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How to Prepare English for Competitive Exams

by Chetna Vasishth

This article will give you all the tools you need to succeed at the English sections of various competitive exams. These could either be Indian exams like UPSC, IBPS, SBI PO, SSC or Railways or MBA entrance exams like CAT or even International exams like IELTS, TOEFL, SAT, GMAT, GRE etc.


You will find the following –
1. Step by step process of how to read a newspaper effectively
2. Top 5 podcasts to listen to
3. Top 5 books to read for beginners
4. Top 5 academic books to improve your English
And lots of tips and strategies

Whether you are appearing for a competitive exam or an interview, your English speaking, writing, listening and reading skills all get tested. So let’s see how we can improve all four of these skills today.

How to read a Newspaper

I recommend that you read the Hindu newspaper. In our whats app groups we send out the Hindu newspaper every morning for you. If you want to join the groups, the number is right here on the screen.
The question is ‘how to read a newspaper effectively?’

1. Pick up an article from your area of interest – it could be sports, science, current affairs business.

2. First read the article cursorily to get a gist of the news. Don’t try to check word meanings or stop to learn up phrases at this stage

3. Now read the first 4-5 lines again. Read them ‘aloud’ in your mind so that you learn sentence construction, where the articles and prepositions fit into a sentence

4. Next, spot the difficult words or phrases – say OK Google what is the meaning of this word?

5. You can ask Google to give you the pronunciation as well

6. Maintain a notebook where you write down new words or phrases that you learn.

7. Discuss the news with others

8. Change your sections periodically

9. Read the newspaper for 20 minutes everyday.

10. Slowly start reading the editorials, the opinion pages. These are the best sections to read to improve all aspects of English fluency.

Top 5 Podcasts

Listening to good English helps us think in English. Listen to one episode of a podcast for about 20-30 minutes every day. Use the time you spend while in a bus or car or in a gym, or when you’re relaxing. Download a free podcast app like google podcasts, itunes, spotify or stitcher – I use google podcasts and my favourite 5 podcasts to learn English for competitive exams are –

1. Speak English Podcast:

over 100 episodes on interesting topics like – how to compliment your partner in English, how to order a drink in english and American vs British English

2. IELTS Energy English Podcast –

starts by asking if you are looking for a band 7 in the IELTS exam? They have over 800 episodes covering all aspects of speaking, listening, pronunciation, phrasal verbs, idioms, strategies and practice tips

3. Business English Pod –

A good podcast to learn business vocabulary, idioms and english lessons. They have over 400 informative episodes including interview skills, teleconference english, project management english and english for meetings.

4. Effortless English Podcast –

If you like books, you will enjoy these episodes. Several books are discussed here including Seven habits of successful people, Lord of the Rings and The Alchemist. There is an episode on Gandhi as well. This is an easy listening podcast which you can hear on your commute.

5. ‘Learn English with British Council and the Premier League’ –

if you like football and also want to learn English this is an enjoyable podcast. I particularly enjoyed the episode that discussed words and phrasal verbs connected to fitness.
Bonus Podcast

6. ‘The English We speak’ –

short episodes – e.g. phrases with their meaning and many examples

Tip – Write difficult vocabulary down in your notebook and go over this notebook every weekend.

Top 5 Books to Read

If there is one single habit that will have the maximum impact on your English fluency, it is the regular habit of reading. So ideally read every day for about 20 minutes. Read any topic, any book that interests you. It is more important to read everyday, than to stress about reading classics. You can start even with children’s books if you like them, I grew up reading Enid Blyton books. But today, I will share with you my favourite 5 books that will keep you interested and yet help you learn English

1. Unhurried tales – Ruskin Bond –

This book is a gem. It brings together Ruskin bond’s favourite (and finest) novellas. Novellas are longer than a short story but shorter than a full novel. The stories in this book include time stops at shamli; The blue umbrella and the last tiger. The stories will not only help you improve your English, but will also remind you of the times when life and people were simple.

2. Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri –

Jhumpa Lahiri is an Indian American Pulitzer Prize winning author. This book is about an NRI couple that have a son whom they named ” Gogol”. It is about how he hates his name growing up in America but how he is never able to erase the person that he is, his roots and his origin. You will love Jhumpa’s writing style and this relatable story as well

3. Black beauty – Anna Sewell –

It’s is very helpful for the beginners in English literature. This book is easily understandable, hence even teengers can read it! in fact you can check out the Oxford Bookworms library and all their books are great reads to improve your English e.g. Jungle Book, Oliver Twist, Eat, pray, love etc.

4. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Raold Dahl –

a perfect book for beginners. Raold Dahl is one of the finest story tellers having written masterpieces like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and Matilda. This is an adventurous fantasy book that you might well just like to finish in one sitting.

5. Wings of Fire – APJ Abdul Kalam –

This story is so inspiring that it might just change your life. Read this to light the fire within you by reading about the courage, determination and hardwork of a simple boy who went on to becoming the President of India. Read this if you are at least 15 years of age to fully understand the deeper meaning and inspirations.

Top 5 Academic Books

My choice of the five books are –

1. Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis –

A must read book for all. This book gives you a great method to understand the words by linking it to its roots. It also helps in eliminating wrong options in mcq based exams. Don’t just read this book , Instead use it like workbook and work with it!

2. English Grammar for Dummies by Geraldine Woods –

this has over 1001 practice questions and comes with an online version as well

3. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation- by Lynne Truss –

a hilarious and pictorial way to understand punctuation. This book will change the way you look at punctuation forever.

4. The elements of style by William Strunk and E.B. white –

This book is a pocket-guide full of best practices for forming sentences. Various concepts are broken down and many example sentences are provided. Much emphasis given to writing a sentence using as few words as possible. A must have to fine tune your writing skills

5. High School English Grammar and Composition – Wren and Martin –

A basic guide that covers a range of topics. This book is very useful for learning and practicing the tricky topics like reported speech

Essential English Grammar second edition by Raymond Murphy –

So many practice questions are given to boost your confidence level. Answers are given at the end, which is something missing in almost all other grammar books.

So that was an exhaustive list of material which I am sure you will find very informative. Wishing you luck on your journey of learning English and subscribe, bell, happy watching

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