My random thoughts on the online CAT

  • I got a call from one of the students in Mumbai whose test had got cancelled in one of the colleges in Mumbai. He received a communication that the test is re-scheduled. Fantastic! Only problem is – the test centre is at Lucknow!
  • Then there is this disclaimer joke – which when translated to English goes something like “We will sue you, put you in jail, and ruin your entire life & career if you discuss the questions with others, because we want the test to be fair to all.” And how fair it was! Repeat the questions not only from one test to another but also cut-paste the past year’s CAT questions (at least they could have changed the names in the question, from Satish to Gejo).
  • “It was a massive exercise – there are bound to be glitches. You must appreciate that.” This is what is been told in defense. My response is, with all due respect to everyone involved; say that to your pet dog, at least it will wag its tail. We are talking about conducting test for 5000 students in one go in one slot in a country whose population is 120 crore. Come on! It needed to flawless – the few glitches is the entire career to that one student who was affected by the ‘few’ glitches.
  • This has given a great excuse to those students who did not do well because they did not prepare. Now they can tell their dad – “The test went bad, not because of me.” – Thank you so much.
  • For once, the IIMs should not treat the coaching industry as a foe. There is a wealth of knowledge available and that can be tapped and ensure that – “Mirror, mirror on the wall, which is the fairest test of all? – the CAT”

The problem that now the IIM faces (apart from saving their face) is to take the right decision, which unfortunately will never be ‘right’ – if the test is re-conducted it will be unfair to those who did well and if it is not re-conducted it will be unfair to those who could not do well because of reasons beyond their control.

Irrespective of whatever the decision they finally make, the IIM & Prometric should start with statement:

“We did not execute the project as well as we thought we could. We are extremely sorry to all the students who got affected. It will be our sincere effort to ensure that our future decision will be absolutely fair to all students.”

The students, who have pinned a lot of hope in your esteemed institution, need at least that!


Important Advisory by GP for CAT-2009 Test takers

Dear IIM Aspirant,

Ever since I contacted the 7 IIM Directors via email, bringing to their notice the various unfortunate issues that have plagued CAT’09, I have received a number of mails enquiring if Career Launcher, as an organization, can file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on this issue. On consultation with our legal advisers, we have come to learn that legally CL cannot take this matter to court because of two reasons.

First, as per Honourable Supreme Court guidelines, an admission as an issue is out of the purview of a PIL. Second, since Career Launcher is not the affected party in this case, we cannot present this matter to Court. However, you, the students, who are victims, can file a writ petition before the Honorable High Court of the state in which your test center falls only if Prometric or the IIMs do not respond positively to your grievance.

To get redressal from Prometric and the IIMs, submit an online complaint at Fill up the online form and from the drop down menu that appears under ‘Subject’, choose the ‘I was not satisfied with the experience on the exam day’ option.

In the ‘Questions or Comments’ text box put a request for re-conducting of your test with reasons due to which you could not perform satisfactorily in the test. The ‘Reasons’ should fall under one or more of the following heads:

·          Ambience (disruptions throughout the test that hampered your performance, large-scale cheating, etc.)

·          Loss of time due to server issues or technical glitches

·          Questions/figures/choices were not visible on the screen

·          Frequent or constant disruption due to technological problems

·          Compelled to submit your test before the stipulated time period because of technological or other issues

·          Not being allowed to use features such as ‘Mark’ and/or ‘Review’

·          Any other pertinent issue

Once you have filled up the ‘Questions or Comments’ text box, copy-paste the content on to an e-mail and send it to the directors of all the 7 IIMs. Their e-mail Ids are as follows:;;;;;; and

In case you do not receive a favorable reply, or no reply at all, latest by 8 December 2009, you do have the option of approaching the relevant Honourable High Court requesting remedial action.

However, we would like to point out that you should contact Prometric/IIMs and request for re-conducting your test if and only if you faced a genuine case of disruption that hampered your CAT’09 performance. Since there was a live video recording facility installed at each test center, when you approach the Court, your version could be tallied with the video recording. In case of any discrepancy between the two, you shall find yourself in an adverse position.

We, at Career Launcher, certainly hope that esteemed institutions like the IIMs will step up to address the situation.

The above advice is based on the legal opinion sought on the subject by me; you are also requested to take necessary legal advice before taking any action.

Best Wishes

Gautam Puri

IIM B 1993

Vice-Chairman, Career Launcher

Firm conducting CAT leaked data?

MUMBAI: Prometric, the company conducting the online Common Admission Test (CAT) to the IIMs, has been at the receiving end for the chaos and technological breakdowns plaguing the test this year. Now there are allegations that Prometric leaked the list of candidates registered for CAT to an online coaching portal.

