Now that the dust has begun to settle on CAT 2016, we can may be take a step back — beyond score calculators, the expected percentiles and incorrect questions — and take a look at it in terms of the evolution of the test.
The test itself, if I am not wrong, for only the third time in its history did not change at all in terms of structure. On the face of it CAT 2016 and 2015 look like twins but like with twins there are significant differences beneath the surface.
It has never been glitch free since 2009
Firstly, when I say best online test I am not referring to the testing experience. My test centre was unorganized to put it mildly. We were in real danger of not starting the test at 9 since the registration process was woefully slow and to rub it in during the wait we saw that there were people who were being allowed in with bags after we had been made to leave our bags behind unattended!
Thankfully an alert and committed administrator got people from our lab registered in his lab and sent us back to our lab so that we could begin our test on time. There was no chair in front of my computer and I dragged one only to find that the legs were broken. The test itself went off glitch free and unlike last year my mouse didn’t act up, which unfortunately was not the case for some of my colleagues.
Two unpardonable mistakes were the erroneous question and the rendering of square roots as PI. The latter is the first thing that any one posing Math problems in an online format will check — whether symnbols are being rendered accurately. The erroneous question is another shocking error since it was not a case of multiple answers being possible or the answer being incorrectly calcluated but a strightforward logical error that any QC should have caught and it is not like they are setting 30 or 40 papers.
But since the test went online in 2009, some glitch or the other is present and I for one have learnt to live with it.
The VA-RC Section — same wine, same bottle
As soon as the test started many test-takers would have browsed through the VA section and heaved a huge sigh of relief to find that there were no questions that demanded knowing Wren, Martin or Norman.
The RC section was a mirror reflection of last year in terms of structure and level of difficulty of the passages. If anything I felt that the questions were easier this year. So I am sure that accuracy on RC will play a big role this year. The passages were easy to read and comprehend and all they required of test-takers was a decent reading speed.
The 10 VA questions can be most charitably lableled as ambiguous. None of the options in the summaries seemed perfect, it was a case of choosing the lesser evil. The Jumbled paragraphs and Odd-Sentence-Out were not clear-cut either. I feel that on VA, after a point it will boil down to who gets a bigger slice of that cake called luck.
I think the current VA-RC section is fair to a large chunk of test-takers in light of the fact that we are not native speakers of the language. So I am sure no one has any complaints about this section at least.
The DI-LR Section — tricky, not tough
Last year the after the VA-RC section had lulled test-takers into a feeling good, the DI-LR section literally pulled the rug from under their feet. After a long time I felt that the sets did justice to the reputation of the test. So this time around many, including yours truly, went into the test, expecting a bruising.
In my opinion it was a definitely easier than last time. It was not outright tough but tricky. While during the test the sets seemed tough, looking back I find that the sets were do-able. None of them were as straightforward as the sets before 2015. One could not just draw a table and get the answer right away. All of them needed atleast a bit of thinking before they opened up. I myself felt that I could have done atleast a set more if I had not rush and applied myself better.
Imagine a different sort of paper — 4 very easy sets that everyone would do and 4 tough sets that barely any one could do. Everything would have depended on just one set.
In this paper most of the sets barring a few (that were easy) were of moderate difficulty and tested different constructs. I found two DI sets one involving percentages that needed observation, reasoning and approximation and another that was purely based on Arithmetic to be very much do-able provided one was not expecting the set to bend over backwards the moment one started reading it. The LRs were a different stroy in that not all questions in a set were do-able, so moving on from set to set was crucial.
Overall I feel the level was just right to differentiate test-takers across a scale — the distribution of marks will be reasonably spread out.
The QA Section — the best QA section since 2009
What I enjoyed most about CAT 2016 was the QA section. As most of you would know, the QA sections of the paper-based CATs were in a different league altogether in terms of level of difficulty and novelty of the questions posed. Since the CAT went online, the level really came down; so much so that taking the test was not something I was enjoying.
Last year the Quant section left a lot to be desired as a lot of problems were very direct and did not require test-takers to use their reasoning skills in a quantitative context, which explains why 28-30 attempts were par for good test-takers and quite a few studetns and all of my Quant collegues attempted above 32 as well. In a word the QA section did not really test the gray cells.
This year’s QA section, while still a long way away from the paper-based CATs, was delightfully reasoning-based. There were a few sitters but a bulk of the questions involved just that bit of reasoning to pry open. They were not heavy enough to slow you down substantially and not as solely formulaic to put one to sleep. Also like last time they maintained a good spread across the areas so only those who could pick off questions from most areas could go above 20 attempts.
Unlike last year, where a second round was well-nigh impossible since almost all questions were Type A, this time there was a clear case for not getting into a few Type B questions first up. Those who really understood and executed the A, B, C approcach well will have come back for a second round and taken a shot at about 5-6 questions.
Those who were comfortable with handling the SimCATs would have breezed through and there was enough scope for using answer options as well.
So all in all, keeping the testing environement and technical glicthes aside, CAT 2016 was the best of all the online CATs so far in terms of nature of questions and level of difficulty since the slippery trickiness of the CAT made a comeback after a long time.
What after CAT?
Irrespective of how you did, the reality is that the season has just begun. If your aim is to get into the Top 10 b-schools in the country then it is still early days.
Which b-school will you choose between XLRI and the IIMs I & K? I am sure the former. So if you are aiming at the top 10 then there is still a long way to go before you take your foot off the pedal.
If your aim is to get into the Top 20 b-schools then SNAP and NMAT are right around the corner.
Last year I had written a series of posts to help test-takers navigate this tricky period post the CAT as well as XAT prep. Go through them, get sorted, get started.