CAT Exam Pattern

Posted By : Ria , on 21 Jan, 2021

When preparing for a challenging and highly competitive exam such as CAT, it is of critical importance to know the pattern of the examination and the marking scheme. Once you understand the pattern, it will help you devise a perfect strategy and structure your preparation.

Since IIMs conduct the examination, the exam pattern is also decided by them. CAT is a computer-based test and not an internet-based/online test. It used to be a paper-pen based examination initially; however, since 2009, it was changed to a computerized examination. Since 2009 CAT exam has seen quite a few changes in its pattern in terms of sections composition, number of questions, types of questions, time limit, marking scheme, and the level of difficulty. Also, the Exam used to be held on multiples days; however, it is now held on a single day in slots.

Since 2015 the exam pattern has been pretty much constant and uniform in terms of the number of questions, total marks and duration of the test, i.e. 100 questions, 300 total marks and 180 minutes. However, in 2020, due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the CAT exam held in November 2020 was modified to have lesser questions, lesser maximum marks and lesser minutes, i.e. 76 questions, 228 maximum marks and 120 minutes.

It is difficult to predict at this point in time what pattern CAT Exam 2021 would follow. A comparison between the patterns of CAT 2019 and CAT 2020 should give you a better understanding of what you can expect should CAT Exam 2021 follow the 2019 pattern or the 2020 pattern.


CAT 2021

CAT 2020

CAT 2019

Number of Questions




Maximum Marks




Time limit

120 minutes (40 Mins for each section)

120 minutes (40 Mins for each section)

180 minutes (60 mins for each section)

(Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension)

Total 24 Questions

Total 26 Questions

  • RC – 18 questions – All MCQs
  • VA -  8 questions – non-MCQs

Total 34 Questions

  • RC – 24 questions – All MCQs
  • VA – 8 questions – Non-MCQs


(Data Interpretation and Logical reasoning)

Total 20 Questions

Total 24 Questions

  • DI – 14 questions
  • LR – 10 questions
  • 18 MCQs & 6 Non-MCQs

Total 32 Questions

  • DI – 16
  • LR – 16
  • 24 MCQS & 8 Non-MCQs


(Quantitative Aptitude)

Total 22 Questions

Total 26 Questions

  • 18 MCQs & 8 Non-MCQs. 

Total 34 Questions

  • 23 MCQs & 11 Non-MCQs

Marking Scheme

For every correct answer, +3 marks will be awarded. For every wrong answer -1 marks will be deducted. No Negative marking for Non-MCQs/ TITA (Type In The Answer) and for un-attempted questions.

Here’s a table to summarize the marking scheme

Question Type

Right Answer

Wrong Answer








Exam Process

Candidates have to attempt the CAT Exam chronologically, i.e. from one section to another. Candidates do not have an option to choose a section they would prefer to start the Exam with or switch between sections. The following is the order of the CAT Exam:

  • 1st - Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC)
  • 2nd - Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR)
  • 3rd - Quantitative Aptitude (QA)


  • Each section has a time limit (It will be either 40 mins or 60 mins). Once the limit is reached, the computer screen will move to the next section. (Candidates who belong to the PwD category will get 53 minutes and 20 seconds.)
  • Candidates can switch between questions of the same section.
  • No changes or correction will be entertained at a later stage.


  • The CAT pattern is usually similar to the MOCK Test that is released by the IIMs a month, usually October, before the actual CAT Exam. You can expect a CAT Tutorial in October 2021 on to help you get familiar with the exam pattern and navigation.

  • A few days before the official Exam, IIMs release important information relating to exam day instructions, key features, navigation guide and instructions to answer MCQ and Non-MCQ questions.

  • CAT exam day Workflow – which includes information about the Do’s and Don’ts, timing for the arrival at the test centre, frisking, admit card verification, locating lab etc. will also be provided by the IIMs days before the official Exam.

  • Jackets, Jewellery, Shoes, Watch, Mobile Phone, Bag, Wallet, Electronic Gadgets, Stationery items are not allowed inside the examination hall.

  • Use of an Onscreen Calculator is allowed.

  • An onscreen clock is available to keep track of time.

  • Sheets for rough work are provided and need to be returned while exiting the hall.

  • The Computer screen will switch on at the same time and will open only after the invigilator’s announcement.

  • You are instructed to be seated only on the seat allotted to you. Failure to adhere to the instruction can get you debarred from the Exam.

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