Saturday, November 28, 2009

A horror called online IIM-CAT 2009

I write this blogpost with a lot of pain, and a sense of deep responsibility towards the students community.

The Common Admission Test (CAT) for the Indian Institutes of Management is touted as one of the best entrance tests of its kind, and has close to 160 colleges linked with it. This year, the entire process of conducting the test has been taken "online", and has been outsourced at a hefty price tag of around USD 40 million (for a period of 5 years, as reported in leading mainline English dailies) to a company called Prometric of USA.

I have been tracking the IIMCAT for 20 years now, and have been analysing it professionally for more than 12 years now.

Today (Saturday 28/11) was the first day in the series of 10, when CAT is planned in 2 slots each day (morning and evening). Thousands of students across India wrote the test, or tried to write it. Students and faculty of my institute PT education too wrote the test, and hence we learnt everything from a first person perspective.

Before moving on, here is a near-perfect unfortunate prediction made by us in August 2009 regarding the possible fate of this amazing unprepared exercise being contemplated by IIMs. CLICK ON IMAGE BELOW to watch this video (esp. 5:00 - 5:30)

I observed the entire proceedings with interest across several cities in India, and here are my observations.

Shameful dereliction of duty by Testing authorities

  1. The testing authority is of a true Yankee pedigree. They hardly understand the Indian cultural milieu, and have tried to transport a whole system from the US to India without adequate and much-needed local cultural adaptations. The IIMs are desperate to make the CAT an international test, and they think that only Prometric can help them do it. (on a philosophical note, I would think otherwise, as we know that the American model of capitalism itself under a dark, ominous cloud)
  2. My first brush with their insensitivity was when they uploaded the first training video (for CAT applicants) in August on YouTube, and I found that two Indian looking characters speaking in amazingly irritating American accents were trying to share process gyan with Indian students. My reaction that day was "IIMCAT to gayi paani mey. This company will ruin it this year". Please refer my blogpost on this topic.
  3. I strongly feel that in India, there is no point in using an American accent to create and peddle your stuff. Indian accents will do just fine with 99.9% of us (as for the rest, they are already in the US so forget about them!). This video itself revealed two possible thought patterns - a false sense of tremendous superiority, and a total lack of understanding of cultural nuances. My fear was born that day.
  4. The entire process of registrations of CAT Applicants was bogged down in procedural errors, and tremendous amount of heartburn for students. We are trainers, and know firsthand how much stress it created for students and families. Far removed physically from the scene of action, and now shielded behind the veil of "online" purdah, the IIMs and Prometric did nothing but issue clarification after clarification. Talk to any applicant and she will tell you that the software was uploaded without any testing. It was a beta! A beta, running the CAT process. Imagine.
  5. Today, on the first day of the hallowed CAT, the entire system came tumbling down.
    • The test was cancelled at more than 10 locations in India. Thousands of hapless, stressed-out and anxious students were given no clue as to what will happen next. I found students crying, desperate and totally lost out.
    • At some location, students were made to wait for upto 5 hours (without food, water, toilet facilities) and then tersely told to either behave or go away (and we will let you know of your test slot by sms and email).
    • Countless errors cropped up at almost all test locations. The software acted funny, and students were left totally bewildered.
    • Many students lost out even after working the test for almost the entire duration - a girl at Delhi reported that in the last 30 minutes, the screen went blank.
    • For several minutes and hours, at many locations, the test was delayed beyond the official start time (that now seems to be the least of their mistakes!)
    • The staff present on the scene was either from Prometric, or from the local Engineering colleges hired for testing purpose, or from the party Prometric subcontracted to further - NIIT.
    • Students reported that the quality of most of these people was so pathetic that it was useless to expect solutions from them! At one location, one of the invigilators kept informing students reading out from some official document stating that "... and if you do not follow our instructions, we will report a file. We will report a file".   Report a file? Or file a report?  MORONS.
    • The physical security at all locations was supertight. The actual testing process at many - totally unreliable. It is like putting the best rocket launching pad in place, and then putting a bullock cart hoping it will take off in full gusto to reach the Moon. And beyond (remember, it's a 5 year contract!)
  6. To all this going on, the official reactions of IIMs and Prometric (till today evneing) were
    • There are no problems
    • There maybe some rescheduling of tests for some candidates
    • These are isolated incidents
    • Nothing has been cancelled
    • No servers have crashed
    • Don't un-necessary blow things out of proportion
    • Errors will happen, what else did you expect in such a big exercise
Things Prometric does not know about Indian students
(and the IIMs ought to have told them)

