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Computer-based admission tests critical to build managerial pool

September 16, 2010 10:52 IST
As the MBA admissions season begins, a tough but fair, equitable and trusted admission process will give the Indian economy a fillip with a managerial cadre that supplements growth, believes Sanjiv Kataria.

Nearly a million starry-eyed young Indians last week waited keenly for announcements on the start of the process of admission to the hallowed portals of leading management schools.

A flurry of activity kicked in among final-year college students aspiring for a place in the management programmes for the 2011 batch at the ten Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS) in the north, the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) in the west and the Xavier's Labour Relations Institute (XLRI) in the east.

The results of these four MBA entrance exams will allow candidates' entry into these 13 well-known institutes. They are also acceptedby over 200 other MBA institutions as the yardstick for admission to their programmes, many of them equally reputed and having rigorous academic standards.

In recent years there has been an exponential growth in the number of test-takers to IIMs and other management institutes. This has put immense pressure on the testing system as well as the faculty at management institutes, resulting in the search for a computer-based test similar to GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test).

GMAT's standardised tests use psychometric principles to design, calibrate and score questions using advanced statistical models to accurately determine a candidate's aptitude. That is perhaps why it is taken as a benchmark, as its test scores are used by over 1,800 graduate programmes worldwide and have helped establish the MBA degree as a hallmark of excellence in management education.

In India, the equivalent could be the new computer-based assessment model being tried out. On paper, computer-based assessment offers many advantages. A more efficient system, it saves time for students, provides them with the flexibility of choosing and or rescheduling the test date, ensures security and nullifies chances of leaked question papers. Each candidate gets a unique but equivalent question paper. At the same time it also frees up the faculty from unnecessary administrative headaches and gives them more time to concentrate on academics.

The year 2009 was a watershed year in terms of introduction of computer-based testing by the IIMs and NMIMS. XLRI, the 60-year-old management school, pioneered the conduct of the computer-based test, XAT, for pre-admission selection in 2001-02 but reverted to a paper-and-pencil method of testing as the infrastructure was just not ready then. Delhi University's Faculty of Management Studies, that has been offering post-graduate management programmes for over five decades, too follows this traditional method of testing.

The experience of many among the quarter million students who appeared for the first computer-based admission test by US-testing company Prometric, ranged from less than satisfactory to traumatic, while NMIMS admission test (NMAT) takers reported a trouble-free computer-based admission test in early 2010 in terms of student experience despite adherence to strict academic rigour. The entrance exams for XLRI and FMS too went off smoothly.

In response to the issues faced by test-takers, the vibrant management education institutions and testing industry have taken several steps. IIMs have extended the test window to 20 days (from 10 days last year) as a risk mitigation strategy, NMIMS' NMAT is using a 90-day window to move towards "on-demand" testing, following other leading global admission tests, enabling the candidates to take the test when they are best prepared.

NMAT 2011 incorporates many candidate-friendly features. For example, each candidate can opt for three attempts and the highest score out of these attempts will be used for evaluation purposes, akin to how top MBA programmes like Harvard and Wharton use the best score in GMAT. The self-scheduling option will allow candidates to choose the date and time of test in real time mode from the comfort of their homes.

NMIMS has taken a conscious decision to do away with negative marking. Most leading global tests like GMAT, LSAT and GRE do not have negative marking and instead rely on the latest techniques in psychometrics, based on a candidate's response to questions, including taking informed guesses without the fear of losing marks to measure a candidate's aptitude. The candidates must thank NMIMS' testing partner Pearson VUE for taking away the unwarranted stress posed by negative marking in the pre-admission tests.

An educational process, as in any other process, is strongly linked to the quality of input into the process. A well-designed admission test serves the critical purpose of accurately determining a candidate's aptitude best suited for their programmes.

Now is the time for the test-takers to focus on rigorous preparation so that they make it to the top 200 management schools. Only then will India be able to select MBA aspirants who are bright, passionate and committed to making a career. Institutes that have experienced faculty, a strong industry-linked curriculum and students who have triumphed in a tough but fair, equitable and trusted admission process will give the Indian economy a strong fillip with a managerial cadre that supplements growth.

Sanjiv Kataria, a strategic communications andpublic relations counsel, was brand custodian at NIIT group until 2006.

Sanjiv Kataria