Understanding CAT Score Percentiles

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Understanding CAT score percentiles requires an understanding of overall CAT scoring. Image by geralt.

Candidates applying to Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are often concerned about understanding CAT score percentiles, in addition to their CAT scores. CAT scores indicate how you did on the test, but they don’t show how well most people do on the test. For example, you might score 280 out of 300 on an exam on which most people scored 290 or higher, and thus be a weaker candidate. On the other hand, you might score 280 out of 300 on an exam on which most people scored below 270, and be a strong candidate. Luckily, though, you won’t need anywhere near those scores to place you in the top CAT percentiles! Let’s take a quick look at how they work.

Understanding CAT Scoring

The CAT exam features 100 questions, both multiple-choice questions (MCQ) and type-in-the-answer (TITA) questions, in three sections. When you answer a MCQ or correctly, you gain +3 points. When you answer a MCQ incorrectly, you lose -1 point. However, if you answer a TITA question incorrectly, you don’t lose any points. You also won’t lose any points on questions you don’t attempt (i.e. leave blank).

This means that the maximum score on the CAT is 300, while the minimum score is (in theory) below 0.

Understanding CAT Score Percentiles

Your percentile describes the percentage of candidates who scored fewer points than you did on the exam. If you scored in the 99.9 percentile, then you scored better than 99.9% of test-takers (or 999 out of every 1,000!) If you scored in the 70 percentile, then you scored better than 70% of test-takers (or 70 out of every 100).

As you can see from the chart below, based on previous exams and expert projections, the difference in correct answers between these two percentiles isn’t actually huge. This is especially true considering that each correct answer is worth three points!

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.

Understanding Your CAT Score Percentiles

Every year, rumors float around that IIMs won’t accept any candidates who haven’t scored above the 99.9/99/95/fill-in-the-blank percentile. Beyond most institutions’ score cut-offs (which are much lower than these percentiles), this isn’t true! When considering your application for admission, IIMs will look at numerous factors: your employment history, your degrees, your marks, your personal background, your interview, and so forth. So if you’ve scored in a high percentile on the CAT, congratulations! Make sure that you go forth and make the rest of your application equally outstanding. And if you’re not so pleased with your CAT percentile, remember that polishing up the rest of your application may make up for it and still land you at the school of your dreams.

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