The Common Admission Test (CAT)

While the CAT notification and the CAT bulletin have cleared the air on a number of issues that have been plaguing students, there are still a number of issues about which the test-takers have no clue! Let us look at some of the key issues.

Duration of the CAT - Implications:

Let us look at the issue that is of greatest concern to most test takers – the duration of the test. The CAT bulletin has specified that the duration of CAT 2006 will be two-and-a-half hours , instead of the usual two hours. This has taken a number of students by surprise.

What does this increase in duration mean to you as a test-taker? One possibility is that the number of questions can go up. But, if you look at the issue closely, two things become clear.

The first is that without any change in the duration in the last 15 years, the CAT paper has carried different number of questions in different years. Hence, the change in the duration of the test does not necessarily point to a change in the number of questions.

The second issue is that the highest marks scored in the CAT in the last couple of years is much lower than the maximum mark possible in the paper. For example, in CAT 2005, the highest mark scored was 79 out of a possible 150. This was when the duration of the paper was two hours. With an extra 30 minutes, even if the students can score proportionately more marks, the highest score will touch about 100 out of a possible 150 in a paper like CAT 2005. Hence, there is no need for an increase in the number of questions just because the duration of the test has increased.

Does the increase in the duration of the test mean that there will now be more difficult questions in the CAT paper?

Once again, these two issues are not linked at all. The difficulty level of questions was raised in the past for the same two-hour paper. When the difficulty level of questions can increase even when there is no change in the duration of the paper, there can certainly be more difficult questions when the duration increases. As a prospective test-taker, one should not worry about the difficulty level of the questions, but prepare to the best of one’s ability and try no to loose it on the day of the test. In any case, it is relative performance that matters for selection and not absolute performance.

Minimum marks in Qualifying Exam:

Students should score a minimum of 50% marks in their graduation to be eligible to write the CAT. The notification only lays this condition under the heading “eligibility for applying to PGP” and it does not say that you cannot write CAT if you do not have 50% marks. This, on the surface, implies that if one is not applying to the IIMs and does not have 50% or more in the qualifying exam, he can write the CAT to apply to other B-Schools that use the CAT score as a benchmark. However, a closer examination will reveal that this is not the case. The student will need to satisfy this 50% requirement even to just write the CAT. This is borne out by the list of documents that need to be submitted along with the CAT application form. This list includes the marks memo.

Of course, if the test taker has not completed his graduation, he should have a 50% average till the pre-final year. For this, a letter from the college principal, in the format given in the CAT bulletin, must be included along with the application. Remember, that being allowed to write the CAT is not a guarantee that the test-taker will be granted an admission to the IIMs if he does not score the requisite minimum academic percentage.

However, a concession that the IIMs have made this year is that this 50% can be calculated the same way the university calculates the aggregate – even if the university excludes some subjects in its calculation of academic percentages (in the past, the IIMs have specified that all subjects should be included). This will come as a great relief to some students.

The minimum aggregate marks of 50% mentioned above is only for candidates in the general category; it is 45% in case of candidates belonging to reserved categories like Schedule Castes (SC) / Schedule Tribes (ST) / Persons with Disability (PWD).

Reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs):

The standard reservation for SCs (15%), STs (7 ½%), and PWD (3%) is there this year too. In addition to this, there could also be reservations for OBCs as per the new policy of the Government of India. The IIMs have stated that they have not yet received any official communication on this and they will implement reservations based on the communication they receive from the central government in this regard.

However, students belonging to OBC category are advised to attach the caste certificate along with the CAT application form to be eligible for any reservation that may be implemented later. If you belong to any of the specified categories, then do not forget to indicate it appropriately in the CAT application form.

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