My CAT experience: 'Nerve-wracking, but not bad'
As CAT 2010 testing rolls on, we invited test-takers to share their experiences. Here Ketaki Bakshi and Gaurav Dave discuss their test day and share some helpful tips for candidates yet to take the test.
First up is Ketaki Bakshi:
My mom taught me a very simple rule when I was younger. If you don't like the vegetables on your plate, finish them first or you will not be able to enjoy the rest of your lunch. I was among the very fortunate ones last year to have had a smooth CAT experience. But I was not too sure this year would be the same and so I chose the first day, first slot this year so that I could get done with this could-be unpleasant experience and focus on other exams where I stand a better chance.
I tried downloading directions to the test site on Monday and Tuesday, but couldn't due to some technical problem. After trying to download it a couple of times I called Candidate Care on Tuesday evening. I was getting worried as I had no clue about how to reach the venue. People at Candidate Care gave me directions to the centre and were quite helpful. The IVR tested my patience though.
On Wednesday morning, I had a good breakfast and left for the venue at 7:00 am sharp after making sure that I had my voucher, admit card and my passport with me. I also carried a bottle of water.
The venue fortunately was easy to find. There were CAT 2010 hoardings showing directions to the centre all over the place. Prometric does take care of these small things very well. I wasn't expecting too many people at the centre for the first slot, but seems like many students like to finish tasteless vegetables first! So there were a lot of students at the centre when I reached. The building looked dilapidated and nobody could imagine that it housed a CAT centre.
The traumatic wait started very soon. There was one line on the ground floor where a person checked our admit cards against the list that he had. Then there was another one from where candidates were allowed to go upstairs to the labs in groups of five. A round of frisking followed and we had to deposit our bags and purses. There was no token system like last year and I was actually worried about the safety of my belongings. There was a third line for the biometric profiling. This year the wait was bearable simply because I was mentally prepared for it. But it was physically quite tiring. My fingerprinting took a lot of time. I must have had to place my finger at least 10-12 times thanks to my nerves, which were making sure my hands were trembling. The Prometric staff was very patient and kept saying, "Please relax" all the while. When that was finally done, I was allowed inside the lab.
The lab was claustrophobic. It was too crowded. My seat was at the end of a row towards the wall and a whole row of candidates had to stand up and come out for letting me in. The proctors soon came and entered their admin usernames and passwords to start the test. Some tests launched immediately...mine didn't! Some people around me started their tests. I was looking around nervously for help. The thought of my test getting cancelled was terrible. I hate the wait before any exam and I didn't want to go through it again on another day. There were others like me too.
The staff was polite and helpful and told us everything would be all right. The test did start around 10:45 am. I launched the tutorial just to get familiar with the mouse and finished it within 3 minutes. I was waiting for the test to start when my screen went blank! I was shocked. Did I press something and terminate the test? I frantically called a proctor. The place was such that the proctor had to hit and push and shove a couple of chairs to reach me. Wonder why the place was so cluttered. They could have done with a couple of PCs less in every row. The proctor looked at my blank screen and gave a blanker look. He called in his senior who forced a smile and went away without saying anything. I was completely confused. Another 5 minutes went by and then suddenly my monitor came to life... the pop up said "Test Initializing. Test Initializing" and the test actually started.
It was quite smooth after this. I attempted the questions in each section I was very sure about. I then did a second round through all the sections and picked some more. Finally I went to the review screen and reviewed the incomplete ones and attempted some more. I attempted around 40 with a very high accuracy. I think my attempts are low but am banking on accuracy. In any case, with things like scaling coming into picture, it is very difficult to say how much I will score. I can just focus on the other exams that are coming up and keep my fingers crossed till January 12.
To summarise, the experience was not great, but not bad either. I was not happy with the centre, but the staff was good. Questions took time to load; there was a delay between the moment I pressed the next or previous button and the moment that the question actually loaded. This would have cost me around 1.5 minutes in all, which, I believe, is not too much.
My suggestions for candidates who would be taking the test on subsequent days:
- First and foremost, be well fed and well rested on the day of the exam. The exam is as physically taxing as it is mentally. Sit down wherever you can outside the centre. Standing in long queues for two hours is very tiring.
- Remember to carry water and some light snacks (fruits, dry fruits, chocolates) to keep yourself and your mind in an optimum condition to take the test.
- Be mentally prepared for a long wait.
- Carry minimum luggage with you and avoid carrying any valuables like mobile phones, iPods, watches etc. Leaving belongings outside the lab keeps a part of your mind thinking about them all through the test.
Wish you all the best!
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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/ Rediff.com
'Dont' skip the tutorial'
CAT, by its very nature, can cause a heightened state of anxiety and fill a student with trepidation. Couple that with the fear of not being sure about the test-taking environment -- will the test go smoothly, will my computer work, will the questions load correctly, and so on -- and you have a perfect paranoia and dread inducing scenario.
Some of these thoughts did enter my mind when I left for the centre to appear for the "first day - first slot" of CAT 2010. Luckily for me, I had been able to book the same centre as last time ie Thakur College of Science and Commerce (Mumbai) and so did not really have to worry too much about finding it.
