CAT 2021 Exam Pattern, Syllabus, Marking Scheme, Preparation Tips

    Shekhar Suman Shekhar Suman
    Exams Prep Master

    Common Admission Test, popularly abbreviated as CAT is the entrance exam conducted by either of one of the old IIMs in rotation policy. It is usually scheduled in November every year. This test is taken by more than 2 lakh candidates from all over the country for admission in post graduate management courses in IIMs or other business schools. CAT scores are also accepted in the management programs of IITs (Indian Institute of Technology). Marks secured by a candidate in this examination are valid for one year after release of the results.

    • The total duration of the examination is 3 hours (180 minutes). The paper is divided into 3 sections which allows candidates to spend an hour on each. There are MCQ and some TITA(Type In The Answer) Questions

    • The question paper includes three sections which are QA (Quantitative Ability), VARC (Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension), DI and LR (Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning). 

    • The application fee for CAT is INR 1900.00 for general category, and INR 950.00 for candidates who are from reserved category (SC, ST, PwD, PA). 

    • It is a computer based test with a total of 100 questions. There are 75 MCQ questions which have negative marking while 25 non MCQ questions with no negative marking.

    • Three marks is awarded for every correct answer and one mark is deducted for each incorrect answer

    • Candidates aspiring to take this exam must have secured at least 50% in their bachelor major, while candidates from reserved category must have at least 45% in the same.

    • CAT scores are converted to percentile after the process of normalization. Your percentile refers to the number of candidates who scored below you (80 percentile means 80% examinees scored lesser than you).

    CAT 2021 Highlights

    Important features of the exam are tabulated below:

    Exam level Post graduate
    Mode of examOnline 
    Duration 3 hours (180 minutes)
    Type of questions MCQ (75) and non MCQ (25)
    Syllabus for EntranceQA, VARC, DI and LR
    Marking scheme3 marks for every correct response and (-1) for each incorrect answer
    Medium of ExaminationEnglish Language Only

    CAT Eligibility 2021

    CAT Eligibility 2021

    There is no age limit prescribed for appearing in CAT. Also, there is no fixed number of attempts and the candidates can apply as many times as they want. Some specific eligibility criteria are mentioned below:

    • In order to qualify for taking this exam, one must have a bachelor’s degree in any discipline with at least 50% aggregate marks from a recognised institution. 

    • For candidates belonging to reserved category, there is a relaxation of 5% with regards to the minimum marks requirement. 

    • Candidates in their final year of graduation are eligible to apply to apply for this. Such candidates are required to fill in the marks of their last university marksheet received. 

    • Apart from all permanent residents of India, foreign nationals can also appear for CAT subject to fulfil the eligibility criteria

    Note: 2 year bachelor degree which is acceptable for CAT is not acceptable by IIMs which require a 3 year bachelor degree.

    Eligibility of Most Popular IIMs

    Each IIM publishes their own cutoff for admission after CAT announcement every year. Candidates are shortlisted on the basis of their CAT score after which new IIMs that practise CAP (Common Admission Process) conduct separate personal interviews, group discussions, and written tests. List of the selected candidates are released by these bodies. 

    Criterion for some of the popular IIMs are:

    IIM Ahmedabad:

    • Selection of students for Analytical Writing Test and Personal Interview based on CAT score 

    • Over the years the cutoff percentile for CAT is generally 80.

    • Other factors like work experience, academic record, are also taken into consideration.

    IIM Bangalore

    • The cutoff score for admission into their management courses has consistently been 90 percentile over the years.

    • Written Ability Test and Personal Interview follows after the candidate has been shortlisted.

    • Academic record like performance in the 10th and 12th standard also contributes to your chances of admission.

    IIM Calcutta

    • Academic record, academic diversity factor for bachelor’s degree, and work experience are important contributing factors. 

    • CAT cutoff score for the past few years has been 90% percentile. 

    • Performance in Aptitude Test and Personal Interview hold a considerable weightage. 

