CAT 2016: Change is the only constant

Back in July, there was no ambiguity about CAT 2016. The CAT 2016 website  very clearly gave the following information.

  1. CAT 2016 will be a Computer Based Test (CBT) with a total of 100 questions
  2. The duration of the examination will be 180 minutes. There will be three sections:
    1. Section I: Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension with 34 questions
    2. Section II: Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning with 32 questions
    3. Section III: Quantitative Ability with 34 questions
  3. Candidates will be allotted exactly 60 minutes for answering questions in each section and they cannot switch from one section to another while answering questions in a section.

Now, the same website’s FAQ mentions:


The CAT 2016 Mock Test in the CAT 2016 website has 100 questions as mentioned above and also gives 60 minutes for each section but it also mentions:

Note : Number of questions in each section is only for the mock test. The actual number of questions, including the number of MCQ and Non-MCQ type questions, could be different in CAT 2016

The IIM Bangalore website gives this information:

At least, IIM Bangalore still maintains that each section would be 60 minutes!


Adding to the confusion are the news reports suggesting 44, 28 & 28 questions in VRC, DILR & QA respectively

So, that brings to the moot question:

34-32-34; 44-28-28; 44-32-34; 50-38-35; What will be the pattern of CAT 2016?

Well, that question, to me, is irrelevant! It simply DOES NOT matter!

  1. Whatever be the ‘surprise’, it will be same for all
  2. Whatever be the ‘surprise’, your marks will come from the questions that you solve!
  3. Whatever be the ‘surprise’, the type of questions asked will remain the same.

If CAT 2016 throws a ‘surprise’, all that you got to do is: manage the ‘surprise’. Let me present to you few scenarios:

Change in the number of questions

In CAT 2015 while 60 minutes was excessive for VRC, it was sufficient for QA and less for DILR. It was an unbalanced paper in which one could attempt only 50% of DILR questions while in QA one could almost all the questions in the allotted time. VRC section was biased towards RC which contributed 24 questions while Verbal Logic contributed only 10 questions. Hence it is possible that the number of questions in CAT 2016 will be different from that in CAT 2015.

Thus the changes that are possible in CAT 2016 structure are:

  1. Increase in number of VRC questions by 10-15
  2. Reduction in number of questions in DILR by 4-6 and/or reduction in the level of difficulty of data sets.
  3. Reduction in number of questions in QA by 4-6 and/or minor increase in the level of difficulty.

This obviously means that the number of questions could go up from 100 to around 110 with almost 40% questions from VRC. For those who think this is unlikely I would like to remind them that CAT 2004 paper which had a total 123 questions (VRC 50, DILR 38 & QA 35) was also created by IIMB

Increase in number of VRC questions:

In this scenario the number of RC passages and/or questions is likely to remain the same and the entire increase in the number of questions will be in Verbal Logic. Thus we could see questions from grammar, deductive logic, fill in the blanks, vocabulary etc which were missing in CAT 2015.

The positive aspect of the increase in number of questions in VRC is that level of difficulty will most probably not increase and you can expect an easy paper. Also larger number of questions means greater choice, thus I can spend more time on my strong areas and leave more questions from my weak areas. While those who are comfortable with both VL and RC can target attempting all questions, those who are not comfortable with either RC or VL should not be averse to leaving 1-2 RC passages and/or difficult parts of VL (eg non-MCQ Para Jumbles).

The negative aspect of the increase in the number of questions is that students increase their speed to increase the number of attempts which leads to a high error rate and hence a lower score. What needs to be remembered is that each one of us has our optimum speed of working for different question types and moving faster than our optimum speed will only lead to poorer scores. Thus it may not be possible for a many students to attempt all questions in 60 minutes and hence one should first attempt the question types that one is comfortable with and then go for the others.

Reduction in number of questions in DILR:

This should not be an issue with anyone because in CAT 2015 very few candidates were able to attempt 5-6 data sets. On the contrary this is likely to be welcomed by most of the students because it means you have one set less to worry about. Given that in CAT 2014 and CAT 2015 DILR was difficult with a 95%ile at a net score of around 40, I think we could see some reduction in degree of difficulty of this section.

More importantly, if the data sets in the CAT 2016 Mock Test in the CAT 2016 website are an indicator we could see fewer LR sets. Also the last two CAT papers by IIMB (CAT 2004 & CAT 2008) indicate that we could have data sets which incorporate elements of both LR and DI (or Logical DI). These sets are not purely calculation based and one has to first apply logic and then calculation follows.

Change in number of questions or difficulty level in QA:

In CAT 2014 and 2015 QA was very easy and an attempt of around 30 questions in 60 minutes was not difficult for any above average student. Thus any reduction in the number of questions should logically be accompanied with a marginal increase in the level of difficulty which should reduce the number of attempts for above average students from 30 questions to around 23-25 in 60 minutes. Even without any change in the number of questions the level of difficulty of this section could go up. This should not worry you because this slight increase in the level of difficulty of QA in CAT 2016 will make it similar to the QA section of CL Mock CATs.

