CAT vs GMAT vs GRE: Which MBA Admission Test Should You Take?

Doubtful man in front of a wall giving two directions

MBA? Well, then you are aware of the various tests out there for MBA applicants. From tests conducted by business schools themselves to tests by independent organizations used by a large group of business schools, the options are unlimited.

There are enough MBA entrance tests in India alone to create a list of the Top 20 MBA tests. That should paint a clear picture of the options that an MBA aspirant has to comb through. You can imagine how long and tedious this blog would be if we started listing the differences between every single test available right? Both for you and me.

So, let’s discuss the most popular tests from three categories; an all India MBA admission test: the CAT, a Globally accepted MBA admissions test: the GMAT, and finally a test for all graduate programs alike, the GRE.

Scope after the CAT Vs GMAT Vs GRE

The scope of an exam doesn’t only refer to the colleges one can apply to after taking it. It also refers to the various programs one can apply to, as well as any other pre-MBA or post-MBA benefits these tests carry.

Scope post-CAT

Although Indian business schools have chosen various entrance tests to admit applicants year after year, CAT remains a fan favorite with over 200 schools using the test to determine the aptitude of their applicants.

Most business schools in India accept multiple test scores, with CAT being a constant among the top 100 business schools. The top schools that accept CAT scores apart from the IIMs are IIT Delhi, IIT Mumbai, SPJIMR, and FMS. Indian School of Business, ranked the #2 Indian business school in Financial Times’ Business School Rankings 2020, also accepts the CAT but only for its Fellow Program in Management.

Another common fact to consider while taking the CAT is the cut-off percentile scores. Unlike the other tests in this blog, business schools that accept CAT generally have a cut-off percentile score. Thus, an applicant with a percentile score lower than the said cut-off is disqualified from the admissions process instantly.

While it is safe to assume that the cut-off score for admissions to the IIMs are some of the highest cut-off percentile scores in the country, here are the top 5 business schools, other than the IIMS, with the highest cut-off percentile score as of 2019.

Business School Cut-off Percentile as of 2019
Faculty of Management Studies 97-98
JBIMS Mumbai 95-97
Management Development Institute 94-95
International Management Institute 90-92
Institute of Management Technology 90-92

Scope post-GMAT

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) started as a standardized admissions test for merely 54 schools. It is now a test accepted by over 6000 courses at over 2100 institutions across 114+ countries.

GMAT scores are one of the first factors that a business school considers while evaluating an applicant’s profile, along with the GPA. Thus, a higher GMAT score does positively affect your chances at admissions and related scholarships.

As far as the list of schools that accept GMAT scores goes, a simpler way would be to look at the Financial Times Global MBA Rankings 2020. The top 100 schools around the globe, all accept GMAT scores.

As a matter of fact, a lot of top recruiting firms for MBA graduates, also ask for an applicant’s GMAT score while interviewing them for a job. These are generally consulting and investment banking giants like McKinsey.

Scope post-GRE

The GRE or the Graduate Record Examinations conducted by the Education Testing Services (ETS) was established as the entrance test for all major post-graduate institutions across the globe. The test enables the test taker to apply to different schools and distinct courses simultaneously.

While the GMAT was the gold standard in MBA admissions tests, in the past decade, the GRE has gained popularity amongst business schools and applicants alike. The simple reason is the flexibility of options that the test provides.

An applicant taking the GRE can apply to an MBA program, as well as any other graduate and doctoral programs they wish to try their hands at. It also helps the business schools widen their applicant pool. Although the GRE was only accepted at schools in the US and Canada, initially, it has now been incorporated as a standardized test for graduate school in most English-speaking countries.

The scope of the test in India, however, may be limited.

The following are the only few colleges in India that accept the GRE for admission to their masters or doctoral programs.

  • Aegis School of Business, Mumbai
  • Amrita School of Business, Bengaluru
  • Aryans Business School, Punjab
  • IIKM Business School, Mumbai
  • Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad
  • Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (EPGP)
  • Indian School of Business, Hyderabad
  • Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad
  • Lovely Professional University & MBA, Punjab
  • S P Jain School of Global Management
  • Woxen School of Business, Hyderabad
OMR Score sheet with Two pencils on the sheet

Format and Scoring CAT Vs GMAT Vs GRE

Although two of the tests we are discussing today are used for the sole purpose of admissions yet business schools, with the difference in geographic location, the format, and scoring on these tests have significant differences.

So much so that one can base their decision to take one of the tests over the other simply based on the difference in the format or score structure. That is a topic of discussion much later in the blog, but right now, let’s look at the format of the CAT, the GMAT, and the GRE and also how these tests are scored.

CAT Format and Scoring

Conducted by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), the Common Admission Test (CAT) is a computer-based entrance test. The exam is no longer conducted twice a year and allows test-takers to choose amongst only two slots; morning, and afternoon, on one given date in late November or early December.

While no official syllabus has been announced by the IIMs for the test, one can get a rough idea of the same through past year question papers. The exam consists of three main sections; Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension, Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning, and Quantitative Ability. And two kinds of questions; Type in the Answer Questions (TITA), and Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQ).

