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Getting catty over CAT

JAM digs deeper beneath the CAT fiasco and finds that the matter only gets worse

Has the CAT gone to the dogs? If you thought the problems with the Common Admission Test, the examination to gain entry to the hallowed portals of the IIMs, was limited to the way it was conducted, you are in for a shocker. It only gets worse.

The administration of the exam was outsourced to an American company, Prometric (and not the other way round), which conducts the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The first two days unleashed horrors, both for the students and for Prometric-IIM. Exams were cancelled, servers crashed (a virus attack according to Prometric) and rescheduling meant many had to give the CAT a miss.

Arvind Awte, an aspirant said, “I was to write the exam on the first day. But the server crashed, and I was rescheduled to write it on the last day. It broke my rhythm completely.”

Nikhil Wagle had to miss the exam since his rescheduled date was on a weekday and he had couldn’t get leave from office.

But these were just the more obvious problems. There have been many other problems, most of which have been compiled by Pagalguy.com, a popular online portal for MBA aspirants.

Like the case of Abhinav Singh from Bangalore. He said, “Diagrams weren’t visible for me. Even the proctors didn’t know much about it.”

Another chief concern among students was that the pattern of the paper was discussed on most forums, and the people who gave the exams in the later slots, already knew the type of questions that would be asked. Repetition of questions too has worked up a lot of controversy and students are demanding a retest.

But ARKS Srinivas, director of IIT coaching class TIME, said, “Students need not worry about the repetition. In fact, repetition is a smart move, since it will enable the IIMs to normalise the score.” Elaborating on the process of normalisation, he said, “Take for example a question that appeared on the 29th and also the next day. Normalisation involves the calculation of the percentage of people who could answer the question correctly to the ones who attempted it. This will help in deciding the weighing factor of a slot.”
But Allwyn Agnel, founder of Pagalguy.com and a Wharton graduate, disagreed. “Normalisation works only when people don’t know the questions. But when the questions have been leaked, the accuracy in the paper increases, thereby, compromising on the fairness of the test. So, there definitely needs to be a retest. I think if the IIMs aren’t able to accept the fact that there has been mismanagement on their part, there’s a serious issue,” he said.

One thing is for certain. There has been a huge miscalculation on Prometric’s part. “They have treated us as a third world country, importing their US system and directly putting it on for the CAT. Their management of the event has been disastrous. Such shoddy treatment is unacceptable. When you conduct an exam over the span of 250 days (GRE), you have a lot of breathing space. An exam for 2.4 lakh people in a period of 10 days is a totally different ball game,” said Srinivas.

Although Charlie Karnan, COO of Prometric did confirm conduction of mock drills, the software interface is badly designed and isn’t user friendly (read: absence of prompt windows and also the presence of the ‘Quit the Test’ button, which is totally uncalled for) and has shocked the whole country.

There has been a unanimous appeal from all coaching institutes and online portals for a retest, but CAT convener Satish Deodhar and IIM Ahmedabad director Samir Barua have both ruled out a retest. Deodhar also ruled out reverting to a paper-pencil test, saying that the CAT would continue in its online avatar.

The IIMs have now decided to review the whole process after the conduct of the test is completed (there are still some left) and the complete data from Prometric is collected. The results are supposed to be declared on January 22 and there is nothing, but an agonising month long wait for the students.

-Saurabh Datar

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