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Evolution of CAT Exam over the Years
Suruchi Gupta logo

Suruchi Gupta

Study Abroad Expert

The Common Aptitude Test commonly known as CAT has been unpredictable over the years since it started. Every year the number of candidates increases like in the year 2018, 2,40,338 candidates registered themselves for the CAT exam. Whereas in the year 2019, 2,44,169 candidates registered themselves.

One reason for this huge registration is the participation of all the top institutes of the country such as IIMs, FMS Delhi, MDI Gurgaon, IITs, IMT, IMI among others accept CAT score to grant admission to the MBA aspirants. Candidates without CAT score cannot seek admission to the top institutes of the country especially the IIMs.

The CAT test has a long way. Whether making the exam to computer-based or no switching between the sections. It had changed almost every year. The exam pattern of CAT has always added some new concepts every year to cope up with the growing competition among the candidates of the exam. 

The evolution and variations in the CAT exam pattern, the admission criteria of the IIMs, and the way it is conducted are the main reasons why CAT is one of the toughest exams in the country, and getting good marks to get into IIMs is not a cakewalk. 

Since 2015, the CAT exam pattern has upheld to a great extent. The exam is also now held in a single day in two slots i.e. Morning and evening. This year the CAT will be conducted by IIM Indore. It has been clarified that the exam pattern is not changed for this year despite COVID - 19 pandemic. The number of questions and the duration to attempt them remains the same. 

CAT 2020 Exam Pattern Highlights

  • CAT 2020 Exam date will be conducted on November 29, 2020
  • It will be a computer-based exam
  • The duration of the exam will be 180 minutes i.e. 3 hours
  • CAT exam 2020 will be conducted in the Morning and Afternoon sessions
  • The Exam will have 100 Questions divided into MCQs and Non-MCQ type questions
  • The exam is divided into three sections: VARC (34 questions); DILR (32 questions); Quant (34 questions)
  • MCQs have negative marking for the wrong answer and Non-MCQs do not carry a penalty of negative marking
  • 70 to 75 is for the questions with negative marking (MCQs)
  • The candidates need to choose and click on correct answer out of 4 answer options for MCQ type questions
  • 25to 30 are the Questions without negative marking
  • The answer must be typed in the given space on the computer screen for Non-MCQ.
  • Score awarded for each correct answer: 3 marks
  • 1 mark will be deducted for every wrong answer.
  • Candidates can not move randomly to the questions. Instead of a fixed order of sections is provided from the beginning of the test.
  • The time to attempt each section is one hour. You cannot move to another section during this one hour 
  • Tutorials by IIMs will release to understand the format of CAT 2020 Test and question pattern on the CAT 2020
  • 156 cities will be conducting the CAT 2020 exam

CAT Exam 2020: As per Revised Pattern

  • IIM Indore will be conducting the CAT 2020 exam as a computer-based test. As per the revised pattern, CAT 2020 will have 100 questions that will be divided into 3 sections – VARC, DILR, and Quant. Each section contains an individual time limit of 1 hour. 
  • The candidate requires to ensure a high score in each of the three sections as there is also a sectional score cut off in IIMs for shortlisting. This computer-based test will be for 3 hours and it will be conducted in two slots i.e.Morning and afternoon.
  • After the major transformation of going green in 2009, the CAT exam structure and pattern have been revised several times in terms of a number of sections, a number of questions, type of questions, the scoring pattern, time duration, difficulty level, and testing window.
  • Since 2015, the CAT exam pattern has stabilized to a great extent. The exam is also now held in a single day in two slots.
  • The number of applicants for the CAT exam has gone up to 2.44 lakhs last year from 1.95 lakhs in 2013.
Sections Subjects Time Allotted Number of Questions Total Marks
l. Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning 60 minutes 32 96
ll. Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension 60 minutes 34 102
lll. Quantitative Ability 60 minutes 34 102
Total 180 minutes 100 questions 300 marks

