Ashish Sinha, course director- CAT of Triumphant Institute of Management Education.

"As there are only two sections for four areas, those having a handicap in a specific test area, may now look at compensating for it with the other area from the section. This is in contrast to the case earlier when competence was to be shown in all three areas ." says Sinha.

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