CAT 2011 First Day First Show: A narrative review

The effectiveness of a digitised testing infrastructure struck me like an a-ha moment today morning when I placed my index finger on the biometric fingerprinting device at the Common Admission Test (CAT) 2011 center and within seconds the executive checking me in smiled and remarked, “You’ve taken the test twice before.”

By matching biometric data captured from me by Prometric in the last two years, the CAT test centre staff could immediately fetch my records from CAT 2009 and CAT 2010 and verify whether I was not appearing as a proxy candidate for somebody else, or committing some other type of fraud.

This kind of test security was nearly impossible to achieve in the older paper-pencil format of the CAT.

In its third year, the computer-based CAT has become a lot smoother and the staff has the air of their jobs being a routine affair, unlike the wholesome anxiety of the first two years.

Of course, I am speaking from my experience alone of taking CAT 2011 at a center in New Delhi’s Janak Puri area today, for the first slot at 10 am.

According to Prometric, “5,690 candidates registered for the CAT today and both sessions have been concluded with no major issues reported.” That’s less than 3% of the entire 2.05 lakhs that have registered for CAT 2011.

Anyhow, here is how the test experience went for me.

8.25 am: I reached the test center to find a small crowd waiting outside the gates. Parents, cars and encouraging pats on the back galore were painted on the scene. My test center at the ‘All India Institute of Local Self Government’ in Janak Puri’s D-block was a little hard to locate. To my dismay, I discovered the night before that the ‘Test site Directions’ link on the website was throwing up a ‘Site not found’ error.

I wonder how many more candidates were relying on this feature and were betrayed. Hope not many, but Prometric ought to fix this.

The test site wasn’t even listed on GPS, so it was the old-fashioned ask-for-directions-from-passers-by for me. That wasted about 20-minutes because I was given the wrong directions, but eventually I somehow reached the center five minutes before the reporting time of 8.30 am. Lesson? If the site shrugs all knowledge of the test center directions, and you have never been to the center before, do pay a visit a couple of days in advance so that you do not drain yourself out on your test day frantically searching for the venue.

8.30 am: The staff at the center started allowing people in. There was some confusion in the beginning with seven different queues forming and everyone believing that his or her queue was the legitimate one. But eventually, the guards sorted everything out and a long snake-like queue formed. The officials at the gate allowed us in after verifying our admit cards and identity using the identity proofs.

Bags were not allowed in at this test center. Everybody was basically asked to pile their luggage into a huge mound at the gate. No tokens or anything. Mobile phones and wallets were allowed beyond the gate, however.

The document verification was repeated at the entrance of the building after which I was directed to the third-floor.

9.05 am: A security guard on the third-floor was verifying documentary proof (again!) and collecting our mobile phones, keys and other pocket riffraff into numbered pouches for which we were given a token, just like at shopping mall stores.

I observed quite a few candidates tobe in the midst of a commotion over the validity of their identity proof with the center staff. According to the website, a valid identity proof to carry is,

“Acceptable forms of photo identification are limited to Driver’s license, Passport, PAN Card, Voter ID, College ID (supported with a valid ATM/Credit/Debit Card with your name), Employee ID, or a notarized Affidavit with Photo, Signature, Date of Birth and Residential Address. Photocopies of the original are not acceptable. Candidates will not be permitted to take the test if photo identification is not presented.”

Apparently, the staff personnel at various checkpoints could not agree on the validity of various identity proofs. For example, a couple of gentlemen employed with the Delhi Metro were carrying their office entry cards (the ones you hang around your neck) as ‘Employee ID’ and the personnel at the center gate and building entrance allowed them in using these. However, the official at a third-floor check point deemed those same ID cards as invalid and asked the candidates to get alternatives. If the IDs were invalid, why were they accepted at the prior entry points?

Similarly, there were disputes happening over whether driver licenses were colour photocopies, college ID cards being invalid because the officials had never heard of the colleges even though they were recognised colleges, etc.

I did see a few candidates being asked by the officials to get a notarised proof of name and address from notaries at a nearby court complex before 9:45 am if they wanted to take the test. Dismayed, the candidates left — whether for home or for the court, I do not know.

Prometric has an update here. According to a statement issued by the company today, “The UID card has now been added to the list of approved photo identification types that is available on the CAT website.” So in case you do have the ‘Aadhar’ Unique Identification card, you can bring it to the test center as identity proof.

Still, a lesson: Please carry at least two different identification proofs. You never know what the officials at the test center might consider valid.

After another checkpoint of documentary proof verification, I reached the check-in room where they completed my biometric profiling and verified my documentary proof (yes, again) and by 9:20 am, I was allotted my computer terminal. The next 40 minutes until the test commencement were not hard to kill, generally watching people streaming in and reading the instructions sheet.

9.50 am: The proctors in the testing lab checked our documentary proof for the last time before logging us in.

10:00 am: Access to the 15-minute tutorial was granted. Most of you have already seen it on the site.

10:15 am: The test started. 70 minutes each for two sections. First the quantitative and data ability section and then the verbal and logical ability section sequenced immediately afterwards without a break.

The test: The quant and data section was one of the tougher ones I have seen in recent years. A considerable proportion of questions were drawn from unusual sub-topics that are although mentioned in the CAT syllabus, but rarely asked beyond the odd one or two questions. The Non Disclosure Agreement prohibits me from mentioning what these were, but you should probably learn about them from informal channels in the coming days.

The data interpretation questions too were relatively calculation-intensive and based on multiple tables.

The verbal ability and logical reasoning section on the other hand, was moderate in toughness. Unlike in the quant section, a well-prepared candidate could actually have completed all the verbal/logic questions satisfactorily well, left out a few questions out of choice because they were too ambiguous to answer correctly, and still be sitting on spare time.

More about the test content in this article.

Overall, the test was a smooth process for me. how was it for you?