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CAT Exam Pattern 2019: Detailed Paper Pattern QA | VARC | DILR

CAT exam Pattern 2019

Familiarity with CAT exam pattern is a must for any student who is preparing for CAT 2019 exam. CAT exam pattern and CAT syllabus are the two broad areas that you must research on, study and analyse in order to lay out a preparation plan for CAT 2019. So before you join any coaching institute or buy any books or enrol for an online course, go through this article thoroughly.

Why is it important for an aspirant to know the CAT exam pattern?

CAT exam pattern and CAT syllabus are the two things that go hand in hand. To understand the CAT syllabus, you must understand the CAT exam pattern.  If you know the exam pattern you will:

  • get a better understanding of what areas of the syllabus you have to focus on.
  • get to know your strengths and weaknesses, and optimize your chances of scoring well, by either focusing on your weak areas or by concentrating more on your strong areas.
  • have a preparation map that you can follow and that will guide you at regular intervals
  • be able to better manage your two key resources: time and money

CAT Exam Pattern: Important Observations

The CAT exam pattern has two things it. The first thing is that which has not changed and is not likely to change. The second thing is that which is subject to change every year, depending upon which IIM is conducting the exam.

The following things of the CAT exam pattern have remained the same for the past ten years:

  1. The exam is conducted online for admissions into the PGDBM programs of the IIMs
  2. It tests you in three areas: Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension, Quantitative Ability, and Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation. CAT has been testing the candidates in these three areas and is likely to continue this pattern in the coming years as well
  3. The IIMs have not outsourced so far their entrance test to any third party. It is highly unlikely that in the near future the IIMs might take GMAT or GRE scores for admissions into their PGDBM programs. The CAT as an exam will always be there

The following things of the CAT exam pattern may not always remain the same

  1. The exam duration: Though the exam duration for the past four years has been three hours, with each section having a time limit of 60 minutes, the duration has not always been the same. For instance, during the pen-pencil days the duration of the exam used to be of 2 hours, and even in 2014, the duration of the exam was 2.5 hours.
  2. The exam difficulty: The CAT exam difficulty is highly unpredictable. Though the overall difficulty is always on the moderate to difficult side, the difficulty level of the individual question always varies
  3. The sectional composition: You will be surprised to know that the CAT paper had only two sections until 2014. The QA and DI was one section, while LR and VARC were the other. In 2015, the VARC became an independent section. In addition to this, the sectional composition of questions is not always the same. There are years in which the no of questions coming from a specific topic changes remarkably.
  4. The marking scheme: Though the marking scheme has been the same for the past four years, there have been subtle changes every year with respect to the no of questions coming from MCQ and non-MCQ areas.
  5. Sectional time limits: Until CAT 2014, there was no sectional time limit, but beginning from CAT 2015, a sectional time limit was introduced. After the completion of the time limit of one section, the system automatically navigated the student to the next section. This pattern has been there for the past four years and is likely to continue.

CAT 2018 Exam Pattern: Bird’s eye view

CAT 2018 Exam Structure

CAT 2018 Slot 1 VARC Pattern

CAT 2018 Exam VARC pattern

TopicNo of questionsMCQNon-MCQMarks per correct questionNegative MarkingTotal Weightage
Reading Comprehension242403-172
Para jumbles4043012
Odd Sentence303309
Paragraph Summary3303-19

CAT 2018 Slot 1 QA Pattern

CAT 2018 Exam QA pattern

TopicNo of questionsMCQNon-MCQTotal Weightage in Marks
Number system1013
Modern Maths3129

CAT 2018 Slot 1 LRDI Pattern

TopicTotal No. of questionsMCQNon-MCQTotal Weightage in Marks
Data interpretation1612448
Logical Reasoning1612448

Read Also: CAT 2018 Exam Analysis

CAT Exam Pattern: Sectional Composition

From a preparation point of view, the most important factor is to understand the sectional compositions of the cat exam paper pattern. It is the sectional composition that decides the overall performance of the students. For instance, if there are a good no of questions from geometry, then someone who is good in geometry is likely to do well in the section. And someone who is not so good in geometry may miss the cutoff of this section. The pattern of the sectional compositions of the questions will help us understand what should be studied and how much that thing should be studied.

We will discuss the traditional pattern of each section and the recent changes that have taken place in that section. By traditional pattern, we mean the pattern that was there for a long time but has been slightly modified in recent years. Also, the word traditional pattern includes the CAT exam papers from the pen-pencil era.

