IBPS Bank PO Exam Pattern for the Recruitment of PO/MT Officers

A very clear and step by step explanation of the IBPS exam pattern. I have explained both the preliminary and the main exams in a step by step manner. You will find complete information about the normalization and also about the importance of both the prelim and main exams in the entire recruitment process.

Last Reviewed and Updated on February 7, 2020
Posted by Parveen(Hoven),
Aptitude Trainer and Software Developer

Following is the new pattern for the Common Written Online Exam(CWE). This pattern is for the selection to the posts of Probationary Officers and Management Trainees abbreviated as PO/MT. The exam is entirely online. A candidate has to apply for it online only, and the test is also conducted online only.

Broad Scheme in Nutshell

The exam process consists of two stages of written exam followed by an interview. The two stages of the written exam are also called two tiers of the written exam. Sometimes they are also called two phases of the written exam. These are the two phases -

  1. Preliminary Exam
  2. Main Exam

The candidates who qualify the Preliminary exam by scoring the minimum cut-off marks are shortlisted and called for the Main examination. Similarly, those who qualify the Main exam are called for the interview.

Structure of the Preliminary Exam

The preliminary exam consists of three tests. These tests are held in one sitting of 1 hour duration. This means you have a total time of 1 hour in which you have to answer the questions for three tests. In very simple terms it means that there is an exam of 1 hour duration with syllabus consisting of three topics(or tests). The three topics(or tests) are:

  1. English Language will have 30 questions with maximum marks equal to 30 marks.
  2. Quantitative Aptitude will have 35 questions with maximum marks equal to 35 marks.
  3. Reasoning Ability will have 35 questions with maximum marks equal to 35 marks.

The aggregate maximum marks are 30 + 35 + 35 = 100. This means that 100 questions have to be attempted in a duration of 1 hour. The Quantitative and Reasoning Ability tests are available in English as well as Hindi.

There is no mention of topic-wise cut-off in the IBPS Advertisement. This means that a candidate has the freedom to decide his own strategy and spend more effort on the portion he is very comfortable with, i.e., he can concentrate on those areas where he expects better conversion. For example, if you are not very comfortable with the Quantitative portion, then you can spend less time on this part and devote more time to the Reasoning and English language portions, the objective after all is to maximize the aggregate score. This trick should be helpful to you at the time of preparation also, so that you can plan your time accordingly. Even though the advertisement doesn't specifically mention topic-wise cut-off in their advertisement, but it does apply cutoffs in each objective test both at the Preliminary and the Main Exam levels. According the notifications published by the IBPS on their website, cut-offs are applied in two stages -

  1. On scores in individual tests.
  2. On total score.

Given below is the actual cutoff applied test wise for various categories for the year 2015 Preliminary Exam.

  1. English Language(Max. Marks 30): The cutoff for SC/ST/OBC was 4.75 marks, for PWD it was 02.00, while for the General Category it was 07.50.
  2. Reasoning Ability(Max. Marks 35): The cutoff for SC/ST/OBC was 07.75, for PWD it was 04.50, and for the General it was 11.25.
  3. Quantitative Aptitude(Max. Marks 35): The cutoff for SC/ST/OBC was 05.00, for PWD it was 02.00, and for the General it was 07.75.

Normalization in the Preliminary Exam

Normalization is the process of adjusting the scores in a way such that either the statistical standard deviation or the statistical average of two sets becomes equal. Take a simple example. There are 50 students that appear in a test in which there are five different test booklets. Obviously, one test booklet could have tougher questions as compared to the others. This means that the students who were unlucky to get this particular tougher test booklet would be at a disadvantage. They would not able to score as high as the other students who got easier booklets. This imbalance can be corrected through the process of normalization. Normalization works by scaling up or scaling down the score of a set of students so as to bring the averages to the same level. It is a mathematical and fair process.

The sole point of normalization is to bring an element of fairness in the evaluation system.

