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Is CAT exam tough?
October 26 2023

Is CAT exam tough?


CAT Exam, the name itself makes one's blood run cold. Such is the impression of this MBA entrance exam held in India every year. Getting into a top Indian B-school is definitely not a cakewalk. Every year the competition gets tougher and tougher, and you have to work harder to get that one seat in IIMs. But is the CAT exam really that tough? Let's find out how to crack CAT?

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

Let's learn more about CAT exam:

What is CAT exam ?

CAT is an all India online entrance exam for admissions into IIMs and other top B-schools in India. It is held in November (or 1st week of December) every year in 2 sessions. It is conducted only once a year, so you have just one chance to crack CAT or break it! There are a total of 100 questions, divided amongst three sections.

These three sections are:

      • Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension (VA & RC)
      • Logical Reasoning & Data Interpretation (DI & LR)
      • Quantitative Ability (QA)
  • Out of these 60 questions, VA & RC have 24 Quants has 22 questions and LRDI has 20  questions.
  • There is also a negative marking for incorrect answers (-1 for each incorrect answer).
  • The duration of this exam is 2 hours, out of which 40 minutes is allotted for each section.
  • Negative marks are only applicable to the MCQs & not the descriptive questions (TITA questions).

Is the time limit an issue?

Some students take this time limit too literally, which makes them feel that the exam is tough. Know that no one attempts all the questions in the CAT exam, the exam is set in such a manner that no one can solve/attempt all the questions. You would have to leave a few time-consuming questions and focus on the ones which are less time-consuming and easy to score.

Now that we know that we should not attempt all the questions, we should play on our strengths. Many students focus on their weaknesses; this is not a good practice, especially in competitive exams such as CAT, therefore it is necessary to work on strengths to crack CAT. Now, let's deep dive into each of the three sections in CAT:

Sectional Analysis:

Total No. of questions
MCQs (With negative marking)
Non-MCQs (Without negative marking)
Total Maximum Marks
24 16-18
7 to 10
7 to 11


1. Verbal Ability

The difficulty level of the VARC section is moderate to high difficulty. Over the years, the difficulty level of the verbal section is increasing making it tougher for people to score good marks, especially for engineers. As compared to VA in GMAT and XAT, the difficulty level still remains a little less. The major topics covered in the VARC section are:

Reading Comprehension Passages

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


Now from these topics, most students find a hard time with Reading comprehension (RCs). The RCs in itself is not that tough, especially for those who are regular readers. That is the only way you can become comfortable with solving 5 Rcs in CAT. The next problem area is para jumbles. Paramjumbles are always asked in this section, and even one mess up and you lose out your marks. Grammar is essential here, even though you don't get direct grammar questions in CAT (since 2015 no question on grammar has appeared), you still need the grammar to solve para jumbles! This is neglected by most students, hence they end up making mistakes in it.

People with a good frequency of reading quality materials and a clear concept of basic roots of the word and grammar can easily achieve a decent percentile in the VA section. This is the most scoring section to crack cat as you can score high easily. You can also refer to the below article for the strategy for VARC.

Also read: How to improve your Reading Comprehension for CAT


2. Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning

The difficulty level of DILR is moderate to high difficulty. The major topics included in this section are mentioned below:

Seating Arrangement, and Data Arrangement

Blood Relations Syllogisms and Venn Diagrams
Clocks & Calendars


Data Sufficiency
Tables and Caselets Assumption and Binary Logic

Graphs Related

Now, DI & LR questions are tricky for almost everyone. The questions are usually long, time-consuming, and complicated. You have to pay attention to not take up too much time on one question. In CAT 2015, a scaled score of around 49 out of a maximum of 96 meant nearly 98%ile.

Someone who likes puzzles and has above average aptitude can work on this section and do well. It requires speed and a great attitude to solve the problems. The best way to strengthen your DILR score is to solve different types of puzzles and problems. There are n-number of permutation combinations to make a DILR question, but if you are familiar with the important and basic style of questions, it can truly help you on the main day of the exam.

Try to make DILR your strong point, especially those who are weak in Quants. Sectional cut-offs matter a lot, soo don't compromise on practicing for any section to crack CAT.

Also read: How to solve Logical reasoning in CAT


3. Quantitative Ability

The Quant section has a moderate difficulty level. It is difficult to categorize the questions that come in Quant, as they are usually a mix of all three difficulty levels but averages out to moderate difficulty. The questions come from a variety of topics such as:

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  


Engineers dominate this section as they are more comfortable with Quants. Non-engineers have a tough time with cracking Quants, however, it is not impossible. Sure, there are higher and moderate difficulty questions, but if you can identify the easy ones first you can optimize your score. Strategy and plan are important for those who are not very good in Quants.

Overall, every student should get a regular practice of questions. This will not just help improve the concepts, but also the speed to attempt this section. It's always good to start with the basic questions and then move to more advanced problems. Practice as much as possible since a small variation in marks in this section affects your sectional percentile a lot.

Practice quants with actual cat mocks

Some Important aspects of CAT:

As compared to exams like NMAT, CET, SNAP; CAT has a higher difficulty level. It is similar to exams like XAT, IIFT. Overall, the strategy and approach you use for CAT is pretty different, and you need to keep this in mind when attempting the exam. Here are some important aspects of how to crack CAT and get into your dream b-school.

1. Attempt rate

A lot of students may fret over the fact that since the questions are difficult, they are unable to attempt many questions in the given time slot. However, CAT is not designed for you to attempt each and every question. The examiners don't just test your Aptitude ability but how well you can identify the type of questions and strategically leave the ones that are difficult. There will always be questions that are beyond your ability, or that would take up the entirety of your time. Identify and avoid these! And if you are weak in any section, try to scan through all the questions in the first 2 mins, identify the easiest ones, and solve them. That way you maximize your chances of getting more attempts.

However, if you do want to enter the 99 percentile mark, you will have to optimize your attempts for difficult questions as well. There too, identify the unsolvable ones from the solvable and make as many attempts as possible! Remember that negative marking also applies, so be careful that you don't end up losing more marks in the process of increasing your attempts.

2. Speed:

While speed does matter, I feel that it is not that important as compared to exams like NMAT, and SNAP. This is because if you identify the right questions to solve, you can utilize your time just for that. But yes, the overall attempt rate has to be maintained for each section. You can improve your speed with practice alone. Solve a lot of mocks, almost once every two days to get a hang of the speed in solving questions.


3. Accuracy:

It goes without saying that you have to be absolutely accurate in your attempts. Because of the negative marking, you don't want to attempt any question that you are not sure of. Sometimes it happens that solving a few fewer questions but completely correct can fetch you more marks than a person who has attempted many with less accuracy. So be careful in which questions you choose and answer.

Also read: How to increase your accuracy in CAT


Overall CAT has a moderate difficulty level, but it can turn easy for sometimes who start their preparation early and keep practicing all the three sections. If well planned, you can easily crack the CAT!

It just tests your math and logical skills of grade tenth level tenth class. It also tries to evaluate one's managerial ability, i.e. you decision-making skills, working under pressure, and managing time. After all, everyone taking up the CAT exam is a future manager.

Once you attempt CAT, you might actually feel that the MOcks you have been giving were way tougher than the actual CAT! In the end, it is all in the head, Just keep practicing and don't give up and put in your best efforts in learning the concepts & basics, and keep a cool and calm mind while writing the exam.

Don’t let the pressure from the outside world get to you. Be confident and work hard!

Click here to practice and solve mocks to ace your CAT exam

Must Read : How to crack CAT

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Entrance Preparation
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Anisha Mukhija

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