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GMAT vs CAT: Key differences on eligibility, syllabus, format, difficulty, validity

The key difference between GMAT and CAT is that GMAT is a global exam accepted by over 2000 business schools and 7000 MBA programs worldwide, whereas CAT is a national-level entrance exam and is accepted by Indian business schools. But is that all? In this article, we explore the differences between GMAT vs CAT to help you choose the right test.

The GMAT is conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) and is accepted by top MBA colleges in India like XLRI Jamshedpur, MDI Gurgaon, and the Indian School of Business Hyderabad/Mohali. Therefore, deciding between taking the GMAT and CAT is a dilemma faced by a countless number of Indian MBA aspirants as both serve as a stepping stone to gaining admission into an MBA program.

GMAT vs. CAT - Key differences

Key differences between GMAT and CAT

Both the GMAT and the CAT serve as standardized tests for admission to MBA programs. However, both differ in the scope of their acceptability. GMAT is a global exam accepted by more than 7000 MBA programs worldwide whereas CAT is accepted only by Indian business schools.

GMAT vs CAT Differences

They are both designed to provide a measure of skills such as:

  • Quantitative ability
  • Reasoning skills
  • Data Interpretation

However, there are quite a few fundamental differences between these exams. Take a look at the table below to see a few differences between GMAT and CAT:

GMAT vs CATCATGMAT
Full-FormCommon Admission TestGraduate Management Admission Test
Conducting bodyIndian Institute of ManagementGraduate Management Admission Council
ValidityOne yearFive years
EligibilityBachelor’s degree with a minimum of 50% marksAt least 13 years of age
FrequencyOnce a yearRound the year
Accepted byIndian business schoolsGlobal business schools
Mode of ExamOnlineOnline
Number of sections34
Number of questions10080
Exam Duration120 minutes187 minutes
Exam Fee₹2,000USD 250

Format and Duration

The CAT consists of 3 sections, whereas the GMAT has 4 sections which include an analytical writing assessment. Though both the GMAT and the CAT are computer-based tests, the GMAT is adaptive in nature whereas the CAT isn’t. This means that the difficulty level of the next question is decided based on your performance in the previous question.

The CAT lasts for 2 hours while the GMAT lasts for 3 hours and 7 minutes.

The GMAT is delivered on-demand around the year via Pearson Vue testing facilities at 39 centers in 34 cities across India. Read our other article to know more about GMAT Test centers and the testing environment.

The CAT is conducted by one of the 6 oldest IIMs in a rotational fashion. The dates of the test are announced by the convening IIM in either July or August of every year.

Score Validity

Your GMAT score is valid for 5 years from the date of your test. This is because GMAC (the organization that conducts the GMAT) believes your reasoning skills and abilities would not erode substantially over a 5-year period.

However, business schools may have their own policies with regard to the score that they accept. Make sure you check with your target school before you apply.

On the other hand, CAT scores are valid for just 1 year from the date of the test. Also, if you are not able to score well in an attempt, you would have to wait for a year to take it again.

This is not the case with the GMAT as it can be taken on demand. The opportunity cost of waiting for a year would be a consideration for a lot of candidates.

Eligibility and Attempts

Anyone over 18 years of age can take the GMAT. If you’re below the age of 18 i.e. 13-18 years of age, then, with parental permission you can take the GMAT.

You can take the GMAT up to 5 times a year. The minimum duration between any attempts should be at least 16 days. There is an 8-attempt overall lifetime limit.

The CAT can be taken only once every year on a date specified by the convening IIM. The date on which the CAT will be conducted is announced by the convening IIM in July or August of every year.

There is no restriction on the number of attempts you can take the CAT and no upper age limit. However, to attempt the CAT you need to have a bachelor’s degree from a recognized institution or its equivalent. Students in the final year of their respective degree programs can also appear and take the CAT.

Thus, the GMAT due to its on-demand nature and opportunity for score improvement and scheduling flexibility is the better option.

Exam Fees and Average Salaries:

It costs $250 to register for the GMAT. You can schedule and book an appointment after creating and registering an account on mba.com.

The registration and test fee for CAT is INR  2000/-. The convening IIM releases a notification generally in the months of July or August. The details related to the dates of registration, exam fees, and other information are included in this notification. Since the CAT is not administered on demand you have to be careful about the deadlines for registration. Here is the link to the notification of CAT 2021.

The average salary offered to IIM graduates of the Top -10 IIMs is between the range of INR 22-25 lakhs The highest international offer made to an IIM graduate stands at INR 82 lakhs. Whereas, the average salary offered to graduates of the top 25 MBA programs globally are significantly higher ~ INR 1.05 Crore.

Did you know a GMAT score of 730+ yields incremental $500K in ROI?

