Wednesday, March 3, 2010

the CAT experience

It is a well known fact that the Common Admission Test (CAT), the entrance examination for the coveted IIM’s, is one of the most sought after, prepared and difficult examinations in the country. That more than 2 lakhs students appeared for it this year is proof enough (there was a drop of around 12% in students appearing due to online submissions) There isn’t an exam in the country which is given not just by students of almost all streams but young professionals as well. People keep attempting for it even after reaching higher positions in their respective fields to climb that corporate ladder just a bit more. More than 90 colleges open their doors to students on their CAT percentiles along with the IIM’s of course.
The buzz in the air when I started preparing for it since last year was that it’s going online. It was confirmed earlier this year that it is indeed going to be online.
Why are they going online? What is the structure going to be like and are we going to be able to perform as efficiently in a computer based test as on a paper based test?
(Sitting in front of it for a period of over two hours without moving from your seat is a challenge in itself) These were the two primary questions that bothered us the most.
The first question was answered by an IIM-A alumnus who happened to be an ex-IMS student. He took a session with us where he told us that this was being done (CAT going online) since a lot of professors at IIM’s weren’t able to concentrate on teaching as they had to go through the rigors of organizing the CAT exam and then conduct the GD/PI’s of the ones selected in the written paper. He said that this was the prime reason for CAT being conducted online. Makes sense.
As for the second question there was no way of a clear cut answer unless someone finally took it. So coaching institutes came out to students’ rescue by offering their insights and computer based mock tests which were as much as Rs 300 per test for some institutes.
When the CAT notification came out and said that it’ll be conducted over a period of a week with two or three slots on each day. That means they’ll have to make 20 papers of equal difficulty without much similarity. How are they going to do it? And how are they going to judge two people on the same scale who has given different papers?
We said: it’s the IIM’s. They are the best institutes in the country. We shouldn’t question their technique or authority.
Based on the ghost stories of other candidates who took the test, when the CAT exam kicked off as scheduled on 28th Nov’ 09 all the questions took a tailspin and only one haunted every student. Would I be able to give my exam without any hassles?
Will the server break down? Will the computer tank in the middle? Is my exam going to be rescheduled?
My CAT date was set by me on 6th December at a destination which was the closest city to mine. Five of us sailed to another shore, since it wasn’t being conducted in my city, a day before the exam. It turned out that all the centers around that city were at least 30 kms from the main city. Some of my friends picked one after concerning their pundits and all. We set off at 11:00 a.m. since we didn’t know how long it will take to reach there. We arrived there at 12:00. Our exam was scheduled to start at 3:30 and we were supposed to report one and a half hour before the allotted time.
On our way, before we had even reached the destination one of my friends received a call from another friend who has already reached the center that out of the three labs there two haven’t been able to conduct the exam due to server problems.
Our greatest fears which had taken a backseat due to our excitement about giving our first CAT paper resurfaced. When we reached there, an artistically done modern campus right in the middle of those fields which you see while peeping through a train or a bus caught our attention. There was just a gomti (a tea stall) in front of it and the rest of it was land.
We weren’t allowed to enter the campus premises since an exam was already underway. All kinds of news were floating around. This batch of role numbers hasn’t been able to give the exam. That one was able to see the screen but the computer just didn’t start. We were fortunate that we have had our breakfast before arriving there because for the next five hours we wouldn’t be able to have a clean glass of water, leave alone anything to eat. As our scheduled time came we were informed that one batch will be able to give its exam while one won’t be able to. My batch was supposed to wait; we might or might not be able to. One of my friends was in the batch that got postponed right away. The rest of us waited without anything in our stomach in front of that gigantic campus on a ground where one couldn’t sit.
At 4:30 we were allowed to enter the premises to visit the canteen but still there was no news as to whether our exam would be conducted. Hoards of students along with their parents have already left because it was getting cold and dark. The canteen had only juice and cakes which were small in number and probably a few weeks old, but they vanished in no time. After we have had our small evening snack we were again asked to leave the campus since the batch in which I was supposed to give exam was underway.
Around 5:00 p.m. we got the news that our exam will be held and we were asked to form a line. All four of us fell in line along with the rest. After the regular checkups and physical ones mind you, we reached the lab. I, along with one of my friends, got to give the exam while two of my friends who have waited all this while weren’t. The number of computers that were functioning properly was less than the number of students outside the lab (forget the ones who have already left).
As we were about to enter the lab my friend asked for a glass of water. He was told that he would be given one soon. At 5:30 our exam started with a head which was about to burst due to hunger and anger. We had to take the toughest exam of our life for which some of us have spent thousands of rupees (taking in account the forms we have filled for other colleges and the fees of coaching institutes) in a condition in which one wouldn’t want to see a movie. My friend wasn’t given the glass of water he has asked earlier because the exam has started and students weren’t allowed to move while giving the exam.
The misery didn’t end there. We were given seats right next to the door, so we could hear the conversations that the invigilators were having amongst themselves discussing their jacket colors. And we were constantly disturbed by the sing tones on their mobile phones which kept ringing every now and then. How we managed through that two and a half hours solving some of the trickiest questions is still a mystery to me.
At 8:00 p.m. almost on the verge of collapsing we came out of the examination hall into the open with no means to travel back to our respective destinations.
Sounds like a fantasy but this is the first hand account of CAT ’09.
Three of my friends returned without giving the paper after spending so much time, energy and money. Lots have. They are students and they don’t have a sessional or any other engagement right now so they can give it again on any date scheduled.
They will once again go through the same rigors, this time though the excitement won’t be the same. Fear will still be dominant.
But what about those professional candidates who won’t be able to excuse themselves for another date from there office?
And what about us who did manage to give the exam, but not in the same way we conditioned ourselves to? And how will be my score compared to a student who has given the exam smoothly without any hassles or the one whose pc hanged for ten times? What about those who left the center and won’t be able to give it this year?
The CAT administrators say that these problems can be solved only by God and that they are human. Of course to err is human, but one can take precautions when one knows that the mistake will keep continuing ad infinitum.

1 comment:

Nova said...

Really sorry to read of your bad experience... Its quite sad the way things happened!! Sometimes I wonder if CAT really is worth all the pain?