Is CAT Exam Tough: Section-wise Difficulty Level, Reasons

Bipasha Ray
Bipasha RayUpdated On: February 27, 2024 07:43 pm IST | CAT

Uncover the complexities of the Common Admission Test (CAT), known for its fierce competition, limited seats, absence of a predefined syllabus, and stringent time constraints. Find the answer to 'Is CAT Exam Tough?' right here!

Is CAT exam tough?

‘Is CAT exam tough?’ In case you are looking for an answer to the same, you have landed on the right page. In India, the Common Admission Test or CAT is one of the most competitive and widely recognized entrance tests. It is conducted annually by one of the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) on a rotational basis. CAT is a computer-based test that serves as a gateway for admission to various postgraduate management programs, primarily MBA (Master of Business Administration), offered by top business schools in India apart from the IIMs.

The CAT exam tests candidates on several sections including Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC), Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR), and Quantitative Ability (QA). A candidate's language skills, analytical abilities, and mathematical ability shall be assessed in these sections. CAT is known for its high difficulty level. Questions are challenging across sections with a success rate of only around 2-3%. That said, the difficulty level can vary from year to year. Let us find out more as to why CAT is considered tough!
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Is CAT the Toughest MBA Exam in India?

The Common Admission Test, which is conducted by the Indian Institutes of Management for admission to their flagship management programs is often considered the toughest MBA entrance exam. Compared to other popular MBA exams like XAT, SNAP, CMAT, MAT, etc. the CAT exam has a higher level of difficulty. Although the marking scheme for CAT is similar to other MBA entrance exams, the negative marking aspect makes scoring a high percentile score much more challenging. 

Apart from the general structure of the CAT exam, there are several other factors that make MBA admission through the CAT tough. One of the biggest reasons why the CAT exam is so challenging is the sheer level of competition among candidates for MBA admissions to IIMs. Admission to IIMs is a herculean task and candidates often need perfect scores on their academics and their CAT exam to secure admission to B-schools like IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Calcutta, IIM Bangalore, etc. Thus, it can be safely said the CAT exam is the toughest MBA exam in India

CAT 2024 Exam Structure

The CAT exam pattern didn't see any changes. Aspirants can refer to the CAT 2024 exam pattern given below for reference:



Total No. of Questions


Total Marks


Name of the Section

  • Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension (VARC)
  • Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning (DILR)
  • Quantitative Aptitude (QA)

Section-wise duration of the CAT exam

  • 40 Minutes for Each Section (VARC, DILR, QA).
  • 53 Minutes 20 Seconds for PwD candidates for each section.

CAT exam timings

  • Slot 1: 8:30 am - 10:30 am (Morning Session)
  • Slot 2: 12:30 pm - 2:30 pm (Afternoon Session)
  • Slot 3: 4:30 pm - 6:30 pm (Evening Session)

CAT Marking Scheme

  • For every right answer, +3 will be awarded
  • For every wrong answer in MCQs, -1 will be deducted
  • No negative marks for Non-MCQs



Is CAT Exam Tough: Section-wise & Year-wise Difficulty Level

To understand 'Is CAT exam tough?', one must also understand the difficulty level of the exam. The same can vary from year to year and are mostly determined by the composition of the test paper, the type of questions, or overall competition. CAT is known for its unpredictability. The examination may appear to be more difficult in certain years when the harder questions are introduced, and perhaps easier in other years. The level of competition also plays a role, as the percentile. Here are the section-wise difficulty levels of the CAT exam:

  • Quantitative Ability (QA): The mathematics and problem-solving skills of candidates will normally be tested in this section. With a focus on topics such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and the theory of numbers, questions can range from relatively easy to very difficult.
  • Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DI-LR):  Candidates are assessed for their ability to understand the data and make logical deductions in this section. The difficulty level of DI-LR sets can vary significantly, with some sets being manageable and others quite complex. 
  • Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC): This section evaluates language skills, including reading comprehension, vocabulary, and grammar. The reading comprehension passages may vary in complexity, and vocabulary-based questions can be of moderate difficulty.