Start your GMAT Preparation by Signing up for our FREE Trial and get access to FREE online GMAT preparation resources. Take a free GMAT mock to understand your baseline score and start your GMAT prep with our free trial. We are the most reviewed online GMAT Prep company with 2200+ reviews on GMATClub.

Here are the key differences between the GMAT and CAT:

ParameterGMATCAT
Sections4 Sections         · Quantitative reasoning (QR) ·Verbal reasoning (VR) · Analytical writing (AWA) · Integrated Reasoning (IR)3 Sections         ·Verbal ability and reading comprehension (VARC) ·Data Interpretation and logical reasoning (DILR) ·Quantitative Ability (QA)
No. of Questions/ Time limit80 Questions in total         ·QR – 31 Questions / 62 Minutes ·VR – 36 Questions / 65 Minutes ·IR – 12 Questions / 30 Minutes ·AWA – 1 Question / 30 Minutes100 Questions in total         ·VARC – 34 Questions / 40 minutes ·DILR – 32 Questions / 40 minutes ·QA – 34 Questions / 40 minutes
Test Duration3 Hours and 7 Minutes2 Hours
AdaptivenessQuestion adaptiveNot adaptive
Score reportingAbsolute score (Out of 800) and percentile score reportedOnly Percentile score reported
Score Validity5 Years1 Year
Scheduling FlexibilityDelivered on-demand, can be taken up to 5 times a year. With at least 16 days between attempts.Conducted only once a year.
Test Fee$ 250 (approx INR 18,000)INR 2000
Eligibility·Lower age limit – 13 years         · Upper age limit – None· No lower age limit but bachelor’s degree from a recognized university or equal qualification required.         · No upper age limit
Number of Attempts· Maximum 5 attempts in a year (Minimum 16 days between consecutive attempts)         · Lifetime Limit of 8 attempts overall· Can be attempted only once every year.         · No limit on the number of attempts.
Acceptance· 7000+ programs (Including ISB, SPJIMR, MDI, IIMs (Executive Programs)         · Accepted by business schools in 110 countries [1]·20 IIMs         · Other management colleges in India (SPJIMR, FMS, MDI, IMT, IIFT) ·Accepted for admission in India only

Comparison of the relative difficulty

The GMAT has a very well-defined syllabus and question types, thus it is easier to prepare for GMAT than the CAT. It is possible to score 700+ on the GMAT with 90 – 120 hours of dedicated preparation.

On the other hand, the CAT syllabus is not very well defined, and thus more preparation time is required as compared to the GMAT.

The verbal section of the GMAT generally poses a greater challenge for Indian test takers who are non-native English speakers as compared to the CAT. The Quantitative section of the CAT is relatively more difficult than the GMAT.

Did you know you can take the GMAT at home? Watch this video to know more. You can also check out our article on GMAT online exam.

What is tested in each of these exams?

GMAT vs CAT – Syllabus

The biggest difference between GMAT and CAT syllabus is the absence of the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) section in CAT. Apart from the AWA section both exams test Quant, Verbal, and Reasoning skills.

GMAT vs CAT – Verbal syllabus

The following verbal topics are asked on the GMAT and CAT –

CATGMAT
Fill in the blanksVerb tense
GrammarPronoun
Para Completion and inferenceSubject-verb agreement
Reading ComprehensionModifiers
Verbal LogicIdioms
Para jumblesParallelism
Verbal ReasoningComparison
SyllogismsInference
Contextual usageAssumption
AnalogiesEvaluate
Different usage of the same wordStrengthen and weaken
AntonymsBoldface
Sentence completionParadox
Jumbled paragraphs 
Foreign language words used in English 
Sentence correction 
Idioms 
One word substitution 

GMAT vs CAT – Quant syllabus

The following Quant topics are asked on the GMAT and CAT

CATGMAT
GeometryNumber properties
TrigonometryMultiples and factors
MensurationFractions
Ratios and ProportionDecimals
Number systemPercentages
Work and timeAverages
HCF & LCMPowers and roots
AlgebraProfit and loss
Profit & LossSimple and compound interest
In-equations Quadratic and linear equationsSpeed, time, and distance
Geometric ProgressionPipes, cisterns, and work time
PercentagesRatio and proportion
AveragesMixtures and alligations
Partnership (Accounts)Descriptive statistics
Time-Speed-DistanceSet theory
Surds and IndicesProbability
InequalitiesPermutation and combination
LogarithmsMonomials, polynomials
 Algebraic expressions and equations
 Functions
 Exponents
 Arithmetic and geometric progression
 Quadratic equations
 Inequalities and basic statistics
 Lines and angles
 Triangles
 Quadrilaterals
 Circles
 Rectangular solids and cylinders
 Coordinate geometry

GMAT vs. CAT – Adaptive vs. non-adaptive

Difference between adaptive nature of GMAT vs CAT

The GMAT is an adaptive test. This means that the difficulty level of your next question depends on your performance in the previous question.

