Is CAT Exam Tough or Easy? How Can an Average Student Crack CAT- Get Your Queries Answered by CAT Toppers

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MBAUniverse.com News Desk |
August 31, 2023
CAT aspirants raise the query whether CAT exam is tough or easy, what they should do to crack it. Many of them give up during their CAT preparation journey. Read this article to get answers to understand whether CAT exam is tough or easy, what is the pattern, why it is considered tough, what is the right preparation strategy to crack CAT, how much score you need to get into top IIMs and more
Is CAT Exam Tough or Easy

Is CAT really tough? I am an average student and if CAT exam is tough for an average student, how can I crack it? What preparation strategy should I follow? These are common and simple queries hovering the minds of students who think that CAT is very tough and they give up their CAT preparation journey without getting the facts about CAT exam difficulty level and how to prepare to crack it with right strategy.

In view of Arun Sharma, CAT Mentor and founder of CAT coaching Mindworkzz, you can score well and crack CAT with 90+ percentile with smart preparation and avoiding the questions that appear difficult to you. The best way is to avoid mistakes and you will be able to score high. Many students who could not score 60-70 percentile in their first attempt, got the nerve of this exam and cracked it with 90 percentile in next attempt. So, in fact CAT is not as tough as it appears.

50000+ MBA seats are offered for admission through CAT and out of them 6000 seats are available only in IIMs. No doubt, with around 2.25 lakh candidates appearing in CAT exam, the competition is high, but unlike Civil Services exams conducted by UPSC for 700-800 posts and 3-4 lakh candidates appearing in it, the competition can be considered moderate as about 10-20% candidates can get top MBA colleges like IIMs and other top B-schools. Although the CAT exam is not so easy, but CAT is also not the toughest exam.

Read this article to get answers to understand whether CAT exam is tough or easy, what is the pattern, what are the difficult areas in CAT exam and what is the right preparation strategy to crack CAT

Table of Contents

  1. Is CAT Exam Tough? Different Versions
  2. CAT Exam Pattern Vs Other Exams: Check Difficulty Level
  3. CAT Scoring Pattern: High Percentile at Moderate Score
  4. Moderate CAT Cut Offs at IIMs and Other B-Schools
  5. Learn Why CAT Exam is Considered Tough
  6. CAT Syllabus: Must Go Through - Not Difficult to Cover
  7. CAT Preparation: Check Your Plan & Strategy

1. Is CAT Exam Tough? Different Versions
You may find different versions whether CAT is difficult or easy from those who have cracked CAT with their right preparation strategy and from those who could not score well in it. MBAUniverse.com checked with many CAT takers from different academic back grounds whether they found CAT Exam Tough and in their view what are the difficult areas of CAT Exam:

  • Engineers who cracked CAT: While preparing for CAT exam, most of the candidates from Engineering back ground found Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension section in CAT more difficult than DILR and Quant. They overcame their weakness with devoting more time to VARC and cracked CAT
  • Arts Students who cracked CAT: These CAT takers found Quant and DI section more difficult but found VARC their strong domain. Devoting more time to clear their concepts and more practice, they scored well in these sections in CAT exam
  • Commerce Graduates: For these students VARC, DILR posed more problem. They referred books by Arun Sharma, got clarity on basics, read specific articles and editorials in news papers for VARC, while for DILR they did more and more practice on variety of questions. This resulted in scoring high in both these sections
  • Science Graduates: Again, VARC was found a more difficult. But with determination and practice and by taking 30-40 Mocks, the weakness was won. These CAT takers not only cleared cut offs but many of them also scored more in VARC than in other two sections. 

So, is CAT exam easy or tough depends upon how you look at it, prepare for it and finally perform in it. But you can’t ignore one thing that number of CAT aspirants are consistently increasing and last year CAT broke all earlier records with 2.55 lakh candidates applying for the exam, which further enhanced its reputation as largest and most popular exam. Leading to Admissions in top B-schools, CAT, in view of experts and toppers should have some difficulty level although it is not very difficult.

2. CAT Exam Pattern Vs Other Exams: Check Difficulty Level
CAT Question Paper consists of three sections whereas other MBA exams like XAT, CMAT, erstwhile IIFT have 4-5 sections and have different type of questions. Once you go through the CAT paper pattern, you may not think that CAT is very tough:   