    CAT Exam Pattern

    CAT Exam Pattern

    As mentioned earlier, the paper is divided into 3 compulsory sections with a total of 100 questions. One should dedicate equal amounts of time for preparation as IIMs require a sectional cutoff along with the over percentile. The pattern is similar every year and the sample papers help in understanding the exact approach. Assumptions can be made based on CAT paper analysis of previous years.

    • Questions will be of two types; MCQ (Multiple Choice Questions) and TITA(type in the answer) questions but negative marking is only applicable for MCQ questions. 

    • The three sections of the paper are QA (Quantitative Ability), VARC (Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension), and DI and LR (Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning).

    • As one hour is alloted for each section, students can start the next section only when they complete one. Each section will be locked after an hour.

    • The marking scheme is as the follows - 3 marks awarded for a correct answer and 1 mark deducted for a wrong answer. 

    • No marks are awarded or deducted if a question is not attempted. It is therefore advised to refrain from attempting a MCQ question by mere guesswork. 

    • Candidates belonging to the PwD category will get 80 mins for each section (4 hours in total).

    Pattern for Each Section

    Each section has both MCQ and non MCQ questions. More details are tabulated below:

    Section Name Number of Questions MCQ Questions Non MCQ Questions
    QA (Quantitative Ability)34 (RC-24, VA-10)24-277-10
    VARC (Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension)3422-2410-12
    DILR (Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning)32 (DI-16, LR-16)248

    Quantitative Ability

    This section tests the mathematical skills of a candidate and speed is an important factor contributing to better score. The number of questions one can expect from each topic is given below, based on the 2019 paper.

    Topic Number of Questions
    Arithmetic14 questions
    Algebra9 questions
    Geometry7 questions
    Number System1-2 questions
    Modern Maths0-2 questions

    Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension

    This section is meant to check the student’s command over the English language. You can expect a large number of questions from the reading comprehension section. Topic wise weightage is tabulated below. This data is based on the 2019 paper.

    Topic Number of questions(Approx)
    Reading Comprehension24
    Sentence Correction3
    Para Jumble4

    Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning

    The final section of the paper, data interpretation and logical reasoning aims at testing the candidate’s analytical skills and calculation power. This is probably the toughest section of the paper and most time consuming. The topics range is vast and needs a lot of practice and dedication to master the same. 

    The table below gives you an estimate of the number of questions you can expect based on last year’s data. Questions from both slot 1 and 2 are included. 

    Topic Number of questions(Approx)
    Doctors and Rooms4
    Venn Diagram4
    Happiness index4
    Routes 4
    Flight operation 4
    Projects 4
    Children survey4

    Major Changes in CAT Pattern Over the Years

    Major Changes in CAT Pattern Over the Years

    The syllabus and pattern of the Common Admission Test have been changing many aspects. It is needed in a bid to cope up with the constant modifications of various subjects, syllabus trends, and growing number of students trying their luck to secure a spot in one of the IIMs. 

    In the year 2009, the method of the entrance exam moved online from pen and paper. Again in 2011, changes were made in the number of sections. What are the major changes made over the years?

    • 2009: The year 2009 saw a major change in the way this examination was conducted. For the first time, students had to take the test online instead of the conventional pen and paper.

    • 2011: Quantitative Ability and Data Interpretation & Verbal Ability and Logical Reasoning was changed to 2 sections instead of 3. Time constraints for each section were also introduced.

    • 2015: This year saw many changes like on screen calculator, increase in time limit from 170 to 180, introduction of MCQs, and 3 sections instead of 2.

    Also Read:CAT Exam Pattern Trend Analysis - 1995 to 2019

    CAT 2021 Section Wise Syllabus 

    CAT 2021 Section Wise Syllabus 

    Understanding the syllabus in depth is of vital importance to score well in this exam. Despite the fact that no official syllabus is published by the administration, we can easily understand the same by examining the questions in the previous papers. The topics covered in this exam are widely from what students already studied in their school years from the 9th grade to 12th. 

