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  Unbelled CAT  
  By Sunit Dhawan

FACTS, they say, are stranger than fiction. Indeed. What else could be more ironical than the IIMs, which have long been regarded as the country's premier management institutes credited with producing world-class managers, having failed to manage their first-ever online Common Admission Test (CAT) conducted recently?

The IIMs had outsourced the job of conducting the online CAT to Prometric, a USA-based company that claims to be a "leading global provider of comprehensive testing and assessment services".

However, the test was a disaster with reports of thousands of candidates (almost 18 per cent of total examinees) from several cities not being able to take it due to technical snags in the computers at testing centres pouring in for several consecutive days.

A virus attack was blamed for the fiasco, with Conflicker and W32.Nimda being named the major troublemakers.

At the same time, the authorities of the hitherto prestigious IIMs came under fire from various quarters for botching up the maiden online CAT. They were accused of putting all responsibility on Prometric and doing little to ensure that a foolproof testing mechanism was actually in place.

This casual and complacent approach adopted by the management of the IIMs caused irrecoverable loss to the reputation of the elite institutes, apart from playing havoc with the dreams of thousands of aspiring managers.

Experts point out that a simple step like conducting a rehearsal of the exam would have exposed the glitches in the system well in time to rectify the same. Some maintain that regimes like biometric identification, apart from online video and audio screening, also burdened the systems.

Expressing concern over the issue, Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal said the organisers should have been more careful with the manner in which the test was conducted. The government has also sought a factual report regarding the matter.

Dr Nasib Singh Gill, Professor and Head, Department of Computer Science and Applications at Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak, asserts that merely engaging an overseas company for conducting a test was not enough and the IIM authorities should have adopted a more proactive stance.

"We have been successfully conducting a statewide online test for entrance to the MCA course. Such initial hiccups cannot be ruled out, but a more rigorous regime to test the testing mechanism was definitely required," he maintains.

Dr Gill further points out that instead of outsourcing the task of conducting the exam to a US firm, the authorities concerned should have explored the Indian companies as many of them are not only fully competent, but also well-versed with the ground realities prevailing here.

As of now, the authorities concerned have decided to extend the time frame for the conduct of online CAT, which was already spread over a period of 10 days as compared to the single-day exams conducted till last year, so that the candidates left out due to the snag can get a fair chance.

Such knee-jerk reactions are obviously not enough to contain the damage already done to the psyches and preparedness of thousands of CAT aspirants and to the prestige of the top B-schools of the country across the globe.

What can be done to contain the damage so that the students' faith in the elite management schools is restored is the question the managers of the IIMs should be asking themselves.

Hiding behind the lame excuses of server failures due to virus onslaught or other such things simply won't do. Nobody is going to buy such explanations from the IIM bosses, especially in this era of Internet and frequent online exams. In fact, thousands of Indian students take online tests like Graduate Record Examination (GRE), Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and International English Language Testing System (IELTS) as a matter of routine.

These tests are given 30-40 times a year on pre-determined dates at over 4,000 secure Internet-based centres across the globe and technical glitches have been virtually unheard of in these exams.

The online tests have several benefits as well. First and foremost, the test is conducted at a location closer to the candidates' place. Precious time, money and energy of the candidates are thus saved. Then, the chances of impersonation or paper leak are also minimised.

Aman Mittal, Assistant Director, Lovely Professional University, Jalandhar, states that the concept of established institutions going in for new ideas like online tests is a welcome change.

"However, the available IT infrastructure is still not adequate to the desired level," he says, adding that conducting full-scale trial runs, stress-testing the software and taking corrective measures would go a long way in eliminating such glitches.

Education experts admit that it is not an easy task to launch a mega computer-based testing operation of this scale that involves training, equipping and coordinating activities among a large number of dispersed players.

IT experts opine that a standard anti-virus programme should be installed in every computer and the back-up systems used for the entire 10-day exercise. The second task is to equip the centers with multiple levels of back-up systems.

There should be two levels of server back up with automatic switchover to the other server in case there is any glitch in the original one.

All in all, it is high time that the persons at the helm of affairs take stock of the situation and besides chalking out a damage-control plan to minimise the impact of the CATastrophe, they should put on their thinking caps and devise some sound strategy to ensure that such debacles do not happen in future. (Courtesy: Jobs and Careers, The Tribune, Chandigarh)
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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