CAT vs. GMAT: Choosing the Right Test for You
Last updated on May 27th, 2019
Here are a few questions we get asked by students planning to apply to B-Schools:
“Should I take the CAT or the GMAT?”
“Is the CAT easier than the GMAT?”
“Is CAT preparation enough for GMAT?”
“What is the difference between CAT and GMAT?”
The answers to these questions are not simple enough to answer in a couple of sentences. Most times, the answer is very subjective, so you’ll need to understand some things to find out which answer applies to you. In this article, we will help you figure this out by comparing the two tests on the following criteria:
- Comparison of Syllabus, Format, and Structure
- Acceptability of CAT vs. GMAT
- Competitiveness in CAT vs. GMAT
Let’s take a look at each one in further detail.
1. Comparison of Syllabus, Structure, and Format
Since we’re comparing three distinct aspects, let us analyze each of them one at a time. To start with, here’s a comparison of the CAT syllabus vs. that of the GMAT.
There are four sections on the GMAT: Quantitative Reasoning (Quant), Verbal Reasoning (Verbal), Integrated Reasoning (IR), and Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA). Of these, Quant and Verbal contribute to the composite GMAT score while IR and AWA have their own separate grades.
On the other hand, there are three sections on the CAT: Quantitative Ability (QA), Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension (VARC), and Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning (DI-LR). Unlike the sections on the GMAT, all sections contribute to your composite CAT score.
Thanks to the Select Section Order option, you choose which section appears first on the GMAT. The CAT, however, follows a pattern: you start with VARC, followed by DI-LR, and end with QA.
All the sections of the CAT have a combination of multiple choice questions and ‘Type in the Answer’, or TITA, questions. VARC and QA typically have 23-27 MCQs with 7-10 TITA questions while DI-LR has 28 MCQs and 8 TITA questions. You get +3 for all correct answers and -1 for incorrect answers on MCQs.
On the GMAT, there’s no negative marking and all the questions are MCQs.
Analytical Writing Assessment
Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension
Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning
No -ve marking
Composite: 200 to 800
+3 marks per correct answer
-1 marks per incorrect answer (only for MCQs)
Composite: -82 to 300
Time Per Section
AWA: 30 minutes
IR: 30 minutes
Quant: 62 minutes
Verbal: 65 minutes
QA: 60 minutes
DI-LR: 60 minutes
VARC: 60 minutes
Questions Per Section
DI-LR: 32 (16 DI, 16 LR)
VARC: 34 (24 RC, 10 VA)
While GMAT scores remain valid for five years from the date of the latest attempt, CAT scores are only valid for one year. There are no eligibility criteria that you have to meet in order to take the GMAT, but you cannot attempt the CAT unless you score at least 50% marks to earn your undergraduate degree.
The obvious similarities between the CAT and GMAT are the Quant and Verbal sections.
The GMAT Quant syllabus is significantly more detailed and varied than the CAT QA syllabus. GMAT Quant is further divided into Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry; the two types of questions are based on problem-solving and data sufficiency, respectively.
The CAT QA syllabus, on the other hand, has about 20 topics under it. These are typically studied on a topic-to-topic basis rather than being divided into distinct areas of math.
CAT QA is generally tougher than GMAT Quant.
Questions on the CAT are typically more complex. They require a significantly deeper understanding of mathematical theory. You can’t rely on techniques like elimination to arrive at the answer on the CAT due to the Type in the Answer (TITA) questions. In these questions, you have no option but to solve the question by solving it the old-fashioned way.
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 logic.
This is reflected in the Verbal section as well. The GMAT asks more usage-based questions while the CAT doesn’t delve into vocabulary and grammar. Both tests have Reading Comprehension passages, but the similarity ends there.
As for the CAT’s DI-LR section, it is comparable to Integrated Reasoning on the GMAT. DI-LR is significantly more detailed and far-reaching than IR, even in the fact that DI-LR contributes to the composite CAT score while IR isn’t counted in the composite GMAT score.
In the next section, we discuss the acceptability of both tests: GMAT vs. CAT.
2. Acceptability of CAT vs. GMAT
The greatest criterion in the CAT vs. GMAT debate is their acceptability in the world.
GMAT scores are mandatory for admission into the world’s leading B-Schools. According to the GMAC, 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. This is in addition to about 100 other institutes like ISB, Great Lakes, and SP Jain, which accept CAT as well as GMAT scores.
IIMs offer two types of business programs, primarily.
One type requires no work experience and is comparable to an MIM degree. The other type 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.
At this point, the GMAT test is well on its way to becoming the most widely-accepted entrance test for B-Schools in India.
However, the GMAC recently bought the NMAT test designed by the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS). What impact this has on the acceptability rates for both GMAT and CAT scores remains to be seen.
3. Competitiveness Among CAT vs. GMAT-Takers
The CAT and GMAT tests are both standardized, competitive, and computer-based public exams.
What this means, in essence, is that your score on either of these tests doesn’t hold much meaning in isolation. Comparing your performance with that of your fellow test-takers is the only way to tell how well or badly you did in your attempt.
This comparison is done by using the percentile system for both the tests. Simply put, your percentile rank tells you the percentage of your fellow test-takers who scored as much as or lower than you.
We’ve already mentioned that the CAT is available only for Indian students and is acceptable only in Indian B-Schools. So, it goes without saying that the competition is extremely high.
For most IIMs, the CAT cutoff ranges from the 96th to the 99th percentile. This means you can only get in if you score higher than or equal to 96-99% of your competitors. In numbers, that means you need a score higher than 123 out of 300 on the CAT. Thanks to the negative marking system in the CAT test, scores in the 99th (arguably within the 100th) percentile average at 200.98.
Comparatively, the GMAT doesn’t have the 100th percentile. Any scores above 760 fall within the 99th percentile, which is the highest on the GMAT. The world’s best MBA programs accept scores in the 95th-96th percentile. In numbers, that score falls within the 720-730 GMAT composite score range.
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 given to change.
Since the GMAT test is standardized on a global level, changes to any aspect of it need to be tested and deliberated upon for months before they’re implemented. Failing this, there are chances that the test may become biased, inadvertently favoring certain people over others.
Thanks to this, changes in the syllabus, pattern, or any other parameter that may affect the difficulty level of the test are quite infrequent on the GMAT. Your GMAT percentile rank is calculated based on the scores of those who took the test within three years immediately preceding the date of your attempt.
Now, because the changes are so infrequent, GMAT scores remain valid for five years instead of one.
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.
How often is the test administered?
Once a year in two slots
Can be taken any time
Maximum attempts allowed
Once every 21 days, but no more than 5 times in 12 months and no more than 8 times in total.
3 hours, no breaks
3 hours and 7 minutes excluding 2 optional breaks of 8 minutes each
Computer-based but not online
Cannot be rescheduled
Can be rescheduled for a price
Score Analysis Report
Enhanced Score Report, Available for a price
Can be done online
On the whole, if you think about it, the GMAT is a test of your personality 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, the GMAT is a better option any day. It opens up many more doors than the CAT. Further, it is significantly more practical in its approach. It even gives you a better chance to get an admit from the B-Schools you apply to, as well.
However, don’t let our opinion inform 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.
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!