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A test for CAT

Last year, the first computerised IIM admission test was a fiasco because of technical glitches. HT took a mock test recently to check if the rough edges have been ironed out. Charu Sudan Kasturi reports.

delhi Updated: Oct 07, 2010 02:45 IST
Charu Sudan Kasturi

The atmosphere was grim and the men heading the Indian Institutes of Management were in an intense discussion. At stake was the credibility of the admission process of India's premier B-schools, said an IIM director, recalling a crucial December 13, 2009, meeting where the institutes had to decide whether to conduct a pencil-paper retest. Undoing the CAT damage

The first computerised Common Aptitude Test (CAT) had finished less than a week earlier amid glitches at various test centres, and the IIMs faced demands from several students and faculty for a pencil-paper retest. The students were in danger of missing the IIM tag and the career prospects it opens up.

The only occasion the IIMs had conducted a retest was in 2003, when the question paper was leaked. "Eventually, we decided to offer the affected students a computerised retest but stayed away from testing everyone all over again," the director said, reliving those anxious moments on condition of anonymity.

"But we also swore to ourselves… this kind of chaos can never be allowed to happen again."

The 2010 CAT – to be held over a 20-day window, between October 27 and November 24 (with intervening holidays) – is as much a test for the IIMs and service provider Prometric as it is for the more than 200,000 students who have registered for it.

About 8,000 students across the country had to take a computerised retest in January this year because of the glitches. This delayed the results and – for some – put a question mark on this year's batch.

"I may sound like sour grapes but anyone who appeared last year knows that the standard of questions varied across test slots. Many of the questions were repeated. And psyching yourself up for the big day is never as easy the second time," said Ashutosh Verma, one of those who took the January retest.

Prometric has this year incorporated measures aimed at reducing the chances of a replay of last year's problems. (See the boxes for the glitches and what organisers have done to avoid a repeat.)

"I want to assure the students that we will try our very best to ensure that no student has to return home from the test centre without satisfactorily completing his test," Prometric India Managing Director Soumitra Roy told HT.

The test that HT appeared in

Commitments by the Indian Institutes of Management and service providers Prometric to prevent the hardware glitches that rocked the examination last year may remain untested till the CAT (Common Aptitude Test) later this month.

But the test – once it starts on the computer screen – will also need to provide clearer instructions for students than there were in 2009, to address complaints that came last year.
HT took the practice CAT 2.0 – which Prometric and the IIMs are making available for aspirants – to try and verify claims by the organisers that they had incorporated solutions to last year's complaints.

The tutorial before the test is detailed and explains how to go traverse the test clearly – except that I chose to ignore paying attention the first time I attempted the practice test. This was deliberate and aimed at verifying whether students – many of whom often don't pay attention to pre-examination tutorials – could successfully navigate the test.

Once the questions started streaming on to the screen, I looked at the answer options and clicked the mouse on the one I thought most appropriate, only to realise seconds later that I had erred. In a pencil-paper test, I would have had to erase the "incorrect" pencil mark from the Optical Mark Reader answer sheet, indicate the "correct" option and then pray that the OMR would not pick up the remnants on the incorrect option as my reply.

Here I could change my answers as many times as I wanted.

A combination of the "previous" and "next" options below every question allowed me to surf the entire question paper effortlessly and gauge which questions I should focus on answering first.
I saw a "review" option at the bottom of the screen and clicked it. I had access to my entire answer-script, with clear marks indicating which questions I had answered and which were "incomplete".

Another option – also below each question – allowed me to "mark" questions I wanted to return to. The "marked" status also showed up on the "review" sheet.

At the bottom of the "review" sheet I found the option that was the most controversial for test organisers – the option of quitting the test. Last year, the "quit" option misled many students into accidentally ending their test midway when they thought they were merely quitting that particular screen.

The option this year is clearly marked "quit test". But the warnings don't stop there. I had attempted all questions and clicked on the "quit test" option to be greeted by a prompt asking me specifically whether I wanted to end my test.

I wanted to see how the test would react I had indeed accidentally clicked the "quit test" option without attempting all the questions. So I went back to the test, unmarked some answers and clicked the "quit test".

The prompt that appeared now was more detailed in its warning – informing me that I had unanswered questions that I would not be able to return to if I quit the test. Satisfied, I finally clicked the "okay" option.

Three weeks from now, all the preparation – of the CAT organisers as much as that of students – will be put to test.