Conducting MAT Amid COVID-19: Interview with AIMA Director Sanjeev Phatak

AIMA Director, Mr. Sanjeev Phatak tells Shiksha the challenges of conducting MAT amid COVID-19 and response from students.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit India and nation-wide lockdown was announced in March 2020, it led to disturbance in all aspect of life. Right from industry to markets to educational activities, everything stopped.

In education particularly, everything came to a standstill. Campuses were closed, classes were cancelled and exams were postponed. Amid the uncertainties that arose due to COVID-19 pandemic, the All India Management Association (AIMA) introduced Internet Based Test (IBT) which can be taken from home. AIMA was the first management body to introduce IBT mode exam to ensure that neither the health of MBA aspirants nor their academic aspiration suffers. The AIMA introduced IBT for the Management Aptitude Test or MAT in May 2020 and received a very good response from applicants, the highlight being rise in the number of female candidates. Shiksha spoke with AIMA director, Mr. Sanjeev Phatak for an exclusive interview, where he shed a light on responses and challenges of conducting a national level entrance exam amid the pandemic.

Q: AIMA introduced Internet Based Test (IBT) mode in 2020. Tell us about the response and challenges of IBT.

A: Before the COVID-19 situation, we used to conduct the test in Computer Based Test (CBT) mode and Paper Based Test (PBT) mode. So when COVID-19 pandemic started, and especially when the lockdown was imposed around March 25 or 24 last year, we had already announced the MAT schedule for the May season. But we had to cancel the PBT and CBT modes of test because they are conducted at test centers and we had to go for the IBT mode, where the students do not have to go out, and they can take the test from home.

When we started exploring the IBT option, migration from the conventional modes to IBT mode was not easy. Not only for us but for the other stakeholders too, like B-Schools, students, and everybody. It was not so easy, but we took the challenge and we migrated from PBT and CBT to IBT in flat five weeks. The entire systems were migrated in five weeks.

There were couple of apprehensions raised by the stakeholders. One was – while the students are taking the test from home, how are you going to ensure the security and sanctity of the test. Whether there are no malpractices happening. Whether these test is going to be conducted in a fair manner and all that. So we actually had to introduce two modes of invigilation. One was artificial intelligence based tools and the second was the human proctor. We used both the invigilation mode simultaneously during the test. When a student was taking the test, he was watched by the AI tools as well as the human Proctor remotely. So, there was no issue in terms of fair conduct of the test.

Then another issue was of technical roadblocks such as downloading the secure browser. When the test is being conducted on the student’s laptop or a desktop machine, there has to be a secure browser by way of which they will not be able to get the access to any other website, any other browser, and some special function keys will be disabled. All these security features are automatically enabled on the computer after downloading the secure browser. Many of the candidates faced some problems in downloading the secure browser due to firewall systems, which was not allowing them to download any external software. So that was the issue we faced initially, but subsequently this issue was also sorted as we asked all these students to download the secure browser well in advance so that they do not waste their time and they can easily complete their testing activity well in time. These are the basic two issues that we tackled and subsequently the test went off very smoothly. In fact, we gave adequate and elaborate training to the candidates well in advance and we also gave them the opportunity to take the mock test.

We also arranged the discussions to clear the doubts of the candidates and other stakeholders like the B-Schools and the parents. Everybody was convinced and we came out of all these challenges. As a result, within just five weeks we could roll out IBT successfully and the response was very encouraging.

Q: AIMA has also been conducting MAT at exam centers amid COVID-19. What has been the response for CBT and PBT mode exams conducted amid COVID-19?
A: In last May, we conducted only the MAT IBT, but when the situation normalized a little bit, then we thought of having the test in CBT mode. Many of the candidates also suggested that the situation in their geography was not so serious and they’re comfortable in taking the test at the centers. They were also facing challenge in accessing the infrastructure in their areas due to various reasons like non-availability of digital devices, non-availability of Internet connectivity and all that.

By taking into consideration all the government norms and precautions, we decided to give them an opportunity to take MAT at test centers. That is why we re-started CBT in October 2020 and in December 2020, we conducted PBT and CBT both.

Of course, we faced some challenges in logistical activities, but considering the future of the candidates, we decided to overcome these challenges and we successfully conducted MAT at test centres by following the norms laid down by Government of India. However, IBT is still in continuity and many of these students are still sticking to taking the test in IBT mode itself.

Q: There has been an increase in the number of female candidates in MBA. What is the percentage of female candidates among MAT applicants?

A: Yes, in pre-COVID era when the test used to be held at the centers, the share of female candidates in MAT used to be around 35 to 40 per cent. But when we introduced IBT, we found that it was a major hassle for the female candidates to go out of their house, travel to nearest location and take the test at exam centers while taking the test from home was more convenient for them. Now we have seen that the percentage of female candidates appearing for MAT has gone beyond 45 per cent.

