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Sunday , November 29 , 2009
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Online birth pangs dog CAT
- Retest for 350 after snag in some centres

New Delhi, Nov. 28: Around 350 candidates appearing for India’s first computerised Common Aptitude Test (CAT) for admissi ons to the IIMs and other elite business schools could not access some questions because of hardware glitches that probably arose from the stress on fool-proof security.

The glitches that embarrassed the organisers — on the first day of a 10-day window over which the exam is being conducted — mean that the affected candidates must reappear in a slot that will be allocated to them. These candidates are among nearly 2.5 lakh aspirants appearing in the test ending on December 7.

“It’s terrible. This is like turning up for your wedding and finding that your bride hasn’t shown up,” said Ulhas Vairagkar, director of TIME, a chain of coaching classes that trains students for CAT.

Students are admitted to the IIMs and nearly a hundred other B-schools across the country on the basis of their CAT scores. The exam is being conducted at 105 centres in nearly 30 cities.

Some students at 12 centres across nine cities — Calcutta (2), Bangalore (2), Delhi (2), Mumbai, Chennai, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Bhopal and Pune — faced problems accessing questions, sources said. Around 85 candidates in Calcutta could not take the test. ( )

The IIMs and the US-headquartered Prometric — the testing service provider — are still trying to determine conclusively what led to the glitches, sources said.

Initial investigations by IIM officials suggest that the glitches may ironically have been the outcome of the multiple layers of security that organisers embedded into the testing structure.

“It appears that security layers on servers at some centres may have blocked even test questions as illegitimate information, preventing them from appearing on the screen,” said IIM Ahmedabad professor Satish Deodhar, chief organiser of the 2009 CAT.

Almost all centres were late to start the test in the morning slot because of biometric tests to verify candidate identity. A camera photographs them and candidates are directed to a terminal with their photograph on the screen.

The candidates receive only one question at a time and a combination of cameras and manual checks is used — the dependence on technology varies across centres — to ensure that the same candidate takes the entire test.

But the fact that 93 out of 105 centres did not report a single problem suggests that the software — common to all centres — worked without a glitch.

The IIMs had expressly asked Prometric to ensure that security checks embedded in servers for CAT were more stringent than those for global examinations like GMAT, Deodhar said.

The checks are essential to ensure that a candidate receives no information on his screen other than questions and instructions related to the test. The checks verify each question — coming from a question bank — before allowing it to appear on the candidate’s screen.

Officials suspect the information traffic may have clogged the security checks on inefficient servers, leading to the glitches. “We are testing 2.5 lakh students in 10 days. GMAT tests around the same number over 365 days,” Deodhar said.

Vairagkar said the CAT organisers were possibly “underprepared and overconfident”. “While such glitches are completely normal, one would have expected them to build some back-up mechanisms,” he said.

Prometric described the incidents as “isolated technical issues”.

Coaching experts expressed concerns that replicating the mindset necessary to “crack” AT is not always easy a second time in such situations. They recalled the CAT leak in 2003 which was discovered after the test was over, forcing all candidates to appear for a second test later.

A lot of students who were confident they had performed well in the first -- leaked -- test almost “gave up” by the second test, Vairagkar said. “We are warning all our students who suffered today to guard against that,” Vairagkar said.

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