English for Competitive Exams

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English for Competitive Exams

While most Indian students are comfortable with the quantitative section of competitive exams such as CAT, GMAT, GRE, IELTS, etc, English for competitive exams remains a challenge for many. With equal weightage, if not more, to English for competitive exams as to Maths, it’s imperative to gain clarity about basic grammar rules, understand the skills it needs to crack the verbal section of competitive exams and get extremely comfortable and confident with English for competitive exams.  Does the “English monster” petrify you and gives you doubts about cracking the competitive exam you are preparing for?

Worry not, you will conquer and win over this monster after reading this guide. This blog will help you gain clarity on general English for competitive exams, the best English books for preparation, golden rules of grammar, tips to improve your score in the verbal section of various competitive exams, and the types of questions asked!

English Grammar for Competitive Exams

English is one of the most scoring sections of competitive exams if you do them well. They are designed to understand your proficiency and understanding of English. Moreover, if you are able to answer Grammar questions correctly and quickly, you have more time to focus on other sections of the exam. So, let’s check out some of the important English grammar sections for competitive exams:

  1. Reading Comprehension
  2. Prepositions
  3. Homophones/Homonyms
  4. Sentence Correction Questions
  5. Sentence Rearrangement & Para jumbles
  6. Idioms And Phrases
  7. Subject-Verb Agreement
  8. Modals
  9. Reported Speech
  10. Active And Passive Voice
  11. Conjunctions
  12. Clauses
  13. One Word Substitutions
  14. Omission
  15. How to write Articles
  16. Confusing Words
  17. Adjectives
  18. Synonyms and Antonyms
  19. Letter Writing Format
  20. Spotting the Error
  21. Cloze Test
  22. List of Prepositions
  23. Poetic Devices
  24. Rules For Tenses

General English for Competitive Exams 

Most competitive exams test the verbal skills of candidates with questions based on topics like Nouns, Pronouns, Adjectives, Adverbs, Tenses, Prepositions, Conjunctions, Active and Passive Voice, Reporting Speech, Diction, etc. Knowledge of these topics will help you answer the questions on the verbal section of competitive exams. Appearing for IELTS, TOEFL or PTE is an elementary yet painstaking effort if you’re planning to study abroad. If you want to know more, read our blog on English Proficiency Tests.

Basic Error Types in English for Competitive Exams

Syllabus in English for Competitive Exams

Here are the major topics that are usually covered under the section of English for Competitive exams, be it CAT, SSC or other prominent entrance exams.

VocabularySynonyms and Antonyms
Cloze Test
Idioms And Phrases
One Word Substitutions
GrammarActive And Passive Voice
Reported Speech 

List of Prepositions
Sentence Correction Question
Spotting the Error

Multiple Meaning
Reading ComprehensionSentence Rearrangement & Para jumbles
Paragraph Completion
ComprehensionReading Comprehension
DescriptiveEssay Writing
Letter Writing
Precis Writing

Now, let’s impart you with the key tips and tricks to crack these English section topics in competitive exams:

Cloze Test

A unique combination of ‘fill in the blanks with ‘reading comprehension, a cloze test comprises of a paragraph having some missing words in it that the student is asked to add. As a prominent part under English for competitive exams, while taking a cloze test, you must first try to familiarize yourself with the flow and context of the passage.

Under this topic of English for competitive exams, remember to

  • Read the passage meticulously and carefully.
  • Link sentences to each other which will help you find the right word to fill in the blanks
  • Assess the type of word you need to fill which will depend upon the grammar, tenses, prepositions and vocabulary used in the passage.
    • Gauge the tone of the passage and negate options accordingly which will give you the right answer.
  • Highlight keywords that are frequently or prominently used.
Credits: Dear Sir

Idioms & Phrases

Idioms and phrases can be another bewildering topic you might encounter while preparing for English for competitive exams. English idioms and phrases can be quite complex to understand and tackle, there are some useful tricks that can help you memorise them easily. Here is a list of hacks and tricks that can assist you in remembering idioms and phrases as well as their meanings.

  • Comprehend the context of an idiom or phrase, especially in the situation in which it is used. The most important quality of idioms and phrases is that they are situational, and contextual as well as might suit one situation or even more than that.
  • Don’t mug up idioms, phrases and their meanings but try to build up a story or visual around them which will help you remember them in the long run.
  • You can also delve deeper into an idiom or phrase and its origins which can further assist you in cracking this section of English for Competitive exams.

One-word Substitution

The master key for nailing one-word substitution is to constantly practice them through different sample papers and mock tests. Read newspapers regularly and try learning five new words every day. Your vocabulary will significantly play an important role in solving one-word substitutions.