Exam Section






Moderate to Difficult

Easy to Moderate




Easy to Moderate



Easy to Moderate


Easy to Moderate

Moderate to Difficult

Moderate to Difficult

Moderate to Difficult



Moderate to Difficult



CAT Exam 2024 Marks Distribution

Based on the analysis of the CAT 2024 exam, we have mentioned the distribution of marks in the table below. You must be aware of last year's CAT marking distribution if you are going to appear in 2024 and prepare accordingly. 

CAT Exam

Total Questions















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Is CAT Exam Tough - Top Reasons that Make CAT Difficult

The CAT is considered a tough test for several reasons, and it holds significant importance in the field of business education in India. Here are some important facts to note about why CAT is considered challenging:

Competition Level

The registration pool for CAT ranges from 2 to over 3 lakh students every year. This itself makes the exam competitive and harder to crack as compared to other MBA entrance exams in India. 

Limited Seats

As per previous year analyses, only around 2-3% of CAT takers get through the IIM selection process. Moreover, the acceptance rate of the IIMs is known to be as low as 1-2%. 

No Pre-Defined Syllabus

Is CAT exam tough also revolves around the fact that there is no pre-set syllabus for the same. IIMs have been infamous for not prescribing any CAT syllabus. Candidates are bound to analyze CAT previous year papers to guess what changes they can expect in the upcoming exam. 

Pressure of Time

Each section of the CAT exam is allotted only 40 minutes, you can hardly allow more than three minutes for each question. If you spend too much time on a single question, you might end up losing the battle.

CAT Sucess Rate for Different Categories of Students

Success in the CAT exam is largely dependent on the level of preparation that aspirants have before the exam. However, some groups of students have a less challenging exam and admission experience that others. Check out the CAT success rate for different students right here!

CAT Candidate Category

CAT Cutoff Percentile Range

CAT Success Rate




Scheduled Castes (SC)



Scheduled Tribes (ST)



Other Backward Classes (OBC)



Economically Weaker Sections (EWS)



Hope this article has answered 'is CAT exam tough?'. Well, the CAT exam is undeniably tough, demanding a high level of preparation, dedication, and determination. However, with thorough studies, effective time management, and a clear plan, success in the CAT can be achieved. Candidates must regularly assess their strengths and weaknesses, practice for the challenges they face as well, and seek advice on how to perform effectively in this competitive examination. Good Luck!

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Is CAT exam tough?

Yes, the CAT exam can be tough. However, the difficulty of the CAT exam varies from person to person. It is considered one of the most challenging management entrance exams in India due to its competitive nature and high level of competition.

What makes the CAT exam difficult?

The CAT exam is known for its tough quant and data interpretation sections, as well as its demanding verbal ability and logical reasoning sections. The difficulty of the test is compounded by the fact that it takes place in less time.

How can I prepare for the CAT exam?

To prepare for the CAT exam, you need a dedicated study plan, practice with previous year papers and mock tests. Joining a coaching institute or using online resources can also help.

How can I manage stress during the CAT exam?

To manage stress during the CAT exam, it is essential to manage stress in the course of the exam. Practice relaxation techniques, manage time, and think positively. You should take regular breaks during your training to avoid fatigue.

Is coaching necessary to crack the tough CAT exam?

Coaching is not necessary to crack the tough CAT exam, but it can be helpful for many candidates. Some students benefit from structured guidance and expert advice provided by coaching institutes. However, self-study and online resources are also viable options for preparation.

What is the syllabus of CAT exam?

The syllabus of the CAT includes Quantitative aptitude, data interpretation and logic reasoning, verbal skills, and reading comprehension are covered in the preparation guidelines for the CAT exam. It covers a wide range of concepts from these areas.

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