Employment opportunities Banking sector was one of the largest job providers in the country in 2008-09 with over 50,000 vacancies being notified and 2009-10 is likely be an encore! Banking industry provides entry opportunity at clerical and officer levels. The Probationary Officer (PO) is the entry-level position in the managerial cadre in banking industry. Most of the current chairman-cum-managing directors of the public sector banks have joined as PO and risen to the highest level in the bank hierarchy. Each bank has a separate process of selection for the POs. Some use only the exam, some others an interview too. Not surprisingly, every bank PO exam attracts lakhs of graduates, postgraduates and professionals who want to grab one of few hundreds or thousands of vacancies notified. Eligibility for bank PO For PO exam, a graduate with prescribed marks and in the age group of 21 to 30 years is eligible. The banks normally prescribe 55% or 60% marks in the graduation for PO. Some banks prescribe different set of marks for science and arts or commerce graduates. Every bank provides a relaxation in case of SC/ST and other reserved category candidates in age and educational qualifications. Normally, a relaxation of 5 years in age-limit and 5% in marks in graduation is granted to SC/ST candidates.
Selection process The selection process for PO varies from bank-to-bank. It is a two-stage process for most of the banks. The first stage is the written test, normally conducted in two parts - an objective-type followed by a descriptive test.
Candidates shortlisted in the written test are required to appear in group discussions and personal interview. Some banks do not have group discussion and use only Personal Interview for the final selection. Typically, the number of shortlisted students after the written test stage is about 5-7 times that of the number of vacancies. SBI had experimented with a three-stage selection process in 2008. Similarly, PNB’s exam on 30th August, 2009 is a three-stage one. Then there are some exceptions like Syndicate bank that does not conduct a written test. They shortlist candidates based on academic background and selection is based on performance in personal interview alone.
Written test The objective-type part of the PO exam includes reasoning, quantitative aptitude, general awareness and English language. Apart from these, a few banks also include questions on computer awareness, banking awareness and marketing aptitude in their written tests. Most of the banks expect candidates to do well in each test area and have a ‘sectional cut-off’ score in each section/area to qualify. Except for the English section, the question paper is bilingual, i.e., in English and in Hindi.
The test pattern may change depending upon the bank, but in general, the test has about 200-225 questions having five options with maximum marks ranging from 200 to 250. Duration of the objective-type part normally varies between two hours to two hours and 15 minutes. It has negative marking for incorrect answers with such answers attracting one-fourth or 0.25 of the marks assigned to that question. Reasoning examines analytical and problem-solving skills. It includes visual or non-verbal reasoning, Venn diagrams, cubes, letter and number series, analogies, coding-decoding, strong and weak statements, Syllogisms etc. English language part includes questions in the area of grammar, vocabulary including synonyms, antonyms and fill-in-the blanks etc. A significant number of banks including IOB and Union Bank do not use score in this section for compiling the merit list and it is used only as a qualifying score. However, quite a few banks do not mention anything and are likely to include marks scored in this section in compiling the merit list. Some banks like SBI and PNB do include marks of this section. General awareness section tests understanding of environmental and social issues, people and events etc. Quantitative aptitude measures the numerical ability and accuracy in mathematical calculations. The questions range from purely numeric calculations to problems from arithmetic, algebra and geometry, graph and table reading, percentage analysis, categorization and quantitative analysis. The level of test is broadly up to that of X class. The descriptive part of the PO exam follows the objective part of the test and aims to test a candidate’s writing abilities. It is generally of qualifying nature i.e. the candidate must secure minimum prescribed marks (normally 40% for general and 35% for reserved category students) but it will not be considered while compiling the merit list. The duration of descriptive part is normally one hour. It typically includes 4-5 questions in areas including essay on current topics, summary writing and reading comprehension. The merit list is made on the basis of marks secured in objective test and group discussion and interview alone. Preparing for bank PO The candidate should be well versed in maths up to X class and a good grounding using NCERT books will be useful. As speed is important in answering more questions in a limited time, candidates should build speed through mental calculations and option elimination. Most candidates find reasoning section to be tough since they had never studied it in school/colleges. It will be important for them to practise these questions much more. Otherwise they may not clear the sectional cut-off even if they score well in other sections. In English section, strong vocabulary and good grammar fundamentals are essential to do well. The level of difficulty in this section is normally not very high and it can therefore be a scoring section. The questions in general awareness section are more likely to be from current developments rather than static GK. Candidates should cultivate a habit of daily reading newspaper diligently. That is the best way to update yourself. Remember you could answer in Hindi as well most of the sections.
Exam Strategy It is our ‘guesstimate’ that a candidate needs to score about 50-60% marks to have a good chance of qualifying for the next and final round. However, this may vary and will depend on the level of difficulty of the paper and competition.Spend least possible time on GK since if you don’t know the answer, you are unlikely to remember it anyway. Since most questions in maths and reasoning sections require to be solved, allot more time to these two sections. The exam has negative marking, so guessing recklessly will backfire. But if you can eliminate three options out of five, go ahead and guess judiciously.Finally, solving model papers in the given time limit will help you to build speed and assess your performance. So it is strongly recommended that you solve a large number of model papers. Banking is a bankable career for ambitious and result-oriented persons and bank PO is the best route to reach the highest echelons in this industry.