Your Complete Guide for CAT Preparation

If you are dreaming of getting a postgraduate degree in Management. Then the first step you will have to consider is qualifying for the MBA entrance exam. If you’re more inclined to study overseas, then GMAT is the entrance exam you should concentrate on. Whereas, If your focus is on getting an MBA degree from a top B-school in India, you’ll have to prepare yourself for the CAT examination. So, in this tutorial, you will explore all the vital information you need to know while starting CAT preparation. 

What Is CAT Examination?

CAT or Common Admission Test is a national exam conducted every year by the Indian Institutes of Management on a rotational basis. It is designed to assess the aptitude of graduates who want to pursue management education. Through this test, you will be able to get into IIMs and other top business schools in India.

First look into the rules and eligibility criteria for taking the CAT exam:

  1. The candidate must have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum of 50% marks.
  2. This exam can only be attempted in the English language.
  3. The examination fee for CAT is around 2200 rupees, which is less than other management entrance exams such as GMAT. 
  4. The CAT grades come with one-year validity.
  5. CAT exam has unlimited attempts
  6. Few Indian business schools do not accept CAT grades. For example, NMIMS, which is considered one of the top business schools in India. This B-school hosts its own entrance exam known as NMAT.

Moving forward, you will look into the changes made in the CAT exam pattern over the last few years.

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Changes in CAT Examination Format

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a few changes were made to the CAT 2020 exam format. And those changes have been retained for CAT 2021 as well. Check out the table below to learn about the modifications to the CAT exam pattern over the last three years:


CAT 2021

CAT 2020

CAT 2019

Examination Slots




Exam Duration

120 Minutes

120 Minutes

180 Minutes

Sectional Time Limit

40 Minutes

40 Minutes

60 Minutes

Total Number of Questions




Total Marks




No. of Questions in VARC




No. of Questions in DILR




No. of Questions in QA




Apart from these changes, the marking scheme for the CAT exam remains the same as represented in the image below:


Next, you will look at the syllabus for the CAT examination, which is a must known factor for CAT preparation.

CAT Examination Syllabus

The CAT examination is divided into three sections: VARC, DILR, and QA. You will now discover each of these sections in detail.

1. VARC Section

Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension Test (VARC) section assesses applicants' linguistic abilities. In this section, you will come across questions based on Vocabulary, Grammar, and Reading Comprehension.

Vocabulary: This part includes Cloze tests, fill in the blanks, synonyms, antonyms, analogies, and sentence completion questions. To get these questions right, you will need sound vocabulary knowledge, reading skills, and reasoning powers. Vocabulary is more than just knowing what words mean; it is also about knowing what situations a specific word may fit into. So, try to understand the root meaning of each word you come across. Doing that will definitely help you with these sorts of questions.

Grammar: This section includes questions based on errors in tenses, parts of speech, para jumbles, article usage, subject-verb agreement, pronouns, phrases, and modifiers. To successfully answer all of the questions in this part, you must be well-versed with grammatical rules.

Reading Comprehension: These sorts of questions can only be solved by establishing a reading habit over time. Begin with short stories, newspapers, and blogs. Based on the difficulty level of the chosen book or blog, aim for a reading pace of at least 300 words per minute. And read voraciously. Once you develop hefty vocabulary and good reading speed, go through a few reading comprehension question banks and assess yourself. 

The goal for these assessments should be to solve a maximum number of questions by utilizing less amount of time. For the VARC section of CAT 2020, 18 questions were focused on reading comprehension, 6 on grammar, and 2 on vocabulary. Hence, you must gain good speed in order to make time for DILR and QA sections.

Also, keep in mind that 5-8 of these 26 questions may be of the TITA type. There will be no alternatives for these questions, and applicants will have to type in their answers.

2. DILR Section

Since CAT 2020, the weightage of the Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR) section is nearly identical to that of the other two sections. It is also recognized as moderately difficult. The only major challenge in this part is that it is not a mathematical problem with a formula. It is based on logic and requires some computation and counting. That means it is a skill to be learned rather than knowledge to be memorized.

