“Should I write CAT or GMAT?” is a question that bugs several students aspiring to be managers. I have been asked this question innumerable times over the past decade. I would be discussing GMAT vs CAT  in this article and the parameters, a student should consider before taking the final decision. Two parameters that I will be discussing in depth are: GMAT vs CAT on the basis of the aspirant’s wish to study in India or Abroad and GMAT vs CAT on the basis of work experience of the aspirant.

About CAT:

Common Admission Test or CAT is a ticket to the MBA colleges in India. It is conducted by the prestigious IIMs for admission into their management courses. CAT result is also accepted by 200+ B-Schools in India. In the international landscape, CAT result is accepted by few international B-Schools, namely, HEC Paris, ESCP Europe, Emlyon Business School etc. thus, the international attractiveness for CAT is low. But the fact that all the IIMs, exclusively, consider only CAT score is enough to make the exam ‘a must’ for any aspirant wishing to do an MBA within the country. Note that the CAT score is valid only for a year

About GMAT:

Graduate Management Admission Test or GMAT on the other hand, is an exam, that almost all the international B-Schools (outside India) consider as a part of their admission process. Even within India, few top B-Schools consider the GMAT score (although most of Indian B-Schools may accept GMAT score for their executive programs, but more on that later!). GMAT score is valid up to 5 years.

A student’s decision on CAT or GMAT depends on whether a student is willing to go abroad for MBA. If the answer to this question is a ‘no’, then obviously, GMAT has little use (ISB is a great option in India, will discuss more later in this article) for such a student, and CAT should become the primary focus. And if a student wants to pursue MBA only from colleges abroad, then GMAT obviously is the only choice.

Now that there is a basic understanding, let us develop a framework to come up to the final decision. I will begin by classifying the student into categories as, my advice throughout this article will be according to the student categories. For this article, I will divide the students into 3 categories based on work experience –

  • 0-2 years’ work-ex
  • 2-5 years’ work-ex
  • >5 years’ work-ex

I will also focus on GMAT score use mostly in the article as a CAT scores have only a single use – to get into the 2-year flagship program of some of the top B-Schools in our country.

0-2 years’ work-ex (Category 1)

I will include the prefinal and final year students in this category. If a student in this category decides to do an MBA, and is open to both abroad and in India, then the below possibilities exist –

GMAT score use abroad: based on the work experience, the student will not be suitable for most of the MBA colleges abroad. The best course recommended abroad at this juncture for a student is the MiM course. It is tailor made for students with little or no work experience. The students at this level will relate a lot more to the MiM courses over MBA courses and are more likely to extract the maximum value from MiM over MBA courses abroad. I highly recommend students of this category to not worry about MBA but focus on MiM programs abroad. You can read more about MiM programs here – http://www.careerlauncher.com/gmat/mim-vs-mba/

If you are more technically oriented and like to have a mix of management and engineering, there are courses called MEM that blend these two together. You can read more about Masters’ of Engineering Management here –


GMAT score use in India: students of this category can use GMAT score only in few Indian colleges for respective 2-year flagship MBA programs. While there might be other colleges accepting GMAT scores in India for their MBA program, I am sticking only to the top 20 colleges that accept the score for the comments below

There are only 2 colleges in the top 20 that accept GMAT scores as a part of their admission process into their 2-year flagship MBA programs. These are –

ISB – Indian School of Business accepts only GMAT scores for all its programs. It is positioning itself as an international B-School offering 1-year MBA programs. ISB has a minimum work-ex requirement of 2 years for students to get admitted into the course. However, it has processes such as YLP and EEO (for students who are in college or working but have less than requisite work-ex respectively) that enable all students in this category to apply. You can read more about these programs here –



SPJIMR – SP Jain Institute of Management & Research accepts GMAT score on par with CAT scores. However, students usually tend to write CAT over GMAT due to the cost difference in the exam. But if you think that GMAT is more suitable to you, you can apply to this college using your GMAT score too!

2-5 years’ work-ex (category 2)

Students of this category will have mixed options now that MBA from colleges abroad is also suitable for them. Unless you decide not to go abroad (also ISB is not in your consideration set in which case CAT is and other Indian exams are options left) or decide to pursue MBA abroad (in which case GMAT is the option), you should focus primarily on CAT but also give GMAT a shot. The reasons for this is –

  • Preparing for CAT is much more rigorous than your standalone preparation for GMAT thereby making parallel preparation for GMAT easier
  • Students above 4 years of work-ex can use GMAT scores to apply to executive programs from some of the top colleges in India (like the IIMs, XLRI etc.)
  • Value addition for longer work-ex students from MBA courses abroad will be higher than that of courses in the country. Typically, 4 years point is where the CAT becomes the secondary preference and GMAT takes the first spot

You can read more about GMAT in India and abroad here –


>5 years’ work-ex (category 3)

Clearly for this group of students, GMAT will be the only way out. CAT will become unsuitable for the students as most of the Indian colleges will not add great value for students with such work-experiences compared with MBA options abroad

Students of this category can also seriously consider 1-year executive MBA programs within the country (GMAT maybe required)

GMAT vs CAT : Exam comparison

Now that we have a basic understanding on who should go for which exam and at what point of their career, let us focus on the comparison on the exams themselves.

