Xavier’s Aptitude Test (XAT) is the last major MBA entrance test for the season and possibly the last chance for most students to get a score that will get them into a good B school. Many good B schools outside the Xavier family, like S.P.Jain, TAPMI, IMT, MICA, etc., accept both CAT and XAT scores for admission to their MBA programs and the students who did not do well in CAT can hope for an improved performance in XAT for a realistic chance in these and many other B schools.

While many people tend to describe XAT as CAT + Decision Making, it is not an accurate representation of the paper because:

  1. CAT is Quantitative Aptitude and Mathematical Reasoning heavy paper but XAT tilts the balance in the direction of Language skills. In CAT 2/3rd of the questions test mathematical skills through QA and DILR sections but in XAT these would be around 40%. Also the third section, Decision Making, is almost a Reading Comprehension cum Critical Reasoning section
  2. XAT has a GK section and all candidates have to write an Essay on a topic.
  3. There are no sectional time limits in XAT.

Structure of XAT

In the last few years, the structure of XAT has changed almost every year but this year the structure is similar to that of last year.  To understand this paper let us have a look at the XAT 2010-16 papers, ignoring the XAT 2011 paper which was an experiment gone wrong. XAT can be broken into three parts:

  1. Aptitude: comprising QADI, Verbal & Logical Ability and Decision Making
  2. General Knowledge (GK): reintroduced in XAT 2013 and is evaluated only at the time of the interview.
  3. Essay: to check your writing skills. It too is evaluated only at the time of interview.

Traditionally, XAT has been a difficult paper and even the toppers could typically attempt less than half of the 90-100 question in 120 minute allocated for the aptitude paper. To ensure that students are able to attempt a larger number of questions XAT has over the last few years reduced the number of questions, reduced the level of difficulty of QADI and increased the time for the paper from 120 to 170 minutes.

  • XAT 2013 increased the time for Aptitude Section to 140 minutes and gave an additional 40 minutes for the 30 GK questions and the Essay.
  • XAT 2014 again had a minor change in the structure of the paper with 150 minutes for the combined Aptitude and GK section and an additional 20 minutes for the Essay.
  • XAT 2015 made it 140 minutes for the aptitude section and 30 minutes for the GK and Essay.
  • XAT 2016 further increased the time for aptitude section to 170 minutes and gave 35 minutes for GK and Essay. This structure is being followed in XAT 2017 also.

As per the latest official release,  XAT 2017 is a 210 minute paper with 170 minutes for 72 questions of Part I (Aptitude portion) and 35 minutes for Part II which consists of 25 GK questions and the Essay. While it has not been explicitly stated but the remaining 5 minutes would be for the changeover from Part I to Part II.  The breakup of the 72 questions of Part I is:

  • Section A: 24 questions, this is most probably Verbal & Logical Ability
  • Section B: 21 questions, this is most probably the Decision Making section.
  • Section C: 27 questions, this is most probably the QADI section.

Negative Marking: In the past, XAT has experimented with differential negative marking, but in the last 3 years it has stuck to a 25% negative marking for incorrect answers. In XAT 2016 negative marking of 0.05 marks for the unattempted questions was also introduced and this is be there in XAT 2017 also.

In XAT 2017 candidates leaving up to 12 questions unattempted will not be penalized but  unattempted questions beyond 12 will carry the negative mark of 0.05. Thus if you attempt 49 questions in Part I and do not attempt 23 questions then the negative marking for unattempted questions will be (23-12) x 0.05 = 0.55 marks. These -0.55 marks will be divided among the three sections in proportion to the number of unatttempted questions which would lead to a reduction of approximately -0.2 marks in each section.

Impact of penalty for unattempted questions: XAT believes that this introduction of negative marking for unattempted questions will encourage students to take risks and not play safe. I disagree with this assessment of XAT because the penalty for unattempted questions is very low.

The penalty for not attempting a questions is 0.05 but that of attempting incorrectly is 0.25 hence you are better off not attempting questions that you are not sure of solving because an incorrect answer has a heavier penalty. Hence my suggestion is to ignore this negative marking for unattempted questions and not change the way you take a test.