  1. India is a developing nation, not a post-modern society like the US
  2. In India, writing a competitive test is not an individual affair, it is a family affair
  3. Parents mortgage their possessions and property (in many cases) to help their kids prepare for such tests from big cities
  4. The social reputation attached with success (and failure) in writing competitive tests in India is ABSENT in the USA
  5. People work hard for upto 24 months preparing for the CAT - that's not a joke
  6. The local dynamics of India are quite different - when a technician tells you that a job will be done, he means it will be done in the 3rd or the 4th attempt (Hence, at least 2 dry runs must be done before attempting anything as grand as an online pan-India IIM-CAT) for the first time
Strategies used to handle things so far
  1. Give no time to anyone to react - almost all important instructions come at the last moment, including the eminently enjoyable and farcical gag order for students released 2 days ago advising them to "keep your mouths shut after the test is over or else 2 years in jail"  Ha ha ha, lol!
  2. Make assumptions about things - how can we be wrong on anything? We are too big to fail
  3. Even if we fail, what? - ultimately, can students really do anything, except meekly submit and bear the brunt of our naivete and inefficiences bred out of arrogance
Today, the media was livid at all this. I interacted with many channels and newspapers today, and realised that everyone is worked up on this. Everyone, except maybe those who were responsible for all this.

What has this mess done to the reputation of the IIM-CAT? Well, a lot of damage. And it has personally made me very sad to see a grand Indian institution - the IIM-CAT - go literally down the drain (on the first day) the way it went.

I was also shocked to see the spineless approach of some of my own trainer colleagues from the industry, who advocated in a press meet that "Well what's done is done. Let's be positive now". I responded on the spot that "Tell this to the student whose entire effort of 2 years was dashed to dust today by the ignoramuses".

What we expect now
  1. A public apology by the IIMs and Prometric - come on! Accept that you goofed up big time and say sorry. It will only increase your stature.
  2. A "Plan B" - the alternative action plan must have been announced by Saturday evening itself. It was not. Apparently, they were just not prepared. Students of even elementary management science know that contingency planning is the key to successful long term execution.
  3. Compensation to distressed students - the time, cost and efforts of thousands of students who were inconvenienced beyond imagination.. is there nothing to it? Will the HRD ministry wake up and take note of what's happening? How long with the ministry allow such an autonomy (which is nothing but a licence to play around with kids' future)
I feel strongly about inefficient Professors masquerading as world-class Project Managers and in the process tarnishing an institution. Honestly sirs, give this test-conduction to me, and I will do a better job of it. You claim to teach best of management science to students, and is this how you put it into practice? Shame. For the kind of moneys being spent, this is hardly the ROI we expect. We were looking forward to a terrific testing experience, and what we got was a weekend adventure trip down the big vertical canyon.

Maybe it's truly time for you to return to basics - as Dr Peter F Drucker would have said "Efforts alone are of little use, results must follow".

May better sense prevail. May the students' efforts get the right benchmark, and may Indian management education once again enter its halcyon days.


Important tips for students (IIM-CAT takers) - the authorities have said that testing will continue as per schedule. Nothing is cancelled. Please report in time, on all days. Do not at all assume that tests are cancelled. And as for the tests on day 1, the tests were easy (compared to last year), and anyone who has taken proper training should do well. Those who are unfortunate in not being able to write the test, should wait for an sms or email telling them of the fresh testing slot. So here's wishing you BEST OF LUCK for a great future ahead!

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Unknown said...

y??? this should will happend wid with student this all fault gose to system they should chek first n also do some demo session of cat it helps to motivate students .................. dats very worst reactions y responsible authorities if they said this things so how to faith to any one

Unknown said...

Yes, sir you are absolutely right.
And i think IIMs must have to take immediate action against it because it carries the future of 2,47,000 students as well as their reputation.

pankaj gangwani said...

Dear Sir,

I totally agree that cultural issue is the biggest of all as far as Indian students are concerned.
After reading this post, I am really wondering that how Prometric will conduct it for the rest of the remaining years and they have failed for the very first time. I think they will be able to do it but at the cost of the students who are writing CAT. Lets be positive and hope that the shining days of IIMCAT will be back again.
Thank You Sir I got a lot of insight that how such big institute like IIM and the company (Prometric) make these silly mistakes that they don't have any plan B ready if something goes wrong.They must have contingency planning, but unfortunately they don't posses enough intelligence plan for the same.Else they were really sure that the system would not fail and they will be able to conduct it without any hindrance but one cannot predict future and unfortunately things does not go according to one's choice most of the times.

