Transforming CAT and the B School selection process
By R. Sreenivasan
For any MBA aspirant in India, getting into a premier business school like an Indian Institute of Management is a dream come true. I was also one such aspirant in early 1990s, had prepared for CAT, the entrance exam for IIMs and fortunately made it through to Bangalore. Since then, I have been an avid follower of not just CAT, but also the ever-changing selection process for the B Schools in India and abroad as the economy of the world meandered in funny ways more than one.
Due to the opening of economy in 1991, the corporate world was unshackled and the strides it took helped the economy takeoff in an unprecedented way. Suddenly MBA, as a qualification, was much in demand. It became a much sought after career choice. Since then, the number of aspirants appearing in CAT and XAT has been increasing dramatically, and a few more common exams have come into the scene. There has been an explosion of B Schools and their seekers as well.
If, I look back at these twenty years - the selection process for the IIMs, the written exam - CAT has undergone many shifts. Though, the basic expected subject knowledge remains the same, the written exam formats and structures along with the questioning style have gone through subtle yet definite shifts in the last two decades.
Shifts in the written test, CAT
In the early to mid nineties, it was a two-hour test having four sections – quant, data interpretations, reading comprehension and verbal ability. It usually had two hundred odd questions. The focus was on speed and ability to respond quickly and decisively. The questions were mostly straight forward with greater focus on retention, and application was limited to the quantitative sections.
The selection process had to make a shift, and the best of the exams started maturing. This later gave way to more reasoning based tests and blurring of sectional demarcations, as the decade of nineties came to an end. Stepping into the next decade, the focus shifted firmly towards reasoning, analytical and logical thinking, even in the sections of reading comprehension and verbal ability that were not so earlier. These shifts have made the selection process sound in order to get logical thinkers than rote learners into the B Schools.
The growing number of CAT takers and more porous global economy has made the IIMs think about future possibilities. The moves that IIMs have made in the last couple of years indicate at making IIMs a more global a brand. Not only are they keen on taking the brand to other shores through off-campus locations, but they also seem to aim at getting more expatriates into their campuses. It is quite a possibility, as more
expatriates are heading to India for job opportunities. The IIMs seem to aim at making CAT one of the
alternatives for GMAT.
Last year, CAT took a leap in that direction by becoming a computer based test, though it had to face quite a few challenges in execution. This year in all probability the window of the exam duration will be an extended one to facilitate a better execution. It is quite possible, like GMAT, CAT may soon have multiple windows in a year, in order to provide a level playing field for all aspirants, and also to reduce pressure on its own technology infrastructure and conduct.
Redesigning an MBA – The world dictates
While the exploratory journey of the written test will continue its progression, the challenges that the business world has faced in the last decade or so: South-east Asian crisis of late nineties, the Dot-com bust in the early part of the decade, various cases of environment being devastated by doings of the corporate world, the caving-in of American economy recently – have made a few sane business gurus and thinkers comment on the kind of orientation of the corporate world and their CEOs and CFOs. There have been numerous articles on the greedy and mercenary orientation of the business executives who have been at the helm or who have created these man-made “economic quakes”. All fingers have also been pointed towards the Ivy-league B Schools in the US and the Europe that have been trend-setters in envisioning and creating learning methods and environments that bred these CEOs and CFOs.
Questions are flying fast and wide - Is competition the only way? Do we have responsibility towards the environment, society and mankind? Is making money at any cost, the only aim of corporate world? Kindly watch the award winning documentary series, ‘the corporation’ on www.youtube.com www.thecorporation.com. Many a Business schools have gone back to their drawing boards to make amends to their MBA programme in the last couple of years. More is
expected. But is it all about the course
design and facilitation? How about the selection process that brings in the students?
Selecting the students – The
It is so natural that the business schools are now being forced to have a re-look at their selection process too, not just facilitation.
In the last couple of years the selection process of the IIMs has incorporated a few more significant dimensions in selection criteria apart from just CAT scores. Many of the IIMs have started looking at an individual’s record over a long period of time, starting from high school. They are apportioning weight-ages to the academic performances from high school onwards, the extracurricular records and work experience.
Not just limited to looking at the past performance and the shifts in the written examinations, every B-school worth its salt will have to re-consider their standard process of group discussion and interview in the face-to-face process. A couple of B-schools like S P Jain have a slight variant of this process by taking the aspirants through a group interview.
But will these small shifts suffice? No!
India, as a nation, has progressed leaps and bounds in the last two decades. But, this progress has been due to dramatic growth in only a few sectors like software industry, pharma and to some extent in the biotechnology space. The progression has been fast and also more and more global companies and expatriates are heading into India looking at opportunities in these spaces. As a nation, where over 85% of working population is employed in un-organised sectors, the opportunities for growth in competence and excellence is huge. So many sectors exist where the nation can be as competent as the aforesaid ones. These challenges are going to spur the thinking B Schools.
Some of the questions that these thinking Indian B Schools are asking themselves or will be forced to, pretty soon – What are the B Schools meant for? Are they meant for churning out glorified clerks? Are they meant to shape only ‘go getters’ for corporate? Should we not be producing graduates who are socially conscious along with being aware of business imperatives? How important is it for the B-school to look at the value systems of an individual while recruiting? How do we go about designing a selection process that goes to look beyond the obvious and ‘trained’? How do we really find students of substance, who can contribute to the growth of economy and the nation?
These questions have been haunting a few visionaries in management education and industry, and in the process a few new business schools have come up with far reaching changes in the whole orientation of MBA education, and they are being hailed for their far-sightedness. A few of the conscious and thinking B Schools have started answering these questions too, right earnestly. There will be dramatic shifts in the way programs are conducted and the way the students are selected to the best B-Schools of the country and that process has started.
What are the changes that
are being incorporated? Let us examine in an article in the next issue. If you are a serious aspirant then it is time that you anticipate and get ready for these changes.
— The writer is the director at IWSB, Greater Noida