CAT Exam Pattern: The sectional composition of the CAT VARC section

Topics Traditional PatternRecent Pattern
Reading ComprehensionIn the traditional pattern, the RCs comprised not more than 50% of the VARC section. The rest of the questions came from verbal ability. The RCs used to come from philosophy and other non-science areas.In recent years, the CAT has started giving huge importance to RCs. Since 2015, almost 75 per cent of the section is from RC. In addition to this, we have seen that the RCs are primarily from science and business areas. The complex and difficult-to-read passages are no more seen in the recent CAT papers.
ParajumblesIn the traditional paper pattern, the parajumbles used to come with options. A good no of questions came from parajumbles.In the recent CAT papers, the number of questions coming from parajumbles has gone down. Also, the parajumbles come as non-MCQ, which makes it difficult for the student to solve the questions. So overall the difficulty level of parajumbles has increased
Odd Sentence/Sentence ExclusionThe odd sentence questions were not there in the traditional CAT papers. This variety was introduced in CAT 2013, and ever since then has been a regular feature of the CAT examThe odd sentence questions are easier than the parajumbles, though they are solved by the same strategy. These questions come in the non-MCQ form and therefore do not carry any negative marking
CAT Paragraph SummaryThe CAT paragraph summary questions came in CAT 2004 and CAT 2005. These questions were not seen in CAT exams until CAT 2014, the year in which these questions resurfaced.The CAT paragraph summary has become a regular feature of CAT verbal ability, with three questions coming in CAT 2017 and three in CAT 2018. These questions are easy and can be solved in relatively lesser time.
CAT Paragraph CompletionThough quite common once upon a time, the paragraph questions have not been seen in recent yearsThe last time we saw CAT paragraph completion question was in 2016. It has not been seen in CAT since the last two years.
CAT vocabulary and grammarIn the traditional pattern, there used to be a good no of CAT questions based on direct vocabulary and grammar concepts. The questions used to be in the form of fill in the blanks and sentence correction. These types of questions are no more seen in the recent CAT papersThe last time we saw a grammar and a vocabulary question in CAT was in the year 2014. Since then CAT has not tested the students in grammar and vocabulary.

The above table gives a good picture of what is important in the CAT VARC section and what is not. Though the RC is the most important of all the topics in VARC, an aspirant should not ignore the other areas of verbal ability. There is a great degree of uncertainty with respect to what comes in CAT. If you are not prepared in the other areas and a few easy questions end up coming from that area, then you might be at a disadvantage if you are not clear with the basic approach of solving such easy questions. A good strategy would be to focus extensively on CAT reading comprehension, yet at the same time develop a strategy to solve the easy and moderate questions from the other areas of verbal ability.

CAT Exam Pattern: Sectional Composition of CAT Quantitative Aptitude


Topics Traditional PatternRecent Pattern
Number SystemQuestions from Number system dominated of CAT papers in the last decade. Several questions based on the higher concepts like remainders, factors, base system, factorials, integral solutions etc. have given nightmares to CAT aspirants. Earlier, both the number of questions and the difficulty level were high.Now CAT has considerably reduced both the number of questions and difficulty level of questions from Number System topic.

In recent CAT exam Pattern, approximately 2-3 questions appear in the paper. Over the last three years, it has been observed that the questions are mainly from the properties of numbers, divisibility rules, and concepts of digits.

This reduction in the number of questions has given a BIG relief to the aspirants from a non-maths background.

ArithmeticIn the traditional papers, CAT paper ignored questions from many topics on arithmetic. Questions on percentages, ratio and proportion, SI CI, partnership etc. occasionally appeared in CAT. Usually, CAT gave importance to topics like Time and Work, and Time speed and distance.
In most cases, these questions were of either higher difficulty level or calculative in nature.
Now Arithmetic has become the most important topic for CAT exam. Almost 45% of the questions (14 out of 34) in CAT 2018 were from arithmetic topics like percentages, profit and loss, averages, mixture and allegation, ratio proportion, time and work, and time speed and distance.

Due to an increase in the number of questions from arithmetic, all topics within arithmetic get a fair share in the actual paper. The difficulty level of these questions has also decreased. Many questions can be solved by the direct application of formulas.
It’s a boon for non-maths background students. Now they don’t need to be scared of maths and can score high in CAT Quantitative Aptitude section.

AlgebraQuestions from algebra have been perennially featuring in CAT exam papers. However, in the traditional CAT papers, the questions required higher concepts to solve. Mostly the questions are from Equations, functions, Progression, graphs, inequalities, logarithms etc.After Arithmetic, Algebra is the second most important topics for CAT. Around 10-11 questions regularly appear in recent CAT exams.
The difficulty level of the questions has slightly decreased as compared to the pre-2014 CAT papers.
However, we recommend that you should tune your preparation for algebra to solve questions of higher difficulty level.
Previous years Algebra questions are the best source to get some understanding of the difficulty level, pattern, topics and types of questions for CAT exam.
GeometryAs in any other national aptitude exams, Geometry has been the favourite topic of CAT as well.