Keeping that in mind, I left at 7:45 am and easily managed to reach the centre at 8:20 pm. This is when I got a nasty surprise. The watchman at the gate told me that no bags would be allowed inside the college campus. That's right! No bags would be allowed within the college campus, not the actual lab, or floor, or building, but anywhere within the campus!
Probably, the organisers had expected everybody to use their own vehicle! Anyway, I was curtly told that this was given on the website and that I could carry my mobile phone and wallet inside the building where they would have to be deposited. I did try to reason with them but to no avail.
The only option I had was to keep my bag with a shopkeeper across the road who was graciously allowing students to keep their bags outside at no cost. However, this not only took an additional 10-15 minutes but also exponentially added to my stress. I wonder what this would have done to the psyche of a first-time test-taker.
Once this "minor" obstacle was out of the way, my admit card, voucher and photo ID were checked. I was checked at four different levels before I managed to reach the floor on which the exam was to be conducted. When I reached the main testing area, a guard frisked me from head to toe and sent me across to a counter where I had to submit my mobile phone and all other possessions, except my wallet.
I could have very happily carried a couple of dozen important formulae inside the lab (not that I did anything of that sort) and the authorities would have been happy thinking that they made me deposit my pencil, house keys and handkerchief (a potential security threat)! The person at the counter (who had been standing some 15 feet away from the security guard and watching the frisking) then asked me (again) whether my pockets were empty. The implicit assumption in this whole process was "We do not trust you as a student AND we do not trust our own layers of security!".
My only thought on this whole thing at that time was "Compliance and controls cannot be a substitute for common sense, all three have to go hand in hand". By the way, a friend who appeared at the Vikhroli (Mumbai) centre in the same slot told me that there were allowed to take their bags inside the centre but had to keep them in a corner. So much for standardisation and controls!
At this stage, I was quite sceptical about the whole test. However, my initial frustration got converted into customer satisfaction by the time I was done with the test. Once I had submitted all my things, matters improved quite markedly. We were ushered in a classroom where there were around 12-15 students already present. Students did keep coming in till around 8:45 (the time when I left the classroom). The biometric process (photograph plus finger scanning) was similar to last year and went off smoothly. However, a new feature here was that the person doing this asked me specifically whether I was appearing for CAT for the second or third time. I observed that my fingerprint had matched one in the database of previous CAT takers. Consequently, the person recorded the same in her database and allowed me to enter the lab.
In the lab, the process was again quite smooth and we were assigned our respective computers without any trouble. Fortunately the entire computer hardware was good and in fine working order. At this point, I do have to say that the staff within the lab (some 6-7 different invigilators) were polite and helpful. They helped each student log in and clearly instructed us not to do anything till further instructions were received. The only glitch came in some 5-10 minutes before the exam started. The invigilators were not very sure when the tutorial was to be started. Some felt that it could be started before 10 am and the test was to be directly launched at 10 am while some felt that the tutorial also could not be started before 10 am. Thankfully, this was resolved around 10 am and we managed to start on time.
Now, coming to the tutorial and test. The tutorial was instructive in terms of what to expect from each screen and was something that should not have been skipped. Even if you feel that you know all about the interface, I would recommend that you do go through the tutorial for 8-10 minutes because it will not only condition you for the test, but also soothe your nerves before you look at the questions for the first time. Also, time saved on skipping the tutorial does not get added to the test, so there is no real benefit derived from skipping the tutorial.
As far as the test is concerned, though I cannot disclose things about the questions, pattern, etc, I will talk about a few things that I observed. As mentioned earlier by the CAT authorities, there were 60 questions in all and each section had 20 questions. Also, the questions within a section were arranged together. Thus, it may help if you start off by clicking on the "Review" button and then double-click on questions 1, 21 and 41 before attempting a single question.
You may want to look at the questions in the section that you had planned to attempt first and then start solving. I had planned to scan each section before solving. However, when I started my first section, I found that the first question was something I could answer and so did just that without any further scanning. This process continued for some 7-8 questions before I got stuck on a particular question and had to scan and solve the remaining questions in this section before I came back to it.
A good thing about group questions was that all questions for that group were simultaneously visible on the right vertical pane. Also, a tab on the top of the screen mentioned the number of questions in that set. So, for instance if a group question had 3 questions, the tab would say "Questions 24-26 of 60". This helped strategise in terms of whether to attempt the question at that time or later.
Compared to last year, the images, equations and data did load properly and so there was no significant issue there. The only place where I faced a problem was when a certain question had one symbol missing and so I had to make an assumption.
Thus, on the whole, the paper went off quite well and I managed to complete the paper with around 15-20 minutes to spare. I managed to use that time to have a second look at questions where I wasn't too sure. Once the test ended, we were asked to wait in the lab till everyone had completed and left.
All in all, it was a marked improvement in terms of test quality and delivery compared to 2009. Hope everyone else on the subsequent days and slots has a good experience and does well