Cracking SBI PO Mains

indexThe second and most crucial round of the SBI PO exam is round the corner. The main aim of this article is to help students to prepare for this round.

First let us understand the exam pattern.

About the Exam: The objective exam will have four sections of 50 marks each, as per SBI notification. The sections are:

a) English Language (Grammar, Vocabulary, Comprehension etc.)
b) General Awareness, Marketing &Computers
c) Data Analysis & Interpretation
d) Reasoning (High Level)

Let me now deal with the agenda. Moving ahead, I have answered few frequently asked questions and also provided guidelines on preparation for the exam.

What is more important speed or accuracy? SBI PO, foremost is the test of speed. That does not mean that accuracy is not important. But to have a chance of clearing the overall cut off, the number of attempts need to be decent and for that calculated risk (Marking an option after making an intelligent guess or after eliminating two options) has to be taken. So, I suggest that you should approach the exam with an aggressive mindset to see all the 200 questions and attempt all those questions for which you are more than 50% sure.

What would be a decent attempt or a decent score? This is the most difficult thing to suggest. Both the things can only be judged on the spot once the question paper is in hand. I suggest that one should focus on the preparation rather than worrying about attempts and cut offs. Prepare well, make a sound test taking strategy and go with a positive attitude.

How to prepare for the sections? The next 10-14 days are the most critical phase of this entire SBI PO exam journey. Your entire focus should revolve around how to make full use of these days left for the exam. Here are my suggestions:

a. For Data Interpretation: This section is going to be a differentiator- a section which could make or mar your chance. The DI sets could be calculation intensive. You should focus on improving your calculation speed. Besides solving previous SBI PO papers, for practise, I suggest to solve DI caselets asked in CAT exam (year 1990 to 2000). The moderate level DI questions could be of this level. To practise calculation intensive DI set, I suggest to solve previous 5 year papers of IIFT (IIFT is an entrance exam of Indian Institute of Foreign Trade). These should be sufficient.

Now, why I am saying that DI would be a differentiator? Because most of the students think of DI as a time consuming section and their mere focus is on clearing the cut off. But then most of the students will not make it to the next round. So, if you wish to differentiate yourself then prepare for DI.

Remember, DI caselets difficulty level can be judged in a minute, unlike LR caselets. And that makes your job of seeing all the 50 questions of this section easy.

b. For Logical Reasoning: Everybody or shall I say majority, feels comfortable about this section. The problem with this section is that it is a double edged sword, if you crack a caselet you get 5 answers correct, but if are unable to crack it then you end up wasting time. SBI has clearly mentioned that the questions in this section will be of high level, and so the risk with the section also increases.

For preparation, I suggest to pick the areas and make them solid. Syllogisms are must attempt as they can be solved quickly. So practise syllogism. At least one question on circular seating arrangement will definitely be asked, so practise this part. Input Output sequencing questions will also be asked. Once again I suggest solving previous year SBI PO papers and CAT papers (1990 to 2004) for practise.

As a general observation, if you are finding this section easy then majority will also find it easy. Also, most people will think of scoring well in this section. So, you need to be competent enough.

c. For English: The easiest and the most neglected part of this section are RC passages. And because they are neglected, they will be the differentiator. Your aim should be to attempt both the RCs (I assume two RCs will be asked) in the exam. The parajumbles and cloze test are also easy and should be attempted. Grammar can be bit tricky. At this juncture, solving previous SBI PO exam papers should be sufficient for the preparation.

The good part about this section is that it is less time consuming. And the bad part is that it often is subjective and accuracy may suffer. But I suggest to focus on the good part and to attempt 30-35 questions.

d. For GA/Marketing/Computers: When it comes to GA, be thorough with the happenings of the last 3 months. The questions from computers and marketing are of very elementary level and being aware about the basic terms will be sufficient. Of course previous year papers will give you an idea about the level of questions being asked.

The best part of this section is that it can be finished in 10 minutes and hence it should be attempted first.

Is writing Mock Test important? Yes, very important. Before the actual exam, you should daily write one test and do a proper analysis of the test. This will help you to strategise your examination day approach. Half the students lose even after good preparation because they do not have proper strategy for the exam and hence they end up mismanaging their time.

