What Is the CAT Exam?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

This article will explain the CAT exam, who can take it, what it covers, and how to prepare for it.

[Featured image] A business degree student prepares reviews materials for the CAT exam while walking on campus.

The CAT is an exam overseen by the IIM and used as an entrance exam for the schools' management programmes. This computer-based exam consists of three sections and takes about two hours to complete.

The CAT exam is very competitive. Of the lakhs of people who take it, only a fraction are chosen to enter the business administration programmes in the IIMs. The average cut-off score for acceptance to these programmes is in the 99th percentile, and only around 4,000 seats are available yearly  [2]. Many top colleges that use the CAT as an entrance exam have a cut-off above the 50th percentile [3].

How often is the CAT exam offered in India? 

The CAT exam is offered once a year, which is one factor that makes it so competitive. While the specific date is typically announced in July, registration opens in August and exam day is usually the fourth Sunday in November. 

When the time comes to register for the exam, you'll do so online at the official CAT website. You'll need to provide information about your identity, educational background, and work experience, and you'll have to pay a fee. Once accepted to take the exam, you must download your CAT Admit Card to take to your testing centre. You'll also need to bring a photo ID.   

Make sure you leave your electronic gadgets at home on the day of the exam. You cannot bring watches, calculators, phones, and tablets inside the room. You're also not allowed to wear jewellery, metal-based accessories, closed shoes, or clothes with large buttons or pockets inside the room, so dress appropriately. 

Who is eligible for the CAT exam?

To take the CAT exam, you must have, at minimum, graduated from any stream. Beyond that, eligibility may change from year to year. In 2023, it was required to have a bachelor's degree and have earned a minimum 50 per cent aggregate (or equivalent CGPA)—or 45 per cent aggregate for the following categories: SC, ST, and PWD/DA [4]. You could also apply to take the test if you have completed a professional degree, are in your final year of earning your bachelor's degree, or are waiting for bachelor’s results. 

What does the CAT exam cover? 

The CAT exam comprises three sections: Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC), Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR), and Quantitative Aptitude (QA). You have two hours to complete the exam, each section given 40 minutes [4].  

Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC)

The VARC portion of the CAT exam tests whether you can read, write, and comprehend the English language. It tests vocabulary, grammar, and reading comprehension through a series of questions that ask you to fill in the blank, choose the best word for a context, or identify errors in tense, part of speech, and more. Some questions will be multiple choice, while others require you to type in the answers.  

Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR)

The DILR portion of the CAT exam has a reputation for being difficult compared to the other sections. You're asked to apply your skills instead of repeating memorised information. In this section, you might find puzzles, arrangements, team formation, case studies, graphs, and tables to decode—formats that make the questions look deceptively simple. 

Quantitative Aptitude (QA)

The QA section of the exam is the maths and numbers portion. For this section, you'll need to know basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and modern maths; arithmetic questions are traditionally the most common. Questions cover averages, number theory, polygons, boats and streams, conditional probability, ratios, measurement, and more. 

How can I prepare for the CAT exam? 

To do well on the CAT exam, prepare long before your test day—ideally six to nine months before the scheduled exam. You can begin by looking online at past test syllabuses and answer keys. While the test changes a little each year, looking at information from the past few years can give you an idea of what to expect. 

When you do prepare for the CAT, create a clear plan. One option is to divide the syllabus. For example, you can spend 20 minutes each day studying a single section for a month. The following month, move on to the next section and check the final section during the third month. Alternatively, you can identify your strengths and weaknesses and create a schedule to learn a different strong and weak topic each week. 

Consider these other ways to prepare for the CAT exam:

  • Search for mock tests online and take as many as possible. Analyse your results to see where you went wrong. Focus on improving speed as well as getting the correct answers.

  • Pay attention to when the IIMs release their official mock test, and take it.

  • Look for online and in-person study groups with other students.

  • Look for books and apps to help you prepare for the CAT exam and other MBA entrance tests.

  • Read daily and focus on learning new vocabulary words. 

  • Make sure you know basic maths formulas.

  • Stay focused. The CAT exam is challenging, but with hard work and dedicated study time, you can improve your chances of scoring well.

Next steps 

On Coursera, you can find degree programmes from top educational institutions worldwide, like the Global MBA from Macquarie University, the MBA in Business Analytics from O.P. Jindal Global University, and the Executive MBA from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee. You can complete the coursework at your own pace and complete a degree in 14 to 60 months.

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Article sources


MBA Universe. "Yes, CAT Registration are finally up…! CAT 2022 registrations up by 11, https://www.mbauniverse.com/articles/cat-registration-numbers." Accessed October 9, 2023. 

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