Friday, January 16, 2009

Beyond CAT: the issue of fairness

Sorry to make a hat-trick of posts on MBA entrance but CAT is just one exam. There are others. Too many others, in fact.

Now the argument for 'more' is that students should not be crucified for poor performance on one day in one test. But the sheer number of these other exams is I think an issue.

It is common knowledge that institutes make a lot of money by conducting their own tests. But even those bschools accepting CAT or XAT scores ask you to apply separately after buying a prospectus of Rs 1000-1500. So they get the money minus the headache.

The other reason some bschools might prefer conducting their own exam is to have more leeway in admissions. But here too you can always establish your own criteria or conduct a second test (like MICA does).

Anyhow, the reason why I am bringing this up is an email from an MBA aspirant (let's call him Aspirant X) which brings up several issues related to how various tests apart from CAT are conducted. I am reproducing what he has written with my comments:

1) During the IIFT test, as i heard and witnessed myself, many students started the paper as early as 10 mins before the scheduled time. 10 mins in this paper means one whole section! When few of us complained the invigilator warned the class once but it had no effect and the students continued to write the paper.

This was mainly because the paper had no seal so there. They must be cutting costs but at whose expense? Many students complained to the institute but the matter died down soon and no action was taken.

2) Something similar happened during the SNAP test but this time I was a party to it and i also started the paper 5 mins before time as others had started 10 mins before time.

3) NMAT and XAT were conducted quite professionally and i haven't witnessed or heard any comments about such issues.

My comment: This is not the first time there have been complaints about the conduct of the IIFT test. Here is an online petition asking for reconduct of the test in 2005 because of invigilation issues. 140 students had signed the petition back then. At the time students had similar issues with NMAT as well.

But there is a second issue which is more serious than some students getting a headstart. And that is regarding the evaluation of the SNAP paper itself.

This year for the first time students were allowed to take the SNAP test paper home. Naturally, every coaching class produced a key and students calculated their likely scores. Now here's what happened to Aspirant X.

I checked my scores from all these keys and the lowest net score i was expecting was 73.5. This score would not have landed me with a call from SIBM Pune but i was hopeful of calls from other institutes including SCMHRD.

But now that the results are out, it turns out that my score has dropped to 63.25. As per the cut offs predicted by all the major coaching classes, now i stand no chance for a call even from SIIB.

Aspirant X is not an isolated case. I checked with coaching institutes and they said most of their students were in the same situation. Their scores were 10-20 marks below expectation and not just in verbal where there is room for ambiguity but sections like logic.

TIME has even put up a webpage acknowledging the issue, adding that they have 'brought this issue to the notice of the Symbiosis institutes'.

The head of one coaching institute offered a simple solution: "They should release the answer key." That is what the IIMs did when they faced a similar controversy on CAT a couple of years ago. Now they release the answer key to CAT as a matter of routine every year.

My comment: Believe it or not there was a similar issue with SNAP in the year 2005-6 which was covered by JAM magazine. At that time we reported:

Pooja Sengupta, an Anna University engineering graduate, appeared for the SNAP (Symbiosis National Aptitude Test) on 18th December 2005, along with thousands of aspirants across India. But when her result arrived on 7th Jan 2006, she got a rude shock. "I scored 15 marks less than expected in the General Awareness section. Immediately, I sent off two emails to the SNAP office requesting them to re-evaluate my answer sheet."

Pooja is not alone. More than a hundred other students who took the SNAP have doubts about whether their answer sheet was evaluated correctly. Megha Moolkim (SNAP id 515948) says, "I got 3/40 in GA which is impossible." When aggrieved students called the Admissions Office they were told by Mr Shinde, Controller of Examinations, "There is no process for re evaluation.. the decision is final and binding."

Then too, students had put up an online petition. The SNAP spokesperson told JAM in a telephonic interview, "A few students have called... It is not a new thing. Students always have complaints and think they should have scored more".

An email sent by JAM to the director and deputy director of SIBM yesterday re the latest controversy has not elicited any response so far.

With the number of students taking the SNAP nearing one lakh now it is important to address the issue of fairness and rigour in evaluation. Even though it is true that if most students have scored lower than expected, cut-offs will also fall accordingly. The point is the principle of natural justice.

When we teach concepte like transparency and accountability AT bschools, we should also see these concepts applied BY bschools!

Do send in your comments and experiences on any bschool entrance related issue to rashmi_b at


  1. @Rashim: NMAT was conducted very very badly too :-(
    People have themselves described how they cheated in NMAT and invigilators did nothing. Students went to exam halls with watches with built in calculators.

    TISS was another paper where the mangement was very bad.

    If one reads through pagalguy & other such forums; it becomes apparent that other than CAT & XAT it is very very easy to cheat in other papers.


  2. my friend got his XAT on the same college he studied...and he knew the lousy hindi teacher's he cheated and joined XLRI....

  3. It is a very sorry state of affairs. The biggest problem is communication! the invigilators just don't know what they are and what are not supposed to do!

    I think it should be compulsory for all institutes to allow candidates to retain test booklets. First time SNAP did it and look how they were exposed! they will never release the answer key. they cannot. they will be crucified by the students, institutes and the media.

    Increasingly, all these entrance tests are becoming a function of your luck, fortune and destiny rather than your ability, skill, hard work and drive.

    There is only one solution. Have 100+ institutes of world class standards. have them fast.

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  9. Anonymous9:49 AM

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