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.

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Past trends hold the key to cracking CAT 2009

At this point, there is not much students know about how CAT 2009 will unfold and aren’t sure what to expect in terms of the structure of the paper. Still a large number of students in popular forums are delivering judgments on mock papers, whether the mocks are like CAT or not.

To provide a little more clarity on what the contours of CAT 2009 could be, here we take a look at what could be expected.

While presenting the possible scenarios, we have kept the following assumptions in mind:

Assumption 1: The IIMs knew they wanted switch to a computer-based test (CBT) format at least two years ago. (We did read about CAT going online immediately after CAT 2007.)

Ampssution 2: The IIMs knew that a CBT can be conducted only by a seasoned testing authority that possesses a huge tested database. This had to be one of the key players in the GRE/GMAT space.

Assumption 3: The IIMs would have desired for the test to not have a huge shift going from paper-based to computer-based format, in order to let students experience seamlessness in the pattern. So, the trends from the previous few years must point to the final outcome in the CBT format.

Armed with these assumptions, we have analyzed at the data interpretation and the verbal ability sections of the CAT in the past three years and have tried to extrapolate it into the future. One may ask why we’ve chosen to look at only these two sections; it is because these are likely to change the most in the new format.

Before I move ahead here is a fact file.

Data Interpretation / Data Sufficiency


  • Comprehension questions are based on interpretation of data illustration.

  • Calculation questions check your ability to pick data and calculate fast.

  • Logical types of question are based on “interpreting” after synthesis of data.

  • Analytical reasoning questions are based on “assignment” based on given conditions.

Looking at this fact sheet, a few things are obvious. These are also the things that I recommend students to master while preparing for CAT 2009.

For Verbal Ability the key thrust areas are:

  • Build your vocabulary before you take CAT.

  • Don’t waste your time solving long RC passages. Focus on passages that are short which test your comprehension and not speed.

  • Grammar is making a strong comeback. Do sufficient practice of questions that are based on Grammar.

  • Para Jumbles, FIJs and similar types of questions have a very slim probability of making an appearance in CAT. Even if they do, they would constitute a very small part of the paper.

  • Critical Reasoning is closer to Para Completion. Do sufficient practice in this area.

All the above in fact, point to one thing. Areas that are checked in GMAT / GRE could become a very key component of this CAT.

Data Interpretation has been one area of concern for many students. The period between 2003 and 2006 saw a major shift from calculation-based DI sets to Logic-based sets.

But over the past two years we have seen a comeback of calculation-based sets. So if you do not want to be caught on the wrong foot, it becomes imperative that you have had sufficient practice in calculation-based sets. Do not get intimidated by the logic sets.

All this would mean a lot of practice. These recommendations are meant to help you manage your time more efficiently in the next 90 days. Let us hope that like GRE / GMAT organizing bodies, we get sufficient cues on the pattern when the IIMs come out with the notification on August 30.

The author is director (Academics and R&D), Career Launcher India.

R Shiva Kumar