All about the CAT

With the economy on fast forward mode in India and the rest of the world, the demand for qualified manpower (read management graduates) has intensified. It is this rising demand for talent that has resulted in the spurt in the number of management institutes across the country.

Within a very short period, the number of such institutions has reached a few thousands, with scores more being added every year. However, the quality of education offered across these institutions differs vastly. At one end of the spectrum one can see world-class education being imparted at schools like the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and at the same time an relatively low quality at the other. It is due to this variation in the quality of education offered and the resultant impact on their careers, that students try hard to get into the best of the schools that the country has.

CAT, the entrance exam to get admission into the ‘Ivy League” of India - the IIMs, is famed as the most competitive aptitude test to crack. This reputation of CAT stems from the fact that though over couple of lacs take this test, the success ratio is really low – 1 in about 50 students end up at an IIM. However, you will know as you read this piece of article that the CAT is ferocious only to those who do not know how to tame it.

The CAT is an online exam, generally conducted in the months of November-December every year. While the pattern of the test is not fixed, CAT 2015 & CAT 1016 broadly followed the same pattern. In these years, the test was of 180 minutes with three timed sections of 60 minutes each. The first section was on Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension (VARC), the second one on Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning (DILR), and the third one on Quantitative Ability (QA). There were a total of 100 questions with VARC & QA having 34 questions each and DILR having 32 questions.

Let us now look at the test areas in detail:

Verbal Ability

One section which many dread and equally many think that they can score well is Verbal ability. But, this is also a section which catches many unawares in both pleasant and unpleasant ways. The different areas tested under this section are

  1. Grammar in the form of sentence correction
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Reading comprehension
  4. Critical reasoning
  5. Paragraph formation (Arranging jumbled sentences into a meaningful paragraph)

This section tests the aspirants' ability to comprehend the language, their comfort level in understanding the reasoning presented in the sentence/passage, and their familiarity with contextual usage of words. While people with a regular reading habit do not find this section that difficult, even those who do not have such a habit can start early to get in shape by the time they appear for the exam.

Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning

As the name Data Interpretation suggests, the students will be tested on their ability to understand and analyze the given data and do the calculations to find out the answer. This would need the students to be equipped with strong concepts of arithmetic & speed maths.

The sub-section on Logical Reasoning tests the aspirants' ability to apply their commonsense and reasoning skills to the given information. Puzzles, Venn Diagrams, Deductions, etc are the well known types in this section. As indicated above, common sense and exposure to a number of such questions rules the roost in determining success in this area.

Quantitative Ability

Contrary to what many perceive this section as a test on Higher Mathematics, questions in the quantitative ability section are generally on Arithmetic learned in classes VIII, IX & X. With preparation and practice on the kind of questions asked in the exam, aspirants can score well and increase their chances of selection.

The exam is only one step towards a seat in the IIMs. This would be followed in the 2nd phase, for selected candidates, by a Written Ability Test (Essay Writing), Group Discussion & Personal Interview. The candidates will be called for the 2nd phase based on 4 parameters - the CAT exam, Academics, extra-curricular activities & work experience. Work experience is not a must as many fresh graduates also do get an admission into the IIMs.

The CAT exam will not just open the doors for the students to the IIMs but for over 150 other B-schools which use the CAT score as the first step for admissions. These include prestigious institutes like FMS Delhi, SP Jain, NITIE, MDI Gurgaon, SOMs at IITs, etc.

Myths about CAT

Over the last few years, the IIMs have started declaring their Admission processes, thanks to RTI. Supposed to clear the air on the selection criteria and methods being adopted at the IIMs, these have, unfortunately , given rise to two very 'popular' myths. I should state upfront here that the IIMs have done what they could have, in making the information public, the mistake lies entirely with the audience interpreting the information.

The myths:

  1. The importance of CAT score in the selection process is diminishing
  2. If a student has poor academics and/or lacks Work Experience, he/she stands very little chance

Both these myths, together, point out to the rise in the importance of Academic Performance & Work experience and a corresponding decrease in the importance of CAT score.

Let us look at the weight given by the IIMs to CAT score in each of the selection phases -

Interview Shortlist & Final Selection

Weight of CAT score for Interview Shortlist

Weight of CAT Score List of IIMs
100.00% (IIM Shillong, Kashipur, Ranchi, Raipur, Trichy, Udaipur, Bodhgaya, Amritsar)
60 to 80% (IIM Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Kozhikode)
50 to 59% (IIM Calcutta,Rohtak)
20 to 40% (IIM Bangalore, Indore,Visakhapatnam)

(All the figures/information used in this article have been taken directly from the official selection process documents uploaded & available on the respective IIM's official website.)

This shows that 11 out of the 20 IIMs give a weight of 60+ percent to CAT.

The data above proves that the importance for CAT has in fact increased for many IIMs, contrary to the common myth that it has gone down.

The point to be seen here is that, with out good academics/work-ex, one cannot get into some specific IIMs, but there are quite many IIMs which one can get into, in spite of having not so great acads/work-ex, as they give much higher weight to CAT.

Weight for Academics + Work Experience in Final Selection

Weight of CAT Score List of IIMs
0 % 1 IIM (IIM Shillong)
1-10% 5 IIMs (IIM Calcutta,Lucknow, Kozhikode , Kashipur, Amritsar)
11-20% 6 IIMs (IIM Ahmedabad, Indore, Ranchi, Rohtak, Trichy, Udaipur)
25-30% 2 IIM (IIM Raipur, Bodhgaya)
31-40% 4 IIMs (IIM Bangalore,Sirmaur,Visakhapatnam,Jammu)

It can be seen very clearly, that except for IIMB & IIMI, the maximum weight for workex+acads in final selection is only 20%, with 6 IIMs pegging it below 10%. The remaining weight is for CAT Score + performance in GD/Essay/PI.

Overall, it means that at most of the IIMs, getting selected will depend mostly on controllable factors - the CAT score and GD/Essay/PI performance. One can definitely improve on these, with preparation.

New IIM vs Old IIM

Some students are not very sure about joining the newer IIMs. They should know that the newer IIMs have been witnessing very encouraging placements, both for final and summer internships. Whether it is the average salary in final placements or the quality of companies/profiles visiting their campuses, the IIMs can be certainly preferred over other B-schools, more importantly for the long term brand advantage that one can get. A case in point is that of IIM Kozhikode & IIM Indore. Just about a decade ago, they were the 'new IIMs'. Now, there will be very few thinking twice to join them. Similar was the case with IIM Lucknow in the late Eighties.

A career spans for 35-40 years. One has to look at the long term advantages over this period and not run after short term parameters like 'Salaries'. Students should understand that the brand IIM opens doors and gets one an interview sitting at the least, both in the short and long term.