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CAT Fever
Prashant Mukherjee | 08 Apr 2008

CATostrophic
 
C.A.T. - the hype and hoopla that this three-lettered word generates would put George Bush (caught in another dopey act) to shame. Come November and the media enters a crazy frenzy - covering every single move that the candidates appearing for the exam make, making documentaries on what it takes to bell the CAT, presenting the already hassled students with institute profiles, vital stats, health tips, stress-management techniques, et al. As if appearing for one of the world's toughest exams wasn't enough, students are made to grapple with all the ballyhoo surrounding this newly christened 'do or die test' (read: CAT).
Its general knowledge that the Common Admission Test, or CAT, is an all-India test conducted by the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) as an entrance test for the management programmes of its seven business schools (located each in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, Indore, Lucknow, Kozhikode and now Shillong). We also know that the number of students taking the exam grows with each passing year. With over 2,00,000 students fighting for the coveted 1200 seats that the IIMs have to offer, the tussle to enter the hallowed portals only gets tougher with time. Even with a top 1% score, a candidate must also cross the equally stringent hurdles of a group discussion and a personal interview. All this taken collectively makes the procedure more selective than all the Ivy League Universities put together. Operating in circumstances like these, the last thing that an aspirant wants is media-attention and critical-performance-scrutinization at every step.
Names like Career Launcher, IMS, Time, PT Education, Roots Education, Alchemist, etc. are synonymous with MBA test preparation and are etched onto public memory. Cut throat competition, peer pressure and sometimes parental persuasion coupled with filling complicated application forms and handling challenging sections like Data Interpretation, Problem Solving, Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension define what goes on in the life of an aspirant for months before the third Sunday of november arrives. Add to this taking innumerable mock CATs in simulated surroundings and the mental agitation that surface as an obvious aftermath of bad percentiles. All this describes the plight of an average test-taker, though not denying that things can be different for some sections of people (if after reading this line you've broken into a smile, congratulations, you're the 'section of people' I am talking about).
The good part, it’s not as horrendous as it sounds. The seven-figure salaries, the intellectual stimulation, the 'branded for life' feeling, the institute experience and the useful things that one learns in the process makes it all worthwhile in the end.
One bone of contention though. The 'media hype' surrounding this one particular exam results in a lot of undesirable things. For starters, it results in adding yet more importance to the already illustrious institutes at the expense of their lesser-known coevals. There are other deserving institutes in the fray which the media tends to overlook. With at least 98-99 percentiles as the cut-off for IIM calls, other institutes with even 97.5 percentile as their cut-off are grossly sidelined and their roles majorly underplayed. For the candidates who miss the A+ grade, premier b-schools by even a 0.1 percentile deficiency (and the numbers run into hundreds), it’s nothing less than spending the rest of their lives in an inferno. This reflects on the extent to which the media generated hype has affected the brand-equity of our b-schools. So much so that CAT is being used as an umbrella term to cover most of the other management entrance exams in the country as well. Acute depression, guilt-pangs, reduced self-esteem, lower feeling of self-worth and a humongous beating to the self-confidence creeps into the lives of those who end up taking the test too seriously and failing even slightly.
The solution to this problem lies in bestowing the other almost equally good b-schools with their due credit and making the junta realize that missing the school of their dream by a negligible margin doesn't make them unworthy in any way. It’s all a matter of luck and chance that our contemporaries may get into places that we always thought we deserved to be in. Being too harsh on oneself is not an option and key to a happy life lies in scanning the other options and to continue giving it your best shot. Even getting into foreign institutes might prove to be less mind-numbing!
A parting shot for the media would be to focus their energies on talking-up other institutes rather than putting the spotlight on the already celebrated ones. Some attention to the candidates is good but going overboard with the coverage of everything related to CAT only makes them more anxious and far jitterier...
For those who sincerely want to become IIMians and lost out this year, just do not panic. Figure out your weaknesses (excluding bad luck), be truthful to yourself, and try again. If you fail it is not the end of the world as something more rewarding is in store - hard work never goes waste. It is simply bad luck. If you succeed, it is still luck - good luck although now hard work will hog the limelight. The law of average is for everyone. You will get your share of success soon, if not today. Just believe in yourself and keep saying the words of Robert Frost to yourself:
The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep;
And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep...