CAT 2011 more about conceptual clarity and less about time management: IMS and Career Launcher

The Common Admission Test (CAT) 2011 is underway (October 22 – November 1 and two testing days are over. According to Prometric, 6,703 candidates had appeared to register for the test today (October 24) across the country.

CAT 2011 marks a change in test pattern, in that it contains two separately times sections of 70 minutes and 30 questions each without the liberty of switching from one section to another at the candidate’s will. The test isn’t that much of a time maneuver as it used to be until last year, when one could switch between three sections at any time during the test.

What other implications does the new pattern have for test takers? We spoke to the Academic Heads of two test preparation companies to find out their view. They are Tony Xavier of IMS Learning Resources and Vijay Jha of Career Launcher.

What are the biggest implications of the two-section format?

Tony Xavier: CAT has now become a direct test of competence. You have 70 minutes for a section and you can’t really save time on VA and give time to QA that was possible earlier. Now you cannot play your strengths against your weaknesses. So it’s a very simple test, requiring minimal strategy.

Vijay Jha: Earlier there were more sections and you had to manage your time between them. Not anymore. The candidates can now concentrate on solving problems rather than deciding which section to attempt first and how much time to devote to it. Do also keep in mind that the test now resembles international tests such as GRE and GMAT which have two sections quantitative aptitude and English, with individual time limits.

What were the biggest implications of quantitative ability section appearing first for those with strong Verbal skills?

Tony Xavier: It’s a negative situation for someone who does not have equally good skills in all sections. So the two-section format will favour those who are equally good in both. For example, I finished the verbal section with 15 minutes to spare, but there was nothing I could really do about it. Levels of difficulty differed across the two slots on Saturday, because in the morning slot, the quantitative ability section was tougher, but the afternoon slot which I appeared in, it was relatively easier.

Vijay Jha: To those who ultimately do get a call, it hardly makes a difference because these are people who are good at both sections. For relatively weaker candidates it might make a difference if I am not able to do well in quantitative ability, then my confidence would be shattered. Another thing is that in most international tests, the sequence of sections is random and that is ideally how CAT should also be.

What are the biggest implications of the sectional time limit of 70 minutes?

Tony Xavier: The biggest implication is that you cannot get stuck on questions. With 70 minutes, one ought to constantly keep looking at the clock to ensure that you’re spending roughly two minutes per question. Avoid a situation wherein 70 minutes have ended and you have not seen all the questions. If you’re not solving a question in more than two minutes then it makes sense to move on. You can always come back to the skipped question by using the ‘Mark’ feature. By the way, five minutes before the end of each section, the software gives candidates an alert.

The 70 minute duration is long, but it gets over quickly. You do get a sense that it is long enough, but by the time you reach the end of the section, you still feel like you could have done with some more time.Remember to pick up pace and ensure that you read all the questions. It should not be that just because you did not go through all the questions, you did not even attempt the easy ones.

Vijay Jha: In a way they have made time management easy. Earlier, people who were weaker in section X would plan to complete section Y quickly so that they could allot more time to X. But during the exam the exact opposite would happen — they would spend more time on the section that they are comfortable with than the one that was their problem area. And ultimately they would not have much time left for the section that they were weakest at. Earlier, many good candidates lost the game because the test had too much emphasis on time management.

The other thing is that even within the allotted 70 minutes, you still have to manage time — although in a less rigorous way. Attempting 24 to 25 questions in each section should be good enough.

Was the difficulty level of the sections on expected lines?

Tony Xavier: Yes, it was more or less the same as CAT 2010. Levels of difficulty differed across slots on Saturday, because in the morning slot, the quantitative ability section was tougher, but the afternoon slot which I appeared in, it was relatively easier. But there were still questions requiring conceptual clarity. Not many questions that you could answer by merely being smart or use shortcuts in.

Vijay Jha: The difficulty was more or less the same as last year. The one distinct change was that even in the same slot, candidates were getting different questions.