CAT Exam: Targetting the blind to the world

A professor from IIM Bangalore asked me to comment on this article which was recently published in Indian Express and criticizes the students that are shortlisted for this exam:

Target B-school, blind to the world

For some years now, I have been interviewing candidates for admission to one of India’s top business schools. It’s just half a day’s work in a year, and I started volunteering for the job because I thought it would be nice to meet young people and see how and what they think. But every year, I come back worried.
These are young men and women who have outscored 99 per cent of all the people who sat for the written test, which is the toughest of its type on the planet. Only then can you reach the interview stage. They are the fittest who have survived. Yet, in the eight or so years that I have been doing this, though I have met some marvelous minds, the majority appears to be singularly unaware, unidimensional, and armed with only academic knowledge. And before you decide I am just another grumpy old man, let me explain.
The group discussion is usually on a global or political issue. The interview is very general; the aim is to check for the aptitude to be a successful manager through questions that probe intelligence, well-roundedness and life skills. So questions could range from cricket to philosophy to hobbies; anything at all. And the first thing you discover is that hardly any of them read anything but their textbooks.
One classic example. We asked a candidate (an IITian) whether he read books. Management books, he said promptly, though the fact that he was reading them even before he had got into B-school was perplexing (many of us didn’t read management books even when we were in B-school!). Does he read any fiction? No. Has he ever read any fiction? The young man thought hard and deep, till we feared he would pop the veins on his forehead. Finally, he surfaced from googling his memory, and said: “When I was in Class V, I read a book called The Valley Of Adventure.” Ah, Enid Blyton, we said.
“Sir, author’s name I don’t remember,” he replied apologetically.
One young lady was asked whether she watched films. Yes, she did, but only “fiction films”. That’s OK, we assured her, what percentage of people watch documentaries anyway? Then, seeing some confusion on her face, we asked what she meant. “Fiction films have stories that can’t happen in real life, and non-fiction films are close to reality.” Example of fiction film? Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. And non-fiction? Lagaan.
A few years ago, the group discussion topic was: “The state is the biggest terrorist of all.” A young woman took the lead and spoke impassionedly for half a minute, but we on the panel, for the life of us, couldn’t figure out what she was talking about. Then it dawned. She was arguing that the United States was the biggest terrorist nation on earth! The very concept, The State, was something she had never heard of!
I can give many more such examples. Yet, you ask them what their ambition is, and most tell you that they want to head a multinational corporation. How do you explain to them that those positions don’t come to people with zero awareness of the world, that these are extremely complex jobs where your academic knowledge won’t help you much? These young men and women are good people, ambitious and competitive, but a lifelong blinkered pursuit of topping exams has made their minds and experiences extremely skewed. We, as a society, have put so much pressure on them to excel in studies that we are creating generations of Indians who are curiously stunted. Do they go out and play? Do they go on dates, or at least try and fail? Have they ever tried to build a radio or write poetry? Sadly, their characters seem to be missing, other than mere characteristics.
In fact, one wonders if many of the better minds of this generation are not being able to get into the country’s best institutes simply because they have a life apart from just swotting away like beavers. The coaching classes for these entrance tests have, also, I think, cracked the format of the test papers. So a person of average intelligence but a capacity for dogged hard work can just mug his way through while the brilliant multifaceted candidate ends up scoring less. I hope I am wrong, and that the sample of interviewees I have seen is not a representative one. But I wonder. Or maybe I am just another grumpy old man.
(Sandipan Deb, former editor of The Financial Express, heads the RPG Group’s planned magazine venture)

Being naturally infuriated by the whole article I wrote the following response:

Risking being branded as naive and arrogant, these would be my views:

Have you ever looked at the application form of CAT examination?
Its a 1A4 page OMR sheet and Candidate’s name and address occupies half of the space. I can bet that even after going through the sheet a 100 times, you can not tell me even a word about that candidate, yet somehow IIM selection committee is able to shortlist candidates based
on it.

I agree there is a box to fill in the number of years of work exp the candidate has, but that is a mere formality. That form gives equal weight-age to spending years in a matchstick factory doing some
repetitive monotonous work as to pursuing something more meaningful. The article talks about people lacking hobbies. Well that OMR sheet never asked for one. They did not even bother to ask for a simple 1 page resume.

