[2021 Updated] GMAT vs CAT: How to Choose the Right MBA Entrance Exam

April 4th, 2020

| Last Updated on May 11, 2021
GMAT vs CAT

Are you a college student whose peers are preparing for the CAT? Or are you a working professional who is planning to do an MBA but is confused between the two most important entrance exams to business schools – GMAT vs CAT?

If you are trying to understand what the two exams are and want to decide between GMAT vs CAT, we can assure you that you will be able to make an informed decision by the time you get to the end of the article. In fact, we have stated the differences between GMAT and CAT in the table below. This should make it easy for you to get started with your analysis.

But before that, when it comes to GMAT vs CAT, what do you think is the most important difference between them?

It is really important but simple – The GMAT is a global entrance exam accepted by approximately 2300 business schools and more than 7000 management programs. Whereas, the CAT is a national exam accepted mainly by B-schools in India.

There are a few B-schools in India that accept GMAT scores. There are a few international MBA colleges accepting CAT scores as well. We will get into the details soon. 🙂

Another key point you need to note when considering GMAT vs CAT is that the GMAT is conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). They are the owner and administrator of the GMAT. Whereas, the CAT was developed and is administered by the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs).

Here are the GMAT vs CAT differences we will discuss in this article:

1. GMAT vs CAT: Full Forms, Conducting Bodies

2. GMAT and CAT: Score validity, Eligibility, Frequency, Acceptability, Number of Attempts

3. GMAT vs CAT: Mode of Exam, Exam Duration, Exam Fee

4. GMAT vs CAT Syllabus, Number of Sections, Questions, Adaptiveness, Marking Scheme, Exam Pattern,

5. CAT and GMAT: Difficulty

6. GMAT and CAT: Competitiveness

7. Indian B-schools accepting GMAT scores

8. International B-schools accepting CAT scores

9. Questions you need answers for before choosing between GMAT and CAT

10. How to start preparing for the GMAT

GMAT vs CAT: Here are all the differences between GMAT and CAT that you should know:

GMAT vs CAT: Parameters GMAT Common Admission Test
Conducting bodies Graduate Management Admission Council Indian Institutes of Management
Exam type Global National
Frequency Round the year Once a year
Score validity 5 years 1 year
Eligibility Candidate should be of at least 13 years of age Bachelor’s degree with minimum 50% marks
Acceptability Accepted by B-schools across the world Accepted by B-schools in India
Number of attempts 5 times a year, 8-attempt overall lifetime limit 1 time a year, unlimited attempts
Mode of exam Online Online
Exam fee $250 or Approx. ₹18,750 ₹2000
Number of sections 4 3
Sections on the exam Verbal Reasoning (VR)
Quantitative Reasoning (QR
Integrated Reasoning (IR)
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC)
Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR)
Quantitative Ability (QA)
Number of questions to be attempted 80 Questions 100 Questions
Time limit for each section VR – 36 questions/65 minutes
QR – 31 questions/62 minutes
IR – 12 questions/30 minutes
AWA – 1 essay question/30 minutes
VARC – 34 questions/60 minutes
DILR – 32 questions/60 minutes
QA – 34 questions/60 minutes
Exam pattern Candidates can choose section order Candidates have to follow the question paper chronologically
Marking scheme Adaptive scoring algorithm, no negative marking Non-adaptive scoring algorithm, negative marking applicable
Score reporting Absolute score is reported out of 800. Percentile score is also reported Only percentile score is reported
Scheduling Flexibility GMAT is delivered on-demand CAT is conducted only once a year
Number of test-takers (Annual | India) Approx. 30,000 candidates Approx. 2,00,000 candidates

While the table would have given you an overall sense of GMAT vs CAT, let us look at the differences in a little more details. This is to make it easier for you to decide between GMAT and CAT.

1. GMAT vs CAT: Full Forms, Conducting Bodies

Everyone who is planning to do an MBA or any management degree will know that the first step in the journey is to prepare for the MBA entrance exams like the GMAT and in some cases, the CAT.

GMAT EXAM WAS LAUNCHED MORE THAN 50 YEARS BEFORE CAT

That’s how you got to know about them too, right?

But do you know the full form of GMAT and CAT? Do you know who conducts these exams?

Probably not.

Let’s get familiar with that before we delve into further details.

