Myth vs Math: What is a good percentile in CAT?

I often get asked by students: “What percentile do I need to get into the IIMs?” OR ” How do I get to a XX percentile?” OR “Is it true that only 99+ percentilers make it to the IIMs?”. This post is dedicated to all the test-takers who seek answers to these or related questions.

First things first: let us understand the meaning of percentile. Percentile is defined as the percentage of students who scored less than (or sometimes less than or equal to) you in a given test. So a 100 percentile would mean you are the topper, an  XX percentile would mean XX% of the test-takers scored less than you in the test while a 0 percentile would mean you have got the least score in the test.

So, to get a 100 percentile – you need to get 100% of the students to score less than you. And frankly speaking there is NO way, as a mortal human being, that you can control the performance of so many other test-takers. You can only control your own performance i.e. maximise your score and perform better than as many test-takers as possible in any given test. And on test day – if you happen to have performed better than all other students – you will be the 100 percentiler:-)

If you understand this basic logic, you will realise that you should not go after getting a specific percentile – you should just focus on maximising your scores. So, if you are scoring 100 in a SimCAT right now, think of how you could make it 110; if you are scoring 180 – think of how you could make it 200 and so on. Push your limits – and score as high as possible in any test you take. This approach will by itself take care of your percentile as percentile is just an outcome of your score.

Obviously, the level of difficulty of test will also influence how much you score in a test. But if your approach had been to maximise your score, believe it or not you would have maximised your percentile as well.

Is it true that you need to score a 99%ile in CAT to get into the IIMs?

Firstly, there are 20 IIMs now…so the answer to this question is a definite NO. I know of enough students with a moderate 10th/12th background but a sufficiently high CAT percentile getting IIM calls and then converting them. And conversely, I also know of students with either a good academic profile but a relatively low CAT percentile having made it to the IIMs. Obviously, with a poor academic background or a relatively low CAT percentile or both, one may have a lesser chance of making it to some of the IIMs but the probability is definitely not ZERO. So, go ahead and maximise your CAT score and thereby your CAT percentile and thereby your chances of making it to the IIMs irrespective of your background thus far.

What is a good percentile: The Math vs the Myth

Let us do a simple calculation for General Category students – we know that 50% of the seats are reserved for other categories. (A similar logic would also apply to all other categories).

With 2000 (General Category) seats in the IIMs and a little less than 2 L test takers, it is clear that more than 1% of the test-takers from General Category get into the IIMs. So, it may seem obvious that you need to have at least 99%ile as the overall cut-off(assuming the top 1 percentile has no students from other categories).

However, for 2000 seats, at least 10000 test-takers get calls (assuming a moderate 1:5 seat:call ratio). This brings down the percentile cut-off for just the General category further down to 95%.

Now, the IIMs need you to be equally competent across all 3 sections and not all 95+ percentilers would have scored equally well across the 3 sections – so to get the 10000 test-takers who have scored equally well across all the sections the overall cut-offs need to go below 95%ile as well – how much below could be anybody’s guess.

The IIMs are looking for gender and academic diversity – and both the gender as well as academic streams are not equally distributed in the total population (The higher percentilers tend to have a majority of engineer males;-)). So, to have gender and academic diversity the percentile cutoffs will further go down – at least for the non-engineering streams and the female engineers.

Learning: You do not need a 99%ile to get into the IIMs – the percentile required depends on your academic stream, your gender, your academic profile(10th/12th/Grad marks) and work experience. Non-engineers may have lower cut-offs than engineers, females may have lower cut-offs than males and working professionals may get in with lower scores compared to graduates. Each of the IIMs have their own selection criteria and every student has a decent chance of making to at least a few of the IIMs provided he does sufficiently well in the CAT – sufficient enough for his category, stream and profile.

I strongly recommend that at this stage, one must not think too much about the required percentile based on his/her background – just focus on maximising your scores in any given test on any given day. This approach will by itself take care of the percentile, as the percentile is only an outcome of the score.

To end this blog, let me share with you the least percentile at which a student secured at least 1 IIM call based on CAT 2015 scores. These are not an indication of the minimum percentile to get into the IIMs but definitely a reinforcement off the fact that students with lower percentiles do have a chance of securing IIM calls.


Disclaimer: The above data is purely based on CAT 2015 scores of past IMS students who secured calls from at least 1 IIM  and is only for representative purpose. These percentiles vary from year to year and readers should exercise discretion while interpreting the above data. 

May the percentiles be with you:-)

22 thoughts on “Myth vs Math: What is a good percentile in CAT?

  1. Hello Sir,
    I am getting a decent score in SIMCATs but somehow my QA percentile is still dwindling around 85 where as my DILR is 90+ and VARC is usually 90+ except a few bad days. SO is my OA percentile staying 95+ but how balanced should be my sectional percentile so that i manage a call from the top 6-8 IIMs.