The key to success in the DILR section is speedy mental calculation. So, while practicing questions of this section, don’t rely on calculators. Memorize tables from 1 to 20, and fractions from  ½, to 1/20. You can attain a perfect score in this section with a hefty amount of practice. The more you practice, the quicker you will get in achieving accuracy.

3. QA Section

Quantitative Aptitude (QA) section covers questions based on Arithmetic, Algebra, Advanced Mathematics, and Geometry. There is no other way to score well in this section except to go through each and every chapter thoroughly. The chapter-wise syllabus for this section is given in the table below:




Number theory

Set theory and functions

Coordinate geometry


Quadratic Equations


Speed, Time, and Distance

Complex Numbers

Quadrilaterals, Triangles, and Circle

Profit, Loss, and Discount

Progression and Series

Graphical Division Geometry

Compound Interest

Arithmetic, Geometric and Harmonic progression

Point, Lines, and Planes

Boats and Streams

Conditional Probability


Permutations and Combinations

Linear Equation and Inequalities



Similarity and Congruence

Seating Arrangements

Moving forward, you will learn the importance of mock tests in preparation for the CAT examination. 

How to Approach CAT Preparation?

Self-study is the most cost-effective and adaptable method of CAT preparation. There are numerous great CAT books available to assist you in covering everything from the basics to the advanced topics. The best CAT books that many institutes prefer are by author Arun Sharma. His complete CAT preparation series can help you cover all essential concepts along with the number of practice questions.

The average time necessary to complete a CAT study is about five months. But, of course, a lot will rely on how quickly you can learn the basics and the mode of study you choose for preparation. The major phase of CAT preparation that enables you to perform up to your full potential is an online mock test. Solving sample question papers and taking online mock exams is an integral part of CAT preparation. 

Candidates must undergo 35-40 CAT mock examinations during their preparation period. The factors listed below are the key points you should take into consideration while attempting sample questions or CAT mock tests:

  1. While solving sample questions for a particular topic, first try to understand questions and their logic. Then go for the next attempt, where you try to attempt all the questions without any time constraint. In the third attempt, try to solve the same set of questions by allotting proper time.
  2. Start taking online CAT mock examinations once you've finished the complete syllabus, so you don't get stuck on any topic.
  3. The objective for CAT mock tests should be to increase your speed and accuracy. Prepare yourself mentally and physically to give your all for two hours without becoming weary.
  4. After solving each mock test, analyze your performance. Do an assessment as to which section you will need more improvement.
  5. Practice the section where you think you need to improve.
  6. Do not be discouraged if the results are not positive at first; instead, continue to analyze your weaknesses and work on them. The only way to succeed on the CAT or any other MBA entrance exam is to excel on mock examinations.

Score vs. Percentile Analysis for CAT 2020

The CAT 2020 score vs percentile is provided in the table below. Understanding this comparison will undoubtedly aid you in determining what score to aim for.

CAT 2020 Score

CAT 2020 Percentile

119 - 140


95 - 118

95 - 98

90 - 94

80 - 94

85 - 89

70 - 80

80 - 84

51 - 69

To get into top IIMs, you must secure the 99+ percentile mark. That means you must target that 140 marks range. Hence, try and reach 140+ marks range while attempting mock tests. With multiple mock tests and practice, you can definitely reach your target of getting into a top management institute and program.

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In this CAT preparation tutorial, you learned about the CAT exam and the changes that occurred in this examination format. You also discovered the section-wise syllabus for the CAT test. After that, you explored a strategy you should follow while preparing for the CAT examination. Finally, you went through a tabular representation of CAT 2020 score vs percentile analysis to gain insight over which score range you should target.

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If you have any questions or need clarification on any section of this article on the CAT preparation, please leave them in the comments section at the bottom of this page; we will respond to them soon.

About the Author

Gayatri DubeyGayatri Dubey

Gayatri is Manager in Content Marketing at Simplilearn. She is a Computer Science Post Graduate and shares a keen interest in the Search Engine Optimization and Digital Marketing domain.

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