One Word Substitution Quiz

One Word Substitution for SSC CGL

One-word substitution words are very commonly asked in SSC CGL exams and weigh highly as well. So, here are some of the common word substitutions asked in SSC CGL for you to prepare:

Complex situation or a mix-upImbroglioThe romantic imbroglio happened
when he met my landlords assuming
they were my parents.
A person who lives in solitudeRecluseHe was a recluse until the
the girl entered his life.
Make someone feel youngRejuvenateThis exfoliating scrub can
completely rejuvenate your skin.
Not showing enough care and attentionRemissI realised that she was totally
remiss in finishing her daily tasks.
15. A shelter for a DogKennelOur new pup spent all his day

hiding inside the kennel.
16. Where wild animals live: LairI found a hidden lair in the
forest but was too afraid to go inside it.
A place where coins are madeMintThis industrial facility is actually
a mint that manufactures coins.
Ordinary and DullMundaneI am bored with the mundane
life of the quarantined days.
A person who loves himself the mostNarcissistJohn is a narcissist and will
never love anyone else but himself.
A group of spoiled girlsPosseA posse of high school students
arrived at the party.

Sentence Correction

In English for competitive exams, you will come across sentence correction questions that many find confusing and complex to solve. This topic depends upon various other grammar concepts such as subject-verb agreement, modifiers, and tenses, amongst others. While practising this topic, some of the essential tips you can utilise are:

  • Start with locating errors in the questions, they might be in the structure, placement of verbs, or even in dictions (affect instead of effect).
  • Once you have found the error, the next thing is to eliminate the wrong options.
  • Sometimes the shorter answer is the right one because long options are added to confuse the student. So, choose accordingly. 
  • Substitute your answer within the sentence and see if it makes sense. If it does, select it otherwise go through the sentence again and reconsider the other options.
Credits: EGmat

Reading Comprehension

As a prominent inclusion under English for competitive exams, Reading Comprehension comprises a passage which is then followed by certain objective or multiple-choice questions that the test-taker needs to answer. The useful tips and tricks for nailing Reading Comprehension are as follows:

  • Narrow down a central idea that has been talked about in the passage.
  • Comprehend the context of the paragraph and note down the key pointers discussed.
  • While solving questions, use those key pointers and once you have found the answers, connect them with the content of the passage to recheck.
  • For synonym or antonym-related questions, choose the option which suits the content of the passage and your vocabulary will also play a pivotal role in finding the right answer for these types of questions.

Vocabulary to Improve English for Competitive Exams 

While working on your English for competitive exams, it’s also important to build a strong vocabulary. Read our blog on 50 difficult words and meanings to start building a foundation of extensive vocabulary that will help you master English for competitive exams. In addition to this, it’s also important to understand the difference between similar words that have been confusing us for the longest time. 

  • Lie – be in or assume a horizontal or resting position on a supporting surface.
    Lay – put (something) down gently or carefully.
  • Hanged – kill (someone) by tying a rope attached from above around their neck and removing the support from beneath them.
    Hung – suspend or be suspended from above with the lower part dangling free (used for things, not people).
  • Adapt – make suitable. 
    Adopt – take a child as one’s own.
  • Allusion – pleasant and good-tempered. 
    Illusion – false notion.
  • Besides – by the side.
    Besides – in addition to. 
  • Childish – Silly.
    Childlike – Innocent. 
  • Historic – famous or important in history.
    Historical – pertaining to history. 
  • Verbal – relating to words.
    Verbose – wordy.
  • Disinterested – free from bias or prejudice. 
    Uninterested – not interested.

English Grammar Quizzes

Now that you have learned what comes with these competitive exams, let’s take some interesting short quizzes that will help you understand your proficiency in English.

Editing Quiz


English Grammar Rules for Competitive Exams 

Here is a list of a few must-know grammar rules to help you prepare for English for competitive exams and crack the verbal section of any competitive exam: 

  • When a Noun or Pronoun is placed before a gerund (ing-word), it must be in the possessive case. For example, I was pleased with Robert’s coming here. But the possessive case cannot be used with a gerund when the noun devotes a lifeless thing. For example, there is no danger of the wall (not walls) falling down. 
  • A Proper Noun becomes a common noun when it is used in plural form or when an article is placed before it. For example Five Gandhis, the Miltons, etc.
  • A Collective Noun takes a Singular Verb when the whole group is considered as one unit. Example: The Committee consists of 5 members. But if we refer to the members of the community separately, the verb takes the plural form. Like, The community have taken their seats. 
  • While confessing a fault (or expressing a negative idea) the should be – first, second, and then third. However, when expressing praise or a positive idea, the sequence of personal pronouns is second, third, and then first.
  • Few/Fewer/Many are used before Countable Nouns while Less/Lesser/Much is used before Uncountable Nouns. 
  • An Adverb should never be placed between ‘to’ and the Verb.
  • When the subjects joined by ‘either-or’, or ‘neither-nor are of different persons, the Verb will agree in person and number with the Noun nearest to it. 
  • If connectives like ‘with’, ‘together with, ‘as well as, accompanied by‘, etc are used to combine two subjects, the verb agrees with the subject mentioned first. 
  • ‘That‘ in a sentence is used for crucial information while ‘which‘ is used for additional information. 
  • Generally ‘as‘ is followed by a Verb and ‘like‘ is followed by a Noun. 
  • ‘Like‘ is used to present similarity whereas ‘such as‘ is used to give examples.
  • Compared to‘ is used to draw a comparison between unlike things while ‘Compared with‘ is used to draw a comparison between like things.
  • Advice is an Uncountable Noun. ‘Advices’ is wrong. 

