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GMAT vs CAT: Key differences


Differences, difficulty level, syllabus

Have you decided to embark on your MBA journey and have just ventured into the super competitive world of MBA entrance exams? Are you on the fence wondering whether to take the CAT exam or the GMAT test?

You are probably buzzing with questions – Which is easier – CAT or GMAT? Is CAT preparation enough for the GMAT? What is the difference between CAT and GMAT syllabus?

Well, read on to know more about each as we compare both the GMAT and the CAT exams so that you have a clear picture of which one is best suited for you.

The CAT (Common Admission Test) and the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) are the two entrance exams that have been the most popular among MBA aspirants in India.

The CAT is India’s topmost national-level level MBA entrance exam conducted by the Indian Institute of Management each year which is required to apply to the IIMs and other Indian MBA programs as well as a few international Master’s programs.

The GMAT, on the other hand, is a globally recognised test conducted by GMAC which is MBA programs across the world and several Indian MBA programs as well. In fact, the GMAT score is accepted by 7,700 programs at around 2,400 graduate business schools worldwide.

GMAT vs CAT: Key highlights at a glance

Number of test takers in India in 2022 25,875 2.22 lakhs
Score validity period 5 years 1 year
No of times test can be taken in a year 5 1
Maximum attempts permitted during lifetime 8 No upper limit
Exam date Can be scheduled throughout the year Exam is held on a specific date
Exam fee $275 ₹2,300 (general category)
Rs. 1150 (SC, ST, PwD candidates)
Mode of exam Online – from test center / home Online – from test center
No of sections 4 3
Test duration 3 hours 7 minutes 2 hours (40 mins for each section)


GMAT vs CAT – Test takers data & Statistics

The CAT exam was taken by 2.22 lakh candidates across India in 2022. The percentage of test-takers was very high at 87% out of the total registrations of 2.56 lakhs.

Globally, the number of GMAT test-takers was 124,112 in the testing year 2022.  

In India, this number was 25,875. Scores were sent to 85,282 schools out of which 70.5% was for MBA, 21.1% was for Business Master’s, 8.3% was for doctoral/other.

Difficulty level – Is GMAT easier than CAT?

The CAT is a very tough exam to crack, with its difficulty level much higher than the GMAT. The reason being there is no definite syllabus for the exam and preparation is done based on previous years’ question pattern. If the performance in the test is not up to the mark, applicants need to wait for a year for the next attempt.

In case of the GMAT, the GMAT syllabus is more well-defined and there are several resources with sample questions including the GMAT official guide.

If the GMAT score is below expectations, you can re-take the test after 16 calendar days. With dedicated preparation, several candidates who re-attempt manage to improve their GMAT scores.

Read more: How many times should one take the GMAT? Puneet took it 5 times to get into his dream school

Now, to answer the commonly asked question:

Is CAT preparation enough for GMAT?

Those who’ve not been able to get into their desired MBA programs using their CAT score, instead of wasting a year, may opt for the GMAT and apply to international MBA programs.

CAT preparation will surely help and will make your task easier, especially in the quant section, however the verbal section of the GMAT differs from the CAT and needs practice. So, in order to ace the GMAT, you definitely need to devote sufficient time for preparation.

Read this story of how a GMAT 790 scorer relied on self-study using only the Official Guide and CAT material.

GMAT vs CAT – Test format

GMAT Test format

The GMAT is a computer adaptive test which means that the difficulty level of the questions will increase with each correct answer. The greater the difficulty level, the higher will be the GMAT score.

However, with each incorrect answer, the difficulty level goes down and the questions would become easier, thus the algorithm adapts to the test-taker’s ability to answer the questions.

There’s a penalty for not answering questions, so it’s better to guess and provide an answer rather than leave any question unanswered.

The total time for the GMAT test is 3 hours 7 minutes. There’ll be two optional 8 minute breaks.

CAT test format

The CAT is not computer adaptive.  Candidates have to complete the test in the given order, moving from section one to section three. They cannot switch between sections. They have 40 minutes to finish one section, once the time is over, the test paper will move on to the next section.

The CAT is held once a year with three time slots on the same day, each of 2 hours with 40 minutes time for each section.

GMAT vs CAT – test scores

CAT score vs percentile

The CAT score is obtained as a scaled score in each section, overall scaled score and overall percentile. The percentile is a relative score and an indicator of where you stand in this highly competitive rat race. It indicates the total percentage of candidates who’ve scored less than or equal to you.

For example, 90th percentile would mean that you’ve scored higher than 90 percentage of the test takers or you’re in the top 10 percentage of candidates.

There’ll be a total of 198 marks for the CAT exam. Here’s the CAT test score for each section:

CAT test sections Total marks per section
Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC) 72
Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR) 60
Quantitative Aptitude (QA) 66

The questions would be MCQ (multiple choice questions) or non-MCQ / TITA (type in the answer) type. The MCQ questions will have four options to choose from. There’ll be +3 marking for a correct answer while there’ll be a negative -1 marking for a wrong MCQ answer.

For the non-MCQ or TITA questions, there’ll be +3 marking for a correct response and no negative marking for a wrong one.

There’ll be no negative marking for unanswered questions.

GMAT test score

The GMAT score report would include the score received in each of the four sections, the total score and the percentile rankings. This percentile ranking in each section would give you a better perspective of how well you’ve performed compared to other test-takers and the areas that need improvement.

The total score is calculated taking into account both the quantitative reasoning and verbal reasoning scores. The total score out of 800 is one of the most crucial aspects of the MBA application.

