e – CAT

Every November students aspiring to pursue the coveted MBA at the Indian Institutes of Management appear for the CAT arguably, the largest management entrance exam in the country. But this November will be different. Setting a precedent, the CAT will be the first MBA entrance exam to go online.

The anticipation attached to the e-CAT this year, has created a lot of buzz about what the actual nature of the e-CAT may turn out to be. Rumors have been flying thick and fast, and students are likely to be misled by the clutter of contradictory information out there. In this article we’ve sifted through all, the information to help you understand the many differences between the paper based CAT and the computerized CAT.

Difference #1: The number of questions and amount of time is different

Over the past couple of years, CATs have been 150 minutes (or two and a half hours) long. CAT 2009 however, will be 135 minute exam. This is not obvious in the CAT bulletin, as there is a 15 minute tutorial at the beginning of CAT 2009. In addition, CAT 2009 is the first ever CAT, where the number of questions in the test has been declared prior to the exam. We now know that the forthcoming CAT will have 60 to 70 questions. This is unlike CAT 2008, which had 90 questions or CAT 2006 / 2007 which had 75 questions each.

Let’s first dispel the rumor that fewer questions portend a tougher CAT. The reduced number is caused by: a) The reduced time, b) The lowered speed of reading off a computer screen. Until last year, you could make it to an IIM with a net score as low as 40 percent (not percentile) This meant that you could prepare for half the syllabus really well and still secure admission. This year, the required score may not change significantly which means that you will have fewer questions to skip, and consequently fewer topics to skip.

Difference # 2: You can no longer underline phrases, or mark the question paper

In multiple choice exams like the CAT, it often makes more sense to reject wrong answer choices, rather than attempt to directly mark the right one. Most notably, in algebra, critical reasoning and reading comprehension, students arrive at their answer by striking out unlikely choices. Others underline part of the problem to aid them in arriving at a solution. These strategies are not possible in a computerized exam. You could, mimic them by using rough paper, but that could end up being a recipe for confusion. Hence, you must evolve your strategies to accommodate the fact that you cannot the test paper.

Difference # 3: The number of options will be different

Though this might change as we approach end-November, at this point of time, the IIMs are indicating that CAT 2009 will have four multiples choices and not five as has been the norm. This should cause a substantial strategic shift.

Negative marking exist to negate any score increase from random guessing. Probability calculations, hence, dictate that an incorrect answer in a five option exam should attract a score of minus 0.25. But this penalty increases to minus 0.33 in the cause of a four option exam. Hence the need to avoid mistakes is higher in CAT 2009. The upside is that fewer choices reduce the number of likely incorrect choices from four to three while maintaining the number of correct choices at one, thereby reducing the likelihood of choosing an incorrect option.

Difference # 4: Reading a comprehension passage will change

Reading comprehension presents an interestingly challenged because it is tricky to simultaneously display the passage and the question. CAT 2009 allocates the left one fourth of the screen to the passage and retains the rest for the question. Since the width of the passage is small, you have to keep scrolling down, reading only a few words per line. If you do not practice, reading in this manner, you may not be able to focus during the CAT.

Difference # 5: Computer skills are important

The process of moving across questions in a computerized test is determined by the navigation provided. Suppose, the first section you are presented with is quantitative ability, but would much rather attempt verbal ability first. The novice would click the ‘Next’ button twenty (or so) times to reach the desired section. The expert would click the “Review” button and then double click to attempt question number 21 directly. Likewise, effective use of the “mark” button and understanding the three different types of ‘Review’ buttons is something that could save you many precious minutes.

Difference # 6: The computer constantly reviews attempts

In the paper based CAT, you had to keep track of the number of questions you attempted per section, the one you want to attempt later, and the questions you left unanswered. The computerized CAT will do all this for you. That is where the crucial “Review” option plays a role. If you have no, experience of this, you may lose out on one of the bigger benefits of the computerized CAT.

Difference # 7: Your test date could make a difference

The fear that the level of difficulty of some of the 20 CATs that will be conducted this year (two CATs per day, for 10 days), could be substantially different from the other CAT is unfounded, as sound statistical methods can scale scores to iron put the differences. But as this is the first ever computerized CAT, students who choose a later date could gain from the experiences of those who appear earlier. The flip side is that students, who attempt the CAT in the last few days of the test, will probably spend more time ruminating over the CAT discussion frenzy online. This will distract them from the CAT preparation.

It might be a good idea to skip the first day or two, and then appear for the CAT. This way, you get all the information you need, and ensure you do not go insane listening to personal accounts of the CAT.

Difference # 8: Your practice tests could, be irrelevant

The test formats, and navigation you might have been practicing with might be substantially different from the actual CAT of 2009. There is no harm in attempting paper based mock tests mock tests for now. But in the last month or so, the only mock tests you appear for, should be on the computer.