- Expert Advice
Some students ask us if they can prepare for Prelims in just 3 or 4 months time. Well, you can prepare for the Prelims in 3 or 4 months, if you have prior experience or gone through the Prelims before and covered the entire syllabus once. But, if you are a fresher in this entire civil services examination process, then you should start preparing for the Prelims ideally before 10 to 12 months in advance. In that, you should devote first 3 to 4 months in self study and after that you may join a coaching institute for Prelims cum Mains preparation. At “Career Plus”, we start with Mains cum Prelims preparation of GS along with Optional subject preparation and cover entire syllabus in seven to eight months. After Prelims exam, we focus only on revision part and practice sessions. We also provide special tips for General Hindi/Indian languages and General English papers including Essay.
Before joining a coaching institute, first step is to go through the entire Prelims Syllabus of General Studies Paper - 1 & Paper 2 and syllabus of Mains G.S., just to get the overview of whole Prelims syllabus. So, assess the syllabus and have a syllabus book in hand to readily refer it. You cannot login to your computer every time while preparing; that is a distraction in itself. So, handy books will always help you.
Next step is to know your comfort level with the exam. If you are a beginner to the entire IAS exam, then you might be wondering- Am I capable of clearing this exam? Of course, you are very much capable even if you don’t have any basic knowledge. But, having some basic knowledge will help you.
Another point in the planning process is to get the right books, magazines and newspapers for your Prelims preparation. As far as the newspaper is concerned, I always suggest any reputed English/Hindi national newspaper. And, for magazines, read one good current affairs magazine like ‘Civil Services Chronicle’; just one is enough. But, along with the current affairs magazine, also read any political magazine too, it will help in answering questions in Mains. You can skip the political and ideological part of it and concentrate on the Environment, Science & Technology part.
UPSC Prelims Exam Pattern
The UPSC Prelims comprises of two objective type papers (General Studies I and General Studies II or CSAT) for a total of 400 marks. Both papers are held on the same day in two sessions via offline mode (pen-paper).
The UPSC Prelims date for Admit Card is announced on the official website of UPSC 2-3 weeks before the date of the exam.
Implementation: It is the second part of Prelims preparation. Now you have got the syllabus, right books, subscribed to the newspaper and magazines. So, once you start preparing for the Prelims, how should you move further in the preparation? You should not try to cover entire syllabus at once or all the topics - like, trying to read History, Geography, Polity, General Mental Ability - everything at once. You know, this is not a right approach.
The right approach is to pick one topic in Paper - 1 and one topic from Paper - 2 and you can divide it accordingly or may study Paper - 1 in the morning and Paper - 2 by afternoon or in the evening. But, don’t go for more than 2 topics. Let’s say you pick Modern India History from Paper - 1 & General Mental Ability from Paper - 2 and prepare this simultaneously. Apart from these, you should develop a habit of reading newspapers for at least one hour a day.
- Focus on particular topics like:
- News articles of National interest
- Sports news
- Business news
- Science & Technology, etc.
Whenever you start with a topic, you should complete it before starting a new one. This will help you in the third step of preparation.
Test Yourself: Many people actually leave the testing part, which is basically like taking MOCK Test, attempting the previous year’s questions. If you start this later, you will have less time to rectify your weaknesses(if any).When you prepare for a new topic, after completing it refer the past ten years’ question papers on that topic.At “Career Plus” we always use this strategy. Joining a coaching will help you in this. And, if you find that you have left certain topics and have not covered very well, again you can go through that, so you can attempt Course Correction right at that time itself. This is a better approach instead of leaving it. Clearing the exam is very easy just by doing these basics in the right way. Obviously hard work is involved but that smart work is also important to crack this exam.
Before entering the minefield of UPSC Preliminary examination, it is of utmost importance to go through the trend of the previous year's papers. This will not only help aspirants to cut their preparation to the bone for maximum outcome but also to have a well informed and balanced preparation strategy. With this article we bring forth an in-depth analysis of the trend especially in Geography and Polity section of the Prelims Paper.
To begin with, a very conspicuous pattern which has come to light especially in last two year's question papers is increasing importance to basics in Polity section. However Geography section has shifted its gears towards more analytical and map based questions both in Indian as well as World context.
We have delineated the following pattern which has become quite evident in the Preliminary Examination Stage:
Physical Geography in a New Avatar
Physical geography question are still sprinkled across the paper but in a new avatar where analytical and conceptual knowledge is tested in map-based questions or on logical reasoning based questions. For instance, Consider following question from 2017 and 2018 prelims papers which clearly highlight this trend.
