Should Online CAT 2009 be Scrapped?

7 12 2009

The first online Common Admission test (CAT) for IIMs this year, has been a major source of embarrassment for the IIMs. So much so, that this issue has been raised in the parliament. Sushma Swaraj, the BJP leader made a witty remark “CAT Ko Mouse Kha Gaya.” It may be a source of amusement for the politicians, but for the over 2.5 lakh CAT aspirants it has been a source of anxiety.

So what are the problems. Pagalguy .com a popular MBA aspirants’ community site, has compiled this list of complaints based on their users’ mails. A summary is presented below:

  • Screens going blank in between the test
  • Reboots and ’svchost.exe’ errors
  • Noise and commotion caused in the lab due to the above
  • People in some labs getting extra time to solve questions while the above problems were being rectified
  • Some features of the testing software (review button, display of questions) not working as intended on some computers
  • Questions being leaked in various private channels. While moderated channels like PaGaLGuY are leaving no stoned unturned in respecting the non-disclosure clause, several other un-moderated social networks such as Orkut have communities dedicated to question sharing. Given that there are reports of questions being repeated, it obviously puts test-takers on each subsequent day at an advantage in the competition.
  • Inconsistent quality of invigilation

So who is to be blamed for this fiasco. Let us look at the parties involved. IIMs who have been conducting the admission tests in the paper-pencil mode, decided to go online this year because the number of aspirants are increasing year-on-year. The IIMs appointed Prof Satish Deodhar, Professor, IIM-A as the convenor. The award for online CAT for the next 5 years was given to Prometric India Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of Prometric Inc. Prometric Inc is a subsidiary of ETS (Educational Testing Services), which conducts the GMAT exam worldwide. This was a US 40 Million $ ( Approx Rs 180 crore) contract. The award of this contract is itself being challenged through a Public Interest Litigation. Prometric in-turn outsourced the infrastructure and invigilation services to NIIT in a Rs 50-55 crore contract. NIIT, on its part, engaged  200 +  private engineering colleges with over 100 computers each, across the country to conduct the exams.

As it appears, there are problems on all sides. The IIMs who have the responsibility of  providing the questions for the test, have serious issues. The 20 set of questions which have to be given to the examinees over the 10 days should have been different, but questions are repeating very often. Some questions are the same as earlier CAT exams. Worse, the coaching institutes like TIME, Career Launcher are claiming that some questions are borrowed from their database. This gives the advantage to students who have appeared later. Prometric has not developed a fool-proof software to run the tests, there are bugs and viruses galore. NIIT has deployed invigilators who are untrained and often rude. The quality of PCs in many engineering colleges leave much to be desired.

So what are the options before the IIMs. It can somehow muddle through the online CAT this year, with the extension of the test by one day and then hope to have a far stricter GD and personal interview to weed out the unworthy and select the best. The harder option would be to scrap the online test and conduct a paper-pencil test like earlier years and restore the sanctity and the aura of CAT. The second option is being demanded by several IIM Directors as The Telegraph reports.  IIMs had conducted CAT twice in 2003 after it was detected that there was a paper leak.

This blogger believes that if the IIMs have to keep their pre-eminent position in the field of higher education, it should scrap the online CAT this year and go for a paper-pencil test. Next year, with lot more preparation and dry-runs the online CAT can be attempted again. The students, who have already paid Rs 1400 for the test, should be spared of any more financial burden, as if all the anguish over the past few days is not enough.

– G. Mohan




2 responses

8 12 2009

Hi Mohan

I agree with your comments. Most companies do not realize that brand dilution begins with such innocous events. Over a period of time, the percpetion gets so degenerated that it is too late to rectify it. Also, wanted to point that a country that boasts as forefront in software industry and runs global corporations, is unable to run a bug free software tool for such a premium exam. Also, the contract size you mention is staggering; hope this is not reflecting the quality of our software industry

thanks for writing on such an important topic


26 12 2009
Johnny Bravo

Sir, Three simple things could have prevented the IIM’s from this goofup
-Allowing the testing all year instead of a set time period, this would have evened out the demand over 365 days, instead of the current surge of test taking that overwhelmed their systems in 2-3 weeks.
-Giving 3-5 year validity to CAT scores, this would have further evened out demand instead of people taking the test every year, they would take it once every couple of years.
-Starting in a pilot project manner with online testing in Metros slowly moving over a 3-5 year period and increasing the ratio of online to offline testing by say 20% each year so that in 5 years its 100%.
Surprisingly the GMAT and GRE Exams already implement all of the above, how come the IIM people did not examine it and understand that putting lakhs of people online at nearly the same time will cause system problems.
Frankly, considering that IIM’s want to teach us management, the way they managed the test say’s a lot :-). If they have ball’s they should make a case study of this attempt and discuss it in their B-Schools , it will be painful medicine but will help them to become a better institution.
In my opinion the CAT is a classy exam with great questions, it can in fact become a great competition to the GMAT if implemented properly, what is needed is patience and a gradual approach.

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