The Common Admission Test (CAT) going online this year comes as welcome news. Now, CAT test will be conducted over a few test days rather than on one day and it will be similar to the pattern of the GMAT and GRE. MBA aspirants would have the flexibility of choosing the day and time of giving computer-based tests (CBT). While global CBTs like IELTS, TOEFL, GRE, GMAT have been conducted in India for over 10 years, CAT is a recent addition.
As of now, the opportunity for appearing for the CAT comes only once a year. If a student is not able to appear for the test on the stipulated day, s/he has to wait for the next year. Since CBT-CAT may be held on more than one day, students get more options. Following this, if the IIMs allow, students may get more than one attempt in a year to crack the CAT.
The advantages of CAT going online
Greater flexibility in timing and scheduling of the test. This will allow more students to be able to take the exam which will also create more competition.
Like the GMAT and other CBTs, there could be the possibility of retaking the test in the same year instead of waiting for the next year (depending on CAT policy).
In the long run this will significantly reduce the cost of administering these exams since manual checking is time consuming.
CBTs will also encourage the IIMs to open more testing centres in the future allowing for further flexibility for students to take the exam, since the marginal cost associated with one more student taking a CBT is comparatively less than in the manual process.
If test scores are made available immediately after the test then students can apply to colleges in a more targeted manner.
Significant challenges associated with a computer based CAT
In the past there was one exam and all students had to appear for the same exam so the results were comparable. With a CBT, students take the CAT exam with different questions on different days. The IIMs will need to make sure that the different exams have the same level of difficulty in a country where even a 1-per cent difference in marks can make or break the chance of admission into a college.
Many students today do not have access to personal computers in their home. To be successful in a CBT, proficiency in using a computer is a must especially since the time allotted is limited. This could put economically backward students at a disadvantage. Students who do not have access to computers at home should try to practice exams which are available on the internet at public/ college libraries/ cyber cafes.
Limited access to computers and internet connection for students living in remote areas is going to be a problem.
The test format of the CAT, as it has been used earlier (paper and pen), is not suited for a computer-based test as it required a lot of calculations. The same thing cannot be reproduced with a computer-based test. Hopefully the test makers will look into this and design the format accordingly.