CAT exam


With many entrance examinations and their final rounds of interviews culminating, those who are eagerly waiting for their results must be feeling distraught and anxious over their future as the final semester closes off. While all the final year students await their results with their stomachs in knots, we need to remember that our lives have much more to offer even if we fail.

The tension is palpable in the month of April in every third year student’s life. Some students wait for their Indian Institute of Management (IIM) or Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) interview results while many others wait for results of Jawaharlal Nehru University Entrance Exam (JNUEE), or other post-graduation programmes’ entrance results. The minds of final year students are in a constant state of dilemma as to where exactly they will land up after leaving the comfortable contours of University of Delhi, where they have spent a very facile three years because of great grades in Class XII. Alas, third year students find themselves at the crossroads of another segment of life, breaking away from another cocoon, yet again after school. Also, many future plans for further entrance examinations are contingent upon the clearance of previously given entrances and the question of whether to take a gap year lingers.

The period in between the exam and its result is the most difficult period in any one’s life and this is where resilience, patience, and sanity of the student are tested. The distractions that are employed to deal with the stress, like last minute hangouts with friends, studies for the end semester examinations, farewell dress preparations, or starting a new sitcom are all half-hearted and the tension is always there at the back of the mind.

The panacea here is to understand the very basic fact that lives won’t shatter if you are unable to make it to our dream college or varsity. The world would not come crashing down if just one small entrance result is not in the affirmative. These words must sound hollow but the reminder that ‘this is not the end’ and there is always a ‘plan B’, is imperative. It is sometimes best to have failure happen earlier in life because it awakens the phoenix inside, and one can learn how to rise from the ashes.

In the end, while students wait for their results and apply to other places, just remember to hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.


Feature Image Credits: Tutorhub Blog.

Oorja Tapan

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As 2.3 lakh students appeared for the gruelling CAT exam today, we trace the history of its incongruous nature, the criticisms and controversies that surround it, and problems that plague the future of this highly competitive exam.

Common Admission Test, more fondly referred to as CAT, is an all-India standardised test that was started by the Indian Institute of Management(s) as a means of selecting students for their post-graduate programs in business administration. The exam tests students on the bases of Quantitative Ability, Data Interpretation and Logical reasoning, and Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension. Presently, CAT is famous for its notoriety, the difficulties it poses, its nerve-wracking competitiveness, and the ever-changing guidelines. Since the past 10 years, the number of test takers has hovered around the 1.85 lakh student average, and in 2016 it was the highest in the past seven years, with more than 2 lakh students appearing for it. What are the problems that plague this system, and why is the diversity in all the top business schools so skewed and seemingly less favourable for particular sections?

The changes in admission criteria over the past years

IIMs routinely change their admission criteria to enroll students from diverse backgrounds. IIM- Bangalore now awards higher weightage to work experience, while most IIMs are awarding extra marks to female students. The weightage given to CAT has fallen drastically over the past years, with only FMS remaining in the top b-schools category that gives more than 80% weightage to it. Other top schools take into account a hoard of additional factors like work experience, marks scored in 10th, 12th, graduation, and performance in group discussions and personal interviews. These steps give the illusion that the IIMs are diversifying, but the prospective chances for female and non-engineers remain unflinchingly low.

Following years of criticism of employing measures that significantly increased the probability of enrolling students from the engineering background, the CAT exam pattern saw major upheavals in 2015. Descriptive, type-in-the-box questions were introduced reducing the total number of MCQs, and the time limit to answer 100 questions was raised from 170 to 180. In effect, it clearly failed to make a difference as all 20 candidates who scored 100 percentiles in 2016 were males from the engineering background. Females and non-engineers did score 100 percentile in sectionals, but the overall CAT result was the same as any year’s.

A number of deserving candidates, both male and female, are also losing out due to poor scores in high school and graduation. The purpose of considering previous milestone marks is to determine a student’s worth via his/her consistent performance over the years, but it fails to account for the degrading standards of education and extreme emphasis on rote learning in schools. It is an undeniable fact that marks secured up till 12th are primarily based on one’s ability to memorise, and the access one has to expensive tutors.

The not so “common” aftermath of CAT

The 20 IIMs, along with scores of other Institutes take into account an individual’s CAT percentile. However, many famous private institutions like ISB, S.P Jain, Xavier’s, Narsee Monjee, IIFT, have their personalised admission tests or they consider GMAT scores. CAT was devised by the IIMs, and it continues to be the top criterion for admission in the reputed franchisee. When a person does convert a call to enter IIM Ahmedabad, Bangalore, or Calcutta, the fees at these institutions is 20+ lakhs, inclusive of tuition and hostel fees. Most fresh graduates have to resort to taking education loans, which is extremely easy to procure if one is associated with the IIM brand, to pay the debt of studying in these coveted institutes. However, the falling annual average packages offered during campus placements are posing questions regarding the Return of Investment (RoI) of IIMs. The fact that newer IIMs, like IIM Sambhalpur and IIM Bodh Gaya, witnessed students who weren’t offered any job, in the history of IIMs has dented the prestige and sense of job security that was affiliated with IIMs.

India’s unfathomable obsession with IIMs

Presumably and justifiably so, the graduates of these institutions are the best brains of the country. The question needs to be asked- what about those who don’t belong to this list? At the cost of remaining elusive to the average student who can’t afford coaching, the average student who can’t join through management quotas in a reputed institute; this average student faces several entry barriers. Despite all efforts being infused into the system to minimise these initial hurdles, there is a long way to go before the top institutes oversee discussions from every discipline and all genders.


