Howz XAT!

With CAT out of the way now we need to shift our focus to the second most important MBA entrance – Xavier’s Aptitude Test. Many good B schools outside the Xavier family, like TAPMI, IMT, MICA, KJ Somaiyya, etc., accept both CAT and XAT scores for admission to their MBA programs and the students who did not do well in CAT can hope for an improved performance in XAT for a realistic chance in these and many other B schools.

While many people tend to describe XAT as CAT + Decision Making, it is not an accurate representation of the paper because:

  1. CAT is Quantitative Aptitude and Mathematical Reasoning heavy paper, but XAT tilts the balance in the direction of Language skills. In CAT 2/3rd of the questions test mathematical skills through QA and DILR but in XAT these would be around 40%.
  2. In the Verbal Ability section, vocabulary & grammar constitute about 25% of the questions, these are missing in CAT, also in XAT Para Jumble questions have choices.
  3. The third section, Decision Making, also involves a lot of reading and good comprehension skills are important to do well in this section.
  4. There are no TITA questions.
  5. XAT gives 165 minutes for approximately 75 questions hence, unlike CAT you do not need to rush and can comfortably complete the paper.
  6. There are no sectional time limits in XAT and a candidate can not only decide how much time he/she would spend in a section but also the sequence in which to attempt the sections.
  7. XAT has a GK section which is missing in CAT.

Structure of XAT

In the last few years, the structure of XAT has changed almost every year but last year the structure was the same as the previous year and therefore, it is expected to remain the same this year.  To understand this paper let us have a look at the XAT 2010-20 papers, ignoring the XAT 2011 paper which was an experiment gone wrong. XAT can be broken into two parts:

  1. Aptitude: comprising QADI, Verbal & Logical Ability and Decision Making
  2. General Knowledge (GK): reintroduced in XAT 2013 and is evaluated only at the time of the interview

Traditionally, XAT has been a difficult paper and even the toppers could typically attempt less than half of the 90-100 question in 120 minute allocated for the aptitude paper. To ensure that students are able to attempt a larger number of questions XAT has over the last few years reduced the number of questions, reduced the level of difficulty of QADI and increased the time for the paper from 120 to 165 minutes.

  • XAT 2013 increased the time for Aptitude Section to 140 minutes and gave an additional 40 minutes for the 30 GK questions and the Essay.
  • XAT 2014 again had a minor change in the structure of the paper with 150 minutes for the combined Aptitude and GK section and an additional 20 minutes for the Essay.
  • XAT 2015 made it 140 minutes for the aptitude section and 30 minutes for the GK and Essay.
  • XAT 2016 further increased the time for aptitude section to 170 minutes and gave 35 minutes for GK and Essay. This structure is being followed in XAT 2017 also.
  • XAT 2017 – 2021 showed a steady decline in level of difficulty of the QADI section. As of now, one can say that the LOD of XAT’s QADI is similar to that of CAT’s QA section.

While the XAT Website  clearly mentions that XAT is a 3 hour paper, the website has not as yet shared the details of the test. However it is expected that the 180 minutes of XAT 2021will be bifurcated as:

  1. 165 minutes for approximately 75 questions of Part I – Aptitude portion comprising:
    1. 26 questions of  Verbal & Logical Ability
    2. 21 questions of Decision Making.
    3. 28 questions of QADI.
  1. 15 minutes for Part II – 25 GK questions

XAT Negative Marking

In the past, XAT has experimented with differential negative marking, but in the last 3 years, it has stuck to a 25% negative marking for incorrect answers. In XAT 2016 negative marking of 0.05 marks for the unattempted questions was also introduced.

In XAT 2017 candidates leaving up to 12 questions unattempted were not penalized but unattempted questions beyond 12 did carry the negative mark of 0.05.

In XAT 2020 and XAT 2021, candidates leaving up to 8 questions were not penalized. But unattempted questions beyond 8 questions carried negative marking of 0.10 marks. Thus if out of the 75 questions of Part I, a student attempted 51 questions then the negative marking for unattempted questions was (24-8) x 0.10 = 1.60 marks. These -1.6 marks were divided among the three sections in proportion to the number of unattempted questions.

