Having written the GRE, GATE, I was curious to see how CAT is. After hearing that CAT is going online this year, was even more intrigued. So my friend Lenson and I registered, for day 1, the morning of 28th – the first day first show😀 In short, it was a flop! It was a painful experience overall and left me feeling that a simple, old-school paper-and-pencil test would have been much better than all this high-tech mash-up.
Act 1 – The Entry
Scene 1 – Approaching The Centre
We were instructed to be at the centre by 830am, with the instructions booklet giving us dire warnings of late-comers not being allowed entry. As we were to find out later, this was just one instance of the general philosophy of rules being applicable only one way, and no accountability from the organizers for ANYTHING. We’d be barred entry if late, but what if the exam’s delayed? Nothing. Anyways, we were there by 815am, and we find a crowd standing outside the campus. Students weren’t allowed inside the campus! At 845am, the powers that be deigned it appropriate that students be permitted to approach withing 500m of the sanctum sanctorium, the exam centre. We were fortunately at the front of the queue, and got in quickly. At the gate, each person was asked to write his name, phone number, address, college and mail id, one by one. Really pitied the guys behind, which was essentially the entire batch.
Scene 2 – Approaching The Hall
Our identities were verified by 2 more people on the way (wonder why.. It was a straight road😐 ) and we eventually reached the building. A lady (guess a staff from the college, as volunteer) demanded that we surrender all personal belongings, including wallet, phone, stationery, watches. There was no table or container of any sort to keep the stuff she was going to collect, and there was no receipt/token mechanism to track who’s belongings is which!! We flatly refused, causing another delay while she checked up with her seniors and finally let us through. Immediately after that was another check where another minion demanded to see the bank chellan, of all things! Finally, after quite a few hurdles, we had arrived at the right building, at 9am (we were the first, remember)
Act 2 – Before the Exam
Scene 1 – The Waiting in Room
We were waiting in the corridor for a while, after which we were asked to wait in another lab. We had fun there, observing how others take and react to pressure😀 Some went into a shell, some became agitated and started tapping tables, fidgeted while others became more exuberant. After a while, some people were called, based on their testing room number. Not surprisingly, we had the number that was called last so had to wait the most, for about 30 mins. Finally when called, we had to give our belongings and wait to enter the exam hall.
Scene 2 – The Waiting in Line
The exam was scheduled to begin at 10, which meant we should have been at our seats by 930. Sadly, 930 was when we were in queue to get into the hall. We were thinking then, “aah, at last we’re going to write the exam!”. I get reminded of one of Murphy’s Law when I think of our state of mind then – smile; tomorrow will be worse. How true. We weren’t to know then that the real disaster was yet to happen!
While in line, again, we had a lot of fun commenting on the admins, the college, the exam, the MBA program, the person ahead of us in line, the person behind us in line, each other, ourselves, vaastu, MPLS and network QoS, xkcd and other miscellaneous stuff! By far, we were the MOST talkative pair in the whole batch, without a single silent moment😀 soon, others also opened up and we had a whale of a time waiting outside!
Finally, we were allowed to get in, and yet again, we thought “at last!!”, but it was not to be; not quite yet. We were asked to come one by one, and one person went in, while we merrily carried on with our tomfoolery. s time passed, we became increasingly curious so as to what happened to the girl who went in initially. After about 10 mins, the second person was called in. We thought, “at last! The system must’ve had a glitch initially, causing the delay. Now things’ll get a move on”, and we were obviously wrong. It took about 3 mins each for every person, for fingerprints of two index fingers each, and a webcam photo! Talk about inefficiency!! We were itching to speed up the process. Since there was separate hardware for fingerprinting and taking photo, it could’ve been pipelined easily. There were 3 webcams and 3 fingerprint scanners, but only one set was used. Apathy? Incompetence? I wonder..
It was 1015 by the time I was seated, and I was the third person to get in.
Scene 3 – The Waiting for The Exam to Begin
It was announced while we were waiting outside that the exam will begin at 11am due to “technical difficulties”, and we were resigned to the fact that it was going to be a long and dreary wait. I really pity the people who had prepared for a year, doing mock tests, assiduously tracking their performance, dreaming, praying, wishing fervently that they do well in the exam.. My heart really went out to them. So much can be, and was undone by the callous insensitivity of nameless faces for whom every candidate is just a serial number. If only they had thought of each person as a person, maybe they’d’ve done their job with some more seriousness and not made such a mess of it.