Questions from Geometry have regularly been appearing in CAT exams since long. However, in the traditional CAT exam pattern, the questions were greater in number, than what it is in recent years.

Most of the questions are based on the concepts of triangles, circles, quadrilaterals, polygons and mensuration.
Overall, the toughness level of geometry questions used to be high. Occasionally, some of the questions were of the pre-Olympiad level.

Questions from geometry still command a decent share in recent CAT papers. Around 6-7 questions regularly appear in CAT exam.

Most of the questions are from Triangles, Circles, Quadrilaterals and Mensuration.
The toughness level has considerably decreased in geometry. But, the CAT exam has maintained the beauty of asking questions on geometry which prima facia look difficult but can be solved with the fundamental concepts and theorems of geometry.
Aspirants should focus more on the questions which require multiple concepts of geometry.
Again, we would recommend previous years geometry problems as the benchmark for their CAT preparation.

Modern MathsAny other topic that does not feature in the above four categories, by default falls in modern maths.
Since long, CAT exam has been unpredictable with the number of questions from modern maths.
The topics under modern maths are permutation and combination, set theory, probability, binomial etc.
Permutation and combination has been the favourite topic among all.
Within permutation and combination, mostly the questions based on the concepts of fundamental principles of counting were asked.
Probability and set theory based questions occasionally appeared.
There is a steep decline in the number of questions from modern maths in recent CAT exam. Not more than 2 questions appear from this topic. The difficulty level too is not high.

Although the questions from permutation and combination have decreased to almost zero, the topic is very important for the logical reasoning section of CAT exam.
1-2 LRDI sets have frequently appeared in Logical reasoning section which is purely based on counting.
We recommend that the students be good at the concepts of fundamental principles of counting.
1-2 questions on set theory Venn diagram based maxima-minima questions have featured in recent CAT paper.
Like permutation and combination, concepts of maxima-minima on Venn diagram is very important for LRDI section also.

CAT Exam Pattern: Sectional Composition of CAT Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation

TopicTraditional PatternRecent Pattern
Data InterpretationTraditionally, Logical reasoning and data interpretation section in CAT exam was heavily biased towards pure data interpretation questions.
Data interpretation questions, mainly of table graph, bar graph, pie chart, line graph etc. appeared very frequently until CAT 2015.
The purpose of these questions was to assess the skills of calculation, approximation and data management.
Fundamental concepts of percentages, averages, and ratios are sufficient to solve most of these data interpretation sets.
As online Calculator was not allowed, aspirants had no other option but to learn calculation and approximation techniques to attempt the questions in stipulated time and get them correct.
We have seen a drastic change in the pattern and type of data interpretation questions in recent CAT papers.

Since online calculator is now made available, it is pointless to ask questions which demand calculations and approximation techniques.
Now, 50% of the LRDI section in CAT exam comprises of Data Interpretation sets (4 out of 8 sets).

In recent CAT, the data interpretation sets are heavily loaded with reasoning. Rarely do we see any questions which require direct application of mathematical formulas. Also, this section has done away with the need for heavy calculations.
To solve the recent DI questions, aspirants need to create another data matrix (table, graphs etc) from the conditions and data given in the DI sets. The conditions are usually intricate and indirect in nature. To solve them, we need to apply logical reasoning.

Logical ReasoningThe number and types of logical reasoning questions kept on fluctuating in past CAT exams. In most of the papers, Logical reasoning sets were easy to moderate, with few exceptions.
Logical Reasoning mainly comprised of question sets on data arrangement, matrix based, games and tournaments, mathematical reasoning, coding-decoding, blood relation, linear and circular seating arrangements etc.
Since CAT 2017, logical reasoning question sets have undergone a sea-change. CAT exam has done away with peculiar logical reasoning sets which can be solved by applying some simple reasoning in arranging the data as per the conditions.
The LR sets which started appearing in recent CAT exams are very intricate and lengthy in nature.
In past CAT exam, once the data of the reasoning sets was structured, we could solve all the 4-5 questions.
But, in recent CAT, many a time for each question we need to recreate the reasoning structures to arrive at the answers.If there is anything that has dramatically changed in recent CAT papers, both in terms of difficulty and pattern, then it is the logical reasoning and the data interpretation section.

The cat 2018 exam pattern was very similar to cat 17. The only difference, however, was the change in the difficulty level. The exam overall was perceived to be more difficult both by the test takers and by the training industry. The question paper is available here.