Impact of penalty for unattempted questions:XAT believes that negative marking for unattempted questions will encourage students to take risks and not play safe. I disagree with this assessment of XAT because the penalty for unattempted questions is very low.

The penalty for not attempting questions is 0.10 but that of an incorrect attempt is 0.25 hence you are better off not attempting questions that you are not sure of because an incorrect answer has a heavier penalty. My suggestion is to ignore this negative marking for unattempted questions and not to change the way you take a test.

Part 1: Aptitude – 165 minutes 

Since 2016, the aptitude portion of XAT has had about 75 questions on English, Quantitative Aptitude & Data interpretation and Decision Making. The sectional break-up in the last few papers and the estimate for 2021 is given below:

No of Questions
Section 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017
Verbal and Logical Ability 26* 26 26 26 26 24
Decision Making 21* 21 21 21 21 21
Quantitative Ability 28* 28 28 27 27 27
Total 75 75 75 74 74 72
General Knowledge 25 25 25 25 25 25

Time allocation: The total time available for XAT 2021 also was 180 minutes in which a good time allocation: was 55 minutes to Verbal & Logical Ability, 45 minutes to Decision making a 65 minutes to Quantitative Ability. Here are the three suggested time-division strategies for XAT 2021.

Test Division Strategy #1

Neutral Strategy

  • Give equal time to all sections
  • Can adjust the time division later
Section Qs Time Spent
Verbal and Logical Ability 26 55 mins
Decision Making 21 55 mins
Quantitative Ability 28 55 mins
Total 75 165 mins


Time Division Strategy #2

If QA is your area of strength

  • DM can be done in 45 mins
  • Spend 65 mins on QA
Section 2021 Time Spent
Verbal and Logical Ability 26 55 mins
Decision Making 21 45 mins
Quantitative Ability 28 65 mins
Total 75 165 mins

Time Division Strategy #3

If V&LA is your area of strength

  • DM can be done in 45 mins
  • Spend 65 mins on V&LA
Section 2021 Time Spent
Verbal and Logical Ability 26 65 mins
Decision Making 21 45 mins
Quantitative Ability 28 55 mins
Total 75 165 mins


XAT Section-wise Strategy

XAT Verbal and Logical Ability

This is possibly the most difficult English section that you would see in any Indian MBA entrance test essentially due to the Reading Comprehension passages and Critical Reasoning questions. About 50-55% of the questions are from Reading Comprehension and the remaining questions in this section consist are from Critical Reasoning, Para Jumbles, Sentence Completion (multiple blanks), Sentence Correction and Vocabulary. While the RC passages in XAT are not lengthy (300 – 400 words), they are usually difficult to read and about half of the RC questions are inferential.

In this section it is advisable to first attempt Para Jumbles, Sentence Completion, Cloze test, Sentence Correction and Vocabulary before moving on to the difficult and time-consuming question types – Critical Reasoning and RC. You can expect an equal number of inferential and specific detail questions. In RC you should focus on understanding the passages and then answering the questions. The technique of checking the question and them skimming the passage is likely to be a disaster in XAT.

Out of the 26 questions in this section, you should target attempting 16-18 questions. If this section is your strength area, then you can target around 22 attempts. However, do not attempt for the sake of attempting, if you are not sure of the answer then leaving the question is the right approach, especially in Inferential RC, Critical Reasoning and Sentence Correction questions.

The Verbal & Logical Ability sectional cutoff is usually 7-8 marks and hence 10 is a safe score in this section, however a score more than 15 is not difficult if you are good in RC and CR.

XAT Decision Making

This section is unique to XAT. It consists of Behavioral and Mathematical decision making questions. The behavioral questions typically give data in the form of a passage in which a situation is described. The protagonist in the passage typically has a dilemma and needs to take a decision. In the questions that follow, you must suggest the right course of action to be taken by the protagonist.

