Home / Companies / Rival e-test firm pitched for phased introduction

New Delhi: An electronic testing company had suggested that the first computer-based Common Admission Test (CAT) be conducted only on a pilot basis this year, before it lost the bid to administer the exam that ran into widespread technical snags and disruptions, said two persons familiar with the matter.

Pearson, which lost the bid to conduct the online CAT to rival ETS Prometric, cited infrastructural inadequacies as potential hurdles for administering a computer-based test to all applicants in the very first year. It suggested a testing window of 45-50 days instead of the 10-day time frame over which the exam was conducted, the persons said.

Prometric Testing Pvt. Ltd, the Indian arm of the US-based assessment company that handles global exams such as the Graduate Record Examination for admission to universities and colleges in the US, conducted CAT between 28 November and 7 December after winning a five-year, $40 million (Rs187 crore) contract.

IIM Bangalore director Pankaj Chandra confirmed that the option of conducting CAT on a smaller scale in its first year was discussed before the contract was awarded to ETS Prometric. “I don’t remember the individual bids offhand, but we did discuss this option also," Chandra said in a phone interview. “However, after our discussions with Prometric and NIIT, we were convinced that we would be able to do it on a large scale...but, of course, it didn’t go as planned, which is unfortunate."

Pearson VUE placed the suggestions as part of its bid in response to a tender floated by the IIMs last year. Pearson VUE declined to comment for this story.

“The IIMs requested a full-field roll-out for this engagement because it was important to develop new test content which took advantage of experts and the computer environment that would deliver the test items," said Soumitra Roy, managing director of Prometric India.

“Comparing paper-and-pencil content and test scores to those obtained through the record-setting CBT (computer-based test) administration would have introduced its own set of problems," Roy said in emailed replies to queries from Mint.

The administration of CAT requires giving hundreds of thousands of tests over a brief period of time, utilizing 17,000 computers in 361 temporary testing labs at 104 centres across 32 cities, according to Prometric.

“The logistics involved with administering such a test requires using public infrastructure rather than a fully secure test delivery network," said Roy. “Despite our best efforts, using public infrastructure exposes us to certain elements, such as susceptibility to viruses. We regret the circumstances that occurred this year and are taking steps to ensure that they do not happen again."

CAT was conducted in a pen-and-paper format for 33 years before the job of administering it was outsourced to Prometric. The move was seen as part of an effort towards creating a market for testing services in India and also introducing an error-free mechanism for CAT, which in the last few years has been marred by complaints of leaks and errors in question papers.

Around 242,000 candidates registered for CAT 2009. About 10% of the total registered applicants did not show up for the test—a percentage similar to that experienced in the past, according to the IIMs. Some 2,000 candidates, who were rescheduled, remain to be tested, while around 8,000 students may have faced difficulties of various kinds in completing the test. The IIMs plan to hold a re-test for the affected students next month.

Chandra defends the switch to an online format. “Change is difficult to come by. No matter how well one does it, some people will criticize it."

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