How to bell the CAT?

Paper Structure: 3 Sections with 60 minutes per section:

Section I: Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension; 45-50 questions

Section II: Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning; 28-32 questions in 6-8 data sets

Section III: Quantitative Ability; 30-35 questions

Section I: VRC with 45-50 questions almost equally split between RC and Verbal.

  1. Click on the Question Paper Button to open the question paper pdf
  2. Scan the paper to check:
    1. Number and length of RC passages and the number of questions (say 5 passages with 24 questions)
    2. Check the number and type of Verbal Logic questions
  3. Based on your comfort level estimate the time required for RC and VL and the possible number of attempts. Do not worry about attempting all questions but ensure that you do not miss any do-able question from your strong area and leave all difficult questions/passages from your weak area.
  4. The time division between RC and VL would be a function of the type of VL questions, for example more vocabulary based questions as compared to PJ/Summary etc would mean less time to VL.
  5. Work out the sequence in which you will attempt the section.
  6. Most probably in this kind of paper one would give around 35-40 minutes to RC and 20-25 minutes to VL.
  7. My attempt pattern will most probably be:
    1. Scan the paper approximately 3 minutes.
    2. R1: all VL except non-MCQ Parajumbles, approximately 10-12 minutes.
    3. R2: 3-4 RC passages, approximately 35 minutes.
    4. R3: non-MCQ Parajumbles and scan the remaining RC passage and answer only the factual questions.

Section II: Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning; 28-32 questions in 6-8 data sets

  1. Click on the Question Paper Button to open the question paper pdf
  2. Take 7-10 minutes, go through (read and understand and not scan) all data sets to identify:
    1. 3 data sets that you are most comfortable with, these are your R1 attempts
    2. 2-3 data sets that you are most uncomfortable with, these are not to be attempted
    3. Remaining 2-3 data sets are your R2 attempts.
  3. Attempt data sets starting with the one that you are most comfortable with.
    1. Attempt R1 data sets
    2. Attempt R2 data sets
    3. If you have time look at direct questions in the remaining data sets, if not then do not worry you have left the difficult ones that in any case would have given your negative marks.
  4. If it is an easy paper then you will be able to solve data sets faster and will also attempt an extra data set.

Section III: Quantitative Ability

Irrespective of the number of questions the approach should be:

  1. Click on the Question Paper Button to open the question paper pdf
  2. In about 30 sec scan the paper to check if there are any grouped question or Data Sufficiency question and also in general the length of question.
  3. Start sequentially, read the question:
    1. If you are sure of solving the question in approximately 2* minutes, then solve and mark the answer (R1 question)
    2. If you are not sure of solving the question or can solve in 3-4* minutes then mark it for Review and move to the next question (R2 Question)
    3. If you think that you cannot solve the question or it will take more than 4* minutes then leave the question (R3 or not to be attempted Question)
    4. After completing R1 for the section start solving the R2 questions (the ones that were marked for review)
    5. Time permitting, try solving the R3 questions but do not worry if you cannot.
  4. If you are weak in QA then your time limit for R1 questions could be 3-4* minutes and R2 may not happen.

* The time limits are indicative and you need to work out your own time limits based on your comfort with this section.

The Last Word

While I believe that the structure of CAT is irrelevant because it will be same for everyone, the question types do not change and you will do well if you focus on the questions that you can solve. I also hold a view that in a “change year” it is easy to get a good percentile score because whenever there is a change a majority of candidates panic and mess up their paper. So relax and take the paper as it comes without any pre-conceived notions.

All the best for CAT 2016!



  1. Sir,

    I have attempted 35 in total. 15 in VA (4 non MCQ’s unsure of accuracy), 9 in LRDI (accurate), 11 in QA (accurate).
    What would be my expected percentile? And expected Good BSchool shortlists?

  2. Can I have your attention sir?
    My Cat16 strategy is
    VA/LRDI/QA-14/12/5 questions with 100% accuracy. Can I get a 70-75 percentile?

  3. Sir, in the CL Mocks, while I’m getting really good %ile in VARC (>99), and decent %ile in DILR (85-90), I’m doing absolutely HORRIBLE in the Quant section (40-50 max). Mainly it’s cause – (i) I’m unable to solve any question involving algebra, and (ii) I’m too slow in this particular section, so my number of attempts barely touches 15-16.

    Now that only 3 days are left for CAT, I know it’s too late to bring in any kind of improvement. But I at least want to clear the Quant cutoff (Odisha domicile) for XIMB, which is around 60-65 %ile usually. Any last minute tips?

    • Prajwal, a score of 40-45 should get you a 90%ile and hence your target should be to attempt only those questions that you are 100% sure of solving. If you are uncomfortable with Algebra then do not attempt questions from this topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *