CAT 2021 Exam Pattern: Changes Introduced, Know Latest Exam Sections, Duration, Marking Scheme

CAT exam pattern helps aspirants understand Marking Scheme, Sections, No. and type of questions expected, Exam Duration and other important details. Read on to find out how to attempt CAT 2021 exam to make it to IIMs.

Created On: Aug 2, 2021 16:39 IST
Modified On: Sep 14, 2021 16:12 IST
CAT 2021 Exam Pattern
CAT 2021 Exam Pattern

CAT Exam Pattern is a crucial reference point for the aspirants as it helps them draft a sound exam preparation strategy. Know why it is important for the aspirants to make note of the changes being introduced. Read on to find out the CAT 2021 marking scheme, no. and type of questions, no. of sections, and much more.

CAT 2021 Exam Pattern

Generally, the CAT entrance exam carries three sections namely Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC), Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning (DI & LR), and Quantitative Ability (QA) to test the aptitude of the candidates. To make aspirants familiar with the exam pattern, IIM has released a set of FAQs that will answer all your queries.

The official website i.e. also specifies that in order to understand the exam pattern, candidates should also appear for the CAT mock test which is generally released in the month of October. When the CAT 2018 mock test was released, candidates mentioned that the mock test was comparatively much easier than the actual exam. However, a proper analysis of the CAT Mock test is a must before appearing for the exam on D-day.

So before you start preparing for the CAT entrance exam, read the changes introduced in the CAT Exam pattern here:

CAT is a computer-based MBA entrance exam that will be conducted in three sessions this year (instead of two sessions) at various test centers across India. The duration of the CAT Exam has been reduced to 120 minutes (instead of 180 minutes) with the sectional time limit of 40 minutes each (instead of 60 minutes).

Further changes will be announced latest by 20th September by IIM Indore for the aspirants preparing to appear for the exam this year

CAT exam takers are required to solve MCQ (objective) and non-MCQ (descriptive) questions. Questions will be asked from three sections as mentioned previously.  

CAT Exam Pattern: Snapshot

Take a look at the important exam highlights that will help you understand the exam pattern in one go:


CAT Exam Pattern



No. of sections

3 (Verbal & Reading Comprehension, Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning, and Quantitative Ability)


Mode of exam

Computer-Based Exam (Online)


Time Allotted

120 minutes overall (Follows Sectional Time Limit - 40 minutes for each section)


No. of questions



Number of answer choices



Total marks



Marks per question

+3 per question


Negative Marking

-1 mark for incorrect answer

No marks were deducted for un-attempted questions

CAT 2021 Exam Pattern - Sectional Time Limit

CAT Exam allows candidates to solve the exam in 120 minutes. However, there is a catch. Candidates are restricted by the sectional time limit to solve the question paper. This means that if a candidate cannot choose to solve the VARC, DILR, or QA section. Whichever section comes first he/she will get the time of 40 minutes to solve that particular section first. Only after solving this section, he/she can move to solve the other two sections.

The sectional time limit clause restricts the candidates to switch between 2 sections. In the CAT exam, generally Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension is the first section to solve, followed by Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning and at last, comes Quantitative Aptitude. Aspirants therefore will get 40 minutes to attempt each section. After the time is up, you will automatically move to solve the questions of the next section.

Also Read: About CAT Exam Registration – Click Here

Also Read: About CAT Test Centers – Click Here

Also Read: About CAT Participating Institutes – Click Here

Also Read: About CAT Preparation Tips – Click Here

Also Read: About CAT Exam Analysis – Click Here

Also Read: About CAT Previous Year Mock Tests – Click Here

Changes in CAT 2021 Pattern

Aspirants can take a look at the no. of questions expected in CAT 2021. Questions have been bifurcated on the basis of the MCQ and non-MCQ that are asked in each section. Take a look at the bifurcation in the table below:


Total No of Questions

No of MCQs

No of Non-MCQs

















CAT MCQs vs. Non-MCQs Questions Ratio

One of the biggest changes as far as the CAT exam format or pattern is concerned is the drastic reduction in the number of non-MCQs or TITA questions. The non-MCQs are the descriptive type questions that do not carry negative marking for a wrong answer. However, if we see the general trend, the number of non-MCQs has been increased in CAT 2018. Take a look at the table below:

CAT Exam Year







Total Non-MCQs







Non-MCQs from VARC







Non-MCQs from DILR







Non-MCQs from Quant







As shown in the above table, the overall number of non-MCQs has increased consistently over the years; however, the trend seems to take a turn in CAT'17 when only 19 non-MCQs were seen in the exam. In the years 2015 and 2016, if we take a look at the section-wise composition of non-MCQs, candidates have always been presented with atleast 25 non-MCQs in the CAT exam every year. 

CAT 2021 Prep: How CAT mock tests can help you get into IIMs?

New Answer Options in MCQs

Another alarming change that was seen in CAT 2018 mock test was that the number of options available to solve the MCQ-type questions was increased. While aspirants only had to deal with answer-specific options in CAT Exam, last year the CAT mock test had MCQs that have non-answer-specific options as well. These included options such as ‘Not applicable’, ‘Not determinable’, and ‘None of these'. Such options often put CAT candidates in a fix by not giving any specific answer option for the multiple-choice questions. Apart from this, many questions in the CAT 2017 mock test contained 5 answer options as opposed to the standard 4 option format.

CAT Exam - Different Scoring Pattern

As per the current scoring pattern, candidates will be awarded 3 marks for each correct question whether it is an MCQ or a non-MCQ. Negative marking mentions that 1 mark will be deducted for each incorrect answer. No marks will be given or deducted for un-attempted questions in the exam.

Different Login for the Exam Day

From 2018 onwards, the exam conducting body decided to assign a new login id and password to the invigilator. Until 2017, candidates could log in to their exam systems directly using their CAT 2017 registration ID and password. But this practice has been done away with since 2017.

In case there are any changes in the CAT 2021 exam pattern, it will be updated here. Also, the changes in the CAT mock test will also be updated here.

You can receive all the latest updates about MBA Test prep and CAT 2021 exam on the website

Use CAT Percentile Predictor 2021 to know your estimated CAT cut offs and predict calls from IIMs and Non-IIMs accepting CAT score for admission.

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