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.
The author is pursuing her MBA from IIM Kozhikode.