GMAT vs CAT Differences

Best MBA BookFor most international MBA applicants, the GMAT vs CAT dilemma is a no-brainer. Right? But you’d be surprised at how many folks who are just starting out have queries such as ‘Which is more difficult – CAT or GMAT? Which one should I go for? Should I use CAT material to prepare for the GMAT syllabus and new format or stick to the time-tested popular GMAT books? Does the GMAT also have nine lives like the CAT?

Well, ok…the last one might be a figment of our imagination. Pretty much like the questions that many who haven’t read Beyond The MBA Hype have about international MBA programs. If you haven’t read it yet, get a copy ASAP.

[Caution: It might shake you up a little…but hey, if you can’t survive a book, how will you take on the real course?]

Most MBA aspirants would be aware that the CAT score is a compulsory requirement for the IIMs and also accepted by several Indian MBA institutes. However, if you are planning to study abroad, the GMAT score is essential. Some of the MBA colleges in India that accept CAT scores may also consider the GMAT score. However the best international business schools where GMAT is an essential requirement would never accept the CAT score. A majority of MBA applicants in India take the CAT, some opt for the GMAT while others are on the crossroads and undecided between the two.

It’s not just a case of which is tougher – CAT or GMAT – it’s more a question of which is more appropriate for you.

To assist you make up your mind, you need to be aware of the various facts, test formats and have a clear picture of how the CAT and GMAT differ from each other.

Test frequency for GMAT and CAT

CAT or Common Admission Test is an all-India entrance exam that can be taken just once a year. The test which was earlier paper-based has moved on to become computer-based since 2009. This year the tests were held from 11th October to 6th November.

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is a computer-adaptive test and can be taken up to five times in a year. The GMAT test dates can be chosen as per convenience.

The GMAT test takers also have an option to reschedule the exam seven days before the GMAT test date at an additional fee of $50. Rescheduling the test is also an option for the CAT takers, but the date has to be within the test window and subject to availability, so there’s lesser flexibility on this front.

For those who wish to improve their CAT scores, the waiting period would be one year to re-take the test whereas in case of the GMAT, you can re-take the test after a gap of thirty-one days.

GMAT Test results vs CAT results

CAT test results are announced much later at a fixed date. This year the results would be announced on January 9, 2013.

The GMAT score for the Verbal and Quantitative (GMAT Maths) section can be known immediately after the test is taken though it takes up to three weeks for the official scores to reach you.

GMAT Score validity vs CAT score validity

The CAT score is valid for one year whereas the GMAT score is valid for a period of five years. For candidates wishing to re-apply the following year, those with a GMAT score have an advantage as the CAT takers would have to take the test again.

If you have had multiple attempts at the GMAT, the highest score is considered, however in case of CAT, only the current year score is valid.

GMAT fees vs CAT fees

The GMAT test fee is $ 250 whereas for the CAT, it is comparatively low, INR 2000.

GMAT syllabus and duration vs CAT sections

The CAT has two sections (a) GMAT Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation (b) Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning. Both the sections are timed separately. Each section lasts for 1 hour 10 minutes with a fifteen minute tutorial before the test begins. So the total duration adds up to two hours thirty-five minutes.

In the GMAT, the ‘Analytical writing assessment’ (AWA) section comprises of a 30-minute ‘analysis of an argument’. The ‘Integrated Reasoning’ section lasts another 30 minutes. The ‘Quantitative’ and the ‘Verbal’ section have 75 minutes each. The total time thus adds up to three and half hours.

CAT Test format vs GMAT

In case of the CAT, each section comprises of thirty questions. Candidates have to take the Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation section first followed by the Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning section. Candidates can review the various answers within a section during the time provided. Once a section is completed, candidates cannot have access to it. There is a +3 marking for a correct answer provided and a -1 marking for an incorrect answer. There will be no marks for unanswered questions. Some candidates may opt to skip a few answers instead of providing incorrect answers. Results provided mention the percentile rankings for each individual section and the overall test score.

In case of the GMAT, the test follows a computer-adaptive format. Here, the candidate can view only one question at a time. If the answer provided is correct, the next question displayed would be slightly tougher than the previous one. The difficulty level would increase with each correct answer provided. In case of an incorrect answer, the next question asked would be slightly easier. There is no negative marking here and once you answer a question and move on to the next one, you cannot go back and change your answer. The scores are provided for the Quantitative and GMAT Verbal sections out of 800 and the AWA section has a score on a scale of 0-6.

How to go about it

If you are even remotely thinking about an MBA, read the book Beyond The MBA Hype first.

After reading the book, if you are able to understand and digest the hard realities of an MBA abroad vs an MBA in India, think about the entrance exam.

In case of the GMAT, you need to visit the GMAT official website, and choose the nearest GMAT test center after which you can select the GMAT test date and time as per your convenience and register.

For the CAT, candidates have to purchase CAT vouchers at selected Axis bank locations. This year the vouchers were available from 30 July – 17 September 2012. Online registration can be done using the voucher number.

For those considering MBA colleges in India as well as international MBA options, check if the Indian b-schools you’re interested in consider the GMAT score. In that case, you can just go for the GMAT. So, do your own research and take a stand on which test would suit your requirements and go for it.
Before leaving the site, to get a first-hand experience of GMAT questions, try your hand at this free GMAT practice exam. It’ll only take around 20 minutes to complete. You’ll get a feel for the level of difficulty to expect.

