Belling the CAT may not be easy

Written by Prachi Karnik Pradhan | Reema Jose | Updated: Nov 12 2007, 04:13am hrs
With November 18, the daystudents shall take the Common Admission Test (CAT) across the country to seek admission into the six prestigious Indian Institutes of Management, fast approaching, the debate is on again as to whether CAT is a tougher examination as compared to the Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT)the standard examination for admission into top B-schools across the world.

According to the statistics, about 1.55 lakh students appeared for the CAT in November 2005 out of which only 1,500 made it to the six IIMs. So the applicant-to-seat ratio in CAT is as high as 100:1. On the other hand, top B-schools in the rest of the world admit students in large numbers, in fact 10% of the students who apply, according to industry experts. Moreover, CAT is held just once a year, as opposed to GMAT that can be taken five times in a year. The number of test-takers for CAT is expected to be about 2.3 lakh this year.

Nishita Dholakia, a final year, BTech student feels that hype is created about CAT because of applicant-to-seat ratio. There cannot be a comparison between CAT and GMAT as requirements for both the examinations are different. A fresh graduate can appear for CAT whereas you need to have at least a few years of work experience along with a good GMAT score before your application is even considered for admission in the top US and European B-schools, she says.

Another important aspect of both the tests is the percentile gained by the aspirants. A high percentile is a must to make it to the group discussion and personal interview level (GDPI) for different IIMs. A high GMAT percentile or score, however, may not guarantee an interview call from a top B-school in the US.

Monica Sanghvi, another final year BTech student feels that one can score less in GMAT but still get an interview call from a top B-school elsewhere in the world. In an earlier interview to FE, Bakul Dholakia, former director, IIM Ahmedabad, had said: CAT is the toughest examination in the world. Our faculty prepares those questions. About 200,000 students apply for the six IIMs, which amounts to 1,500 seatstherefore, 1% of the students is selected, the discrimination level is top 1%. CAT is basically a screening test. CAT is tougher than GMAT which is the selection tool for Harvard, Kellogg and Wharton. Meanwhile, the coaching business that revolves around these exams, amounts to over Rs 1,000 crore according to industry estimates. Satya Narayanan, Chairman, Career Launcher India Ltd. Since the CAT does not have a percentage to clear, but a fixed number of seats for which students are called, the difficultly level of the paper is actually fairly irrelevant, you basically need to do better than all the other people who are taking the exam.

It works on the principle of relative gradingwhat this basically means is that grading in CAT is relative and if the paper is easy, it will be easy for all those taking the exam and everyone will have a higher score. If, however, the question paper is difficult, it will be so for everyone and the cut-off will be lower. However the score will be high or low enough to enable the IIMs to shortlist 4,000 students for the personality assessment round after which they will finally select 1,500. The other top 20 B-schools (that use CAT scores) accommodate another 2,500 students between them. This is hardly enough to support the talent we have in India, add Narayanan.

According to a recent CII-ICRIER study, India accounts for 4% of the worlds overseas students and is the second largest exporter of students after China, which accounts for 10%. Meanwhile, the high test fees, which is $ 250 also deters large number of non-serious candidates from appearing for GMAT. In case of CAT, the fees is just Rs 1,200. Costs will come down for Indian if CAT scores are accepted at an international level. Gejo Sreenivasan, Group Product Head, IMS Learning Centre, says, Foreign universities can choose from a wider base if they can consider CAT score. For students, opportunities will increase and it will cost less because taking the GMAT exam is eight times more expensive than taking the CAT.

According to the CII report, about 50% of the central budgets technical education went to the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management in 2001-02. According to Karthik Shashidar, the IIM-B alumnus who had topped the 2004 CAT exam, There are very few business schools available in India. For a management student, there are not more than 20 good business schools, including the IIMs, in India that are worth going to. Against this, the demand for MBA education being very high, the demandsupply gap for the courses is wide. Hence the percentage of candidates getting to the IIMs has little to do with the toughness of the examination. The CAT scores are judged on relative grading. If the exams are tough for you, they are tough for everybody.

In both CAT and GMAT, there are aptitude tests and both use the same subjects mathematics and English. The GMAT is a computer adaptive test. The test-taker is given one question at a time and the next question is based on the response given by the previous question and therefore, there is an in-built difficulty level in the test. On the other hand, CAT is tough because of the competition. The Indian School of Business (ISB) pioneered the enabling of global quality in admission standards by accepting only GMAT scores and not any other examination scores. This pioneering effort by the ISB has resulted in some other Indian B-schools starting to accept GMAT scores in lieu of the Indian B-school entrance examinations. Mumbai TIME institute director Arks Srinivas mentions that earlier the CAT papers quantitative section used to be considered very difficult but 2004 onwards, it is becoming easier and more arithmetic driven which is what GMAT follows.

Tejaswi Yudupa, a 2005 IIM-B graduate said that the number of people who grab IIM seats was not a parameter to gauge the toughness of CAT: The exam is amongst the simplest of tests to clear. The year I wrote the tests, there were 1,60,000 people writing the tests for around 1200 seats across India. However, since the CAT scores are not limited to IIMs and many other management institutes consider CAT scores for admission, more number of people appear for the tests.

The selection process of candidates in IIMs included multiple parameters, such as the persons performance in schools, colleges, as well as the CAT score. Says Amarnath Krishnaswamy, a faculty at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, The tests are the prime gauge for the candidates to see if they are equipped with the qualities and knowledge that we consider as relevant for management studies. Apart from GMAT scores, B-schools in the US look for other qualities as well including ones statement of purpose, recommendation letters, work experience and essays whereas CAT is primarily an exam of maths and English rather than analytical reasoning.

Bhaskar Chakraborty, assistant professor in the regional development department at Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, says, Unlike GMAT exam which targets US universities and institutes delivering management education, here CAT does not cover all the institutes.

With inputs from Indranil Chakraborty and C Jayanthi