XAT, the last big entrance test of the academic season is here and this time it will be a computer based online test.  The mode of exam is the only significant change that XAT exam format undergoes this year but as almost all of you might have already taken CAT, I don’t think that online test will be an issue. Before we go in-depth, let us have a brief on the format of the exam.


  • XAT exam tests students on Verbal Ability, Decision Making, Quantitative Aptitude, GK and Essay writing. For the first three sections candidates will get a total for 170 minutes and this will be followed by a 40 minute slot for GK and essay writing.
  • The overall exam format remains same as that of the last year.
  • The number of questions would be 72; comprising 24 questions on VA, 21 on DM and 27 on QA.
  • There is a negative marking of 1/4th of the marks allotted for every incorrect attempt incorrectly.

How is XAT different from CAT??

  • There is a limit to the questions which one can leave unanswered. One can leave 12 questions unanswered, beyond which every unanswered question will attract a penalty of -.05 marks.
  • There is no sectional time limit and sections can be attempted in any order.
  • There is no online screen calculator.
  • And of course there are the sections of DM, GK and Essay writing to tackle (More on it later)
  • The overall level of the test will be same as last year.

How to tackle the differences:

The biggest difference to tackle is the penalty on the unanswered questions.  However, according to me candidates should not worry about it. A negative of -.05 will not impact the overall score significantly, even if a high number of questions are not answered.  I think it is better to leave a question and fetch -.05 than to mark a fluke and fetch -.25. Here is XAT Decision Making at its practical application!!

For tackling the other differences, let us move to the test-taking strategy and talk about the sections in the order of my attempt.

Section 1 Decision Making: This is my favourite section. I believe that most of the students are needlessly apprehensive about it. Anyone with a decent comprehension skill will find this section interesting and easy to attempt.  I usually give 50-55 minutes to this section and try to maximise my attempts and score.  In a typical DM question the case has one or few objectives to be met and there are few constraints on the way to these objectives.  So, the first thing I do is to identify the constraints and the objectives to be met. While attempting I tick the option which fulfils the objective and not the options which may sound ideal/best. Also, in a few DM the cases can be quite long, but usually such cases are easy.

This section may also have DM Caselets requiring Mathematical Interpretation.

 Tip:  Do not be intimidated, irrespective of the length or the complexity of the question, read it once.  Do not mark the ideal answer choice; keep in mind the objectives and the constraints; look for the option which compromises on none.  If things are going right (if you feel so), then make a kill by giving extra 5-7 minutes.

Section 2 Verbal Ability: Hate it or like it, one has to attempt CR and RC in XAT.  I give 50-55 minutes to this section. While attempting RCs and CRs I have to read most passages twice.  It is important to understand what is being asked in a question. Many a times, I commit the mistake of ticking the option which is given in the passage but has not been asked for in the question. This will surely happen in XAT too but then I am prepared for it.  PJs are perhaps the easiest part of this section.  The grammar questions require good understanding of the language and are not easy to attempt.

Tip:  Go with the mindset of attempting RCs. If you are not attempting RCs, you will not score in this section.  Solve PJs, fill ups and grammar first, then RC passages and then CR questions.   Good thing with the Verbal ability is that you always feel that you have marked the right option 🙂

Section 3 Quant & DI: I will attempt this section at last in the remaining time. I search for DI caselets and attempt them first.  XAT may have novelty in DI with some unseen graphs and pictorial depictions and hence cracking them could be time taking but not necessarily complex.

While attempting maths questions I search for Arithmetic questions and attempt them first followed by Algebra and Number systems. I rarely attempt Geometry and never if the diagram is not given.  I have a belief that if I pick my strength questions here then I will easily clear the cut off. 

Tip: Unlike verbal where everybody believes that he knows something about it, if one does not know maths, one does not know it!!  So be selective here. Solve DI first and then pick the questions from your area of strength.

Section 4 GK:   I think a score of 6-8 is sufficient in GK, provided you do get a call for second round from XLRI. I don’t think anybody requires more than 10 minutes for this section.  And for the preparation part of GK, at this stage I will try to be abreast with the happenings of past 3 months.

Part B Essay:  It is all about analysing a topic. All I can say is that I never shy away from stating my opinions. XLRI people for sure like opinions more than facts. And yes, XLRI would prefer the usage of British spellings to the American spellings. (hence try to use – ‘programme’ not ‘program’, ‘labour’ not ‘labor’, and ‘centre’ and not ‘center’).

All this mentioned above should be kept in mind and a strategy should be formulated around this. A good way to test your strategy would be by taking a good number of mocks. CL’s  mock XAT test series will be highly beneficial in this regard. Taking a mock will put you in the correct frame of mind and will help you develop an exam oriented temperament.

Note: Please remember to have Plan B ready.  What I have suggested is my Plan A.  Go with a clear mind and a broad approach.  Stick to the time allotment which you have planned for yourself. Play to your strengths but do not be left behind in those parts were most of the call getters will score i.e DM.

All the best!!

Siddharth Mehta (XLRI Alumnus, Class of 2006-08)

Career Launcher, Bhilai