Wednesday, March 7, 2007


If you want to become a management graduate and make a mark in the management of business in the country or abroad, there are many institutes, both State - run and private, which can provide you the requisite degree. For getting admission into these management institutes, you have to appear for entrance tests. These include CAT (for IIMs), MAT (AIMA), XAT (XLRI), FMS, JMET (IITs & IISc), OPENMAT (IGNOU) and a large number of others. Of these, we are going to talk about two major admission tests CAT (Common Admission Test) and MAT (Management Aptitude Test), which can open the floodgates of opportunities in this field.COMMON ADMISSION TEST (CAT) : The CAT paper has traditionally been a 120 - minute test. The questions in the CAT paper are generally not very difficult but there is always an exceptionally high emphasis on the speed required to solve the questions in the paper.CAT mandates that the test taker perform equally well in all sections of the test. It is not sufficient to get a good score in the test as a whole - the candidate also has to perform well in each of the three/ four sections of the CAT paper. When we talk of performing equally well, we have to look at it as a relative measure. Among the one lakh plus candidates expected to take CAT this year, you should be able to score a certain number of marks more than the average in each of the selections in order to qualify. Hence you have to aim at crossing a minimum cut - off mark in each section to be eligible to get a call for the Group Discussion (GD) and Interview stage. The minimum cut-off required in each section could vary from IIM to IIM and also for each of the other 30+ institutes that use CAT scores for their selection process. It would be fair to assume that the cut - off scores required for many of the other institutes would be slightly lower than those required for the IIMs.If proper planning is not done, there is a danger that one may actually get much more than the total minimum required marks to be eligible for the IIMs but one may not cross the cutoffs in a particular section. This brings us to the basic rule that applies to the CAT paper - do reasonably well in every section rather than concentrating on and doing extremely well in every section rather than concentrating on and doing extremely well in one/ two sections. Getting a very high score in one or two sections at the expense of the others would fetch you nothing and defeats the very purpose for which you are taking the test! The test consists of the following :-Quantitative AptitudeReading ComprehensionVerbal AbilityData InterpretationReasoningData Sufficiency. The number of questions varies from year to year.The key to crack the CAT exam is to keep your cool and maintain your composure during the entire length of the test. This may sound deceptively simple but is easier said than done. The pressure levels would be high, yes, but you have to use your adrenaline to work faster and smarter. There is no point getting bogged down at any point in the paper. CAT does not require/ expect you to attempt all or even nearly all the questions. It is test of speed but not only of speed. Accuracy is needed too.It is no great secret that the test itself comprises a significant number of questions that are not very difficult. The knack, then, would be to maximise your score by completing the easy ones rather than getting bogged down by the more difficult ones especially since, no extra marks are awarded for solving the more difficult questions.Even within each section, there is very clear need for a planned strategy of attempting questions. Unless a clear cut timed strategy for attempting the test is in place, there is every chance that one may miss out on very easy questions which may be at the end of the section and instead end up solving all the difficult questions that may have been given at the beginning. It is imperative to realise that there is no rule that says that the difficult questions will be at the end of the section nor is there a rule that says that easy questions are at the beginning of each section. Then why should there be any discrimination while attempting the questions? The common tendency among students is to start the section from the very first question. Much as it may be the best starting point, it loses its relevance if all the questions in a particular section are not read. By not reading a question or a set of questions, one is obviously at a disadvantage when compared to a student who carefully plans out the time limits within each section and ensures that he or she picks and solves the easy questions given in each section.One important point to note for the CAT exam is that, there are no individual cutoffs for the areas within a section. The instructions on the front page of the question booklet of CAT clearly specify that you should do equally well in all sections. Hence, depending on your comfort level in each of the areas, you should allocate the time for the areas within a section.There is negative marketing in the CAT paper and for every wrong answer a certain score is deducted from your total. The IIMs do not disclose the way they calculate the negative marks for the wrong answers.One Golden Rule that needs to be followed is to ensure that there is no question which is unread at the end of the test. This will ensure that all possible easy questions have been attempted or at least looked at. Unfortunately, CAT does not have any special notations pointing to the easy questions and neither do they scream out at you from the paper. It is up to you to find them and make sure you do most of them. The easy ones could be anywhere - at the beginning, in the middle or at the end - just about anywhere.MANAGEMENT APTITUDE TEST (MAT) :All India Management Association (AIMA) has been providing the service of aptitude testing since 1988 under the scheme of All India Management Aptitude Testing Service (AIMATS). Several lakhs of candidates and over 300 institutions have derived benefit under this testing facility. This, as such, is the testimony as to the validity, reliability and usability of aptitude testing of AIMA. Management Aptitude Test (MAT) is being conducted four times a year. The test consists of five sections viz.Language ComprehensionMathematical SkillsData Analysis & SufficiencyIntelligence & Critical ReasoningIndian & Global EnvironmentEach section consists of 40 questions. The total of 200 questions is to be attempted within 150 minutes. It is an objective type test with multiple choice answers.In order to attempt the Language Comprehension section, some candidates prefer to read the passage, then switch to attempting the questions while others prefer reading the questions prior to the passage reading the questions prior to the passage so that they know the answers they need to look for. Either of these strategies or the combination of both is fine. Use them depending on the difficulty of the passage.Mathematical Skill and Data Analysis & Interpretation sections provide a good opportunity to score well and save