cat vs. gmat

If you’ve just decided to attend business school, it can be daunting to look over the admissions process. Where do you want to go to school? What kind of program should you apply to? And should you take the CAT or the GMAT exam? While the answers to these questions will be different for each individual, we can help you make up your mind about the last one. Here it is: your ultimate guide to the CAT vs. GMAT!

CAT vs. GMAT: The Degrees

While a lot of students will end up taking both the CAT and the GMAT, it’s important to distinguish what you’ll use each exam for. The CAT is only valid as part of the admission process to Indian institutions—primarily the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). Perhaps the most well-known program at these institutes is the Post Graduate Programme in Management, leading to a Post Graduate Diploma in Management, or PGDM (although this may change soon and lead to a degree).

On the other hand, business schools around the world accept the GMAT primarily for admission into Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs. While the MBA is the equivalent of a PGDM, one may have more value than another, depending on whether you want to work in India or elsewhere in the world.

In the end, the schools and programs you’re applying to—rather than your individual wishes—will determine the test you have to take.

The Countries

Currently, the CAT is only offered in India. The GMAT is offered in 114 countries. This divide, of course, makes sense when you take into account the purpose of each exam. The CAT is used by IIMs as part of their admission criteria. Because IIMs are only located in India, they only offer the test in India.

MBA programs, on the other hand, can be found around the world. Furthermore, it’s very common to have a wide variety of international students in a given program. Because of this, the GMAT is available in many more locations around the world.

CAT vs. GMAT: Test Format

Both the CAT and the GMAT have three sections. The CAT is divided as follows:

  • Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (34 questions)
  • Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (32 questions)
  • Quantitative Ability (34 questions)

On the other hand, the GMAT has three sections and an essay:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment (1 question)
  • Integrated Reasoning (12 questions)
  • Quantitative (37 questions)
  • Verbal (41 questions)

CAT vs. GMAT: Exam Emphasis and Difficulty

One of the most important differences between the CAT and the GMAT is that the GMAT is a computer adaptive test. This means (on a very basic level) that the better you’re doing, the harder the next questions will be. It also means that you can’t return to previous questions to correct them. Finally, it means that skipping questions isn’t a great option—while on the CAT, strategically skipping questions can actually boost your score.

In terms of individual sections and their content, the primary differences are:

  • Verbal
    Reading passages on the GMAT tend to be shorter than reading passages on the CAT. However, the types of questions on the GMAT that have to do with grammar and structure are significantly more complex than those on the CAT.
  • Reasoning
    The GMAT is far and away more complex in terms of the reasoning sections, as this section may have multi-part questions, enormous graphs, and other ways of making data more complex in presentation and scope.
  • Quantitative
    Speaking very generally, students tend to find the CAT more difficult in terms of actual content, but the GMAT more difficult in terms of problem format. For example, the CAT may present students with high-level trigonometry or advanced algebraic problems, while the GMAT is more likely to make a difficult problem by rolling simpler concepts into one tricky question.

CAT vs. GMAT: Logistics

A few important logistical points:

  • The CAT takes three hours to complete, while the GMAT takes 3 hours and 3 minutes (or around 4 hours with optional breaks).
  • IIMs only offer the CAT once a year, while the GMAT has many possible test dates (though you’re only allowed to take it once every 31 days).
  • You cannot use a calculator on GMAT Quant, while you can on CAT Quant (though the calculator is on-screen).

For more on the differences and similarities between the CAT and the GMAT, check out David’s advice on this topic as he compares the exams and then looks at them in a broader context.

By the way, sign up for our 1 Week Free Trial to try out Magoosh GMAT Prep!

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