What is the difference between CAT and other MBA entrance exams?

What is the difference between CAT and other MBA entrance exams?

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Vipra Shrivastava
Senior Manager - Content
Updated on Mar 21, 2024 17:22 IST

Common Admission Test or CAT is India's top MBA entrance exam in India for admission to IIMs and over 1,300 MBA institutes. If you prepare well for CAT, you can crack other exams too with minimal preparation. Read what makes CAT exam similar or different from other MBA entrance tests.

CAT vs other MBA entrance exams

CAT vs other MBA entrance exams

MBA preparation courses offered by coaching institutes (both in classroom and online modes) are often called CAT preparation courses. MBA aspirants often face confusion over how to prepare for MBA entrance exams other than CAT. There is nothing to be confused about it, because all MBA entrance exams are same in nature. There syllabus and pattern are more or less same. The difference lies in question paper structure, sectional weightage, topic wise composition and difficulty level of the test paper. So, if you are looking for answer to the questions - What is the difference between CAT exam and other MBA entrance exams? Should there be a difference in the preparation strategy of different MBA exams? Let us answer both.

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Yes, there should be different preparation strategy for different MBA exams. Here's listing the basic difference between CAT and other MBA exams in suport of the answer. 

Difference Between CAT and Other MBA Exams

CAT (Common Admission Test) is conducted by the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) for admission to their management programs. CAT scores are used by more than 1,200 MBA colleges. Other top MBA entrance examinations of India include XAT, CMAT, MAT, NMAT, SNAP and ATMA. Each of these entrance examinations  is conducted by different conducting bodies. XAT is conducted by XLRI Jamshedpur, CMAT by NTA, SNAP by Symbiosis International (Deemed) University. 

Q:   Is IIFT easier than CAT exam?

You can't exactly weigh both exams on the same scale and decide which one is easier/tougher. There are a few differences between the two exams: Mode and pattern of exam: CAT - Computer based. Calculator included. 100 questions. 3 Marks for Correct answer. -1 for wrong answer. 3 hours. 1 Hour each for 3 sections. Sectional timings exist. IIFT Paper Based. No Calculator. 100120 questions. 1 or 0.75 for a correct answer (IIFTs discretion). And for each wrong answer, 33% (of that question) marks are deducted. 4 Sections in total. 2 Hours. No sectional timings. Sectional cut-offs exist here too. Sections and what they ask from a student: I'm only going to talk about the points of difference when it comes to the three sections: VERBAL: CAT verbal predominantly has inferential questions. Doesn't test specifically on vocabulary or meaning of tough/rare words. (I. e. you don't have to by-heart the meaning of 1000 words to sit and ace CAT verbal). IIFT Verbal tests more on fact-based questions in their RCs and a lot more importance on vocabulary, when compared to CAT. DILR: CAT DILR has a logical edge to almost all its questions. Fairly rare to see a CAT DILR question that is purely computational. IIFT DILR is a lot more computation-based (as opposed to having a logical edge) and not having a calculator makes it that much harder. So pick and choose sets where you can do the computations easier. Quants: CAT Quants in CAT 16 took it to another level which might make it look as though IIFT quants is a LITTLE easier, but generally they both are of the same difficulty level. IIFT Quants is along the same lines as CAT Quants with the exception of IIFT 2016. If you have prepared well for CAT Quant, you have prepared well for IIFT Quant as well. You will get only 20 or so questions here. Try to nail as many as possible because they give most marks. IIFT also has a GK section that you have to separately prepare for. They have sectional cut-offs. The sectional cut-offs for the GK section were as low as 2 or 3 marks, but if you do not clear the cut-off, you will not get called. So do not plan to skip an entire section. Strategy for taking the exam matters just as much as preparation. So please solve the past 23 years IIFT Papers with the time constraint (2 Hours) and formulate a proper strategy.

Q:   Is CMAT easier than CAT?


Yes, CMAT is much easier that CAT exam. Despite the fact that CMAT and CAT syllabus are same and that CMAT has two more sections than CAT the former is much easier than the latter. The CAT exam is usually of moderate to high difficulty level, whereas the CMAT exam is of easy to moderate difficulty level.

There are key differences between CMAT and CAT which make the former easier. There is no sectional time limit in CMAT so candidates do not face the pressure of completing a given section within certain time limit. In CAT there are 4-5 Reading Comprehension passages which are 500-600 words, and 12-14 question.

In CMAT there is usually, only one Reading Comprehension passage, having 4 questions. The Quantitative Aptitude questions of CMAT are also easier than CAT and so are Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation questions. It is easier to score high percentile in CMAT as the number of applicants is more than one Lacs less in CAT.

Q:   Is the syllabus for IIFT similar to CAT?


