Sep 5, 2008

India - IIMs look to outsource CAT

New Delhi: After facing criticism over errors and leaking of exam questions ahead of the common admission test (CAT), an all-India test conducted by the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) as an entrance exam for their much-sought-after management programmes, the autonomous institutes under the Union government are now looking to outsource the exam to a global testing company.
The institutes, which have rolled out the process for inviting tenders from companies for conducting CAT, have already shortlisted four companies, two of which command strong presence in global testing market.

The companies in the race are ETS Prometric, Eduquity Ventures, Attest and Pearson VUE (Virtual University Enterprises).
While ETS Prometric is a US-based company that handles global exams, such as the graduate record examination (GRE) and test of English as a foreign language (TOEFL) for admission to universities and colleges in the US, Pearson VUE of Pearson Plc., based in the UK, is the sole testing partner worldwide for tests such as the graduate management aptitude test (GMAT) and Cisco Corp.’s certification exam.
Of the two Indian companies in the bidding process, Bangalore-based Eduquity Ventures currently conducts Bitsat for the Birla Institute of Technology, Pilani, and Attest is a testing division of Aptech Ltd, a company that deals in computer training and courseware.
The four companies have been selected after a March pre-qualification notice. About 30 companies had placed initial bids.
Hoping to make CAT an online test by 2009, IIMs are currently working on the tender document for the process.
“Central to the tender are the issues and concerns raised about such a large exam as CAT, conducted across vast geography, where managing logistics becomes very difficult. Manual testing is open to vagaries of nature and human errors,” said one IIM official requesting anonymity.
The move, largely aimed at introducing a system of computer-based testing (CBT) in India, is being seen as IIMs’ pioneering effort towards creating a market for testing services in the country and also introducing an error-free mechanism for their entrance test, which, in the last few years, has been marred with complaints of leaks and errors in question papers—marking an exception in the otherwise impeccable record of IIMs in managing their tests.
In 2003, for example, the question paper for CAT leaked ahead of the exam, a first in the 28-year-old history of the test.
That led to a retest in February 2004. IIMs then attributed the leak to logistical problems. Then the CAT 2006 had printing errors in the questions.
The institutes accepted the errors and formed a committee that ruled that the wrong questions will be ignored. The idea of a retest was set aside by the authorities.
However, with the advent of CBT, human errors and sporadic complaints of impersonation at test sites are likely to decline, with a security system keeping human intervention to a minimum.
The CBT system would also set in motion the process for introduction of an “on demand” testing model for CAT, which has often been suggested as a replacement for “single day, single test” format that are used in all such tests in the country.
Tests such as GRE and GMAT are done on a CBT system that records an audit trail with details of people accessing the system to effectively plug loopholes that might lead to leaks, or errors.
Such a system also creates an item bank that delivers an impromptu and unique set of questions to those taking the test.
About 200,000 applicants take CAT, considered one of the toughest business school entrance exams in the world, each year for entry into IIMs and 120, or so managements schools, such as the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), Mumbai; Management DevelopmentInstitute (MDI), Gurgaon; Mudra Institute of Communications Ahmedabad (MICA), Ahmedabad and National Institute of Industrial Engineering (Nitie), Mumbai, that consider CAT scores for admission.
The number of test-takers jumped from 90,000 to 230,000 aspirants over the last four years, a far cry from just a decade ago when the number of CAT applicants was around 35,000 annually.
With the number of applicants increasing by 20,000 every year, the directors of the six IIMs took a collective decision in 2006 to fix a minimum academic eligibility for the test in order to limit the number of applicants. The decision was also aimed at cutting the load on faculty members of IIMs, who were seen to be spending a considerable time on conducting the tests and completing the admission process.
So far, the exams have been collectively conducted and directly managed by the institutes.

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