The concepts tested in each section are broadly:

Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension: Para-jumbles & para-summary, sentence completion, inferences, and RC based questions.

Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning: Seating Arrangement, Blood Relation, Syllogism, Tables, Graphs, and Data Caselets.

Quantitative Aptitude: Number System, Geometry, Algebra, Mensuration, and Time and Work.

There are three varieties of CAT scores, raw scores, and scaled scores and percentile scores. The raw score is the score received by a test-taker originally on the test. The IIM conducts the CAT in two slots, i.e. a morning slot and an afternoon slot. Since the difficulty level of both slots could differ, the scores of applicants are scaled in order to create comparability. The scaled score is often 10 points over or under your raw scores.

The percentile scores are comparative scores that inform the test-taker of the percentage of test-takers that have scored better than them. For example, if your percentile score is 67, 33% of test-takers have scored better than you on the CAT.

Overview of CAT Format and Scoring

Section Questions Time Score
Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension TITA: 7
MCQ: 27
Total: 34
60 minutes +3 for correct answers
-1 for incorrect answers
Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning TITA: 8
MCQ: 24
Total: 32
60 minutes +3 for correct answers
-1 for incorrect answers
Quantitative Ability TITA: 11
MCQ: 23
Total: 34
60 minutes +3 for correct answers
-1 for incorrect answers
Total TITA: 26
MCQ: 74
Total: 100
60 minutes +3 for correct answers
-1 for incorrect answers

Eligibility for the CAT

To be eligible to take the CAT exam, the applicants must fulfill the following criteria:

1. The applicant must have acquired their bachelor’s degree with an overall 50% score. The criterion is relaxed for Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe and Differently abled candidates, who only require an overall 45% score in their undergraduate education.

2. The bachelor’s degree must also be from an MHRD recognized university or universities consolidated by an act of the central or a state statutory body of India or other instructive organizations formed by an act of Parliament or pronounced to be considered as a university under Section 3 of the UGC Act, 1956

GMAT Format and Scoring

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) has endured several changes during the years to make a more accurate prediction of an applicant’s chances of performing well, academically, at an MBA program.

The most recent change to GMAT's exam structure was made in 2016 when the total time of the test was cut down by 30 minutes (from 4 hours to 3.5 hours) and the rarely available paper-based GMAT was scrapped. The most significant change, however, was the introduction of the Integrated Reasoning section in 2012.

The scaled score range within which a test-taker can score on the GMAT is 200-800.

The format of the test is as follows:

1. Verbal: The GMAT Verbal is one of the two most important sections on the GMAT as its score is added to the composite score of 200-800 on the test. It is also one of the two sections on the GMAT that is Computer Adaptative. The Verbal section comprises questions divided into three main categories; Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, and Sentence Correction.

2. Quant: The second section that makes up the composites score of 200-800 on the GMAT is the Quant section. it is also Computer Adaptative like the Verbal section on the GMAT. The questions on GMAT Quant are divided into two categories and tests the analytical skills of the test-taker more than their knowledge of the concept; Problem-solving, and Data sufficiency.

3. AWA: The GMAT AWA question provides the student with an author’s statement and asks them to elaborate on the same but not by presenting their own opinion. Instead, they are asked to understand the statement that the author made and do an analysis of the same. Students need to poke holes in the author's opinion by pointing out the weak arguments or facts and provide options for improvement on the same.

4. IR: The Integrated Reasoning section was added to the format of the GMAT in 2012. It was added to decipher the data analyzing capabilities of each candidate and have a standard to measure them against one another. The four types of questions in this section are; Graphics interpretation, Table analysis, Multi-source reasoning, and 2-part analysis.

The GMAT is a Computer Adaptative Test (CAT), i.e. the level of difficulty of a question is determined by the test taker's response to the question before it. Thus, if you answer a question wrong, the next question presented to you will be of a lower difficulty level. This makes the test highly dynamic.

Section Questions Time Score
Quant 31 62 minutes 6-51
1-point increment
Verbal 36 65 minutes 6-51
1-point increment
IR 12 30 minutes 1-8
1-point increment
AWA 1 30 minutes 0-6
0.5-point increment

Eligibility for the GMAT

The GMAT exam only has one eligibility criteria that the candidate must be over 18 years of age.

In case the candidate does not meet this criterion (i.e. they are between 13-17 years of age), they can still take the test by providing written proof of consent by a legal guardian.

GRE Format and Scoring

If you’ve understood the format for the previous two tests, you already know the format of the GRE in brief. The GRE consists of three main sections; Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA).

Verbal Reasoning: The Verbal Reasoning section tests applicants on their skill of analyzing, concluding and summarizing passages and excerpts. It also tests the test takers’ vocabulary indirectly. The questions in this section are divided into roughly three; Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalation.

Quantitative Reasoning: The concepts tested on the Quantitative Reasoning section are from the four major topics; Arithmetic, Algebra, Data Analysis, and Geometry. It tests all concepts from these topics. The concepts that the GRE Quant is not interested in, i.e. does not test, is infernal statistics from Data Analysis, and the construction proofs in Geometry.