Component IIM- CAT 2023 XLRI – XAT 2024 CMAT 2023 NMAT Exam Pattern 2023
Total questions  66 101 100 108
Overall time limit to attempt the exam  2 hours 3 hours 10 Minutes 3 Hours  2 hours
Type of questions 48 questions are MCQs, rest 18 Non-MCQs MCQs + Essay Writing Test MCQs All MCQs
Answer options for MCQs 4 5 4 5
Marks awarded for each correct answer 3 1 4 1
Negative marking MCQs with 1/3 negative marking; No negative marking for Non-MCQs 75 MCQs with 1/4 negative marking; No negative marking for 25 MCQs on GK and Essay Writing Test -1 No negative marking
Exam difficulty level Moderate to high High Moderate to high Moderate
Number of sections 3 3 (Main sections)
2 (GK & Essay Sections score not counted)
5 3
Name of section-1 with number of questions Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension- 24 English Language & Logical Reasoning- 26 Language Comprehension-20 Language Skills-36
Name of Section-2 with number of questions Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning -20 Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation- 28 Quantitative Techniques and Data Interpretation-20 Logical Reasoning-36
Name of Section-3 with number of questions Quantitative Ability-22 Decision Making-21 Logical Reasoning-20 Quantitative Skills-36
Name of Section-4 with number of questions NA General Awareness-25 General Awareness-20 NA
Name of Section-5 with number of questions NA Essay Writing-1 Descriptive Innovation & Entrepreneurship-20 NA
Facility to choose order of sections No, has to follow pre specified sectional order Yes Yes Yes, but once chosen has to follow
Individual Sectional time limit Each section with 40 minutes time limit No No Yes, varying time limit of 28 minutes to 52 minutes
Top MBA colleges accepting exam score 20 IIMs, FMS, MDI, SPJIMR, IMI, IITs, XIMB XLRI, MICA, IMT, IMI, FORE, TAPMI, XIMB JBIMS, SIMSREE, BIMTECH, IFMR GSB and 600 others NMIMS, VIT, XIMB

Read in detail the CAT paper Pattern and sectional composition

With so many sections in other exams and only three sections in CAT, a candidate can focus on preparation and can crack the exam with right preparation strategy

3. CAT Scoring Pattern: High Percentile at Moderate Score
At a score of 90 to 100 in CAT exam, a candidate can get 95-99 percentile. This is not very tough to achieve. In view of Arun Sharma, CAT Mentor and founder of CAT coaching Mindworkzz you need to plan to attempt 16 to 20 questions with 85 to 90 percent accuracy to score high in each section so that after allowing 10 to 20 percent of mistakes, you can score well and crack CAT with 90+ percentile. In previous years, the CAT score required for 90-99 percentile is shared below:

CAT Percentile
Overall CAT Score
Top Colleges
98 – 100 %ile
90 - 105
IIM A, B, C, FMS
94 - 97 %ile
80 - 89
IIM L, I, K, SPJIMR, MDI, IITB, IITD, NITIE
90 – 93 %ile
72 - 79
9 CAP IIMs, IIM Shillong, IIM Rohtak, XIMB, IMI, IMT Ghaziabad
85 – 89 %ile
61 - 71
IIM Amritsar, IIM Nagpur, IIM Vizag, MICA, IRMA, Great Lakes, GIM Goa
75 – 84 %ile
51 - 60
K J Somaiya, LBSIM, JIMS Rohini, BIMTECH, IMT Nagpur, Welingkar
65 – 73 %ile
41 - 50
IMT Hyderabad, Jaipuria Lucknow/Noida, SDMIMD, IESMCRC, IMI Bhubaneswar

Check CAT Score Vs Percentile in all Top B-schools

4. Moderate CAT Cut Offs at IIMs and Other B-Schools
During the past few years, top IIMs like IIM Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, Kozhikode, Lucknow, Indore have reduced their CAT cut off to 85-90 percentile. Now you can expect to be shortlisted by IIMs at a moderate CAT percentile. Below are shared the CAT percentile range and top B-schools cut off range

CAT Percentile
Top Colleges
98 – 100 %ile
IIM A, B, C, FMS
94 - 97 %ile
IIFT, IIM L, I, K, SPJIMR, MDI, IITB, IITD, NITIE
90 – 93 %ile
9 CAP IIMs, IIM Shillong, IIM Rohtak, XIMB, IMI, IMT Ghaziabad
85 – 89 %ile
IIM Amritsar, IIM Nagpur, IIM Vizag, MICA, IRMA, Great Lakes, GIM Goa
75 – 84 %ile
K J Somaiya, LBSIM, JIMS Rohini, BIMTECH, IMT Nagpur, Welingkar
65 – 74 %ile
IMT Hyderabad, Jaipuria Lucknow/Noida, SDMIMD, IESMCRC, IMI Bhubaneswar

5. Learn Why CAT Exam is Considered Tough
When you try to learn why CAT exam is tough, it should be noted that IIMs do not need a professor or top expert in English, Maths or Reasoning in their class rooms but of course they need the students who have good communication skills, can think logically and can make right approach to the given problem. As such, the CAT exam difficulty level is designed accordingly.

A CAT aspirant sure needs to think how difficult should be CAT exam when he or she is looking for MBA admission in top IIMs like IIM Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, Kozhikode, Lucknow, Indore and other highly ranked top B-schools like FMS, SPJIMR, MDI and recent entrant IIFT Delhi and Kolkata. As such CAT cannot be a cake walk in terms of its difficulty level. However, experts and CAT toppers also find that CAT is not the toughest exam as compared to other exams like XAT, erstwhile IIFT entrance exam which has been discontinued from 2023 and even GMAT which goes on increasing its difficulty level after answering each question. To clear CAT, you need to read and download CAT syllabus and follow right preparation strategy.