Competitive Exam Books for English

In order to prepare well for the exam, you need to prepare with good resources. Studying top-rated books for your competitive exams will help you ace your exams!

Check out the best books for English for competitive exams:

SSC Books for English

The following SSC CGL books are perfect for the students preparing for one of the most renowned exams on a variety of topics like synonyms, antonyms, one-word substitution, sentence correction, idioms and phrases, spelling tests, etc. 

English Books for UPSC

Here are some of the best books for UPSC Exam’s English section that you can prepare from:

How to Improve General English for Competitive Exams?

Here are a few tips and tricks to improve English for competitive exams: 

English for Competitive Exams

Read Newspapers Regularly 

The importance of reading newspapers regularly not only adds to your knowledge but also helps you improve your vocabulary and broaden your horizons, provided you read it the right way.

  • Firstly, time your reading for every major article, keep the stopwatch running. This simple act will make you faster and more focused.
  • Don’t miss the editorials. Editorial articles are big and rich and they should form the core of your reading practice.
  • Use highlighters and pens to mark new words, difficult phrases, key ideas, etc that you come across while reading the newspaper. 
  • Write down everything you have learned (like new words, phrases, etc ) in a separate place and review it periodically.

Keep Revising Grammar Rules 

With so many concepts and rules for grammar you need to remember for English for competitive exams, it will be a good idea to revise the grammar rules on a daily or weekly basis.

  • You can prepare flashcards and carry them with you while you are travelling and make sure you go through them whenever you get time. 
  • Make sure you use the vocabulary and grammar rules that you use in your writing; be it an assignment or a mere WhatsApp message. 
  • Take guidance from some of the best English Grammar books.

Prepare for Reading Comprehension

Nailing the reading comprehension section of English for the competitive exam depends on your reading speed, efficient analysis, repeated practice and strong vocabulary. Here are a few tips to understand this section:

  • Focus on the linking words like yet, however, on the other hand, but, in contrast, in conclusion, in addition, etc. This will allow you to establish a structure to the text.
  • Never get too lost in the details and try to understand the whole passage. Instead, work from the questions back to the passage. Once you have read the question, you know exactly what you are looking for and this will help you fetch the answer easily.

Excel at Spotting Errors 

While improving your English for competitive exams calls for going into the basics of grammar and honing verbal ability skills, it’s also important to excel in the ability to identify errors quickly and reach the correct answer effectively. 

  • Read the sentence completely and understand the meaning and structure of the sentence.
  • Try to find the evidence for your answer, instead of choosing an answer just because you think it is correct.
  • Remember that answer choices in passive voice are usually incorrect. 
  • Scan the answer choices for obvious differences and low-hanging fruits – the first and last words of each answer choice, pronouns, and verbs. 

Related Read

Synonyms of WasteAdjectives that start with A
Synonyms of JovialAdjectives that start with B
Synonyms of HugeAdjectives that start with C
Synonyms of CaptureAdjectives that start with D
Synonyms of WelcomeAdjectives that start with E

Build a Strong Vocabulary

Having a strong vocabulary can always help you ace English for competitive exams. You can use the following techniques:

  • Learn at least one new word every day and use it in general conversations.
  • Flashcards can be the best way to memorise words easily.
  • Make use of smartphone apps like U-Dictionary, Vocab24, English Grammar Ultimate, Duolingo, English Grammar Handbook, etc. to learn on the go.

Recommended Read:

Work on Your Listening Skills

Having strong listening skills gives you the ability to apply your knowledge of the language in everyday settings.

  • Listen to English TV, online videos, podcasts, radio, movies or whatever you can find.
  • After listening to a short passage, try to think of questions that could be asked and try answering them accordingly.
  • If you have difficulties in understanding the accent, practice by playing an audio message and then reading the content. It is important to work on your pronunciation.
  • Focus on the meaning, try to understand the idea and draw conclusions.

Time Management

Time Management is the key to master English for competitive exams. Try to finish the section as soon as possible because it will give you an upper hand over others.

We hope that all these concepts, types of questions, grammar rules, and tips and tricks will help you prepare well for English competitive exams. If you need any help with the preparation of competitive exams like GMAT, GRE, IELTS, etc, you can get in touch with Leverage Edu and kickstart your journey to success. 

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  1. Very well explained the key areas one needs to focus on Verbal/English Section, to prepare themselves for various competitive exams. I liked it.

  1. Very well explained the key areas one needs to focus on Verbal/English Section, to prepare themselves for various competitive exams. I liked it.