Modified and Computer CAT Tests

The much awaited IIMA announcement has clarified many doubts, yet raised several new questions in the process.

The CAT is finally out of the bag. After months of secrecy and confusion about what CAT 2009 will have in store for aspirants, students have gained a degree of clarity on how the computer based CAT might pan out. So, what are the implications of the information revealed in the CAT advertisement? And how will it affect your preparation strategy?

The duration of the test has gone down by 15 minutes to two hours and 15 minutes, while the number of questions has been reduced to about 60 or 70.

Key effects are huge, since it represents almost a 25 to 30 per cent reduction in the number of questions. The obvious implication here is that the importance of knowledge increases drastically because your options for omitting questions is greatly reduced.

Hence, the viability of selective studying and selective solving reduces dramatically. This means that because the value of every question up, you really cannot afford to miss any part of the syllabus when preparing for the CAT. This is what will make the CAT tougher to crack.

On the other hand though, for the well prepared student, this is a huge advantage. The number of questions one would need to solve a crack the CAT would be around three to five questions lesser than last year. So in 2008, if you needed to solve 35 questions to make it through; you are likely in need to solve 28 to 32 questions correctly to get calls from the IIMs.

What one can expect?

Questions are likely to get more intricate, if not tougher. Percentage of marks wise cut offs is likely to remain largely unaltered due to this change. One would expect cut offs to remain min the 35 to 45 percent range. Change is likely to be towards the positive, if at all.

What strategy should you adopt?

Over the years the benchmark for cracking the CAT has always been around 40 per cent of the net marks in the paper; if an individual aspirant was able to score over 40 percent of the marks in the paper overall (after negative marking) and around 30 per cent of the marks in each section he/she could count on a call from the IIMs. The percentiles would have taken care of themselves.

However in the context of the reduced number of questions it is advisable to keep a target of 45 per cent of the net marks as the minimum benchmark — i.e. aim, to solve around 40 questions, with a maximum error rate of 10 per cent. Obviously in the context of the argument of speed versus accuracy, accuracy is the dominant requirement now.

Question quality and questioning areas:

The IIMs have repeatedly pointed out and it has also been clarified through the sample questions published on their website ( that there is going to be no change in either the sections on which the CAT tests you, nor on the question types. However, one thing that might change is that the quality of questions masked might be more difficult or intricate than the previous CATs. So be prepared for all eventualities.

Also there has been some debate with regard to the reading comprehension questions, with many propagating the idea that the passage length might be shorter in a computerized test. One look at the testing software and the page up / page down function should lay that thought to rest. There are no technical constraints in presenting lengthy reading passages and / or data interpretation questions.

The fest environment provides you with the option of marking questions for review something that can be a great advantage for a test taker. This was not possible in the context of the earlier paper pencil CATs and is likely to be a fantastic tool, if used optimally.

In a paper pencil test, managing the test paper, the answer sheet, pen, pencil, eraser, admit card and other requirements on a small school table was an additional headache for takers. This is no longer a concern.

A lot of test takers would lose out by marking the right answers for the wrong questions. In extreme cases, an entire set of correctly solved questions would become incorrect, due to marking them in the wrong slots in the OMR sheet. Besides if the test taker had not marked an oval completely for an answer, the OMR machine would not recognize the answer. These problems will also be done away with in the e-CAT.

All in all, the computer based CAT should be a big boon for test takers, as the positives far outweigh the negatives. Perhaps, the only thing you need to teach yourself is thinking on the machine which is the ability to keep your mind focused on the question, while solving the test. So go ahead and focus on the management of your mind the foremost thing you need to do to master the computer based CAT.