CAT 2021 Exam Pattern

CAT 2021 Exam Pattern can either be similar to CAT 2019 Exam Pattern or CAT 2020 Exam Pattern. It will be convened by one of the top six IIMs (IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore, IIM Calcutta, IIM Lucknow, IIM Kozhikode or IIM Indore) for the year 2021. It is essential for aspirants to understand all the aspects of CAT 2021 Exam Pattern to formulate a section-wise detailed strategy for CAT 2021. CAT 2021 Exam Pattern is the first and the foremost step towards streamlining the action plan according to the CAT syllabus in order to score a 99%ile and maximize their chances of getting shortlisted by stalwart institutes like the top IIMs, FMS New Delhi, IMT Ghaziabad, SPJIMR Mumbai etc which have carved a niche for themselves in the domain of management education.


Conducted in the final week of November every year, CAT exam is a national level management entrance test which is conducted across over 160+ cities for candidates aiming to pursue PGP/PGDM/MBA from top A listed B schools of the country.Other than being an aptitude screening paper, CAT (Common Admission Test) is also a strict assessment of your verbal, analytical as well as reasoning skills The CAT 2021 Exam Pattern will constitute 3 sections: Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC), Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DILR), Quantitative Ability (QA). The CAT Exam is held as a Computer Based Test (CBT) with duration of 3 hours. According to the CAT 2019 Exam Pattern, Each section of the CAT exam is expected to be allocated 60 minutes and there is no concept of carrying that time forward to other sections.

Section Number of Questions Marks (Out of 300) Marking Scheme (only for MCQs) Time Allocated Expected Level of Difficulty
Verbal Ability 34 102 +3/-1 60 minutes Moderate to difficult
Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning 32 96 +3/-1 60 minutes Moderate to difficult
Quantitative Ability 34 102 +3/-1 60 minutes Moderate to easy
Total 100 300   -  180 minutes Moderate to difficult

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Alternatively, CAT 2021 Exam Pattern can also take the route of CAT 2020 Exam Pattern.  CAT 2020 had added a new element to the table by reducing the exam duration from 60 minutes to 40 minutes per section and the number of questions reduced to 76 from 100, due to covid-19 crisis. In light of the same, CAT 2021 administrator (one of major 6 IIMs) can rely on last year’s passion as mentioned below:

Sections of Exam (in that order)

No of questions

Multiple Choice Questions

TITA (Type in the answer questions)

Important features





Four RC Passages with 18 multiple choice questions. Basic topics were para jumbles, para summary and odd one out.





Data Interpretation – 14 questions

Logical Reasoning- 10 questions.

(Sets of 4 and 6 questions)





Focused on number system and arihmetics. Other contenders were logarithms geometry, roots and algebra





Here are some key aspects of CAT 2020:

  • CAT 2020 was conducted by IIM Indore

  • The duration of the CAT 2020 exam was 2 hours i.e 120 minutes.

  • The exam was conducted in three slots i.e 8.30 AM to 10.30 AM , 12.30 PM to 2.30 PM and 4:30 and 6:30 PM.

  • The medium of instructions was English.

  • The questions were of 2 types I.e., Multiple choice and TITA.

  • The total marks were out of 300

  • Candidates received 3 marks for correctly answered questions and negative marking of 1/3 for incorrectly answered questions. 

  • There was no negative marking for TITA (type in the answer) questions.

Also read: CAT 2021 Exam Date

CAT Exam Pattern Analysis

In order to analyze the CAT Exam Pattern, we need to look at each section of the CAT exam individually.

Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension Section: CAT Exam Pattern

In the verbal section, the CAT exam pattern of the last 3 years indicates that the section consists of two primary components:

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Verbal Ability

Many aspirants were caught out by the difficulty level of the section in CAT 2020 which should be a warning for CAT 2021 aspirants. This section of the CAT Exam Pattern should not be written off simply based on the lower difficulty level in some of the previous years.

Reading Comprehension:

  • Accounts for over 70% of the question (24 questions out of 34)
  • Question Format: MCQs with few TITA (Type in the Answer) questions
  • There are usually 5 passages in this section (3 larger ones and 2 smaller ones)

Verbal Ability:

  • Relatively small subsection with only 10 questions
  • The CAT exam pattern and syllabus for this section has included questions in the form of:
    • - Paragraph-jumbles
    • - Summary questions
    • - Picking the odd sentence out

Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning Section: CAT Exam Pattern

This has been the most challenging section according to the CAT exam pattern for the last 3 years. As the name suggests, the section consists of two parts:

  • Data Interpretation
  • Logical Reasoning

Data Interpretation Section:

  • Consists of 4 sets usually which individually have 4 questions each.
  • These questions can be based directly on data that can be extracted from tables/graphs shown in the set or may require further calculation
  • MCQs and TITA Questions with usually 3 MCQs and 1 TITA Question per set

Logical Reasoning Section:

  • Consists of 4 sets
  • Based on Blood Relations, Arrangements, and combinations of topics
  •  There is a combination of MCQs and TITA questions with one TITA question being part of each set

This section usually puzzles candidates. But, getting a high percentile in this section can be relatively easy as the aspirant only needs to solve 16 questions correctly in order to break into the 99%ile bracket. This has been the CAT exam pattern like for at least the past three years. However, the amount of effort that is needed to break down each set before solving the questions means that most people struggle with time when solving this question.