This is incredible. This is very encouraging for us. We have seen almost around 5 to 10 per cent increase in the female candidate ratio.

Q: Unlike other MBA entrance exams, MAT is conducted multiple times in a year. What is the basic philosophy behind conducting the exam multiple times?
A: Yes, when we started MAT, way back in 1988, it was conducted only in PBT mode. Then subsequently we introduced CBT in the late 90s. But the phenomenon of conducting MAT multiple times in a year is in practice for the last so many years. MAT has a wide acceptance nationwide, more than 700 B-Schools accept MAT score and every B-School has its own admission pattern and admission cycle which varies geography wise. Some of the institutes in South follow the typical admission cycle. Some of the institutions in North East follow different admission pattern and admission cycle, so in order to cater to these varied calendars of admissions MAT is conducted multiple times. Also, it gives a great amount of convenience and flexibility to the candidates as they can take the test at any point of time. Thus, MAT is conducted four times a year. That is February, May, September and December every year. Also, MAT offers unique feature to the candidate that he or she can improve their score by attempting multiple times. If you have taken MAT multiple times, then best of your score will be applicable for admission. So that is basically the reason why MAT is conducted multiple times in a year and students find it very, very convenient.

Also Read:

  • AIMA Launches MAT IBT Trouble Shooting Guide
  • Common FAQs and Dos & Don’ts Related to MAT IBT
  • MAT Exam Day Instructions & COVID-19 Safety Guidelines for PBT

Q: AIMA provides the option of appearing for two test modes. What is the benefit of PBT+CBT or IBT+CBT or PBT+IBT?
A: We found out that there are various categories of candidates who are comfortable taking the test in digital mode but there are few sets of candidates, from Tier 3 or Tier 4 cities, who do not have the access to digital devices or internet connectivity so easily. They also do not feel confident in taking the test in digital mode, so for them, we suggest taking MAT in paper based mode or computer based mode. In addition to that, we encourage them to try the IBT also. They should gain comfort on a digital platform since it is the need of the hour so that is why we are encouraging students to take the test in multiple modes.

Q: What is the total number of MAT participating colleges currently?
A: There are close to around 700 institutions, which comprises schools of various institutions, university departments across the country who accept MAT score for facilitating their MBA and PGDM admissions. They enroll with AIMA to participate in MAT and gets students’ access. Also, they get host of other benefits at a very nominal cost for various other initiatives.

Q: How does AIMA facilitate MBA admission of MAT test takers?
A: When you apply for MAT, you can opt for five institutions of your own choice. The student can opt for the institutions within their locality, within their state or they can also opt for one of the top institution. When they appear for MAT, we make the scores of MAT for those candidates available to those five institutions. The institutions can then coordinate with these students for facilitating them to get the admissions in their institutions. So, this is how we facilitate the school as well as the candidates or the students.

Q: Does AIMA plan to conduct MAT at overseas locations in future?
A: Currently there are no plans immediately. However, with the new education policy in place, the possibility cannot be ruled out. We need to see how the new education policy is implemented, how soon it will get streamlined, what are the responses from foreign universities as well as the Indian universities. Who are aspiring to send these students abroad? So we need to see the response and then we need to move forward in that direction, but currently there are no plans.

Q: Why should an MBA aspirant choose MAT over any other MBA entrance exam in India?
A: A very good and important question. There are multiple aspects to that.

Number one, any MBA aspirant, whether he or she is from urban or rural area, need to have his or her option open for taking management education. Other MBA entrance examinations are designed specifically to cater the admissions in their specific set of institutions or universities like for example CAT, XAT, NMAT or SNAP. But if you see MAT, it is a standardized test which caters to the admission criteria at national as well as local level institutions simultaneously.

Number two, MAT has evolved in last 30 years and is the only national level test which is accepted by such a large number of institutions. MAT is one of the national level test recognized by AICTE. If you see, none of the management tests, barring a few have been evolving like MAT. When we started in 1988, we started in a very preliminary stage. Now, after 30-32 years, MAT has evolved a lot.

Number three, MAT gives more options, flexibility and convenience to the candidates by way of offering the opportunity to take the test in multiple times. The validity of this score is for one year. There is opportunity to improve the score. You can take MAT multiple times in multiple modes and have a large number of institutions to choose from. These are the benefits associated and integrated with the MAT so that whenever student appears for this exam he gets a host of benefits.

Number four, MAT comes from a very prestigious body in management in the country. With its legacy standards, reputation, reach and latest techniques, AIMA is one of the oldest and the only apex management body in the country, which conducts MAT to facilitate admissions in the B-School.

We urge the students from not only urban areas but also Tier 4 cities in the country where the students have the talent but they lack opportunities. We go to the Tier 4 cities and appeal them to take MAT, which will open the gates for MBA admissions.