Yes, the IIFT syllabus is similar to CAT syllabus. The topics included in English, Logical Reasoning, Data Interpretation and Quantitative Aptitude section of IIFT exam are same as CAT. The topics included in these sections of IIFT are same as that of CAT. In VARC section, one has to study reading comprehension, verbal ability, vocabulary and grammar. In Quantitative Aptitude section of both exams, there are questions from Arithmetic, Mensuration, Geometry, Trigonometry, Algebra, Modern Math, etc. In Data Interpretation, one has to study Tables, Charts, Graphs and Venn Diagrams. The Logical Reasoning section of both exams has questions from Sequence, Number System, Coding-Decoding, Family Tree, Blood Relations, Series, etc.

However, IIFT aspirants have to study General Awareness too as it is one of the four sections of IIFT question paper. The General Awareness section is memory based and can be prepared in the last month before the IIFT exam. Candidates can prepare for both CAT and IIFT simultaneously.  Read more: Is IIFT tougher than CAT exam?

Broadly, CAT syllabus is similar to all other MBA entrance exams. The chief difference lies in three aspects:

  • Reasoning: CAT puts greater emphasis on Logical Reasoning. A certain aspect of reasoning is present in all the four sections.
  • General Knowledge (GK): CAT doesn't have GK section. Other exams such as XAT or CMAT have a section devoted to static GK and current affairs.
  • Essay: CAT has no essay writing section. However, exams such as XAT or MICAT have sections on essay or story writing. These can be simple essay questions or creative tests like writing a story on pictures.
  • Difficulty level: CAT is the toughest exam in terms of difficulty level, followed by XAT. CMAT, SNAP, NMAT fall in the moderate difficulty level whereas ATMA, MAT, etc. are easy exams.
  • Sectional Time Limit: CAT has sectional time limit of 40 minutes for each section, where as other MBA entrance exams (except XAT and NMAT) don't have such a time limit. 

Top MBA Entrance Exams in India

Here’s a quick look at what are the primary test sections in top MBA entrance exams inlcuding CAT. Plan your MBA preparation strategy accordingly:

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CAT: The core sections of CAT examination include Logical Reasoning, Data Interpretation, Quantitative Aptitude, and Verbal Ability. The exam is for 120 minutes, with 40 minutes allotted to each section.

XAT: The core sections of XAT exam are Decision Making, Verbal and Logical Ability, Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation, and General Awareness. Candidates have to write a short essay too. The exam duration is 210 minutes (3.5 hours).

Q:   Which exam is easier amongst CAT, NMAT, XAT and CMAT?


The difficulty level of exams may vary depending on numerous factors, including an individual's preparation, conceptual knowledge and aptitude. However, based on the past student reactions, the difficulty level of these exams is often perceived as mentioned below:

  1. CMAT is considered relatively easier in comparison with other MBA exams mentioned. Typically, the CMAT question paper is designed to test candidate's knowledge in quantitative techniques, logical reasoning, language comprehension, along with general awareness.
  2. NMAT is considered to be moderately difficult if compared with CMAT. NMAT question papers are designed with a focus on skills like language proficiency, logical reasoning, and quantitative aptitude. Candidates are allowed to choose the order of sections and provides some flexibility.
  3. CAT is the most challenging MBA exam from the list. Different IIM conduct CAT exam every year for admission to PGP courses. Almost all the MBA aspirants in India appear for CAT exam. Therefore, it becomes challenging to score well in the exam. CAT assesses candidate's aptitude in similar sections, such as quantitative ability, verbal ability and reading comprehension, data interpretation and logical reasoning.
  4. XAT is also considered a challenging exam However, it is easier than CAT. XLRI Jamshedpur conducts XAT exam for admission to its MBA programme. Besides XLRI, several other b-schools accept XAT scores for admission. XAT assesses candidates on similar sections as CAT, with the addition of a general awareness section.

Proper preparation, practice, and understanding of the exam pattern and syllabus are crucial for success in any of these exams. therefore, candidates must plan a well structured preparation startegy for NMAT and other MBA exams.

Q:   What makes CAT tougher than other MBA entrance exams?

CAT exam is a national level MBA entrance exam conducted by the IIM. Every year, over 2.3 Lacs candidates apply for it. The CAT score is accepted by the Iims and all top MBA colleges in India. To select the best candidates from over 2.3 Lacs test takers there is a need for tough criteria. That's why, the CAT exam is tougher than other MBA entrance exams. Even though the syllabus of CAT is same as that of other MBA entrance exams, the question paper set by the IIM faculty always has tough questions. Moreover, CAT has sectional time limit for each section which is not there in any other exam expect XAT. Having a time limit for each section adds pressure on candidates to complete solving adequate number of questions in a section within the time limit. If a student is weak in a particular subject, they can't use the time as per their need. CAT's Reading Comprehension passages are long and dense unlike other MBA exams. This is one more reason why most candidates feel CAT is tougher than any other MBA entrance exam.

Q:   Is XAT tougher than CAT?


