CAT Convenor warns question-leakers with strict action, but who is going to report a leak?

(Photo credit: James Lee)

Organisers of the Common Admission Test (CAT) have lately been urging the media to stress that this year the legal clause that prevents test-takers from disclosing CAT questions outside the walls of the test-center will be taken more seriously than ever. Anyone found violating the Non-Disclosure Agreement will be severely dealt with, warns CAT 2011 Convenor and Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta professor Janakiraman Moorthy.

But we at PaGaLGuY ask, who is going to ‘disclose’ to the CAT authorities that the content of the exam has been ‘disclosed’ and thus a violation of the NDA has taken place?

In the last two years, there has not been a single case of action taken against violators of the NDA. There has always been a lurking fear that the CAT coaching centre officials appear for the test earlier in the slot to be able to predict the kind of questions coming in the later days — partly by disclosing the questions they answered within the closed circle of their coaching institute. Indeed in 2009, the first year of its computer-based avatar, the CAT did suffer identifiable leaks inside unmoderated Orkut communities and anonymous email Inboxes whose username-passwords were made privy to the students of coaching institutes. But of course in that year, Prometric and the IIMs were swamped by the much larger problem of a failing testing infrastructure, overshadowing the question leaks. No action was taken against the creators of these communities or the coaching institutes in question.

No explicit case of coaching institutes leaking actual questions has surfaced since then. Even if it is happening, there has never been a way to know whether it is actually still happening and to prove it. And if leaks were still happening, would the owners of test-prep centers or candidates availing their training tell CAT officials about it?

Given the high-stakes of the test, in principle, candidates have an incentive to avail of any tips or pointers coming their way and not report a leak to the CAT authorities.

Sujata Khanna, the chairperson of Career Forum, a Pune-based CAT-prep institute defended the role of coaching institutes. Citing the example of a sportsperson, Ms Khanna explained, “When a sportsman is sent to a tournament, he or she is given ample coaching under a good coach. But none of this is of use if the sportsperson is not good at the sport or incompetent. In the same way there are different levels of competency among entrance exam candidates. Only the very best get into an IIM. Hence it is clear that an aspirant has to first be good enough to get into an IIM, only then does the coaching work for him.”

Responding to the charge that coaching institute teachers took the test in order to benefit their students, Ms Khanna said, “Yes, it is true that some faculty from coaching centres take the CAT but they take it out of gaining knowledge about the exam. If you are teaching a subject, should you not be abreast with the exam yourself?”

On a question enquiring whether after taking the CAT the teachers shared actual CAT questions with students, Ms Khanna replied saying that even if knowledge were shared, was it possible for one person’s competency to help another’s? “Finally a person performs as per his abilities which may be further enhanced by coaching.”

“There are no rights and wrongs in an issue like this. Yes, if a question paper is stolen and leaked, then that is definitely wrong,” Ms Khanna concluded.

Himanshu Rai, Convenor of previous year’s CAT told PaGaLGuY that it was unlikely that the questions were discussed among very large groups. Whether in a coaching centre or a large online forum, if any kind of information on the season’s CAT questions is discussed, the information is bound to leak. We will come to know. But of course if a person takes the exam, comes home and discusses some of the content with his brother with the strict understanding that neither of them will share it with anybody else, that is not considered violation, he said.

Prof Rai added that while in 2009 numerous complaints of this nature had poured in, not a single complaint had reached the IIMs in 2010.

When quizzed how his team planned to be more stringent this year with enforcing the NDA clause, CAT 2011 Convenor Prof Moorthy said that they would be more vigilant and even if they came across the slightest a hint of the NDA being violated, an investigation would be conducted and if proved, stringent action will be taken.

Prof Moorthy added that last year some 15 to 20 MBA aspirants were not allowed to take the CAT because they did not agree to click on the NDA consent button on their screen. The question paper did not download for these candidates and they were not allowed to vacate the exam hall. They had to sit through the entire test duration doing nothing since they did not want to abide with the NDA, informed Prof Moorthy.

The CAT warning is very visible on the website. It reads Disclosing, publishing, reproducing, transmitting, storing, or facilitating transmission and storage of the contents of the CAT or any information therein in whole or part thereof in any form or by any means, verbal or written, electronically or mechanically for any purpose, shall be in violation of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 and/or the Copyright Act, 1957 and/or the Information Technology Act, 2000. Such actions and/or abetment thereof as aforementioned may constitute a cognizable offence punishable with imprisonment for a term up to three years and fine up to Rs two lakhs. Candidates who want to appear for CAT have to agree to a Non-Disclosure Agreement at the time of the test.

The fact that despite the warning on the website the CAT is still proactively pressing on about the NDA this year, could be an indication of an issue on hand that we don’t know about. While Prof Moorthy did not want to comment, sources close to the CAT organisation said that discussion of CAT questions in various coaching centres is where the bone of contention was.

(It is worthy to note here that, which also runs the country’s biggest online MBA forum, has a strict policy against disclosing the CAT questions on its webpages. Not only are any such questions promptly removed, the poster is debarred from the website.)

The CAT disclaimer also states that As with paper and pencil testing, or virtually every other human endeavor, a very small number of problems could occur that might prevent a test from being delivered and/or a result from being generated. In the unlikely event this does occur, every effort will be made to correct the problem, up to and including the administration of another test.

When asked about this, Prof Moorthy said that this year’s test will be error-free. The difficulty level across the papers has been checked and re-checked, so there will not be an issue of some papers being easy and the others difficult. If at all there are differences, they will be ones of perception, he answered adding that all the complaints received last year about ‘difficult’ or ‘wrong’ questions had been addressed.

As for this year Prof Moorthy urges candidates to bring in all the necessary documentation (admit card and identity proof for sure) when reporting to the testing center and also reading the questions properly before answering them. Please tell all CAT exam-takers this year to not panic and take too much stress. Go through the test tutorial, understand the navigation system and keep extremely cool especially in the final 15 minutes of the test

The CAT Convenor provides another tip, “Do not start studying anything new now. Whatever you have studied, consolidate on it.”