Direct answer type questions were introduced in CAT 2015. They will also be a part of CAT 2016 according to the official release. These are simply questions in which the answers are to be typed into a given field. Test takers do not have any answer options to select from unlike the multiple choices based questions.
Why have the test makers introduced direct answer type questions?
The purpose of such questions, to a large extent, is similar to that of having negative marking: reduce guess work, and incentivise test takers to answer only if you are sure of the answer.
How would this question type impact my prep?
The conceptual prep would remain the same for this kind of questions as well. After all, the subject matter being tested would not change. What will be different would be the way of testing your level of knowledge.
What this means is, your test taking prep would change. You would no longer have answer choices to play around with, eliminate, or plug-in to reach the right answer. This also means you would have fewer ways to choose from for the best way of solving the question.
If you have options, use them. Use all the available resources to reach the right answer.
If you do not have options, relax, keep calm, and solve the traditional way.
While direct answer type questions might sound more difficult than multiple choice questions, the good thing is that these questions will not have negative marking. So, no reason to leave the text fields blank. Worst case: still try to make an educated guess, based on whatever information is presented no matter how far fetched your guess may seem.
Any similarity in the 2 question types?
What is similar in the two question types is that there is no direct value attributed to the steps taken to reach the answer. The right approach is still necessary to reach the right answer, just that it is only necessary to reach the right answer. The concepts being tests remain the same. So, you can have an algebra question in a MCQ format, and one in direct answer type format. Both MCQs and direct answer type questions would carry 3 marks each. As mentioned earlier, there would not be any negative marking for direct answer type questions though.
Which sections would have Direct answer type question and how many?
According to my understanding, direct answer type questions would need to have very objective and straightforward answers. That would typically mean 1 word answers/ final value after calculation — basically questions that cannot have different interpretations for answers. It is difficult to rule out any section based on this alone, however, I do believe more stress would be on quant and DI questions. Similar questions from GATE and GRE come to mind.
I am typically good with eliminating/ plugging in options, and bad with actually solving questions. Should I attempt direct answer type questions?
In one word: yes. Even by a conservative estimate, you can expect 4–5 such questions in each section. Just skipping them based on the question type would be a huge mistake. You need to treat each question on merit, see the difficulty, estimate the time it might take you to reach the answer and then decide whether you’d like to attempt the question or not.
Both MCQs and direct answer type questions would carry 3 marks each. So, decide based on merit of the questions. Do not go in with a predisposition towards any type of questions.
If you feel you are not entirely comfortable with this new type of questions, use the remaining time till CAT to get used to the format and develop test taking strategies keeping these questions in mind.