CAT Marks vs. Percentile

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Exact CAT marks vs. percentile conversions vary by year. Image by Deedster.

So you’ve taken a few practice CATs and marked them. But then, if you’ve looked at a few message boards, you may see that a lot of test-takers are more concerned with percentile than marks. Why is this? In broad terms, it’s because the CAT is an admissions test: one step of several for application to the 20 Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). The students that the institutes take are usually (but not always!) those scoring in the top percentiles on the CAT. But what does this mean for you, and how does it translate into CAT marks vs. percentile? Let’s take a look at percentiles first.

CAT Percentiles

You could take the CAT two years in a row, get the exact same marks, and end up in different percentiles. How is this possible? A percentile describes where you stand in terms of the applicant group. A candidate in the 99 percentile has scored better than 99 out of 100 (or 99%) of candidates that year. Similarly, candidate in the 75 percentile has scored better than 75 out of 100 (or 75%) of that year’s candidates. Because places at IIMs are limited, looking at a candidates’ percentiles—both overall (composite) and within each section—can help admissions officers see roughly where in the applicant pool a particular candidate stands. This helps them rank test-takers’ performances in terms of the other test-takers that particular year.

CAT Marks

The CAT exam has 100 questions. While you might think that this would make scoring easy (for example, answer 70 questions correctly, score 70 marks), that’s not how it goes. Instead, on the CAT, you gain +3 points for each question you answer correctly. On multiple-choice questions (MCQs), you lose -1 point for each question you answer incorrectly. On wrong type-in-the-answer (TITA) and MCQs you leave blank, you neither gain nor lose points.

This means that the maximum score on the CAT is 300. It also means that it is (theoretically) possible for the lowest score to be in the negatives. However, few students fall at the very far ends of the spectrum. This is where looking at CAT marks vs. percentile can be helpful in contextualizing your score.

CAT Marks vs. Percentile

Remember, marks-to-percentile conversions can and do vary from year to year, simply because the candidate pool varies. However, studying the most recent CATs, we can see that CAT marks vs. percentile approximately looks like the following:

PercentileMinimum Composite (Overall) MarksMinimum Marks in Verbal Ability and Reading ComprehensionMinimum Marks in Data Interpretation and Logical ReasoningMinimum Marks in Quantitative Analysis
99.9201815785
99180795484
95140504158
90110-120*473251
8594-107*352744
8091332136
7075301730

*Experts differ more widely in opinion on the boundaries of these ranges. All numbers are estimates based on previous years’ marks vs. percentile and not guarantees of reaching a particular percentile on upcoming tests.

The Significance of CAT Marks vs. Percentile Conversions

You may have noticed that the marks needed to achieve a percentile within the sections don’t necessarily add up to the composite marks. This is because the composite percentile and the in-section percentile measure different things. The composite score ranks your total marks in comparison with the pool of test-takers, while the in-section scores rank your scores within that section only. With this said, experts claim that IIMs prefer to see balanced scores among all three sections.

CAT Cut-Offs

You might also have noticed that our table only goes down to the 70 percentile. Most IIMs will not consider candidates ranking under the 70 percentile of the CAT for admission, though there may be exceptions to the rule, depending on the year and your status. In other words, explore all options before excluding yourself from the running.

A final note: Percentiles will also depend on the normalization process. This is a process in which the IIM administering the test will adjust scores for location differences and differences between morning and afternoon sections of the test. This makes the test fair and standard for all test-takers.

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