CAT vs GMAT: Choosing the Right MBA Entrance

    Anam Shams Anam Shams
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    CAT and GMAT are one of the most popular exams when it comes to MBA entrance test. Both the tests are the gateway to premier MBA institutes, but often the question comes down to picking one. While CAT is a national level exam and gateway to prestigious IIMs (Indian Institute of Management) and other top B-schools in India, GMAT conducted by Graduate Management Admission Council is recognized globally. It is mainly accepted in terms of NRI/ foreign candidates. Though some top institutes like XLRI Jamshedpur, MDI Gurgaon, SPJIMR Mumbai accept GMAT scores of Indian candidates as well. 

    Each test has its own merits and limitations. This article provides a comparative analysis of the two exams CAT and GMAT, based on several factors including their Scope, Level of competition, Examination pattern, Admission process post test, Validity of score, Number of attempts, etc. The main objective behind this comparison is to assist candidates into making an informed decision.

    CAT vs GMAT - Scope

    From the point of view of pursuing a management course from an Indian Institute, CAT has an obvious advantage over GMAT. CAT is conducted by one of the older IIMs every year on a rotational basis to select candidates for admission to PGP, PGDM and other courses. Moreover, several big names in management education like FMS, SPJIMR and JBIMS also accept CAT scores. CAT Scores are accepted by nearly 1000 B-schools in the country.

    On the other hand, GMAT has a much wider scope globally, as many international universities accept GMAT score for admissions. Even world’s most reputed B-schools like Harvard Business School and INSEAD recognize GMAT scores for enrolling students into their management programs. Some top Indian business schools such as ISB Hyderabad accept GMAT score. Moreover, GMAT Score is also utilized by IIMs and several other business schools for admission to certain seats (for example seats reserved for NRI/Foreign candidates). Overall, around 300 colleges accept GMAT score.

    Level of Competition Comparison

    CAT vs GMAT - Level of Competition

    CAT is undoubtedly the predominant choice for most MBA aspirants. Approximately 2 lakh candidates take the exam and top 6 IIMs have around 2500 seats. Even after considering several factors, you need nothing less than a 99percentile to get shortlisted for subsequent selection process. It is therefore not very difficult to surmise the level of competition in CAT. The qualifying percentile would only marginally decrease for Non-IIMs.

    CAT Cutoff for IIM

    In case of GMAT, it’s score is accepted by various prestigious institutions i.e. national and international.Therefore, the ratio of applicants to seats is heavily in favour of the GMAT, and your expected chance at success (and hence your return on investment) is better in case of the GMAT, versus the CAT. Therefore, the pressure while taking the GMAT often feels lower than in the case of the CAT.

    Read More CAT Cut Off

    Exam Pattern Comparison

    CAT vs GMAT – Exam Pattern

    The pattern for both the tests varies highly. The differences between CAT and GMAT exam pattern, based on several factors is tabulated below.





    1.Quantitative reasoning (QR)

    2. Verbal reasoning (VR)

    3. Analytical writing (AWA)

    4. Integrated Reasoning (IR)

    1.Verbal ability and reading comprehension (VARC)

    2.Data Interpretation and logical reasoning (DILR)

    3. Quantitative Ability (QA)

    No. of Questions/ Time limit

    80 Questions in total

    QR – 31 Questions / 62 Minutes

    VR – 36 Questions / 65 Minutes

    IR – 12 Questions / 30 Minutes

    AWA – 1 Question / 30 Minutes

    100 Questions in total

    VARC – 34 Questions / 60 minutes

    DILR – 32 Questions / 60 minutes

    QA – 34 Questions / 60 minutes

    Test Duration

    3 Hours and 7 Minutes

    3 Hours


    Question adaptive

    Not adaptive

    Score reporting

    Absolute score (Out of 800) and percentile score reported

    Only Percentile score reported

    Marking Scheme Comparison

    CAT vs GMAT: Mode and Number of Attempts

    GMAT aspirants can take the exam 8 times overall, with maximum 5 attempts in a year. Gap between every attempt should be of not less than 16 days. There are options to schedule and retake the exam as per the convenience of the candidate. 

    CAT on the other hand can be attempted only once every year. Though there are no limitation on the number of attempts or age limit. The entire process is scheduled by IIM conduction the exam in that particular year.

    Marking Scheme Comparison

    GMAT has a set standard of marking unlike other exams. Candidates are marked between the range of 200 to 800. Marking pattern of each section is also different: 0 to 6 for Analytical writing assessment, 1 to 8 for integrated reasoning amd 6 to 51 for verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning. 

    CAT on a comparitive level has simple marking pattern, each correct response carried +
    1 marks while every incorrect response carried 1/3 negative marking. Non-MCQ type questions have no negative marking along with unanswered questions. 

    Level of Difficulty Comparison

    CAT vs GMAT - Level of Difficulty

    Overall, difficulty level of CAT is higher than GMAT. GMAT has a well defined syllabus which makes it relatively easier in terms of preparation whereas, CAT’s syllabus is not as well defined as GMAT, hence the time invested can be more too. The uphill task in CAT is the LRDI section, which has been very high on the difficulty level from past two years. On the other hand, GMAT has the IR section which is much easier than LRDI in CAT.

