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CAT 2015: New test pattern to be a level playing field

education Updated: Aug 06, 2015 16:50 IST
Lavina Mulchandani
Lavina Mulchandani
Hindustan Times
CAT 2015

IIM-A-director-Dr-Samir-Barua-says-the-institute-has-by-far-contributed-the-largest-number-of-CEOs-to-Indian-organisations-among-all-the-B-schools-in-the-country

Rinal Deshpande,21, an arts graduate from Wilson College, Girgaum Chowpatty, has been preparing for the CAT (Common Admission Test) for the past year, to fulfil her ambition for an MBA at IIM-Bangalore. Last week, the CAT format changed, with good news for students like Deshpande. Traditionally, the CAT format has been criticised for favouring engineering students. For the first time, the exam will now include descriptive answers and not just multiple-choice questions (MCQs), among other significant changes.

“I think the exam is better balanced now,” says Deshpande. “I have a fairer shot, since the quantitative aptitude section — which is not my strength — can be countered by the other sections, including the verbal ability and reading comprehension sections, which I am good at.”

This year, the CAT, which holds the ticket to the 19 IIMs, will be conducted on a single day, November 29, across 136 cities and 650 examination centres in the country. A new section, reading comprehension, has been added, and the exam duration has increased by 10 minutes. Students will now be allowed to use an on-screen calculator.

“Some questions in each section may not be of multiple choice-type. Instead, direct answers are to be typed on the screen,” says Tathagata Bandyopadhyay, convener of CAT 2015 on the official CAT website. “The tutorials that will be available on the CAT website will clearly explain this change.”

Also on the website, Bandyopadhyay explains that the changes have been made in order to make the entrance exam fair for students from all streams. “We aim at creating gender diversity at management institutes,” he says.

Till last year, the management institutes saw many engineering graduates for MBA. “The old exam pattern consisted more of arithmetic, commercial math, algebra, geometry and probability problems. Hence, more engineering graduates qualified to management institutes. They are better equipped in handling such questions,” says Ajeenkya DY Patil, chairperson of DY Patil group of institutes that accepts CAT scores for admissions. “In the new format, however, quantitative aptitude is easier for engineers while non-engineers have advantage of the on-screen calculator and verbal comprehension section.”

Also, fewer girls appear for the CAT. “The number of girls at IIMs is usually less than 20% and number of non-engineering students is also only around 25%,” says P Rameshan, director of IIM-Rohtak. “We give five extra credit points to non-engineers and girls during admissions, but this number is usually very low at the test level itself. This trend however, is expected to change this year after the revised CAT exam pattern, which has been made more inclusive.”

We look at some key changes in the examination pattern, and how this affects students who are preparing to take the test this year.

Deeper questions

Experts say that descriptive questions will test the students’ writing skills and knowledge in more detail. “Descriptive questions have been introduced to reduce the guessing in multiple choice questions,” says Gautam Sinha, director of IIM-Kashipur. “They also help us seek evidence of deeper understanding beyond tick marks, and help reveal the applicant’s written ability.”

“Descriptive answers will help reduce guesswork and aspirants will have to exhibit their knowledge of methodology of solving a problem to get high scores,” says Sally P, a science graduate from Birla College, Kalyan.

Students will need to compute the answer and then type it in the space given, as opposed to previous pattern in which candidates marked the correct answer from a list of options. “It will consume more time to type out descriptive answers,” says Jiya Shankar, CAT aspirant and engineering gradauate from DJ Sanghvi College of Engineering, Vile Parle. “But the use of the on-screen calculator will help us concentrate on the problem itself, as calculation will be easier. We will save the time involved in manual calculation.”

“Non-engineers are intimidated by calculations, and adding the on-screen calculator will help build confidence,” says Parag Chitale, director of CPLC coaching classes. “Engineering students preferred the earlier format, as they are generally good with computing numbers, and find it easier to choose a correct answer than to write it in sentence form.”

“The students with arts background have an advantage, with language skills to write descriptive answers,” says PP Dasgupta, advisor at IIM-Kashipur. “Thus, even if five or six questions are descriptive in a set of 32 to 34 questions in each section, it will provide the scope to many non-engineers to perform better.”

Time limits

Until now, the CAT had just two sections, one for quantitative ability and data interpretation, and the other for verbal ability and logical reasoning. Now, a third reading comprehension section has been introduced. The test will have three sections — quantitative aptitude; data interpretation and logical reasoning; and verbal and reading comprehension.

“The idea is to give all applicants equal opportunity,” says Prashant Nair, director, TIME Mumbai, which trains students for the CAT. “Engineering students find it easy to crack the quantitative aptitude section; now arts students can do well in the reading comprehension portion.”

While the overall test time has increased from 170 minutes to 180 minutes this year, each section has a stipulated time of 60 minutes. “The student cannot switch from one section to another,” says Nair. “He or she will get 60 minutes for each section before moving to the next. This demands equal competence in all the three sections. A student cannot escape a section and concentrate on others.”

Students worry that this will make the test more difficult. “The time limit is restrictive,” says Taha Brocha, 22, third-year commerce student at RD National College, Bandra. “I would prefer to be able to first answer all the questions I am confident of, and then move on to the tougher ones. With this new format, I will have to focus on time management.”

Preparation strategy

The student needs to score well in all the three sections to qualify. “These sections test three different abilities. You need to balance your preparation time for all of them as they’re equally important and have the same time allotted to each,” says Bandyopadhyay, convenor of CAT 2015.

To answer descriptive questions, students need to focus on concepts. “With non MCQ questions added to the exam, students need to be confident with concepts and practice methods well,” says Parag Chitale, director of CPLC institute.

“While there are significant changes in the test pattern, this does not mean preparations must start afresh,” says Ramnath Kankadandi, course director, CAT (TIME) Hyderabad. He suggests getting the exam strategy attuned to the new pattern —“Students need to take more mock tests in the new format, and start early,” he says.