CAT in the 2019 Year

  • The CAT 2019 registration made an uphill swing and with the extension of 7 days, it reached the desired goal.
  • CAT 2019 registration was started on August 7, and after 45 days when it was about to close many candidates missed their CAT 2019 registration due to natural calamities like floods, landslides, loss of road, and rail connectivity in various parts of the country. As such the last date had to be extended by IIM Kozhikode.
  • Keeping in view of the requests of the candidates especially the flood-hit states, CAT 2019 Centre subsequently decided to extend the last date of CAT 2019 registration for another 7 days from September 18 to September 25, 2019. Then the registration got closed with more than 2.44 lakh candidates.
  • There were 156 test cities and more than 650 test venues where CAT 2019 was conducted in the morning and afternoon sessions.

Changes in CAT Exam Pattern over the Years

Introduced by the IIMs over 36 years ago as a paper-based test, CAT has undergone numerous changes, from the introduction of multiple-choice questions to OMR (Optical Machine Reading) of answer scripts

The CAT exam had some changes that are mentioned below 

  • Increased Test Time Duration: Till 2013 CAT offered the candidates a time limit of 140 minutes for 60 questions. Then from 2014, the number of questions increased to 100 but the time limit for attempting the questions has been increased only to 170 minutes and 180 minutes were given in the 2015 CAT exam.
  • Switching between sections: Since 2015 the candidates are provided with a fixed time-limit given for each section. This became a bit difficult for the students to score well in each section as many of them were not able to finish a section within the given time-limit and neither could they switch between sections to have a look at un-attempted questions and attempt them. Hence, despite having a good overall percentile, their sectional scores decreased and as a result, the candidates could not receive a call from the IIMs or other top institutes.
  • Making CAT 2017 two day event: For the CAT 2017, the participants made a request to the IIM Lucknow to make the CAT 2017 at least two-day exam as it was in 2014. If the CAT 2017 exam will be held on 2 different Sundays after the IIFT entrance exam, it will be more convenient for the participants who wish to appear in that year. The reason given by the candidates behind this change is that the candidates will get enough gap between their other exams like NMAT, IIFT, and CAT. After the request, the IIMs reduced the exam schedule from 20 days to 2 days, then to 1 day, but they have not increased the number of exam centers to accommodate the candidates who belong to the small town.

CAT has seen some major changes in exam pattern in the past few years. Let’s take a look at some major changes in exam pattern over the years.

  1. In the year 2015, CAT announced the introduction of on-screen calculator and non-MCQs. Also, the test paper was divided into 3 time-bound sections instead of 2 sections, unlike the previous editions. The duration of the exam was also increased by 10 minutes from 170 to 180 minutes.
  2. In 2011 also CAT had 3 section structure along with section wise time limit, which was later changed to 2 sections afterward. The section-wise time limit of one hour was welcomed not only by the experts but by candidates as well. The pattern was a continuation of what the IIMs have believed in. All the CAT exams between 1999 and 2010 had three sections and the questions were divided equally among all sections.

A lot of experts and previous year test-takers also believe that by imposing time restrictions per section, the IIMs have made the decision making for students easier. Therefore, it will be beneficial for students that sectional time limit is continued with the same test pattern. 

The table mentioned below will bring more clarity about the changes in the exam pattern of CAT over the past 5 years.

Year Number of Questions Sections Marking Scheme Duration (Minutes) Conducted by Other introductions
2015 100(34 in two sections and 32 in other) Quantitative Ability(QA), Verbal and Reading Comprehension (VRC) and Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning +3, -1, no negative for non MCQ 180 IIM Ahemdabad Introduction of on-screen calculator and induction of Non-MCQs
2014 100(50per section) Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation, Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning +3, -1 170 minutes IIM Indore Test divided into two sections and the introduction of the two-day test window
2013 60 (30 per section) Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation, Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning(In this order) +3, -1 140 minutes IIM Indore Conducted on last year’s pattern
2012 60 (30 per section) Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation, Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning(In this order +3, -1 140 minutes IIM Kozhikode
2011 60 (30 per section) Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation, Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning(In this order +3, -1 140 minutes IIM Calcutta Number of sections changed from 3 to 2

CAT 2014 was conducted by IIM Indore in a completely new pattern. There were two sections with 50 questions each, whereas CAT 2013 had only two sections with 30 questions each.