Pankaj Gangwani

Unknown said...

I just want to say to all the students that-

Many are the afflictions of the righteous but deliverance came out of them all..
Nandan Agrawal

Shantanu said...

When a friend complained about repeated hang-ups on his computer, the invigilator asked him to "avoid clicking a lot"!! Now that was really smart :)

Unknown said...


I am mighty impressed by your understanding of the Indian culture and at the same time amalgamating it with the best of the developed world. India needs people like you in every sector to achieve Global Standards, with Indian sensibilities.

Very well said about the reasons, impact and the suggestions.


himanshu said...

well agree with akshay the country needs pple like sir...
what an outstanding post may b i think it should be sent to IIMs to realize their mistake...even iims should learn much from NSE that conducts its online exams(ncfm) everyday..n spending much time there i haven't seen a single error..and sir a good note on the cultural issue...


Unknown said...

wondrful post!!!
got a deep insight of d whole scenario...these ppl(IIMs n Prometric) had written in der sites dat they hav contingency plans against terrorist attacks n natural calamities n al dat bullshit...but wat now..wherz d main plan B???...all dat written stuff is useless...shame on IIMs n Prometric!!!!!!!!

Test said...

Dear Readers, I am totally with the students community on this issue. I have strongly registered my protest against the unprofessional conduct, on various TV channels too. Today we had a detailed interview on CNBC awaz and I clarified that "rescheduling tests" is not the solution to this mess, as it cannot make up for the lost tempo of a student. I pray for better sense to prevail.

Rhishikesh said...

Respected Sir,
I completely agree with u. Many engineering students have there semesters going on...and still they travelled from nasik to mumbai for one day and now they have to go again...due to rescheduling.
disgusting, discouraging and disaapointing. there reactions are the worst part of it. i feel like whacking them with sticks who give such arrogant comments like everything is under control.....these r the people who will not even know that the enemy has invaded and conquered there territory....they will simply say all is well and under control....
but then the prometric has indianized in at least one way- servers failing all over india and they are saying-problems are not genuine. our politicians are no different- people dying due to hunger and they saying india is self sufficient in food production....!

Unknown said...

Respected Sir,

Thank you for your insightful thoughts. I am totally agree with you about this.

I am wondering if these kind of people can't manage and conduct the test properly then what kind of educational training in terms of "Corporate Management" they may have been provided to the students? Really, according to me may be IIM-CAT has spoiled its reputation by attempting such a "wonderful" mistake!!

However, Sir, My exams are over. And, now onwards, I will be regularly commenting on your blogs.

Keyur Joshi.

Shailendra said...

Dear Sir,
It is really tough time to those students who appeared in CAT09. As we all know that CAT is one of the toughest exam in the world and it was successfully conducted from past several years. If there were no bottlenecks in traditional pattern then why IIMs are seeking for change in its pattern.
After the fiasco of IIMCAT why responsible people are not coming forward and accepting the mistakes. You are very right sir, where are the HR personnel, what are they doing, why they are not taking severe actions.
Once again it has been proved that we are always try to copying western things like IIMs done. Why we always forgot our core competency.

Spring 09

vish said...

sir yesterday i wrote this test ; and my computer got hanged when i went into the review screen and i called the prometric proctors for help and they refused to come n help and i panicked and pressed escape and kept clicking my mouse in frustration to find a message suddenly after page refreshment saying i'l get my results on 22nd jan . i did not even attend 2 questions. After all was over they came over and said that ur test was over and i can leave after the rest of the candidates finish . what am i to d sir ?/ is there any way for any reschedulement .???

vish said...

sir yesterday i took cat 09 and and i entered review page for navigation from one question to another and suddenly my sys got hanged . And when i called those proctors they never came for any help ( but in the instruction sheet they had mentioned if any help pls raise your hand ) ; and then i panicked and pressed escape and started clicking my mouse in frustration . I do not know what exactly happened . But the thing was i came out of the Test . 1 yr of sheer preparation and hard work were burnt to ashes . I'm still not able to recover from the shock !!

And they never retrieved the Test .

wat am i supposed to do if i need to get any reschedulement ??

KAPIL said...

SO I reqest you to keep it up
i am student of pt education v.v.nagar

Kanchan Pahuja said...

Respected Sir,
I didn't write cat09, but i prepared very hard in cat07 , so i can understand that what students have felt when screen went blank, system got hanged etc sir but what will happen on 22 jan, when the result will declare, because some students were preparing since last 2-3 years means how they will handle their faliureness inspite of giving their 100%.