CAT 2018 Question paper PDF FREE Download

Important changes in the CAT 2018 exam pattern:

  1. The most remarkable change that we saw in CAT 2018 was the change in the difficulty level of the Quantitative Aptitude section. The level of difficulty of the QA section was on the lower side for the past four years, but this year things changed.
  2. The LRDI section too was not easy. Most of the questions were in the moderate to difficult category, taking the overall difficulty of the paper to a higher level
  3. There was a slight increase in the no of non-MCQ questions in the QA section of CAT 2018. While the QA section of CAT 2017 had just 10 non-MCQ questions, the QA section of CAT 2018 had 12 non-MCQ questions
  4. The CAT 2018 had more questions from arithmetic, questions that were both tough and calculation-intensive.
  5. The RC section had a slight structural change; instead of three long RCs having six questions each and two short RCs having three questions each, the section had four average lengths RCs having 5 questions each, and one RC having four questions.
  6. Another subtle change was there in the parajumbles questions. Instead of five sentences, the parajumbles of CAT 2018 had only four sentences that the students had to arrange to form a coherent paragraph.
  7. There was no change in the scoring pattern. Like the scoring pattern of CAT 2017, the scoring pattern of CAT 2018 had +3 marks for every right answer, and -1 marks for every wrong MCQ answer. The wrong answers for the non-MCQ carried no negative marking.
  8. The most important thing was that the basic calculator was available, just as it was available in CAT 2017
  9. Whereas the total no of non-MCQ questions in CAT 2017 was 26, the total no of non-MCQ questions in CAT 2018 was 27.

CAT Exam Pattern: FAQs

Question: What do high non-MCQ questions in CAT indicate?

Answer: The presence of a greater number of non-MCQ questions suggests that the shortcut tricks to arrive at the answers in QA and LRDI sections would no longer be easy to apply. The students would have to apply the concepts and then work out the right answers. It also means that the students will take a longer time to arrive at the answers and will have to be more confident before they enter the answers.

Question: Does the cat exam pattern remain fixed every year?

Answer: No, the CAT exam pattern does not remain fixed. Depending on which IIM is conducting the exam for that year, the pattern might change. You should wait for the notification, which is often released on the first Sunday of August every year, for any announcements pertaining to change in CAT exam pattern and structure.

Question: Can we take our own calculator during the exam?

Answer: No, you are not allowed to carry anything in your exam except your admit card and identity proof. We advise that you should not carry anything except these two things.

Question: Can we choose to decide the order of sections in cat exam?

Answer: No, as the per the recent CAT exam pattern, you are not allowed to choose the order of the sections. The VARC section is the first section that you have to answer, followed by Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation section, and finally by the Quantitative Ability section. There is a sectional time limit. After 60 minutes, the system will automatically navigate you to the next section.

Question: Is there a predefined number of questions from each topic in Quant section?

Answer: No, there is nothing pre-defined as far as the no of questions and topic is concerned. You should be well prepared in each and every area and should have gone through the past year papers to get a fair understanding of what is likely to come in the CAT exam.

Question: Can I switch between the section during the exam?

Answer: No, as explained in the third question, you cannot switch between the sections. Once the CAT paper starts, you will see the VARC section. After 60 minutes, the system will take you to the LRDI section, followed by the QA section in the end.

Question: Are the marking system for an MCQ and a non MCQ question different?

Answer: The marking scheme is the same, except for the negative marking. For every right answer, MCQ or non-MCQ, you will get +3 marks. But for wrong answers, the MCQ questions attract a penalty of -1 mark, while there is no such penalty for the non-MCQ questions.

Question: Which topics are important in the Quant section?

Answer: The most important topics in the quant section are: Arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry.

Question: Which topics are important in LRDI section?

Answer: Though there is no specific topic that we can point at, going by the previous year CAT papers, we can say that a student must be good in Set theory, Permutation and Combination, breaking of numbers, and finding the missing numbers from a set of mathematical and logical conditions.

Question: Can we ignore grammar and vocabulary for the CAT exam?

Answer: No, though in the recent CAT papers we haven’t seen many questions from grammar and vocabulary, we would always suggest that these questions might make a comeback and might be tested indirectly in the coming years. Moreover, questions from these two areas form a bulk of the VA section of such other exams as IIFT, SNAP and XAT. So, you should not ignore grammar and vocabulary for the CAT exam.

Question: What is the approximate length of RC passages in the CAT exam?

Answer: The approximate length of the RC passages in CAT exam is of 500-600 words. Occasionally, there might be passages of fewer than 400 words, having only three questions.

Question: What are the genres of RC passages in CAT exam?

Answer: In the pen-pencil days, the CAT pattern of the VARC section was quite different, with plenty of RC passages from philosophy and pure social sciences. In recent years, however, there has been a major shift in the genre of the RC passages. Now we come across more passages from science and technology and business and economics domain.

Question: Do I need to carry my own pen, pencil and rough sheet for cat exam?

Answer: No, there is no need to carry any of the above material. In the exam, you will be provided with all of the above stuff.

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