With the introduction of online conducting of CAT from this year onwards, the admission procedure to the B-Schools is set to undergo a sea change. The reason cited for this new test procedure is the exponential increase in the number of students appearing for CAT. Last year 2.3 lakhs students appeared for the CAT and this year the number is expected to increase with a projection of 3 lakh plus. It’s being said that the IIMs were contemplating an online CAT since 2007 and they have finally decided to implement it now.

The newspapers have painted a rosy picture of an online CAT saying that it’s apt for the internet age, CAT will be more transparent, and there will be reduced time in evaluation and admission process not to mention the fact that CAT will be equivalent to US exams like GMAT and GRE in terms of the test pattern. (I still do not understand this undue emphasis on CAT adopting an online test pattern like GMAT and GRE.)

But the bigger picture has a different story to tell. A leading testing and assessment services firm makes a presentation to the meeting of IIM directors and they decide to go for the online CAT. It will no doubt earn the private service provider huge amounts of profits. But what about the lakhs of students who take this test? Why don’t the students have any say in deciding the test pattern? The IIMs issue a statement 6-7 months prior to the test notifying the students of the change and that’s the end of responsibility for them - No detailed explanation of the test procedure, no sample test papers. Many issues including the ones mentioned below are left unaddressed. There’s no clear indication as to how the IIMs are going to tackle the following problems.

1.The process of conducting the exam including processing the results and reporting scores is said to be going to be outsourced to a private service.

The implementation of such large scale computerization had earlier failed in case of Xavier’s Admission Test (XAT). In the light of such an event, the efficiency of such private test providers is questionable. Another issue of concern is whether the same amount of stringent security measures will be maintained in conductance of online 2009. Considering the great number of engineers taking the CAT, there’s always the danger of someone hacking into the online software.

2.Another important change is that the exam will be conducted in staggered batches within a window period of 10 days.

The statement issued by the IIMs in this regard is very equivocal. There’s no clear mention of whether each centre will be allocated a particular day for the test or if the students can take the test as per their convenience within the window period.

3.Also instead of the current single exam paper, the online test will have several different papers with the same difficulty level.

It’s almost next to impossible to set more than one paper and maintain exactly the same difficulty level. Even if all the papers contain the same weightage for each section, there’s no way they can ensure the same difficulty level. Some little changes are bound to creep in. How are the IIMs going to tackle this issue? Will the IIMs turn a blind eye to the differences in paper and adopt absolute marking for all the papers? Or will they consider relative marking?

4.Blank sheets for rough work.

In case of the old pencil & paper test, we could easily do all the calculations on the blank space on the question paper. In case of online test, there will be no option of writing or underlining key information on screen. We will either have to calculate mentally or look up to the screen to note down the figures for calculations.

5.Reading comprehension & Data Interpretation

In the old test method, we could read the questions first before reading the passage and easily surf through all the passages and decide which one to attempt first. There will be no scope for such a provision in the online test. We have all been accustomed to underlining key words, marking the important lines, possible answers to the questions. But there has been no mention of whether there will be any facility through which we can underline key words on the screen.

This will be a major problem in Data Interpretation, which usually involves study of huge amount of data in the form of tables and charts. In case of old method, one could easily do the calculations besides the table – this way it was easier to compare the results and involved less chances of error. Now with the online test, we will have to look up to the screen often, increasing the probability of missing out on some information or reading incorrect data. This will also substantially increase the time one would have to spend on each question.

6.CAT preparation

The adoption of the online test method was declared in April that is just 7 months before the actual exam. This leaves the students with very little time for preparing for the online tests. With just 5-6 months at hand, it is high time to switch to computer-based preparation and practice. The mock tests conducted by the training centers are still in the old format. IMS and TIME – the leading institutes in CAT coaching have still not introduced any online mock tests. We being the first batch of students answering an online test have no prior experience. The IIMs have not issued nay sample online test paper. The whole situation is that of bewilderment and anxiety.

And let’s not forget that India’s a developing country. There are still lots of students who have limited or no access to computers. Such students have very little experience using a computer. They would certainly be not very comfortable answering an online test.

7.Fee Hike

If the huge increase in the fees for PG programmes was not enough the fees for the test are also going to be increased by about 40-50%. Although this is not a major issue with many of the candidates, it’s still going to affect the poor and middle class students. There’s also fear of other institutes following the CAT trend and increasing their test fees too. In that the case the students will have to shell out more than 10000 to just appear for the various entrance exams.

8.The global financial recession

The global economic slump has hit several industries very badly. Many of the major companies have sledged many of their employees and a great number of them are on the bench. With the economy in recession, there are hardly any jobs and negligible appraisals. The general notion is that the MBA sector has been relatively less affected by recession. So the obvious choice for these people is to go in for a MBA. This according to them is the best time to spend 2 years in a B-School, gain knowledge and upgrade their skills. After 2 years, hopefully when the economy is revived, they can take advantage of the scenario. These guys have got work experience and they would undoubtedly have an edge over freshers like us.

Change is inevitable. But it’s crucial that the change should be introduced with little or no inconvenience. It’s the responsibility of the IIMs to ensure that the transformation is brought about without hampering the interests of the students. The ideal solution would be to have a test pattern that combines the advantages of both – the online as well as the paper-and-pencil pattern.