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Education Plus

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Online CAT: does it augur well?

Students are keeping their fingers crossed as the Indian Institutes of Management are expected to go for an online Common Admission Test from 2009. J. S. BABLU analyses the pros and cons



TIME FOR CHANGE: Aspirants feel they should be given ample time before the IIMs introduce the online format for CAT.

With the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) likely to conduct the Common Admission Test (CAT) online from 2009, CAT aspirants are waiting with bated breath to know how this would work out. Sources said that the directors of IIMs are to meet this month-end and more details about the process of examination would be known by next month.

Some IT firms specialising in assessment and testing services are expected to be entrusted with the conduct of the examination.

But what really bothers students, who are familiar only with the paper-based format of this highly sought-after test, is whether the test will be an adaptive test like the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). An adaptive test is adjusted to the candidate’s performance level. At the start of the test, one will be presented with a question of average difficulty. If one gives the correct answer, the computer will select a question, which is slightly more difficult. On the other hand, if the answer is wrong, an easier question will pop up on the screen. Thus, the performance will depend on how one answers the test in the beginning.

Another format is a linear test which is a full length test (scored in the same way as a paper test) in which the computer selects different types of questions from the easiest to the difficult one without considering the ability level of the test-taker. Online CAT may also follow this pattern.

Same day for all?

Another question is will the IIMs go for the test in a single day or for an examination spread over a few days. If the IIMs go for the second option, the question is how are they going to prepare different sets of question papers with the same difficulty level for students taking the exam on different days. Some think that it may not be possible.

What about the students in rural areas who have no computer access? This will restrict CAT access to only a privileged section of society, says K. Ravi Kumar, alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A). “You need an additional capability to crack the CAT now. Mathematical and verbal abilities alone will not suffice, you will have to be computer-savvy,” he points out.

Namratha Ramesh, a first-year student of Indian Institute of Management-Kozhikode (IIM-K), says though it would not be fair to expect computer knowledge from a candidate before getting into management education, these days most of the students are familiar with computers. Rohan Jaikishen, her classmate, says that who are not familiar with computers will be badly hit.

Karthik Ramakrishnan, another IIM-K student, doubts if IIMs have thought about the rural students, who have little access to Internet connection or Internet cafes or are less familiar with computer, at the time such a decision was taken.

Application fee

Candidates also think that IIMs may hike the CAT application fee once the test goes online. Also, the coaching institutes may charge higher fees as they prepare students for the online test.

CAT is the most popular test in the country compared to any other management admission test. Last year close to 3 lakh students took the test and this year, the numbers are expected to go up.

However, there is a section of students who think that the cost may actually come down once the test is made online and some think that the IIMs will be able to bring down the cost of conducting CAT after a few editions of the online test.

Another apprehension is over the errors that are spotted in CAT question papers every year. If the IIMs go for an online examination spread over several days with different sets of questions each day, the errors in these questions will lead to a lot of complaints and even to litigation, some fear.

However, Mr. Jaikishen feels that an online CAT spread over several days has its advantages too. “Now a single day test of two-and-a-half hours’ duration is 30 per cent luck and 70 per cent aptitude. What will happen if you have a bad day?” he asks.

Logistics will be a major challenge before the IIMs. Many doubt whether the IIMs will be able to set in place such a huge infrastructure needed. “The problem will be with logistics as more than 3 lakh candidates are expected to write the CAT this year,” says Ms. Namratha. However, Mr. Ramakrishnan feels that the burden on IIMs will be lessened due to their decision to go online.

Preparation

The big question before every CAT aspirant will be whether he or she has to change the method of preparation. The coaching institutes which currently rely on paper-based formats for preparing students will have to change gear. “Coaching institutes will face a lot of problems in this regard. They will also hike their rates. Their relevance may come down,” feels Mr. Ravikumar.

Also, since mock CAT tests had many takers, coaching institutes have to change to the online format. Whether they will get more candidates if they put their mock CAT papers on their websites is a question that arises in this context. The IIMs, feel many, are going for online test as they want to outwit the coaching institutes.

However, IIMs say they are going for an online test so as to handle such a large number of candidates. Also, coaching institutes, innovative as they are in devising new methods, may go online and coach candidates on how to tackle the test.

Ms. Namratha feels that IIMs should give ample time for candidates to prepare before introducing the online format. The students will also have to change their strategies in accordance with the online pattern. A total of 2,450 seats are available at seven IIMs, including IIM Shillong, this year.

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