Demystifying the CAT Exam Pattern: A Comprehensive Guide for Aspirants

Understanding the CAT Exam Pattern: Key Sections, Marking Scheme, and Preparation Strategies


The Common Admission Test (CAT) is a highly competitive exam that serves as a gateway to prestigious business schools in India. To excel in this crucial examination, it is imperative for CAT aspirants to have a deep understanding of the CAT exam pattern. This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to the CAT exam pattern, including its key sections, marking scheme, and effective preparation strategies.

Unveiling the CAT Exam Pattern:

The CAT exam pattern consists of three main sections: Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC), Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR), and Quantitative Ability (QA). The exam duration is 180 minutes, with 60 minutes allotted to each section. It is essential for aspirants to be well-versed with the pattern to effectively allocate time and resources during their preparation.

CAT Syllabus:

  • Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC):

The VARC section evaluates a candidate’s command of the English language and reading comprehension skills. It comprises multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and non-MCQs. 

The questions in this section test a candidate’s grammar, vocabulary, reading speed, and comprehension abilities. To excel in VARC, aspirants should focus on enhancing their reading skills, expanding their vocabulary, and practising various question types.

  • Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR):

The DILR section assesses a candidate’s ability to interpret and analyse complex data sets and to make logical deductions and decisions. It consists of both MCQs and non-MCQs. 

This section challenges aspirants with data interpretation, data sufficiency, logical reasoning, and analytical reasoning questions. To excel in DILR, candidates should develop strong analytical skills, practice solving different types of logical puzzles, and enhance their ability to manage time effectively.

  • Quantitative Ability (QA):

The QA section evaluates a candidate’s mathematical and problem-solving skills. It comprises both MCQs and non-MCQs. The questions in this section cover various topics, including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, number system, and modern mathematics. 

To excel in QA, aspirants should strengthen their conceptual understanding of mathematical principles, practice solving a wide range of problems, and focus on time management during calculations.

Marking Scheme and Exam Difficulty:

Understanding the marking scheme of the CAT exam is crucial for aspirants. Each correct answer in MCQs carries three marks, while an incorrect answer results in a negative marking of one mark. 

  • Non-MCQs do not have negative markings. 
  • The difficulty level of the CAT exam can vary from moderate to highly challenging. 
  • It is essential for aspirants to be prepared for a diverse range of questions and to develop effective strategies to tackle the exam.

CAT preparation tips:

  • Time Allocation and Strategic Approach:

Understanding the CAT exam pattern is not only about knowing the sections but also about strategically allocating time to each section. With a total of 180 minutes and three sections to cover, it is crucial for aspirants to divide their time wisely. 

  • Some candidates may excel in one section while finding another section challenging. By analysing their strengths and weaknesses, candidates can allocate more time to the sections where they need improvement and aim to maximise their scores in those areas. 
  • A strategic approach to time management ensures that candidates have sufficient time to attempt all questions and avoid leaving any unanswered due to poor time allocation.


  • Mock Tests and Sample Papers:

To familiarise themselves with the CAT exam pattern and gain confidence, aspirants should regularly practice with mock tests and sample papers. Mock tests simulate the actual exam environment, allowing candidates to experience the time pressure, question format, and difficulty level firsthand. 

  • By taking mock tests, candidates can identify areas where they need improvement, refine their strategies, and get accustomed to managing time effectively. 
  • Analyzing the results of mock tests helps in identifying weak areas, enabling focused preparation to bridge the knowledge gaps before the actual exam.


  • Speed and Accuracy:

The CAT exam is not only about answering questions correctly but also about doing so within the allotted time. Speed and accuracy go hand in hand for success in the CAT exam. While attempting questions, candidates should aim to maintain a balance between speed and accuracy. 

  • Speed alone without accuracy may lead to incorrect answers and negative marking. On the other hand, focusing only on accuracy may result in time mismanagement, leaving questions unanswered. 
  • Regular practice and timed drills can help candidates improve their speed while maintaining accuracy, striking the right balance required for this high-stakes exam.


  • Effective Study Material and Resources:

Choosing the right study material and resources is crucial for effective preparation. There are numerous books, online resources, and coaching materials available for CAT preparation. 

  • Aspirants should select study material that covers the CAT exam syllabus comprehensively, provides clear explanations, and offers practice exercises. 
  • It is recommended to refer to books authored by renowned authors and publications known for their quality study material. 
  • Additionally, online platforms and coaching institutes often provide curated study material and resources that align with the CAT exam pattern, helping candidates streamline their preparation.


  • Revision and Time for Self-Care:

In the midst of rigorous preparation, it is vital not to overlook the importance of revision and self-care. Regular revision of previously covered topics ensures that concepts are retained and helps in reinforcing learning. 

  • Candidates should allocate dedicated time for revision, especially focusing on challenging areas. 
  • Moreover, taking breaks, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and engaging in activities that alleviate stress are essential for overall well-being. 
  • Balancing study hours with sufficient rest and self-care activities helps candidates maintain focus, motivation, and mental clarity throughout the preparation phase.


Understanding the CAT exam pattern is the foundation for effective preparation and success in this highly competitive exam. By familiarizing themselves with the sections, marking scheme, and strategic approach to time management, aspirants can optimize their performance and enhance their chances of securing admission to esteemed business schools.

Regular practice with mock tests, focusing on speed and accuracy, utilizing effective study material, and incorporating revision and self-care into the study routine are key elements for achieving success in the CAT exam. With dedication, perseverance, and a comprehensive understanding of the CAT exam pattern, aspirants can confidently navigate through the exam and unlock opportunities for a promising future in the world of business and management.


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