New Delhi: Gaurav Kishore, a student at the Dr B.C. Roy Engineering College in Durgapur, a steel city that’s a commuter train ride away from West Bengal’s capital Kolkata, had his parents buy him a Dell laptop and an Internet connection in September.

He had class assignments to complete for which a computer could be useful. But there was another over-riding consideration behind the purchase: Kishore, 20, wanted to get into the habit of reading online.

Tech-savvy: Students taking a mock test for the online CAT run by prep firm Career Launcher. Considered one of the world’s toughest, CAT deals with reading comprehension, besides math and data interpretation.

A chunk of the two-hour, 15-minute test, considered one of the world’s toughest, deals with reading comprehension, besides math and data interpretation.

“(We are) used to reading on paper since our childhood," said Kishore, who has opted to take the CAT on 4 December. “It gets a bit difficult to concentrate on computer."

As candidates arm themselves with online skills, US-based testing company Prometric Inc.’s local arm, Prometric Testing Pvt. Ltd, mandated to conduct the test, is gearing up for its big challenge in the Indian assessment market. The company won a closely fought battle to secure a five-year, $40 million (Rs185.5 crore) contract to administer CAT, beating competitors such as Pearson VUE of Pearson Plc, based in the UK, the sole testing partner worldwide for the Graduate Management Admission Test (Gmat).

Prometric, which handles global exams such as the graduate record examination, or GRE, and Test of English as a Foreign Language (Toefl) for admission to universities and colleges in the US, has sanitized and secured 105 test locations in 32 cities, including Durgapur, where Kishore lives. Roughly 24,000 candidates will take the test daily over the 10-day duration.

It’s “for the first time", that Durgapur is getting a test centre, said Kishore, who travelled to Kolkata to sit for a qualifying examination for the Institute of Rural Management Anand, or Irma, and will do so again for an entrance test for the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, or IIFT.

The test locations for CAT, said Prometric, were evaluated for candidate access and convenience, physical space, computer availability, generators, uninterrupted power supply, Internet connectivity and security.

The locations are equipped with closed-circuit television cameras and devices for the fingerprint identification of candidates.

One of the test locations, a privately run business school in Delhi, said it made little investment in terms of money to become a centre. The school is offering over 150 computers in three enclosed areas for CAT. It expects 3,500 candidates per day for the test and considers the exercise a good way of reaching its future clientele.

“They will see our institute for the first time, interact with our students, come to know our faculty," said the director of the Delhi business school, who requested that he and his institute not to be identified as they are not allowed to seek publicity under the contract with Prometric. The school’s name is listed among the test centres on the official CAT website.

Prometric declined Mint’s request to visit a test centre. Earlier this month, the company issued guidelines on the test, warning candidates they will not be allowed even bathroom breaks. The company said it is prepared for power outages, computer crashes, natural calamities and even terrorist attacks.

The computer-based test is seen as the IIMs’ effort towards creating a market for testing services in the country and also introducing an error-free mechanism for their entrance examination, which, in the last few years, has been marred by complaints of leaks and errors in question papers.

In 2003, for instance, the question paper for CAT was leaked ahead of the exam, a first in the 28-year-old history of the test. The CAT 2006 had printing errors. The institutes acknowledged the errors and formed a committee that ruled that answers to the wrong questions would be ignored.