A review of the computer-based MAT testing experience

Unlike the Common Admissions Test (CAT) which went fully computer-based in 2009 and floundered, the other Management Aptitude Test (MAT) with a 2.5 lakh strong test-taking population (though spread over four tests in a year) decided to go digital more gradually. Held four times every year, the MAT is delivered in both the paper-based and computer-based formats, with the choice of format left to the test-taker. As anticipation for a glitch-free CAT 2010 mounts, we decided to sit for the computer-based September 2010 MAT and review the testing experience with CAT 2009 as our reference.

The MAT was held on September 12, 2010 across the country. The test was scheduled to start at 9 am and the reporting time was 8.30 am. There were no fingerprinting or biometric analysis procedures before the exam. There was a counter outside the testing lab where I had to get my hall ticket verified and get a system allotted. The procedure was completed in 15 seconds flat. As soon as I took charge of my computer terminal, my name and a scan of my photograph from the application form appeared on the monitor. There were no other windows, links, browsers or widgets I could play around with. I just had to wait for the test to start.

In comparison, for CAT 2009, one had to reach almost two hours before the test actually started. After depositing our belongings and getting the admit cards checked, one had to get their fingerprints and photographs captured using equipment kept at the head of the testing labs. A computer was then allotted after which one had to wait for 35-40 minutes for the test to start.

Better interface

At 9 am sharp, the computers asked us to enter our MAT ID and password (written on the hall ticket). A set of instructions and a page explaining the icons was shown, which was pretty simple and easy to comprehend. When you clicked to start the test, we were asked to choose one of the five sections: Language Comprehension, Mathematical Skills, Data Analysis and Sufficiency, Intelligence and Critical Reasoning and Indian and Global Environment. CAT 2009 on the other hand started off with the first question and if you weren’t comfortable starting with that section, you would have to navigate to the review screen and select the next section to see if it was the one you wanted to start with.

Once I chose the section I wanted to solve first, the first question of that section appeared on the screen and the timer began. The timer was a minute-timer, so no seconds were shown.

The screen constantly showed a handy set of lists and links that made tracking and navigating through the test easy. It showed number of questions you had attempted at any given time. A numbered list of questions marked attempted or unattempted was constantly on the left side of the screen. It was a useful feature and didn’t take too much screen space. Additionally, the bottom of the interface had a list of all the five sections so that you could save from one section to the another. There were the ‘End Test’, ‘Mark’, ‘Next’ and ‘Previous’ question buttons placed in a well-spaced grid. Overall, the interface was better thought out than the one used for CAT 2009.

During CAT 2009, there were several complaints of the test ending prematurely if you clicked on the ‘End test’ button by mistake. MAT handles this in a much better fashion by asking you for a confirmation twice. So ending the test by mistake is almost impossible.

Where CAT 2009 scores over MAT

There could be substantial improvements in the MAT interface to enhance navigation in the Reading Comprehension and Data Interpretation sections. Basically, the RC or DI passage or caselet scroll out of the screen as you reach the second or third question. That means a lot of scrolling back and forth to refer to the question. The makers of MAT could instead freeze the passage of caselet in a different frame so that it remains in sight no matter what question you are on. CAT 2009 had this infinitely convenient feature.

MAT does not give you a separate ‘Review’ screen as CAT 2009 did. The list of questions of a section shown on a question page is the closest you get to a snapshot view of your test.

A few questions had grammatical errors or were wrong (I could spot at least two wrong questions). Likewise during CAT 2009, there were reports of missing supporting diagrams in some questions.

The test ambience

At my MAT testing lab, the computers were placed quite close to each other. I had clear view of at least six test-takers’ screens. CAT 2009 had partitions in between computers, but the MAT didn’t. Besides this blemish, there was no chaos during the exam despite there being a Bank PO exam in the same campus. And yes, there were no technical glitches during the test.

What we liked about the MAT computer-based test

  1. Smooth interface

  2. No technical glitches

  3. Smooth check-in process

  4. No major chaos at the center

What we didnt like about MAT computer-based test

  1. The question paper should have had received slightly more attention with all the grammatical errors and wrong questions

  2. The RCs and DI sets required scrolling every now and then

  3. Copying was possible though I didnt find anyone doing it

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