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1.7 lakh IIM aspirants vying for 1,500 odd seats.
100:1 -- those are your odds if ever you plan to take on the Common Admission Test. Add to this the fact that the test is unpredictable, and you have something extremely challenging on your hands.
Many say this CAT is unfair. Then again, good things in life never come easy. Let us rewind and look at the history of CAT to see if something there can help us.
In the early 90s, the CAT used to have around 175 to 185 questions with four sections. This was a reduction from the 200-plus questions of the CAT in the 80s.
Then came 1996 when CAT gave aspirants a Shoaib Aktar bouncer -- two sections, timed. For the next three years, it went back and forth from the timed sections to sections with no time limit. Come 1999, the CAT moved from being a four-section test to a three-section one. VA and RC were clubbed together. 2000 saw the difficulty level of the paper climbing up a few notches. Differential marking was introduced in 2004 and no one had the faintest inkling about major changes in the paper's structure. Also, the number of questions dropped from 150 to 123. In 2006, it reduced to 90 questions and last year's CAT increased the time from 2 to 2.5 hours, reduced questions from 90 to 75, and increased answer choices from 4 to 5.
All of these were visible changes. The total number of questions, sections, time and marking scheme has changed. Most get bogged down by this and miss out on a deeper, more important change -- the type of questions. Sample these�
~ Synonym-Antonym questions were a frequent visitor in the early 90s. Not any more.
~ The Data Interpretation, which used to be calculation intensive, has become reasoning intensive.
~ Going by a comparison of the quantitative section of CAT 2000 and CAT 2006, the former had around 45 per cent questions that were reasoning intensive; the latter had 75 per cent.
What does this mean?
There were questions in the CAT that students solved mechanically � thanks to the mechanical preparation. Such questions no longer tested the abilities that CAT was trying to test. Therefore, they were either discarded or converted into questions where one would have to first define the problem before applying any formula or technique to solving it. With 75 questions and 2.5 hours, CAT 2007 is probably saying, 'I am going to give you time -- apply your mind and solve it. That way, I will be able to test whether you really have managerial aptitude.'
Tackling the CAT
So, what's in store for you at CAT 2007? We obviously can't predict the structure of the test. Also, we need not, considering one ought to take the CAT without any fixed mindset. Just remember: If it is a surprise for you, it's a surprise for everyone else too. CAT is, after all, just a set of questions.
What is more important is how we handle individual questions. What we can definitely 'predict' is the questions will be reasoning intensive. If you are a CAT aspirant, now is the time to develop reasoning skills, be it in verbal, quant or DI. This will, in turn, mean that you should switch to 'learning' from 'mugging.' So, next time you study time, speed and distance, imagine you riding that bike and visualise each problem.
-- The author is a Product Head at IMS Learning Resources.
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