Recent trends in CAT

The changing patterns of Common Aptitude Test have always been a subject of anxiety for the aspiring students. Every time the candidates think they are geared up with a formidable strategy to crack CAT, the authorities roll up their sleeves and test students with a different pattern altogether. Scrapping off the paper-pencil pattern and introducing online test in slots was a matter of controversy initially, but it has now proved quite effective and well-administered over the years. 

The purpose of CAT has always been to test the analytical skills and fundamental concepts of the candidates. Over the years, the exam pattern has changed and evolved to fit the best possible testing criteria for this exam. From the previous notions of a speed based test, CAT has evolved to a test for analytical ability and sufficient time is given to solve the difficult questions if candidates have the right strategy in place. Before 2004, CAT did not have differential marking scheme, i.e. all the sections had equal number of questions and carried equal marks. 

The next big change in the CAT pattern was introduced from 2009 when it was announced that CAT would be conducted online owing to an increasing number of candidates and a need for better administration. Some more changes followed later. CAT is now more precise and neater in structure. There is specific time allotted for every section that enables students to focus equally on all the sections. Previously, the candidates ignored some of the areas and concentrated only on a few sections. 

The paper pencil test patterns could not impose candidates to distribute equal time among all the sections. Thus, the students ended up mismanaging time and ignoring certain sections. Slight variations in the paper pencil test patterns included reducing the number of questions along with increasing the difficulty level and vice versa. 

CAT 2013: Exam Pattern & Strategy:
Till 2011, CAT paper had 3 sections, namely Quantitative Ability, Verbal Ability and Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning. The new CAT pattern (applicable for CAT 2013) has two sections. While the logical reasoning part has now been clubbed with Verbal Ability section, Data Interpretation problems now feature along with Quantitative Ability problems.

The duration of the exam is 140 minutes, i.e. 70 minutes allotted for each section. After the first 70 minutes, students are automatically redirected to the other section and timer resets to 70 minutes. Students won’t be able to go to previous section again. Also, there is no option of starting with a section of choice either. There is a 15 minute optional tutorial to make the candidates familiarize with the online navigation and functionality. It is recommended for all the students to go through the tutorial first. Students can mark and review the questions and ensure that they can visit those tricky ones later. 

Amidst the sections, Quantitative Ability has 20 questions and Data Interpretation has 10 questions in Section I, while Verbal Ability has 20 questions and Logical Reasoning part has 10 questions in the other section. The new pattern gauges candidate’s ability to manage time along with the verbal and analytical skills. Thus, performing in both the sections is essential. Candidates with strong quantitative ability but weak verbal skills or vice versa shouldn’t just focus on clearing the bare minimum sectional percentile now. An optimum mix of questions from all the parts of syllabus mandates the candidates to be thoroughly well versed with all the topics. 

Aspirants should realize that some ultra-high calculation intensive questions or the time consuming logical labyrinths should not be attempted first, as there are high chances that you will end up wasting a chunk of time with no correct answers marked. Dealing such questions with your ego can be fatal. Bookmarking such problems to review them in the end is the strategy to go with. It’s not always about attempting all the questions, sometimes it’s about choosing the right ones. Scanning the section first and figuring out which ones to attempt first should be the ideal scenario. Also, try to leverage your strengths i.e. attempt questions of the area first which you are strong in. Avoid guess-work at first place. And unless there are some questions wherein you can eliminate two out of four options and are confused among the other two, you can go with the calculated guess. The odds of scoring there double up against the odds of a random guess. 

Hope the motives behind the changes in paper pattern are now clear. A common strategy to work hard and manage the time well would work in all the cases anyway. 

Good luck! 
-Ashish Himthani
IIM Indore 2012-14 batch


CAT – XAT – IIFT – NMAT – IIFT: A Comparison

MBA education in India has gone through a rapid shift in the recent years. Post 2008, most Indian B-Schools were in a buoyant mood. Indian economy was showing little/ no signs of the global meltdown and campus hiring was in full swing. The result, most top-tier B-Schools, influenced by the stellar performance in the post-2008 scenario, the new reservation ruling and a host of other factors, nearly doubled the intake. But the times changed, the supposedly overheated Indian economy started cooling down and so did campus hiring. B-schools applications followed suit and we saw hundreds of B-Schools closing down between 2010 and 2012. But come 2012, signs of consolidation started appearing and B-School applications were again up. 

But as the equations about B-Schools ranking, reputation and placements have changed, it has become even more crucial to make that right choice in the selection of the entrance exam and the B-School one wants to target. This article tries to compare 4 of the most competitive and respected entrance exams (not necessarily in that order) and find out where they differ and what some of the similarities amongst them are. 

1. The older IIMs have, over the years moved towards a higher weightage for academic performance, in part due to recruiter feedback. So merely cracking the CAT may not get you your dream college if you have had a poor academic performance in the past. Thus, XAT/IIFT/NMAT become safer bets for candidates with poor academic record but able to perform well in the aptitude test. 

