PaGaLGuY catches up with Prof Himanshu Rai, the man responsible for the Common Admissions Test (CAT) 2010 for a quick interview. Excerpts:
CAT 2010 being a month away, how do you feel about the preparations by Prometric?
I'm extremely happy. Nothing untoward has happened until now during the testing of the infrastructure and we have put in place the right precautionary measures to ensure a smooth conduct of the test. So I'm perfectly upbeat about everything.
We are working with three mantras. First, we want a good testing experience for the candidates. Second, we want to put forth a good reliable test that measures the abilities of the candidates. Third, we are strengthening all backend processes involved in the test conduct.
Last year's CAT Convenor Prof Satish Deodhar spent harrowing days and nights during the 10 days of the CAT 2009. Do you feel tense about the 20 days starting October 27?
I don't feel tense at all. It is because he had such a tense time that I don't have to worry about many things this year. There were technical problems that his team faced which were initially beyond his control but when the second phase of the test happened he handled it really well. Also I should tell you that my style of working is a very detached one. I am very passionate about what I do during the day but I don't take it with me when I go to bed. I don't come from an academic background. I have spent nine years working in operations roles with Tata Steel and I know that for projects such as these I have to give it my best shot during the day and then go to sleep peacefully at night.
What would your message be to candidates who are taking CAT 2010 with a very skeptical mindset due to last year's experiences?
I would like to clear the skepticism among the candidates and ask them to take the test without any fear. These are young, smart people who have the ability to understand what really happened last year. From our perspective, even if one person out of the entire set of test-takers is affected then without doubt we owe him an apology.
Last year, a total of 6,000 people were affected due to the so-called technical glitches. Among the 6,000 I am also counting the ones sitting next to those who were affected and got distracted in the process. Now 6,000 out of 2.4 lakhs is an acceptable number anywhere. But the thing with the CAT is that it is an event that catches so many eyeballs and is scrutinised by the public or in the media so much, and that also includes the work you do, that things end up looking bigger than they actually are.
Now one has to understand that the format change in CAT last year was simply unprecedented in terms of the sheer numbers. We had a huge task in front of us. I'll give you an example. At several testing centres, we were given computers that had it written on their outside that they had a certain configuration which was acceptable to us. But after switching them on one realised that their configurations were entirely different.
Similarly, while counting the terminals we were shown that the installed antivirus was a registered version. But later, we realised that it was a pirated version (implying that it could be cracked software). It is not humanly possible to switch on and check each and every terminal to verify such kind of things. I'm not saying that we don't take responsibility for the technical faults of last year but I am suggesting everyone to look at last year from a larger perspective and move on.
To come back to your original question, I feel that the candidates should concentrate on taking the exam and not get distracted by all the negative talk. Their job is to prepare for the exam and our job is to ensure a smooth test and we will make sure it happens.
What kind of question paper can candidates expect in CAT 2010?
Like that in every year. We have prepared a good test this year which is rich, reliable and tough.
How do you suggest candidates react when they are passed on questions from earlier slots by their coaching institutes or on blogs?
I would ask them to take those questions with not a pinch, but a ton of salt. Every slot has unique questions so knowing earlier questions means nothing.
MBA entrance exams across the board are seeing reduced registrations. Do you foresee a similar trend in the CAT too?
I am not the kind of person who speculates and I cannot comment until the CAT registrations are closed. But I can try to reason why the numbers are going down in general on other exams. One, I think that this year the economy is doing pretty okay so people want to hold on to the jobs they already have.
Two, an exam such as CAT caters to hundreds of institutes many of whom are in the B and C category. I won't name all these institutes but during the economic recession, these institutes were not able to provide jobs to the expectations of students. People who are considering these institutes take feedback from other people and rely on word of mouth. They would come to know from these channels that these institutes are not able to provide jobs.
So if numbers in the CAT at all go down, I think it would be because of the falling interest in those b-schools. But the number of good candidates who are serious about getting into premier institutes such as the IIMs is not falling.
Prometric says that they have given you a list of proxy test-takers from CAT 2009. Are you taking any action against them?
For last year, action will be taken by last year's CAT committee. Prometric would have sent them a list but I wouldn't know what they have done with it. But I can talk about this year and any person who violates the confidentiality clause in CAT is going to be dealt with very seriously. This also includes those who practice fraud such as appearing for the test in someone else's name. We will deal with such people very seriously, for the the sake of the honest people.
Can you comment on reports that the IIMs are planning to set up their own testing company?
Not at all, why would we start a testing company? We wouldn't have asked Prometric to step in if we were going to start something on our own account. As of now the IIMs deal directly with Prometric. Possibly, the speculation could have been that the IIMs could create some kind of a company which has representatives from IIM.
Right now we function as a committee comprising the Directors of IIM lucknow and IIM Calcutta and I happen to be the Convener. But so far I am doing this as a part of IIM Lucknow itself because I am also a professor here. So maybe there could be the possibility of an arrangement where I could have taken off for a year and managed CAT completely independently. Possibly that kind of a thing could be looked at in the future but we wouldn't start a testing agency ourselves.
IIM Raipur is already admitting students on the basis of CAT 2009 scores but it doesn't feature on the CAT 2010 website. Is it part of the CAT 2010 admissions?
Definitely, it has to be. The only thing is that all backend processes (of creating the CAT website) got frozen because we had to start the registration process. The website was frozen before IIM Raipur came up with their admissions notification. So its name does not appear on the CAT website but we'll take out a special ad for it saying hey, come and apply to IIM Raipur.
I have no idea about whether IIM Trichy, Kashipur and Udaipur will be part of the CAT 2010 process. All I can say is that sooner or later these IIMs have to come up. Much depends on the mentoring institutes responsible for these new IIMs. We ourselves are facing a faculty crunch all around and unless we are confident that we can run another institute, I think that people at IIMs would generally be circumspect.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com