CAT 2011 conducted by IIM Calcutta also saw some major changes in the exam pattern. Instead of 3, there were 2 sections, namely Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning & Verbal Ability. Four subjects were combined into two for the ease of examinees. The total number of questions remained the same as 60 (30 in each section).

CAT 2009 witnessed a big change as the test shifted from paper-pencil based test to the computer-based test. The exam duration was also changed to 2 hours and 15 minutes. Prometric India Pvt. Ltd. was the online testing partner of the first computer-based CAT exam conducted by IIM Ahmedabad. Because of the huge shift in pattern, the first year of the computer-based CAT saw many technical glitches which finally resulted in the retest.

CAT aspirants also raised the question on the normalization process of the test. The overall difficulty level was even easier in the retest which was conducted in January 2010. The valuable lessons learned from 2009 led to the implementation of several changes in the entrance test in 2010 including increased no. of testing days, more stringent verification checks on the technical and physical infrastructure, improved scheduling and registration system, study material for candidates, etc. Since then, the CAT has been delivered successfully according to globally recognized standards. CAT 2016 in fact had a success rate of 99.998% which is unparalleled in the industry.

Check CAT 2019 Exam Pattern

CAT Past Years Statistics

Table tabulated shows the total number of candidates registered for the CAT exam.

Year No. of Registrations No. of Test Takers
2019 2,44,169 2,09,926
2018 2,40,338 2,09,405
2017 231,000 1,99,632
2016 2,32,434 1,95,000
2015 2,18,664 1,79,602
2014 1,96,988 1,67,829
2013 1,94,516 1,73,714
2012 2,14,000 1,95,000
2011 2,05,000 1,86,000
2010 2,04,000 1,85,000

Changes in CAT Exam Pattern in the past 10 Years

The CAT question paper and exam pattern have developed a lot since it became an online exam in 2009. The table tabulated below shows the number of questions, exam duration, and sections of the CAT exam as well in the last 10 years.

Year Number of questions Time duration Sections Marking Scheme
2020 100 180 mins QA, DILR, VARC 3 positive marks for each correct answer and minus 1 mark for each wrong answer
2019 100 180 mins QA, DILR, VARC 3 positive marks for each correct answer and minus 1 mark for each wrong answer
2018 100 180 mins QA, DILR, VARC + 3 Marks for every correct answer and -1 for every incorrect answer (No negative marking for non-MCQs questions)
2017 100 180 mins QA, DILR, VARC + 3 Marks for every correct answer and -1 for every incorrect answer (No negative marking for non-MCQs questions)
2016 100 180 mins QA, DILR, VARC 3 Marks for each correct answer and 1 mark will be deducted for each incorrect answer (No negative marking for non-MCQs questions)
2015 100 180 mins QA, DILR, VARC + 3 Marks for every correct answer and -1 for every incorrect answer (No negative marking for non-MCQs questions)
2014 100 170 mins QA & DI, LR & VARC + 3 Marks for every correct answer and -1 for every incorrect answer
2013 60 140 mins QA & DI, LR & VARC 3 Marks for each correct answer and 1 mark will be deducted for every incorrect answer
2012 60 140 mins QA & DI, LR & VARC 3 Marks for each correct answer and 1 mark will be deducted for every incorrect answer
2011 60 140 mins QA & DI, LR & VARC + 3 Marks for every correct answer and -1 for every incorrect answer

Trends in CAT Registration

CAT 2015 witnessed the worst ever number of applicants and IIM Ahmedabad, the conducting authority was then forced to extend the application deadline by 5 days. Only 1,38,000 registrations were received for CAT till the original registration deadline. However, by extending the date by 5 days the registrations went up to 1.90 lakhs. However, the fear of MBA crisis was allayed when the number of registrations went up to a 2.18 lakhs, after the second deadline. Around 18% of those who registered for CAT did not appear for the test. In 2015, out of 2,18,664 registered students only 1,79,602 appeared for the exam.

