The Common Admission Test (CAT), the qualifying exam for admissions to the Indian Institutes of Management, is arguably among the toughest and most popular exams in the country. Known to spring surprises in format, questioning patterns and number of questions – understandably, to retain the edge in these times of coaching centre chains – this time, the IIMs have decided to announce changes in pattern in advance.
The tweaks are minor; yet, experts welcome it as a move towards a better examination process. The changes, as announced by the CAT committee, have to do with time and section topics. First, candidates are being given an extra five minutes to take the same number of questions. Unchanged at 60 questions, however, the number of sections has been changed from three to two, which means each section will consist of 30 questions.
A more important change, and one that will call for some realignment of approach and strategising for the examination, is that a section-wise timer system will be introduced. That is, candidates will not have the freedom of moving back and forth between sections and will have to complete each section within 70 minutes.
The regrouping of topics into two sections may not make an obvious change to students. However, experts point out that this is fairly significant given that section-wise cut-offs do play a significant role in the admission process.
What the IIMs have done is taken the third section, Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning, and clubbed it with the two other sections, Quantitative Ability and Verbal Ability. So, in the new format, the two sections will be Quantitative Ability and Data Interpretation, and Verbal Ability and Logical Reasoning.
So, while an increase in the duration of the exam will hardly matter since the exam is a comparative process, the rejuggling of sections may be seen as a positive sign by some students. For instance, the fact that Quantitative Ability (a section that requires higher and deeper mathematical skills) will now be clubbed with Data Interpretation will mean that the emphasis will be taken off higher mathematics, points out Ajay Arora of the Triumphant Institute of Management Education.
Presure is off
“Similarly, for students from the hinterland, whose English skills may not be as good, having that clubbed with another section means it takes the pressure off them. After all, section-wise cut-offs are important. This new format could end up benefitting these students, and thus increasing the diversity of students making it to the IIMs,” he explains.
While there is nothing different content-wise, Mr. Arora points out that some amount of reorientation while practising could take candidates a long way. That is, when they take mock tests, they must time themselves to ensure they stick to the section-wise cut-offs. “That is something that students who are preparing for CAT will have to get used to. But in some sense it makes their task simpler, for now they do not have too many decisions to make on which section to go for first.” As for choosing the least time-consuming questions first, that's a strategy that will remain important even within the sections.