CAT 2020 has become a topic of uncertainty – on percentiles to be expected, level of difficulty of the question papers, the mode of examination, and whether it is going to happen as per schedule (in one of the last two Sundays of November). On the other hand, the heat of CAT 2019 and the aftermath of it – read calls, converts, percentiles and more – have not yet subsided. While some of the wait-listed candidates are getting their final convert results, some others are planning to retake CAT with more vigour, and a set of people are still in what I call ‘the phase of rant and lament’.
The hapless rants
The usual culprits in the fray are questions like, “Why does CAT test computational skills that are not required for a manager?”, “What is the need for such a difficult examination?”, “Should the selection rate be freakishly low?”, “Why so much diversity and reservation?”
There are other interesting quips as well, such as, “Why should I try so hard, write CAT, spend so much for an MBA, while YouTubers make more money than me?”
What do we have to say about that?
We can bury the comparison with YouTubers deep down forever; whoever thinks YouTube is an easy way to make money needs to know the stiff competition in the world of algorithms and advertisement revenues. But, the other questions are interesting; though I am not going to take each of them individually as such, it is worth pondering if CAT is unfair, after all.
First things first
Over the years, I have known that most of the people who say/ask these questions fall into either or both of the following two categories:
- Know little to nothing about the CAT but prefer to make noise.
- Have not spent enough time either thinking about the paper or evaluating it.
These people are happy to accept the established stereotype and help it along. It is worth understanding what CAT is all about by heading here, before jumping the gun and throwing stones at the examination and selection rates.
How can you establish that conviction with evidence?
My colleagues and I have been taking the CAT almost every year. Hence, I can state unequivocally that the quality of the paper has improved with time; you can witness it year after year after year.
There are 3 key myths that people have been spreading about the CAT.
The three contenders
- CAT is a calculation-intensive examination
- CAT does not test the relevant skills to be a manager
- Some questions in CAT are diabolically difficult
Let us ‘expose’ and ‘bust’ (thank you, 24*7 television news networks) these myths/unreasonable rants, one by one.
1) CAT is a calculation-intensive exam -> False
My urge to spell out something rubbish is overcome by the consciousness about the level of etiquette I need to maintain in a public space. Anybody who has taken even one of the last three CATs would know that this is an overwhelmingly ridiculous pish-tosh.
On an average, there are chances of around five Quant questions that demand ‘intensive’ calculation. The same would translate to one or at most two sets of Data Interpretation in the DILR section.
One must use something called an ‘on-screen calculator’ to overcome this ‘intensity’ in calculations. (Side note: You need to have started getting acquainted slowly to the on-screen calculator already, if you are taking mocks regularly.). In any case, one can choose to skip these questions, and still end up scoring a 99.xx percentile in CAT.
If you have to get a sense of what calculation-intensive really means, you need to somehow get access to the CAT papers of the late ’90’s. A whiz-kid good at Abacus could easily crack CAT these days if CAT was just ‘calculation-intensive’.
CAT is an examination that tests your mastery in fundamental concepts; it is an application-intensive examination. Get the first principles right.
2) CAT does not test relevant skills to be a manager -> False
A more unpolished version of the the same statement takes the form of the following rhetoric: “Why should someone know Set Theory to be a good manager?” The easiest way to shun this question is by means of a counter-statement. “If the IIMs (and the other colleges in the fray) had to test the ‘actual skills’, every single CAT aspirant – past, present and future – should have had work experience (not ‘head of some college club’, but real-world work experience) or a startup (successful or failed) or something of that caliber.”
If so much experience is needed to be eligible for a seat at one of the IIMs, why would someone even write CAT in the first place?
So, let us get this straight
At some level, CAT is an entrance examination designed to test basic intelligence. Any academic performance is a signal that the student can potentially do well. So, the CAT is looking for a signal of intelligence.
Around two lakh students of diverse backgrounds take this exam every year. One needs to find something very basic to use it as a proxy for intelligence. Testing numerical ability, problem solving ability and comprehension ability are probably the best proxies available. What would you rather test – general knowledge, science, subject-knowledge? Anything else pales in comparison.
Remember, CAT is not a wild-card ticket to be a manager. It is an entrance exam to get admission into a B-school that will train you to become a manager.
3) Some questions in CAT are diabolically difficult -> True, but…
This is a problem that has come about because of a specific characteristic of India – one of large numbers. Since the problem of ‘large numbers’ cannot be helped, CAT needs to make a distinction between ‘the average’ and ‘the good’. Even to achieve this, a consistent and simple paper would suffice. But, is that the end of it all? NO.
The levels of distinction
The CAT should distinguish ‘the good’ from ‘the average’, yes. However, it also has to differentiate ‘the good’ and the’ really good’, AND ‘the really good’ and ‘the exceptional’. Remember, they need to devise a mechanism to distinguish the top 0.2 percent within the top 1 percent, while also demarcating the top 1 percent from the top 10 percent, and so on and so forth.
CAT is a competitive examination
Any paper where the really good students can attempt 80+ out of 100 questions, and get 75 of them right within 180 minutes, is not too difficult to create, evaluate or appear for as a candidate. If the paper is peppered with simple questions, the exam just tests just speed, and not understanding.
But in reality, a slightly tougher paper that requires a high level of application is required for getting the top 0.2% from a sea of applicants. Which is why CAT is not just an entrance examination, but a competitive entrance examination at that. This implies you need to be highly accurate in selecting the right questions to answer, and skip the rest, among other things.
Most people will agree that it does not require a genius to crack CAT. It just requires loads of application, good decision-making ability and adequate preparation. Sounds like a good test for finding managerial talent to me.
If the person who is cribbing about this ‘unfair’ examination had probably received a call from the IIMs (and converted it), they would not be lamenting. Instead, they would feel elated to be part of the top 0.5% or 1%. Strive to become that elated person.
Stay safe, and best wishes for CAT 2020!
Rajesh Balasubramanian takes the CAT every year and is a 4-time CAT 100 percentiler. He likes few things more than teaching Math and insists to this day that he is a better teacher than exam-taker.