What should be the order in which to attempt the sections in the test? You should be very clear with the approach to the exam. I suggest you to strictly follow the order of attempt and time allotment which you have decided for yourself; else your time management will go haywire.

My suggested order of attempt for the sections is:

Order Section Time Management
1. GA/Marketing/Computer 10 mins
2. English 25 mins
3. Logical Reasoning 40 mins
4. DI 45 mins


Prepare well, Take mock test, analysis and strategise for the exam.


Suggested Book Reads for a Beginner -II (Non Fiction)

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The second list of the Suggested Book Reads for a beginners focuses on non- fiction category. I must confess that the list by now way is exhaustive, as it is impossible to make a complete list. So, here is the list (in no particular order):

1. Built To Last by Jim Collins ( Business and Management): The book’s focus is on the fundamental differences between a great and an average company. Several examples from the real world are included to drive the differences.

2. Straight From the Gut by Jack Welch (Business and Management): The legendary Jack Welch talks about his career as the leader of GE. Simple language and simplified but valuable lessons.

3. Autobiography of Lee Iacocca (Business and Management): Lee Iacocca takes through his inspirational journey in Ford and Daimler Chrysler.

4. Made In America by Sam Walton (Business and Management): The autobiography of Sam Walton, the man who created the mammoth Wal-Mart.

5.  Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson (Business and Management):  Two Mice and Two humans, describes the commonly occurring challenges and issues in the workplace.

6. It happened Only in India by Kishor Biyani (Business and Management): Autobiography of the man behind Big Bazaar. The book is a simple read and it pertains to the Indian entrepreneur.

7. The Difficulty of Being Good by Gurcharan Das (Philosophy/Social): In a very unique fashion, Gurcharan Das – former CEO of P&G, analyses each character of Mahabharata in detail. He then draws the learnings from them and applies those learnings to answer the questions on moral and ethical dilemma existing in the contemporary world.

8. The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant (Philosophy): A concise overview on the great philosophers and their philosophy.

9. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda (Spirituality): A simple story which gives insight on the Indian way of spirituality and self realization. By the way, Steve Jobs was so mightily impressed with this book that he read it several times, and he gifted the copies of this book to friends and family. It is also considered to be his last gift to them.

10. Krishna: The Man and his Philosophy by Osho (Spirituality):  I am a Krishna Fan, and no better person to explain Krishna than Osho. In his book he has drawn comparisons between Krishna and other greats – Buddha and Mahavira.

11. It’s Not About The Bike by Lance Armstrong (Sports- Autobiography): Inspirational. I must say it is a bible of inspiration. Lance Armstrong talks about his fight with cancer and how he then went on to become the world champion in the most grueling sporting event of cycling.

12. Out of the Comfort Zone by Steve Waugh (Sports- Autobiography): The gritty Steve Waugh talks about his journey to greatness with several interesting anecdotes.

13. Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki (Finance): Through the life style of two people ‘rich dad’ and ‘poor dad’ Kiyosaki teaches the basic investing decisions and he management of the personal finances. The book is simple to understand.

14. Freakonomics by Dubner and Levitt (Economics): With very little technicalities the authors try to explore the hidden side of the common occurrences through the periscope of economics.

15.  Law for the Layman by M.J. Anthony (Legal): Overview of the laws to make a commoner aware about his rights and laws (India) affecting day to day life. One highly informative book.

16. Seven Habits of Highly Effective people by Stephen Covey (Self Help): One of the most recommended book of this genre. The chapters on Win-Win and First things First are my favorite.

17. The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma (Self Help):  A simple read. Read it long back but still remember the 21 day formula of doing a particular act to make it a habit and I still share it with others.

18. Glimpses of the World History by Jawaharlal Nehru (History): Collection of letters which Nehru sent from the prison to his daughter. In the letters he has, in a very simple manner, described the entire world history. The book is voluminous but the chapters are not very long and the language is simple.

19. Indian Unbound by Gurcharan Das (India/Economics): Gurcharan Das discusses the India’s economic journey post independence. It gives good insight on the Hindu Growth Rate period.

20.Stay Hungry Stay Foolish by Rashmi Bansal (Entrepreneurship): A collection of the entrepreneurial journey of 25 IIM A pass outs. The book becomes monotonous after the first 5-6 chapters but it is insightful till then.


