Typically whenever discussing CAT v/s GMAT the common verdict is that the quant portion of CAT is more difficult, while the verbal portions are comparable. I do not entirely agree with this. The quant portion of CAT does require more prep to acclimatise to the kind of questions, the GMAT quant on the other hand, I believe, is more tricky and can catch you off guard if you are not careful (especially the data sufficiency questions).
Let us look at a few more differences between the two tests:
- Frequency: CAT happens once a year, GMAT can be taken multiple times over a year (once every calendar month).
- Admissions process: Selection through CAT depends on your comparative performance (percentile), selection through GMAT is on the basis of your absolute score (out of 800).
- Validity: CAT score is applicable only for the current year. GMAT score is valid for 5 years.
- Pattern: CAT makers are known to tweak its pattern every year within the released guidelines. GMAT is a standardized test – no surprises if you have prepared well.
- Technology: CAT is also computer based, but is not adaptive. GMAT is computer based and adaptive.
- Format: CAT has 3 sections: Quantitative aptitude, Verbal reasoning, Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation. : GMAT has 4 sections: Quantitative Ability, Verbal Ability, Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning.
- Number of questions: CAT will have 100 questions divided into the 3 sections (34, 32 – LR&DI, 34). GMAT: 1 essay, 12 IR questions, 37 quant, 41 verbal.
- Types of questions: CAT: multiple choice questions – 4 or 5 choices, one correct, and direct answer based (you’d need to type in the answer). GMAT has an essay writing section (AWA), and a section in which you may be required to choose more than 1 options in a question (IR). The quant and verbal sections are 5 choices, 1 correct. (The number of choices may vary, but essentially the multiple choice questions on both tests can be answered using similar strategies.)
- Duration: CAT 2016 would be a 3 hours test. GMAT process lasts around three hours and forty minutes.
- Breaks: There are no breaks scheduled during the CAT. GMAT has 2 5-minute breaks scheduled.
While all these differences have their own significance, I believe the biggest difference between the two tests is that on the CAT you have the ability to go back to previous questions, skip questions, mark questions for review (within a section). Whereas on the GMAT once you have answered a question, you cannot go back to it. You also do not have an option to skip a question or mark it for later. You have to answer a question as it appears on your screen in order to move on to the next one.
Key difference between CAT and GMAT has to be in your test taking strategy.
This difference might seem trivial to some, but leads to vastly different test taking approach.
CAT: You can revisit questions within the section
GMAT: Once you’ve answered a question and clicked ‘Next’, you cannot go back
On the CAT your strategy should be to pick all the low-hanging fruits (easy questions) first. This way, ideally, you would have attempted quite a few questions, with high accuracy, and low time spend – a good place to be in. Then, if time permits, go through the section again and attempt questions that might require a bit more thinking and time to attempt. Also, what happens at times is that while attempting another question you recall something about a previous question – your mistake, or a way to answer it and you have the ability to revisit the question.
The bad news is, on the GMAT you have no such option. Once done with a question, even if you remember something new about a previous question, you cannot do anything about it.
The good news is, on the GMAT you don’t have to worry about anything other than the question on the screen. What is done, is done. You have no idea about what is to come. So, all you should be doing is focussing on the question that is in front of you on the screen at the given time. Rest all is immaterial.
On the flip side, while ability to revisit a question could be an advantage, you have to be careful to not let this option overwhelm and distract you.
CAT: Solve/ deduce → answer, guess, mark for later, or skip
GMAT: Solve/ deduce → answer, or guess
Make sure you understand the nuances of whatever test you are about to take and devise a strategy that would help you maximise your score in the given time on the test day.
There are quite a few students in India planning for an MBA who take both these tests (I was one of them). Make sure you internalise the difference and fine tune your test taking strategy to maximise your score.