time. As the D-day approaches, continue practicing these questions regularly and building speed. Basic arithmetic calculations and formulae should be on your fingertips. It would be worth making flip cards at the last stage of examination of some key formulae and short-cut methods that you would have learnt in the preparatory stage. It is very helpful to review these formulae at the stage of examination.Questions in the Intelligence & Critical Reasoning section tilt more towards reasoning. Candidates are required to practice these types of questions extensively, as there is no formulae for such questions never pays. Practice as many formats of questions as you can. It is very useful in confidence building.General and business awareness under Indian & Global Environment section is a key component in the entrance procedure to a management institute. Keeping abreast of happenings around is definitely an onerous task. Unlike preparing for the other sections like Mathematical Skills and Data Analysis & Sufficiency, general and business awareness requires keeping abreast of happenings.MAT as in any other MBA entrance test carries negative marks for wrong answers. Hence it is never a good strategy to answer all questions. As you work through a section, skip those questions that you are not sure of. Time permitting, you can always revisit and try to answer them. Coming back with a fresh approach to questions that could not be attempted earlier means that these questions can be tackled successfully quickly. Resorting to guess work through the entire question paper is not a good policy. Never base a strategy on guesswork. It should be your last resort and never an alternative strategy.It can be said that last minute preparation in a competitive test is a very important part of entire preparation. Moreover this part relates to the candidates' ability to properly manage the emotions, nervousness, etc, a systematic planning and strategy will definitely help the candidates to take the competitive advantage over others.Since selection for a management course is largely a process of aptitude testing, the most knowledgeable need not necessarily succeed. Time is at a premium in the examination. As in MAT 200 questions are to be answered in 150 minutes. Performance is relative. Therefore, considering that variable that governs success in the examination, it is important to build a test taking strategy as the test approaches to tackle it successfully. Towards the last days of test, developing proper test taking strategy is an approach that a candidate has to develop in order to ensure that he is able to leverage his strengths while attempting the tests. Any strategy that you intend to follow necessarily needs to revolve around the time saving measures to answer the maximum number of questions in the allotted time.CAT vs MAT : But there is a qualitative difference. CAT - affiliated B - schools are ranked a tad higher than the MAT - affiliated ones. The CAT, which is administered by Indian Institutes of Management, is also accepted as the qualifying exam by about 20 other institutes, other than IIMs. In contrast, the MAT is a relatively new test, administered by the All India Management Association (AIMA), for other institutes. Though very few students in metropolitan cities appear for the MAT, most students in smaller towns try to adopt a combined strategy for cracking both, the CAT and the MAT, in hope of making it at least to one exam. The CAT is generally held on the last Sunday of November and MAT on the first Sunday of December every year.There are structural variations between the CAT and MAT papers. In sections on Quantitative Aptitude and Data interpretation the main difference pertains to the level of difficulty as well as the types of questions asked. The MAT is more formula - based while the CAT is entirely application - based. Therefore, the strategy for MAT should be to rely entirely on the "Frequently Asked Questions" given in reputed publications. Since the MAT seldom springs surprises, the section tests that one takes while preparing for the CAT would suffice. A student with average aptitude, comfortable with concepts, will get through the MAT, but you need to have an analytical bent of mind to crack the CAT. In the English section also there are variations. In the MAT paper, the emphasis is on facts - the stress is on grammar through analogies like match the following and fill in the blanks. But in the CAT paper, questions are inference - based like sentence structuring, the logic behind creating paragraphs, understanding the assumptions made in the passage, etc.In the CAT, time management plays a very crucial role for if you are able to crack 80-90 percent of the questions of a section, it would be considered a very good attempt. At the same time, there is virtually no pressure of time while cracking the MAT.There is no General Knowledge test in CAT. But in the MAT, such a test exists under the section "Indian and Global Environment". For this you may need to do some extra bit of preparation.GROUP DISCUSSION AND INTERVIEW :The CAT being a more sophisticated instrument for testing intelligence and critical reasoning, it puts the weightage of 50 to 60 percent on Group Discussion and Interview. In the MAT, on the other hand, the importance attached to these two vis - a - vis the written section is only 30-40 percent. Therefore, the rejection is also very high in the CAT. In 2004 about one lakh students appeared for the 11,000 seats (IIMs and about 20 other institutes), of which only 30,000 received final interview cells. It means, selection rate was one in three. In case of MAT, everybody can hope to receive a call, although, it may not be from an institute of your choice.A good score in the written test is a prerequisite for a student to be called for the group discussion and a personal interview conducted to assess the students, personality and demeanor, with the final selection made on the student's overall performance in the three rounds.SCORE EVALUATION & REPRESENTATION :The raw score is the simple numerical count of responses, such as the number of correct answers on an intelligence test. The usefulness of the raw score is limited, however, because it does not convey how well someone does in comparison with others taking the same test. Therefore, percentile scores, standardised scores, etc. are the devices for making this comparison. Percentile score is the most common method of reporting results in management aptitude tests.Percentile scoring expresses the rank order of the scores in percentages. The percentile level of a person's score indicates the proportion of the group that scored above and below that individual. When a score falls at the 50th percentile, for example, half scored lower, a score at the 80th percentile indicates that 20 percent scored higher and 80 percent scored lower than the person being evaluated. The aptitude test scores reflect ability. Those scores do not determine ability. The scores may suggest, but never prove.

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