CAT Exam – Lack of Transparency – Revelations by two RTIs
How Transparent is CAT exam for admission to various B-schools in the country including IIMs, IITs, FMS etc? Is it a test of ability or a test of luck? Why details like Raw Score, Equated Raw Score etc are not published?
Have look at the replies to the RTI filed to IIML and IIMC regarding CAT Normalization Process.
CAT Exam for admission into various MBA colleges in the country has a CAT normalization stage, which is not widely understood. But before analyzing the CAT score calculating methodologies and the RTI filed to know the details, it will be good if you can spend a few minutes on some recent topics given below to gain a better understanding of the scenario.
Reveal Preliminary Exam Mark Details : Supreme Court Orders UPSC
Two weeks back Delhi High court made a historic order which was welcomed by all Civil Services aspirants in the country as well as many RTI activists. The Court ordered UPSC to stop the practice of hiding Civil Services Preliminary Exam marks and to disclose the marks of all candidates and the ‘process’ used for creating the Prelims rank-list. The order, if implemented, will surely help to make the coveted exam, applied by more than 5 lakh candidates every year, more transparent.
CAT Exam Score – Details Unknown?
The order has relevance to another major exam in the Country – CAT or Common Admission Test – taken by more than 2.2 lakh aspirants every year, for admissions into various MBA colleges in the nation including the Indian Institute of Managements (IIMS), IITs, FMS etc.
Yes, CAT exam ever since it went computerized (2009), is infamous for hiding many things despite various RTI appeals asking for transparency and details.
CAT Exam – A Little history
Common Admission Test (CAT), touted as one of the toughest entrance tests (and one of the most expensive test too) was conducted in the single-day-paper-pencil format for 33 years till 2009. Paper- pencil CAT was conducted relatively smooth, apart from the ill-famed CAT paper leakage in 2003.
The CAT exam was computerized in 2009 only to land in more trouble.
Unlike the single day CAT, now there are 20 days (40 sessions) CAT window when a candidate can schedule his/her CAT exam. Different sets of question are presented to candidates each day (or each session), and to make the difficulty level uniform across sessions, a process called normalization is applied (more on Normalization, one of reasons why I am writing this post, later!).
Technical Issues with Computerized CAT exam
The very first year of Computer CAT (contract with American firm Prometric of 40million$ or Rs.225 crores as per present dollar conversion rate!), saw many technical glitches and thousands of students couldn’t write it on the slot provided, culprit- virus in the system! Complaints about computerized CAT were there all around the corner and Government asked for clarifications from the CAT convener. But things settled down easily. Thanks to the inertness and apathy of our people.
CAT Exam – Inside Details
Most of the people might have heard about CAT percentile, but the CAT score is not CAT percentile. As the CAT website speaks, there are three other set of CAT scores – Raw Score (what you actually scored initially based on your right and wrong answers), Equated Raw Score (No one knows what exactly this score is or how it is calculated! Read the IIM website to get more confused) and Scaled Score (what you get to see in your CAT score card). Percentile score is something in addition to what mentioned above.
CAT Exam Score Calculating Methodology
Click the link below to read more on CAT Scores – Raw Score, Equated Scores and Scaled Score as given IIM (CAT)Website itself: ( You will find just these terms but no details regarding the scoring process or formula used. ) : CAT Exams: Development and Scoring
Normalization of CAT scores
As indicated above, Computer CAT happens over a window of 20 days or 40 sessions. This means, things are not as easy as they were in school level exams or even paper-cats when you get marks based on what you have written, without using any complex formulas rich in not -so-easily understandable parameters.
But for Computer CAT conducted over 20 days window, your Raw score is equated and scaled to get your overall scaled score – This process is said to be normalization and the aim of this process is ‘said to’ limit the chances for a very difficult paper or a very easy paper for the (dis)advantage of any candidate.
How is CAT normalization done?
The aim seems good on first look, but how the process of normalization is done? Who does this – IIM or Prometric? And what the hell happens inside the Black Box for Normalization?
Do you think IIMs do the process of Normalization? You have gone terribly wrong this time. (Your only hope is CAT 2020!)
RTI to know the details of CAT Exam Normalization Process
Read the details of two RTIs – RTI to IIM Lucknow and RTI to IIM Calcutta (the institutions which conducted CAT in 2010 and 2011) for knowing the internal details of computer CAT 2010 and 2011 respectively. Details asked in RTI include
- Raw Score.
- Average and Highest Raw Scores in a session (and entire CAT).
- Average and Highest Scaled scores in a session (and entire CAT).
- Number of right and wrong answers for a candidate taken CAT.
- The formula and process used in Normalization.
- Weight-age of different parameters etc.
Do you know the answer I got – Data not available with IIMS! ( IIMs didn’t address any of the questions in RTI properly, and the only reply for most questions were “Data not available with IIMs” and the just the link from CAT website as given above.
Data not available with IIMs - Then how come you trust the CAT Exam?
(If)Data is with Prometric and not with IIMs– Then how come you trust the CAT Exam?