6. CAT Syllabus: Must Go Through - Not Difficult to Cover
When you raise the query - Is CAT Exam Tough? What are the difficult areas of CAT Exam, you should first go through the CAT syllabus and with the opportunity available, you should download it. Once you go through the Syllabus with the key topics for all the sections of CAT, it will be easy for you to understand which are the easy and difficult areas of CAT exam and where you need to strengthen them.

There are total three sections in CAT syllabus which carry different weight in the CAT question paper. Although the syllabus is divided in 3 sections, the effective number of sections are five as VARC and DILR sections are further sub-divided into 2 sub sections. Read details below.  

CAT Syllabus Sectional Division Key Topics Overall Weightage in CAT exam
Section-1: CAT VARC Syllabus Weightage & Topics  RC Based Questions, Parajumbles, Para summary, Out of Context Sentence  36%
Section-1.1: CAT Verbal Ability (VA) Syllabus- Key Topics & Weightage Jumbled Paragraphs; Para-summary Picking the Out of context sentence from a jumbled paragraph  10%
Section-1.2: CAT Reading Comprehension (RC) Syllabus- Key Topics & Weightage  Long & Short RC Passages followed by questions based on vocabulary, statements, inferences, elaboration of ideas in the passage 24%
Section-2: CAT DILR Syllabus Weightage & Topics  Data Analysis Charts, Tables, Graphs, Direction sense, seating arrangements 32%
Section-2.1: CAT Data Interpretation Syllabus Weightage & Topics Set of 3-4 Questions based on Data Charts, Data Tables, Bar Graphs, Venn Diagrams  16%
Section-2.2: CAT Logical Reasoning Syllabus Weightage & Topics Set of 3-4 Questions based on Seating Arrangement, Team Formation, Clocks & Calendars, Direction Sense, Family Tree 16%
Section-3: CAT Quantitative Aptitude Syllabus Weightage & Key Topics Individual Questions based on Arithmetic, Algebra, Modern Math, Geometry, Mensuration, Number system, Trigonometry 34%

Read and Download Free CAT Syllabus

7. CAT Preparation: Check Your Plan & Strategy
Is CAT Exam difficult/very tough or it is easy? The answer to your query depends upon how good are your basics, conceptual clarity and what preparation strategy you are following. There are CAT toppers who were working professionals and self-prepared for CAT and overcame their weakness. Then there are freshers who self prepared and also took help from online or offline CAT coaching and many candidates who self prepared with CAT books and study material, enrolled for CAT mock tests to assess their weak areas. Many of these candidates completed their preparation in a few months while a few of them prepared for a year or so. But what is common in them, is their consistency in preparation and practice on variety of questions without distraction. This made CAT a moderate difficulty exam for them. Read their CAT preparation strategy for your own benefit:

  1. How K. Sashank, Software Developer at JIO from Coimbatore overcame his weakness to crack CAT 2022 with 99.90%ile, and got into IIM Kozhikode
  2. ‘XAT Not More Difficult than CAT’ Nandagopal V Busts the Myth; Scored 99.99%ile in XAT 2023 and 99.15%ile in CAT 2022; Declines Top IIMs to join XLRI Jamshedpur - MBAUniverse.com Interview
  3. Gurgaon Girl & NIFT Graduate Kirti Goyal Cracks CAT with 99.1%ile, Secures admission at IIM Kozhikode! Shares her success strategies with MBAUniverse.com
  4. How Mumbai Girl and VJTI Engineer Srishti Yadav overcame her weakness to crack CAT with 99.69%ile, and got into IIM Kozhikode
  5. Why Amit Kumar Chakraborty, CAT 2022 Topper with 99.34 %ile & XAT 2023 Topper with 99.55%ile declined NITIE, SPJIMR, MDI to join XLRI Jamshedpur; How he cracked Exams – MBAUniverse.com Interview
  6. How Soumik Banerjee, an Engineer Working with Public Sector, Cracked CAT 2022 with 99.95%ile and Got into IIM Calcutta – MBAUniverse.com Interview
  7. How Bhanu Pratap, A Small Town Boy from Farmer Family and a Fresher, Cracked CAT 2022 with 99.67%ile and got into IIM Calcutta – MBAUniverse.com Interview
  8. How Mehak Rathi, a Psychologist & Graphologist, cracked CAT 2022 with 98.08 % to get into MDI Gurgaon - MBAUniverse.com Interview
  9. Why CAT 2022 Topper from Agriculture Family, Kunal declined IIMs, IIFT to join MDI Gurgaon; How he cracked Exams – MBAUniverse.com Interview
  10. How a Defense Personnel Ward and Consultant at Deloitte, Avinash Cracked IIFT Entrance and Got into IIFT Delhi MBA (IB) 2023-25 – MBAUniverse.com Interview

How to Prepare for CAT 2023 in 3 to 6 Months? Check Plan & Strategy

Hope you found this article useful while shedding the myth about the high difficulty level of CAT exam. In fact, CAT mentors and toppers have always advised the CAT aspirants to opt for need based and smart preparation and ensure the conceptual clarity which will help you to crack CAT 2023 with high score.    

Stay tuned to MBAUniverse.com for more updates on CAT 2023