CAT vs. GMAT: Choosing the Right Test for You in 2021

April 4th, 2020

| Last Updated on February 2, 2021

“Is GMAT better than CAT?”

“Which is the tougher exam, the CAT or the GMAT?”

“How different is GMAT from CAT?”

“Is CAT preparation enough for GMAT?”

These are some of the questions students ask us almost all the time!!

Yes, there is a very simple answer. But before getting to that answer, you need some context (a couple of pointers on the similarities, differences, and difficulty level), and we are going to help you with just that!

In this article, we will do the heavy lifting and answer the following:

  1. CAT vs. GMAT: Which is Easier Based on Syllabus, Format, and Structure?
  2. Which Test is More Accepted, CAT or GMAT?
  3. What is the Level of Competition on the CAT vs. the GMAT?

Off we go!

1. Comparison of Syllabus, Structure, and Format

Let us begin by comparing the CAT syllabus to the GMAT syllabus.

There are four sections on the GMAT: 

GMAT Syllabus

First of all, you need to know that only 2 out of these 4 sections (Quant and Verbal) contribute to your overall GMAT score. The IR and AWA sections have separate grades of their own.

In the AWA section, you’re expected to write a single essay that analyzes a given argument. IR has 12 questions that are based on data interpretation. All the questions in both the Quant as well as the Verbal section are Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs).

How different is the CAT syllabus, then? 

CAT syllabus

As you can see, there are 3 sections on the CAT, and (please note!) all the sections contribute to your total score.

CAT also has varied question types: a combination of Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs), and ‘Type in the Answer’ (TITA) questions.

Verbal and Reading Comprehension (VARC) has the following type of questions:

– 23-27 MCQs
– 7-10 TITA questions

DI-LR is as follows:

– 28 MCQs
– 8 TITA questions.

Some key differences to keep in mind:

  • GMAT’s Select Section Order option allows you to choose the order in which you want to answer the sections of the test.
    However, you don’t have a Select Section Order option on the CAT. The sections of the CAT appear in a fixed order. You start the exam by solving the VARC section, followed by DI-LR, and end with QA.
  • There are no eligibility criteria that you have to meet in order to take the GMAT.
    To be eligible to take the CAT, however, you have to score at least 50% marks in your undergraduate degree.
  • On the GMAT, all the questions are MCQs and there is no “negative” marking per se – however you will be penalized for getting questions wrong.
    On the CAT MCQs, you get +3 marks for all correct answers and -1 mark for each incorrect answer.
  • GMAT scores remain valid for five years from the date of the latest attempt; CAT scores are only valid for one year.
Comparative Difficulty

Now, the obvious similarity between the GMAT and CAT?

They both have Quant and Verbal sections!

Next, we will compare them directly to give you a better perspective!

Why don’t we look at the Quant section first?

a) CAT QA has about 20 topics under it; whereas GMAT Quant is divided into three main areas of math.
b) CAT QA tends to be highly technical; GMAT Quant is more practical.
c) CAT QA 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.

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.

The CAT’s DI-LR section is comparable to Integrated Reasoning on the GMAT.

Both these sections look to test your ability to interpret given data, your lateral thinking, and your ability to apply reason to abstract concepts. On the whole, though, DI-LR gets into a lot more detail than IR does. It uses family trees, puzzles, and questions based on your direction sense to evaluate your reasoning skills.

IR is relatively simpler in terms of the topics it covers. It poses questions that need you to use multiple sources of information for reasoning, or to analyse a problem in two parts. You will have to interpret information from tables and graphics in both these sections.

In the next section, we discuss the acceptability of both tests: CAT vs. GMAT. 

2. Acceptability of CAT vs. GMAT

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 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.

B Schools Accepting CAT & GMAT

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. While CAT scores are accepted for all programs, GMAT scores are only accepted for the programs which are comparable to MBAs.

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. Competitiveness among CAT vs. GMAT-Takers

The CAT and GMAT tests 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.

Also Read: How to Target a Good GMAT Score 


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.

In comparison, the GMAT is far less likely to change. 

GMAT vs CAT comparison

There’s one final factor that tips the scales of balance in favor of the GMAT. That is the fact that institutions that accept the CAT typically also stick to the government-mandated reservation system.

You have to face distinct criteria based on your social standing to be eligible to take the CAT. Then, you have to get through the reservation of seats for various quotas if you’re applying through the CAT. This makes it significantly tougher to get admissions through the CAT.


On the whole, if you think about it, the GMAT is a test of your practicality and your management skills. The CAT, on the other hand, is based more on theory than on practical applications. Thanks to this, the CAT requires much more intensive preparation than the GMAT. If you have a full-time job, it might make it that much tougher for you to clear the CAT.

In our opinion, 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.

To get a better understanding of what the GMAT is really like, sign up for our free GMAT kickstarter course. The course contains 8+ hours of strategy and concept videos to get you started with your GMAT preparation!

However, don’t let our opinion impact your decision regarding which test you should take.

If you’re better at Quantitative theory than application, the CAT may be better suited for you. Similarly, if Verbal is not your strong point, the VARC on the CAT is easier to crack than GMAT Verbal.

Carefully consider your options, weigh the pros and cons, and then take a call.

Do feel free to reach out to us with your queries and feedback through the comments section below. We will be happy to answer your questions and hear your thoughts.

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