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CAT 2008: What to expect
Sai Kumar Swamy
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October 27, 2008

Last week we analysed CAT trends over the years and what they mean to you the test-taker. Today we look at a more detailed analysis of CAT 2005, CAT 2006 and CAT 2007 and what one can expect in CAT 2008.

CAT 2005: Catch me if you can!
CAT 2005 was a classic 'catch me if you can' kind of a paper -- one in which all assumptions, beliefs about CAT was broken in one fell swoop by the test setters. Many a student who thought after CAT 2004 that the IIMs could not go any lower than around 120 questions in the paper, were surprised by the first ever sub-100 question paper in the history of CAT!

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CAT 2005 had, for the first time ever, disclosed the level of negative marking which helped students decide whether they should have guessed or left a question in case of any doubts. As the number of questions had decreased drastically, the difficulty level was increased several notches and many felt that this was the toughest CAT ever! This paper had two sub-sections with one and two markers.

The positive aspect about this paper was that since there were only 90 questions in the paper, students would have had an opportunity to read all the questions which would have not been possible in the past CAT papers.

CAT 2006: A paradigm shift
Earlier CAT papers tested a student on both knowledge as well as their ability to solve questions under tight time constraints. CAT 2006 was a paradigm shift in this regard. For the first time ever the IIMs had disclosed that there would be three sections in the test viz Quantitative, Logic and Data Interpretation, and Verbal. One big surprise was the increase in the time: from 120 minutes to 150 minutes and the quantum of negative marking which was one-fourth the marks allotted for the question. However the biggest surprises were the 75-question format and the five choices per question.

The lower number of questions meant that one could not pick and choose the questions to be answered based on one's comfort level. A student had to have a good command over different areas to be able to do well and this would have benefited the ones who had prepared extensively than those who had worked only a few limited areas based on what was asked in the previous years. A paradigm shift that was noticed in the paper, for example the VA/RC section was stripped of all its VA.

It had in fact donned an "infer-me-if-you-can" look; the QA section was stripped of its aura of toughness and was presented on a platter of simplicity -- a fact that unfortunately could not be exploited to the fullest considering the tricky choices and time consuming nature of most of the questions and the DI/Reasoning section virtually completed its gradual transformation -- being witnessed over the past couple of years -- into a completely Reasoning-oriented paper. CAT 2006 thus signalled the test taker's intention of separating the wheat from the chaff by creating a paper that played into the hands of the few that had left no stone unturned in their preparation for this exam.

CAT 2007: The trend continues...
After the carnage of CAT 2006 many a student was waiting with bated breath when the instructions for CAT 2007 were being announced over the public address system. Most of them would have heaved a sigh of relief after having seen that CAT 2007 had no 'major' surprises in terms of the composition of the paper, number of questions, the time limit or the choices. The surprise, on the face of it, turned out to be a damp squib, as the paper was "on the lines" of CAT 2006 -- with no deviation at all. However, the adage -- "do not judge a book by its cover" rang true and loud. CAT2007 was a bagful of surprises on the inside and it left many a student stumped and dazed!

The Fact, Inference and Judgement-based questions which so troubled students in CAT 2006 was not to be seen in CAT 2007 but this didn't mean that this section became any easier. This section continued to have an "infer-me-if-you-can" look.

The QA section, which was classified as easy and doable in 2006, regained its aura of toughness. The biggest surprise came in the Logic and Data Interpretation section where there was no trace of the very difficult logic oriented DI sets and instead one saw the re-emergence of the 'calculation intensive' papers of yore. Though this section was the easiest of the three in this paper, students, unfortunately, could not exploit it to the fullest, considering the time consuming nature of the calculations that were required.

The unpredictability of CAT was evident in the way Data Sufficiency made a come back, after a hiatus of a full two years. In fact, both QA and L&DI sections saw DS questions appearing in a generous measure, albeit with a different set of DS directions. These DS questions, further, turned out to be a definite life saver for students in each of these sections.

CAT 2008: What can one expect?
The only information disclosed by the IIMs so far is that the paper will be of 150 minutes and that there will be three sections akin to CAT 2006 and CAT 2007. To understand what one can expect to see in CAT 2008, one must understand the history of CAT. CAT has always bucked the trend and has consistently sprung surprises when students least expected it to.

Therefore, the best way to prepare for CAT 2008 is to go with an open mind and have a plan in place for any kind of paper that is given. Since the paper is given 10-15 minutes before the start of the exam, one can read through the directions on the cover page and prepare for the surprise in terms of the pattern, number of questions, and number of choices.

The writer is course director at TIME, an institute that imparts training and career guidance to student aspirants for competitive tests like CAT / MBA / MCA / BBA / GRE / TOEFL etc. TIME is run by a group of IIM alumni and has the largest network of 159 centres in 81 cities in India. TIME students achieved 885 selections into IIMs alone in CAT 2007.

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