As someone who has taught for both CAT and GMAT and who has given both the exams, I can say that overall, CAT is difficult over GMAT.

Get an understanding of the GMAT exam by reading about GMAT exam pattern here – http://www.careerlauncher.com/gmat/changes-gmat-2018/ and you can compare it with the CAT exam pattern given here – http://www.careerlauncher.com/cat/slot2-analysis-cutoff/ (this is CAT 2017 slot 2 analysis)

A concise summing up of GMAT vs CAT :

No. of Sections 3 (VA, DI/LR, QA) 4 (QR, VR, IR, AWA)
Duration 3 hours (one hour each section) 3 hours 7 min (AWA 30min, IR 30 min, QR 62 min, VR 65 min)
Max. & sectional marks 300 (102 VA, 96 DILR, 102 QA) QR+VR together is for 800. AWA is separately rated on a scale of 0-6 and IR is rated on a scale of 1-8
Questions per section 34 in VA, 32 in DILR, 34 in QA 1 AWA, 12 IR, 31 QR, 36 VR
Score validity 1 year only 5 years
Cost 1600/- (general category) $250 (all categories)
Exam Date Usually November every year in two slots Conducted every day in multiple centers across the country
Nature of Exam Computer based delivery Computer based by adaptive nature of questions


Comparison of Quant

If you are preparing for CAT, then the Quantitative ability of CAT will easily surpass the requirement of GMAT Quant. Theory of CAT Quant is much more than GMAT Quant. You will only need to spend time on the question format of GMAT. The only additional part needed is to practice data sufficiency type questions in GMAT (DS usually does not come in CAT so lesser focus in CAT preparation)

For a student preparing for CAT, I would say a total of 1 month of extra preparation is needed to master GMAT Quant – mainly for the Data Sufficiency part and practicing GMAT type questions

Comparison of English

CAT Verbal on the other hand, is a notch below that of GMAT. CAT (since 2015 to the time of writing this article in 2018) has been extensively testing students on RC (Reading Comprehension). 24 out of the 34 questions in CAT VA are from RC and the rest are for para-jumble, para completion etc. GMAT VR on the other hand has more or less equally distributed RC, SC (sentence correction) and CR (Critical Reasoning)

The CAT RC will need a couple of weeks’ extra preparation to match the GMAT RC requirement; the CAT grammar preparation will need 2-3 weeks extra preparation to make a student ready for GMAT grammar (Sentence Correction). Critical Reasoning on the other had is not very well addressed in CAT preparation and as such will need a whole month of preparation. In effect, I suggest a student spend 30 days (at least) to transition from CAT to GMAT (assuming parallel preparation).

Comparison of LR/DI

CAT has a complete section called DI/LR as a part of the CAT exam and the score is a part of the overall CAT score. GMAT however has a section called IR (integrated reasoning) and this section’s score is NOT a part of the GMAT final score because of which students tend not to take this section as seriously as the English and Quant sections.

Comparatively, CAT’s DI/LR is easily a few notches above the IR section of GMAT. In fact, the last three years of CAT’s DI/LR section had students in tears. This section of CAT tests a student’s understanding of tables, various graphs, logical puzzles, data analysis etc. There is no syllabus as such for this (although, most institutes like CL, based on years of analysis have designed course structure that encompasses most of the type of questions) and a question can come in any format (entirely new or well known). IR of GMAT on the other hand is well balanced and has questions from 4 well defined areas and no surprises as such. Preparing for IR in GMAT therefore becomes much easier than for DI/LR in CAT.

GMAT  vs CAT: Summing it all up

In conclusion, the decision to write GMAT or CAT will depend on –

  • What is your MBA destination? (India or Abroad)
  • How much of work-ex do you have (which of the categories mentioned above do you fall)

If you notice, not more than 4-5 colleges accept both GMAT and CAT score. So, the comparison of the exams is of little consequence (since comparison comes if you can choose which exam to write given both scores can be used to apply to the same college)


Srinivas Akkapeddi

Associate Vice-President

Graduation: IIT Dhanbad 2007 batch

P.G: IIM Indore 2010 batch