To Read More On Books Check:


Suggested Book Reads for a Beginner (Fiction):

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All most all the people realize importance of book reading as a habit and at least once in their life they have tried to build on this habit but only few people are able to do so successfully. There may be many reasons which may make the try unsuccessful, and the wrong choice of the book is among one of the prominent reasons. By wrong choice I mean a book whose subject matter or language is too complex for a beginner.

Here is my list of beginner books; of course many would find this list incomplete, which it is. There is a possibility that I have missed quite an obvious book or author name in my list. But then we are talking about a hobby with a limitless scope, so in all likelihood I would not have read the author or the book which someone else may think of as an obvious read.

I suggest that for a beginner, fiction books are the one to start with. Generally, a beginner is interested in a storyline. There should be a hook to keep the beginner under arrest, and the storyline could just be that hook. For the fiction category rather than the books I suggest the authors whom one can read.

The list is no particular order –

  1. Chetan Bhagat or Sidney Sheldon: They have played such an important role of introducing many people into the realm of book reading. Their books are spicy and the language is simple.
  2. Robin Cook: Robin cook writes medical thrillers.
  3. John Grisham: John Grisham writes legal thrillers.
  4. Agatha Christie: Best known for her crime detective novels.
  5. Dan Brown: Personally, one of my favorites when it comes to thrillers. He creates a maze with the theme of symbols and codes and takes the reader through mind boggling treasure hunts. The Da Vinci Code and Angel and Demons are two of the best books.
  6. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Talk about detective novels and it is impossible to miss the legendary Sherlock Holmes. Sir Doyle’s writing style is true Englishman like with an absolute fondness for the purity of language.
  7. Short Story Books of Rudyard Kipling and of R.K. Narayan: Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and Malgudi Days by RK Narayan are the two of the best short story books for the beginners. The immortal characters of Mowgli and Swami find their irreplaceable place in the pantheons of fictional world through these two books respectively.
  8. Paulo Coelho: Personally, I do not like Paulo Coelho books, but there are few landmarks which one has to visit as a ritual. The Alchemist is by far the most popular book of the author.
  9. Mario Puzo: Perhaps no other author and his books would have inspired so many Hollywood and Bollywood filmmakers as Mario Puzo. Best known for the book The Godfather, the author has written several books on Mafia.
  10. P.G. Wodehouse: When it comes to humour, P.G. Wodehouse is incomparable. Besides the humour, the biggest attraction of the P.G. Wodehouse books is their slim size. Pick up the ones with Jeeves as the main character.
  11. J.K. Rowling: The writer of the best seller series, Harry Potter. This is one writer, I have missed reading altogether. I regret the miss and I am about to make up for it. I think her popularity is a good enough reason to pay the ritualistic visit to at least one of her books.

A Page from Experience – From an employee to self employed


Getting up at the 6.00 in the morning, rushing to catch the Mumbai local train, reaching office by 8.55 am, spending the long hours looking at the screen under the pretense of work, and then awaiting for the clock to tick few minutes over 6.30 in the evening so as to slyly walk out of the work place with a hope to avoid the gaze of those who either were more pretentious than I was or were workaholics; My life was no different from the thousands of the employees for whom the joys of life are limited to the weekends and the salary day.

I would get up, complain, spend the day, sleep – all the while awake to the reality that I was not at all enjoying my life as an overpaid MBA graduate.  Being from a business class family, I always had the itch to start my own venture.  But my comfortable salaried job acted as a deterrent to follow the itch. As the days went by, the intensity of the itch kept on augmenting when finally I did leave my job to start on my own.

The transition from an employee to a self –employed had been very critical.  In this article, I will share what happened in that transition period – the period between the point when the thought about doing something of my own seeded in my mind and the point when I actually executed that thought.

Here are few lessons from that page of my life:

When In Doubt Do not Commit:   My earlier boss taught me an important lesson ‘When in Doubt say No. Boss’s statements are like laws, open to interpretation!! So what I interpreted was this ‘When in doubt do not commit, buy the time and analyse’. Of course following this lesson often causes deferment, but then it definitely helps to avoid mercurial decision making.