Thus, the GMAT is a test of ability as it constantly adapts and refines the test to your ability level. The test starts off with a question of medium difficulty, if you answer this question correctly, the next question is of a slightly higher difficulty level. Hence, there is no option to review your answers or skip a question.

GMAT Ability Student 1

Let us understand this better with the help of an example of 2 students taking the GMAT:

Student 1:

This student starts with a question of medium difficulty. After answering this question correctly, the student receives a question of a higher difficulty level.

Once the student answers this question correctly the next question is of slightly higher difficulty. The performance of this student can be plotted on a graph as shown above.

GMAT Ability Student 2

Student 2:

This student starts in a similar way to student 2. However, the student incorrectly answers the first few questions presented to him.

Analysis and takeaways

Now, since student 1 answers initial questions and quite a few of the proceeding questions correctly, the GMAT testing algorithm rightly judges this candidate to have a higher ability as he has correctly answered questions of higher difficulty. This is reflected in this student’s higher GMAT score.

However, since student 2 answers the initial few questions incorrectly, the algorithm does not present his questions of a higher difficulty level. Thus, this student is judged to have a lower ability and hence a lower GMAT score. even though the student may have answered more questions correctly overall.

The conclusion here is that the GMAT is a test of ability rather than accuracy.

Learn more about how the Computer Adaptive GMAT works in this article.

CAT, on the other hand, is a non-adaptive test and focuses on accuracy rather than ability. Since in the CAT only percentile scores are reported, your score depends solely on how many questions you answered correctly. You can review your answers in a section before submission. Also, an on-screen calculator is provided. There is a negative marking for wrong answers.

Are you planning to enroll in a US business school? Let us help you conquer the first step of the process i.e., taking the GMAT. Take a free GMAT mock to understand your baseline score and start your GMAT prep with our free trial. We are the most reviewed online GMAT Prep company with 2200+ reviews on GMATClub.

What factors to consider in choosing GMAT and CAT?

In deciding which test to take between GMAT vs CAT, you should take the following factors into consideration:

Career Goals

Besides the 20 IIMs, more than 100 other B-schools all over India accept CAT scores for admission into graduate management programs. A few international business schools also accept CAT scores for admission into management programs. Some of the international schools that accept CAT scores are:

Sr NoSchool/UniversityProgramLocation
1SP Jain Institute of ManagementMBASydney/Dubai/Singapore
2SKEMA Business SchoolMiMFrance
3Singapore Management UniversityMiMSingapore

The GMAT is accepted for admission into graduate management programs at more than 7000 programs across 2,300+ graduate business schools worldwide. Some of the world’s top-ranked business schools accept GMAT scores for admission into their graduate management programs such as:

If your career goal is to study abroad and gain valuable international exposure and work experience, then the GMAT is the obvious choice because of its wider acceptance globally. The GMAT is further gaining acceptance as an admission criterion for Executive programs at some of the top Indian B-schools.

140+ Indian Business Schools are now accepting GMAT Scores for admission into management programs, including IIMs for their Executive programs. Learn more about the scope of GMAT in India.

On the contrary, if your primary goal is to live and work in India at some of the best domestic as well as global employers, then the CAT is the preferred choice.

Choice of Program

Depending on your target B-school and its program admission requirements, you may need to take either the GMAT or CAT.

E.g., If your target program is the regular 2-year, the full-time residential MBA program at any IIM then you must have a valid CAT score. However, if you are considering the 1-year full-time executive program (EPGP/PGPEx) then a valid GMAT score is accepted.

Also, since the IIMs conduct the CAT, it is a better predictor of success in the programs they offer, as it tests for the skills that are required to succeed in the program.

Note: If you are an international or overseas student, your GMAT score is considered for admission into some of the top programs at Indian B-schools.

E.g., If you want to study at ISB, then a GMAT score is necessary as it is the only accepted test score besides the GRE.

Location Preference

If you have decided to study in a particular geographical location, due to the proximity of employers in your target industry; then this is a factor you should consider in deciding which test to take between GMAT or CAT.

E.g., If you are looking for a role in luxury management, for which the best employers are in France. It would be best to pursue an MBA from a B-school around that area as this would place you in close proximity with your target employers and open up opportunities for internships as well.

