CAT Score vs Percentile

CAT 2019 will be held in the last week of November (Sunday), 2019, in an online mode. The official CAT 2019 result is expected to be declared in the second week of January 2020 although this is more of a guideline rather than a rule. However, the candidates can estimate their CAT Percentile from the expected CAT Score. Based on the estimated CAT Percentile, the IIM calls that the candidate is 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, know the relation between CAT score vs percentile, and some other important points about CAT 2019 that could help boost your preparation.

How is CAT percentile calculated?

A percentile, by definition, depicts the rank of a candidate compared to the others who took the same examination that year. It is no indication of the marks that the person has received and depends almost completely on the performance of others.
Let's suppose 2,00,000 people appear for CAT in 2019. After everyone's CAT score is calculated, all test-takers are sorted in descending order of scores. Considering your rank is 1,500, your percentile can be found by using this simple formula:

[Total no. of candidates below your rank / Total no. of candidates] * 100 

So, in this case, your percentile will be: 

(198500/200000) * 100 = 99.25 percentile

Knowing the concept of percentile, it becomes apparent that no candidate should receive 100%ile since they can never outscore themselves. However, there are instances every year of candidates getting felicitated for getting 100%ile in CAT. In fact, CAT 2018 saw 11 people achieving the 100%ile mark, all of them being engineers. The reason for this apparent contradiction is the fact that the CAT Percentile is rounded up after 3 decimal places which means that anyone who gets over a 99.995%ile will be classified as a 100%iler. What this also means is that, if there are 200000 people appearing for CAT, there will be ten 100%ilers.

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 actual CAT Score that they have got in the CAT Exam. The reason for this is the much-maligned 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 300 from the CAT 2019 Exam since there are 100 questions with the maximum marks that can be obtained from each question being 3 marks.

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".

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 the candidate 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 level of difficulty.
This is where the past CAT trends could help the candidate identify the kind of score that they would require in order to stand a chance at getting into their dream college.


CAT 2018

CAT 2017

CAT 2016

CAT 2015


























As you can see from the table given above, the CAT Score vs Percentile varies widely over the years with the difficulty of the exam. CAT 2017 and CAT 2015 were quite easy in comparison to CAT 2016 and CAT 2018. From recent trends it appears that the CAT Exam has two levels of difficulty and the CAT Score vs Percentile fluctuates accordingly.
If you look at recent trends, the CAT Exam difficulty is largely decided by the difficulty of the DILR and the QA Section. The DILR Section has been tough in almost all the recent exams. Therefore, the difficulty of the Quant section determined the CAT Score vs Percentile drop. In CAT 2016, it was the above average difficulty of the DILR section which heralded the low CAT Score vs Percentile.
Based on these trends, the candidates need to get at least a 155-160 to get a 99%ile, which is the dream of several candidates. On the other hand, the CAT Score vs Percentile could shoot up if the CAT Exam is not as difficult as expected. These insights are merely conjectures that have been drawn on the basis of recent CAT Exam trends. It is not something that can be taken as gospel due to which, the CAT Score vs Percentile mapping should simply be a guideline for the candidates.

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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Getting a CAT Percentile over 90%ile opens the doors to good colleges such as the newer IIMs, IIT-Chennai, XIM Bhubaneshwar, etc. These colleges are generally less picky about the profile of the candidate.
  • 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.


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 2019!

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