2. NMAT allows the candidates a retake at the test for additional fee. For those who don’t get their rhythm going at the first go, NMAT is an attractive option. 

3. The general management programs offered by IIMs are widely recognized and going by the sheer number of people appearing for CAT, they arguably are the most popular programs in India, but the other prominent B-Schools, especially those associated with the entrance exams listed here offer some programs which attract candidates passionate about those domains year-after-year due to their unique content and methodology: 

• XLRI HRM is ranked No.1 HRM programme in Asia-Pacific region. 
• NMIMS offers MBA in Actuarial science, a niche domain dealing with insurance, pension funds etc. 
• IIFT has widely recognized post graduate programs with special focus on International Trade. 

In essence, all these exams have their unique pros-and-cons and ultimately it should be a decision based on personal choice (read passion) and fitness with your profile. 

All the best!

-Vishal Vyas
PGP 2012-14, IIM Indore


In the frenzy of b-school hunting candidates inevitably get lost in a myriad of management entrance examinations- their gateways to the premier b-schools of the country. While several institutes conduct admissions on the basis of Common Admission Test, popularly abbreviated as CAT, conducted by the IIMs, several of the hottest b-schools such as XLRI, IIFT, NMIMS and Symbiosis prefer to conduct their own entrance exams. 

The advantage of preparing for CAT is that it pretty much prepares you for most other management entrance tests in India. In fact the level of CAT is either the same or higher as compared to the other examinations, so preparing for it actually puts CAT candidates at an advantage.

Coming to the pattern of CAT, it consists of 2 sections- one on quantitative ability and data interpretation, and the other on verbal ability and logical reasoning. The syllabus is class X level, but don’t let that fool you. The questions can get very difficult. Even in case of the other entrance exams the syllabus is the same. The purpose of all these exams is one- to test your basic intelligence.

The IIFT entrance test and the Symbiosis National Aptitude Test (SNAP) have patterns similar to that of CAT. The key difference is that they also have a section on current affairs, to prepare for which you simply need to follow the news regularly. Also, the examinations allow you to focus on your section of strength. In CAT you are given fixed time durations to solve each of the sections.

The XLRI Admission Test or XAT is considered as a difficult exam, possibly more than CAT. The flexible pattern and unpredictability of the paper make it challenging. Its difficulty level varies year to year. In addition to the usual sections as are in CAT there are additional questions on decision making, ethics, etc. Hence XAT would normally require some more preparation.

The Narsi Monjee Admission Test or NMAT is modelled like CAT with the dual advantages of no negative marking and a chance for a retest if you are not satisfied with your first attempt.
At the end of the day a unified entrance exam for all the Indian b-schools would obviously be a much needed relief to the candidates, and CAT provides that relief up to some degree. Given the difficulty level of CAT, the standard that the candidate strives to achieve in terms of preparation makes it a cinch to bag the other exams too, with just a little extra work on the points of difference.

-Shrinwanti Banerjee
Second year student at IIM-Kozhikode


The Common Admission Test, or CAT, is an examination which was started by the IIMs when the first 4 IIMs- Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta and Lucknow- came up, for the purpose of selecting meritorious students to be part of the prestigious institutes. It is conducted once a year and is also used by several non-IIM B-schools as a part of their admission procedure. The examination pattern is very dynamic- it keeps changing, bit-by-bit, every few years and to ensure it is never obsolete. This, of course, lends to the uncertainty and unpredictability of the exam.

The examination was a written one until 2009, when it became computer based. It is no longer held on a single day but over a window of dates (usually between October- November) that the candidate can choose from according to his/her convenience. Each paper is a different mix of questions. Then what if someone gets an easy set and another gets a difficult one? This problem is resolved since the scores are normalized according to the difficulty level of your paper.

The earlier pattern of the examination consisted of 3 sections- Verbal Ability (VA), Quantitative Aptitude (QA), Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DI & LR).

• VA tests the candidates on their grasp of the English language and their comprehensive ability.
• QA comprises mainly class X level mathematical sums, although it’s actually much harder than it sounds. The problems are pretty tough nuts for any MBA aspirant to crack let alone a 16 year old student.
• Lastly the DI sub-section is again mathematics based but involves analysis of charts and tables of data, while the LR sub-section is more based on rational thinking and reasoning to find solutions from incomplete information. 
There was no time constraint on individual sections, so a candidate had the freedom to distribute the allotted time in any way he/she liked, but would have to meet the sectional cut-off percentiles, as set by different B-schools.

The pattern changed in 2011. The sections were reduced from 3 to 2- QA & DI, and VA & LR. The time limit for each section has been fixed to 70 minutes each. You cannot go back to the first section after you have finished. The reason for this is that candidates, who are faster in, say, mathematics won’t get the advantage of finishing off the QA-DI section quickly and spending more time with the VA-LR section.

Of course, this pattern of CAT is not expected to stay for too long. It is bound to evolve to something better. There are plans to change it from a computer based to a computer adaptive test and conduct the exam multiple times a year, like GRE. But when or whether this change will take place we will find out soon enough.

