Now that preparations for CAT 2015 are in full swing, few of the questions one would have in mind would be the number of attempts one should make or the probable score that one can get in the test or the cut-offs of institutes. So how many should one attempt in CAT 2015. Although there is no quick-fix answer to these questions, on analyzing a bit, we can figure out at least a few indicators that could help us being more organized while attempting CAT 2015 and get to that 99%ile.

Check out our analysis of the actual CAT 2015 paper here:

CAT 2015 analysis Slot 1
CAT 2015 analysis Slot 2

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Perceived difficulty level

Most of the aspirants either overestimate or underestimate difficulty levels of the test and so, end up attempting more or less than what would have been ideally advisable. Either of those scenarios will do harm to you and in a test where people are so closely stacked in terms of scores and percentiles (around 18-20 people on one-hundredth of a percent), even a minor mistake can be dangerous. Also, your individual performance is, but a part of the entire picture. How your slot-mates fare is also important and in such a scenario, understanding the difficulty level of a test becomes all the more crucial.

Also, an important aspect I would like to touch upon is the fact that one should stay away from rumours which lead to unnecessary anxiety. Most of the candidates who post on forums are either outliers or gloaters and ideally, you should stick to your strategy rather than moulding it on others’. So, if 50 people posting on a forum have attempted 25+ in each section and you are sitting on 20 attempts in each section, it does not make you any less of a candidate and there is absolutely no need to panic if you believe that you have done justice to your slot.

Check out our analysis of the actual CAT 2015 paper here:

CAT 2015 analysis Slot 1
CAT 2015 analysis Slot 2

Identifying sitters, moderate and difficult questions

The difficulty level of a test depends on many factors and can be graded into numerous types. The best indicator of the easiness of a paper is the number of sitters that are present in a test. Sitters are basically, all the single concept questions which can be answered if your basics are in place (something on the lines of what would be the remainder if (163 +173 + 183 + 193) is divided by 70 or finding the last two digits of 72008 and so on). The moderate questions are the ones which require a combination of concepts but are pretty superficial in nature (a question where you have to apply knowledge of geometry and time-speed-distance or one where you require to know basics of geometric progression and directions and so on). These questions do not require much effort with regards to calculation (there are very few in a CAT paper, which do anyway) but the candidate is expected to handle at least a couple of concepts seamlessly. Difficult questions are those which are a bit twisted and require either an in-depth knowledge of concepts or require you to process a lot of information and find linkages.

Historical trends

A quick look through the previous year CAT papers would show us the following trend:

Easy (E) Moderate (M) Difficult (D)
CAT 2004 23% 39% 38%
CAT 2005 23% 23% 53%
CAT 2006 23% 44% 33%
CAT 2007 21% 56% 23%
CAT 2008 28% 40% 32%


I haven’t considered post-2008 papers as there were various slots and the difficulty varied significantly with each slot. This was especially true till CAT 2013 at least and CAT 2014 had generally easier papers so, you can easily infer from the above data what it could look like.

Now, if you see the CAT trends carefully, the easy questions (across sections) have remained almost the same in number but the paper setters have played around with the moderate and difficult questions. This leads to an illusion that a paper is easy or difficult and people tend to get carried away by popular opinion. It is more damaging especially in case of multiple slots and so, one needs to understand to grade a paper on one’s own.

Also, with the host of changes made to the format and the interface, one can expect an easy-moderate paper in CAT 2015 with more emphasis on time management and question selection like it used to be in the good old 90s.

Gradation of papers

I grade papers into 5 types according to my perceived cut-offs. Once you get the hang of it, you can have your own personalized slabs on the basis of your experience of the various difficulty level  of the mocks and the performance of candidates who have cleared the cut-offs:

Expected overall score
Extremely easy >70%
Easy 55%-70%
Moderate 45%-60%
Tough 35%-45%
Nightmarish <35%


A simple math trick should help you figure out the difficulty level. E + (M/2) should be the least that you need to do to get in to the top 1%ile. For a trained aspirant, attempting all Easy and Moderate questions should not be difficult and should be enough to get a few handy calls (both IIM and non-IIM).

Sectional splits

The third assumption is with regards to the profile of the test taking junta. Considering that a majority of CAT takers are engineers, plus the fact that quant is more technical and formula-based, in a balanced paper, your performance in quant would be at least 10-20% higher than that in verbal. In a 3 section paper, you can expect your split to be 40%-30%-30% across QA-DILR-VA to get a balanced score.

Recommended technique

Many people advocate using the ‘View paper’ option to browse through the questions and try to understand what to expect in the coming 1 hour (assuming that it would be a part of the interface). This is particularly useful if accuracy is your forte and if most of the time, your attempts are around 60% of the total number of questions with a reasonable bit of accuracy (around 85-90%). Even if you are among those who go for a high number of attempts (around 75-80% at least) with moderate accuracy (around 75%), it might be a good idea to get rid of the first few nervous moments and not make any silly mistakes when you are most vulnerable. If the option is not there, you can view a group of 4-5 questions using the ‘Save and next’ or the question number buttons and select the one that you feel most comfortable solving rather than go nuts wasting time in solving the first question itself.

So, combining all the assumptions, you will get the following steps:

(a) View the paper and grade the questions difficulty-wise

(b) Get an overall profile of the paper and grade it into a difficulty bucket

(c) Understand your test-taking style (conservative accuracy based, aggressive attempts based, moderate) and figure out the number of attempts that will take you to that score considering your historical accuracy

(d) Solve the first round of questions accordingly

(e) In case you have time left, whatever you score above the perceived difficulty level would be a bonus

Does it lead to wastage of time?

It might be a concern that all this would eat into your question-solving time. But it does not. This activity would come to you subconsciously once you have practiced it across mocks and you would no longer need to dwell into each question to figure out the level of difficulty. Almost all the CAT toppers will tell you that they figure out easy, moderate, and difficult questions by instinct and THAT is developed through a lot of practice. And the gains are immense. You might not solve one question but you would avoid wasting time trying to solve more difficult questions upfront when there are a few juicy sitters waiting for you just before the end credits.

Hope this clears a few doubts regarding the ‘how many to attempt in CAT 2015’ question.

Read more about mock analysis for CAT 2015 here.

Boost your CAT 2016 preparation by joining this group (for serious aspirants only)

Edit: Check out our analysis of the actual CAT 2015 paper here:

CAT 2015 analysis Slot 1
CAT 2015 analysis Slot 2

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