Q.At one of the places in India, if you stand on the sea shore and watch the sea, you will find that the sea water recedes from the shoreline a few kilometers and comes back to the shore, twice a day, and you can actually walk on the sea floor when the water recedes. This unique phenomenon is seen at (Prelims 2017)
Analysis: In the aforementioned question, one of the places currently in news like Chandipur in Odisha famous for Missile Testing range is used to make a question linked to Geographical Phenomenon quite peculiar for this beach.
Q.Consider the following statements: (Prelims 2018)
1.The Barren Island Volcano is an active volcano located in the Indian Territory.
2.Barren Island lies about 140 Km east of Great Nicobar
3.The last time the Barren Island volcano erupted was in 1991 and it has remained inactive since then.
Analysis: This question was framed keeping in mind the recent eruptions in the Barren Island, which is India’s only active volcano. So the question entails both current affairs as well as basics here.
However, some very factual questions related to physical geography are still doing the rounds. For example:
Q.Consider the following statements: (Prelims 2018)
1.The Earth’s magnetic field has reversed every few hundred thousand years.
2.When the Earth was created more than 4000 million years ago, there was 54% oxygen and no carbon dioxide.
3.When living organisms originated, they modified the early atmosphere of the Earth.
Analysis: This question is based on the Evolution of Earth and the subsequent formation of the Earth’s atmosphere and thus comes under the category of factual question.
Q.With reference to ‘Indian ocean Dipole (IOD)’ sometimes mentioned in the news while forecasting Indian monsoon, which of the following statements is/are correct? (Prelims 2017)
1.IOD phenomenon is characterised by a difference in sea surface temperature between tropical Western Indian Ocean and tropical Eastern Pacific ocean.
2.An IOD phenomenon can influence an El-Nino’s impact on the monsoon.
Analysis: This concept was quite evident in news as the reason for the deluge in Australia triggered by Indian Ocean Dipole. Thus, global atmospheric phenomena, with their fundamental principles become a favourite hunting ground for UPSC.
Inroad into Economic and Human Geography
Geography making an inroad into Economic and Human Geography is quite evident with questions related to energy, demographics, trade and communication taking a front-seat. For instance:
Q.It is possible to produce algae based biofuels, but what is'/are the likely limitation(s) of developing countries in promoting this industry? (Prelims 2017)
1.Production of algae based biofuels is possible in seas only and not on continents.
2.Setting up and Engineering the algae based biofuel production requires high level of expertise /technology until the construction is completed.
3.Economically viable production necessitates the setting up of large scale facilities which may raise ecological and social concerns.
Analysis: This question comes under the Energy Sector of Economic geography and focuses on recently in news non-conventional sources of energy. Thus, it becomes imperative to correlate the news related to Economic Geography especially from the energy sector which is a hot topic in national and international discourse.
Linking Current News with Geographical Underpinnings
Also for Geography section, question setter is linking current news with Geographical underpinnings. For example in following questions various Geopolitical conflicts have appeared in the form of Geographical Location of these conflict zones.
Q. Consider the following pairs (Prelims 2018)
mentioned in news
Analysis: This question has been asked from current news related to referendum in Catalonia, Russia Annexation of Crimea, declaration of Emergency in Ethiopia (Oromia) and terrorist activities in Philippine’s Mindanao for Map-based World Geography question.
Linking of Environment Topics with Geography
Another very common trend is the linking of Environment topics with Geography.
Q. Which of the following has/have shrunk immensely/ dried up in the recent past due to human activities? (Prelims 2018)
1. Aral Sea 2. Black Sea
3. Lake Baikal
Analysis: Due to environmental damages triggered by human activities, Aral Sea as well as Lake Baikal was in news for their ecological tailspin. And this question perfectly blends environmental topic with world geography.
Factual Questions are on the Rise
In polity importance of direct factual questions has gained foothold once again with the increasing number of questions being asked from basics of the issues currently in news. The following trend and respective questions can throw a light on the pattern which polity has picked up of late.
Direct factual questions which need a strong background of basics; for instance
Q.Which principle among the following was added to the Directive Principles of State Policy by the 42nd Amendment to the constitution? (Prelims 2017)
(a) Equal pay for equal work for both men and women
(b) Participation of workers in the management of industries
(c)Right to work, education and public assistance
(d)Securing living wage and human conditions of work to workers.
Analysis: This is a direct question based on the provisions of 42nd Amendment act and can be attempted successfully if one is well-versed with Directive Principles of State Policy topic.
Analytical and Conceptual Questions
There are some questions which are analytical and conceptual and at times lean towards subjectivity. For instance:
Q. Democracy's superior virtue lies in the fact that it calls into activity (Prelims 2017)
(a)the intelligence and character of ordinary men and women
(b) the methods for strengthening executive leadership
(c)a superior individual with dynamism and vision
(d) a band of dedicated party workers
Analysis: This question is an example of indirect question which requires interpretation of the topic like democracy which is in plain sight. Thus, UPSC expects aspirants to have the capacity to think on foot and deduce the answer logically in such type of indirect questions.