I. What are the full forms of GMAT and CAT?

GMAT is the acronym for Graduate Management Admission Test. As you can see, the test has been specifically designed and created as an entrance exam for admissions to management courses such as an MBA.

This is the case with the Common Admission Test or CAT too.

Both these exams have been created in such a way that they test specific skills of candidates to understand their suitability for a management program. The exam scores become important indicators of business and management abilities of a candidate to admission committees at business schools and later to recruiting companies.

Wondering how the exams scores can provide so much information?

Know how the GMAT is a test of specific skills.

II. Who conducts the GMAT and CAT?

The GMAT is conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which is the owner and administrator of GMAT, headquartered in the United States. Whereas, the CAT is conducted by the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs).

Yes, you saw that right

The exam is conducted by a different IIM every year.

Quick fact! 

The GMAT was launched in 1953 and was originally called the Admission Test for Graduate Business Study. Whereas, the CAT was launched by the IIMs in 2007!

2. GMAT and CAT: Score validity, Eligibility, Frequency, Acceptability, Number of Attempts

If you are a GMAT or a CAT aspirant, you should know how many times you can take the exams, how long before your scores get invalid and the basic eligibility requirements you need to meet before you can register for the exams.

GMAT IS MORE PRACTICAL AND GLOBALLY ACCEPTED EXAM

I. GMAT and CAT score validity and frequency

Let’s say that you took the GMAT and are ready to apply to the business schools. What is the validity of your GMAT score?

Your GMAT score is valid for five years from the date of your test!

But if you take the CAT exam, you should know that the score is valid only for one year. If you do not apply to MBA colleges this year with your CAT score, you will have to retake the exam next year.

Note: Though your GMAT score is valid for five years, when you apply to certain MBA colleges and MBA programs, it is mandatory to submit a GMAT score of an exam that has been taken within a particular period of time. You will get to know about this when you go to the B-school website.

It is also important to know the frequency of these two tests.

While you can take the GMAT round the year, you can take the CAT exam only once a year on the date fixed by the IIMs. So, if you do not score well on the CAT this year, you will have to wait to retake the test until next year.

And the date for the CAT exam will mostly be announced in the month of July or August every year by the IIM that will be conducting the entrance exam

II. What are the eligibility requirements to take the GMAT and CAT?

You can take the GMAT if you are 18 years of age. And if you are between the age of 13 and 18, you can appear for the exam with parental permission. All you need to do is create a profile and register for the GMAT on mba.com.

To take the CAT, you need to have a bachelor’s degree from a recognized university or its equivalent. If you are in the final year of college, you can still appear for the CAT.

Given the eligibility requirements and score validity, the GMAT is a better option than CAT.

What do you think? 😉

III. How many times can you take the GMAT and CAT?

You can take the GMAT a total of 8 times in your lifetime.

That is the limit set by the GMAC.

While you can appear for the exam 8 times, you can take the GMAT only 5 times a year with a minimum gap of 16 days between each exam.

If you are taking the CAT, you can take the exam only once a year. As mentioned earlier, the date will be announced by the IIM that is conducting the exam the particular year.

IV. How many MBA colleges accept GMAT and CAT?

GMAT scores are mandatory for admission into the world’s leading B-Schools. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which administers the GMAT, more than 2,300 B-Schools accept GMAT test scores for close to 7,000 programs.

CAT SCORE IS ACCEPTED MAINLY BY INDIAN B-SCHOOLS

VERY FEW INTERNATIONAL B-SCHOOLS ACCEPT CAT SCORES AS PART OF THEIR APPLICATIONS

CAT scores are only accepted in India, primarily by the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) which conduct the test. There are about 30 institutes apart from the IIMs that accept CAT scores. These include the likes of S.P. Jain Institute of Management & Research (SPJIMR) in Mumbai and Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA) in Chennai.

The key takeaway here is that the GMAT is a more practical and globally accepted exam, while the CAT is a largely theoretical exam that’s only accepted in Indian B-Schools like the IIMs.

IIMs offer two types of business programs, primarily: one type (the PGP) requires no work experience and is comparable to an MiM degree. The other type (the PGPX) is offered only to candidates with work experience and is comparable to an MBA. For executive programs such as the PGPX, you can apply with your GMAT scores.