It is done in the Civil Services Exam where students can take the exam with optional subjects such as the English Literature on one side and Mathematics on the other. Obviously, the students with humanities subjects would never be able to score top ranks because 100% marks are very common in mathematics, but not in the arts subjects. It is here that the UPSC use the normalization to create a level playing field by bringing the average scores of different streams at par.

Now you would be wondering about the use of normalization in the CWE Preliminary exam where there is only one paper, and that too with common syllabus. Normalization is required here also because this exam is conducted in various shifts with each shift having different timings and different sets of questions. Some candidates appear in one lot, some in a separate lot. So, for the same reasons as explained earlier, normalization is done so as to make the evaluation fair and transparent.

The normalization method used in the CWE IBPS Exams is the equi-percentile method. The scores are rounded off to two decimal places. This is the quote from an IBPS Advertisement.

Scores up to two decimal points shall be taken for the purpose of calculations.

Cut-off Score in the Preliminary Exam

The cut-off score is the minimum score that a candidate needs to attain so as to qualify the Preliminary Exam. For the general category it is calculated according to this formula: Cutoff = Mean - (1/4) x Standard Deviation of the score of the general category candidates, whereas for all the other reserved categories it is calculated according to the formula: Cutoff = Mean - (3/4) x Standard Deviation of the score only of the respective category of applicants. The formula for the cut-off score will rarely have any practical implications for you. You should believe the fairness with which it is done. Don't carry any doubts in your mind. The only thing that matters at the end of the day is how well you prepare and how well you write your exam. The calculation of the cut-off score is done only to make a level playing field and take the n-number of top candidates from amongst each respective category.

Negative Marking in the Preliminary Exam

There is a negative marking in this exam. If you give a wrong answer there is a deduction of 0.25 marks. There is no deduction for an un-attempted answer. The purpose of negative marking is to discourage the candidates from making wild guesses. Here is a sample calculation: If you gave wrong answers for 10 questions, didn't give any answer for 20 questions, and answered 70 questions correctly, then your score would be (70 x 1) - (0.25 x 10) + (20 x 0) = 70 - 2.5 = 67.5 marks.

The Importance of the Preliminary Exam

Before we go further, let me explain the importance of the Preliminary Exam in this whole process. Firstly, only those candidates as who qualify the Preliminary Exam can sit for the Main Exam. Secondly, there is a second cut-off after the Main Exam. Only those candidates are called for the interview who score a minimum cut-off score in the combined Main and Preliminary Exams. This is a quote from an IBPS Advertisement.

There will be a second level cutoff point on total as per requirement

So the performance in the preliminary exam continues to matter till the call for the interview. But here I must mention that the final rank is determined only by the score in the Main Exam + Interview score. Preliminary Exam has no role in deciding your final ranking. We can conclude, therefore, that the Preliminary Exam has a negative role only. It has the potential to harm you, but it has none other positive benefit for you. It is a necessary evil in the whole process.

Structure of the Main Exam

The main exam has more number of test topics, is of longer duration, and has higher maximum marks. Like the Preliminary Exam it is also conducted in one single sitting. Following is the breakup -

  1. Reasoning part has 50 questions with maximum marks equal to 50 marks.
  2. English Language has 40 questions with maximum marks equal to 40 marks.
  3. Quantitative Aptitude has 50 questions with maximum marks equal to 50 marks.
  4. General Awareness has 40 questions with maximum marks equal to 40 marks. This paper has questions relevant to the banking industry.
  5. Computer Knowledge paper has 20 questions with maximum marks equal to 20.

The aggregate maximum marks are 50 + 40 + 50 + 40 + 20 = 200 maximum marks. The combined time duration is 2 hours. We can see that the questions have doubled now, and so has the allotted time. There is one interesting conclusion that in both the Prelim and the Main Exams the time per question is 120/200 = 0.6 minute = 36 seconds. In the Main Exam there is no cut-off topic wise, which is similar to the situation in the Preliminary Exam. So you have the freedom to decide your own strategy and to accordingly direct the focus of your efforts both at the time of preparation, and during the two hours of the exam. The cut-off in the Main Exam is also applied topic(test) wise. It is done in two stages in the same manner as explained above for the Preliminary Exam.