Feature Image Credits: Campus Drift

Vijeata Balani

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Archit Gurg from Cluster Innovation Centre, University of Delhi, was one of the 20 100 percentile scorers in the Common Admission Test 2017. We offer him our congratulations and and get insights about his study schedule, thoughts on the importance of a coaching institute and engineers bagging the top percentiles, amongst other interesting things!

Q.1 We’re sure everyone wants to know the magnitude of hard work that goes into securing a 100 percentile. Can you elaborate upon your own study regime?

CAT is mostly aptitude, and most of us would be able to solve all the questions, given sufficient time. It’s just the time aspect that has to be mastered, and the best way to achieve this is through practice. Since the beginning of my preparation, I focused on this. It included reading passages & newspapers, and practicing quantitative section questions regularly. A couple of hours each day was sufficient till the very end.

Q.2 Most 2017 CAT aspirants have already begun preparing. Can you map out an effective course of study for them based on your own experience?

In my opinion, consistent preparation is absolutely essential. I began preparing around this time itself, and focused on identifying my weaknesses first. This helped me prioritise among the subjects and topics I had to study. I regularly analysed these weaknesses to observe my progress, and modified my preparation accordingly. It is useful because it keeps fresh in our memories the mistakes we make & the areas we falter in, and helps us keep track of the progress we are making. This, along with regular practice, helped me overcome my weaknesses.

Q.3 The dreaded Quantitative Ability section is feared by many. What are your tips for achieving maximum accuracy in this section?

I think what gave me an edge in QA was the fact that I began focusing on it quite early in my preparation. By April/May, I had figured out the topics I needed to specifically focus on in the section.  Secondly, I tried to do a couple of questions of each chapter, every day, so as to not lose familiarity with any topic at any point of time. This helped me retain my learning throughout the preparation period.

Other than that, maintaining a record of the questions you’ve gotten wrong, the concepts you’ve faltered upon, and the tricks you’ve found in tests, is definitely useful. This would ensure that the first few months of your preparation are not a waste, and the learning is kept intact till the end of the preparation.

Q.4 As for the Verbal Ability section, many students are deterred right in the beginning believing themselves to have inferior vocabulary. What do recommend to such students?

Well, I believe I can identify with the question. I always used to be concerned about my vocabulary, or the lack of it. But VA is not really about vocabulary. It’s more logic based. For instance, it might not be essential to understand a reading comprehension passage in its entirety, as long as we can decipher the intent of it, and the questions that follow. This understanding can be achieved through practice.

The best way to improve one’s score in VA, in my opinion, is reading. While this might sound like a clichéd solution to the age-old question, it is the ultimate solution. It is also the hardest to pursue. While in QA, if you practice a particular topic extensively, you may be able to observe a boost in your score. In case of reading, the same won’t be visible that easily. It takes time to actually achieve significant improvement. However, the key is to keep at it.

Q.5 How did you train yourself to accurately attempt maximum number of questions in each section within the allotted time period?

According to me, in order to make optimal use of time, one needs to have a strategy for attempting each section. This can be achieved by knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses. In Verbal Ability, I always found consecutively reading through all the reading comprehensions tedious. Hence, I preferred attempting two comprehension passages, followed by non-comprehension questions such as para-completion, and later coming back to the remaining comprehension passages. This helped me not lose interest in the paper.

Similar strategies can be employed for the quantitative section. Initially, for chapters like geometry, I used to take a lot of time to solve the questions. Hence, I used to keep those questions for the end. As I progressed with my preparation, I modified these strategies according to my strengths.

One thing I always used to keep in mind was: while it might not be necessary to attempt all questions, it is absolutely essential to, at least once, read through all of them.

Q.6 Did you opt for a coaching institute or prepare on your own? How important is each of them?

I did opt for a coaching institute. At first, it used to seem that coaching is an essential part of preparation. However, as I moved on with it, I realised that it was completely dependent on one’s self devotion and preparation.

CAT is a paper based on aptitude. A self-motivated person, who can manage to remain motivated throughout the preparation period, is equally likely to crack the exam without any coaching. The only benefit I reaped from my coaching was the material that they provided, and the test series which helped me analyse my performance at each step. If one has access to these things, coaching might not make that great a difference.

Q.7 How did you utilise your study time in the last few days leading up to the exams?

In the final few days, I focused on reading through my analysis of all the mock tests I had given. This helped me recall and learn about the mistakes I often made. Other than that, I maintained a regular schedule of going through a couple of passages, doing a set of quantitative questions from each chapter, and a bunch of logical reasoning and data interpretation questions as well.

A concern that most of us might face is that our semester examinations usually occur around the same period as CAT. So I targeted completing my preparation before the same. Also, even during the examinations, I regularly devoted an hour or two to CAT preparation each day.

Q.8 Twenty 100 percentilers this time and all engineers! Being an engineer yourself, according to you, what leverage do engineers have over other students?

Nothing at all! This, according to me, is a complete myth. If anything, more engineers are switching to this field, making their presence noticeable here. All of us have been through the same level of mathematics till class 10, and that is essentially what is needed for CAT.

Q.9 Lastly, did you have to compromise on your extra-curricular activities while preparing for CAT? How do you strike the balance between work and play?

Consistent preparation was what helped me in this aspect. I never had to intensify my preparation at any time. Throughout the year, I devoted a couple of hours each day for it, and worked through the same schedule till the end. Of course it got hectic, as I had to add an altogether new activity in my schedule, but consistent devotion helped me avoid such scenarios and maintain a balance between the preparation and other activities.

Interview by Swareena Gurung for DU Beat

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