A CAT less hyped

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By Give us this year a CAT that is less of a glamour event and more of a down-to-earth entrance exam. And please, could the test be made a tiny bit simpler?
  • Published 29.12.04

Three fainted at a CAT exam centre recently, one committed suicide because he could not get through, and when the question papers were leaked in 2003, it seemed as though it were a national disaster. IMS, the largest coaching centre for the exam, had 35,000 students enrolling to prepare for the test in 2004. Less then 5 per cent of them would have actually made it.

The awe and interest that CAT generates has now spread way beyond the student community. You change the exam dates and it hogs the headlines. The marking system is rejigged and it becomes a topic of debate in campuses across the country. In short, the IIM entrance test is now an obsession bordering on madness.

For an easier CAT

So could we please have a little less hype about CAT in 2005? Perhaps there is a case for an easier CAT too, one that will give less cause for hype and holy terror. One hundred and fifty questions, split into three sections (this time there were 123 questions) to be answered in two hours! If the test were made a tad easier, would it really make any difference to the quality of students getting in? After all, won?t only the best of them qualify anyway?

Students and teachers seem to agree that it?s time for CAT to shed some of its almost suffocating glamour. ?The test has certainly been blown out of proportion,? agrees Naveen Saraff, director of IMS. ?When I sat for the exam 15 years ago, it was not such a big event. But now, the moment a student starts preparing for it, he comes under the scanner. And while the student sweats it out, for everyone else it has become a sort of entertainment, with the TV news channels giving you a blow by blow account right from the run-up to the exam to the exam day and thereafter.?

Of course, the reasons for the halo and hype around CAT are not hard to find. The equation goes something like this CAT=IIM=FAT SALARIES. Once you?re through, a high-flying career is almost a done deal. As Leena Chatterjee of IIM Calcutta, remarks, ?Everyone wants to get into the IIMs and earn in millions. CAT is the gateway to the world of glamour, recognition and prosperity. Even if the test is made easier, the number of openings will remain the same. As for the hype, it has been fanned by the media, not us,? she says.

Perhaps. But let us not forget that the hyperboles around CAT also spring from the pressure the exam entails. So anyone who cracks it is accorded instant super-hero status. And anyone who fails is at once relegated to mediocrity. Take Dhiraj Banthia, an engineer. He found it so stressful preparing for the exam that he has vowed never to take it again. ?It is as if you are being watched all the time. Also, the test follows no logic. They should either be testing speed or knowledge. The paper has to be either long and relatively easy, or short and tough. Does it make sense to have hundreds of tough questions that most have no clue about??

Dealing with hype

Even IIM students agree that the burden of the spotlight has become too much to handle for young aspirants. Says second year IIM Calcutta student Priyanshu Singh, ?I prepared for CAT in faraway Rajasthan which is relatively free of this publicity blitz. The greater the hype, the more difficult it is to perform to potential. It also breeds insecurity which has led to the mushrooming of coaching centres.?

Though they agree that there is undue hype around CAT, senior IIM teachers feel that this is inevitable. As Prof Surendra Munshi remarks, ?Students must learn to deal with the hype. They know they are up against a tough test and stiff competition. Even if they can?t make it, the percentile lets them know where they stand.?

But not everyone is buying the argument. Many believe that it?s time for CAT to become a little more student-friendly. The marking system needs to be more transparent and negative marking explained to test-takers. Come 2005, we hope students can be somewhat more clear-eyed about the dread exam. Even if the hype goes on ? we sure hope it won?t -? it?s time to look at CAT the way it really is ? just another test.

B-school update, 2005

CAT may or may not get any easier in 2005 but getting into the IIMs might. With IIM Ahmedabad shifting to a new and bigger campus and IIM Calcutta planning to raise the number of seats, securing a B-school berth could actually be a shade easier. Experts believe there could be an increment of about a 100 seats next year. It could be more if IIM Shillong gets off the block. But the number of entrance tests that now stand at eight could go down to five. That means, there will be more schools shifting to CAT in 2005.

• West Bengal is also slated to take a step forward in 2005 so far as management is concerned. The joint entrance for management will be conducted by the West Bengal University of Technology with more than 30 schools under its umbrella, including Jadavpur and Calcutta University.

• IIMA is coming up with a separate building in its new campus which will house an ?Incubation Centre? for innovations. Grassroot innovators will be trained, their ideas polished so that they are able to take their products to the market. The Gujarat government has already sanctioned a fund of Rs 1.28 crore for the new facility.