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CAT exam: Pattern, Sections, Syllabus, Dates, Registration, Colleges, Preparation tips
May 10 2024

CAT exam 2020: Pattern, Sections, Syllabus, Dates, Registration, Colleges, Preparation tips, and strategy  

The most awaited MBA exam of the year, for which lakhs of students prepare for, is none other than CAT. The Common Admissions Test, also famously abbreviated as CAT is one of the most difficult MBA exams as it is the gateway to the coveted IIMs. If you are looking for an all-encompassing article on CAT, you are in the right place! Keep reading to know all about the CAT exam:

Click here to prepare for CAT 2020 with this course curated by IIM Alumni


What is CAT?

The Common Admissions Test or CAT is an all India admissions exam that is usually conducted in the fourth week of November or the first week of December. It is conducted online in 2 sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The Exam fees are Rs. 2400 for the General category, and Rs. 1200 for the Reserved category.

CAT Eligibility Criteria:

The minimum eligibility criteria to appear in CAT exam is graduation in any stream. Read below detailed CAT eligibility criteria:

  • Candidates must possess a bachelor's degree with minimum 50 per cent aggregate or equivalent CGPA (45 per cent aggregate for SC, ST and PWD/DA category) from a recognised university to appear in CAT 2024.
  • The education mode of the bachelor's degree can be regular or distance learning, but should be a 3-year programme.
  • Candidates who have completed a professional degree with the required percentage can also appear for CAT.
  • Candidates appearing for the final year of bachelor's degree/equivalent qualification or awaiting the result are also eligible to appear for CAT 2024 exam.

Who sets the CAT exam?

One of the six IIMs becomes the Convener for CAT every year on a rotational basis. Subsequently, the reigning IIM might release a statement if any changes are being implemented for that year. Otherwise, CAT follows a common paper patter, which we shall see next.


What is the CAT Exam Paper pattern?

To start off, CAT has 3 main sections namely:

  • Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC) - 24 questions and a weightage of 72 marks 
  • Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR) - 20 questions and a weightage of 60 marks 
  • Quantitative Ability (QA) - 22 questions and a weightage of 66 marks 

These three sections are the blood and soul of CAT. You have to pay equal attention and emphasis to each of these sections, as sectional cut-offs apply to IIMs and most top Non-IIM B-schools. Let's look at the other important aspects of CAT:

  • Total Number of Questions: 66
  • Score awarded for each correct answer: 3 marks
  • Negative marking (Applicable for wrong answers in MCQs): -1 mark
  • Duration of Exam: 120 minutes (2 hours) - 40 minutes per section
  • Language: English

CAT exam pattern was totally revamped in CAT 2015 by IIM Ahmedabad and since then the CAT exam pattern has followed the same CAT pattern for all the 3 sections.

Some other aspects of CAT:

  • The sequence of the sections is fixed i.e. The exam starts with VARC followed by DILR and finally QA. Applicants cannot move about the three sections and have to wait for one hour to end to move to the next section.
  • CAT Test takers can't leave their seats in between the exam.
  • Every MCQ question has 4 options to choose from
  • For Non-MCQs (TITA) you are expected to type in the right answer on the PC screen.
  • Each right answer in CAT exam example will be granted 3 marks whether it is MCQ or Non-MCQ
  • There will be no punishment of negative checking on wrong responses to Non-MCQs in CAT 2019 exam design
  • CAT exam design stays in line with the official Mock test that is released by IIMs a month prior to the CAT exam. (Don't forget to attempt this Mock!!)

Also read: How to crack CAT exam

CAT pattern: Sectional composition:

Total No. of questions
Scoring Pattern (Negative Marking is only for MCQs)
+3 for Correct;
-1 for Incorrect;
0 for Not Attempted
+3 for Correct;
-1 for Incorrect;
0 for Not Attempted
+3 for Correct;
-1 for Incorrect;
0 for Not Attempted


1. Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension: 

The Verbal Section of CAT has a total of 24 questions. The major topics covered under VARC are:

Reading Comprehension Passages

Para-Jumbles Para-Summary Sentence Completion and Correction
Odd Sentences Fill in the Blanks Word Usage (Vocabulary)



Amongst the questions, you will find that 5 questions are based on RCs. You will have 24 questions based on these 5 Rcs and the rest 19 questions will be based on verbal ability (Mix of  MCQs and Non-MCQs). No grammar or vocabulary questions have been asked in CAT since 2015, however, it would be wise to brush through them, as IIms are known to through surprises any time. The difficulty level of the VARC sections if moderate to high difficulty. A lot of students find it difficult to score in this section due to a lack of reading habits. Hence, your priority for cracking the VARcs section would be to get into the habit of reading, and solving as many RCs as possible.

Check Out: Poor in CAT verbal | How to improve VARC section of CAT | Reading Comprehension ?  

2. Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning:

The DILR section consists of 20 questions, with a moderate to the high difficulty level. The topics covered under this section are:

Seating Arrangement, and Data Arrangement

Blood Relations Syllogisms and Venn Diagrams
Clocks & Calendars


Data Sufficiency
Tables and Caselets Assumption and Binary Logic

Graphs Related

Out of the 20 questions, 15 are MCQ type and the rest 5 are Non-MCQs. The distribution between DI and LR is equal. A lot of practice is needed in this section, as the questions are usually very complicated and cannot be solved merely by relying on your logical abilities. A person who has already solved a similar question will have an advantage over you. Hence, take time to solve as many DILR questions as possible.


3. Quantitative Ability:

The QA section also has 22 questions. The section involves the following topics:

Number System, Basic Arithmetic

Probability Profit, loss, and Discounts Permutation & Combination

Geometry & Mensuration

Time, Speed, and Distance

Simple Interest and Compound Interest

Time and Work

Algebra Trigonometry, Logarithms, and Sets  


The questions included 22,  MCQ-styled questions 14, Non-MCQ questions 8. The difficulty level for QA is also moderate to high difficulty, however, some questions can be easy as well (hidden within the rest). You will find from the past papers that CAT puts more focus on topics like  Arithmetic – Percentage, Profit and Loss, Time and speed, Work/days, Compound intrigue, and Geometry. Make your basics flawless, that is the only way you can ace the QA section.

Also read: How to crack Quants section in CAT

Top Colleges through CAT and their Cut-offs:

While we all are aware that CAT is the pathway to IIMs, there are also many Non-IIm colleges that are a good choice for MBA Aspirants. There are the main IIms, New IIMs, and colleges like FMS, SP Jain, IMT Gaziabad that are well known for giving top placements every year.

Also read: Top Colleges with the Best ROI

While CAT cut-offs vary for each B-school, the IIMs have followed a pattern of acceptable cut-offs each year. A consolidated look at the top colleges and their cut-offs is given below:

Sr. No. IIMs Minimum overall cut-off
1 IIM Ahmedabad 88 percentile
2 IIM Bangalore 85 percentile
3 IIM Calcutta 85 percentile
4 IIM Lucknow 90 percentile
5 IIM Indore 90 percentile
6 IIM Udaipur 90 percentile
7 IIM Rohtak 95 percentile
8 IIM Shillong 90 percentile
9 IIM Tiruchirappalli 95 percentile
10 IIM Trichy 94 percentile
11 IIM Amritsar 94 percentile
12 IIM Nagpur 94 percentile
13 IIM Sambalpur 94 percentile
14 IIM Raipur 94 percentile
15 IIM Kashipur 94 percentile
16 IIM Bodh Gaya 94 percentile
17 IIM Shillong 90 percentile
18 IIM Jammu 90 percentile
19 IIM Vizag 92 percentile

Yes! IIM A call at 80 percentile! As surprising as it may sound, if you clear the sectional cutoffs and qualify their profile requisites, you can get a call from IIMA at 80 percentile. Watch this video to get a better idea of how this aspirant got a call from IIM in a similar manner.


Some other main colleges and their cut-offs are as below:

Sr. No. IIMs Minimum overall cut-off
1 Faculty of Management Studies (FMS) New Delhi 97 percentile
2 SP Jain, Mumbai 85 percentile
3 Management Development Institute (MDI) Gurgaon 94 percentile
4 Institute of Management Technology (IMT) Ghaziabad 90 percentile
5 K J Somaiya SIMSR Mumbai 85 percentile
6 Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA) Chennai 85 percentile
7 Great Lakes Institute of Management (GLIM) Chennai 85 percentile
8 FORE School of Management (FSM) New Delhi 85 percentile
9 Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management (LBSIM) New Delhi 85 percentile
10 Welingkar Institute of Management, Mumbai 80 percentile
11 XIME Bangalore 80 percentile

CAT Mocks:

Mocks are the heart and soul of CAT preparation. There is no other shortcut to this, the more mocks you solve the better. On average, if you start your prep before 4-5 months, try solving one mock every day. As you keep progressing start increasing the number of mocks you attempt. In the last 3 months, you need to attempt one mock every 2 days. This is so that you take one day to solve and the other day to analyze your answers. This means you need to maintain a goal of solving at least 20 mocks before exam. If you are looking for mocks that are closest to the actual IIM mocks, you can definitely check out the mock tests offered by us, which are prepared by actual IIM alumni! It includes a set of 30 mocks, along with 30 sectional tests (Turbo Mocks set). We also offer the Basic and Advanced Mock set, you can check out the details here. So what are you waiting for? Join our Mock test course now!