Part 1: Aptitude – 170 minutes 

In the last three editions of XAT, the aptitude portion of XAT has had about 80 – 90 questions on English, Quantitative Aptitude & Data interpretation and Decision Making. The sectional break-up in the last few papers and the estimate for 2016 is given below:

Section 2017 2016 2015 2014
Qs Qs Qs Qs
Verbal & Logical Ability 24* 26 28 28
Decision Making 21* 23 23 24
Quantitative Ability 27* 29 33 31
Total Aptitude 72 78 84 83
General Knowledge 25 25 30 20


Time allocation: The total time available for XAT 2016 also was 170 minutes in which the a good time allocation: was 45 minutes to Verbal & Logical Ability, 55 minutes to Decision making a 70 minutes to Quantitative Ability.

Let us now look at each section separately

Verbal and Logical Ability: This is possibly the most difficult English section that you would see in any MBA entrance test. The questions in this section consist mainly of questions from Critical Reasoning, Para Jumbles, Sentence Completion (multiple blanks), Sentence Correction and Reading Comprehension.Vocab based questions have also appeared in this section.

In the last four editions of XAT (2013-16) Reading Comprehension contributed to over half the questions in this section, most of the earlier XAT papers had around one third questions from RC. While the passages were not lengthy (500 – 600 words), they were difficult to read and about half of these questions were inferential.

In this section it is advisable to first attempt Para Jumbles, Sentence Completion, Cloze test and Vocabulary before moving on to the difficult and time consuming question types – Critical Reasoning, RC and Sentence Correction. You can expect an equal number of specific detail based and inferential questions. Focus on understanding the passages and reading the questions and then skimming the passage is not advisable.

Out of the 24 questions in this section, you should target attempting 15-16 questions. If this section is your strength area, then you can target around 20 attempts. However, do not attempt for the sake of attempting, if you are not sure of the answer, especially in Critical Reasoning and Sentence Correction, leave them unattempted.

Decision Making: This section is unique to XAT. It consists of Behavioral and Mathematical decision making questions. The behavioral questions typically give data in the form of a passage in which a situation is described. The protagonist in the passage typically has a dilemma and needs to take a decision. In the questions that follow, you have to suggest the right course of action to be taken by the protagonist. The questions might even check your understanding of the decision. This is almost like Critical Reasoning or RC. The best way of solving these questions is to eliminate choices based on the parameters of fairness, legality and the desired end result. It is extremely important that you be completely objective and do not let your personal biases influence the decision. A

There is a certain amount of subjectivity in these questions and a 100% accuracy is not possible but if you have read the case and the questions carefully and are objective then 80-85% accuracy is not difficult. There would also be a couple of questions that you will need to leave as none of the choices would seem correct.

The mathematical decision making questions are easy to handle if you consider them as DI sets or mathematical reasoning sets. These are, however, time consuming (mostly) and should be attempted after the behavioral questions. Till a couple of years ago it was advisable not to spend too much time on these but with 170 minutes for the paper and the lower level of difficulty, these too should be attempted.

In 55 minutes that you devote to this section you should target attempting about 16-18 questions out of 21 questions.

Quantitative Ability: The level of difficulty of QADI section in XAT has reduced over the years and now it is almost the same as that of CAT 2016. Questions appear from all areas of QA – Arithmetic, Number System, Algebra and Geometry. Base System and Mathematical Reasoning that were once the mainstay of this section are unlikely to contribute more than a couple of questions. For practice, use your CAT material and but do not go beyond the Advanced Level problems of Test Gym Adaptive. You could also use the sectional tests in Test Gym Classic to get a good feel of what each section is like. DI sets are usually simple and do not create any problems in terms of understanding or solving. However in each DI set you could end up leaving 1-2 questions due to high amount of calculation or ambiguity of data.

Till XAT 2015 around half the questions in this section were attempt-able but with reduced level of difficulty in XAT 2016 those who were strong in QADI could attempt around 20 out of 29 QADI questions.  Average students in QADI could also attempt 12-14 questions. I expect QADI in XAT 2017 to have the same level of diifculty as XAT 2016. The 3 round approach and SQC techniques will work here. Check this out in the past XAT papers.

Part 2: Essay and General Knowledge – 35 minutes

General Knowledge (25 questions): Though the General Awareness section will not be included in determining the percentiles and the cut off in the first stage of the selection process, it still is paramount. Your SIS has sufficient resources for this section. The GK compendiums & question banks, GK videos of IIFT/SNAP/XAT, Gyandhara etc. are sufficient preparation to get a decent score. A very low score in this section could eliminate you from the final list of XLRI, so do not ignore GK. As usual, do not waste time on any particular question, if in doubt, leave and move on to the next question. To ensure a good chance of final selection in XLRI target a score of at least 5 marks.

