An MBA is a very prestigious qualification as it offers the potential for talented young professionals to showcase their skill sets to some of the most prestigious and highest paying recruiters in the world. With the demand for business school education growing and the mushrooming of Indian business schools, an MBA degree from a top institute carries a lot of weight.
According to a variety of MBA rankings and ratings, the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are some of the most regarded of Indian business schools, as are some university departments such as the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS) which have maintained a high quality of teaching, faculty and research in management education. Then there are institutes started by business leaders and academicians - the Indian School of Business (ISB) being a prime example that also falls into the top bracket of Indian business schools. Other institutes vary greatly in terms of their faculty, curriculum, infrastructure and so on.
With almost 200,000 applicants in the race to get a place in one of the top tier business schools, the selection criteria is stiff and normally entails a national level examination, followed by an interview and group discussion.
Amongst all the management exams, the Common Admission (CAT) is often considered the toughest nut to crack.
A high-quality performance in CAT ensures excellent chances of entry into the IIMs and several other MBA institutes. The level of the paper is generally difficult and the exam is popular for throwing surprises every year. CAT is a two-and-a-half hour paper consisting of three sections: quantitative ability, verbal ability and data interpretation and logical reasoning.
Preparation for the CAT requires a candidate to develop a proficiency in a) understanding the fundamentals of the relevant subjects; b) applying the concepts which have been learnt in those subjects; and c) regular test practice.
Dr Chavi Bhargava Sharma, director of the Faculty of Management Studies at Manav Rachna International University Faridabad, explains that the CAT exam is one of the most respected admissions tests in India;
"The CAT is the most prestigious exam that provides entry into the IIMs, Management Development Institute (MDI), SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Institute of Management Technology Ghaziabad, and other top business schools. But the CAT is an extremely tough and highly competitive exam for the average student to crack. About 250,000 students took the CAT in 2008 for about 1,500 seats in the IIMs. The test is said to make the IIMs more selective than the Ivy League!"
Many top business schools also accept GMAT scores as entry points. The advantage of a GMAT score is that it can be 'banked' as it is valid for five years. A standardized test delivered in English, the GMAT is globally accepted.
"Most Indian business schools including the IIMs, ISB and MDI also approve GMAT scores as entry criteria [as well as the] CAT. But the GMAT is still not very popular with Indian students seeking admission into Indian business schools mainly because of the high cost of the test," says Dr Sharma.
Usually conducted every quarter by the All India Management Association (AIMA), the Management Aptitude Test (MAT) invites more than 200,000 students annually offering them an opportunity for admission into some 450 management institutes spread across the country.
All institutes participating in MAT are either approved by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), a national level apex advisory body, or they are affiliated to a university. Unlike other aptitude tests, which are conducted annually, the repeated periodicity of MAT is its selling point. The test is split into five sections: language comprehension, mathematical skills, data analysis and sufficiency, intelligence and critical reasoning and Indian and global environment. Examinees have to tackle about 200 objective-based questions in two-and-a-half hours, and MAT scores are valid for a year.
"In India MAT is considered the second best format for prospective MBA students and selected students are placed in business schools belonging to the middle category," explains R K Verma, dean at the School of Business Studies, Sharda University.
A national level admission test called the Xavier Admission Test (XAT) is conducted by the Xavier Labour Relations Institute (XLRI), Jamshedpur. There are 35 management institutes that select students on the basis of XAT for postgraduate degree programs in management. Eligibility is a three-year Bachelor's degree (or equivalent) in any discipline recognized by the Association of Indian Universities. The exam is conducted in about 31 cities across the country.
"XAT identifies worthy students for Xavier's institute but these days some other institutes also recognize XAT scores. However, the exam has restricted scope as preference is given to students that show extraordinary aptitude in the fields of human resources and industrial relations," says Verma.
The Narsee Monjee Management Admission Test (NMAT), a test for entry to one of the foremost management institutes in India, The Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), sees thousands of applicants trying their luck every year.
NMAT gives candidates a maximum of three attempts to clear the test which means that a student's best performance can be assessed. There is also no negative marking - hopefully encouraging candidates not to drop a question for fear of deduction in marks. The test's content is designed on a multiple choice question format that includes language skills; quantitative skills, data interpretation and data sufficiency; as well as logical reasoning.
Apart from these, some institutes conduct their own tests. The FMS test for example is a multiple choice two-hour admission examination. Entry to the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai (JBIMS) is via a test in which aspirants are tested on their inclination towards a career in management. The Symbiosis Institute of Business Management conducts the Symbiosis National Aptitute Test (SNAP) --- an objective test with each question having four responses from which the candidate has to choose an appropriate response.
Finally, there is the Joint Management Entrance Test (JMET) for students seeking admission to the two-year full time Postgraduate Degree Program in Management offered by the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.
"JMET is another qualifying examination that is considered the first step in the admission process to Postgraduate Degree Programs in Management offered by the IITs. But it is still to enter the league of examinations like CAT, GMAT," says Verma.
There is wide difference between these various tests. "First the difference lies in the quality of the institution one gains entry into and hence the prospective job opportunities. The IIMs would be first choice for most aspirants but the CAT is the only gateway one has.
"The second difference lies in the scope of the test. For instance, XAT/JMET have limited institutes on their lists and are looking for specific profiles. And finally, the cost and the frequency is a distinguisher as the GMAT is very expensive as compared to the rest of the tests and MAT happens four times a year," says Sharma.