Candidates check the overall trends in CAT Application Process in the last decade.

Past 10 year Trends in CAT Registration                                                                                                

The number of CAT applicants has seen an upward trend in the last 2 years showing after a brief decline during the recession years. In 2018, approximately 2,40,338 candidates registered for CAT.

CAT Registration Trends
Year No. of Applications
2018 2,40,338
2017 2,31,000
2016 2,32,434
2015 2,18,664
2014 1,96,988
2013 1,94,516
2012 2,14,000
2011 2,05,000
2010 2,04,000
2009 2,41,000

CAT Registrations: Yearly Analysis

CAT 2019

Record-breaking candidates applied for the CAT 2019. Up to 2,45,000 applicants registered for the CAT exam. IIM Kozhikode extended the CAT 2019 registration deadline from September 18 to September 25, 2019. This year new exam centers were added. Some new payment partners like PayU, BillDesk, and Paytm were added.

CAT 2018

In 2018 the CAT registrations reached up to 2.41 lakhs. The number increased by 10000 over last year’s. The Last date to apply for CAT 2018 was September 26, 2018.

CAT 2017

CAT 2017 registration was closed with 2.31 lakh applicants. In this year there were approximately 2.31 lakh completed registrations with a fee being paid.

2017 registrations were closed on September 25, 2017, after getting an extension of 5 days from September 20 to 25.

CAT 2016

In 2016 all the records were broken. The registration went up to 2.33 lakhs. The deadline for the CAT 2016 registration process was closed on September 27, 2016.

Changes were made in the CAT Schedule. The test was usually held in the last week of November. However, in 2016 it was held in the first week of December that is on December 4 in two slots.

CAT 2015

In 2015, CAT had the largest number of registrations in comparison to all other management entrance tests. CAT 2015 registration which had clicked the closing mark at 2,20,000 applicants 80 transgenders implying the ever-growing popularity of PGP programs of IIMs and other top-rated B schools that accept CAT scores.

On-screen calculators were also introduced. The exam pattern was also changed a bit.

  • The number of the section was again increased to three as it was till 2010.
  • Non-MCQ questions were introduced from 2015 onwards, wherein candidates have to type the answer in one-liners.
  • The duration of the exam was increased from 170 minutes to 180 minutes.

CAT 2014

Registration deadline for CAT 2014 got closed on September 30, 2014, with the registration count of 188,000 keeping in line with the trend of continuous dip in the number of registrations. CAT Centre 2014 received several requests and complaints from the candidates that due to technical glitches they could not register and make the final payment. Considering the problem the registration for CAT 2014 was reopened on October 10, 2014, for one day.

On that single-day, the CAT exam accounted for 7100 candidate’s registration, and this enabled CAT Centre 2014 to exceed the registration count of CAT 2013 from 1.95 lakhs to 1.97 lakhs.

2014 was also the year with drastic changes in the CAT test. The number of questions were increased. Earlier there used to be 30 questions in each section, however, it was increased by 20 questions in each. Therefore, making it to 50 questions in each section.

CAT 2013

In 2013 around 1.95 lakhs candidates applied for the CAT entrance exam. The registration got over on September 26, 2013. In this year the female candidates were around 30% of the total registration. While applicants with engineering and technology background continued to dominate CAT registrations with around 70% of the total share.

But as per the past trends in CAT, not all the registered number of candidates took the CAT entrance exam. There were a total of 20,000absentees. The rate of non-test takers remained the same at 11% in 2012 and 2013. 

