My experience with Multiple Management Exams.
Every year more than 2 lakh candidates register for the CAT to get into the prestigious Indian Institutes of Management, however, less than 1500 candidates get into the best (IIM A, B and C combined). That’s a conversion rate of 0.75%! This extremely low success rate underscores the need to prepare well not only for CAT but for other tests which offer entry to other very good B-schools in India. It, however, should not deter an aspirant from aiming at the crème de la crème of B-schools in India.
The CAT has evolved by leaps and bounds over the years from being paper-based to going online for a window of 15 days, to its current format of 100 questions in 3 hours and 2 exam windows (an exception being 2020, because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic). The questions have also changed – the verbal ability section has moved on from its traditional approach of being a vocabulary intensive section to currently more logic-oriented. The DILR section has, perhaps, become the toughest section of the three creating a lot of problems for the candidates. The QA section has also moved on, now including questions involving concepts from multiple topics. In nutshell, the CAT now, more appropriately, checks your management abilities in addition to your aptitude. With approx. 1.8 minutes per question, it now has ample time for solving questions. Hence, the focus should be to solve the easy and medium difficulty questions which are sprinkled across the test to maximize one’s score. However, to detect such questions needs a lot of practice, and this is where the practice tests come in handy. Experimentation during mock tests makes life easier in the actual exam and helps you adjust better. For a GEM candidate aiming for a 99.5+ percentile score, 80+ attempts with very high accuracy are needed – and this just shows the insane competition the exam entails. Almost all B-schools in India consider the CAT score for admissions and hence screwing up here can close doors to a lot of your dream B-schools.
The XAT – or the Xavier aptitude test, conducted by XLRI Jamshedpur, is by far the best management exam in my opinion. It is a true test of your management abilities and is a very comprehensive exam. The DILR section is replaced by the decision-making section – which comes in as a boon for candidates like me who have a hard time cracking the DILR cases. The difficulty of the verbal ability section is above average and needs intense practice. An avid reader would have a comparatively easier time going about this section. The passages are can be from backgrounds such as history, humanities and sometimes poems – topics which a non-avid reader like me may consider boring. A big limitation of the exam is however its acceptability. Only of a handful of good B-schools accept XAT scores, the best among them being XLRI and SPJMR. Other good schools include Xavier University Bhubaneshwar, IMT Ghaziabad and MICA Ahmedabad. A host of other B-schools also accept XAT score, however, preparing for other entrance exams instead is better off in my personal opinion. XAT is conducted in the first week of January every year, and by that time most candidates are usually burnt out from the preparation. If one can persevere till then, one has a very good shot at XLRI. It also has a WAT and general awareness section which however, are not considered for your over percentile calculation.
IIFT entrance test is the most notorious for its unpredictable nature. It is also the latest test to make a transition to the online format from a paper-based test. It includes the General Awareness section, which can be a make or break part. Another challenge to the test is its irregular nature including differential marking schemes. Equal importance needs to be given to each section since this exam has sectional cut offs. The QA and DILR sections have usual questions, while the VA section is a mixed bag having questions ranging from RC to LR to vocabulary and even punctuation! The General awareness section has everything under the sun, but has enough questions for one to clear the cut-off. Prepare for surprises in the IIFT. For instance, the 2017 IIFT exam had paragraph-based questions in the general awareness section and had 6 sections, each with its own cut off. Additionally, merely clearing the cut off won’t be sufficient to make it to IIFT D, one needs to score at least 5-6 marks more than the cut-off. The waitlist movement is considerable, and a lot of candidates eventually land up in the Delhi campus from the Kolkata campus.
Symbiosis National Aptitude Test (SNAP) and is an online test conducted by Symbiosis International University for students seeking admissions in one of its 16 institutes covering a total of 25 MBA programs with SIBM-Pune and SCHMRD-Pune being their best two institutes. SNAP is generally conducted on the 3rd Sunday of December all over the country and comprises of 3 sections namely General English: Reading, Comprehension, Verbal Reasoning, and Verbal Ability, Quantitative including Data Interpretation and Data Sufficiency, and Analytical and Logical Reasoning. The overall difficulty level of the paper is moderate with one section generally being slightly difficult to attempt each year. The test duration is of 2 hours and generally comprises of around 110 questions with few special questions carrying twice the marks than the actual marking. The marks per question vary as per the section with the total number of questions per section being almost same at around 35-36 with a negative marking of 25% of the actual marks allotted to that question. The best aspect of this entrance is that there is no section-wise timing as well as no sectional cut-offs which makes it slightly easier to crack by just focusing on your strengths. Getting into the abovementioned campuses would require a GEM candidate to score at least 97.5 percentile, which is subject to change every year.NMAT, the entrance exam to NMIMS and a few other B-schools, is a highly speed based test, especially in the VA section, given that the candidate has to solve 36 questions in 28 minutes. However, it has a lot of vocabulary intensive questions including synonyms, antonyms and fill in the blanks in addition to the RCs and hence is manageable. The DILR has its usual question including the conventional graph and chart- based questions. They can be very calculation intensive and hence one needs to be good with approximations. Another added advantage is that one can write the NMAT 3 times, which takes some pressure off the candidate. However, you will also have to pay for the NMIMS form again each time you reappear, which may take the cost of appearing for the test up to 4 thousand rupees! Another limitation is the small number of schools that accept its scores.
The last exam specifically designed for the candidates interested in pursuing a career in business analytics is the PGDBA exam, a course offered jointly by IIM C, ISI Kolkata and IIT KGP. A 3-hour exam with only 50 questions to solve, it is not at all speed intensive. QA forms 50% of the questions and hence cannot be avoided. It has questions from senior secondary mathematics including calculus, vectors and trigonometry in addition to the usual QA syllabus. Hence, students from the non-science background may have a hard time cracking this test. It is very important to solve the other sections (VA, LR and DI) with very high accuracy so increase your chances. It is also one of the few paper-based exams remaining.
A few other exams which can be considered are Xavier University’s entrance exam, SRCC’s global business exam and ICFAI’s entrance test. Most candidates are burnt out post CAT and if one can stay focused, there are ample opportunities to make it to a great B-school. Don’t be bogged down by a “bad” performance in one exam, there are multiple opportunities and schools out there to pursue your dream MBA.