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Evolution of CAT Exam over the Years

Last Updated - March 28, 2017

CAT 2016 was conducted by IIM Bangalore and against all major speculations, there were no major changes in pattern or schedule.CAT (Common Aptitude Test) is the most prestigious national-level MBA entrance exam for admission to IIMs and other top management institutions in India. It is famous for bringing changes over the years. As observed by many experts and test takers, CAT conducting body, which is one of the old IIMs chosen on a rotational basis, usually throw surprises either in schedule, pattern or the total number of registrations.

Let’s take a closer look at all the major changes and trends in CAT Exam over the years, be it the exam pattern, number of applicants or the test window, which can give us a better insight into what major shifts CAT aspirants could expect in coming years.

Changes in CAT Exam Pattern over the Years

Introduced by the IIMs over 36 years ago as a paper based test, the CAT has undergone numerous changes, from the introduction of multiple choice questions to OMR (Optical Machine Reading) of answer scripts

CAT has seen some major changes in exam pattern in past few years. Let’s take a look at some major changes in exam pattern over the years.

  1. In the year 2015, CAT announced the introduction of on-screen calculator and non-MCQs. Also, the test paper was divided into 3 time bound sections instead of 2 sections unlike the previous editions. The duration of the exam was also increased by 10 minutes from 170 to 180 minutes.
  2. In 2011 also CAT had 3 section structure along with section wise time limit, which was later changed to 2 sections afterwards. The section wise time limit of one hour was welcomed not only by the experts but by candidates as well. The pattern was a continuation of what the IIMs have believed in. All the CAT exams between 1999 and 2010 had three sections and the questions were divided equally among all sections.

A lot of experts and previous year test takers also believe that by imposing time restrictions per section, the IIMs have made the decision making for students easier. Therefore, it will be beneficial for students that sectional time limit is continued with the same test pattern.

The table mentioned below will bring more clarity about the changes in the exam pattern of CAT over the past 5 years.

YearNumber of QuestionsSectionsMarking SchemeDuration (Minutes)Conducted byOther introductions
2015100(34 in two sections and 32 in other)Quantitative ability(QA), Verbal and Reading Comprehension (VRC) and Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning+3, -1, no negative for non MCQ180IIM AhemdabadIntroduction of on screen calculator and induction of Non MCQs
2014100(50per section)Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation, Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning+3, -1170 minutesIIM IndoreTest divided into two sections and introduction of two day test window
201360 (30 per section)Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation, Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning(In this order)+3, -1140 minutesIIM IndoreConducted on last year’s pattern
201260 (30 per section)Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation, Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning(In this order+3, -1140 minutesIIM kozhikode
201160 (30 per section)Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation, Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning(In this order+3, -1140 minutesIIM CalcuttaNumber of sections changed from 3 to 2

CAT 2014 was conducted by IIM Indore in a completely new pattern. There were two sections with 50 questions each, whereas CAT 2013 had only two sections with 30 questions each.

CAT 2011 conducted by IIM Calcutta also saw some major changes in exam pattern. Instead of 3 there were 2 sections, namely Quantitative ability & Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning & Verbal Ability. Four subjects were combined into two for the ease of examinees. The total number of questions remained same as 60 (30 in each section).

CAT 2009 witnessed a big change as the test shifted from paper pencil based test to computer based test. The exam duration was also changed to 2 hours and 15 minutes. Prometric India Pvt. Ltd. was the online testing partner of the first computer based CAT exam conducted by IIM Ahmedabad. Because of the huge shift in pattern, the first year of the computer based CAT saw many technical glitches which finally resulted retest.

CAT aspirants also raised question on the normalization process of the test. The overall difficulty level was even easier in the retest which was conducted in January 2010. The valuable lessons learnt from 2009 led to the implementation of several changes in the entrance test in 2010 including increased no. of testing days, more stringent verification checks on the technical and physical infrastructure, improved scheduling and registration system, study material for candidates, etc. Since then, the CAT has been delivered successfully according to globally recognised standards. CAT 2016 infact had a success rate of 99.998% which is unparalleled in the industry.

Check Cat 2017 Exam Pattern

CAT 2015 witnessed the worst ever number of applicants and IIM Ahmedabad, the conducting authority was then forced to extend the application deadline by 5 days. Only 1,38,000 registrations were received for CAT till the original registration deadline. However, by extending the date by 5 days the registrations went up to 1.90 lakhs. However, the fear of MBA crisis was allayed when the number of registrations went up to a 2.18 lakhs, after the second deadline. Around 18% of those who registered for CAT did not appear for the test. In 2015, out of 2,18,664 registered students only 1,79,602 appeared for the exam.

 Candidates check the overall trends in CAT Application Process in the last decade.

Past 9 year Trends in CAT Registration                                                                                                       

The number of CAT applicants has seen an upward trend in last 2 years showing after a brief decline during the recession years. In 2016, approximately 2,32,434 candidates registered for CAT even after the application fee was increased.

CAT Registration Trends

YearNo. of Applications

Last 5 Years Trend in number of CAT Test Takers

Candidates can check below the comparison of total number of applicants and total number of test takers in CAT in last 5 years. Almost 18%-20% candidates fail to appear for the test even after completing the registration process.



 Out of total registered aspirants, 1,49,908 were males and 69176 were female, and rest 80 applicants were transgender in CAT 2016. Candidates can check below the comparison of male and female applicants in CAT 2015 and  CAT 2016.

Ratio of Male and Female Applicants in CAT

If experts are to be believed, the positive sentiments in markets and economy might have been the major factors in increase of registrations in 2016 CAT as well.

Changes in CAT Test Window over the years

CAT has not only witnessed changes in terms of exam pattern but also in terms of its schedule. According to every year trend, CAT is conducted in November. However, IIM Bangalore in 2016 announced that the test will be conducted on Sunday, 4th December, in two slots. This was for the first time when CAT was conducted in December since the inception of CBT (Computer Based Exam) in 2009.

Many experts preferred the single day window as single day testing helps in minimizing the controversies around normalisation processes. The heartburn of flawed normalisation techniques would be gone and students can then compete and get judged on the same platform.

From 2009 to 2013, CAT was conducted in a 20-day window starting from October to November, two slots a day. But, IIM Indore announced CAT as a two day test to be conducted in November. While the test window gradually reduced the number of slots continued to 2 throughout the years. After 2013, the applicants could only provide exam city preference but rights of assigning test schedule and centre was reserved with CAT authorities. From 2014 students were not given permission to select the slots suitable to them.

The table given below shows the year wise changes in testing window of CAT.

YearTesting windowNo. of slots
20161 Day2 slots
20151 Day2 slots
20142 Days (2 Slots each)4 slots
2009-201320 Days window (2 Slots each)40 slots

Even in the years ahead, the trends in CAT exam pattern and schedule is likely to remain unpredictable so one must be adaptive in nature when it comes to the preparation for CAT.



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