Essay: Like GK, essay is not used for short listing of candidates for the 2nd stage by XLRI, it is evaluated at the time of interview by the panel and unless it is very poorly written, you should not have any problem. Practise writing a coherent, crisp 250 word essay in 20 minutes on topics that XAT has asked in the past. The evaluators not only look for language skills, but also for the thought process involved, the spectrum of ideas, and your knowledge pertaining to the topic at hand. Having a fair knowledge of the contemporary topics will give you an edge. Reading the editorials from your daily newspaper will be useful not only for writing the essay but also for the group discussions and the interviews.

Sectional vs. Overall Cutoffs

The score in Aptitude is used by all the institutes for shortlisting the candidates for the 2nd stage. While XLRI, SP Jain and XIMB have sectional and total cutoffs, almost all other institutes using XAT score for short listing students for their MBA program do it on the basis of the total XAT score only.

To clear the sectional and overall cut-off for XLRI BM (95%ile) one should target  a double digit score in each section and an overall score of 32. The target should be an overall score of over 35 marks. In  XAT 2016 an overall score of 40 was over 99.5%ile.

For a final conversion one should preferably have a score of 98%ile (35-36) because XAT score typically has a 65% weight in the final score. The components of the balance 35% are usually 5% for work experience, 10% each for GD and Interview and 10% for Academics, Essay and GK. These however can change.

Percentiles are calculated only on the basis of the three sections of Aptitude (QADI, VLA and DM).  While XLRI short lists students on the basis of their percentile scores in the aptitude section only but usually candidates with a very low GK score usually do not make it to the final list of XLRI.

GK and Essay scores are considered only by XLRI and that too at the interview stage. Other XAT institutes ignore (or do not have) the Essay and GK scores and short list candidates for the interview only on the basis of the aptitude percentile score only.

If XLRI is not your target institute then you should look at maximizing your overall score without worrying too much about the sectional scores. Spend more time in the section you are good at as it will help you increase your overall score but do spend some time in the other sections as well to ensure that you do not miss out on their easy questions.

How to Prepare

Familiarity with the question types is extremely important for doing well in any MBA entrance test and hence along with XAT FLTs and Mocks, practicing the past XAT papers is essential for cracking the paper. Old XAT papers are available in your SIS along with the solutions, XAT 2015 and 2016 papers are available on XAT Website also.

Solve one paper every 3-4 days starting with XAT 2012 till XAT 2016 under test conditions as it will help you work out your strategy for the paper. In between two XAT papers take a Mock XAT FLT and go through the Verbal and DM sections of the older XAT papers. Do not worry about XAT 2011 paper which, was a botched-up experiment. Also the QADI section of the pre XAT 2012 papers can be ignored since these are extremely difficult and such questions are unlikely now.

Taking a good number of XAT mocks is a must since it will put you in a good stead before the actual exam. Taking about 5 mocks will be more than sufficient to form a strategy. Going for the CL’s XAT Test Series would be a good way to get the exam practice.

The last word

Selection of questions is the key to doing well in this paper. It has both sitters and speed- breakers. With low cut offs, it is your ability to sift out the sitters is usually the difference between getting and not-getting a call. Question selection is more important in XAT than in other papers.

The cut off for the last three XAT papers for XLRI, given below, should convince you to focus on accuracy and not on attempts. The percentile cutoffs for XLRI are:

BM: Verbal 80%ile, DM 80%ile, QA 90%ile and Overall 95%ile

HRM: Verbal 90%ile, DM 80%ile, QA 70%ile and Overall 95%ile

The cut off for XIMB and SP Jain are typically same as that of XLRI BM but that of other top institutes are typically a couple of marks less.

Estimated Cutoffs and Target Score

Section 2017 2016 2015 2014
Verbal & Logical Ability 12-13  7 7.5 7.5 8.5 7.5 8.5
Decision Making 12-13  7.5 7 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5
Quantitative Ability 12-15 8.5  7 8 5.5 8 5.5
Total Aptitude 35-40 31 28 29.50 27.50 27.75 24.75

All the best.