Meowing the CAT away

cat.jpg“What’s the entire hullabaloo about?” asked my father after reading the news that the CAT results have been declared. “When we were young, there were no coaching centers and we had only prepared for a week before the exam.” This was on Tuesday, when the fate of over 2, 00,000 candidates had been decided.

The CAT which is short for the Common Admission Test is a starting point for the much sought after Indian Institutes of Management(IIMs) at Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Lucknow, Indore, and Kozhikode. Apart from the IIMs, over 70 business schools consider the CAT scores for their admission processes. MBA seems to be the most “in” thing. The sky-rocketing pay packages and the luxurious lifestyles have given Indians, especially the middle class, a chance to live the American dream or at least its indianised version. However, the same factors that have made MBA seem like the most coveted profession also make clearing the CAT a distant dream. Out of the 200,000 candidates who take the exam, only about 5000 students receive a call from the IIMs and less than half of them finally get admitted. It is considered to be one of the toughest exams in Asia.

What makes the CAT exam even more difficult to crack is the surprise element in the papers. The pattern of the paper changes every year. It usually consists of three to four sections encompassing verbal ability, reading comprehension, problem solving, and data interpretation. It only consists of multiple choice questions which have been steadily decreasing in number over the years. Presently, it consists of ninety questions. The duration of the test has been increased from 120 to 150 minutes to offer some relief to the candidates.

The key to success does not lie in attempting the maximum possible questions. Instead, the aim should be to do an average number of questions accurately. The method of negative marking challenges the students even further.

Clearing the CAT, however, does not guarantee admission. One has to go through Group Discussion and the Interview which are equally grueling. Work experience has also started playing a crucial role in the selection process for the IIMs. Some of them even consider past academic record, although this criterion has a very small contribution to the final selection.

What is surprising, and has been noticed in the result pattern of the previous two years, is that even 100 percentile has not been enough in some rare cases. This has happened in cases where the candidates have not been able to clear a minimum cut-off in each section (each of which has equal weightage) which is a necessary requirement. Thus, not only do you have to clear the minimum cut-of in each section, but you also have to perform extremely well.

This brief introduction about the grueling CAT exam and its high excellence requirements might discourage a lot of us. It may even lead to lowering of our self worth as actually happens in many cases. Let us consider a scenario where you, as an aspiring candidate of the CAT exam, are awaiting your result. The atmosphere around you is one of tension and nervousness. There is the fear of failure. A pressure builds up, your insides start quivering, and you are almost falling apart from anxiety. There is a silent feeling that if you do not clear this exam, you will be deemed a loser for life, incapable of doing anything. This is where the problem begins. The apprehensive mood is absolutely normal, but you don’t need to stress out about this to such an extent that your self-image is completely eroded. This is the moment where a little retrospection is necessary as it might actually work wonders.

The MBA, although a coveted degree, is becoming more of a fad among the present generation.

The CAT exam and the MBA profession seem to be getting too much undeserved attention. Why does everyone want to whack their brains for getting into this rat race? Have you never pondered upon the fact that there is no Nobel Prize awarded in this field? In fact, the most prestigious awards including the Oscars, the Grammys, the Olympic medals even the Pulitzer and the Booker Prize, the Grand Slam titles and many more; none of these are in the vicinity of rewarding corporate excellence. Then why is the corporate profession hogging the limelight in the eyes of the Indian population? What is this obsession about?

The irony is that people think that the corporate profession offers a continued inflow of high income and other material benefits which provide them with financial security and mental satisfaction. Although there is no denying this fact, however this is not the complete picture. While people are lured by the luxurious lifestyles the profession offers, they completely ignore the long working hours and the stress levels. The Oxford English dictionary which describes the duration of the weekend as extending from Friday evening till Sunday should probably alter this definition. The corporate work requirements not only limit its duration, but sometimes also render it nonexistent. Thus, the sedentary, stressful lifestyles are increasingly leading to health problems and dissatisfaction a few years into the job.

My intention in the preceding lines was not to demean the corporate profession or to highlight its hectic work culture. Instead, I only want the candidates to realize that failure in the CAT exam is not the end of the world. There are loads of options waiting to be harnessed. In fact, even at B-schools, where most of the students opt for managerial and other positions in various companies, there are a few who take the initiative to set up their own business models. They prefer to take risks and experiment with new ideas. They find the secure “permanent-job” lifestyle too monotonous and dreary.

Thus, for those of you, who did not make it, don’t crack your brains about it. It’s time to buck up and start afresh!! It is your new chance to experiment with different professions, to look at new career options, and if it really really means so much, don’t give up, go back and try again! Your time will come, maybe not now, but soon…good luck!

Sukanya Garg