GMAT vs CAT – the differences laid bare


In India, the CAT (Common Admission Test) is an exam used by most business schools as a screening mechanism for their two-year PGP courses.

However, most business schools rely on GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) for inducting top talent to their globally accredited MBA programmes which are one-year in duration (Read – Executive MBA? No. India’s first globally MBA. Yes).

Many students in India are unclear whether they should target GMAT or CAT and what to expect on the tests. We attempt to demystify the two tests through a handy side by side comparison.  

GMAT CAT Significance
Administering body GMAC – a non-profit body governed by top global business schools IIMs – India’s top business schools
Test frequency The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) can be taken up to five times in a year. The GMAT test dates can be chosen as per convenience.GMAT test takers have an option to reschedule the exam seven days before the GMAT test date at an additional fee of $50.Note – GMAC takes 3 weeks to report your score to schools of your choice. keep this in mind when planning your test date. Once a year. Rescheduling the test is also an option for CAT takers, but the date has to be within the test window and subject to availability, so there’s lesser flexibility on this front. For those who want to improve their CAT scores, the waiting period would be one year to re-take the test whereas in case of the GMAT, you can re-take the test after a gap of thirty-one days.
When do you get the score? The GMAT score for the Verbal and Quantitative section can be known immediately after the test is taken though it takes up to three weeks for the official scores to reach you. CAT test results are announced much later at a fixed date In case you are taking the GMAT which allows a candidate to take the test multiple times, knowing the score immediately helps candidates plan if they need to take the test again
Validity of score The GMAT score is valid for a period of five years across most business schools in UK and USA. Some schools in India do not consider scores older than three years.If you have had multiple attempts at the GMAT, the highest score is considered at most business schools. The CAT score is valid for one year Impacts when you schedule the test in your overall MBA plans. You can take the GMAT immediately after college when many concepts tested on GMAT would be relatively fresh in your mind and you would have plenty of time for preparation. You can then apply to business school up to five years later when it fits in your overall career plans.
 Fees  $ 250 (Rs 17,000)  Indian Rupees 1600 Taking the GMAT should be a well considered decision. Most candidates evaluate their chances of getting their target score before applying.CAT is more affordable but considering the overall expenses of MBA education, this factor may not have a major impact on deciding which exam is right for you
No. of schools the score will be reported to without extra charge  5  unlimited Candidates need to be selective in applying to business schools
Charges for reporting score to each additional school  $28  Not applicable Impacts the number of schools a GMAT test taker can apply to without breaking the bank
Charges for applying to business schools Significant – each business school has a separate application fee which can be as high as €200 (Rs 17,000) Low – Most business schools accepting CAT charge in the range of Rs 1000-1500 as application fee Same as above – the significant application fee mandates a thorough and honest self-evaluation before applying to business schools
Courses accepting the score Full time MBA (One year and Two year), Masters in Business Management (MBM/MIM), Executive MBA (part time courses) in USA, UK, India, Australia, Asia-Pacific and ChinaNote: All course definitions as per accreditation by AMBA, UK Two-year PGP at Indian business schools (MBM as per AMBA, UK accreditation and ‘MBA equivalent’ as per Association of Indian Universities, India) A wider choice of courses is available to the GMAT applicant
Sections on the test and duration In the GMAT, the ‘Analytical writing assessment’ (AWA) section comprises of a 30-minute ‘analysis of an argument’ which involves writing essays.The ‘Integrated reasoning’ section lasts another 30 minutes. The ‘Quantitative’ and the ‘Verbal’ section have 75 minutes each.The total time thus adds up to three and half hours. The CAT has two sections (a) Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation (b) Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning. There is no essay writing involved. Both the sections are timed separately. Each section lasts for 1 hour 10 minutes with a fifteen minute tutorial before the test begins. So the total duration adds up to two hours thirty-five minutes. The GMAT is often called a test of stamina. Stock up on enough sleep before the exam. Tip: avoid Red Bull during the break – many students report increased stress and a faster heart rate after drinking the sports drink in the exam setting
 Test Format Adaptive The candidate can view only one question at a time.If the answer provided is correct, the next question displayed would be slightly tougher than the previous one. The difficulty level would increase with each correct answer provided. In case of an incorrect answer, the next question asked would be slightly easier.There is no negative marking but once you answer a question and move on to the next one, you cannot go back and change your answer. The test taker can not skip a question.The scores are provided for the Quantitative and GMAT Verbal sections out of 800 and the AWA section has a score on a scale of 0-6 Linear
In case of the CAT, each section comprises