I thought dealing with people was part of management. I thought logistics was a part of management. I thought organization was a part of management. I thought 1400 Rs was money enough to get enough hardware. I thought Prometric, being a reputed international organization, will do a good job. I thought since this was conducted by IIMs with the aid of Prometric and NIIT, they will put into practice all they preach. I thought a lot of things. Sadly, the IIMs and Prometric beg to differ. They might be right and I might be wrong; 42 might not be the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. (speaking of 42, it was the address of my centre😀 )
Act 3 – The Exam
Scene 1 – The Waiting for The Exam to Load
After much fuss about my height, orientation of chair and finger pressure on the scanner, I finally get fingerprinted and the mugshot is finally taken (seriously! They kept asking me to move about to get the proper picture instead of simply adjusting the webcam! All instructions I got were “move”; no direction of which side to move. When I tried to adjust by myself by looking at the screen, I was admonished😐 )
After this, I was asked to wait for a while while my system was logged in. I noticed then that the girl who went in first (20 mins back) was still waiting! “Uh oh..”. My system logged in soon enough and I was at my desk, watching people struggle with logging in. I was one of the lucky few for whom the system logged in the first time. People had to restart their system multiple times before it logged in, with each restart taking about 10 mins. Lenson had to wait for 40 mins!! Of course, I had to wait through all that because we couldn’t start before everyone was ready (so we were told).
At around 11am, with a few more left to enter the hall and finish biometrics, I suddenly see Lenson freaking out. One of the admins had started his test without informing Lenson, and the timer had started ticking!! He had no scratch paper, no pencil and hadn’t done the tutorial! He lost about 5 mins in the ensuing chaos. I later came to know that his case was not as tragic as the guy next to him, for whom the admin had clicked “I do not agree” to the Non Disclosure Agreement. The test quit, and re-appeared 40 mins later, and the timer had been running all the while!
Scene 2 – The Writing of The Exam
I then decided to start mine as well, and started. I was prompted for yet another verification code (we have 2 codes on the hall ticket, one for logging in, one for accessing the data center and finally yet another!). In keeping with the theme of incompetency and mismanagement, the guy did not type in the value quick enough and it timed out. I had to wait for another 10 mins. Finally I got cracking.
But many others hadn’t. People were chatting, fidgeting and making noise. I soon tuned out and lost myself in the questions. After an hour or so, the noise level increased considerably. I resurface to find out that some people have still not started the exam!! No exaggeration: I heard giggles, chatter, some rhythm being played with pencils on the table, and the most tragic of all things, the admins’ phones ringing repeatedly in loud mode!! An average 10-minute slip test worth 5 marks in school, with no invigilation, had better atmosphere. Wonder how others concentrated..
Scene 3 – The Protest and The Exodus
Soon, arguments broke out at various points in the hall. One guy had to be home ay 5pm, one girl had a train to catch in the evening and so on, while others were writing the exam. Soon the situation degraded into a full-blown protest. A bunch of people were trying to stage a walk-out, and some admins were blocking the doors. They were arguing loudly on whether students could leave or not. That’s when I lost my cool and screamed at the admins to solve the problems of the students, but outside the hall. Thankfully, they complied and the poor bunch exited. Only then did we get a proper exam atmosphere, but only 45 mins was left for me.
After the exam, we wanted to complain to someone from IIM. There was no one representing the organizing body!! We found a guy who was not from IIM or Prometric (a “third party observer”) and put across our problems and left.
To rub salt on the wound, throughout the test, there was a banner on top with a logo that read “Satisfaction simplified”😐
Act 4 – The Aftermath
This was all over in the news channels with rumours, statements, interviews, opinions etc. I heard that some IIM statement quoted 200 people to be affected. There was a list of centres affected, and mine was not in the list! Hope its added soon. I suspect that the IIMs are not revealing the exact severity of the situation (my centre was VelTech). The systems booted soon enough, and the problem was at the server side. So assuming 10 students to have been affected on an average, with 30 test cities, assuming an average of 4 centres per city, roughly 1000 students were affected. 200 is nowhere close.
This is the first time CAT is going online, and yesterday was the first day. I agree that there’ll be teething troubles. But this is way too much. To their credit, the paper was interesting. There was no dumb option; I had to work for eliminating every option. There weren’t any free hits as well. On the whole, good paper marred by very poor organization.
Nov 29 Update:
1. Forgot to mention two more mess-ups. The directions to the test centre put up on the website was grossly off the mark! Travelling time to the actual test centre was 1 1/2 hours, while travelling time to the place as directed in the website was about 20 mins.
Yet another mess-up was regarding rough sheets. I was given a sheet nunmbered differently than my computer. When I asked, the guy curtly asked me not to throw a fuss. Five minutes later another admin is shouting at this guy for distributing wrong numbers. Poor Lenson had already filled a sheet, and refused to hand over his sheet. The number on his sheet had to be changed later.
2. http://www.catiim.in/ has a message all saying tests have been cancelled some centres.