Analytical Writing Assessment: The AWA provides test-takers with a statement or an opinion and then poses the question. The two question types in this essay are; Analyze the Argument, and Analyze the Issue.

The GRE also contains an experimental, or unscored section. This isn’t a separate section instead is randomly placed amongst the existing sections. This means that a question on Verbal Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning could either be scored or unscored. But since you don’t know the difference, you can’t make the choice to simply not answer it.

The GRE is a Computer Adaptative Test (CAT). However, unlike the GMAT, the CAT methodology isn’t applicable to each question of the test. Instead, the methodology comes into action only after an applicant has completed a full section.

The GRE also has raw, scaled, and percentile scoring.

Overview of GRE Format and Scoring

Section Questions Time Score
Verbal Reasoning 20 65 minutes 130-170
1-point increment
Quantitative Reasoning 20 65 minutes 130-170
1-point increment
Analytical Writing Assessment 2 60 minutes 0-6
0.5-point increment
Unscored 20 35 minutes -
Composite 62 3 hour 45 minutes 260-340

Eligibility for the GRE

ETS has not set any eligibility criteria for applicants to take the GRE.

Factors to consider when choosing a test

Knowing the details about the tests, that have been mentioned above, might have helped you shortlist from three exams to two.

In case you don’t wish to apply to business schools abroad, you could simply decide between the CAT, or the GMAT since the GRE isn’t a prevalent method of admissions testing in India. If you wish to go to a business school abroad, the GRE or the GMAT are the options available to you since the CAT is not a valid mode of entrance test abroad.

But choosing between these entrance tests isn’t quite as easy as deciding the geographical location of your business school. This is why I want to list many more factors, that I believe every MBA applicant needs to consider before deciding on which one of these tests to take.

Quantitative Aptitude

The CAT takes the cake when it comes to testing the Quantitative ability of the test-taker. Of the three tests, we’re discussing in this blog, CAT tests applicants on the most complex, and advanced concepts.

The GMAT is the second hardest in Quantitative ability but not because of the complexity of the concepts it tests, rather due to the tricky formation of questions. GMAT’s difficulty comes from a mix of a tricky question, Computer Adaptative Testing, and the need for time management on the test.

Although the GRE is comparatively the easiest while testing the Quantitative abilities of an applicant, do not simply choose it for that.

Verbal Aptitude

If you find the Verbal section of tests, or English, difficult, you might want to stay clear of the GRE. The GRE and the CAT both test the vocabulary of the test-taker, the GRE has a much more challenging lexis.

On the other hand, the GMAT, although quite difficult, doesn’t test the test-taker on their vocabulary. In fact, the test has a defined set of rules and follows them to a T.

Thus, if you have a good command on the English language, vocabulary as well as grammar, taking the GRE might produce the best results for you.

Target Business Schools

This is the most important point. While most schools have started accepting both the GMAT and the GRE for the purposes of MBA admissions, you should always check school policies to be sure. In addition, if you’re choosing an Indian school, they might not be open to accepting anything except the CAT.

If you have any particular business school that you have your heart set on, make sure you check which test they accept.

Target Courses

As you must have understood by now, the CAT and the GMAT are purely meant for business school applications. Whereas, the GRE keeps your door open for applications to almost every postgraduate course available across the globe.

If you aren’t sure about which postgraduate course is the right choice for you, or just want to weigh your options once you have all the admits, take the GRE.

If you know for sure that an MBA is the way to go for your career, take the GMAT or the CAT. They will also help you show off your Quant skills to the admission committee.

Test Fee

The application fee for the GRE and the GMAT are pretty similar. However, the fee for the CAT is substantially low in comparison to the aforementioned tests.

Test Fee
CAT Rs. 2000 (for General)
Rs. 1000 (for SC/ST)
GMAT $250
GRE $205

The fee for registration for the GMAT and the GRE is almost 7-10 times the registration fee of the CAT.

However, an applicant from a weak financial background can apply to various schools for a fee waiver for both the GMAT and the GRE. The only drawback is that the waiver would not apply to any re-tests taken by the applicant.

Validity of Score

Let me start by telling you why a longer validity of score is important. Many Indian applicants apply to business schools right out of undergraduate school. While some might get in, most get rejected or deferred. In case of deferment, you have basically been accepted but with a condition and thus won’t need to fulfill the application process again.

In case you got rejected by a school, you would either apply the coming year or start working and apply in a few years when you have added work experience to your resume. With a shorter score-validity span, you would be required to take an entrance test all over again when you apply to business schools in the next round.

Test Score Validity (in years)
CAT 1
GMAT 5
GRE 5

With CAT, if you don’t get into a business school in the same cycle you took your test in, you would have to take the test again next year. Whereas, you can re-use your top scores for up to 5 years since taking the test.

While these tests seem similar, they have consequential differences that could make you regret choosing one test over the other. The key to choosing the test for yourself is to figure out which tests are valid at your chosen business schools and which one of those you would perform the best at.

If you wish, you can obviously take as many of these tests as you want to. The power of choice is yours.

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