    Also, quantitative aptitude section of GMAT is slightly easier than CAT. On the other hand, Verbal Section of GMAT can be challenging for Indian test takers who are non-native English speakers. Vocabulary used in verbal section questions in GMAT are of comparatively advanced level. Therefore, for aspirants who find English a tough nut to crack, GMAT will not be a cakewalk.

    GMAT is an adaptive test i.e. the difficulty level of your next question depends on your performance in the previous question. Thus, GMAT is a test of ability as it constantly adapts and refines the test to your ability level. CAT has an objective level of difficulty for all its examinees. 

    CAT vs GMAT - Admission procedure after the test

    Selection Process is an integral part of MBA admissions.The process comprises of various stages in both the tests. 

    After GMAT, admission procedure in most of the top colleges and universities consists of basic essay writing, sending letter of recommendation and interviews. On the other hand, in CAT, you need to appear for Group Discussion, Written Ability Test and Personal Interview.

    CAT’s admission process is comparatively tougher than universities under GMAT. Dedicated preparation for group discussion and personal interview is required after CAT. In GMAT, candidates with good command over the language will have a distinct edge in the selection process.

    CAT vs GMAT – Course Fee Structure

    Funds required for pursuing an MBA program is a major deciding factor. Institutes under CAT have relatively low course fee structure than those under GMAT. The highest fees you need for MBA in India is 20-22 lakhs, for IIM Allahabad, Bombay or Calcutta. Also, with a good CAT score, you can get admission in institutes like FMS (Faculty of Management Sciences), Delhi University, where fee is as low as 10000 per year.

    But on the other hand, under GMAT your fees can be around 40-50 lakhs or even more. You can always try your luck at scholarships to reduce the expenditure. 

    In this context, it is important to note that most students opt for education loans to pursue MBA at top business schools. However, taking a loan to pursue an MBA abroad can be tricky because of the fluctuating foreign exchange rates and high cost of living in those countries.

    Also Check CAT Participating Institutes

    CAT vs GMAT - Profile requirements

    Candidates’ profile plays a crucial role for pursuing MBA after taking both the exams. For management programs offered by IIMs, you do not necessarily need a work experience. However it sure will give you an edge, but it is not mandatory.

    Besides, IIMs check your percentages in Class X, Class XII and Score in Graduation, and these do play an important role in selection. So, to get into an IIM, you do not only need a good CAT score, but a good academic record overall.

    On the other hand, most of the international universities do require at least 2 years of work experience. Mostly, there is no emphasis on your scores obtained in classes X and XII. Also, it should be noted that the quality of education and work experience does matter for top universities like Harvard. Therefore, experience in high profile companies, can help you land in top colleges accepting GMAT score.

    Validity of Score Comparison

    CAT vs GMAT - Number of Attempts and Validity of Score

    Number of attempts available under both the exams is an essential factor too. CAT Exam is conducted only a year, which means that you have to appear in the exam on the date, place and time decided by IIMs. And in case you fail to deliver your best on the day, you will have to wait a full year for next CAT.

    However, appearing for the test is quite flexible in GMAT. The test is held within a definite window of dates, and you can choose any date to appear in the exam. Also, you can take GMAT 5 times in an year, and improve your scores. So somehow if you couldn’t perform well on any given day, the next attempt will not be a long stressful wait. It should be noted that you can retake the GMAT after 16 days of a previous attempt.

    CAT score is valid only for 1 year, which means that if you appear for CAT in November 2019, then the score thus obtained can be used for applying for programs in 2020 only. But GMAT Score has a validity of 5 years from the date of qualifying the exam. This is certainly a big advantage that you get with GMAT.

    For a better understanding, some of the differences between CAT and GMAT are tabulated below:


    Score Validity

    5 Years

    1 Year

    Scheduling Flexibility

    Delivered on demand, can be taken up to 5 times a year. With at least 16 days between attempts.

    Conducted only once a year.

    Test Fee

    $ 250 (approx INR 17,000)

    INR 1900


    Lower age limit – 13 years

    Upper age limit – None

    No lower age limit but bachelor’s degree from a recognized university or equal qualification required.

    No upper age limit.

    Number of Attempts

    Maximum 5 attempts in a year (Minimum 16 days between consecutive attempts)

    Lifetime Limit of 8 attempts overall

    Can be attempted only once every year.

    No limit on the number of attempts.


    7000+ programs

    Accepted by business schools in 110 countries

    20 IIM

    Other management colleges in India (SPJIMR, FMS, MDI, IMT, IIFT)

    Accepted for admission in India only

    Final Verdict – CAT or GMAT?

    Now, that you have seen an in-depth comparison of all the factors to take into consideration, it will be easier to take an informed decision. Both the exams have their shares of flexibilities and limitations.

    If you cannot not afford to take a very huge amount of loan and a costly international MBA, then CAT is an obvious choice. Also, for freshers who want to immediately pursue an MBA after graduation, CAT is the preferred option. Top 3 IIMs do come in top 100 institutes worldwide, while with GMAT you can get world’s best institutes.

    GMAT is a better choice if your performance in classes X and XII was average. Appearing for GMAT is obviously more flexible and the score are also valid for a longer duration with a wider acceptance. 

    The decision to take GMAT or CAT may involve a lot of factors. Candidates must choose the test after analyzing all the alternatives. MBA is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so take a well thought out and calculated decision for a successful career ahead. Good Luck!



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