CAT 2012

For CAT 2012 the number of applications were increased by around 4.5 percent. It was a good sign for MBA education in India and for MBA aspirants in particular as the economic slowdown began to melt then.

While around 2.15 lakh candidates bought the CAT 2012 vouchers, 2.14 lakh candidates actually registered themselves for the exam. 

CAT 2011

A marginal increase was witnessed for the CAT 2011. There was a rise of 1000 candidates. The registration reached from 2.04 lakh in CAT 2010 to 2.05 lakh in CAT 2011.

2011 saw a significant change in the test pattern. In the test 2 sections with 30 questions in each section got clubbed. From 2011 to 2013 CAT followed this pattern only.

CAT 2010

CAT 2010 had 3 sections with 60 questions equally divided among them. A dip in registration was seen in the CAT 2010. The number decreased from 2.42 lakhs in 2009 to 2.04 lakhs in 2010. The expectation of IIMs was to obtain a high registration rate in CAT 2010. But despite all this, the registration count dropped by approximately 15%.

Last 5 Years Trend in number of CAT Test Takers

Candidates can check below the comparison of the total number of applicants and a total number of test-takers in CAT in the last 5 years. Almost 18%-20% of candidates fail to appear for the test even after completing the registration process.

CAT Registration Trends

Test takers V/S applicants trend over the year

Out of total registered aspirants, 1,57,137 were males and 83,193 were female, and rest 8 applicants were transgender in CAT 2018. Candidates can check below the comparison of male and female applicants in CAT 2017 and CAT 2018.

Also Check CAT Paper Analysis

Changes in CAT Test Window over the years

CAT Exam has not only witnessed changes in terms of exam pattern but also in terms of its schedule. According to every year trend, CAT is conducted in November. However, IIM Bangalore in 2016 announced that the test is scheduled for 4th December (Sunday), in two slots. This was for the first time when CAT was conducted in December since the inception of CBT (Computer Based Exam) in 2009.

Many experts preferred the single day window as single day testing helps in minimizing the controversies around normalisation processes. The heartburn of flawed normalisation techniques would be gone and students can then compete and get judged on the same platform.

From 2009 to 2013, CAT was conducted in a 20-day window starting from October to November, two slots a day. But, IIM Indore announced CAT as a two day test to be conducted in November. While the test window gradually reduced the number of slots continued to 2 throughout the years. After 2013, the applicants could only provide exam city preference but rights of assigning test schedule and centre was reserved with CAT authorities. From 2014 students were not given permission to select the slots suitable to them.

The table given below shows the year wise changes in testing window of CAT.

Year Testing window No. of slots
2016 1 Day 2 slots
2015 1 Day 2 slots
2014 2 Days (2 Slots each) 4 slots
2009-2013 20 Days window (2 Slots each) 40 slots

Even in the years ahead, the trends in CAT Exam Pattern and schedule is likely to remain unpredictable so one must be adaptive in nature when it comes to the preparation for CAT.


Ques. Will there be any changes in the exam mode of CAT 2020 due to the pandemic? 

Ans. No, it will be held in the online CBT mode.

Ques. Can I correct the mistakes made in the application form of CAT?

Ans. Yes, you can correct images and other editable details from September 2020.

Ques. Will negative marking done in the CAT exam?

Ans. Yes, -1 mark will be deducted for each incorrect answer.

Ques. How many attempts are allowed for the CAT exam?

Ans. You can attempt the CAT exam only once in a year. There is no age restriction so you can attempt the exam every year.

Ques. Do class 12 marks matter in MBA admissions?

Ans. Yes, For IIM admissions they do. The admission criteria for IIMs is based on not just CAT exam scores but also the academic performance in class 12 and graduation too.

Ques. What is new in CAT 2020?

Ans. The application fee has increased. Also, candidates have to choose 6 exam cities instead of 4