One of the common dilemmas that MBA aspirants face is choosing between the two most widely accepted exams for admission to B-schools, i.e. CAT vs GMAT.

The Common Admission Test (CAT) and  Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) are the top two management tests accepted by business schools. The CAT is a national level exam that is accepted by more than 1200 business schools in India for admission to MBA/PGDM programmes, whereas the GMAT is a global level entrance exam accepted by more than 2100 management colleges all over the world. It is also accepted in a few Indian business schools. CAT is administered by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), and GMAT is conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

Although they have some aspects in common, both tests are vastly different. The following article will clear your doubts about which test is right for you and help you make an informed decision.

Here are the key differences between the CAT and the GMAT:

  1. Format of the exam

The CAT has 3 sections, namely Verbal and Reading Comprehension (VRAC), Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR), and Quantitative Ability (QA). In comparison to CAT, GMAT has 4 sections, namely Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrated Reasoning (IR), Quantitative Reasoning (QR) and Verbal Reasoning (VR). 

Both CAT and GMAT are computer-based tests, but the major difference lies in the fact that the GMAT is a computer-adaptive test whereas the CAT isn’t. A computer-adaptive test adjusts to the examinee’s ability, and the difficulty of the question presented depends upon the ability of the candidate to answer the previous question. 

The duration of the CAT exam is 2 hours, whereas the duration of the GMAT is 3 hours and 7 minutes.

  1. Eligibility criteria 

GMAT can be taken by anyone above the age of 18 years. There is no upper limit of age for taking this exam. If anyone below the age of 18 years wants to take the exam (between the age group of 13-17 years), they can take it with parental permission. Candidates who wish to apply for MBA programmes need a graduate degree in any discipline from a recognised university.

In order to take the CAT exam, the candidate requires a Bachelor’s degree from a recognised university with at least 50% marks or GPA. Students in their final year can also take the exam. There is no specified age bar for taking the exam.

  1. Attempts

The GMAT can be attempted up to 5 times in a span of 12 months. Two consecutive attempts should be at least 16 days apart. The overall lifetime limit for this exam is 8 attempts. The GMAT gives you the opportunity to improve your score. It is conducted multiple times in a year and gives you the flexibility to choose an exam date as per your convenience. 

CAT can be taken once a year because it is conducted only once in the year. However, there is no specific number of attempts that you can take. You can attempt the exam as many times as you like.

  1. Validity of score

GMAT scores are valid for a period of five years from the date of your examination and are available for reporting for up to 10 years. Scores older than 10 years are not available. This criterion was established because the GMAC believes that the candidate’s analytical and reasoning abilities do not undergo a radical change over 5 years.

CAT scores are just valid for a period of 1 year from the date of examination. Candidates who wish to re-apply the following year need to take the exam again. Since the exam is conducted once a year as mentioned above, it is also likely they will have to wait a year to retake the exam.

  1. Examination fees 

The cost of registering for GMAT is USD 250 (in most countries), whereas the registration fee for CAT is Rs 2000 for general category students and Rs 1000 for students in the reserved category.

  1. Marking scheme

GMAT scores range from 200 to 800. Candidates are marked section wise. Students are usually scored on a scale of 1-8 for the Integrated Reasoning section, 0-6 for Analytical Writing Assessment, and 0-60 for Quant and Verbal Reasoning sections. AWA essays are scored by an amalgamation of machine algorithms and trained human raters. Verbal and Quant sections are marked on a fixed scale and the score is calculated based on the computer-adaptive algorithm that calculates the score based on the difficulty of questions you attempted and whether you answered each question in each section. 

The CAT paper’s total marks can either be 300 or 228 based upon the new marking scheme. Each question in this exam carries 3 marks. In case any question is left unanswered, there is no penalty (unlike the GMAT, which will penalize you for questions left unanswered).

  1. Scope of GMAT vs CAT 

Business schools around the world accept GMAT scores, and they are a requirement for admission into the world’s leading schools, such as Harvard Business School, INSEAD, Wharton School, University of Chicago, etc. According to GMAC’s data more than 2300 business schools around the world accept GMAT scores.

The CAT, on the other hand, is a national-level exam and is accepted only for admission to B-schools within India. More than 1200 colleges in India accept CAT scores, including IIMs. The GMAT score is accepted only by a handful of tier-1 MBA schools in India, such as ISB Hyderabad and the IIMs.

  1. Level of competition 

CAT is taken by almost 2 lakh aspirants yearly and is preferred by most students looking to apply to a B-school in India. There is a cumulative total of 2500 seats in the top 6 IIMs, which is the first preference of almost all candidates. Accordingly, the level of competition in CAT is extremely high. If you wish to make it into one of the IIMs, your score will have to be over the 99th percentile. 

The case of the GMAT is different, as it is accepted at thousands of institutions globally, and as a result, the number of seats available are also several thousand. So, the chances of a candidate securing admission into a good college is much higher with the GMAT than the CAT, if based only on the ratio of number of seats to number of applicants. 

  1. Difficulty levels

The syllabus provided for GMAT preparation is well-structured and defined in detail. This makes it easy to prepare for the exam with all the relevant topics at hand. Contrarily,, it is believed that the CAT syllabus is not well defined, which makes the exam difficult to crack. The CAT examination is more theoretical, whereas the GMAT is more practical. 

Both the exams have Verbal and Quant sections. The Quant section is more difficult in the CAT as compared to the GMAT. It is believed that the content one is tested on is highly technical in the case of CAT, whereas it is more practical in the GMAT. The Quant tested in the CAT requires the candidate to have a strong understanding of mathematical concepts, and you cannot just rely on basic math skills. In GMAT, you can easily crack the quant section with only a basic understanding of mathematics. 

GMAT is more a test of logical ability skills, whereas CAT is more focused on students’ theoretical skills. GMAT is computer-adaptive, whereas the difficulty level remains the same for all candidates in CAT.

  1.  Admission procedure post the test

There are many more components to the admission procedure than simply appearing for a standardised test.

Since the GMAT is used mainly for colleges outside India, the admission procedure is likely to consist of writing essays, sending letters of recommendations, and preparing for interviews. After the CAT, the candidate must appear for a written ability test, personal interview, and group discussion, which is the most common procedure for admission into an Indian college.

The CAT and the GMAT both have their advantages and drawbacks. The CAT is preferable if you want to get into premier B-schools in India like the IIMs, whereas taking the GMAT exam would benefit you if you want to study in business schools abroad. Both the CAT and the GMAT demand rigorous practice and commitment. 

We hope this article was helpful in your decision-making process, and we wish you the best of luck for your business school journey!

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