CAT ’14 is just a few months away and all serious aspirants are pursuing their preparation with a lot of dedication and sincerity. Yet, one question troubles many CAT ’14 aspirants – after 5 years of controversial Prometric-CATs (CAT ’09 – CAT ’13), will TCS and the IIMs deliver a non-controversial CAT ’14? The Prometric-CATs were plagued by multiple issues and detailed analyses of the issues connected to CAT ’09 and CAT ’13 are available at Ajab CAT ki Gajab Kahani and at Ajab CAT ki Gajab Kahani – Dobara respectively.
Two issues that have disturbed students the most are:
(i) repetition of questions and
(ii) the process of normalization and scaling.
These two issues are interconnected – since Prometric was conducting CAT in about 40 slots, it needed a process to normalize raw scores across different slots. Also, it did not know the competence of students in each slot. Hence, it had to keep a few questions common across slots in order to compare the performance of students who appeared in different slots. The result was that, after the first couple of days, every CAT ’13 aspirant knew about the ant that was trying to find the shortest path from one vertex of a solid cube to the diagonally opposite vertex! No wonder the normalization process has been questioned.
No normalization in CAT’14?
The good news for CAT aspirants is that, with TCS conducting CAT ’14, the process of normalization may not be required at all. TCS conducts IBPS papers for Banking (PO and Clerical) and has conducted tests for more than 10 lakh candidates over two weekends (4 days), with two slots daily – in other words, TCS has the capacity to handle about 1.25 lakh candidates in one slot. Hence, CAT ’14 is likely to be a one-day, two-slot exam, which means that leakage of common questions in the two slots will not matter.
One feature that reduced the five years of Prometric-CAT to a lottery was the variation in not only the level of difficulty of questions but also the topics from where the questions were asked. While some tests had an overdose of algebra, some others were full of geometry. Some CAT ’13 candidates reported questions from trigonometry while others reported questions from set theory. A few lucky candidates had easy questions from their favourite topics while others struggled through the paper. Comparing these 40 different papers of different difficulty level and with a significant variance in the topics from where questions were asked again brought us back to the black box of normalization. Also, while it is difficult to prepare forty papers of similar difficulty level, it can comfortably be achieved for 2-4 papers. Hence, normalization may not be required in CAT ’14.
Overall, I think that CAT ’14 conducted by TCS will lead to:
- CAT being conducted over 1-2 days with 2-4 slots only.
- Standardisation in the topics being tested with all tests covering all the topics.
- With standardisation in the topics, the level of difficulty of the questions will also be maintained across the various slots.
- Normalization may not be required at all.
- TCS has enough experience of conducting tests to ensure little or no technical glitches.
- Given the reach of TCS, the number of test centers might go up. Prometric had cut down on the number of centers, possibly due to its inability to find good quality testing venues.
What else should IIMs/TCS do?
In addition to the normalization process, the biggest fear that candidates have is that their responses may not have been recorded by the system. CAT authorities might laugh at this concern but, given the high stakes, I see no harm in letting candidates know their section wise attempts at the end of the paper – an email to candidates confirming the same will also be helpful.
I have seen almost all CAT exams of the last 20 years and can confidently state that almost all of them (including the 5 Prometric-CATs) had at least a few errors. To ensure that no candidate suffers due to an error in the question paper, CAT authorities should, after conducting the test:
- Release the question paper(s) along with the answer key. Answer keys for JEE, CLAT, etc. are released by the respective bodies that conduct these exams. This ensures greater transparency and provides greater clarity to candidates regarding their marks.
- Give candidates three days to report any error that they identify in the question paper(s).
- Release a final answer key after considering the errors reported by candidates.
- Release the OMR-equivalent for all candidates, i.e. the answer marked by the candidate, and the correct answer for all questions.
This will ensure that CAT ’14 and subsequent editions of CAT are free from controversy and students do not doubt their results. However, considering that CAT officials tend to treat every piece of data as an “Official Secret”, I am reasonably confident that none of the above will be implemented. But, I hope to be proven wrong.