Soon after registering for CAT, MBA aspirants from several parts of India received e-mails from the portal, offering to help them crack CAT in seven days. The portal has an alliance with a well-known CAT coaching class to share question banks for CAT preparation.

Both Prometric and the educational portal, however, denied any wrongdoing. An e-mail from Prometric quoted Ramesh Nava, its Asia-Pacific, Japan & Africa vice-president and general manager, as saying that the ‘‘security and integrity of the testing process, including the protection of candidate information are essential elements of Prometric’s global business’’. ‘‘We take this responsibility very seriously. Prometric maintains a sophisticated level of network security protocols that provide multi-layered protection of all data that comes into, or out of, our organisation. All data is encrypted during all phases of transmission to and from public and private networks,’’ the mail added…

Source:  Times of India (click to read more)

CAT 2009 – A Management Case Study!

By R Shiva Kumar, Director- R&D, Career Launcher (Alumni IIMC-1997)

From Shivku’s Blog:

It was supposed to be a red letter day in the history of CAT – An “exam” that India is proud of. But a shocker of execution made it a disaster and an embarrassing day for the “theoreticians” of management studies.

I took my test in the very first slot. I wanted to experience it first hand. I was very excited about the new format of CAT. I wanted it to be a resounding success. Because, I think the CAT on the paper based formats have stopped being “aptitude” oriented.

I sensed some problem at 10 A.M. The invigilators were waiting for a Phone call from the IIMs to start the session. I have not heard such an “excuse” ever in the last 10 years of my CAT. Something seemed fishy. A thought crossed my mind “Is there a problem in some lab in the country ?”…Dismissed the thought.  It was improbable. Prometric was one of the “best” in the CBT business. I was completely wrong.

Six reasons why CAT 2009 was a disaster…

Just to clarify, my test went off well once it started!! But yes, it took 5 minutes to load my test.

1) The ACTUAL TEST did not start at the same time for all students:

The concept of an OPTIONAL tutorial to know the interface better was a fairly good thought!! But it was someone’s thoughtlessness to combine the optional 15 minutes with the Compulsory 2 hours 15 minutes of the test, which made it such a disastrous idea. Ideally the tutorial could have been scheduled from 10 to 10:15 (which could have been optional). The actual test should have started at 10:30, for all the students. Do Prometric guys have no idea how disruptive it could be to let 50 students in a lab start their tests at 50 different points of time?

2) Pattern should have been made public:

What was there to lose? Make all patterns the same across 20 slots. Make the evaluation norms public. What are you hiding from the students? Why could the IIMs not make the “process” of evaluation public? Were they not sure…? I know for sure the guys who successfully took the test on day two had a distinct advantage over the ones who took it on day one. That was because the pattern was more or less same.. Is this fair?

3) No two questions across slots should have been identical

How foolish !! How could the IIMs repeat the questions of one slot in another? Whenever my students asked me the question” Sir, would it not be better to take the later slots since we would know the questions before hand?” I always responded by saying that you are fool to think that the IIMs would repeat questions across the different slots. But Alas, I was mistaken again. I could not believe it, when I heard it from the students. Now the DISCLAIMER tamasha made sense :). It must have been a mailer post a “panic attack” when some one realized the problem

4) No past CAT questions should have been repeated

Reports from students who have done the old CAT papers suggested that there were more than 10 questions in one of the slots on day two which had questions from previous CATs. How could the IIMs do this? Were they not aware that they published the CAT papers in the past CAT bulletins? That all the past CAT papers are in the public domain…available to practically all the CAT aspirants? Did they think that students preparing for CAT would not have access to these questions? I am amazed at their ignorance. One of my friends commented that the CAT demo had 4 choices because they may pick up old CAT questions…most of which had 4 choices (the ones post 2005 had 5 choices). I dismissed it as wishful thinking. Yet again, I was wrong.

5) There should have been rigorous testing for academic and technical errors.

This should have occupied a significant mindshare of both the IIMs and Prometric prior to CAT. The stakes were too high for any mishaps. I thought, Prometric would do a military drill of this process. On day one and two, nearly one fifth of the CAT centers had witnessed problems. What a joke I was mistaken again!! My common sense says, the “infrastructure” was not stress tested. I was wondering…Did someone just switch on the 50 computers in a lab and said “Saar, everything is fine “.

In the heated debates over technical glitches, the issue of “a number of academic errors in the question papers” across slots have not come under the spotlight. There are many reported errors…But I do not have the questions to prove my point. I know there were at least 2 errors in the test that I had appeared for.

