CAT Score vs Percentile

CAT 2021 will be held on the 28th November 2021, in an online mode. The official CAT 2021 result is expected to be declared in the second week of January 2022 although this is more of a guideline rather than a rule. However, you can estimate their CAT Percentile from the expected CAT Score. Based on the estimated CAT Percentile, the IIM calls that you are likely to receive can be shortlisted and the further preparation can be done accordingly. In this article, you can find out how CAT percentile is calculated, and understand the relation between the CAT Score and Percentile.

First, let us have a look at how the raw CAT score is calculated. Even before that, let us understand what the CAT raw score is.

What is the raw CAT score?

The raw score is the actual score that you receive with the marking scheme being +3 for every correct answer and -1 for every incorrect answer in MCQs. The non-MCQs carry the same reward but no penalty. Therefore, you can get a maximum of 228 from the CAT 2021 Exam since there are 76 questions with the maximum marks that can be obtained from each question being 3 marks. This score is also mentioned in your CAT scorecard.

Although, raw score is not directly used by the twenty IIMs to shortlist a candidate. There are several other parameters which are brought into consideration to have an unbiased and fair evaluation of the candidate’s eligibility. The process they follow is known as normalization. The score which is derived from the CAT raw score is known as scaled score. Before understanding the scaled score in detail, here is how the raw score of the candidate is calculated.

How is the CAT raw score calculated?

Student Number of questions the student attempted Right Attempts Incorrect Attempts (Non- MCQ and MCQ) Marks For right attempt Marks for wrong attempt (MCQ) Marks for wrong attempt (Non- MCQ) Raw Score
ABC 76 56 MCQ = 16 Non MCQ = 4 56*3 = 168 16*1 = 16 4*0 = 0 168-16 = 152
XYZ 60 40 MCQ = 12 Non MCQ = 8 40*3 = 120 12*1 = 12 8*0 = 0 120 -12 = 108

This is to note that an incorrect attempt for MCQs will lead a deduction of -1 and based on the number of incorrect attempts taken by you say n, the overall CAT score will face a total deduction of n*(-1) marks and an incorrect attempt for Non MCQs (say x) will lead to no deduction of marks hence the overall CAT score will face a total deduction of x*(0) = 0

Also read:  CAT Marks vs Percentile

What is a Scaled Score?

CAT 2021 will be conducted in 3 shifts this year due to the ongoing COVID pandemic and IIMCAT’s policy of keeping at least 2 slots of the CAT Exam. This also means that there may be some variation in the difficulty level of the questions across slots, especially since it has increased to 3 slots. Hence, IIMs use the equating procedure I.e. normalization to calculate your scaled score. The scaled score may be either more or lesser than the raw score obtained by you. However, this modification will not result in the decrease of CAT percentile or your achieved rank.

CAT Scores: Raw and Normalization

One thing that each candidate needs to understand is that the CAT Score that candidates receive in their CAT Result is not the actual CAT Score that they have got in the CAT Exam. The reason for this is the much discussed Normalization Procedure that the IIMs follow.
The normalized score is converted from the raw score of the candidate. The raw score of the candidate is the actual score that the candidate receives with the marking scheme being +3 for every correct answer and -1 for every incorrect answer in MCQs. The non-MCQs carry the same reward but no penalty. Therefore, the candidate can get a maximum of 228 from the CAT 2021 Exam since there are 76 questions with the maximum marks that can be obtained from each question being 3 marks.

Why do IIMs follow Normalization?

The Normalization Procedure is followed in order to ensure that all the candidates appearing for the CAT Exam are at the same level. It was far more important in the past when the CAT Exam was held over several days. Here the difficulty level had to be equalized in order to get a fair idea of each candidate’s performance. However, it was also very contentious for candidates who got lower scores than what they expected.
Here is the official statement from the IIMs: "The process of Normalization is an established practice for comparing candidate scores across multiple forms and is similar to those being adopted in other large educational selection tests conducted in India, such as Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE). For normalization across sections, we shall use the percentile equivalence".

What is CAT percentile?

