CAT Preparation Guide – How to Ace the CAT Exam by


CAT Preparation Guide

This CAT preparation guide is for all MBA candidates looking to get admission into India’s best business schools. This guide briefly explains what the CAT is and what’s its structure before diving in-depth into top strategies for preparing and successfully cracking the CAT exam.

What is the CAT?

CAT (Common Admission Test) is the all-India management entrance exam conducted by the prestigious IIMs. CAT results are not only used for first level filtration for IIM admissions but are also used by several other top management institutions all over India. Last year approximately 2 lakh students competed for 4000+ seats making it not only the most competitive MBA exam in the country by the most competitive MBA exam in the world.

CAT Test Pattern and Duration

The structure of the test has undergone a few changes in the recent years. It is predicted that the official conducting body- IIM Bangalore may also change the test pattern of CAT 2016. However, it is expected to not be too different from last year’s exam pattern. CAT is a computer based test which consists of 100 objective type questions. There are 3 sections of the test

  • Quantitative Ability (QA)
  • Verbal and Reading Comprehension (VRC), and
  • Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning (DI & LR).

The Quantitative Ability and Verbal & Reading Comprehension sections consist of 34 questions each. The Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning section consists of 32 questions taking the total to 100 questions. Along with the objective questions, there are some non-MCQ questions in each section. Candidates have to answer in the space provided to them.

The total duration of the test is 180 minutes or 3 hours. However, each section of the test has a time limit of 1 hour each. The test takers cannot switch between the sections and have to attend the test in a particular order. The order of the sections is:

  • VRC
  • DI & LR, and
  • QA

As per the marking scheme, each question carries 4 marks and there is negative marking of 1 mark for each wrong answer. There is no penalty for questions that are left unanswered by the candidate. There is no negative marking for the non-MCQ questions.

When to start CAT preparation?

One needs about 6 months to prepare for CAT extensively. Extensive preparation implies 1-2 hours per day on weekdays and 5 hours per day on weekends. i.e. about 15-20 hours per week. This is the recommended amount for engineers. For people who are from a non-quant background, the preparation time is 25-30 hours a week. In case you have a job which doesn’t allow to spend this much time and you are able to only spend 6-8 hours a week on a Sunday, then you must start CAT preparations 12 months in advance of the exam.

How to prepare for CAT?

There are two basic parts to CAT Preparation

  • Learning: Strengthening your concepts about the CAT syllabus
  • Test Practice: Improving your speed and accuracy of solving questions.’s 5 Step CAT Preparation Process

CAT Preparation

Follow’s 5 Step CAT Preparation Guide and we assure you, you wouldn’t have any such problems.

Step 1: KNOW THYSELF – Identify your Strengths and Weaknesses

Take a mock CAT. A thorough assessment of your skills is imperative to start your CAT preparation. It helps analyze your strengths and weaknesses so that you know where to focus. You should take the FREE Mock CATs as well as the Previous Year CATs. We recommend that you take at least 3-5 tests. At the end of this step, you should have an idea of which section you are weak at – e.g.Verbal & Reading Comprehension section. What’s equally important, is also identifying your weaknesses in a section in which you are otherwise strong in – e.g. you may be great in the Quantitative Ability section but may have gotten the ‘probability’ based questions wrong in all your tests. In case, you are unable to complete the analysis yourself, try online sites which offer you the comprehensive result feedbacks of the tests in the form of personalized report.

Step 2: Planning is everything – Make a plan to overcome your weak areas

Make a solid plan covering the entire syllabus right from the time you start to a month before the CAT exam. Your plan must contain day-wise or week-wise targets to be completed. In the early period, ensure you focus exclusively on your weak areas.For example, if Verbal and Reading Comprehension is your week section, then you will have to spend an hour daily exclusively for reading books or editorials to improve your vocabulary and comprehension skills. In the later part of your schedule, allow enough time to work on your strong areas as well. Start learning the concepts through study guides and chapter tests. You can then take the sectional tests to master the techniques and strengthen your understanding of the subject.

Your plan in the first three months should focus more on understanding concepts and solving practice questions. In the next two months, balance out your concept learning along with giving mock tests. In the final one month, you should focus extensively on giving mock tests to ensure that your speed and accuracy is highly fine-tuned.

Step 3: Be Prepared for Surprises – Parallel preparations

The CAT exam is famous for changing the exam pattern, timing as well as content of its tests. Ensure that you are not so fixated on the pattern and syllabus that in case of such an eventuality, you are left stranded and confused. Ensure that you read through books in mentioned in the reference section below to whatever extent you can so that you are prepared for ‘out of syllabus’ questions and formats.

Step 4: Continuos Upward Improvement – Test & Repeat

Ensure that you take at least one mock test every week. Based on your plan made in step 2, if you are indeed working on your weak areas, then your test scores should be improving every week. If they aren’t, then either you are not focussing on your weak areas OR are doing something wrong. Try to evaluate on your own or get help at this stage. I repeat, your test scores must be improving as time goes by.

Ensure that you analyse the results of every test you give in-depth. It is possible, that in subsequent tests, you might discover newer areas of weakness. If this happens, do not panic, modify your schedule to include these new areas in your preparation.

Step 5: Go for the Kill – Fine Tune your Test Strategy

Once your command over the syllabus concepts is strong, you need to ensure that you are getting maximum number of questions right in the given amount of time – i.e. your speed and accuracy both need to be high. In the final month leading upto the CAT exam, ensure that you give two to three mock tests a weekTwitter . After each test, not only analyze the questions you got wrong and why you got them wrong, but also questions that slowed you down. It is critical to learn to identify these and ensure that you leave these for the end in every section.

Beware of speed-breaker questions in the CAT exam - you are also being judged on your ability to prioritize. Click To Tweet

CAT Success Secrets – Our Pro Tips


  • CAT preparation is best done in tranches of 2 hours with a minimum of 30 mins break between each tranch. Do not try to study for 8 hours at a stretch as it will reduce the effectiveness of your study.
  • If you can’t prepare everyday, then plan to prepare at least 3 days in a week to ensure that you don’t lose momentum.
  • Do not take a mock test in the last 24 hours before your CAT exam. It is important to keep your mind fresh before taking the actual exam.
  • Do I need to take coaching for being successful in CAT? : If you are self motivated and disciplined to stick to your schedule, then you are better of preparing on your own. However, if you have trouble keeping up to schedule, then coaching helps you keep the momentum and follow a systematic schedule. It also gives you a support system in the form of teachers who can help you when you are stuck.

Books for CAT Exam Preparation

Quantitative Aptitude Recommended books for CAT/XAT/MBA Exams

Data Interpretation Logical reasoning recommended books for CAT/MBA Exams

Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning Recommended books for CAT/MBA Entrance Exams 

Books for CAT Exam Practice Tests

All in One Preparation Books

Other Useful books for Improving Verbal Ability & Vocabulary


Remember, CAT is not a knowledge intensive exam. It is all about one’s basic quantitative, analytical, logical reasoning and English language skills. Most of the concepts being tested are those which were taught in high school. You can study and learn them again, but what’s critical to crack the CAT exam is a lot of practice. You can prepare on your own given that you remain dedicated and motivated. Joining a test series and regularly attempting mock tests is important – Take as many mock tests as you can, analyse each one and work on your weak areas. Like everything else in life, ensure that you enjoy this process and yearn for success and rest assured that it will be yours and you will crack the CAT entrance exam successfully. All the best!

Let us know if this CAT Preparation Guide helped you. If you have links to study material or additional tips, we would love to hear about them. We’re looking forward to your suggestions and comments.