CAT 2009: Online or Offline, IIMs need to answer

It was last year that the big news was unveiled to the world. Common Admission Test (CAT), the examination for securing admission into the IIMs, was to transfigure into an online format, starting 2009. CAT had retained it’s paper-pencil format since it’s inception. There was much debate about the pros and cons of the decision. While IIMs saw this decision as a move towards a) ensuring smoother administrative operations b) less chances of papers being leaked at the centers across India c) taking CAT in the domain of well known international exams, such as GRE/GMAT; certain section of students opined that taking the test online might be a disadvantage to the rural IIM aspirants, who are not well conversant with sitting for tests online. Many students might actually not even be comfortable using a computer! Then there were questions raised about matters that could pose a problem to conducting the exam online. These included things like slow Internet speed in India, security against hacking, infrastructure to conduct the requisite online module, standardization of the question papers etc. Tenders were floated nonetheless, to conduct the online version on behalf of the IIMs and 4 specialist companies were shortlisted for the same.

The news gradually died down. The IIMs were to confirm the news of this year’s test being online, first in January and then in March. There is no concrete announcement to the effect till now. Some recent articles have actually augmented the confusion.

Indian Express in an article dated 5th April states “Decks are being cleared for the Combined Admission Test (CAT) for admission to the Indian Institutes of Management and other premier business schools to move online starting November 2009.” (Read the full article here- http://www.indianexpress.com/news/iims-push-for-online-cat-this-year-on-lines-of-gmat-many-dates-many-…/443260/)

On the other hand, an article published in Business Standard on 15th march and on 16th March at Rediff, mentions, “CAT may not go online this year” (read the full article here- http://www.rediff.com/getahead/2009/mar/16cat-may-not-go-online-this-year.htm). IBNlive, the online version of news channel CNN-IBN, adds further to the confusion by stating that “CAT will go online from next year”, not mentioning anything about the exam this year (Read the full article here- http://ibnlive.in.com/news/iim-entrance-test-to-be-computerbased-from-next-year/89487-3.html).

It is April now and about 3 lakh students are expected to appear for this year’s CAT. But the IIMs are still silent about the format the exam will take this year. If students are to wait for the official notification (which usually appears some time in July), it would leave them with just about 4 months to prepare for the new format. The situation might be worse for people who are not well accustomed to using computers and need more time to prepare themselves for taking tests online. Ideally, the students in urban areas, who are relatively well accustomed to using computers, should not have an advantage over their brethren in rural areas, if CAT intends to keep it’s unbiased image intact.

What’s been surprising is the fact that students have not shown any interest in doing something that may pressurize the IIMs into sharing the details of CAT 2009 at the earliest. Some students are under the impression that the examination will be similar, whether online or offline. But that, according to experts, is not the case. Instead, the experts feel that if CAT goes the GMAT way, the change will be substantial. The preparation and the skill set required would need to be re-molded quite actively. Substantial amount of practice will be required before the students sit for the real online exam.

Students need to take concrete action to have their concerns addressed. They need to realize and make use of the various means at their disposal to do so. The recent Symbiosis result fiasco and the subsequent student outcry that CL also supported, lead to concerned authorities making amends, and is a neat illustration of effectively wielded Youth Power. Students need to take similar actions in this situation as well, such as, starting signature or e-mailer campaigns, writing letters to the relevant authorities including HRD ministry, taking their issue to the media, and so on.

This matter deserves greater attention than it is presently receiving. Students need to get organized and get cracking! CL is there to help and support as always.

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