More gain than pain


With the first computer based Common Admission Test (CAT) going to be here in the next few weeks, the uneasiness to take the test on a computer for the first time is on  every candidate’s mind. While the fear of the unknown is understandable, the advantages of the computer-based CAT have to be highlighted.

Online tests are not a new concept to a small section of Indian students. Global CBTs like IELTS, TOEFL, GRE and GMAT have been conducted in India for over 10 years now. CAT going online was only a matter of time. I expect IIT JEE and others will follow suit soon.

Flexibility is key

To begin with, candidates now have the flexibility of choosing a convenient time and day for the test. Unlike the previous years, CAT will be conducted over a ten-day period with two sessions every day. This year it is likely that a candidate will have to choose a date that is applicable in the ten-day window. This still gives some leeway to the student though in coming years, there could be more flexibility in the choice of dates. This means the student doesn’t have to trade off other important activities falling in the same period.

In all likelihood, CAT will eventually evolve into the GRE / GMAT format which will allow students to take the test all year round and not wait for a one- or two-week window. Also, if CAT  follows the  GRE/ GMAT structure on scoring,  students will have a standardised grade scale rather than the present percentile system which evaluates students on a relative scale. This would, in my opinion, improve the windows of opportunity for students.

Over time, computer-based CAT should also assure the students that they will not have to take the test again due to question paper leaks. Since the questions in the test will be picked from a large database and each set will be unique to a student, the chances of paper leaks will come down to nil.

Another reason why students have lost marks previously in CAT has been the inappropriate shading of the answers in the OMR sheets. They spent considerable time ensuring that the appropriate circles on the OMR sheets were shaded evenly and within the boundary. Failure to do so would result in the loss of marks. This will no longer be an issue. Students will be expected to simply click the right option and after they are satisfied, click another button to move to the next question.  They can be confident that they will get the marks they deserve and not lose out on technical issues.

Evolving format

The computer-based format is futuristic. It eliminates the limitations of a paper-based test and becomes a much simpler, student-friendly process. In future, computer-based CAT will become a test with global standards. It is sure to  open new windows of opportunity for Indian students. With the number of applicants increasing each year, there is really no option but to go the CBT way.

What is the next step?

The challenge is to be comfortable taking the test online, with complete focus, concentration and speed in response. Keep in mind that the level of difficulty will increase for the same test paper which you had aced on a paper-pencil test when it is on a computer screen. There are websites which provide online tests for practicing, especially for GRE and GMAT, which will help you get familiar with the format of online tests.
For the next few weeks, spend a few hours every day taking tests on your computer.

Reading and analysing everything online will enable you to give your complete and undivided attention to the computer based test — something most of us are not accustomed to. Reading your daily newspaper online is a good way to pick up speed.
Go on and bell the digital CAT!

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