Very often in life, we take decisions under the effect of emotions, thinking ourselves to be intuitive. (Intuition is one of the many over used corporate jargon). Many a times even I had intuitively mistaken an infatuation for a serious affair and then regretted.   But when it came to taking the jump, I followed my boss’s lesson.  To decide whether the desire to start on my own was merely an infatuation or a serious affair, I gave myself time frame of six months, thinking that if the desire persists after six months it has to be a serious affair and hence to be followed.

I must say that I did interpret my desire correctly.  I apply this ‘When in doubt do not commit’ strategy whenever I feel arrested by my emotions.  It always works for me or may be my perception makes it look working for me. But anyways I am happy.

Pluck the low hanging fruit:  Desiring to start the enterprising journey is one thing and having an idea (Idea, another overly used corporate jargon) on how to do it is quite another . I have seen many people cribbing about their life and desiring to start the entrepreneurial journey but not doing so because they think that they lack the next BIG IDEA.  Somehow they equate the entrepreneurship to the BIG IDEA.

Thankfully, I never had such equation in my mind because I knew that I would never possess such BIG IDEA. So I decided to do something which would be easy to start, something as low profile as starting a coaching institute.  I thought that I had the skills and the passion to be a decent teacher. For me, I thought training would be a low hanging fruit to pluck.  I started off with a belief that someday the BIG IDEA will eventually strike me. It has not yet striked or maybe it has striked but my happy engagement to my occupation has made it redundant for me.

Garner Support of family and few friends:   They are the pivot. During tough times we need few people who can stand by us. I am fortunate to have parents and a wife and a friend who have always supported my decision. One thing which I did when I was leaving the job was that I did not seek opinion from many people about my decision.  In fact I never talked about the plan to anyone apart from the people I mentioned.

I think talking to many people only increases the complexity of decision making.  All we need is the agreement and support of 4-5 people who are at different stages of their life.  They usually happen to be the most important people in our life.

Respect what is in your hand:  Often we daydream and start counting the chickens too early. What we have in our hand is the only and the ultimate insurance against the volatility of the mind. During my transition phase, I was always apprehensive about the fickleness of my mind and so I decided that till the time I actually start my journey, I need to take ownership of whatever job was assigned to me.  I think it helped me in more than one ways – I was able to concentrate on my then present assignment, I was able to make myself count to my boss till my last day in the company and most importantly I was able say and listen a real heartfelt Good Bye.

The ending note of one chapter is perhaps more important than the starting note of the next chapter, as then we have something to fall back if the next chapter does not turn out as per the expectation.

Trust the positive forces:  There is no bigger a success puller than the positive forces of the mind. I always thought that the only thing required to taste success was hard work.  But as I am maturing as a person and trainer I have started to realise that the equally big – if not bigger – condition for success is living with the positive belief. The belief that eventually one will get what one deserves, may be even more.  I do not know whether the forces have gifted me what I deserve, but surely they have made my life much easier by making me believe that if I remain positive, positive will happen.


Also read:


What shall I do if my profile is not good? Will I get a good B school?


The first condition to get admission to any top B-school (Top 25) in India  is to do well in the written exam (which is the first round of the selection process).  Profile, which includes your academic record, extra -curricular achievements, work -ex etc, is only one of the parameter which goes in to the consideration during the admission process of a good B-school.   .

Having a below par profile is certainly disadvantageous but you can compensate for this disadvantage by doing well in the written round.  Some colleges consider the profile as an input to give the GD/PI calls (which is the second round of the selection process) and most of the colleges consider the profile only during the final selection (i.e. after the second round).  That means that for the majority of the good colleges you can further compensate for your weak profile by doing well in the GD/PI round. So, there is plenty of scope.  Secondly, if you know that your profile is not good then you can start working to make it good; yes this is difficult but not impossible. To achieve this difficult task, rather than making one big effort, you have to make the small iota efforts in many directions. For example, if you have never scored 80% in your academic life, expecting from yourself a score 90% in next semester is unrealistic. But you can certainly aim for scoring 5% more than your usual score, you can look to participate in the state/national level events, you can start taking leadership positions, you can do meaningful internships and perhaps many such small things. The many iotas will help you 🙂

Remember, your past efforts are affecting your present, that way your present efforts will also affect your future.  Past cannot be changed, but future can certainly be channelized. You should focus on improving your profile and put efforts to that effect.

