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New CAT structure too ambiguous to gauge
Archana M Prasanna
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December 11, 2008

Thousands of students who took the Common Admission Test (CAT) this November fear the increased weight given to verbal questions may cost them their place at the top ranked B-schools.

Last year, there were 27 questions in the verbal section which has risen to 40 this year. This includes 20 questions on grammar and English usage and 20 questions on comprehension. The answers to these questions may not match the answer keys, soon to be released by the premier Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), since verbal queries, unlike quantitative ones, are open to interpretation. 

"Although we solved almost all the questions in the verbal section and believe the answers are right to the best of our knowledge, we are still unsure that they would be considered right by the institutes. Since questions in the verbal section are based on subjective interpretations, we are not sure whether our answers would be endorsed by the IIMs. Even a post-CAT discussion about verbal section among peers who took CAT led to a lot of confusion," rues Sameer Pujar, a Bangalore-based IT firm employee who took the CAT this year.

The student concerns have been highlighted by MBAUniverse -- a management information portal which analysed the answer keys released by MBA preparation institutes including IMS, TIME, Career Launcher and PT Education -- which concluded that in nine of the 20 questions, the institutes had different answers. "We have found nine questions where experts from MBA preparation institutes have come up with different answers.

The answers will be released by the IIMs on January 9, but even then, we do not expect to get any explanations from the IIMs on why a particular answer is correct," said an official from MBAUniverse.

Ajay Arora, Bangalore-based director of TIME, a coaching institute said that since CAT 2006, some questions -- especially in the verbal section -- have been found to be ambiguous every year. "We have seen that in a number of questions, at least two of the options could be interpreted as the right answer," he said.

In fact, Gautam Puri -- an IIM-Bangalore alumnus and MD of Career Launcher, a coaching institute -- had filed an application under the RTI Act seeking solutions to questions in the English section of CAT 2006 after noting that some of the answers were disputable. However, the CAT group communicated to him that due to security reasons, CAT solutions are not preserved. "We have followed the procedure of not maintaining documents relating to CAT solutions to avoid leaks. We provide the answer keys for the benefit of students," said an IIM admission official.

"It is unfortunate that a number of questions are interpreted differently by different people. There have been questions where students have been asked to state if a given paragraph is a fact, an inference or a judgement. Answers to some of these questions don't seem to correspond with the paragraph," says Puri. Nevertheless, the 250,000 students who appeared for CAT 2008 will have to wait till January 9 for the answer.

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