With the big news of the season finally out, there has been quite a bit of shock among aspirants regarding the huge changes that have taken place with regards to CAT as has been seen in the notification. With almost all the biggies done with around 8-10 mocks and with almost every serious aspirant having formalized a strategy to tackle his/her strengths and weaknesses, this change in pattern has come as a surprise to many. So, is it really that big a surprise that will tilt your world upside down or has there been some take away from your preparation so far. Lets analyse.

Option to select cities instead of choosing a center

Aspirants need not worry about this bit at all. There are quite a few cities and centers to accommodate all the takers and I would be surprised if it indeed happens that people have to travel far to take the test. The team conducting CAT would have a fair idea of the representation across cities and so, centers would be abundant. Also, a previous press release said that female candidates would get their preference when it came to venues. The only objective behind this activity seems to be the fact that many aspirants block slots in the first few days itself leading to chaos among the remaining aspirants.

Random assignment of sessions

Again, it should not make much difference to a serious aspirant. Once you get the hall ticket, you can make sure that you adapt to the time slot by taking mocks during that window only. I don’t think it would have made that big a difference even if aspirants were allowed to choose slots themselves.

Increased duration

The entire duration of the test might run close to 4 hours with the biometric analysis, verification at the center plus the waiting time. It means that CAT becomes an endurance test in addition to the quantitative and verbal knowledge it tests. It is highly recommended to take at least a couple of mocks in this manner (sitting idle in front of your screen doing nothing for at least 30 mins and then taking the test for the full 3 hours without any relief breaks, water consumption or movement for that matter). It helps kill the random thoughts that creep into your mind before the test and relieves you of the butterflies in your stomach. Few suggest going through a mental list of formulae but there hasn’t been any evidence of it being particularly helpful so it is entirely up to you as to what/who you think of during those 30 minutes.

Sectional time limits

Probably the biggest change in my opinion. The one that forces a strategy on an aspirant rather than allow him/her to form one. For people who have issues with allocating time to sections and frequently tend to overshoot the same, this would be a matter of relief. For those who had a disproportionate allocation, it would require a change of strategy. From my personal experience of taking CAT 2011, when the sections were to be attempted in 70 mins each, a routine approach to the section would suffice. Just that, in every test, there comes a brief zone wherein, you are a bit lax and end up solving fewer questions per unit time than in the rest of the test (mostly at the start wherein the amount of time left compels you to give more time per question). You have to get rid of these zones and make sure that you are on your toes throughout. Taking 1 hour sectionals would be of immense help in tackling this.

Another issue with this layout is with regards to the order of attempt. It would not be possible for candidates to switch between sections and so, the order of attempt of sections would be fixed. For those who liked starting with verbal or DI or LR, it might take some time to adapt but at a macro level, it won’t make that big a difference. The only way in which it could impact your performance in the test is in case you have had a bad section upfront. If the quantitative aptitude section has not turned out so well (fewer attempts, a bit more difficult section than usual, realization of a couple of mistakes, etc.) there would be excess mental pressure while dealing with the next section and it could snowball really badly. Even if you have had a perceived below-average performance, it is extremely important to shrug it off and attempt the next section to the best of your ability. It would really hurt to come out of the exam hall and then realize that you had underestimated your performance in a section big time.

In the previous year’s format, the pressure of the timer was on you only once – while finishing the test. Now it would be thrice. If dealing with the last couple of minutes is not really your thing, it is advisable to work consciously towards it as it could make a big difference.

The biggest worry here among aspirants (and probably the most misplaced one) is regarding the difference it would make to those who are strong in a particular section and use that advantage to motor to a big score. How would it impact these aspirants? What do you have to do to tackle this, in case you are one such aspirant?

In one line, it would not impact a serious aspirant at all. It is just another challenge that has been forced on you and you are expected to deal with it if you aspire to become a good manager. The good thing, if you are one of those who feel victimized is that, in a 1 hour shootout, you have the edge over someone who is not very confident. It is not like a test match cricket vs. T20 wherein, the more condensed the format, the worse the technically sound players and purists come off. It would have been bad if there were differential weights assigned to a section (like in CAT 2007). But in this case, attempting 34 questions in an hour will surely benefit the person who carries some confidence into it. So, however worried you might be, if you have a strong suit, you can take this very well in your stride.

What about those who are weak in a particular section? Now with the cushion of DI/LR gone, you have to make sure you cover the gaps accordingly and get better at the core section, be it quantitative aptitude or verbal ability and put in a strong performance across all 3 sections. The good thing here is that, you have a good four months to prepare and a serious aspirant can easily get better in this time if s/he utilizes the resources properly.

Typing answers on screen

It is very difficult to read text strings and account for the variations involved in feeding those answers and so, I don’t think verbal will have any such questions with the exception of parajumbles (which is again improbable considering the possibilities of case-types that could be used). The usage would probably be with regards to questions from quantitative aptitude and data interpretation wherein there will be specific data that needs to be fed (answers till a couple of significant digits, integral answers to prohibit reverse-engineering techniques to arrive at answers and so on). For a candidate who is used to solving questions first and then marking the answer, this should not be much of a surprise. In my opinion, this is just a nice gimmick to make sure people spend more time on these questions and would still be unsure of the answer. Can be avoided by a bit of awareness.

Usage of calculator

As we saw in the case of the type-answer-on-screen questions, calculators would be useful primarily in these type of questions. CAT has historically, not given much weight to calculation based questions and using the calculator seems to be more of a diversion technique to make sure that the inherently nervous aspirants fall into the trap of using the calculators more than it is actually necessary. It is akin to permitting usage of a dictionary while solving the verbal section. Sounds helpful but would not directly influence the score of a good candidate. I would suggest you go through this website and solve a few questions (from easier levels of course, it is used by JEE aspirants) to understand how calculators and no-option questions work.

Engineers vs. non-engineers

In spite of all the hoopla surrounding the whole why-do-they-want-lesser-engineers debate, there is no real indication that the system is biased against engineers. Sectional cutoffs have always been and will always be a part of CAT and it was just a matter of time before the LR cushion was removed. If more than 80% of the test taking junta consists of engineers, the same ratio would show inside a b-school irrespective of whatever changes they may make to the format of the test. Bottom line: The better aspirant will make it irrespective of his/her educational background. If you find that unfair, you are probably making the wrong career choice.

What should be the worrying factors?

To cover it all, in my opinion, the worrying factors would be:

  1. Sectional time limits: Would take some time getting used to and will need some degree of mental preparation to counter
  2. Endurance: Sitting for 4 hours to take a test is no joke. It requires some steel to do justice to the test against mental and physiological barriers
  3. Mentality: There are two ways to deal with the changes – either crib and face the test reluctantly, thus making it easier for the other aspirant to get through or take it as an exciting challenge and deal with it putting your best foot forward – the choice has always been and will always be yours

So overall, the basics remain the same with regards to content and preparation. The difficulty level (and this is purely a speculation on my part) should remain the same as it was last year at most and will probably come down a bit with all the gimmicks taking center stage. The interface and timed sections would kick in with the upcoming mocks. With the test being a little later than usual, you can expect a couple more mocks than were promised by the coaching institutes. And for subscribers of LearningRoots, a big surprise awaits (pleasant, of course)!

You can read the official advertisement here, the selection process here, the scoring and equating process here and the press release here.

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