However, that doesn’t mean you can ignore the other sections. Schools would be interested in having a look at how you performed in the AWA and IR sections as well.

Following is the GMAT score range for the various test sections.

GMAT score range

  Score range
Quantitative Reasoning 6-51 (1-point increment)
Verbal Reasoning 6-51 (1-point increment)
Total Score 200-800 (10-point increment)
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) 0-6 (0.5-point increment)
Integrated Reasoning (IR) 1-8 (0.5-point increment)

Immediately after taking the GMAT test, your unofficial score for quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, integrated reasoning and total score can be previewed; these scores may be accepted or cancelled.

There’ll be two minutes to make up your mind on this. If you accept the score, you’ll receive a printout of your unofficial score report. Those opting for online GMAT exams would not be allowed to take a printout, photo or screenshot.

It may take 7-20 business days for the official GMAT score report to be available online at This report will have the various section scores, total score along with the percentile rankings.

Test takers have the option of sending the free official score report to five business schools without any additional cost. For sending the score report to additional programs, they’d be required to pay US $35 each.

Difference between CAT and GMAT syllabus

The quant section of the CAT exam is much tougher than the GMAT test while Indian test-takers may find the verbal section of the GMAT more difficult than the CAT exam.

GMAT exam pattern

Test sections Time per section No of questions
Quantitative Reasoning 62 minutes 31
Verbal Reasoning 65 minutes 36
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) 30 minutes 1
Integrated Reasoning (IR) 30 minutes 12

Test takers would have three options for the section order in which they’d like to attempt the GMAT. They can choose the one they’d prefer.

– The Quantitative Reasoning section would have two types of multiple-choice questions involving problem solving and data sufficiency. This section would require analytical skills as well as knowledge of arithmetic, algebra and geometry.

– The Verbal Reasoning section would have three types of multiple-choice questions involving the following: reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction. This section would test your command of English language. It would assess your ability to understand and analyse written material, evaluate arguments, make corrections to the written material making the right language usage.

– The Analytical Writing Assessment section would involve analysis of an argument. This would test your reasoning ability and how well you’re able to evaluate the given situation – analyse a given argument and communicate your response.

Also read: GMAT AWA essay tips

Evaluate your GMAT AWA Essays online

– The Integrated Reasoning section would have four types of multiple-choice questions: multi-source reasoning, graphics interpretation, table analysis, and two-part analysis. The questions will test your ability to analyse and use data from multiple resources and solve related complex problems.

Read more: GMAT Preparation | Free Online Study Material

CAT exam pattern and syllabus

The CAT exam would have a duration of two hours.

Test sections Time per section No of questions
Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC) 40 minutes 24
Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR) 40 minutes 20
Quantitative Aptitude (QA) 40 minutes 22

All the three sections would have both MCQs and non-MCQs.

The Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC) would comprise 24 questions. This section tests your vocabulary, English language and grammar skills and your ability to read, understand and be able to respond within the given time. Topics include reading comprehension, para jumbles, grammar, sentence correction, vocabulary, writing summary, verbal reasoning, synonyms/antonyms.

Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DI & LR) would have a total of 20 questions. This would require you to understand, analyse and interpret data available in various forms including graphs, pie charts, tables. It tests the critical thinking and analytical abilities of the test-taker.

The CAT Quantitative Aptitude (QA) section would have 22 questions covering arithmetic, geometry, mensuration, trigonometry, algebra, modern maths and number systems.

Also read: Statistics Tutorial | Questions, formulas, problems | GMAT GRE CAT Prep

GMAT vs CAT – Eligibility criteria

GMAT eligibility criteria

The only criteria for taking the GMAT test is that you’d have to be above 13 years of age. There is no upper age limit for taking the GMAT.

There is no minimum academic requirement for being eligible to take the GMAT. Students may choose to take the test while studying in their final year of undergraduate studies. Professionals may prefer to work for a few years and then appear for the GMAT. Work experience is not mandatory to take the GMAT test.

People of all nationalities can apply. The exam fee in India is $275. There are additional fees for add-on services like rescheduling exam, additional score report, enhanced score report and so on.

While applying using the GMAT score, each business school would have its own eligibility criteria including some minimum work experience requirement, which candidates need to be aware of.

CAT eligibility criteria

The eligibility criteria for the CAT exam is a bachelor’s degree or equivalent from a recognised university with at least 50% marks (45% for reserved category) or equivalent CGPA.

Candidates in their final year of undergraduate studies can also apply provided they submit a certificate of completion from the registrar / principal of their respective university or institution.

Work experience is not required for taking the CAT exam. But work experience is given weightage during the IIM selection process.

GMAT vs CAT: Which is better?

If you’re a fresh undergraduate student aiming for one of the IIMs or MBA program within India, the CAT would be a good option for you.

There are several MBA programs in India accepting the GMAT score as well. The validity of the GMAT score is usually five years for international programs. So, with your GMAT score, you can try to get into a reputed Indian MBA program – if that doesn’t work – work for a few years – then apply to an international MBA program.

However, you cannot apply to the IIM’s two-year flagship MBA program using the GMAT score for which the CAT score is mandatory.

– Multiple GMAT MBA admits after CAT failure

– GMAT bschools shower scholarships after 4 failed CAT exam attempts

So, finally it’s for you to decide whether to take the CAT or GMAT or both taking into consideration your priorities and program choices.

While we can help you with test prep, MBA Crystal Ball offers professional application consulting help to applicants targetting GMAT and GRE programs.

After you have a competitive score, send us an email, if you want to improve your chances to get into your dream programs:
info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

All the best with your exam preparations!