Number of Questions Coming Down, But…
In 2017 where around 24-25 questions were from Polity section alone, this number came down to around 10-11 in 2018. Also the nature of questions more or less is factual but some analytical googlies also prop up to make the paper a bit challenging.
So if the UPSC is juggling with such tactics to maintain a standard in the Prelims Paper, then the question arises as to what should an aspirant do to successfully dodge the minefield and come out victorious with flying colours for the second stage of the examination?
Tips for Prelims
Here are some of the tips for keeping oneself prepared for the upcoming Prelims.
Read the newspaper and link the topics of current importance with Geography and Polity:
For instance, If North Eastern State is under boil due to the Citizenship Amendment Bill, then focus on important Physical, Economic, Human as well as Environmental aspects of this region like major rivers, national parks, dams, mountain ranges, mineral wealth, demographic structure etc. Also, for polity section, it is important to cover the terms of the bill along with topics like North Eastern Council, various schemes for North Eastern Region, etc.
Pay special attention to topics from Economic and Human Geography
In geography pay special attention to topics from Economic and Human Geography as UPSC is now asking questions related to these aspects more than the usual Physical Geography related questions. For example questions can be framed from World Natural Resources, Migration pattern, Settlement types in India, tribes of India as well as World etc.
Things to do for map-based questions
For map-based questions, maintain a list of all the important national and international places in news for geopolitical reasons.
Go through the basics of the topics currently in news
For polity with increasing emphasis on factual questions in majority of the questions, aspirants must go through the basics of the topics currently in news. For instance, National Register of Citizens in Assam has created an uncertain future for close to 40 lakh people who have found themselves out of the draft NRC. Now, this issue can be approached by covering the basics of Citizenship, Human Rights Commission, Refugee status, etc.
Similarly with current political slugfest over CBI Director, topics like CVC and Lokpal become important for Prelims. Similarly, interminable controversy over Rafael deal makes the topic of CAG, Supreme Court, PAC and Parliamentary committees a probable area for Prelims questions.
Look for Interlinkages between Topics
Also look for interlinkages between topics to prepare well for them. For instance, environmental issues like climate change, pollution, deforestation etc can be used for map-based questions or for direct factual questions. This requires aspirants to analyse a topic from all perspectives. For example, the issue of climate change can be studied in geographical terms by studying about the places recently in news which are facing adverse climatic events like floods, droughts etc. Also, this can be linked to Environemental Geography by correlating the economic activities with the environmental degradation they result in like Rat- hole mining in Meghalaya, illegal sand mining, minins in ecologically sensitive Western Ghats, etc. Similarly, Sabarimala issue is a topic which has interlinkage with both polity as well as physical geography.
You must not ignore social and cultural aspects of Geography
An emerging trend in UPSC with respect to geography is also in terms of emphasis on social and cultural aspects of geography like food security, population demography, cultural practices, etc.
Thus, during preparation aspirants should also focus on these aspects of current news. For example, Sabrimala Issue is important from Geographical aspects like the name of the hill on which it is situated or the Tiger Reserve (Periyar Tiger Reserve) within whose precincts it is situated, etc.
Thus, with the recent trend of Prelims paper reflecting a tilt towards more unchartered territory, especially in Geography section, with more emphasis on economic and social aspects of Geography; it is imperative to link current affairs with broader aspects of geography.And for polity section, one must prepare well the fundamental aspects of relevant topics currently in news. In short, Prelims questions can be handled with ease if one follows an integrated approach to link the topics from one section to another during their holistic preparation.
A Guideline to tackle all Hurdles in the Last Mile
Clearing UPSC prelims is not about mugging up a lot of information in your head, but the exam is all about testing your patience, perseverance and optimism in the exam hall even against all odds. The ability to maintain a cool head under lot of pressure is a natural trait required of a civil servant and UPSC seeks for a similar trait in the candidates through its prelims examination. A common pattern is also observed, that once an aspirant clears prelims, he most probably goes on to repeat the feat each and every year.
So, how does a student clear prelims examination? Is there any tangible way by which a new UPSC aspirant can achieve this feat? Let’s find out...
The most important thing is the “management of time” in the exam hall. One’s mind should race against time to find some common link between the stated statements in the question and the knowledge he/she possess from the basic reference books. This linking of fact with the given statement helps in the elimination technique. If you find any statement in the option as redundant or false you can directly eliminate that option from your answer and this increases the probability of you marking a correct answer. In a scenario where the candidate is able to eliminate two options, the question should definitely be attempted. In such a case we would suggest you mark any one of the remaining option as the probability of you marking the correct option is almost 50%.
