CAT 2009 - A perspective

December 6, 2009

CAT 2009 has broken my heart. I was in love with this exam. The only exam I found meaningful. But they have killed it now. It’s no longer how it was until last year. One of the most beautiful exams has been reduced to just another exam.

However, I shall come to the more pressing issue first. I was a victim of unfairness last year (click to read). However, so few like me were affected that nothing could be done apart from me visiting IIM A to argue it out. This year the problem of unfairness has assumed massive proportions. So much so, that the final results are already being predicted as random selections popping up based on the whims and fancies of the IIMs.

I am sure by now you must have heard enough stories why the CAT has been unfair to them. I really do hope that the CAT online avatar is scrapped this year and replaced with the original paper pencil form. They can come back to online form after rigorous testing and plugging of loopholes. It’s only fair. They should do it even if a handful is affected. In this case we are talking about at least a thousand.

Yes, it is ironic. The institutions supposed to be producing the best managers of the country are being mocked for exactly what they are famous for imparting – Management. In fact it will be interesting to see how they manage this mini-crisis themselves. I have heard a lot of these professors talking about how they have trained their students to face adversity. They pride themselves on following a strict and academically rigorous course. Let’s watch how they manage themselves in this instance. I won’t be surprised if the CAT 2009 fiasco soon becomes a case study in some of the management institutions abroad.

Why is the CAT such a high stake exam?

Because it is the mother of all entrance exams in India open to graduates from any field. 2.5 hours (2 hours earlier) could change your life forever. It is important to note that the CAT is more respected than the IIM itself. When companies recruit students for summers, the only certification is the fact that you have done well in the CAT. People get placed into companies for life 3-4 months into an IIM through the summer internship process. You get a good summer job and you do well in those 2 months and you will be offered a Pre Placement Offer (PPO). Most companies do not even check what you have done in the 2 years at an IIM when they have decided they want you after the summers. And finally, you are branded for life. An IIM tag is worth a lot. Ask those who don’t have it.

Why did they switch to a computer based test?

You cannot deny the principally the intention of shifting to computer based test is for the benefit of everyone in the long run. It is a humungous task to conduct an exam with over 2.5 lakh people in India at the same time. And reportedly, the CAT paper has leaked only once. You have to give it to the IIMs for conducting it amazingly over the years. What was even more amazing was the beauty of each CAT paper. Go through papers of each year barring CAT 2006, and you shall see why it is an achievement to do well in a test like this. I agree with the IIMs’ view when they say that it will be difficult to conduct an exam if the number of applicants crosses a particular threshold. It’s not easy. I know it because we have conducted mock CATs at Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics as a part of Umang. You would expect the IIMs would have their bases covered. You would have never thought they would fail in the basic smooth conduct of the test.

What are the possible implications if the IIMs do not rectify the situation soon?

Erosion of brand equity. I do not think they yet fathom the dependence of their entire concept on the CAT exam. It’s that dependence that has led to the mushrooming of so many coaching centres across India. Companies will think again before recruiting from the IIMs. Already slightly lower ranked IIMs are facing a problem due to introduction of the quotas for people from certain backgrounds. Now if the test is no longer challenging and if doubts are being raised whether the most deserved are getting through, companies will shift their preferences. Already institutes like ISB and a lot of private institutes like XLRI, MDI, NMIMS, SIBM, and SP Jain are eating into the job market which was earlier almost exclusively of the IIMs. Quotas and the 90%+ engineers batch mix plus absolute lack of females puts the IIMs at an increasingly disadvantageous position. The government is not helping the IIM brand by setting up new IIMs in a hurry without any quality check at far flung remote places. My understanding tells me that private MBA colleges in India can compete with the best in the world. The only reason they have not been able to do so is because it is not as easy for them to acquire land. That prevents them from being able to make a campus that can be truly called world class. Also, most of these colleges and institutions get blinded by the money in the process and do not focus on building quality institutions that would last centuries. But I am hopeful that in the coming time, the situation will be much better.

Why are the coaching classes so proactive in supporting the students against the CBT-CAT?

It’s very simple. The online CAT shift democratised the whole coaching industry. It gave a chance for new entrants to make a mark. The established players never liked it and still don’t like it. I am not surprised they are championing the cause of students. In fact in my opinion the online CAT can actually take the sting out of the hype around the coaching and affect these companies in a big way. They can no longer charge 15,000-20,000 if students prefer to just sit back at home and learn stuff online. Of course, it lowers costs too. But I am sure their bottom lines will be affected in the short run till they adapt. I have personally spoken to admission chairs of 2 IIMs and they hate the coaching class industry. They would ideally like students to prepare on their own for the test. The online version definitely supports that. And if the IIMs start giving out practise material themselves like the GMAT, the coaching classes will become even more irrelevant. Everyone knows at some level this can happen and you see most these companies opening up a B-School or venturing into other areas.

Career Launcher's Satya has a view on the online CAT which is quite interesting. In my opinion CL seemed to have the best analysis software since 2006-07 for the Mock CAT analysis and they would have been quite geared I believe. I still think though that computer based CAT does not augur too well for the bottom lines of these institutes unless the CAT is taken by students across the globe which will, if it ever does, only happen over time

Letters by leading coaching coaching institutes to the IIMs:

Career Launcher's letter to the IIM directors

T.I.M.E's letter to the IIM directors

IMS letter to the IIM directors

Test Funda's petition to the CAT 2009 convenor

Career Launcher - Gautam Puri's guidance to students

What should aspirants do?

In my opinion, and this is strictly my personal opinion – Look beyond and think differently. There are numerous opportunities outside and hordes of new institutes. First and foremost decide why you are doing an MBA. A lot of your choices depend on that. Think about what you will do 5-10 years from now. The IIMs really don’t deserve so much respect and attention. I can tell you that going forward the experience of doing an MBA in the private institutes is going to be much more enriching than doing it in an IIM. The teaching methods are obsolete, the quality of faculty leaves much to be desired and the quality of students is diminishing rapidly. They will really have to pull up their socks and change things rapidly. In spite of the autonomy the institutions remain bureaucratic and full of red tapism.

There is at least a difference of 5-10 years in terms of teaching methods and the overall experience in the MBA programme abroad at the best institutes as compared to the ones in India. That does not mean that the student quality is better but there is a world of a difference in the experience. So if you have money and a good profile, give it a thought too.

- Ankit Doshi

Also recommended read: Things you should know about B-Schools in India

Also read - Over 30-40% CAT questions match those of coaching classes question banks

Tags : CAT 2009, IIM,MBA, B-Schools, Career Launcher, T.I.M.E, NMIMS, MDI Gurgaon, XLRI, SP Jain, SIBM, GMAT