Investment vs Return (GMAT vs. CAT)

In the table below is a breakdown of the costs involved if you’re considering taking either test:

Sr NoExpenseGMATCAT
1Test Fee$250$ 30
2Preparation Cost$349 (e-GMAT course)$ 450 (Average Cost of CAT coaching in-classroom programs)
3Cost of rescheduling$50 – More than 60 days prior to appointment
$100 – 15 to 60 days prior to appointment
$150 – 1 to 14 days prior to appointment
Conducted only once a year (rescheduling not possible)
4Score reporting$35 each (First 5 reports are free)Reported to all IIMs free of cost.
5Enhanced score report$30Not available
6Score Validity5 Years1 Year
 7Total Cost$ 829$ 480
 8Total cost per year$ 166$ 480

In the cost comparison shown above, we have considered the USD to INR conversion rate as (1 USD = 70 INR) and the average preparation cost of one of the most popular classroom coaching available for the CAT.

Did you know a GMAT score of 730+ yields an incremental $500K in ROI? Start your GMAT Preparation by Signing up for our FREE Trial and get access to FREE online GMAT preparation resources. We are the most reviewed GMAT preparation company on GMATClub with more than 2200+ reviews.

Few key points to note for GMAT vs CAT:

  • Since the CAT is conducted only once a year, if you do not make the cut-off for your target college/program your only option is to wait another year to take it again, whereas the GMAT can be taken multiple times with a minimum of 16 days between attempts.
  • Thus, the opportunity cost is quite higher in the case of the CAT. On the other hand, since you can take the GMAT multiple times, with better preparation and strategy you can improve your score and your profile to suit your target program better.
  • The GMAT Enhanced Score Report (ESR) offered at an additional cost, could provide valuable insights into your performance. Developing your retake strategy based on your ESR analysis could be of immense benefit. No such facility is available for the CAT.
  • Also, since your GMAT score is valid for five years from the date of your test, the actual cost for the GMAT comes down to $167/year.

Graduates of the top 25 business schools in the US 2021 earn greater than $ 150,000 in starting salaries. With graduates of the top 10 schools making more than $ 200,000 a year. In contrast to this, the highest international offer made to an IIM-A student in 2017 was INR 82 Lakhs ($ 117,000).

Thus, the key takeaway here is, that a good GMAT score consistently gives better ROI than the CAT.

Scholarships – The added advantage of GMAT over CAT

A good GMAT score helps not only in getting into a top business school, but it also increases the chances of securing a partial scholarship or a full fellowship. These can help immensely with the cost of doing an MBA.

To offset the increase in the cost of an MBA, top business schools are increasingly offering scholarships, fellowships and other forms of financial aid. Harvard Business School offered some form of financial aid to 50% of its incoming class.

Scholarships offered by programs to business school students crossed $ 230 Million in 2017.

Read our article on scholarships and GMAT score, to learn more about how to secure a scholarship at a top Business school.

Scholarships based on CAT score

While some form of need-based financial assistance is offered at most IIMs, they are in the form of loans rather than scholarships.

Scholarships offered by companies and private entities are also available to students.

An exhaustive list of scholarships available can be found here.

More information about the scholarships available at each institution can be found on the institution’s website.

Takeaways – How to choose between GMAT vs CAT?

The following criteria should help you in deciding GMAT v.s. CAT

  • Decide on your career goals (International Exposure and Work Opportunities vs. Domestic)
  • Choice of Program (Executive, Full-time 1 year, Full Time 2 years)
  • Location Preference (India v.s. Abroad)
  • Investment vs. Return (GMAT vs CAT)
  • Scholarship Opportunities (GMAT vs CAT)

In conclusion, the GMAT with its wider worldwide acceptance, lower opportunity cost, and greater return on investment along with its increasing acceptance to executive MBA programs at IIMs and a few other Indian B-schools stands out as the better option between GMAT vs CAT. However, if you are aiming for admission into the traditional 2 year MBA program at IIMs or other business schools in India such as MDI or SPJIMR, then the CAT may be your only choice.

We hope this article provides you with the information to decide between the GMAT and CAT. Please write to us with your questions at acethegmat@e-gmat.com.

Are you planning to enroll in a US business school? Let us help you conquer the first step of the process i.e., taking the GMAT. Take a free GMAT mock to understand your baseline score and start your GMAT prep with our free trial. We are the most reviewed online GMAT Prep company with 2060+ reviews on GMATClub.

FAQs – GMAT vs CAT

Has the CAT format changed recently?

Yes, only the timings of each section have changed in CAT 2021. Previously, you were given 60 minutes per section. Now, you’ll be given 40 minutes per section for CAT 2021. The number of questions has remained unchanged.

How many business schools accept GMAT scores?

More than 7000 MBA programs of 2500+ business schools worldwide accept GMAT score for their admissions process.

How many business schools accept CAT for MBA admissions?

More than 1200 MBA colleges in India apart from the 20 IIMs accept CAT for their MBA pr PGDM programs

How many times can I take the CAT and GMAT in a year?

You can take the GMAT 5 times in a calendar year whereas you can only take CAT once in a year.

What is the validity of GMAT and CAT score?

GMAT score is valid for 5 years and a CAT score is only valid for one year.

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