Preparation Plan for CAT 2020 – Part I


          –  ARKS Srinivas, CEO – MBA Group, Career Launcher

With about 180 days to CAT 2020 (CAT is expected to be on 29th November 2020), it is probably the right time to decide on taking CAT/doing an MBA and preparing for CAT to enter into the most coveted management institutes in the country.

This article helps one to understand the challenges of preparing and writing the CAT exam as well as gives a detailed view of how one should go about preparing for the exam.

To begin with, let’s start with the most important question that students ask!

Is there enough time to prepare for CAT 2020 or are we already late?

Except for a dedicated few, hardly any student is in any full-fledged preparation for CAT. That is the truth!

However, come June and everyone slowly gets out of the lumber.

Students who are either in their pre-final year or graduating this year (Covid has postponed many exams!), students who have written CAT in 2019 but were not able to make it to their dream institute, people with work-experience but lost their jobs because of covid, or who find their job stagnating (or would be stagnating) and are looking for growth/change in fields, are all going to be eyeing for the CAT this November and other assorted Management Exams (XAT, NMAT, SNAP, IIFT, TISSNET etc)

Hence, if anything, this is the right time to start preparing and hence emphatically there is more than enough time to prepare and score a percentile good enough to get into the best Bschools in the country.

How many hours per day one needs to prepare for CAT?

There is no right answer for this question. However, the time required for preparing for the exam should be gradually increased from say around 15 to 18 hours per week in June & July to about 25 to 30 hours in October & November.

For the next two months (June and July), Depending on the state of preparedness, the number of hours per week can range from 14 hours to 20 hours per week.

If one has prepared and written the CAT exam previously, then about 10 to 12 hours per week may be sufficient.

However, if one is starting the prep for CAT now, then 16 to 20 hours per week may be required to be ready for the exam. Mind you, this is just about 10% of the total hours available (168) in a week!

But, before one starts prepping for the CAT (or any MBA entrance exam), it is imperative to understand the exam and what marks/percentiles are required to get into an IIM or other institutes. The CAT pattern has remained same for the last four years (CAT 2016, CAT 2017, CAT 2018 and CAT2019).

CAT 2019 revisited

The CAT 2019 paper, held on 24th November 2019, had Three sections. The exact pattern of the paper is reproduced below.

Section Area No of Qns Marks in Section Time Limit
Section I Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension (VARC) 34 102 60
Section II Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning (DILR) 32 96 60
Section III Quantitative Ability (QA) 34 102 60
Total   100 300 180


The student could attempt only one section at a time in the above given order. Once the student had finished one section, there was no provision to go back to that section again.

Each section consisted of Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) as well as non-Multiple Choice Questions (non-MCQs).  Also, There were Negative marks (-1) for wrong answers for MCQ questions. For Non-MCQ questions, there were No negative marks

Understanding Percentile

You keep hearing from people that someone got a 100%ile or a 99 %ile or an 80%ile!

What exactly does a percentile mean?

A percentile is calculated as the Percentage of people below your mark in a particular exam.

For example, if in an exam, there are 100 students writing the same, and one gets a FIRST Rank (mind you, it is NOT the full marks, only the first rank with whatever marks compared to the rest of the students), then there would be 99 students below this student. 99 students out of 100 (meaning 99% of students) are below the student and hence the student will get 99%ile in that exam.

In the same exam, if someone gets a 10th Rank, then the percentile would be 90%ile (as 90% of the students would have a got a mark lower than this student).

An illustration of how a percentile is calculated is given below!

CAT 2019 was written by about 2,00,000 students. To be in the top 90 %ile, then one has to be in the top 10% of the students (or in the top 20,000 ranks).

Many students at 90%ile would be able to get into the top 40 ranked institutes in the country.

What has been observed is that, more than 100,000 students write CAT every year without a modicum of preparation. The real competition probably is among the top 50,000 and given that there are close to 10,000 seats in the top 40 management institutes in the country, the competition is just 1 in 5!

There is no other exam in the world or in our country that has a better admission ratio!