6) More robust Systems and Processes:

I think IIMs can make a case study of the CAT debacle. It makes a fantastic case on how strategy gets defeated if execution is flawed. It seems “Systems and Processes” is a part of only the Management Strategy classes. When the IIMs have outsourced the test logistics to Prometric, I believe some solid audit systems should have been in place. I doubt if it was … There were a few more glaring errors that defied all logic. In this age of seamless communication…how could the IIMs ignore the possibility of questions being discussed in communities? Yeh India hai meri Jaan :). So in the design of the papers itself they must have ensured that the “papers” were completely disjoint.  I am amazed at such a oversight at the design stage ( I though this was the most challenging part of the test…20 tests of same levels of difficulty !!)

Was there a system to identify the sanctity of the paper? …Was there a check as to “repeats” in slots and similar level of difficulty? (would a test with more than 10 questions from previous CAT be equal to one where there is hardly one or two ???) …There are many questions to be answered. I thought IIMs had answers for all these.  I am really disappointed, after the evidence of the last 4 days.

I think this is the classic outsourcing problem …Maybe IIMs trusted Prometric, Prometric Trusted NIIT and NIIT trusted the “local labs”…All this makes a great case for Management students.

What is the way out ?

1)At a personal front, I think there is only one way out for this year.  Conduct the “same test” for “all students” this year…which means a Paper based test. That is the “fairest” way of sorting out this mess.

2) Make sure that the Online format is executed flawlesslessly next year. Do not backtrack on this progressive step. I think a GMAT/ GRE model with a “large window” of testing would make an ideal testing future for CAT.

As far as CAT 2009 is concerned, the story is yet to unfold completely. I believe the decisions of the IIMs in the next few days would also carry many more lessons in Management. ( I hope they are all “desirable” and not the “undesirable” types). It is time for the IIMs to display their leadership in action.

May good sense prevail. I hope all the students who feel deprived, would get a fair deal.

The great CAT 2009 Debacle – exerpt from Satya’s Blog

Latest CAT related entry from Career Launcher Chairman, Mr Satya Narayanan R’s Blog :

‘James Bond’ is a brand image for attributes such as sexy, irresistible, high IQ, can’t-go- wrong guy, the world bows to him, and so on.  The CAT guys think of themselves as ‘James Bond ka Baap’. It is just that their self-image is hugely misplaced.

Our Earnest Wish :

Let me start by making my wish and the hope of Career Launcher public – “CAT successfully executes the transition from a paper based test to the CBT this year”.  We have been praying and hoping for this for the past five years, in fact.

In 2001, XLRI tried going online and made a hash of it. There was no effort to understand the enormity of the operationalising the idea. And the james Bond thought that his idea will be executed by signing an MOU with a company with some connection with technology and distribution centres. NIIT was roped in and the effort was such a disaster that all the B-schools dare not try that stunt again for five years.

The Holy Cow makes the move :

CAT took the step this year.  We hoped that they would have done all the necessary things to execute the idea.  In my own estimation, they did not do a bunch of things they should have done.

Amongst the many that come to my mind, let me share a thing or two where even we could have stepped in and helped in the effort.

MBA TestPrep is a pariah :

‘The testprep guys are a pariah’ is the fundamental mindset the CAT guys needs to get past. Let us illustrate the global mindset just to make a point –

  1. Take a round of the library at Stanford.  I was pleasantly surprised during my trip there to find a large section of the library that houses all the products, services, publications, testprep taking gyan showcased at Stanford.
  2. Chad, the co-founder of a small and fast growing testprep brand called ‘Veritas’ goes for a formal sessions with undergrad students who wish to pursue a career in Law. Chad is a Yale grad.
  3. GMAC conducts formal interactions with the testprep leaders in seeking feedback and incorporating the same in their multi-dimensional research driven finetuning.
  4. Even closer home, LST (Law School Tutorials) has a formal official MOUs with eight out of the leading law schools to popularize law as a career by conducting workshops in schools etc,.

What is the point ?

There is no one who has conducted the CBT or even CAT like the testprep companies have done. Remember, we would have got murdered for a 15% cancellations that the students have seen in the past three days taking a CAT test.  We, the testprep guys live in a buyer’s market.   I am making these for the entire testprep industry and not for CL alone.

Some statistics :

  1. Over 100,000 students have taken the tests at CL in the previous 10 days. These are unproctored and on-demand tests. If you take the top three testprep players, we have given CAT experience and performance analysis to all the CAT aspirants atleast a couple of times in the past two months – And, we do not see an invite for a conversation from the ‘Holy Cow’.
  2. The item analysis that we have would take a Prometric a decade to build. We can offer item-wise, time-wise analysis that would make the cricket-statistics that you and I see on TV primitive.
  3. The technology that it takes to conduct these is not about IT and hardware. It is a lot about deep technology including the right architecture, the server technology, the load planning, the tech-ops linkages, etc,.  It is not to be wished away by outsourcing without experts in-house.  For instance, Sujit who runs the technology at CL can have a conversation on this with any tech-guy in the world. As he says, this is a non-trivial thing in the schema.
  4. A million questions are being repeated, old CAT papers are finding space all over the tests – what a pity ? Our system, in contrast, runs on non-replicated 250, 000  items (questions).  Can this test be deemed fair by any yardstick.