Also Read: List of Indian B-Schools Accepting GMAT Scores

At this point, the GMAT test is well on its way to becoming the most widely-accepted entrance test for B-Schools in India.

3. GMAT vs CAT: Mode of Exam, Exam Duration, Exam Fee

I. What is the mode of exam for GMAT and CAT?

The GMAT is an online exam that can be taken at a test centre or at home.

With the COVID 19 pandemic, the GMAC introduced the GMAT online exam that candidates can take from home. Isn’t this a great option?

With this, they made it easy for GMAT aspirants to book the exam slot and take the exam whenever they intended to. Initially, the GMAT could be taken only at a test center and the candidate had to book a slot based on the availability.

The GMAT exam is 3 hours 7 minutes long with two optional breaks.

The CAT, on the other hand, is a computer-delivered test but is not an online exam. The exam can be taken only at a test centre and is 3 hours long.

II. How much does the GMAT and CAT cost?

The GMAT, given that you get to apply to business across the globe, is a slightly expensive exam. You have to pay $250 to take the GMAT.

You can cancel and reschedule your GMAT exam. But you will have to pay a certain fee to do so. You can check out the details here: Rescheduling and canceling the GMAT exam.

To take the CAT, you need to pay ₹2000 during registration.

4. GMAT vs CAT Syllabus, Number of Sections, Questions, Adaptiveness, Marking Scheme, Exam Pattern

We will now answer the most important question of all:

What is the difference between GMAT and CAT syllabus?

The biggest difference between GMAT and CAT is the Analytical Writing Assessment section. You need to attempt this section if you take the GMAT. On the other hand, this section does not exist on the CAT.

Moving on to the details of GMAT vs CAT syllabus.

There are four sections on the GMAT:

i. Verbal Reasoning
ii. Quantitative Reasoning
iii. Integrated Reasoning
iv. Analytical Writing Assessment

In the Verbal section, you will have to attempt 36 questions in 65 mins. Whereas, in the Quant section, you will have to answer 31 questions in 62 minutes.

You get 30 minutes each for the Integrated Reasoning (IR) and the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) sections. In the IR section, you will have to answer 12 questions whereas, in the AWA section, you just have one essay question that you have to answer.

If you are a GMAT aspirant, you should know that the total score will be out of 800.

Also read: Know the the 57 Topics, Question Types You Can Expect in Quant, Verbal, IR, AWA

The CAT is divided into three sections:

i. Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC)
ii. Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR)
iii. Quantitative Ability (QA)

You have to attempt 34 questions in the VARC section whereas, you have 32 questions in the DILR section. You also need to attempt the 34 questions in the Quantitative Ability section on the CAT.

You have 60 minutes to complete each section on the CAT.

As you can see, both the GMAT and CAT have the Verbal and Quant sections. When you apply to a B-school with your GMAT score, they will consider your composite score which is out of 800.

The Integrated Reasoning section on the GMAT is similar to the Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning section on the CAT. Both test the reasoning skills of a test taker.

So, let us compare the Verbal and Quant syllabus on GMAT and CAT.

GMAT vs CAT syllabus – Verbal

Here are the Verbal topics asked on the GMAT and CAT:

GMAT CAT
Pronoun Grammar
Verb Tense Para Completion and Inference
Subject-Verb Agreement Fill in the Blanks
Parallelism Reading Comprehension
Modifiers Paragraph Jumbles
Idioms Verbal Logic
Assumption Syllogisms
Inference Verbal Reasoning
Comparison Different Usage of Same Word
Strengthen and Weaken Contextual Usage
Evaluate Analogies
Paradox Sentence Completion
Bold Face Antonyms
Foreign Language Words in English
Idioms
One word substitution
Sentence Correction
Jumbled Paragraphs

Know more about GMAT Verbal syllabus here.

Here are the Quant topics asked on the GMAT and CAT:

GMAT CAT
Number properties Geometry
Multiples and factors Trigonometry
Fractions Mensuration
Decimals Ratios and Proportion
Percentages Number system
Averages Work and time
Powers and roots HCF & LCM
Profit and loss Algebra
Simple and compound interest Profit & Loss
Speed, time, and distance In-equations Quadratic and linear equations
Pipes, cisterns, and work time Geometric Progression
Ratio and proportion Percentages
Mixtures and alligations Averages
Descriptive statistics Partnership (Accounts)
Set theory Time-Speed-Distance
Probability Surds and Indices
Permutation and combination Inequalities
Monomials, polynomials Logarithms
Algebraic expressions and equations
Functions
Exponents
Arithmetic and geometric progression
Quadratic equations
Inequalities and basic statistics
Lines and angles
Triangles
Quadrilaterals
Circles
Rectangular solids and cylinders
Coordinate geometry

Know more about GMAT Quant syllabus here.

