Introduction to the CAT: What Is the CAT Exam?

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What is the CAT exam? Learning about it before test day will help you maximize your score. Image by Asi24.

The CAT exam, or Common Admission Test, is an exam given annually by the Indian Institutes of Management. In fact, the exam’s full name is actually the Indian Institutes of Management Common Admission Test, or the IIMCAT (David explains more about this here!) The twenty Indian Institutes of Management host the exam on a rotating basis, with one taking responsibility for the exam’s administration that year.

What Does the CAT Test?

The CAT exam contains three sections:

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

The majority of questions are multiple-choice, with four answer choices. However, a handful of questions are non-multiple-choice: students will type in the answer, usually numeric. The testmaker does not disclose the number of non-multiple-choice questions on each exam, and we can expect it to vary from year to year.

How Is the CAT Exam Administered?

Happily for test-takers, the test has to be fair to each student taking it. This means that there are certain aspects of test day that students can expect and plan for because they’re standard (making the CAT a standardized test).

The CAT exam lasts for three hours, with one hour allotted for each test section. There are 100 questions on the exam. Get a question right, and you score three points. Get a question wrong, though, and you lose a point. If you leave a question blank, you neither gain nor lose points. There are no negative scores on the test; the final score will be a maximum of 300 points.

As a computer-administered test, the CAT will not allow you to jump between sections. You have to stay within a given section for 60 minutes—and only 60 minutes! The testmakers do give students two big bonuses in terms of the test format, though. The computer interface allows you to flag questions for review. This means that if you’re not sure about an answer, you can click on the button flagging it for review and return to it if you have time at the end of the exam. Secondly, while you’re not allowed to bring a calculator with you on test day, the computer interface does give you a basic on-screen, four-function computer to use. Thanks, testmakers!

What Will the CAT Exam Look Like in 2017?

Because the host IIM changes each year, the administration of the test changes each year, too. For example, while the exam was given over several weeks in the past, in 2016, it was only offered on a single day. Keep checking back here–we’ll keep you posted on whether the IIMs will continue to use this single-day format or return to offering the test over a longer time period.

What the CAT Exam Is NOT

Students applying to both Indian and international schools of management and business should be careful to distinguish the CAT from a GMAT “CAT.” The GMAT is an exam given internationally for admission to MBA programs. It uses a particular format known as “computer-adaptive testing,” in which the computer adapts the difficulty level of the test (and your score range) to your performance on the test—get a question right, and the following may be more difficult.

Fortunately for those taking the CAT exam, the CAT is not a computer-adaptive test. Be very careful to distinguish between the CAT and the GMAT when studying, registering, and applying to programs.

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

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