Now, for the admissions to the good B-school.  You may not get a second round call from few IIMs who take profile as an input to give the calls for the GD/PI round. But you will certainly get the calls from the other IIMs and the top B schools, provided you score well in the written exam.

Bottomline is this: Do not think about the obstacles, prepare well, live with the drawbacks and build strengths to overcome the drawbacks.

A Page From Experience – 5 things to Remember while Setting Goals


During my engineering days, I once had an opportunity to attend a motivational seminar on the “Importance of Goals”.  By the end of the seminar I started to believe that I am the master of my fate.  That night, I promised to start a journey, a journey to carve out my own fate.  Next day, with all the positivity I was set to start the journey.

Soon I realized that I had a very vague idea of my goal, unlike to what the speaker in the seminar had suggested.  Though, I realized that engineering was not to my liking, I was unsure about my PG. The only thing which I knew was that I had to improve on my English.

A long passage of time has passed since then; I have done my MBA and I have achieved few significant possessions – the blessings and the love of people. But even today, my goal is as vague as ever.  On the hindsight, I have realized that  that with every passing experience, my goals kept on evolving.  I know what I am saying is against the conventional wisdom but this is the fact which I have experienced. And here, I am sharing my experience about the goals.


  • Ever evolving need not mean unstable:

Life, Civilizations and Human Being, they all are ever evolving.  And so are goals. Evolution is not the sign of weakness or instability.  I believe it is perfectly all right to have only a vague sense of the goal.

If I look back, I had first decided to pursue MBA from abroad, then UPSC and then finally MBA from India.   My goals kept on evolving.  After MBA, I joined an MNC, then I started training people and now my new found goal is to be a writer in addition to a trainer.

  • How to deal with the vagueness of the goal?

Take Small Steps. The easiest way to deal with the vagueness is putting a small bit of effort everyday without fail.  Besides ensuring daily progression, small steps are also a good measure against the over commitment to one thing.

Though I was not very clear about my goal, I wanted to improve my English, which was a common testing area for most of the exams and jobs.  I started reading newspaper editorials daily. I also spent some time daily on building my word power.

  • Small Steps towards the goal should be  specific, quantifiable, realistic and challenging:

I have found many passionate people with the drive towards the goals, failing to make any significant headway, primarily because they set macroscopic goals which are difficult to measure.  So the aim should be to set small, measurable and challenging but realistic goals.   Setting such goals will at least help you to know the reasons of your success or failure, as the case may be.

Initially, I had set the goals of reading editorial daily and finishing a fixed number of sessions from the word power book.  Later when I enjoyed reading I set the daily target of finishing ‘N’ number of pages everyday of any book/novel.  I kept on changing the value of ‘N’ so as to find enough challenge.  Even for my writing,now  I have set a small goal of writing one blog every week.

  • Enjoy each small step:

Enjoying the process is another important aspect. Unrealistic or dissimulating targets make the process dull. Nobody knows the exact thing which will give him happiness, so the best thing is to keep on exploring new ways.  An amount of innovation in the process certainly brings the freshness, if not happiness.

For my English, I used to read letters to editor section of any random issue of the magazines and by reading the letters, I tried to build the entire previous issue of the same magazine.   I also remember writing the letters to the editor.  Once I did get my letter published in the letters section. To improve the retention of words, I used to associate them with some person or experience.  I also tried to mimic the accent of English News reporters.   For my current goal of writing,  I try to write on various aspects like, current affairs, book review and self experiences.  I don’t know if I am creative but I certainly like what I am doing.

  •  You define your goals, your goals do not define you:

This is by far the most important lesson on goals that I have learnt. Yes, one should look to stretch the limit but not at the cost of the peace of the mind.  Big and the unrealistic goals do not define one’s personality. Many have this belief that talking big is a sign of being ambitious.  It is one thing to set unrealistic goals and other thing to achieve them.  Walking the Small Talk is much better than Talking the Big Talk and Killing even the smaller dreams.  So, set the goals which suit your personality and temperament, that way you will be much happier in life.