Thursday, 27 April, 2006

CAT - A retrospection

CAT (Common Aptitude Test) over the years have witnessed numerous changes and structured with some pitfalls of leaking of a paper. Still it boasts of one the most transparent exam system in the world. CAT is even giving GMAT a run for its money. International business schools have started recognizing CAT scores for admission. The transparency of CAT goes all the way from written test to Group discussion and Personal Interview. Common Aptitude Test ensures that out of a sea of applications of at least 1.5 lakhs, it can eliminate the best out of the rest. There could not be a luckier generation of managers being groomed to take India to higher peaks than we could ever imagine. India is going to become a global destination. It is on the cusp of something big.

Indian economy continues to grow robustly and has been doing so for two decades contemptuously ignoring our series of coalition governments. The last decade particularly witnessed a boom in financial services, IT and consulting which now comprise the bulk of jobs at MBA institutes Post liberalization, the private sector has been in resurgent mode with India being the second fastest growing economies in the world. This has resulted in serious demand for quality managers. Students are increasingly seeking that cutting edge that comes with MBA degree and given that sky rocketing salaries, the return for investment far outweighs the cost. Stanford, Harvard, Kellogg etc are some major B- school brands, which are ranked among the best. However, statically it is difficult to get into IIM than Harvard.

Now what makes CAT one of the toughest exams? How can it gauge the potential of students in 2 hours? CAT is not an adaptive test unlike GMAT. CAT checks out the managerial skills in a student. It is a timed test where a student has to attempt maximum number of questions with good accuracy, as there is a penalty for getting answers incorrect. A student have to perform equally well in all sections which automatically builds pressure and gauges the decision making ability of students under set conditions. Normally it is pursued as a test of intelligence but it has more than that, it requires good reasoning skills along with an attitude to handle the test. CAT from 2000 to be more specific have changed in its structure from incorporating elaborate questions on English and mathematical concepts towards logical questions. It merely requires a presence of mind. It is no more of remembering only mathematical formulas and vocabulary.

Majority of CAT aspirants have the fear of mathematics. Most of them perceive maths as ghosts buried deep in the past, which again resuscitate with CAT. The thought of again studying different formulas, which keeps on changing with conditions, haunts them. Number crunching is again an area where people fear to tread. Again, many of them have lot of misconceptions about CAT. Some feel that they should be intellectually strong and a good communication skill. Some feel it is all about mastering short cuts and plugging in values on some formulae crammed. Engineers are anxious to solve last 10 years of paper, the practice that they religiously follow in college. Commerce students believe that engineers have advantage because of their curriculum. However, Maths, which many believe, is tough and requires and engineering background is a myth. CAT tests on universal math, which any student who has cleared 10 standard can understand. It never asks question purely on calculus that an engineer is more comfortable or on stocks, shares and dividends that a commerce student is comfortable. It is all about selecting the right questions from the paper. Knowledge of concepts gives the confidence to handle a question. With a thorough practice and good confidence, maths can be easily tamed in exam. In all real life situations, what matters most is the final solution the output. The solution or the goal can be fixed but there might be many ways of reaching it. The mission of life is to continuously aim at improvising and improving our approach to problem solving and reach to the final destination. Most of the time problem solving in CAT requires unconventional approaches similar to real life situations we face everyday.

In our current educational system, there is too much emphasis on fixed conventional approaches and very little room provided for using creative brains. Rot learning is instilled right from kindergarten. Students are then discriminated on basis of their marks. In this system, the only unaudited danger is the development of a handicap called mental block that the students develop over a period. Many a time the smart thinking ability of students gets seriously impaired due to inability to overcome the mindsets developed in schools. Recently there was some news in TOI, which had an article on banning on mathematics in school level. Instead, they should look to ways in which maths can be made fun.

Students should be taught why they are learning mathematics in the first place and where do they apply in real life. Annihilation of maths is definitely not the solution The success in solving any problem in CAT depends on how well the students focus on final answer. The final answer is more important than the process of getting it. This is the major difference in the aptitude tests compared to the university exams where 70-80% of the weightage is the approach and hardly 20-30% is allocated to final answer. Finally what is it, that takes to crack CAT is well groomed and finely honed common sense with a fire in the belly.

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