Almost all the faculty members make fun of the ignorance and stupidity of the candidates, but they never stop to ask why is it that these candidates are being screened and called for interview? All the screening process cares about is the Matriculate marks that the student obtained some 10 years ago, and then the marks obtained in an IQ test called CAT. Hence no wonder all they are able to shortlist some amazing state of the art computational machines. These wonderful machines of flesh and blood are then sold to Wall street at astronomical prices by the employment exchange called IIM. A institute which get more than a 1000 brilliant applicants for every seat it offers is spoiled for choice, and they get what they seek.

Do you think this response was a bit too harsh?

17 replies on “CAT Exam: Targetting the blind to the world”

How many times have you attempted CAT and failed to get an admission? 🙂

I think both of you are saying the same thing. Sandipen Deb described the symptom of a problem and you are maybe explaining what causes the symptoms in the first place.

what i am saying is that the fault lies with the selection procedure. students are not to be blamed… they do whatever it takes to maximize the results (with minimum efforts) while its the responsibility of the faculty to ensure a system that the deserving candidates are not at the disadvantage.

very interesting post – and i agree with roshan
The system in india is cram and spit – and finally the cat coaching has just done that…
Nyways if people think marks are the only criterion they are wrong
the founders of apple, oracle, and ms have shown just that

i totally agree, in life its the personality and networks that lead to success and not marks.. infact those who choose studying dead end subjects for all their lives over having a hobby never reach to the top

Last Summer I met a professor from IIM and he agreed with-//the majority appears to be singularly unaware, unidimensional, and armed with only academic knowledge//.

Sour grapes man… and I am with you in this one… I too have not made it.. 😛
The response was definitely too harsh considering that the article was not meant to be insulting, and I agree with you that the interview questions etc. are completely not checked in the exam used for screening.

i agree too much emphasis of marks and education by rote is doing more harm than good to the nation. the kids don’t know whats life outside their classroom and hence the unidimensional views..

after writing I also felt that the response was too harsh 🙁 but there is little i could do after i send out that email

The education system in India is such that it brands people who manage to pass through top colleges with consistently high performance as ‘brilliant’ . What about the others ?. If they are not ‘brilliant’ , logically they are ‘stupid’ aren’t they ?.

Not only that, the so called ‘brilliant’ folks continue to get favored throughout their career when seeking jobs. It becomes a kind of reservation. To top it, they also start believing that they are superior from others. Over confidence and arrogance start creeping in.

The so called ‘stupid’ have to keep struggling to get better jobs even 15-20 years from hence. They also start believing that they are less capable which actually affects them adversely.

Or they have to start their own business, leave the country etc to come up in life.

well even abroad the same system exist.. people who graduate from ivy league schools also get the same treatment…

but by perspiration and doing things innovatively they can close the gap fast

just a different point of view…

what IIMs are expecting is some alpha humans who are exceptional is studies as well as having some hobbies which they seriously pursue. I have not met many IIM grads but a couple of them which I have met are good in both. I also fall in the same category of ppl who tried CAT but failed to Bell it, but I wont criticize the procedure

it does not matter whether you tried for CAT or not… after all a 2 hour exam can never be the end of the world for you.. and never should be….
institutes like IIM get what they are looking for… they r spoiled for choices and hence they exhibit such behavior

haii this is ravi…………….

i have an aim to atempt CAT exam…….that’s make me feel better than before
i worked hard to get good scoring in 12th…..but i got middle ranged college in ……but not worried …if i get rank in CAT exam…my future will be like a sun..shining………..but these r dependent ….they give importance to thaoe student who came from top colleges or university
………..but i will try the best …..tyhinking that there is no reservation …………..

I totally agree wid Ravi.I am also appearing for CAT this year.Last time I gave when I was in my Final yr of B.Tech but the score was not gud!!!So I thought of joining the MNC in wich I got selected thru campus..Its been 3 yrs now in software Industry but to get high up in your career I feel the need to do master’s degree..but these days the competition is so fierce that for an average intelligence human is very difficult!!!

its a very fascinating article.. but intellectual capabilities have diminished within individuals. all owing to the fact tht it may not fetch u ur livelihood.. but yes an entry into the IIMs would secure that (to an extent if not fully).. i guess were doomed to be a part of this rat race… or if someone has an answer i would like to know it. contact me on

thanku sir ,for agiven alot of knoledge ,iwant to know that that ,what of the number of total seats for cat,and there are follow any reservation.please give me knoledge fof it.i am greatful to u.

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