A CAT percentile is an indication of the position of the candidate below another candidate in the final ranker's list. For e.g if a candidate secured 90%, it means 10% of the candidates have scored equal to or greater than him/her. We can say that the CAT percentile distinguishes candidates based on their performance. Keep in mind that CAT percentile is only an indication of the rank of the student, not the exact scores students have received in the test.

CAT Score vs Percentile

As you can see, the CAT Score and the CAT Percentile are entirely different concepts which are intertwined at the base. The higher the CAT Score, the higher is the CAT Percentile likely to be. However, there is some deviation in the trend every year with the difficulty of the CAT Exam varying each time. Therefore, the CAT Score vs Percentile becomes extremely important.

The CAT Score vs Percentile comparison will vary every year with the change in the difficulty of the exam. Therefore, for you to have a fair idea of how much they need to score in order to get into their dream college, the candidate needs to build cases for the different levels of difficulty.

This is where the past CAT trends can help you identify the kind of score that they would require in order to stand a chance at getting into your dream college.

CAT 2016-2020 Score vs Percentile Mapping


CAT 2020*

CAT 2019

CAT 2018

CAT 2017

CAT 2016











































*CAT 2020 had a modified pattern wherein the duration and number of questions were slashed to 2 hours and 76 Questions respectively. This led to a reduction in the overall scores required for the given percentiles. CAT 2021 will continue this trend as per the CAT 2021 Notification that has been released.

Colleges according to the CAT Score vs Percentile

The CAT Percentile and the profile of the candidate will determine the colleges that they get calls from. These calls are the reason that candidates put in the amount of effort that they do, because the calls give them a shot at getting into the Business Schools of their dreams.

1. IIM A, IIM B and IIM C - Percentile Range 98-100

  • Candidates hoping to get into the IIMs, especially the older IIMs, need to get a CAT Percentile over 95%ile overall and require a good profile on top of that. If the profile of the candidate is not that great, the candidate needs to get over a 99%ile to stand a chance.
  • Faculty of Management Studies, MDI Gurgaon and NITIE - Percentile Range 95-98

  • Other top B-Schools which do not have such a stringent criterion are MDI Gurgaon and NITIE which gives calls to candidates with a decent profile and a CAT Percentile over 95%ile. These colleges are extremely well regarded and can compete with the IIMs in their areas of strength.
  • XIMB, 2nd Gen IIMs, IMT Ghaziabad and IIT Chennai - Percentile Range 90-95% 90-95%

  • Getting a CAT Percentile over 90%ile opens the doors to good colleges such as the newer IIMs, IIT-Chennai, XIM Bhubaneswar, etc. These colleges are generally less picky about the profile of the candidate.
  • 4. SP Jain, KJ Somaiya and TAPMI - Percentile Range 80-90%

  • Getting between 80 and 90%ile is somewhat like a no man’s land. However, there are still colleges which can boost the career of the candidate massively. Some of the best colleges in this CAT Percentile range are SP Jain (Needs a very good profile), KJ Somaiya and TAPMI. These are all the top of the pile in terms of the colleges that you can get in this range and SP Jain is ranked as one of the best B-Schools in India but is notoriously difficult to convert unless the candidate has an extraordinary profile.

These represent some of the colleges that candidates can look to aim for at different CAT Percentile ranges.

CAT composite score calculation for the first Shortlisting round

The composite score of each student is based on the scaled CAT score, class 12th marks, class 10th marks, Graduation score, work experience (more than 2 years) diversity, academic diversity and gender diversity.


The CAT Score vs Percentile mapping is something that candidates should be aware of so that they can target the colleges accordingly. While the CAT Score vs Percentile mentioned in this article is based on recent trends, they can flip very easily if the IIM convening CAT decides to tinker with the format or change the difficulty of the CAT Exam drastically.
At the end of the day, it is the CAT Percentile which matters as the colleges look at the CAT Percentiles rather than the marks when they make the decision on whether they will give a candidate a call or not.

Hope this helps!!
Best of Luck for CAT 2021!

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