CAT Exam Overview – Pattern, Dates, Syllabus

CAT Overview

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CAT Overview

CAT stands for Common Admission Test. It is conducted once every year by the Indian Institute of Managements (IIMs) and is their primary method of admission. It is one of the most competitive exams in the country – both in standard of toughness of the paper and the seats available in the premier IIMs.
Since 2009, CAT has been a purely computer-based test. This comes with its own set of pros and cons, which we have dealt with separately.

ExamVictor Blog

We regularly blog about various topics related to CAT and other competitive exams. You can see our posts here:

New Things That Were Tried in CAT 2015

IIM Ahmedabad conducted the CAT in 2015. They announced a number of interesting updates and changes to the exam format. We are summarizing them here:

  • CAT was conducted in 2 sessions over just 1 day – 29th Nov 2015
  • The exam duration was 3 hours (180 minutes)
  • It was broken into 3 sections of 1 hour each (60 minutes each)
  • The paper was also be split into 3 sections – Quantitative Aptitude (QA), Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR) and Verbal and Reading Comprehension (VRC)
  • The QA and VRC sections had 34 questions each, and the DILR section had 32 questions, making it a total of 100 questions
  • This is important – students couldn’t switch between sections. So if you were done with QA before the 60 minutes were up, you could not move to the next section. We felt this was a great move by IIMA, which leveled the field – in effect, the student is giving 3 mini-papers and has to score well in each of them. Earlier, students with an engineering background would finish the QA section fast and then use the extra time in VRC. This is not possible now
  • There was a new question type introduced – instead of multiple choice, there would be a text box in which the answer has to be typed. There were no negative marks for such questions
  • The exam interface features an on-screen calculator. This reduces the dependence on memorizing useless mathematical tricks. However, it would probably still be faster to do simple calculations mentally, and use the calculator for more challenging figures

Key Dates

  • The CAT 2017 notification si not out as yet. We will update this section once it is released


  • You need to have a Bachelor’s degree with at least 50% marks or equivalent CGPA (45% for SC, ST, PWD and DA categories)
  • Grades and CGPAs would be converted as per the procedure followed by each concerned university
  • If you’re in your final year, you are also eligible to appear for CAT – however, your admission would be conditional, and you would need to show your degree certificate with final graduation percentage within 3 months of admission
  • There is no age limit for applying – when Vivek Sir was in IIMA, a couple of his batchmates were over 50!
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Pattern of the Question Paper

  • The exam is purely online
  • It will be of 3 hours length
  • There will be a total of 100 questions, in 3 sections:
    • Quantitative Ability – 34 questions
    • Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning – 32 questions
    • Verbal & Reading Comprehension – 34 questions
  • Students cannot switch between sections – each section has to be completed before moving on to the next one
  • For multiple choice questions it will be +3 -1 : +3 for a correct answer and -1 for a wrong answer
  • However, for text-entry type questions there are no negative marks


The thing that makes CAT preparation more challenging is that there is no defined syllabus. However, there has been a pattern that has emerged over the years. The whole paper can be broken down into 4 major domains:

  • Blood Relations
  • Coding and Decoding
  • Arrangements – Linear, Circular and Grid Matrix, Order and Ranking
  • Direction Sense
  • Cubes and Dice Related problems
  • Games and Tournaments
  • Critical Path
  • Set Theory
  • Venn Diagrams
  • Network Diagrams
  • Analogies – Number and Letter
  • Series – Number, Letter and Symbol
  • Odd Man Out
  • Binary Logic or Knights and Knaves
  • Clocks and Calendars
  • Matchsticks and Coins
  • Verbal Arithmetic or Quantitative Reasoning
  • Inequalities and Conclusions – Coded Inequalities
  • Logical Conditions or Logical Deduction
  • Pan Balancing
  • Sequential Output Tracing
  • Symbols and Notations or Symbol Based Logic
  • Assertion and Reasoning
  • Critical Reasoning
  • Statement – Courses of Action
  • Statement and Assumptions
  • Statements and Conclusions
  • Logical Grouping
  • Mathematical Operations
  • Rankings
  • Syllogisms
  • Team Formations or Selections
  • Analytical Puzzles
  • Decision Making
  • Double Line Up / Distribution
  • Input and Output
  • Logical Connectives
  • Non Verbal Reasoning
  • Number Systems
  • LCM and HCF
  • Percentages
  • Profit, Loss and Discount
  • Interest (Simple and Compound)
  • Speed, Time and Distance
  • Time and Work
  • Averages
  • Ratio and Proportion
  • Linear Equations
  • Quadratic Equations
  • Complex Numbers
  • Logarithm
  • Progressions (Sequences & Series)
  • Binomial Theorem
  • Surds and Indices
  • Inequalities
  • Permutation and Combination
  • Probability
  • Functions
  • Set Theory
  • Mixtures and Alligations
  • Geometry
  • Co-ordinate Geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Mensuration
  • Tables
  • Pie Charts
  • Bar Graphs
  • Line Graphs
  • Caselets
  • Data Sufficiency
  • Vocabulary Based (Synonyms Antonyms)
  • English Usage or Grammar
  • Sentence Correction
  • Fill in the blanks
  • Cloze Passage
  • Analogies or Reverse Analogies
  • Jumbled Paragraph
  • Meaning-Usage Match
  • Summary Questions
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Facts / Inferences / Judgements
  • Reading Comprehension

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Application Procedure

Since the exam has moved purely online, the application procedure too has to be completed online on the IIM CAT website

Participating Colleges

There is no specific list of CAT participating colleges. However, almost every top B-School in India accepts CAT scores.

More than 2 lakh candidates take the test every year. CAT scores are used for admission at 21 Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and various top MBA colleges such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), FMS, SP Jain, MDI, etc.

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