XAT (Xavier Aptitude Test) and CAT (Common Admission Test) are both popular management entrance exams in India. Both exams are known for their high level of difficulty and are considered challenging to crack. In terms of difficulty, it is difficult to compare XAT and CAT as both exams have their own unique characteristics.

However, XAT is considered to be more challenging than CAT in certain aspects such as:

1) Exam Pattern: XAT has a more varied exam pattern as compared to CAT. XAT has an additional section of General Knowledge, Essay Writing, and decision-making which requires a different skill set as compared to CAT.

2)Time Management: XAT has a higher number of questions as compared to CAT. And the time allotted for the exam is also relatively less. This makes time management a critical aspect for XAT aspirants.

3) Verbal Ability: XAT has a stronger focus on Verbal Ability as compared to CAT. The Reading Comprehension passages in XAT are usually longer and more complex than CAT. Which makes it more challenging. However, it is important to note that the level of difficulty of these exams varies from year to year, and it ultimately depends on the individuals preparation and skill set.

Q:   Is IIFT tougher than CAT?


Both exams are of same difficulty level. While, CAT has higher difficulty level VARC, IIFT's Quantitative Aptitude is tougher. In CAT VARC, the weightage of RC based question is higher than in IIFT. Also, the RC passages of CAT are a mix of both inference-based and fact-based types. However, the RC passages in IIFT are fact-based. IIFT focuses more on vocabulary and verbal ability than reading comprehension. Sharing key highlights of both exams here:


IIFT exam

CAT exam

Duration of exam

2 hours

2 hours (Sectional time limit of 40 minutes)

Number of Questions



Marking scheme

3 marks for each correct entry in Sections 1, 2 and 3.

1.5 marks for each correct entry in Section 4

3 marks for every correct  entry

Negative marking

1 mark in section 1,2,3 and 0.5 in Section 4

1 mark

Maximum marks



Mode of exam




English Comprehension

Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation

Quantitative Analysis

General Awareness

Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension

Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning

Quantitative Apt

Q:   Is MAT exam easier than other MBA entrance exams?


Yes, the difficulty level of MAT exam is lower than other MBA entrance exams. The question paper is usually of easy to moderate difficulty level. The exam is now held for 120 minutes. There are now 150 questions in the exam paper. There is no sectional time limit in MAT which allows the candidate to plan a strategy according to their strengths and weaknesses. The score of Indian and Global Environment section is not considered for percentile calculation thus candidates don't have the stress of fifth section. Also, solving 150 questions is not mandatory so candidates can choose to solve only those questions which they know they can solve accurately. Sectional difficulty level of MAT is also lower than other MBA exams. Candidates can attempt the exam multiple times in the same academic year to improve their score. They also have the option to choose the mode of test - CBT, IBT, PBT - which makes it the most student friendly exam. Also, the MAT cut offs for admission are much lower as compared to other entrance exams.

CMAT: Conducted by the NTA, the exam consists of - Quantitative Techniques & Data Interpretation, Logical Reasoning, Language Comprehension, Innovation & Entrepreneurship and General Awareness sections. Duration of CMAT exam is 180 minutes. A total of 100 questions (20 in each section) are asked in this exam.

MAT: Conducted four times in a year, MAT exam has five sections - Language Comprehension, Mathematical Skills, Data Analysis and Sufficiency, Intelligence and Critical Reasoning, and Indian and Global Environment. A total of 200 questions (40 in each section) have to be attempted in 150 minutes.

SNAP: A gateway to Symbiosis International (Deemed) University, SNAP has three sections: General English (Reading Comprehension, Verbal Reasoning, Verbal Ability); Quantitative, Data Interpretation & Data Sufficiency and Analytical & Logical Reasoning. Test duration is 60 minutes.

NMAT: The core sections are - Language Skills (32 questions in 22 minutes), Quantitative Skills (48 questions in 60 minutes) and Logical Reasoning (40 questions in 38 minutes). Total test duration is 120 minutes.

ATMA: Conducted five times in a year, the exam has three sections: Quantitative Skills, Verbal Skills and Analytical Reasoning. Test duration is three hours.

IBSAT: The core sections are - Verbal Ability, Reading Comprehension, Quantitative Aptitude and Data Adequacy & Data Interpretation. A total of 120 questions (30 in each section) have to be solved in 120 minutes (two hours).

MICAT: Entrance test for MICA, Ahmedabad, has the following sections: Writing Ability (Essay and Story writing), Psychometric Test, Logical Reasoning, Quantitative Aptitude, Language Comprehension and General Knowledge. Total test duration is 185 minutes (about three hours).

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About the Author
Vipra Shrivastava
Senior Manager - Content

Vipra is a massive Breaking Bad fan. When not watching crime drama series, she spends time in updating the list of places she wants to visit and people she wants to meet, but she is happiest in the company of dogs. ... Read Full Bio