November 26, 2020
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CAT... And Mouse?

The credibility of CAT is on the line but is going online a solution or could it lead to more problems? Full Coverage.

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CAT... And Mouse?

The CAT leak has self styled experts with their own quick fix solution - make the test computer-based, like the GMAT/ GRE. Had this suggestion come up before the leak, the same experts would no doubt have cried foul about the CAT becoming more elitist.

Today, students who take CAT spend six to eight months practicing sample CAT papers using pen and paper. Would all these students have easy and daily access to a computer for practice purposes? Since computer use is not an integral part of the Indian school syllabus, is it fair to assume that all potential takers of CAT are comfortable and familiar with using a keyboard and mouse?

A few management institutions in India have started conducting online entrance tests but the scale of their operations is nowhere near CAT. Take for example NMIMS which conducts an online test at 17 centres nationwide, against which CAT this year was scheduled to be held in 147 centres, with 1.3 lakh students attempting it. Incidentally, despite the online test facility NMIMS is also holding a paper-pencil test on 1st February 2004.

XLRI attempted a simultaneous online test (XAT) in 2002 which had to be cancelled at the last minute due to "technical problems" (insiders say it was because the administrators feared "dummy candidates" might be able to take the test). XAT was subsequently held as a paper and pen test.

Any computer based exam has its own logistical nightmares. To administer an online test, the IIMs would have to tie up with a few dozen local partners with adequate infrastructure. The very high stakes involved and the ingenuity of the Indian criminal mind ensures there is plenty of scope for fraud here.

With the right inducement (we are talking lakhs here!), could someone other than the actual CAT aspirant not sit for the exam? The chances of this happening increase because online tests of this magnitude would have to be administered not on a single day but over a few months' time at numerous locations, all of which are not under the direct control of the IIMs.

(Today one has the very simple back check of the peer group - someone, somewhere would KNOW if you weren't the one who was at the exam center on D day).

Secondly, can you stop coaching classes from sending their teachers to attempt the online test a couple of hundred times to compile a "confirmed question bank"? This doesn't happen with GMAT/GRE simply because taking those tests costs $225 each time and their extremely dynamic bank is estimated to contain 15,000 odd questions (which I doubt CAT would be able to match).

It's logical then to assume that a % of questions in a computerised CAT database comprising a couple of thousand Qs might become known to students. In an exam where a single right or wrong answer could make the difference between getting an interview call or not, this is real cause for concern.

Note: Presently coaching class teachers do actually take the CAT, memorise the paper to a large extent and then solve it for their students the same evening.

In fact, the one aspect I do feel the CAT body must address is that the exam has become too predictable. The pattern needs to be tweaked a little every year to ensure the coaching class wallahs don't "crack" the exam with just the right shortcuts and formulae.

The IIT JEE faced a similar leak in 1997. The problem was detected, and solved. Subsequent JEEs have enjoyed the same high degree of credibility and there is every reason to believe the same will happen with CAT once extra security measures and control systems are put in place.

In the longer term, a switch over to a computerised exam is of course an option but it does need to be explored carefully. Or it could just be a case of jumping from the frying pan into the bloody fire.

Rashmi Bansal is President IIM Ahmedabad Alumni Association, Mumbai Chapter, an IIM Ahmedabad alumnus, 1993 and Editor, JAM magazine.

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