Did you know that you can choose the section order if you are taking the GMAT?

This means that you can choose which GMAT section you want to attempt first followed by the other sections. 🙂

There are three section orders you can choose from:

i. Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Break, Quantitative, Break, Verbal
ii. Verbal, Break, Quantitative, Break, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
iii. Quantitative, Break, Verbal, Break, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment

You can choose the section order based on your strengths and weaknesses.

If you are taking the CAT exam, you will have to follow the fixed exam pattern. You cannot choose the order based on your preference.

GMAT vs CAT – Adaptiveness

The GMAT is an adaptive test.

This means that the difficulty level of the next question is based on your performance on the current question.

With this adaptive feature, your GMAT score can go higher or lower depending on whether you answer a question correctly.

Also read: How GMAT Scores are Calculated: The Bizarreness of the Adaptive Scoring Algorithm

Due to this feature, you cannot skip a question on the GMAT.

The CAT is a non-adaptive test. The exam is a test of your accuracy.

And on the CAT, only your percentile score is reported. This is calculated based on the number of questions you answered correctly.

But you must remember that on the CAT, you will get negative marks for a wrong answer.

5. CAT and GMAT: Difficulty

Based on the points we have mentioned so far, which exam do you think is more difficult?
Are you still unsure about it?

CAT IS A TEST OF YOUR THEORETICAL KNOWLEDGE.

GMAT TESTS YOUR LOGICAL REASONING SKILLS.

Here’s our two cents on the difficulty level of these exams.

The GMAT has a very well-defined syllabus and exam pattern. All you need to do is to prepare for the exam well and take the exam confidently. You can score GMAT 700+ easily.

But the CAT syllabus is not defined very well. And for the same reason, you might have to prepare for the exam longer.

As mentioned earlier, both the exams have the Verbal and Quant sections. As non-native English speakers, the Indian test takers usually struggle with the Verbal section on the. It is rarely that they find Quant difficult. But the Quant section on the CAT can be quite difficult to tackle.

Here’s a slightly more detailed comparison:

i. Quant on CAT has about 20 topics under it; whereas GMAT Quant is divided into four main areas of math.
ii. CAT Quant tends to be highly technical; GMAT Quant is more practical.
iii. CAT Quant requires you to have a strong understanding of mathematical theory. You can’t rely on techniques like elimination to arrive at the answer on the CAT, especially on the ‘Type in the Answer’ (TITA) questions. In these questions, you have no option but to find the answer by solving it the old-fashioned way.

In GMAT Quant, while you do need to have your basics in place, you also need to use some techniques and strategies to beat the GMAT. You need not always solve every question.

You could say, in a way, that the CAT is more a test of your theoretical knowledge while the GMAT is more a test of your logical reasoning ability.

Both CAT and GMAT have Reading Comprehension passages, but the similarity ends there for the Verbal section. The GMAT asks more usage-based questions while the CAT doesn’t delve into grammar.

We hope that this has given you more clarity on the difficulty aspect of GMAT vs CAT.

6. GMAT and CAT: Competitiveness

The CAT and GMAT are both competitive exams. This means that the value of your score is determined by how all the other test-takers performed on the same test.

Confused? Let us explain.

It is impressive to say that you’ve scored 770 out of 800 on the GMAT. What it means in terms of percentile is that only 1% or fewer of all GMAT-takers in the last 3 years have managed to score as well as or better than that!

You can say that about the GMAT because it is a standardized test, which means it maintains the same standards over the years. The difficulty level remains constant over time, so it is just as difficult to get a 760 today as it was five years ago.

That is why the average GMAT scores accepted by the world’s top B-Schools remain more or less constant. These average scores tend to be in the 95th-96th percentile. In numbers, that score falls within the 720-730 GMAT composite score range.

However, this is not the case with the CAT.

