The recent spate of glitches in the computer-based Common Admission Test (CAT) 2009 has put those involved on the tenterhooks. As the snags begin to subside at the test centres, Satish Deodhar, convenor of CAT and Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad faculty, speaks to Chitra Unnithan and Vinay Umarji, right after his meeting with Prometric, the developer of computer system for CAT.
It is for the first time in the history of CAT that so much chaos and confusion has been created among authorities and candidates alike. When can the candidates expect any respite from this?
The number of closed test centres are coming down. We have excess capacity at each test centre and we will be able to reschedule every candidate who has been affected soon. Moreover, we have additional two days as buffer with us, which was predecided by both IIMs and Prometric. However, the candidates may not get the best options this time.
The best thing for them to do is to call the toll-free number available on the CAT Web site or to send an email. I extremely regret that candidates have to face this. I empathise with them and I am as much hurt as they are. Even I want them to be in the IIMs and would love to see them walking in our campuses. But given the situation, we all have take it as just another accident.
Somewhere, we had to begin with a computer-based test. The numbers were going up each year and we had to do away with the paper-pencil test. However, anytime we begin something new, we have to go through a transitional phase, and this is one such phase.
Most people are not ready to buy the theory that a virus was behind the system crash at some test centres. The reason being cited is that it was not an online test, rather a computer-based test and that Prometric and NIIT had ample time before the test to debug the systems.
We are raising this issue with Prometric and NIIT, both leading institutions of the world and nation, respectively. In spite of their expertise, such a situtation arose, which was unfortunate.
It was a unanimous decision by the IIMs to assign the delivery job to Prometric and for running the show at the centres to NIIT. The IIMs took care of the content. One must understand that few glitches can always happen and it is never 100 per cent smooth for anything from the start. Some sort of casualties are always there and the virus attack was not anticipated. Moreover, it took us some time to digest the situation to tackle it.
Will Prometric compensate for the loss to IIMs' image and the candidates' discomfort?
Right now the issue is to give a fair test for all the candidates. My current focus is to conduct the test as smoothly as possible. Such decisions will be taken up by the directors of the IIMs. As far as the candidates are concerned, their tests would be rescheduled.
There were reports that in spite of being present at the centres, NIIT, Prometric and IIM officials did not try to pacify the students or even talk to them.
Till last year, we were conducting the test by ourselves. A perfect example would be of Harvard and ETS. While Harvard is a full time management organisation, ETS is a full time testing organisation. The IIMs were meddling with both till last year and this is the first time, that we tried to delineate both. Talks were on since 2003 and a time had to come to separate both and we took this chance to give the task of delivering the test to Prometric and the task of building the infrastructure to NIIT.
Once the mode of the test changed, our focus changed to item development. My colleagues toiled hard to develop the content for CAT and we left the rest to both these organisations. I would look at this as a national experiment. Unfortunately, it was not one of the most pleasant. I would request the candidates to bear with us.
Did IIMs take it casually?
As I said, we were being both a management institute and a test conducting organisation. We had to delink both. So we began focusing on our core competence of developing test items while we left the rest to Prometric and NIIT. As far as our job is concerned, my colleagues worked hard on developing test items. As against 75 questions in one test last year, it was a 10-day test with 20 sets of questions. My colleagues prepared thousands of questions this time.
However, we have asked Prometric about the current status of the snag. By Tuesday, 26 centres were down of which 10 were recovered by Prometric. They have assured us that by Wednesday only two centres will be closed and they are in the process of informing the candidates.
Will the IIMs continue with the online format or scrap it next year?
In the long run, we want to be online and that is the reason we started it this year.
Photograph: Jo Yong Hak/Reuters