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Preparation Tips for the new CAT pattern 2016


The exam pattern for the Common Admission Test (CAT) held by the IIMs for entrance into the premier management institutes of the country has seen a considerable number of changes for this year’s test.

For one, the new CAT 2016 exam pattern would now have three sections (instead of the two sections last year), although the number of questions would remain the same at 100. These three sections are:

Quantitative Aptitude (QA)34 questions
Data Interpretation (DI) & Logical Reasoning (LR)32 questions
Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension34 questions

There will also be a sectional time limit for the three sections-60 minutes each. Candidates will not be allowed to navigate between the sections, but have to spend the full allocated hour on each section before moving on to the next. Also it appears that the candidate cannot answer the sections in the order he/ she chooses-instead they must be attempted in a pre-specified order that would be the same for all the candidates.

But perhaps the biggest and most unexpected change is the introduction of non-multiple choice questions (non-MCQ) i.e. descriptive type questions. In such questions (which may be present in all the sections), the candidate is expected to type out the answer. This is a first for CAT and can certainly be termed as a ‘revolutionary change’.


While all the MCQ questions would have a negative marking system (3 marks for a correct answer and 1 mark deducted for an incorrect one), the descriptive questions would not have any negative marking.

Also read: List of changes introduced in CAT 2015

Let us consider now how the candidate can prepare for this new format for CAT 2016.

Work on the basics across all sections

Firstly, the examiners have clearly indicated that the focus would be on the overall ability of the candidate with certain minimum competence to be demonstrated across all three sections. The condition of a minimum time to be spent on each section indicates that the examiners are signaling that sectional cut-offs are extremely important.

Hence my advice to candidates is to make sure that during their preparation, they make sure to improve on areas of weakness, if any, as they will not be able to compensate so easily now for a poor performance in one section by an exceptional performance in the others.

Towards this, I suggest candidates to go about their preparation in the following manner for their initial 2-3 months of preparation:

  • Practice at least 25 quantitative questions daily, making sure you attempt different varieties of questions from Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra etc.

  • Practice at least 12-15 analytical/ logical reasoning type questions. Carefully read these and understand the type of questions which appear in CAT. Most are variations of certain basic types of questions. If you grasp how these are to be attempted, you will gradually become good at these.

  • Read at least 5 reading comprehension (RC) passages daily, do 2-3 grammar exercises and try to learn 8-10 new words daily.

Develop your writing ability and an analytical reasoning mindset

During my teaching stints as faculty at various MBA institutes, I have noticed the decline in the writing and analytical abilities of students in general. Perhaps it is due to the need to address this, that the CAT examiners have brought in the descriptive type questions.

They wish to perhaps test your writing ability, which includes the ability to put your thoughts into words in a clear and concise manner; and also explain your logic or reasoning behind the answer you wish to provide. Such skills are extremely important in today’s world, which is why most of the foreign universities have essay type questions as part of their admission process.

I therefore strongly suggest that you keep practicing to hone your writing skills – write short essays on common topics (this will also help you immensely for your group discussion/ interview preparation) and work on developing a logical reasoning mindset. To achieve this, ask yourself questions frequently-for example when you read about some social, political or economic development, ask yourself why this occurred etc.

Similarly for the quantitative questions, make sure you can explain the logic adopted for a particular line of solution that you have chosen.

By Sidharth Balakrishna

About the Author

Sidharth Balakrishna has considerable corporate and academic experience. He has advised several top companies during his stints with KPMG and Accenture; and his white papers have been presented to senior government officials. He has spoken at a number of international conferences at London, Muscat, Myanmar, New Delhi etc.

Sidharth is also a faculty with a number of MBA institutes currently and has written five books with Pearson, the world’s largest publishing house. He has been a career counseling expert with the Hindustan Times and is on the interview panel of several MBA institutes to select students for admissions.

If you are interested in his books or to schedule a mock interview with Sidharth, please email him at [email protected]

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