Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Mock CAT Battle

It's crazy, and outright shocking the way the various CAT coaching institutes misguide students to achieve their own commercial ends. I was associated with IMS Learning Resources, the oldest coaching institute for CAT in the country, for close t0 3 years - during this period and before it IMS offered 8 SIMCATs (the IMS mock CAT) for students getting ready for the CAT and other MBA Entrance Tests. While other coaching institutes were offering more and more Mock CATs with an idea to lure away students from the competition, I was proud that my organisation stuck to its guns because as an organisation we believed that 8 mocks were sufficient for a student preparing for CAT. The counselors had a tough time explaining the logic as it is far easier to sell "more than less". But we were doing a fair job, though we could see that our competitors were gaining strength because they were offering 'more for less' and gullible students (read customers) were being misguided into taking the wrong decision.

The logic behind 8 SIMCATs was simple - a Mock CAT has certain objectives:
1) to find out where do you stand vis-a-vis other CAT takers (so the overall percentiles and the sectional percentiles are important)
2) to help you find and assess your strong and weak areas so that you can correct/balance your further study plan accordingly
3) to gauge your progress as you move towards the CAT day, expose students to various likely papers/patterns and improve his Test Taking Techniques.
4) and as a result of point 3 above, you get a fair idea of which b-schools you stand a chance of getting into and can thus apply accordingly.
and most importantly:
5) we insisted on 8 SIMCATs and no more because we wanted students to get time to assess his performance, work on it and gradually improve his performance over the 8 tests.

What is funny is that the above logic was perfect and IMS was producing results year after year, yet now they have taken a complete about turn. I just checked out the IMS website and was horrified that they have not just increased the number of SIMCATs for CAT 2008, but actually gone ahead and doubled it. The new SIMCAT package for CAT 2008 has its selling line saying (and read this and see the irony of it all): "The 1st commandment of CAT Prep comes back with double the strength and double the power..but at the same price.." Sham, Shame! cat 2008, online cat coaching 2009

But the biggest culprit is still not IMS. That i would think are the other 2 biggies in the CAT Coaching arena - Career Launcher and TIME. This trend of more and more Mock CATs has been shamelessly advocated by TIME for years - and what's more they sell it for a bargain price so that students enrolled with other coaching institutes also enrol with them for their Mock CATs. ( It's called AIM CAT, but the students never knew what the real aim was!!) Their objective was to get more and more students so that they had a larger number of IIM seats that were filled up by TIME to claim. That has been their chief marketing ploy for years now. They now even shamelessly claim that they send the largest number of students to the IIMs, compared to even IMS. What an utter distortion of truth!! ( and their marketing managers are stupid enough to believe that someone outside Hyderabad or Secunderabad would even believe this crap, they have now gone ahead and got this distortion of truth approved by KPMG) - yeah and don't forget what their tagline claims: No.1 institute in India. My IMS office was in Barakhamba and every time we passed their centre in CP, we used to have a hearty laugh - "forget India, they are not even no.1 in Connaught Place, and yes not even no.2". ( To understand how TIME sends the largest number of students to the IIMs, i strongly recommend you to first brush up your fundas on Set Theory - else ask me, i would love to explain further!)

And let me say a few nice words about Career Launcher too - the trendiest and the most youthful of the lot, they started off well, with noble intentions maybe. I was one of the earlier CL students, and the quality then was not great, but not too bad either - with the founders themselves playing teachers way back then. But if one organisation is to be blamed for dirtying the CAT Coaching atmosphere, this honour has to go to CL. They are out and out commercial, playing every game - right or wrong to increase their numbers. Every month they have a "fee incentive ending soon" campaign!! If you have ever gone there for an enquiry and left your number behind, they will keep calling you till you have enrolled with them or till you ask them to buzz off saying what hurts them more than the choicest four-letter word: "I have joined IMS".

I am a marketing man myself and have nothing against people trying to promote their product/service - afterall that's how i have been earning my bread this last 7 years. But blatant lies and misguiding your customers - that's not fair, and not right. What's more, it's not required. There is a right way of going about it, and it ain't that difficult either.