Another important factor that each candidate must keep in mind is the proper selection of questions. This is because with the difficulty of the sets and the time taken to organize the data, the number of questions that each candidate can attempt is very limited and spending your time on the wrong questions can lead to dire consequences for the score in this section.

Also Read: CAT Score vs Percentile

Quantitative Aptitude: CAT Exam Pattern

This is the section that most candidates prepare for the most. This is because the CAT exam pattern and syllabus for this section is the most fleshed out amongst all the other sections.

It is the section which can make or break the exam for most candidates. It consists of 23 to 27 MCQs while the other questions are in the form of TITA questions. There is no specific division in terms of topics which carry higher weights compared to its compatriots. Thus, candidates have to go through the entire syllabus in order to be confident of scoring well in this section.

The CAT exam pattern and syllabus for the Quantitative Aptitude section consists of:

  • Number Systems
  • HCF & LCM
  • Profit, Loss and Discount
  • Simple and Compound Interest
  • Percentages
  • Speed, Time & Distance
  • Time & Work
  • Ratio & Proportion
  • Averages
  • Quadratic Equations
  • Complex Numbers
  • Logarithm
  • Binomial Theorem
  • Sequence and Series
  • Surds & Indices
  • Probability and Permutation Combination
  • Set Theory
  • Functions
  • Geometry and Mensuration
  • Mixtures and Alligations
  • Trigonometry

In the past, the CAT used to be famed for their difficult QA section but recently the IIMs have reduced the difficulty level of this section in order to accommodate non-engineers. This has also led to higher scores and cutoffs in this section.

CAT syllabus has remained more or less constant since inception, siding aside a few variations. CAT 2021 syllabus is also expected to take after CAT Syllabus 2020. The official syllabus has not been released by the test administrator yet.

CAT 2021 Exam Mock

Ahead of the CAT exam, the institute conducting the CAT Exam will launch a CAT 2021 Mock Test in order to familiarize the students with the exam interface but not necessarily the CAT 2021 Exam Pattern. It will also help the students identify the placements of the timer and the on-screen calculator so that there is no time wastage in that aspect.

The level and number of questions is usually no indicator of the actual CAT paper since they are generally found to be extremely easy compared to the actual CAT exam questions.

Also check : Importance of CAT Mocks

CAT 2019 Paper Analysis: Exam Pattern and Syllabus

Looking at the CAT 2019 paper analysis will give us a better idea about the CAT exam pattern and syllabus.

CAT 2019 shook the candidate’s confidence right from the start due to the increase in difficulty of the VARC section. The DILR section was challenging but not the most difficult seen in recent times. The QA section was not as difficult as the previous year due to which the overall difficulty of CAT 2019 was considered to be slightly lower than that of CAT 2018.

VARC Section 2019 Analysis: Exam Pattern

Looking at the CAT 2019 paper analysis will give us a better idea about the CAT exam pattern and syllabus.
CAT 2019 shook the candidate’s confidence right from the start due to the increase in difficulty of the VARC section. The DILR section was challenging but not the most difficult seen in recent times. The QA section was not as difficult as the previous year due to which the overall difficulty of CAT 2019 was considered to be slightly lower than that of CAT 2018.

DILR Section 2019 Analysis: Exam Pattern

The DILR section was on expected lines in terms of the CAT Exam Pattern (32 Questions with 8 sets) but the level of difficulty was somewhat easier compared to previous years. There were 3 easy sets that each student should have solved in order to perform well in the section. With proper selection, candidates had sufficient time to solve up to 4 sets.

QA Section 2019 Analysis: Exam Pattern

QA was also slightly easier than last year. You could have found more sitters this year than in CAT 2018. The paper had a good number of questions on Arithmetic from topics like Percentages, TSD, Time and Work, etc. Among Algebra, Geometry, and Numbers, the paper had more questions on Algebra and Geometry than on Numbers. There was no surprise in terms of the Exam Pattern as there were 34 questions with around 12 TITA type questions.