Given below is the actual cutoff applied test wise for various categories for the year 2015 Main Exam.

  1. English Language(Max. Marks 40): The cutoff for SC/OBC was 09.50 marks, for ST/PWD it was 05.25, while for the General Category it was 12.50.
  2. Reasoning(Max. Marks 50): The cutoff for SC/OBC was 07.25 marks, for ST/PWD it was 03.00, while for the General Category it was 10.00.
  3. Computer Knowledge(Max. Marks 20): The cutoff for SC/OBC was 11.00 marks, for ST/PWD it was 08.75, while for the General Category it was 12.25.
  4. General Awareness(Max. Marks 40): The cutoff for SC/OBC was 10.25 marks, for ST/PWD it was 05.00, while for the General Category it was 13.75.
  5. Quantitative Aptitude(Max. Marks 50): The cutoff for SC/OBC was 08.75 marks, for ST/PWD it was 05.25, while for the General Category it was 11.00.

We can draw one conclusion from these cut-offs that the candidates found the Reasoning and Quantitative Exams tougher. You should prepare for these papers with greater effort because a majority of the students scored much lower than the cut-off score mentioned here.

Following were the cutoff applied to the total scores(out of 200):

  1. SC Category: The cutoff was 50.00 marks.
  2. ST Category: The cutoff was 47.75 marks.
  3. OBC Category: The cutoff was 76.00 marks.
  4. General Category: The cutoff was 76.00 marks.
  5. Hearing Impaired: The cutoff was 35.25 marks.
  6. Orthopedically Challenged: The cutoff was 52.50 marks.
  7. Visually Impaired: The cutoff was 36.00 marks.

Normalization and Cut-Off in the Main Exam

The normalization is done in the Main Exam also. It is done by the same equi-percentile method. The normalized score is rounded to two decimal places here also.

The Cut-off score is calculated by the same formula as is done in the Preliminary Exam. Here also the cut-off formula is different for the candidates of the general and reserved categories.

Negative Marking in the Main Exam

There is a negative marking in the Main Exam on the same pattern as in the case of the Preliminary Exam. Thus, 0.25 marks are deducted for a wrong answer, +1.00 are awarded for the right answer, and 0.00 for the un-attempted ones.

Importance of the Main Exam

The performance in Main Exam is very important for a candidate because the score of the Main Exam affects his or her final ranking. This is an extract from the IBPS advertisement:


This means that if a candidate barely passes in the Preliminary Exam but does exceptionally well in the Main Exam and the Interview then he will be ranked higher. As we have seen above, there are two additional topics in the Main Exam - Banking Awareness and the Computer Awareness. The former is very vast, and so is the latter. These cannot be ignored because they matter in deciding your final ranking. You should have a look at previous years' question papers to have an idea about the type of questions that are asked for these topics.

The Interview

The last stage is the interview. Interview is conducted by the participating banks themselves, but it is coordinated by the IBPS. Your score in the Preliminary and Main Exams is not yet made public at this stage. The final rank is determined by the combined score of the Interview and the Main Exam. Lastly, you are allocated a bank of your choice depending on your merit rank and the preference you made at the time of filling the online registration form.

DISCLAIMER: I have compiled this write-up only for sake of general information. Even though every care has been taken to make it accurate but I take no responsibility for the accuracy and correctness of the information and interpretation of the IBPS communications. Please refer the official website of IBPS for the latest and actual information because they are the sole authenticated source of all information.

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This Blog Post/Article "IBPS Bank PO Exam Pattern for the Recruitment of PO/MT Officers" by Parveen (Hoven) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Updated on 2020-02-07. Published on: 2016-03-23