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Tackling The Cat Online

With CAT going online from next year, aspirants will have to brace themselves with new skill sets.

Although the news about CAT going online may be stale to a CAT aspirant, the intricacies involved are still far from clear. Some students may still be under the impression that nothing has changed, but the reality is otherwise. Shifting from a pen-paper format to a computer format would not be simple. It will require a flexible approach and strong fundamentals. Simply learning how to operate the computer will not suffice. What would be challenging is to practise reading and thinking while working on the computer. They definitely are different when compared to doing it on the paper.

Let’s ponder on why IIMs are taking this computer testing route. Apart from the CAT 2003 leak, the CAT has had an unblemished record. I think the reason lies in the burgeoning numbers of CAT applicants. The numbers have moved from 90,000 aspirants to 2.3 lakh aspirants over a span of four years. It is a far cry in comparison to the CAT just a decade back when the number of CAT applicants was somewhere around 35,000. The ensuing complexities and the operational hassles of conducting the CAT across multiple centres testing close to 2.3 lakh applicants must have forced the IIMs to look at these alternative routes for testing. The CAT committee must be consumed with the fear of security breaches to the test process.  Any mishap at any one centre/ city on the day could lead to chaos in the testing process. Apart from that, the fact that CAT in its new avatar will also allow a host of other flexibilities, could be why IIMs are taking this major decision. So convenience of testing across geographies is far and wide, standardisation of tests is possible, as well as conducting the test at any time of the year. Also all the major tests conducted in this space follow the computer testing format.

So ultimately, what does this mean to a student? First, comfort with working on and reading from the computer is a must. Second, part of your practice should shift to computers. Also the student should get accustomed to the idea of thinking in a non-paper context. Though, I fundamentally do not see any big difference in the way people would learn, I do foresee more people learning through the computers. The CAT is known for surprises and for 2009 the surprise would be that it will be the first time that CAT will take this computer testing route. The comfort level with computers will need to increase substantially. Although the areas of testing would largely remain the same, the test taking strategy will undergo a substantial change.

 
The areas of testing are expected to remain the same. The areas tested in CAT are similar to various aptitude exams conducted world over.

That means Quant, Data interpretation and Verbal Ability are expected to stay as of now. As far as questions like re-punching answers is concerned, it will depend on whether the test pattern followed is that of Computer based online test (where you can scroll through the entire paper) or a computer adaptive test (where questions are served one after the other).

In the former case the format will be similar to the pen-paper format with students getting the option to change answers. On the other hand if the test adopts the latter way, students cannot skip or alter answers to any question and thus will require basic familiarity with each and every topic/subject.

The biggest fear in the minds of the student would be the fact that this is the first time CAT will follow this pattern. This uncertainty element would be the foremost fear factor for the student. Logically, the questions may be a shade simpler if the CAT adopts the GMAT pattern. The student however will need to have basic comfort level with all topics. There is plenty of time left and so everybody needs to get going now.

So it implies that students will require new skill sets to crack the online CAT.  These will include being well accustomed to computers, being comfortable in reading and comprehending from computers, and average comfort level in every topic/subject which could be a very critical skill if the test is an adaptive test on the lines of GMAT/GRE. Try reading e-books too! Also, take as many online tests as you can (available on mba.careerlauncher.com). Offline or online, do not compromise on the fundamentals and build your basic skills for all three sections in depth  and finally, be prepared mentally and do not ignore the fundamental concepts of any topic. If the test forces you to attempt all questions, you would be at the receiving end if you have ignored certain topics/subjects.  

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