Btw, if you aren’t good with competitive tests, you should definitely read what can happen to those who fail entrance exams.

Also read:
Introduction to GMAT preparation

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube

10 thoughts on “GMAT vs CAT Differences”

  1. Hey, I wanted to know if IIMA , IIMB and IIMC accepts GMAT scores of an Indian candidates? I am not able to understand from their website.

  2. Manish,

    You are referring to their conventional CAT based programs, right? Short answer is – they do, for international candidates.

    For instance, IIM Ahmedabad (IIMA) accepts GMAT scores from Indian candidates for their PGP, PGP-PMP and FPM programs.

    IIM Bangalore (IIMB) accepts GMAT scores for PGSEM and PGPPM.

    IIM Calcutta (IIMC) accepts it only from NRI/ PIO / Foreign national candidates for their PGDM & PGDCM courses.

    Of course for their PGPX, EPGP, PGPEX courses, it is exclusively on the basis of GMAT scores.

  3. Hello,
    I’m planning to take the GMAT in 2015, & I had a few queries. It will be very nice if you could clarify them.I will give you my entire academic profile so that you can appraise & tell me what I should do.

    I graduated in 2008 from Calcutta University with English Honors. I had two “pass” subjects, namely Political Science & Philosophy. The marks in these subjects are not considered to calculate the percentage in graduation in Calcutta University. So during the selection process, will those marks be taken into consideration? 1st class is awarded if 60% marks is scored. My scores were as follows:
    1st year (only pass subjects)- 40%
    2nd Year (only English, which was my major)- 60.25%
    3rd Year (Only English which was my major)- 55%

    My scores in class 10 was 86%, & in 12 it was 77%.. What do you think my GPA would be??

    ISB Hyderabad says minimum of 2 years of work exp is required for admission. Does it mean 2 years of “continuous” work exp, or 2 years of work exp in total? I’ve been working at LIC Housing Finance Ltd for the past 6 months, but I’m about to quit this organisation, as I’ve been selected as a probationary officer in a leading bank. Now, the date of joining the bank is unknown. So will this break in service period be taken into account??

    Apart from that, I’m also pursuing correspondence courses in MBA from ICFAI University & MA in Sociology from IGNOU. Will the marks in these courses be taken into consideration while calculating my GPA??

    I know the mail is a long one, but it will really be helpful if you could take the pain to clarify my doubts.

    Thanks a lot in advance


  4. i want to know dat if i prepare for cat ,will it help me to crack gmat or both the xams have different approach nd strategies for success..n i m from isc board where dey consider best four out of five subjects to calculate the overall this criteria will be levied to calculate my %age or i have to take all d five subject into consideration while applying for cat..or gmat kindly response if u knw anything regarding this

  5. @Shuvajoy:
    1. Bschools ask for the transcript, which shows them the aggregate as well as the subject-wise breakup. You could get a query or two for the pass subjects. So be prepared to answer them.
    2. Here’s a low-down on Percentage to GPA conversion
    3. The work-experience doesn’t have to be continuous. But if you have breaks, prepare yourself for another justification.
    4. Correspondence courses: You could mention it as an additional qualification, instead of your final degree.

    @ Khushboo: Don’t use CAT material for GMAT. Also, not a good idea to use sms lingo when you are getting advice on MBA options, where written communication skills are so important for success. I had trouble understanding what you’ve written.

  6. Hi

    I did engineering in ECE & 2010 Passed out. . I am working in Telecom Industry & not able to give sufficient time for CAT preparation . I have given CAT 3 times but not able to Crack it.( May be due to lack of preparation). This year I am very serious about doing MBA from good institute but is confused wheather i should go for GMAT or CAT as now i am 3 years experienced . So Can you please suggest me which path i should choose. I will prefer to do MBA from India.

    Deepak Gupta

  7. Hi Sameer,

    I completed my engineering in ECE last year. Since I was placed in two different companies duringcampus placement, I didn’t bother searching for a job post graduation because generally companies call us within three or four months but due to lack of projects both the companies haven’t called me yet. By the looks of it I will start working by July-August. I am planning to work for two years and then pursue an MBA in UK or US. How much will this break affect my chances of getting into a good university?


  8. @Deepak: The quick answer is to drop CAT and move to GMAT. But the slightly longer (and uncomfortable) thing for you to do first is to figure out why you’ve been chasing entrance tests for so long.

    Do you really have a good idea of what you want from either the CAT based outcome or (now) the GMAT based schools? They are two different ball games to be playing. Some serious introspection required before you jump back into test prep mode. Read this story about what can happen after MBA entrance exams.

    @Kiran: You’ll have to explain what you did during that break. Here’s a little more about dealing with layoffs and career breaks

  9. Great post Sameer.

    This paints a much clearer picture of what the two tests are all about.
    Really helpful since so many people get the two exams, scores and their study material mixed up.
    Not to mention try and crack BOTH at the same time. It’s always better to pick one, ANY one and concentrate on that.

    If there are any queries or qualms about the GMAT please visit the GMAT official website:


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