CAT Exam Study Material:

Let's look at the Best study material available for each section:

  • Quantitative Aptitude:    
QA can be difficult if the students aren't well versed in the basics and concepts. For this purpose, Arun Sharma’s Quantitative Aptitude for CAT (Tata McGraw Hill) has been a hit in this section for a long time and has advanced into an ‘absolute necessity read’ book for this subject. Students can start their QA prep with this book.
  • Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension: 
Arun Sharma and Meenakshi Upadhyay'sVARC book for CAT (Tata McGraw-Hill) can help you with tackling the Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension portion of the CAT. It covers an entire range of topics and all levels of questions asked in these examinations. Of course, we can't forget Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis, which is the holy grail for vocab, especially for CAT. A must for all aspirants, consider it as a Bible and be well versed with every word and concept given in this book.
  • Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning: Tata McGraw-Hill- Arun Sharma can be useful for solving DI questions specific to CAT. The Pearson Guide to Verbal Ability and Logical Reasoning- Nishit Sinha gives an adjusted scope of both verbal capacity and logical thinking areas. Plenty of training tests given in the ebook familiarizes students with the actual question pattern of this examination.
  • Other important books: The Pearson Guide to Quantitative Aptitude And Data Interpretation For The CAT – Nishit Sinha This helps students strengthen basic concepts, build speed and accuracy for the CAT and other MBA entrance examinations. Books by Arihant Publications Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension by Ajay Singh – A good book for Reading Comprehension. Quantum CAT by Sarvesh Verma – It covers a large variety of questions and the difficulty level is also maintained. Apart from these, to get a better hold over your verbal ability, start reading books and novels. Getting into the reading habit can help a lot.

CAT Exam Preparation Tips:

Experts suggest that if you are serious about cracking the most competitive management entrance exam with around two lakh test-takers, you must have at least three months in hand for CAT 2019 preparation. The last-minute preparation is equally important as it can make or mark your performance on the day of the CAT 2019 exam.

Learn how to strategically prepare for CAT and make your IIM dream come true

1. Give Maximum Mocks
  • Continuous Practice: Mock tests and model papers should be practiced regularly, regardless of how many times you've already attempted them. Each practice session offers an opportunity to identify and rectify areas of weakness.

  • Track Speed and Accuracy: It's essential to monitor your speed and accuracy while solving questions. This helps in gauging progress and identifying areas that need improvement.

  • Learn from Every Attempt: Every mock test attempt provides valuable insights. Reflect on mistakes and missed opportunities to enhance your understanding and performance.

  • Increase Question-Solving Speed: Regular practice, coupled with timed mock tests, aids in improving question-solving speed, a crucial skill for exams like CAT.

  • Familiarity with Test Environment: Taking computer-based mock tests simulates the actual test environment, helping you acclimatize to the format and interface. This reduces any surprises on the exam day and saves time that might otherwise be wasted in understanding the test mode.

  • Revision of Formulas and Rules: Regular revision of formulas, vocabulary, and grammar rules ensures they're ingrained in your memory, eliminating the need to struggle with them during the exam.

  • Scheduled Practice: Establish a consistent practice schedule to develop the habit of sitting for extended periods, mirroring the duration of the actual exam.

2.  Analyze your Mocks

After every CAT mock test, you must analyze your performance and evaluate your scoring areas.  Analyze your strong as well as weak suits in the respective areas (namely quant, verbal, logical reasoning, data interpretation) and ideally, start with the preparation of your weak areas and focus on making them your strong areas. Follow the five crucial steps listed below in the suggested order for sure-shot results:

  • Begin with the solved examples in the book
  • Then move onto the unsolved examples
  • After you are well versed with the examples in the book, test yourself further by taking as many mock tests as possible to get used to this Computer Based Exam(CBT)
  • Finally, resort to previous years' CAT papers and monitor your progress
  • Thereafter, practice and practice and practice more

Also read: How to analyze mocks for CAT

3. Don’t compromise with accuracy

Time management is one of the most important parts of the CAT with prioritization of questions becoming one of the key areas to success. As you go on attempting questions during your CAT, make sure that you compromise very little on accuracy. While speed is important to increase your number of attempts, maintaining a higher level of accuracy is even more important to convert your attempts into your score. Also, achieving a higher level of speed without a high level of accuracy results in negative marking also, making it a double loss proposition with your time spent on the question reducing your overall score by 1 marks. CAT has a negative marking pattern with three marks awarded for every right answer and one mark reduced for every wrong answer. With accuracy its also important to increase your reading speed.

4. Make your strategy
  • Prepare a schedule, Learn to manage your time effectively while maintaining speed and accuracy in solving a given problem.
  • Do not keep important topics to be covered in the last moment. Last moment preparation always creates confusion. Spend at least 3-4 hours every day.
  • Although CAT is traditionally a conceptual exam based on core fundamentals, being conversant with all the shortcuts would help you to solve various problems with greater speed, thus giving you an edge as compared to your competitors.

So that's all folks! I hope you found this article on CAT useful, and I hope that it has helped to answer some of your questions. If you have more questions or want to get a customized strategy on how to crack IIMs for sure, you can get Free mentorship from our Experts online, who are alumni from IIM, SP Jain, NMIMS and can give you expert advice on how to manage your preparation and pave your way towards the IIMs!

Click here to get your free mentorship call to crack CAT

Anisha Mukhija

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