While the CAT also provides you with a percentile rank, that doesn’t hold as much value as a GMAT percentile rank. This is simply because the CAT is not a standardized test. This means that your percentile rank on the CAT only compares your performance to other test-takers who took the exact same test as you.

Thanks to this variation in percentile values, the range of CAT scores accepted by IIMs and other B-Schools is quite varied, too. For most IIMs, CAT cutoff ranges from the 96th to 99th percentile. This means you can only get in if you score higher than or equal to 96-99% of your competitors. In numbers, you need a score higher than 123 out of 300 on the CAT.

Having said that, you must take into account that many more people take the GMAT than the CAT.

Further, GMAT-takers come from all over the world whereas CAT-takers are only Indian. Thanks to this, you can’t really compare GMAT and CAT scores directly, even in percentile form.

Let us explain why in further detail.

Scope of Percentile Rank Comparison

The CAT is much more likely to change in difficulty year-on-year as compared to the GMAT. It would be unfair to compare the performance of test-takers who took an easier version of the test to the performance of those who faced a tougher CAT.

That’s why CAT percentiles are calculated based on the performance of those who took the test in a given year only. Since the test is only conducted once a year, this helps keep things simple. But the limitation then is that the score is valid only for a year.

8. International B-schools Accepting CAT Scores

While CAT is conducted by the IIMs and is mostly accepted by B-schools in India, there are a few B-schools abroad that accept CAT scores for admissions to their management programs.

Here are a few B-schools abroad that accept CAT scores:

Business School Program
HEC Paris Master in Management
Singapore Management University MSc in Management
ESSEC MSc in Management
SP Jain School of Global Management Master of Global Business
Stuart School of Business Master of Business Administration

Confused as to which B-school you should apply to? Why don’t you reach out to our experts to get your profile evaluated before you decide on the standardized test and MBA colleges?

9. Questions you need answers for before choosing between CAT and GMAT

Which B-schools do you want to apply to?

Which place do you want to study in?

Which management program do you wish to apply for?

What is your overall career goal?

Do you have answers to the four questions posed above?

If you do, then it shouldn’t be difficult to decide between the GMAT and CAT now that you know all the difference between the two exams.

CHOOSE BETWEEN GMAT AND CAT AFTER CONSIDERING YOUR GOALS AND ASPIRATIONS

Are you looking to apply to B-schools outside of India and build your career there?

If you want to apply to business schools abroad, you should take the GMAT. With a good GMAT score, you can apply to more than 7000 management programs across the world.

Moreover, the GMAT scores will add value when you are looking and applying for jobs abroad.

Know how GMAT will add value even after your MBA.

On the other hand, if you are looking to apply to top MBA colleges in India, you can take the CAT and apply to the business schools of your choice.

All the 20 IIMs accept CAT scores for the MBA programs. And there are other top B-schools like SP Jain School of Management, Xavier Labour Relations Institute and Indian Institute of Technology that accept CAT scores for their management programs admissions.

Here’s one way to look at it.

You should take the CAT if you have less than one year of work experience. You can get into IIMs with a CAT score, and an MBA from an IIM tends to have high returns. But if you’re an experienced professional, the GMAT is a better option any day. It opens up many more doors than the CAT does, and it gives you a chance to expand your global footprint.

As an Indian test-taker, you should know that if you plan to take the GMAT, you might find the Verbal section challenging. But there are ways to overcome these challenges and get a good GMAT score.

10. How to start preparing for the GMAT

If you have decided to prepare for the GMAT and apply to business schools, here are a few points that you should keep in mind:

i. You need to be consistent in your GMAT preparation – Even if it is half an hour a day, make sure you do that every day.

ii. You should study only from official GMAT material – There is so much GMAT preparation material available online. Do not try to go through all of them and get confused. Utilize only the official material.

iii. Have a structured study plan – You should have a clear plan for your GMAT preparation. Otherwise, you will just end up practicing questions and not getting anywhere with it.

Now that you know all the differences between GMAT and CAT, the pros and cons, it shouldn’t be too difficult to make the decision. You even know how to get started with your GMAT prep if you decide to take the GMAT, correct?

If you wish to know more about getting started with the GMAT preparation and how to go about it, you can click on the image below and check out our Free GMAT Kickstarter course.

The course will help you understand GMAT and the preparation required much better. 🙂