CAT Format changes - Some additional points

The format for CAT 2011 has changed. The key changes are as follows

1. Only two sections now, instead of 3. We will have one verbal and one quant section only, with 30 questions in each section. The DI-LR section has been split mid-way and been apportioned into quant and verbal. Quant will now contain - math + Data Interpretation while verbal section will include Logical Reasoning.

2. Timing raised to 140 minutes (from 135 minutes). The big change here is that now the time limit is two water-tight 70 minutes. A student can no longer apportion timing as he/she pleases. The exam will now comprise two sections of 70 minutes.
What are the key implications for students?

1. Only two section cut-offs to worry about: This simplifies life
2. Time management becomes much easier
3. Balance across sections will get rewarded: Earlier students weak in verbal could just spend five more minutes in the section and compensate for this. With water-tight sections, this kind of time-shifting is ruled out
4. Verbal assumes more importance now. The widespread perception is that CAT was still a "quant" exam. This change in format could lead to increased importance given to verbal.

What has been left unsaid?
This part is pure conjecture. These are the things I expect to see.
1. In the verbal section, the LR questions will be more like CR questions (Critical reasoning questions). We will see more questions that resemble mini-case studies and fewer questions that are puzzle-based. In my view, the verbal section will have 9-11 qns from RC, 3 each in sentence rearrangement, sentence correction and sentence completion, one puzzle that has 3-4 questions and 5-6 questions based on arguments, hypotheses etc.

2.The puzzle based questions will still feature in the quant section. The DI-LR section is effectively getting squeezed out a little in this format-change, in my view.

What trends will be seen?
1. More skewed percentiles: The guys who are really strong in quant/verbal are now going to ace this section without worrying about hoovering up time for the other section(s)
2. Candidates with balance will be at an advantage.

How should preparation style change?

Focus more on RC. Spend more time on critical reasoning and case-study type questions. CAT used to have these kind of questions about 10 years ago. They used to be called as Analytical reasoning. Dig up those archives and have a go.

If you are reasonably strong in the basics, forget about building speed doing random (baseless) speed-building exercises. Multiplication speed, reading speed are all going to matter less. The examiners are effectively saying - "I give you 2.5-3 minutes per question. If you can think clearly, you will never be hard-pressed for time"

Longer-term, where is this going?
The path has been laid out. They want to make this an exam that can be taken more than once a year. A more standardised test, a test more in line with global practices (GMAT, GRE), test that isolates quant and verbal, are all steps to ensure that they can make this a through-the-year exam either in 2012 or 2013.

Importance given to verbal ability has increased: Verbal accounts for 50% of the exam now, up from 33% previously. Being merely quant-strong will not be enough to crack this exam. Students need to look at Sentence Correction and critical reasoning more aggressively

Stamina will count for a lot now: In the past editions, students had the advantage of changing sections mid-way, front-loading reading components, shuffling within a paper, etc. Now, a student will spend 2 hours before starting the exam, then spend 70 minutes doing quant, and then start the first verbal question. By the time you near the end of the verbal section, you would have spent more than 220 minutes staring at a computer. If you are the kind that gets tired reading RC passages, then you will have to work a lot on improving stamina.

The other point that emerged from discussions is the fact globally exams are converging on one pattern. India is moving towards lowering primacy given to DI/LR exactly at the point of time GMAT/GRE are increasing importance to DI. So, perhaps we are reaching a middle-ground where patterns are beginning to converge.