Some statistics about the fair so far :

  1. 4000 students failed to finish their tests. That is a whopping 15% failure rate.
  2. Some students get the ‘refresh’ in a jiffy while some one else takes a minute for each new question to refresh from the local server
  3. There is no city where this is not a failure.
  4. Protests have begun to happen now from students whose only aim is to get to an IIM
  5. More are on their way…

The devil is in execution :

In my days at the B-school and even today, Execution is not given any importance at all while teaching the kids. The part that is most romanticized is the ‘strategy’. The IIM guys have brought the same mindset and understanding of life to bear upon this project as well. Prometric should have been hauled over the coal.  Imagine a USD 40 Million contract !! That is a whopping Rs 200 Crores plus.

Repeat our wish :

I am not surprised that there are glitches. I am only surprised that there was not enough thinking and fear built into the system.  Or, it was under-estimated by such a huge margin.

  1. Why was there not a dry-run for about 30 days in waves across the country.
  2. What stess-test did the colleges / their infra put through in real terms
  3. Why did CAT not commit a few ‘Mock CATs’ to test the system

Let me close by repeating our wish – CAT comes through with this successfully and to the satisfaction of the students. As a founder of CL and as a believer that CAT can aim to compete with GMAT globally over the next decade,  I also offer all the help, advise, assistance to the CAT-committee on this project.

CAT just need to mean business for a life-defining day from the students’ perspective and Prometric play out of their skin to retrieve their business and the reputation.

Satya Narayanan R

Career Launcher’s letter to the IIMs

(The following letter was sent to the directors of the IIMs on 2nd December, 2009)


The Directors

IIM-A, B, C, L, K, I & S

Dear Sir(s),

I am writing this mail to you all as a long-time ambassador of the IIMs and an ardent well-wisher for CAT. As an alumnus of IIM-Bangalore, during my numerous interactions with MBA aspirants for over a decade now, I have always advocated that CAT stands for utmost transparency and complete fairness to all its aspirants.

However, what has ensued of late, has, I believed, compromised these aspects  and has urged me to take up the cause and write to you.

While two main aspects of CAT’09, namely, the technical infrastructure-related goof ups, and the mismanagement in the manner in which the test is being conducted in certain locations (ambience, large-scale cheating, test starting on time, etc.) are ruling the roost; I would like to draw your attention to a much more significant issue, which seems to have gone under the radar.

The contentious issue pertains to questions from previous years’ CAT papers being repeated, especially in the QA section of CAT’09. I, myself, have attempted the paper during the first slot of day 1, and I can vouch for the fact that on an average 5-6 questions out of 20 have been repeated in the QA sections, and, that, too, across slots. I can state this with confidence because for the past few years, I have religiously taken the CAT paper each year.

My discomfort in such a situation stems from the belief that such a scenario is automatically biased against those who have taken the test on the first two days. The students with tests dates from day 3 are at a distinct advantage because by simply mugging up QA questions from last few years’ CAT papers they can increase their attempts in QA to as high as 17-18 questions out of 20.

In my opinion, this is an injustice meted out to those who attempted the paper on the first couple of days. Consequently, the percentile calculation, too, will not be a fair one if it is on the basis of raw scores across different days.

Hence, I would request you to rectify the situation and give this particular issue as much weightage, if not more, to the technological glitches and the mismanagement matters. A public notice to this effect on individual IIM sites, for example, can go a long way in allaying the frustration that has set in in the minds of many CAT’09 aspirants.

Last, but not least, I would also like to point out that just like previous years, this time, too, the CAT paper had questions with errors. Unfortunately, I do not have the paper in front of me, or I could have pinpointed the erroneous questions to you, but if my memory serves me correctly, then I distinctly remember at least 2-3 such instances, which were doubtful, to say the least. Hence, for the benefit of students, could I, on their behalf, request you to upload the papers with solutions and answer keys once the test period is over?

I was myself an IIM student a decade or so ago. Today, as an academician, I believe I can help in getting MBA aspirants’ voices heard. Also, as the Vice-Chairman of a national-level MBA test-prep institute, I would like to assure you that we, at Career Launcher, are willing to walk that extra mile and assist and support CAT in general, and the IIMs in particular, to bring in some value to the entire process and make it successful.


Gautam Puri (IIM B 1993)


Career Launcher India Ltd.

Important CAT related articles

Frequently Asked Questions: CAT 2009 – Rescheduling of CandidatesCATIIM

CAT 2009, test canceled, I want an apology – Rediff

CAT 2009: ‘Some navigation issues, but not bad’ – Rediff