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CAT 2020 Paper Analysis: Exam Pattern and Syllabus

CAT 2020 was much crazier than our expectations and turned the candidate’s confidence upside down. The examination was divided into 3 slots I.e Morning Slot, Afternoon Slot and Evening slot. The LOD (level of difficulty) kept on increasing as per the progression of slots. Here is the perceived level of difficulty for all the three slots :

CAT 2020 Slot 1< CAT 2020 Slot 2 < CAT 2020 Slot 3

The CAT 2020 slot 3 which was conducted from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM was the most difficult slot out of all the 3 slots. The VARC section was slightly more difficult than CAT 2019 and so was the DILR section. The QA section was fairly doable; however, the questions were really tricky to understand and could be only aced by a candidate who practiced all the QA variations in addition to taking sectional mocks 2-3 times in a week.

All in all, CAT 2020 was under the same breath as that of CAT 2016-18 after a slightly easier version of the paper was released in CAT 2019. Here is a section wise analysis of CAT 2020 for your better understanding:

VARC Section 2020 Analysis: Exam Pattern

The VARC section of CAT 2020 was slightly higher than that of 2019. The questions involving the first section of CAT I.e VARC were 23 in number and ranged from moderate to slightly difficult in terms of LOD. Reading Comprehension dominated the section completely with 6-7 questions focused on Verbal Ability I.e Para Jumble, odd one out and Para Summary. The questions following an RC passage were rarely fact based and more inferential. As per our deduction, the CAT 2020 slot 1 cut off for 99 percentile would hit somewhere around 40-42. In terms of exam pattern, questions in all three slots of CAT resembled each other.

DILR Section 2020 Analysis: Exam Pattern

The DILR section’s LOD (level of difficulty) jogged back to CAT 2016, leaving the students absolutely flabbergasted. Data Interpretation, which is one of the candidate’s major hopes to ace the DILR section, showed no mercy this year. The section was highly complicated with 24 questions, broken down into 5 sets with either 6 questions or 4 questions in each set. The Venn Diagram and Arrangement topic constituted a fair share of the DILR section, along with an extremely difficult table set on missing information in all the three slots. A raw score of 30-32 on 100 would lead a candidate to 99%Ile in the CAT 2020 DILR section.

QA Section 2020 Analysis: Exam Pattern

The questions constituting the QA section were easier but tricky. Again, the level of difficulty kept on increasing as per the slot progression. However, the questions were light handed on geometry and heavy handed on arithmetic, which was a respite for the candidates as most of the candidates start their CAT QA preparation with arithmetic topics. There were questions related to profit and loss, simple interest and compound interest, time and speed, ratio and proportions, logarithms, coordinate geometry and Algebra. The number of sitters were comparatively less as compared to the CAT 2019 questions. Overall, the section was moderately easier and a score of 40-45 would fetch a 99%ile and a call from the IIMs.

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Overall Analysis

The overall paper was slightly difficult compared to the previous year. A major reason for this is the fact that while the Verbal Ability and DILR section was more difficult than the QA section being easier than made up for it. The overall cut off for the 99%ile decreased to 100-102 in slot 2 and 3 and 105-110 in slot 1 due to the rise in the difficulty level of the overall CAT Paper.

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Other CAT Exam Patterns

Before this format, the CAT exam had gone through several different CAT exam patterns and syllabus. Looking at these can also help in preparing in case there is a change in the pattern:

  • In CAT 2014, there were only two sections: VARC-LR and QA-DI. Both sections consisted of 50 questions each and the total time limit was 170 minutes. There was no sectional time limit in this paper despite having a sectional cutoff.
  • From CAT 2009 to CAT 2013, there were only 60 questions with 150 minutes allocated to solve the questions.
  • For CAT 2009 and 2010, there were three sections in the form of VARC, DILR and QA. There was no sectional time limit applied to the different sections in this type of paper.
  • For CAT 2011, 2012 and 2013, the number of questions was kept constant however the sections were modified to be converted into two sections: VARC-LR and QA-DI. The number of questions in each section was limited to 30 each.

General Tips on CAT Preparation as per CAT Exam Pattern

The CAT Exam Pattern gives the candidate a brief idea on how to prepare for the exam:

  • Each section has roughly equal weightage which indicates that while studying the basics, each section has to be given equal importance.
  • Following this, mocks play an important role in determining the route that the CAT preparation will take. The section in which the aspirant is scoring the most marks is the clearest for him in terms of concepts. Thus, the amount of time spent on that section can be reduced while the section where the aspirant is scoring the lowest has to be focused upon.
  • After a while, the performance in the mocks have to be taken stock of again. The aspirant needs to ensure that the section where he/she was strongest is not slipping and that there is some improvement in the section where he/she is focusing.

This milestone-based approach to the CAT preparation will allow the aspirant to focus on the right areas as the exam draws near.

Read in detail : CAT Preparation tips


As you can see, CAT is completely capable of shifting the paradigm of the CAT exam pattern and has done so over the years. In order to counter this, the candidates need to prepare for each topic in the syllabus and hone their test taking skills. With the help of these two skills in their armory, any curveball thrown by CAT would not be much more than a temporary hesitation on the part of the candidate.