Quant Section In CAT Is Becoming Easier And Will Continue To Do So

90’s and Early 2000s

Back in the early 2000s and before that, CAT used to have a large number of questions, which were of moderate difficulty. The focus in Quant was more on speed than in checking the depth of knowledge that the candidate had.

  • Why it worked – Easy questions meant students without a strong maths or engineering background had a shot and more
  • students could attempt.
  • Challenges – Examiners felt that students were gaming the exam (by finding tips and tricks to solve MCQs rather than understanding the fundamentals) + there was too much focus on speed which was not that essential a requirement to become a good manager.


Late 2000’s 

The number of questions was reduced in CAT (for all subjects). The difficulty level of questions was increased in Quant (as in other subjects). Each question required more work than before but the number of questions was reduced.

  • Why it worked – You needed a reasonable depth of knowledge to secure the required marks and was more difficult to game the exam. (As an aside, this can be one main reason why books written earlier like Arun Sharma have a lot more focus on using options to answer questions compared to the ones written later).
  • Challenges – The dice got loaded in favour of engineers and students with strong maths background. Moreover, several recent studies started proving that quant skills may not be as important as earlier considered for good management and EQ and communication skills might be much more important than IQ. IIMs started getting some flak for having a large number of nerdy students without the personality and temperament to be good managers. (To get around some of this, weight-age of Verbal section was increased in CAT – 2008 where it consisted of 160 marks (40 questions) vs. 100 for DI/LR and QA (25 questions each))

Now and going forward

It seems IIMs have taken into account the feedback received and the Quant paper in recent years has been significantly easier. They have also ensured that time spent on each section is fixed and students cannot subsidise the extra time spent in one section by going through the other section faster. This is crucial as in the alternate scenario a candidate strong in Quant would have quickly gone through the Quant section and would have had extra time in Verbal (basically his good Quant skills would have made him look better in Verbal as well)

  • Why it works – You have to be good in each section. It has become slightly easier to attract non-maths background students.
  • Challenges – Quant has become easier but it is still tougher than most other MBA entrance examinations. IIMs have increased their focus on diversity in interviews and it might not be a lot longer before they realise that making Quant easier might help in achieving that aim as well.

Given this trend and rationale, one would be extremely surprised if difficulty levels in Quant increase a lot from current levels. If anything, it could go further down. The students, administrators and the industry seem to be aligned on that one. 


About the Author:

Nishant Sinha is an IIT Delhi and IIM Bangalore alumni (100 percentile – CAT 2008). Currently he is running an e-learning startup (www.learnharbour.com) where he is teaching quant for MBA preparation. The platform uses advanced algorithms to make learning much more efficient and cheaper.