The questions might even check your understanding of the decision. Decision Making is often incorrectly considered as an extension of Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning. However, it is different because from these two question types because here you are expected to arrive at a decision (course of action or the way forward) based on objective criteria that may or may not be mentioned in the passage or the questions.

The best way of solving Decision Making questions is to eliminate choices based on the parameters of fairnesslegality, and the desired end result. It is extremely important that you be completely objective and do not let your personal biases influence the decision.

DM 1000 is a good program to quickly make the most of the remaining time and become a master at the XAT decision making section. It comprises over 30 videos by Gejo and me, which will take you through various aspects of solving DM questions.

There is a certain amount of subjectivity in these questions and a 100% accuracy is not possible but if you have read the case and the questions carefully and are objective then 80-85% accuracy is not difficult. There would also be a couple of questions that you will need to leave as none of the choices would seem correct.

The mathematical decision making questions are easy to handle if you consider them as DI sets or mathematical reasoning sets. These are, however, time consuming (mostly) and should be attempted after the behavioral questions. Till a couple of years ago it was advisable not to spend too much time on these but with 180 minutes for the paper and the lower level of difficulty, these too should be attempted. However XAT 2020 and XAT 2021 did not have any question mathematical reasoning.

In the 45 minutes that you devote to this section you should target attempting about 16-18 questions out of 20-22 questions. Here too it is advisable to leave the questions where you are confused or are unable to arrive at a decision based on objective criteria or if you are unable to decide on the criteria itself.

Like the Verbal section, the Decision Making sectional cutoff is also 7-8 marks and 10 is a safe score for clearing the cutoff. This to my mind is a scoring section and one should target a score more than 15.

XAT Quantitative Ability

The level of difficulty of the QADI section in XAT has reduced over the years and now it is almost the same as that of CAT. Questions appear from all areas of QA – Arithmetic, Number System, Algebra, and Geometry. Topics like Base System and Mathematical Reasoning that were once the mainstay of this section now contribute to not more than a couple of questions.

For practice, use your CAT material and focus on Level 1 and 2 questions. You need not worry about Level 3 or difficult questions. You could also use the sectional tests in Test Gym to get a good feel of what each section is like.

This section also has 1-2 DI with about 5-6 questions, the DI sets are usually simple and do not create any problems in terms of understanding or solving. However, you could end up leaving a couple of questions due to high calculation intensity or due to ambiguity of data.

Till XAT 2015 around half the questions in this section were attempt-able but with reduced level of difficulty from XAT 2016 onwards, those who were strong in QADI could attempt around 20 out of 27-29 QADI questions.  Average students in QADI could also attempt 12-14 questions. I expect QADI in XAT 2022 to have the same level of difficulty as XAT 2018-21. The 2-round approach and SQC techniques will work here. Check this out in the past XAT papers which are given in your Aspiration accounts.

Given the reduction in the level of difficulty of the paper and the fact that one has 1 hour for the section, the cut-off can be 11-12 marks and one should target at least 12 marks in this section, those good in QA can target upto 20 marks.

Part 2: General Knowledge – 15 minutes

General Knowledge (25 questions)

Though the General Awareness section will not be included in determining the percentiles and the cut off in the first stage of the selection process, it still is paramount. Your account has sufficient resources for this section. The GK compendiums & question banks, GK videos of IIFT/SNAP/XAT, Gyandhara etc. are sufficient preparation to get a decent score. A very low score in this section could eliminate you from the final list of XLRI, so do not ignore GK. As usual, do not waste time on any question, if in doubt, leave and move on to the next question. To ensure a good chance of final selection in XLRI target a score of at least 5 marks.

Sectional vs. Overall Cutoffs

The score in Aptitude is used by all the institutes for shortlisting the candidates for the 2nd stage. While XLRI and XIMB have sectional and total cutoffs, almost all other institutes using XAT score for shortlisting students for their MBA program do it on the basis of the total XAT score only.

To clear the sectional and overall cut-off for XLRI BM (95%ile) one should target a double-digit score in each section and an overall score of 32. The target should be an overall score of over 35 marks. In XAT an overall score of 35 is typically around 97.5%ile while an overall score of 40 is over 99%ile.

For a final conversion one should preferably have a score of over 97%ile (35-36) because XAT score typically has a 65% weight in the final score. The components of the balance 35% are usually 5% for work experience, 10% each for GD and Interview and 10% for Academics, and GK. These however can change.

Percentiles are calculated only based on the three sections of Aptitude (QADI, VLA and DM). While XLRI shortlists students based on their percentile scores in the aptitude section only but usually candidates with a very low GK score usually do not make it to the final list of XLRI.

GK scores are considered only by XLRI and that too at the interview stage. Other XAT institutes ignore (or do not have) the GK scores and short list candidates for the interview only based on the aptitude percentile score only.

If XLRI is not your target institute, then you should look at maximizing your overall score without worrying too much about the sectional scores. Spend more time in the section you are good at as it will help you increase your overall score but do spend some time in the other sections as well to ensure that you do not miss out on their easy questions.

How to Prepare

Familiarity with the question types is extremely important for doing well in any MBA entrance test and hence along with XAT Mocks, practicing the past XAT papers is essential for cracking the paper. Old XAT papers are available in your account along with the solutions.

XAT 2017-2021 papers should be taken like a Mock on while the earlier papers can be attempted as sectional tests. However, some of the old XAT papers are either not relevant at all and for some a specific section should be avoided.

XAT 2011 was an experiment gone wrong and can be avoided completely and XAT 2020 paper has such atrocious answers in Verbal Ability and Decision Making sections that XAT has not even released the paper on website for practice, only XAT 2016 – 2019 papers are available.

  1. For Verbal Ability and Decision Making section XAT papers from 2008 to 2019 except 2011 should be attempted
  2. For Quantitative Aptitude, XAT 2017 to 2021 papers are a must, from XAT 2012 to 2015 papers you can selectively practice the questions that are of the right topic and level of difficulty, the pre 2012 papers can be ignored since these are extremely difficult and such questions are unlikely now.

Solve one paper every 3-4 days starting with XAT 2017 and go forward till XAT 2021 under test conditions as it will help you work out your strategy for the paper. In between two XAT papers go through the Verbal and DM sections of the older XAT papers. As mentioned earlier do not worry about XAT 2011 paper which, was a botched-up experiment.

Taking a good number of XAT mocks is a must since it will put you in a good stead before the actual exam. Taking about 5 mocks will be more than sufficient to form a strategy. Going for CL’s XAT Test Series would be a good way to get the exam practice. Those of you looking for specific classes oriented to XAT to prepare yourself in the topics that differ in CAT and be better equipped to handle questions of a higher LOD, than CTA, should look at CL’s XAT Online Classes

The last word about XAT 2021

Selection of questions is the key to doing well in this paper. It has both sitters and speed- breakers. With low cut offs, it is your ability to sift out the sitters is usually the difference between getting and not getting a call. Question selection is more important in XAT than in other papers.

The cut off for the last three XAT papers for XLRI, given below, should convince you to focus on accuracy and not on attempts. The percentile cut-offs for XLRI are:

BM: Verbal 80%ile, DM 80%ile, QA 90%ile and Overall 95%ile

HRM: Verbal 90%ile, DM 80%ile, QA 70%ile, and Overall 95%ile

The cut off for XIMB BM is typically the same as that of XLRI BM but that of other top institutes is typically a couple of marks less.

Estimated Cutoffs and Target Score

Section 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
Verbal & Logical Ability 6.5* 6* 2.6* 3.38* 8 8.75 7.2 7.71 7 7.5 7 7.5
Decision Making 7* 6.6* 5.9* 5.6* 9 8.5 8.43 7.99 8.5 8 7.5 7
Quantitative Ability 11.5* 11.5* 7.8* 5.94* 11.5 6.5 11.31 6.68 8.5 7 8.5 7
Total Aptitude 34* 32* 21.46 20 31.5 30 29.6 27.75 35 32.5 31 28

All the best