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


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