How to prepare for CAT exam?

How to study for CAT exam?

How to prepare for CAT exam?

For any student aspiring to pursue a coveted MBA degree from most top B-schools in India, the Common Aptitude Test or CAT is the mother test to be mastered and cleared. Apart from the IIMs, it also opens doors to prestigious institutes like S P Jain – Mumbai, FMS – Delhi, NITIE – Mumbai and a lot more. In this article we will explore on how to prepare for CAT exam?

how to prepare for cat exam

Hence, more than 2 lakh students register for this test annually, with this number rising to 2.4 lakhs in the 2019-20 season. In the current season, this number is expected to further rise in light of the job crisis that the Covid-19 crisis might bring upon.

How to prepare for CAT exam at home?

Cracking the CAT requires not just random practice, but a systematic preparation plan that takes into account your strengths, weaknesses, the time that you have to prepare and your test-taking strategy. For this strategy to culminate, we need to focus on a few critical areas:

  • The CAT test pattern
  • Important areas for each section
  • Sectional strategy
  • Study Plans
  • Mocks and their analysis

CAT Exam Pattern

  • Total Questions: 66
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Number of sections: 3
  • Sectional Timing: Yes (40 minutes per section)
  • Marking Scheme: +3 for the correct answer; -1 for the wrong answer; 0 for unattempted question
  • Question Types: MCQ and NE (no negative marking for these)
  • Sectional Cut-offs: Yes (undefined)


Note: MCQ – Multiple Choice Questions and NE – Numerical Entry Questions


Every aptitude test varies from each other in terms of three critical parameters – sectional cutoffs, sectional timings and negative marking. CAT is the only test that incorporates all three of these parameters. Hence, CAT preparation requires you to focus on all three of these areas keeping the following guidelines in mind:

  • Develop sufficient competencies across each section to ensure that you comfortably clear each section. Having a great overall score is useless if you do not have good scores in each section.
  • Focus on accuracy rather than just speed to minimize the effect of negative marking. Hence, while practising, work on solving techniques rather than just practising questions in bulk.
  • Identify the right questions to solve in the one hour available for each section. This requires good decision-making skills, arising from the knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses.


CAT also has a unique feature where certain questions do not have options, but the answer needs to be typed in a box, using a virtual keyboard. These questions have an additional feature i.e. no negative marking for incorrect answers. Since these questions are part of each section, it is important to study the sectional break-up of the test.

CAT Preparation – Sections in CAT exam

Section Total Questions MCQ TITA Sequence
Verbal Ability (VA) 24 19 5 MCQ and then NE
Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning (DILR) 20 14 6 Mixed
Quantitative Aptitude (QA) 22 14 8 Mixed

Important areas per section and Sectional Strategy:


  • MCQs:
  • Only Reading Comprehension, 4-5 sets with 5 or 4 questions per set.
  • Inferential rather than factual questions.
  • Contemporary issues like economics, politics, environment, socio-cultural issues
  • Paragraph Summary, 2-3 questions
  • NE:
  • Jumbled sentences (standard/contextual odd sentence)
  • Solve jumbled sentences like normal MCQs i.e. identify the correct option and enter it in the box.


How to prepare for CAT VARC?

For this section, the focus has to be extensively on enhancing your Reading and Comprehension skills. This involves the following:

1) Read on a daily basis for at least 30-45 minutes per day.
2) Read from diverse sources like National Geographic, The Economist, Wall Street Journal etc on diverse areas like sociology, anthropology, governance, technology etc. in order to enhance your comfort level with areas that you have not conventionally studied.
3) Strengthen your core concepts of grammar and vocabulary (not strictly from an exam point of view) but in order to improve your overall grasp of reading material.
4) For every passage that you read, try and identify its core theme, its short summary, points in favour of and against the passage. This will improve your understanding of the passage and the points covered within.


  • DI (2 sets – 8 questions)
  • Tables; Caselets; Bar; Pie; Line; Advanced Graphs (radar, doughnut, X-Y scatter plot etc); Venn Diagrams.
  • Logical and conceptual sets with minimal sets being calculation based.
  • LR (2 sets – 12 questions)
  • Arrangements; Numerical Logic; Logical Conditions; Venn Diagrams; Critical Path; Miscellaneous Puzzles; Tournaments; Groupings
  • Complex – with multiple concepts being combined per set


How to prepare for CAT DILR?

For this section, your overall focus has to be on practice. Some guidelines that you definitely need to follow are:
1) Learn in detail how each type of graph is read and how data is represented on each of these graphs.
2) Master the concepts of areas that require conceptual clarity e.g. Venn diagrams, Critical path problems, binary logic (knights and knaves), logical conditions etc.
3) Practise at least one to two LR or DI sets every day, with the complexity increasing every few days.

CAT Quantitative Aptitude

  • Arithmetic – 10 questions
  • Averages, ratios, percentages, time and work, time and speed, and their applications.
  • Definitely practise and attempt.
  • Algebra – 5 questions
  • Numbers, surds and indices, logarithms, algebraic formulae, equations and inequalities.
  • Understand concepts in detail and focus on smart solutions.
  • Geometry – 3 questions
  • Circles, triangles, quadrilaterals, co-ordinate geometry, trigonometry and mensuration.
  • Understand definitions, concepts and applicability of formulae.
  • Modern Maths – 4 questions
  • Functions, sets, sequences and series, P & C and Probability.
  • Understand definitions, concepts and applicability of formulae.


How to prepare for CAT Quant?

This section requires a mix of conceptual understanding and a lot of practice. Some guidelines that you can follow for the QA section are:
1) Master the concepts of the core areas mentioned above. Practise basic questions from school level and NCERT textbooks until you are sufficiently comfortable.
2) Do not try shortcuts until you are sure of solving questions using conventional methods.
3) Try to mix questions from multiple chapters while practising them.
4) For every question that you solve (or not even attempt), match your approach with the one given in the solution. This will give you newer ways to solve problems.

CAT Mock Analysis

After each mock, you need to thoroughly analyse it in order to know where you stand, what your areas of improvement are and what should your study plan be till the next mock.
Some broad points to be checked are:
1) Attempts – overall and sectional
2) Accuracy – overall > sectional > topic > lesson
3) Time management
4) Question selection
5) Strengths and weaknesses
6) Targeted work for each concept

On the whole, CAT, as a test has a reputation for being tough. While it is indeed challenging, it can be tackled effectively through systematic planning and precise execution.

Wish you all the very best for CAT!

Author: Gaurav Dave, Program Director at Test Funda

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