    • Quantitative Ability: This section has topics like Geometry, Arithmetic Progression, Installment Payments, Ratios and Proportions, Arithmetic Mean, Logarithm, Work and Time. 

    The most important topics with maximum weightage is put on Arithmetic followed by general topics like Profit and Loss, Number System, and Geometry.

    • Data Analysis & Sufficiency: Topics covered in this part are Graphs, Column Graphs, Bar Graphs, Line Charts, Pie Charts, Graphs representing Area, and Venn Diagram

    • Logical Reasoning: You can expect questions from Critical Reasoning, Visual Reasoning, Assumption-Premise-Conclusion, Assertion and reasons, Statements and assumptions, Matrix arrangements, and Coding and Decoding

    • Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension: Focuses on Verbal Reasoning, Syllogisms, Contextual usage, Analogies, Sentence completion, Idioms, Sentence Correction.

    Focus on Reading Comprehension more as about 70% questions come from this topic. 

    CAT 2021 Syllabus - Quantitative Aptitude 

    This section of the Common Admission Test has not been modified much over the years. The topics in this section are mostly covered in the 10th standard. It is an important section of the exam as it covers about 40% of the total questions.

    Main TopicSub Topics
    Arithmetic Number System, HCF, LCM, Ratio & Proportion, Simplification, Percentage, Average, Age Calculation, Time & Work, Distance
    Algebra Theory of Equations, Quadratic Equation, Permutation & Combination, Sequence & Series
    GeometryAngles, Lines, Triangles, Circles
    MensurationAreas & Volumes like Rectangle, Squares, Semicircle, Triangle, Circles, Cubes, Cones, Spheres, Pipes and Cistern
    CalculusMaxima and Minima, Function
    TrigonometryTrigonometric Ratios, Heights and Distances

    Important Books for This Section

    The right resources if utilized adequately can increase the chances of success for anyone. What are the best books you should consider for quantitative aptitude?

    • How to Prepare for Quantitative Aptitude for CAT by Arun Sharma ( 9352602242)

    • Quantitative Aptitude Quantum CAT Common Admission Tests for Admission into IIMs by Sarvesh K. Verma ( 9311123870)

    • Quantitative Aptitude for CAT by Nishit K. Sinha ( 9332570019)

    Preparation Tips for Quantitative Aptitude

    You can keep the following tips in mind while preparing for this particular section.

    • Do not try to memorize the steps for common mathematical problems but rather focus on understanding the basic concepts. Start with the easier problems as you work your way to the complex ones. 

    • Learn the tables, squares, and tricks to solve complex calculations in a matter of seconds. 

    • Time management is an important factor that increases your chances of success. You get 2 minutes during the exam to solve each problem. Make a habit of solving problems in just a minute and 30 seconds to save time for the difficult questions.

    • Maintain a notebook for all formulas, tricks, and solve the free mock tests available online. Focus on the areas where you lack.

    • Start revising with the Number System and then move to topics like Algebra or Permutation Combination.

    • Aim for the easier questions first, then the moderate ones, and finally the hardest of all. 

    CAT Syllabus - DI & LR

    CAT 2021 Syllabus - Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning

    Data Interpretation TopicsLogical Reasoning Topics
    Bar GraphArrangements
    Pie ChartData Arrangement
    Data SufficiencyClock and Calendars
    Line GraphLogical Matching
    Combination of GraphsPuzzles
    Games and TournamentsStatements
    Binary LogicVenn Diagram
    Data StructuresLogical Connectives
    --Blood Relation

    Important Books for Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning

    This section is probably the toughest one to crack but with the best resources, you can expect to score high. Some important books for better preparation are listed below: 

    • CAT 2020 Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning by Gautam Puri

    • Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation for CAT by Nishit K. Sinha 

    • Data Interpretation & Data Sufficiency by Ananta Ashisha 

    • How to Prepare for Data Interpretation for CAT by Arun Sharma 

    Preparation Tips for Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning

    As this is the hardest section of the paper, one must prepare meticulously to solve the problems easily. Consider the following advises to crack this part: 

    • Familiarize yourself with the types of problems in this section; graphs, data tables, and puzzles. 

