Key Differences Between CAT and IIFT

"Replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity."

This quote very well sums up the advice we would like give to all MBA aspirants. Dispel the fear of various exams in your minds by asking the right questions. The question that this article will answer in a clear and comprehensive way is one question you all must have thought about many times: What is the difference between CAT and IIFT written test?

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CAT is the most popular MBA entrance exam in our country and is conducted by IIMs for admissions in IIMs and other top B-Schools all over the country. IIFT is conducted by NTA for admission in MBA programs of Indian Institute of Foreign Trade.


Let's look at the major differences between these 2 exams:

Difference between CAT and IIFT Exam Pattern

The tests have differed mainly in terms of the key physical parameters like the type of sections, the number of questions, and extent of negative marking and of late, the mode of test conduct.

In case of IIFT, the number of questions has varied almost every year, while CAT maintains a fixed number of questions for a fairly long time. The maximum number of questions in the IIFT test has been 150 in previous years and has seen a dip to 110 in 2019. The number of questions has remained at 110 since 2019.

On the other hand, CAT has experimented with a wider range, from 60 to 185. Yet from 2014 onwards, the number of questions remained at 100, to be changed only in 2020 due to covid. CAT featured a total of 76 questions in 2020 and 66 questions in 2021. In both the exams, the time duration has undergone changes as per the number of questions. From 2020, both the exams had a time duration of 2 hours.

The same time limits and number of questions have been followed since then.

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Difference between CAT and IIFT Marking Scheme

Negative marking in CAT is -1 for an incorrect answer for MCQ questions (+3 marks are awarded for a correct answer); in the IIFT written test, the penalty for each wrong answer is -1/3 and +3 for each correct answer (in all sections except GK).

Differential marks in each section is another feature of IIFT test; in CAT this happened only in select years like 2004.

IIFT and CAT: Test Areas & Difficulty Level

The key differentiator in the IIFT test has been General Knowledge & Awareness section. Even though this section has lower weight in comparison to other sections, still it has a say in the final cut-offs. The number of questions from this section generally varies between 20-30 and questions carry 1.5 marks per correct answer and -0.5 marks per each incorrect answer.

The common areas in the two tests are Quantitative Ability, Data Interpretation, Logical Reasoning, Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension. However, there are no sectional time limits in case of IIFT while it is 40 minutes per section of CAT. Nevertheless, there are sectional cut-offs for both the exams.

In terms of preparation, the areas mentioned above generally require similar efforts and approach as compared to CAT. All you need to do is pay some extra attention to paper pattern and important topics for IIFT and adopt some customizations. For example, the Quantitative Ability area of IIFT has consistently seen more questions on Modern Math, with topics like Probability, Permutations & Combinations (P&C), Sets, Functions (including maxima & minima) etc. Unlike CAT, where circles & triangles have been historically critical, IIFT has seen a dominant representation of Trigonometry (both height & distances and trigonometric expressions).

In the recent years, IIFT has been on a bit moderate side while CAT still maintains the high difficulty level. However, you still need to have a proper strategy to ace either exam.

Key Learning:
  • Preparation for both the exams requires a similar approach and effort.
  • The main challenge is devising an exam strategy based on the exam pattern.
  • Taking mock tests based on IIFT and CAT will help you to tackle both the exams successfully.
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