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CAT 2009: The IIMs' uncertainty principle

Last updated on: March 10, 2010 15:24 IST

The Common Admission Test or CAT as the exam is popularly known is the ticket to the dreams of thousands of students to gain admission to the prestigious Indian Institutes of Management.

This exam's popularity can be gauged from the fact that the number of applicants has been on the rise over the years and the hype surrounding the exam has only intensified.

It is one of the most sacrosanct exams to be held because the institutes conducting the exam -- the IIMs -- are government controlled and financed autonomous institutes with the most prestigious name in the industry. Some of the best companies throng its campuses during placement season and offer astronomic compensation packages.

However, CAT 2009 was in the news for all the wrong reasons. The institutes decided to take the test online to apparently cut down on the logistical problems associated with the whopping number of applications and to be at par with international exams like GMAT and GRE. But what followed was far from what was expected.

The IIMs decided to entrust the responsibility of carrying out the computer-based exam to Prometric, known for its successful conduct of the GMAT and GRE exams. And this is the story since then...

Admission process
The process was replete with glitches right from the very start. The application process faced impediments unexpected for an exam of such scale.

To be fair to Prometric, they did rectify the problem but at a later stage, causing students who had submitted the form earlier to panic.

Since Day 1, candidates faced a variety of problems. Technical glitches and server crashes sent students crying foul.

While a re-test was conducted for aggrieved students, there were many who still felt the system was unfair.

With the initial and continued issues the CAT faced, the results were the main topic of debate. Would the results be fair -- that was the one question on top of everyone's mind. Given the background, the results were a contentious issue. However, this was the only time that the IIMs met expectations...unfortunately.

Students who had secured 99+ in the last few years but did not make the final cut landed up with an inexplicable score of around 90 percentile. Students who had never dreamt of doing great found themselves with 98 percentiles. It appeared almost like a random and arbitrary distribution of scores. And by not revealing the details of the scoring, the final figures are even more cause for skepticism.

Let us look at the issues involved.

Taking all these issues into consideration it is hard to see the 2010 admission process as 'fair'. The IIMs are reputed to incubate the best minds in the country, however with the sanctity of the test and its results questionable, the quality of this year's intake unfortunately also suffers the same fate.

The views expressed are purely personal and are not of the organisation the writer represents.

ARKS Srinivas, Director, TIME Mumbai