Now that we are out of the immediate percentile-predictor mode of CAT 2014, it is probably a good time to gather our thoughts on CAT 2014.
Paper has definitely become easier
This is one of the few unambiguous inferences that can be drawn. In 170 minutes, someone who has prepared decently well can reasonably hope to attempt 50+ questions . It has become easier across the board, but probably the drop in difficulty level in math is sharper. DI and LR have also become easier, primarily because now solving a grid gives you a shot at getting 4 answers correct, instead of the 3 in previous avatars of CAT. In some sense, CAT is reverting to the type of papers we used to have in the 1995-2004 era. Lots of questions in the easy-to-moderate range and very few tough ones.
So, how does this change preparation?
One needs to focus slightly more on speed. For cracking CAT in the years 2009 to 2013, speed was not critical. If you had the right fundaes, but were not this manic-intensive test-taker, you could still hope to crack 99th percentile. The questions pushed you conceptually; and staying on top of fundamentals was more important than cranking up the speed. However, with number of questions going up and level of difficulty coming down, the student who can do the routine questions quicker has an advantage.
Any question has two components - i) cracking the funda and ii) doing the solving part. In CAT 2009-2013, the former was more critical. In CAT 2014, the latter is more important. There were a great many "regular" questions, for which one need not have even paused for thought. How well you have done the "drill" will matter.
Math-geek advantage reduces?
If you can crack the regular ones quickly, you will be able to easily find 25 questions in Quant. You can happily skip the 5-6 "tough" ones that only the geniuses can get. Given that very few are going to have time to attempt more than ~35 questions in Quant, now a well-practiced certified non-genius can compete with the math geeks and even hit up to 35 questions.
Why have the IIMs done this?
God knows. They have not deigned to share their thought process with the unwashed. Till last year, they thought that having 60 tough questions over 140 minutes was good; this year they have decided that 100 simpler questions over 170 minutes is better. And this was probably instituted because the person in charge of CAT this year has a niece who said 170 is her favourite number, and between tough and easy, she likes easy.
The IIMs are clearly entitled to choose the process they believe is best. We have absolutely no say in that. But it is a shame that they do not believe they have a duty to communicate the thought-process behind these changes.
Contrast this with how international exams treat their students. The GMAT changed its pattern about 2 years ago (when they introduced a new Integrated Reasoning section). They gave a bunch of sample questions to practice, tested out a bunch of questions, explained why this was being introduced and started this process a good 2 years before they instituted the change.
Contrast this with beloved CAT's communication which broadly went like "This year new format, student-friendly. You are all lucky you have us. "
What about the other player, TCS?
TCS brought its version of we-dont-really-care to the table. The instructions were vague (and in different fonts). The practice exam on the website had a bunch of screen-capture shots. Some questions had 4 choices and some had 5.
The worst was on display on the day of the exam. In the center that I went to, only one person had complete knowledge about the processes. The rest 7-8 were muppets just making up the numbers. They had a high-handed attitude to boot as well. In their college, these jokers run semester exams and lord it over their students. For CAT, they should take the role of service-providers, or hosts. They did nothing of that sort. The invigilators who were present chatted throughout the exam, they kept opening and closing the doors and windows randomly. One had to cajole an additional sheet out of them. And apparently these issues were seen across centers in different cities.
In the case of both Prometric and TCS, the exams are being conducted at some other premises, and not their own. But we got the feeling that Prometric owned the exam and drilled in some basic processes into the college invigilators. TCS seems to have taken a more laisse-faire approach to the whole do.
When will we get a Harvard at Bangalore, or Wharton in Chennai?
As an alumnus from IIMB, I have had a soft-corner for the IIMs and have held them in high regard. Now, with every passing year, the IIMs have started behaving in increasingly heavy-handed fashion. They do not care about communicating their admission processes clearly or in articulating the reasons behind the different processes they have.
The IIMs have built their reputations almost entirely on a monopoly of talent - of both students and faculty. They have not lived in an era where they have had to compete for either. I cannot wait for the day when foreign institutes set up campuses in India and take away this monopoly from the IIMs.