The Common Admission Test (CAT) is an all-India test conducted by the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) as an entrance test for the management programmes of its six business schools.
180,000 students compete for less than 1200 general seats in the IIM's which makes it even more selective than all the Ivy League Universities put together. Even with a top 1% score, a candidate must also cross the equally stringent hurdles of a group discussion and an individual interview.
The CAT is one of the world's most demanding entrance examinations for any graduate institute. The test taker is expected to excel in arithmetical problem solving, geometry, statistics, data interpretation, logical reasoning in solving complex puzzles, and English language skills. The test is held on the third Sunday of November for a duration of two hours (2.5 hours from 2006).
It is neither expected, nor possible, that all the questions be answered, so the CAT also tests the candidates' ability to prioritise under pressure: a quality necessary in the competitive environment of IIMs' courses.
CAT (as it is most commonly known across India) has evolved from a speed based simple test into a test which demands more proficiency in concepts and fundamentals rather than just speed.
Earlier CATs used to have 180 questions to be solved in 2 hours. The cutoff (minimum marks needed to get an interview call from the IIM) for such a paper was generally 20 each in the three sections (Mathematics + English + Data interpretation and Logic).
For the years 2001, 2002 and 2003 the paper consisted of 50 questions per section * 3 sections = 150 questions. The cutoffs were around 15 marks for individual sections and approximately 55 for whole paper.
The first big surprise for CAT takers was in 2004, when the IIMs introduced the concept of differential marking for the first time. The paper had just 123 questions in three sections with the following distribution: (the decimal numbers are marks allocated to each question)
Overall 123 Questions : 10 of half marks + 32 of 2 marks and 81 of 1 mark each. The overall cutoff for the paper was nearly 51-52 marks.
CAT 2005 was an even bigger surprise. There were just 90 questions - 30 in each section. Each section was further divided into two subsections:
CAT 2006, which was conducted on November 19, was a 2.5-hour exam instead of the traditional 2-hour exam. It is speculated that this change was made by the CAT exam committee to decrease the level of predictability of the exam and to relieve the stress caused to students in a two-hour time limit.
CAT 2006 had 75 questions, 25 questions per section and 4 marks per question, making it a 300-mark paper. There was a penalty of 1 mark for a wrong answer. The paper also proved to be a break from the previous pattern in that it had 5 answer options instead of the usual 4. The English section was generally perceived as very difficult, whereas the quantitative aptitude section was relatively much easier than previous CATs as also in comparison to the other two sections.
CAT 2006 was also notable due to some printing errors that had crept into the question paper. The IIMs accepted the errors and formed a committee to look into the matter. The committee ruled that the wrong questions would be ignored. This leads one to a scenario where the different paper sets have a different number of "valid" questions. The difference will be made up by appropriately changing the denominator in the respective sets. For example, set 333 had 2 incorrect questions in quantitative ability. In this case a student scoring x/100 marks would now score (x/92)% marks. The idea of a re-test which was proposed by some quarters has been set aside by the authorities.
The results for CAT 2006 were declared on January 2nd 2007 among much confusion, as the server hosting the results was inaccessible for prolonged periods of time. Also, for the first time, the IIMs declared the actual key to the question paper along with the results.
Many colleges in India, other than the IIMs, also accept the CAT scores for admission. Some of the more prominent ones are: