Tuesday, September 26, 2006

CAT 2005: New Wine in Old Bottle

Every winter, the IIMs open a bag full of surprises. It's called the CAT. The Common Admission Test or the CAT as it is popularly called, the joint entrance test for the six IIMs is held on the 3rd Sunday of every November. 20th November was 2005's CAT Sunday and the IIMs stayed true to their reputation. Even while managing to stay within the framework of an unwritten syllabi that they have been following every year, the CAT still managed to fox the hundred and seventy five thousand students who wrote the paper this year. Let's analyze this year's paper and see what was new and what was not.

To notice the first change, the students didn't even have to wait for the alloted 2 hours to begin. It was there, right on top, on your face, in the instructions sheet, written in a mere 6 point type size but with far reaching consequences. The IIMs have finally ended years of suspense. For the first time in its history, the CAT had an explicit negative marking scheme - one/third of the marks alloted to the question. A small matter, you would say, but try telling that to a CAT applicant !

The basic structure of the test was exactly same as the previous year. So we once again had 3 sections: Problem Solving, Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning and Verbal Ability& Reading Comprehension. But within this broad framework, there were changes and surprises galore. The number of questions were drastically reduced. Against 123 questions last year, 2005 saw just 90 questions. The variable marking scheme introduced only last year, was continued with, but even here minor changes were visible. The 0.5 mark questions were altogether dropped, which effectively meant there were zero very easy questions. Besides that, out of the 150 marks on offer, 120 marks were in the form of 2 mark questions, which implies that effectively, 80 percent of the question paper was in the form of tough questions. These two points clearly indicate that the IIMs once again raised the bar on the toughness level of the questions. Now this is a rare change, because the last time this was done was as way back as in 1999.

If you dissect the individual sections further, you will notice further interesting changes. A process which was started last year has now been taken to its logical conclusion - Calculation based questions have now made an almost complete exit from the D.I. section. Data Sufficiency and Verbal Reasoning questions were conspicuous by their absence. Traditional questions based on logical reasoning were not to be seen either. To compound matters further, the regular FIBs (Fill in the blanks) were presented in all new format. Blanks were substitued by invalid words and you were asked to suggest an appropriate replacement!

What are the inferences that we can draw? One, the CAT is increasingly becoming a reasoning based paper. Two, the shrinking basket of questions outlined the importance of knowledge, and your ability to apply that knowledge accurately.

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