    • You need to improve in all 3 sections. the inconsistency in verbal and DI sections is probably because you haven’t worked on your weak areas and the scores dip whenever there are more questions from those areas. For the IIMs and some other top B-Schools you need to score above 85-90%ile at least in all 3 sections…but for a lot of other schools the sectional percentiles don’t really matter.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sir I want to know how much approx marks I have to obtain to secure overall 95 percentile and how much section wise marks for securing 90 percentile.please guide me…


  3. Hi Sir,
    I am getting around 95% in SAMCAT. I have 89,71,84(10th, 12th and BTech). I belong to NC OBC category, male and Engineering Graduate with 3 year work experience in IT field. Is this much percentile at this stage enough to get a call from IIM A,B,C. How much shall i target in SAMCAT?? Also I am not targetting for 99+ in SAMCAT as i can not give much time. I have to go to Office also. Is it okay if i take 1 month leave and give more time to CAT preparation. Or is 95% sufficient?? This I guess is my first and last attempt for CAT as by next year i will have 4 year experience.
    Please help.


    • Why should someone stop at 95%ile – give it your best shot and push the score as high as possible. Why should your background affect your preparation in any way. Just work on maximising your scores as much as possible – in the limited time that you have. I would personally no recommend anyone to takle an extended leave for CAT – because it is simply not required. It is sufficient if you put in 5 to 6 hours a day (at max) from hereon.


  4. Dear sir,

    My percentile score has consistently improved since I started taking mocks. My last mock percentile was around 99.7 . How good a chance do I stand in getting through to IIM-A, B or C based on my mock percentile? And how can I improve further?


    • Hi Riya…firstly congratulations for having done so well so far. Keep up your performance and you should do well in the CAT too. With such marks, you only need to ensure that you bridge any gaps that may still be present – knowledge gaps or test-taking skill gaps. Keep calm and focussed – you will do well in the CAT:-)


    • You need to really work hard to get a good percentile in the CAT. Also, add to your profile by getting some useful work experience. Work on your communication skills, general awareness and analytical skills- this will stand you in good stead during your interviews. This will give you a chance of securing calls from at least some of the newer IIMs – and some of the top 30 B-Schools accepting CAT.


  5. Sir, your article was very inspiring. thanks for that. 🙂 but i have a small doubt. As far as i know, all IIMs do not have a common admission process. They have their independent calls and further round. So, basically, what happens is that the general student with top %iles ends with getting several calls so the actual no of students who get calls is far less than 10000. on an avg, if we take 5 calls per student, the total no of students who recieve calls come down to 2000 i.e. the top 1%ilers.


    • Thanks Jyoti Ranjan… Th total number of students getting calls is far more than 2000 – you need to take into account that students getting calls from the new IIMs generally end up getting multiple calls and that skews the average towards 5 per student:-)


  6. Sir, I had started my preparations in February this year. But in the last one month I havent been able to keep my studies on track. My simcat scores have been consistent always but only around a 100 mark. Is there something i can do to work towards a better score in the remaining 50 days?


    • Let the past be…have a structured approach fom now on. Take SimCATs at regular intervals. Before every SimCAT identify 2 or 3 areas of improvement and work rigorously to bridge those gaps. In the next SimCAT assess if you have impoved in those areas – if yes, move on to work on a couple of other areas of improvement and repeat the process.


  7. Hi sir, I am a student of IMS Koramangala, Bangalore. I am not able to improve my performance in DI LR. I just able to solve 3-4 sets in the given time. What should I do in the remaining days to improve it?

    Thank you


    • Hi Pranay..the key to DI-LR is learning to identify which sets to solve and which to leave… This decision can be based on number of data forms, complexity of data involved, number of questions, nature of questions and closeness of options… for every set you practice from now – ask yourself if you should solve it immediately, come back to it later or skip it altogether… practice-practice-practice is the mantra to success in DI-LR


  8. sir, i am a SC girl with fashion design degree from NIFT and my 10th & 12th marks are 89% and 82% respectively , my CGPA during gradutaion was 7.94 ,i will have 4 year work experience by year 2017 what percentile is needed for getting call from IIM ABCL and FMS according to my profile?


    • Right now, don’t clog your mind with a percentile target. Just go there and maximise your performance. You have a good profile and a good performance in the CAT will give you good options thereafter:-)


  9. hi sir , I have a cat percentile of 89.64 (VA 72.3 , DI 93.3 , QA 92.0) , GENERAL , 10th 12th Btech (96% 94.3% 72.4%) , Graduate from NIT Rourkela (ee stream) . Can I get any calls from any IIM ?


  10. Hi sir, this piece of information provided by you has been very helpful. Thank you. I just had a small doubt, since you mentioned about academic diversity, and so have I heard that there is some kind of (unofficial ) reservation for other streams – Is there any drop in the percentile required for getting into the IIMs for a Pharmacist? If yes, how much approximately? I am an open category student
    Thank you


    • yes, a few B-Schools including top ones like IIM A do have special criteria to promote academic diversity…but that does not mean you drop your guard and settle for less…do not go after soft targets…score as high as you can and that may just prove to be sufficient to get through:-)


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