CAT and COVID-19 | Pressing Questions and Uncertainties
Will CAT get postponed due to COVID-19? Will it be conducted at home instead of test-centres? What are the chances the exam gets tougher this year? Is there an increase in the competition? Will it get fiercer or easier? – Questions, probabilities and uncertainties loom large. We will look at all these and many more questions in this post.
Now, uncertainty levels are very high currently and I have no particular skill-set to be able to answer these quasi-philosophical questions. But I did spend time churning our turgid equity research reports for a living, and learnt that once you put a disclaimer, you can get away with murder. So, here goes. I assure you that my days of writing a completely worthless prose are done; I will indeed attempt to add some relevant non-snarly bits in this blog. But first let us get the imponderables out of the way.
The Only Certainties in Life are Death, Taxes…and Life itself.
In the best of times, the IIMs are not that communicative and transparent, COVID-19 is a six-sigma event. We are yet to get clarity on other exams like NEET and JEE – which were scheduled for May-June 2020. So, only snake-oil salesmen can predict something about CAT dates, timing, schedule etc. Remember, if you want to be in the right end of uncertainty, you should be a CEO (not founder-CEO, mind you).
plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The CAT has gone from paper-based to computer-based, two section to three section, easy to tough to easy in the past 2 decades. But one thing has not changed. It has been an objective paper that tests basic verbal aptitude, quantitative aptitude, and logical aptitude. Approximately 2 lakh people take this exam; better CAT scores broadly translate to better chances of getting admits. Since this is a competitive exam, one should not be worried about the exam becoming slightly tougher or easier.
You can make an argument that quite a few are struggling to focus, thanks to this COVID-19 break; this could result in poor performance in CAT. The flip-side is the scenario that thousands of aspirants are now either jobless/working from home. So, they should be freakishly well-prepared. Do not get carried away with either assumption.
What about prospects for an MBA?
Deep-ish economic recessions last perhaps 6-7 quarters. Recruitment and looking-ahead into the next cycle perhaps starts 1-2 quarters ahead of the recovery. This slump started roughly in the Jan-Feb quarter of 2020. Those preparing for CAT are looking to start a 2-year MBA. They are going to graduate in April 2023, and should be looking for a job in Jan-Feb 2023. That is three full years away from the beginning of COVID-19. You are more likely in the middle of a bhayankar recovery than in the tail-end of a depression.
There are no guarantees but we all take our leaps of faith based on the odds. I think worries about the 2021-23 MBA are overcooked. I would say that folks starting on a one-year MBA from 2021 should be optimistic. COVID-19 could be a game-changer for a few industries (Cruise Ships), dampener for some industries (Tourism); but it is unlikely to be the primary driver for economic activity for 36 months.
Is there a point to doing an MBA if we have to do one term or even one year online?
All education is a signal. You have got 95% in class X – you should be sharp. Cleared JEE as well? – oh, you could be the real deal; you scored 75% in engineering – you may or may not know engineering (just kidding). The big brands send powerful signals.
The big brands send powerful signals because they teach well.
More importantly, they get the best kids. IIT and IIM are big brands because they have a monopoly on talent. They attract the best kids.
Online MBA does not send a powerful signal because pretty much anyone can apply to a decent online course, fork over some money and get the degree. But this season is different. If you have joined IIT Bombay in 2020 and completed the entire first year online, your MBA will still be an IIT Bombay MBA and not its poor cousin online variant. The signal that securing an IIT Bombay admit sends is still powerful. Recruiters know that really well. So, do not worry about getting an MBA where 2-3 terms are spent online. For this season, that won’t matter.
So, what should we do?
This part is simple. Forget the variables that you cannot control. Focus on your preparation with a ridiculous vigour. If you are not currently employed somewhere, try to get a job. Stay in touch with people. This phase is going to be tough. Let us all accept that. Let us all accept that it will be tough even if we find someone to blame for it. Do not fret about more layers of uncertainty. If one of your bigger worries is the fact that you are not sure when CAT will be conducted, you have First World Problems. Switch your mind away from thinking about questions that nobody has answers for, and spend time on things that can materially affect your chances. Be devoted to the idea of having fun while preparing and retain your optimism throughout.
Cheers, Best wishes for CAT and Stay Safe.
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.