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How to prepare English for competitive exams

The English section is present in all competitive exams held in India. These exams test the ability and mastery of students in this particular language. The English section is frequently called as ‘Verbal Ability’ section. For analysis, this article will focus on four government exams – CAT (Common Admission Test), RBI Grade Exam, SSC CGL (Combined Graduate Level) and Bank PO (Probationary Officer) exam. These exams have varying difficultly level with CAT exam being the toughest and Banking/SSC exams being the easiest of them.

Syllabus – Important Topics


  • Para Jumbles and Para Summary
  • Sentence Completion
  • Inferences
  • Reading Comprehension

RBI Grade Exam

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Sentence Completion
  • Sentence Correction
  • Double Fillers
  • Phrase/Word Replacement


There are four categories of SSC exams. This article will focus on the Combined Graduate Level (CGL) exam.

  • Grammar – Fill in the Blanks, Para Jumble, Error Spotting, Voices
  • Vocabulary – One Word Substitutes, Idioms, Synonyms/Antonyms
  • Reading Comprehension – Passage, Cloze Test

Bank Exams

  • Grammar – Fill in the Blanks, Para Jumbles, Error Spotting
  • Vocabulary – Para Completion
  • Reading Comprehension – Cloze Test

Topic-wise Weighting

The English section may be common in all competitive exams, but the weighting given to each exam differs from exam to exam. The following table shows the complete weighting of the English section for the exams mentioned above:

English Exam Weighting
CAT 34%
RBI 15%
SSC 25%
Bank Exam 30%

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The percentage is calculated by the total marks awarded in the section.

From the table above we can conclude that, CAT exam focuses the highest on the English section. For this section, CAT asks 34 questions carrying 102 marks out of a 300. RBI exam has 30 questions for 30 marks for a total of 200 marks. SSC exam contains 25 questions of 50 marks for a total of 200 marks. For bank exams, the English section would be of moderate level.

Below tables show topic wise questions to be expected in each type:


Chapter Questions Asked
Error Correction 1-2
Jumbled Paragraphs 3-4
Facts-Interference-Judgment 2-3
Para Summary 3-4
Reading Comprehension 2-4

From the table above, we can conclude that the exam focuses on jumbled paragraphs and Para summary. Reading comprehension should also be given importance. Highlighting on these topics can fetch better marks to candidates.

RBI Grade Exam

Type Questions Asked
Reading Comprehension 10
Single/Double Fillers 5
Cloze Test 5
Para Jumbles 5
Error Spotting/Phrase Replacement 5


Category Questions Asked Marks
Spotting Error 2-3 4-6
Cloze Test/Reading Comprehension 5 10
Synonyms/Antonyms 4 8
Idioms and Phrases 2 4
One Word Substitution 2 4
Spelling Mistakes 2 4
Sentence Correction 2 4
Active Passive/Direct Indirect 2 4
Para Jumbles 2 4
Fill in the Blanks 2 4

Reading Comprehension takes up majority of the marks in the SSC CGL exam. Targeting this topic will boost scores and lead to overall good percentage in this particular section.

Bank Exams

Group Questions Asked
Reading Comprehension 7-10
Cloze Test 5-10
Spotting Errors 5-10
Para Jumble 4-5
Sentence Improvement 5-8
Fill in the Blanks 5-7
Vocabulary Based 4-5
Sentence Connector 3-4
Sentence Completion 3-4

The highest number of questions comes from reading comprehension. Since the preliminary paper is common for majority of the banks, the present data is collected from the syllabus of SBI PO bank exam.

After close scrutiny of the above tables, the most important topics to be focused for each exam are compiled below:

Exam Topic
CAT Jumbled Paragraphs | Para Summary
SSC CGL Cloze Test | Reading Comprehension
Bank PO Exams Reading Comprehension
RBI Grade B Exam Reading Comprehension

As can be expected, reading comprehension takes up majority of the questions in these exams. They also constitute of the maximum marks contributed to the verbal reasoning section.

Verbal Reasoning Topics – In Detail

  1. Reading Comprehension: A paragraph will be given and a set of questions will be asked based on it. Candidates should read the paragraph carefully and answer the questions.
  1. Synonyms/Antonyms: Synonyms are words with same meaning. Antonyms are words with opposite meanings.
  1. Jumbled Paragraphs: The first sentence and the last sentence of a paragraph will be given. The middle part of the paragraph remains jumbled. Candidates should find the correct order of the sentences.
  1. Sentence Improvement: Sentences with errors or poor construction will be given. Candidates must make the sentences better with the options given. In some exams this is referred to as Error Correction.
  1. One Word Substitution: A group of words in place of which one word can be used is given. The candidate must find out the correct word from the options.
  1. Idioms and Phrases: Idioms are a group of words that imply something else than what the words mean.
  1. Facts-Interference-Judgment: Few facts will be given as the question. The candidate must infer what they mean and form judgments to arrive at the answer.

Strategies for Verbal Reasoning Section

Preparation for this section requires hard work since English is a vast language with many grammar rules. Reading must be made a habit to increase vocabulary. Following newspapers, especially the editorial columns, provides with a library of new words. While attending comprehension questions, candidates must read the passage thoroughly once or twice. Follow good books that provide exercises suitable for the syllabus. Follow only the syllabus. Nothing pays like hard work, so prepare at least an hour a day for this section.

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