Confused by the Online CAT Exam ?

Posted on the September 18th, 2009 under CAT by rishir

Every November, students aspiring to pursue the coveted MBA at the Indian Institutes of Management appear for the CAT — arguably, the largest management entrance exam in the country. But this November will be different. Setting a precedent, the CAT will be the first MBA entrance exam to go online. The anticipation attached to the e-CAT this year has created a lot of buzz about what the actual nature of the e-CAT may turn out to be. Rumours have been flying thick and fast, and students are likely to be misled by the clutter of contradictory information out there. In this article, we’ve sifted through all the information to help you understand the differences between the paper-based CAT and the computerized CAT.

DIFFERENCE #1: The number of questions and amount of time is different

Over the past couple of years, the CAT has been 150-minutes (or two and a half hours) long. CAT 2009, however, will be a 135-minute exam. This is not obvious in the CAT bulletin, as there is a 15-minute tutorial at the beginning of CAT 2009. In addition, CAT 2009 is the first ever CAT, where the number of questions in the test has been declared prior to the exam. We now know that the forthcoming CAT will have 60 to 70 questions. This is unlike CAT 2008, which had 90 questions or CAT 2006/2007, which had 75 questions each.

Let’s first dispel the rumour that fewer questions portend a tougher CAT. The reduced number is caused by: a) The reduced time b) The lowered speed of reading off a computer screen. Until last year, you could make it to an IIM with a net score as low as 40% (not percentile). This meant that you could prepare for half the syllabus really well and still secure admission. This year, the required score may not change significantly, which means that you will have fewer questions to skip, and consequently, fewer topics to skip.

DIFFERENCE #2: You can no longer underline phrases, or mark the question paper

In multiple-choice exams like the CAT, it often makes more sense to reject incorrect answer choices, rather than attempt to directly mark the right one. Most notably, in algebra, critical reasoning and reading comprehension, students arrive at their answer by striking out unlikely choices. Others underline part of the problem to aid them in arriving at a solution. These strategies can’t work in a computerized exam. You could mimic them by using rough paper, but that could end up being a recipe for confusion. Hence you must evolve your strategies to accommodate the fact that you cannot touch the test paper.

DIFFERENCE #3: The number of options will be different

Though this might change as we approach end-November, at this point of time, the IIMs are indicating that CAT 2009 will have four multiple choices and not five, as has been the norm. This should cause a substantial strategic shift.
Negative marking exists to negate any score increase from random guessing. Probability calculations, hence, dictate that an incorrect answer in a five-option exam should attract a score of minus 0.25. But this penalty increases to minus 0.33 in the case of a four-option exam. Hence the need to avoid mistakes is higher in CAT 2009. The upside is that fewer choices reduce the number of likely incorrect choices from four to three, while maintaining the number of correct choices at one, thereby reducing the likelihood of choosing an incorrect option.

DIFFERENCE #4: Reading a comprehension passage will be challenging

DIFFERENCE #5: Computer skills are important

DIFFERENCE #6: The computer constantly ‘reviews’ attempts

DIFFERENCE #7: Your test date could make a difference

DIFFERENCE #8: Your practice tests could be irrelevant

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