Getting into IIMs is a coveted dream of many a student. But, most of the students do not even attempt CAT or prepare for the same seriously, only because they are hardly aware of what it takes to get them this seat in an IIM.

The percentile required to get a seat in the top 3 IIMs for an Open Category (student with no reservation) student is around 99.6 percentile. Similarly, if one has to get into the next top 10 IIMs, the percentile for an open category student would be about 95%ile. An OBC candidate, an SC or an ST candidate will require much less percentile to make it to the top IIMs. Add gender diversity and academic diversity to the same, then the percentile required reduced even further.

It is pertinent to note that CAT is also used as the written exam for almost all top management institutes in the country including FMS Delhi, SP Jain Mumbai, MDI Gurgaon, NITIE Mumbai, all IITs and a host others!

The only reason students don’t take up CAT is that they do not even know how easy it is to get into an IIM (given of course that one prepares consistently)!

CAT 2019 Percentiles and Scores

Given below are the marks required at different percentiles in CAT 2016 to CAT 2019

Marks in CAT2019 Marks in CAT2018 Marks in CAT2017 Marks in CAT2016 Percentile
75 85 98 84 80 %  ile
99 110 121 108 90 %  ile
120 125 139 123 95 %  ile
157 155 173 153 99 % ile
170 170 183 168 99.5 % ile
196 192 208 191 99.9 % ile


As one can see, by getting about 155-157 marks out of 300 marks (that’s 52% of the marks) in the CAT exam, one gets a percentile close to 99!

By getting a percentile of around 95 (120 score), one can easily a call from the New IIMs (for a General Category Student). And to get 95 percentile, one has to score just about 120 marks out of 300! (40% of the exam!)

Mission IIM

The road to IIM is through CAT (except of course if one is an NRI for whom GMAT is the requirement!)

Preparing for any entrance exam requires an executable plan! Here is one that can give the broad contours of what one has to do to make it to the coveted IIMs

June to August

The objective in these 3 months would be to gain complete familiarity in the areas, topics, concepts and types of questions that the CAT exam has.

In the months of June, July and August, the focus should be in going through all the topics in all areas of CAT viz., QA, DILR and VARC.

The first two to three months to be used for the first round of preparation in all areas of the exam through a simple method called CAT!

Funda of Concepts, Application & Tests (CAT)

  • Concepts: Learn all the basic concepts and formulae for each topic
  • Application: Solve exercises to apply the concepts/formulae learned
  • Tests: Taking topic-wise tests to asses ones speed and strategy

In addition to the above, one has to start taking the Mock CATs. Ideally not more than one per two weeks is sufficient for the months of June and July and from August, one is expected to take One Mock per week.

September & October

These two months are crucial to the preparation.

One has to work on Strategy, Second revision, and continue taking Full Length Mocks CATs. In addition to that, this is the time to experiment on the strategy of taking the exam.

The 60 days in September and October have to be used for the Second Revision of all concepts and through Topic-wise tests and Section-wise tests, one can monitor the progress in each specific topic or area of the exam.

Full-length Mocks are to be used to hone one’s strategy and arrive at a strategy that gives maximum benefits. Please note that there is no one good strategy and depending on each person’s strengths or weaknesses, the strategy should change. A full article on Test Taking Strategies for CAT would be made available by this author.


The last 30 days before CAT would be the final assault on the exam! Here one has to take up selective revision, take additional sectional tests, and finalise exam strategy.

After every Mock, a thorough analysis of each of the sections, zeroing in on the problem areas, working towards eliminating these problem areas, and most importantly strengthening the Mental Ability to crack this exam would be the main requirements in November!

In the part-2 of the article, the method of preparation for each of the sections in CAT would be taken up.

In the part-3 of the article, a detailed methodology to crack CAT through understanding different Test Taking Strategies would be addressed.

ARKS Srinivas (Arkss) is an alumnus of IIM Calcutta and has over 19 years of experience in training students for CAT and other Management Entrances. He is the CEO for the MBA Products at Career Launcher, which is the No 1 Test Prep institute for Management and Law entrances.