    • Learn fraction calculations and tricks to convert percentages to fractions. This will save a lot of time during large calculations.

    • Read a question several times if needed to understand it completely. 

    • Refrain from assuming any information that is not given in the question. Over approximation to simplify calculations should be avoided.

    • Carefully analyse terms such as only, other than, apart from, unless, some, etc. this will help you establish basic facts which are of vital importance. 

    • Time management is important for this section as it generally takes about 10 minutes to complete each problem.

    CAT Syllabus - VA & RC

    CAT Syllabus 2021 - Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension 

    Critical Reasoning Grammar
    Sentence CorrectionWord Usage
    Fill in the BlanksPara Jumble
    Para CompletionIdioms
    Para Summary-
    Parajumbles -
    Fact interpretation-
    Foreign language words used in English-

    Important Books for Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension

    Some of the recommended books for scoring in this section are:

    • How to Prepare for Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension for CAT by Arun Sharma and Meenakshi Upadhyay/Arihant 

    • 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary Mass Market Paperback by Wilfred Funk & Norman Lewis/ Simon & Schuster

    • How to Prepare for Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension for CAT by Sharma and Upadhyay

    • PSC for VA for CAT by Nishit Sinha

    Preparation Tips for Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension

    Despite this section being quite scoring, students who are not very familiar with the English language might find themselves struggling to understand sentence structure and derive its meaning. Go through these helpful tips if you want to improve. 

    • Improve your reading skills to score in this section. Read books, magazines, news articles, or anything that you find interesting. 

    • While practicing reading, try to include content on a variety of topics such as politics, economics, news, scientific discoveries, journals, history, and so on. 

    • Pay attention to the basics of grammar like moun, verb, tense, adjectives, subject verb agreement. 

    • Note down any new word you come across and learn its meaning. Try to increase your vocabulary by learning at least a new word each day. Maintain a notebook or tool to keep track of the same.

    • Read the questions before reading the passage. This will help you scan the answers easily while going through it. 

    Indicators in Online Exam 

    Indicators in Online Exam 

    While answering the questions online, you will find each question marked with a color. Candidates must familiarize themselves with this color pattern to avoid confusion. The indication for each color will be shown on your system’s screen.

    • Red indicates that a question has not yet been answered but not marked for review.

    • Green indicates that a question has been answered but not marked to review.

    • Grey suggests that the question has not been viewed.

    • Violet indicates that a question has not been answered despite being marked.

    • Violet with green tick suggests that a question marked for review has been answered. 

    Note: While selecting an answer, candidates are to save it before moving to the next question. You are allowed to clear your response if a wrong option is selected. If you are not sure of an answer, mark it review and attempt it later. 

    Frequently Asked Question:

    Frequently Asked Question:

    Question: What will be the mode of Examination?

    Ans. CAT will be conducted online as a computer based test in English language only.

    Question: Is there any negative marking for wrong answers?

    Ans. One mark shall be deducted as a penalty for each incorrect answer. However, there will be no provision of negative marking for non-MCQ questions.

    Question: What is the maximum mark for the paper?

    Ans. The maximum marks in CAT is 300 as each question carries 3 marks and there are 100 questions in the paper.

    Question: Is CAT valid for IIM only?

    Ans. No. There are several other B-schools that accept CAT scores for admissions in MBA and post graduate diploma courses. 

    Question: What shall be the minimum cut off in CAT for IIM Ahmedabad?

    Ans. The minimum sectional percentile shall be 70 in CAT and the overall percentile shall not be less than 80. This is the minimum eligibility criteria to apply for admission in IIM Ahmedabad. The criteria for further stages shall be prescribed by the institute itself.



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