Both IIMs – IIML (CAT2010) and IIMC (CAT2011) equivocally stated that they don’t have any data I asked in the RTI. (IIMC replied me with 2 “No data available with IIMs” lines in their 5 line single page email.) The statement can be read as a blind refusal for giving data to public too, but I was curious (blind) enough to find how IIMs trust Prometric in this matter. Since IIML indicated to contact Prometric, I tried my luck with Prometric too. I had sent 7-8 mails; got 2 automated replies with broken links! After trying hard got one human drafted (hope so) mail that saying that they can’t reveal their proprietary information! So our poor candidates scores are now Prometric’s proprietary info!
I filed RTI appeals to Appellate Authorities at both IIMs and asked on what basis they trust the Scaled Score provided by Prometric, if they don’t have Raw Score or Equated Raw Score (Equated Raw Score: I don’t think IIM people have seen this term, unless they checked their own website! IIML had replied me with scaled scores when I asked raw scores!).
What do the replies from IIMs signify in brief?
IIMs don’t know the number of right or wrong answers you made, nor any of your initial score, or difficulty level in a particular day expect what Prometric spoon feed them finally. What if the data given by Prometric (only final scaled score) is wrong or fraudulent? Why there is no transparency in this matter? Why can’t IIM explain in simple terms what is the formulae used for normalization, if there is some.
The reason for suspicion is not only the lack of transparency. Many students who scored high, not only in mock cats, but also in other paper-pencil exams like XAT, SNAP etc got surprisingly low scores for computer CAT. Why did this happen? If this is normal in normalization, why can’t IIMs give more details about the process(formulae used), raw(Actual)scores of these candidates, equated scores etc and make them understand where they went wrong in Computer CAT so that the unsuccessful candidates can correct next year when they attempt it again.
Strange reasons as reply from IIMs
As reply to my RTIs, both IIMs were giving strange reasons like finding highest or average score of CAT exam or on a particular day requires huge resource utilization which IIM can’t afford etc.( in this computer age, any data is only a few mouse clicks away, not only averages; but IIM people do not seem to know it!) Both IIM L and IIMC didn’t seem to know that there is Supreme Court ruling in this country asking disclosure of all details of an exam including answer keys before the public. In fact many of the state level engineering-medicine entrance exams follow admirable best practices for transparency –They not only publish answer keys the very next day of the exam, they also hand over a copy of OMR sheet for reference to candidates.
Cost of CAT Normalization
CAT unlike the UPSC conducted Civil Services Exam is not a Rs.50 test (IAS exams are completely free for women candidates!), it will cost each candidate Rs.1600/- (SC/ST-Rs.800) just to take the test. And almost all other B-schools and Fellow programs at IIMs require separate applications. This simply means that–you will need to spend around Rs.30,000-50,000 per each CAT season just to ensure that you applied to the top 30 colleges in India recruiting through CAT scores (apart from the IIMs).
This also means that, if you get a low CAT score (read you screwed up CAT or CAT screwed you up!) as the end result of normalization, you are not only denied admission to IIMs, but also to many other good B-schools in the country including IITs, FMS, MDI, NITIE etc. Candidates will lose one year, and since almost all schools need advance applications before CAT scores are out, candidates will lose ten-thousands spent on application forms too.
What the public want?
All we ask is more transparency and nothing else. We need assurance that there is no loop-hole for backdoor entry in any of the top institutes in the country. The way in which CAT is conducted (I am not attempting a discussion on the transparency in next rounds – GD/ Interview, there is room for improvement everywhere for sure!) today is not ideal, there is scope for corruption and nepotism, and the methods used by IIMs or Prometric are not convincing. And the candidates who burn their midnight oil and pay fees deserve not only better information, but also results for their hard work. They need to know what went wrong, and what they need to do from their side to make their wrongs right next time.If IIMs cannot manage a proper admission exam, no one else can be blamed if people question the standard of management education given by Indian Institute of Managements.
Last but not least – A word of Caution to Candidates before going behind the CAT/IIM hype
Candidates who spend years preparing (slogging) cat, paying fees to coaching classes, taking breaks from jobs, for the IIM brand, should realize the other side also – what the Brand IIM at times offer you.
You are taking a huge risk in the way the Computerized CAT operates now. You will never get a chance to understand what went wrong. Apart from the 3000 candidates who somehow make it to IIMs either by luck or hard work, all others can just wait, trying year after year, hoping that Computer God will shower his blessing upon them one day (like prayers on lottery tickets). Yes CAT is more a luck base test now, than a test of ability, due to the black box nature. You take a lottery; there is more chance to win it, than clearing CAT. No one knows what happens inside the CAT Black Box.
It’s high time for CAT to follow the court orders of Supreme Court – if they use the terms raw score, equated raw score and scaled score in their website- publish all those in CAT score card. Give all necessary details of raw scores – standard deviation and mean in CAT website. Pay respect to the poor candidates who toil day and night preparing CAT and pay their hard earned money for MBA applications.If IIMs can’t do it – Go the paper-pencil way – which is still conducted in a very decent way by UPSC and other reputed B-schools like XLRI(for XAT exam). The 40 million dollars for Prometric and the fruitless crores of rupees wasted on result -less MBA applications (eaten away by B-schools) could be used for more productive purposes and nation building.
The RTI story is not over- the last appeal is pending before the Central Information Commission. I hope the CIC will understand the Normalization and guide me and other millions who are in doubt.
It’s time for another season of CAT. CAT 2012 Notifications are out. Take Care (Beware!). Good Luck!