of thirty questions. Candidates have to take the Quantitative Ability & Data interpretation
section first followed by the Verbal Ability
& Logical Reasoning section.Candidates can review the various answers within a section
during the time provided. Once a section is
completed, candidates do not have access to it.There is a +3 marking for a correct answer
provided and a -1 marking for an incorrect answer. No marks are given for unanswered questions.Some candidates may opt to skip a few answers instead
of providing incorrect answers. Similar to GMAT, results provided mention the percentile rankings for each individual
section and the overall test score.
Sectional cut-offs Most business schools accepting GMAT do not have sectional cut-offs Business schools accepting CAT tend to have sectional cut offs decided by the colleges  –
Which schools accept the score? All prominent business schools in USA, Europe, Asia-pacific, Australia & India. In India ISB, IIMs, XLRI, Great Lakes, SP Jain are some of the prominent business schools accepting GMAT for One year full time MBA programmes. All Indian business schools accept CAT for their two-year PGP (MBM) programme
Weight-age assigned in admission process   Most business schools using GMAT assign no more than 20-30% weigh-age when evaluating candidature and shortlisting for interviews. Other aspects schools look at include Quality of work experience, extracurricular achievements, essays. A bulk of candidates appearing for CAT have zero work experience and so schools tend to assign significant weight-age to CAT scores in order to evaluate their candidature.Schools shortlist candidates for interview based solely on CAT scores – other aspects of a candidate may be looked at later in the admission process.
Booking your test Visit the GMAT official website, and choose the nearest GMAT test center after which you can select the GMAT test date and time as per your convenience and register. For the CAT, candidates have to purchase CAT vouchers at select Axis bank locations. Online registration can be done using the voucher number.
So which test is more difficult? GMAT is known to have a significantly harder Verbal section with the questions on Logical Reasoning being significantly harder than those on CAT.A casual glance at the syllabus for the Quantitative section may hint at an easier test – questions asked require knowledge of basic concepts such as Speed, Time, Distance and Probability. However, a closer look reveals that GMAT skips higher mathematical concepts in favour of more tricky questions and speed.More than one-third of the questions in GMAT Quant belong to Data Sufficiency type, whereas this question may or may not appear at all in CAT. The complexity of GMAT Quant is not in formulae or calculations, but in the application CAT syllabus includes higher mathematical concepts such as Integration & differentiation. The GMAT test format reflects its intended audience. The test is aimed at people who have been away from academics for a significant time and so aims to test mental agility and IQ rather than pure mathematical concepts – the former is more relevant in selecting future managers.The jury is out on which test is more difficult. One tests higher concepts, the other confuses and confounds by complicating highs school math problems to the level of complex puzzles. Many students report acing the CAT and then performing poorly on GMAT and vice-versa.Bottom line – We feel that more than the difficulty of the tests, the life-stage of the applicant will decide the choice of test for candidates. Discussions regarding which test is more difficult may not have any real world implications.
Who should take the test? The GMAT is accepted for both post experience management courses (MBAs) and pre-experience management courses (MBMs) at business schools across the world.Take the GMAT if you aspire to an MBA course in USA, Europe or India or an MBM course in USA, Europe, Australia or Asia-pacific CAT scores are valid for only one year and the PGP courses admit largely freshers.CAT is the test to target if you intend to target pre-experience management education in India within the near future   –

                                                                                                                                                                    Ready to crack the GMAT?  Some books we recommend:

GMAT Official Guide 13th Edition Bundle – A fabulous place to start your prep. This set of three books contains actual GMAT questions that appeared on the GMAT exam but have now been retired. The books therefore provides a good overview of the kind of questions to expect on the exams. The bundle includes the main Official Guide and two additional books: the Verbal Review & the Quantitative Review which give you more questions for practice from each section. In case you don’t need the additional questions, you would get by just fine getting only the Official Guide which is available separately: GMAT 13th Edition Review: The only Study Guide by the Creators of the Test: The Official Guide

Manhattan GMAT Complete Strategy Guide Set, 5th Edition (Manhattan GMAT Strategy Guides) – look at this set of books for detailed theory on individual topics tested on the exam. While the Official Guide excels in providing questions to practice with, the Manhattan series provides detailed theory on how to crack questions asked in the verbal and quantitative sections. The level of detail is phenomenal and the approach simple. In case you are not opting for coaching, the Manhattan set makes for a great self-study tool. In case you opt for coaching, these books provide a great fall-back option, to understand at your pace, topics that you find hard or difficult to grasp in the coaching class which can often be fast paced.   


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