Shrinwanti Banerjee
The author is pursuing her MBA from IIM Kozhikode. 


 I’ll put it bluntly. Whenever anyone asks me “Wow, what’s life at an IIM like?” the first word that comes into my mind is “hectic”. In fact I get so bored using that same word over and over that I’m starting to look for synonyms. Yes, they teach you what hard work really means. But you learn to embrace it and make it a way of life.

The daily routine at an IIM can defy logic sometimes. You can have classes from 9:00 in the morning till 6:00 in the evening, 3 quizzes of which 2 are surprise, a case study, another quiz and a project report for the next day and still say “That’s it, right? Nothing else?”. Chuckle. But it isn’t as bad as it sounds. We actually learn to enjoy it.

When I first started off here, in IIM Kozhikode, I’ll admit I was petrified. The first week of induction at the hands of our seniors was nightmarish. But it helped stupendously in the long run to cope up with a similar pressure from our professors.

However, studies aren’t the only thing happening here on campus. It’s just a small fraction! The real life begins once the clock strikes midnight. Committees, interest groups, clubs to nurture your passions, management competitions, a lot of teamwork, and not to mention parties… everything blossoms here at night. The campus never sleeps. Your body clock soon loses orientation of night and day- something your worried folks back home take a while to understand. You can operate with great efficiency with just 4 or 5 hours of sleep. That’s the magic the campus plays on you.

But some days when you wake up all mechanical, ready and energised for work you realise you have nothing to do… no assignments, quizzes, cases and so on. The satisfaction and joy is beyond anything you have ever experienced. They are few and scattered and hence you cherish them even more. It is days like these that you value each moment and you stop to look around you. And believe me, the IIMK campus is unimaginably scenic and such heavenly beauty deserves to have at least a few admirers musing over her while she gloats in the glory of her own narcissism. But alas, admirers she has many but none with any more time than to glance at her, sigh in longing, and walk away just to plunge back into the dark abyss to resume the rat race. The monsoon clouds in her painted skies rumble with tears but can’t elicit any more a response except a promising upward craning of 60-odd necks from a classroom- “Soon, my pretty! Once the mid-terms are over…” At night her wispy clouds glide through the campus, running through our hair, caressing our face in a futile attempt to seduce us away from our daily routine. As sad as this may sound, once it’s all over our joys know no bounds when we run straight into Nature’s arms. There is no experience more ecstatic than walking through clouds descended upon the hills and watching the sun rise early morn. It keeps us going.


-Shrinwanti Banerjee
The author is pursuing MBA from IIM-Kozhikode


Up Close and Personal with PIs

So you think you got through CAT? Think again. The bell’s ringing for round 2. Group discussions and personal interviews are the toughest to crack, with a success rate of roughly 1 out of 10 candidates.
The step after group discussions- personal interviews or PIs- can be very diverse. There’s no sure-shot recipe for success but here are some tips to give you a little boost:
1. Starting from the moment you enter the interview room, politely knock and take permission before stepping in, as well as before taking a seat.
2. The golden rule is to keep a cool head. As a potential student of their reputed b-school and a future manager you cannot afford to lose your temper, have a nervous breakdown, or any similar reactions. Keep your composure and that is half the work done.
3. Knowledge-wise, you must have a thorough understanding or awareness of the who’s who and what’s what of the business, economic, social and political worlds. You must also have a very thorough knowledge of everything on your curriculum vitae. For example, if you say reading is your hobby you might be asked about any management books you’ve read and your opinion on Peter Drucker. Or if you say you like football, you might be asked the rough dimensions of a field.
4. If you don’t know the answer to any question, tell the interviewer. Dilly-dallying with the answer or trying to make it up may earn you negative points.
5. Some interviews might be stress interviews. In case you’re unlucky enough to land up in one, just keep your cool and remember they’re deliberately trying to stress you out and don’t really mean it. Do not lose your temper. If they tear up your CV and ask you to leave, be crisp and polite and leave. If they laugh at you for not knowing something, let it go. Stress interviews can be really weird, but if you survive through one you’re almost sure to get through.
6. One oft forgotten tip- Temporarily drop any irritating habit you may have, like drumming the table with your fingers or twiddling your thumbs. Use your hands only to articulate or emphasize your points, but don’t let your hand gestures go wild.
7. Maintain eye contact with your interviewer. If there are multiple panellists, then look at the others occasionally even if you’re answering one of them.
8. If the interviewer cuts you midway, don’t be adamant in finishing your answer. Listen to the new question and proceed with answering it. If you feel you have missed an important point, politely ask if you may finish your answer.
9. Clothes-wise, business formals are not a must if the interview location is warm. Business casuals are adequate. Be comfortable in what you wear. Your confidence is sure to shine through.
10. And don’t forget to smile!

-Shrinwanti Banerjee
The author is currently pursuing her MBA from IIM-Kozhikode.