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CAT chaos continues, Prometric blames virus attack

Problems with the first-ever online Common Admission Test (CAT) for B-schools continued for the second day on Sunday, with as many as 49 labs at 24 centres across the country not holding the test at all. This prevented more than 2,000 candidates from taking the exam. Meanwhile, Prometric, the US company organizing CAT 2009, blamed the collapse on “computer viruses” that had crept into the system undetected.

In the capital, five labs at three centres – Janakpuri, Jasola and Rohini – did not open for aspirants. With the goof-ups stretching to the second day, Prometric chose to remain in hiding but issued a statement through email late on Sunday evening.

“Exhaustive plans were developed and put in place well in advance of the start of the testing window. Unfortunately, particular viruses and malware that attacked the test delivery system were not detected by the anti-virus software at the testing centres,” stated Ramesh Nava, vice president and general manager, Asia Pacific, Japan & Africa, Prometric.

Bangalore was the worst affected with 12 labs not holding CAT on the second day. While Bhopal had eight labs under “virus attack,” six labs each in Mumbai and Lucknow, four in Ghaziabad and two each in Hyderabad and Varanasi were out of order. Aspirants at one lab each in Chandigarh, Coimbatore and Kolkata were turned away.

Prometric gave no word on whether the test series will continue as per schedule. Many aspirants and their parents also questioned why the CAT committee were not breaking the series and starting it afresh after setting things right.

Reacting to the embarrassment, IIM directors called for a meeting with Prometric officials on Sunday night. Satish Deodhar from IIM Ahmedabad, who is chairperson of the CAT committee, said, “The directors will meet officials from Prometric. We have asked for certain details from the company. We will be able to comment on the situation only after Prometric gives us all information.” The meeting was on at the time of filing this report.

Deodhar, however, maintained that the labs were closed on Sunday to carry out repair work after the system had crashed on the first day. “The labs had been deliberately closed for repairs. Providing the infrastructure was Prometric’s responsibility. The next step will be clear only after the meeting is over.”

Nearly 2.1 lakh students are scheduled to take CAT at over 306 labs in 104 centres till December 7.

According to Prometric, more than 2,000 students – 400 of them in Delhi – could not take the test because of closure of labs on Sunday. Those who turned up at the these centres were disappointed as most of them had been preparing to take CAT for long.

The situation at the Management Education and Research Institute (MERI) in Janakpuri was particularly dismal as the institute failed to hold the test for the second consecutive day. Said Minu M Mohan, an aspirant at MERI centre, “I had received a message from Prometric that my test had been cancelled. I still came here to check if that was true. I expected things would have been sorted out on the second day.”

The affected aspirants had apparently been told about the closure of labs through emails and SMSes in the wee hours of Sunday. Besides declaring the cancellation of the test, the text message instructed students to not go to the centres. It read, “Please do NOT go to the testing centre on November 29. We will contact you in 48 hours.”

Parents of the candidates were especially livid. Asked Deepak Kumar, whose daughter is scheduled to take the exam in the coming week, “If BITS Pilani can conduct an online test for the past five years, what’s the problem with CAT? Why didn’t the organizers check the load that their servers could take?”

Prometric, which is known for conducting GRE, admitted that the technical failure caused stress to the students. But they were trying their best to redress the situation, the company insisted. “We understand how stressful it is for candidates to adapt to this new computer-based format. We truly regret the additional stress that candidates were subjected to and are doing everything we can to make the rest of the testing experience as smooth as possible,” said Soumitra Roy, managing director, India, Prometric.

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