Another strategy commonly applied by students is to find extreme statements in given options. For example- “Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana failed to address the financial needs of rural India”. Here the statement directly contradicts the salient feature of Jan Dhan Yojana which is financial inclusion. Hence, the statement is false and can be marked wrong. This also implies that there is a possibility of you finding the right answer even though you may not know anything about the question through elimination of extreme statements. Therefore, the advice would be to not skip a question just based on reading at a glance, but following it up by reading the options. This strategy is bound to fetch you some extra marks in prelims. Also, while reading the question paper cautiously note the question terminologies like ‘Not’, ‘Incorrect’, ‘Only’, etc. For example- In a question which states “Which of the above statements are incorrect?’, many candidates have been found to mark the correct statements as they fail to notice the question terminology. These blunders need to be avoided to ensure success in prelims.
Another common mistake candidates make during exam hall is wastage of time while facing a question based solely on their ego. Let’s say Student XYZ has dedicated hours of his time in reading polity but is not able to solve a basic question of Polity in Prelims. This not only reduces the confidence in aspirant XYZ but also builds in negativity. Based solely on his ego, he wastes his precious time trying to solve the polity question, only to realize later that he could have fetched marks in other un-attempted questions. This clarity of thought is normally found lacking in new aspirants and should be kept in mind.
NOTE: The purpose of UPSC prelims is not to top the examination but to clear the cut-off marks.
This requires you to fetch marks, no matter from which subject. Another mistake commonly observed is the marking of OMR sheets in the last minute by students. The best strategy while marking OMR sheets would be to attempt 20-25 questions at a time. This would avoid last minute chaos.
While solving the qualifying paper of prelims i.e. the CSAT paper, students should focus on their strengths. It has been observed that many students are afraid of aptitude and reasoning in the CSAT paper. Revision of some basic concepts of Class 10 would go a long way in scoring a decent mark in aptitude. The students can also rely on passages and comprehensions to ensure they sail through the minimum cut off. Solving few CSAT papers would go a long way in building up that confidence.
Finally, during the preparation phase of prelims, it all comes down to limiting the source of reference books, revising the selected books religiously and preparing one’s own notes for each subject. These notes will help in quick revision and come in handy even during the mains preparation. The last two months before UPSC prelims is of utmost importance and needs a detailed strategy which would be based on solving the previous ten year UPSC prelims question papers and recognizing the trend of the exam. This will help you in devising a specific strategy, according to your needs focussing specifically on your weak areas. Once a study plan is fixed, stick to the time table at all costs. No prelims preparation is complete without solving multiple model question papers. These tests help in self assessment and builds up clarity and confidence on the subject in students over time. During preparation, students need to keep in mind that there is no dearth of books or study material in the market. Chasing a particular book or study material during the last stages of prelims is a mistake in itself. The students need to understand the paucity of time and stay away from such books and coaching institutes that claim guaranteed success in UPSC prelims in the last minute. There can be no substitute to faith and confidence in oneself during the preparation phase. The mantra- “Self-trust is the first step towards success” rings true in this regard.
The UPSC civil services interview carries 275 marks. The purpose of the interview is to check whether the candidate is suitable for a career in the civil services. Interviewer checks whether the candidate has the potential to demonstrate good administrative skills.
Civil services interview is not a knowledge test rather a personality test. The interview panel observes how a candidate approaches a question. The panel checks few personality traits of the candidates. Candidates who score low marks usually blame the interview board. But the reality is, it is the candidate who decides the marks based on his/her personality traits.
The personality test (interview) is aimed at assessing the candidate’s personality suitable to be a competent administrator. The candidate is tested for intelligence, attentiveness, balance of judgement and human qualities like honesty, integrity and leadership. The Kothari Committee constituted by the UPSC has listed the qualities that should be rated in personality test. They are as follows:
- Clarity of expression
- Reasoning ability
- Appreciation of different points of views.
- Awareness and concern for socio-economic problems
- Range and depth of interests and personal attributes relevant to interaction with people.
IAS interview has many aspects to be covered. Preparing for questions raised by the board on your bio data related information, known as ‘Detailed Application Form’ (DAF) is an essential part of the interview process. DAF based questions are really what you can prepare on (like your place of birth, graduation stream, optional subject, domicile, college, profession, hobbies, extra-curricular activities, awards, prices etc.)
Even one or two marks can change your service and cadre and even remove or include your name in the list.
After the mains result you have very little time to prepare and if you have filled DAF in very casual way then it impacts your confidence at that time. However, if you have filled it with care, then you will know the areas you are comfortable with and if provided the chance, you can direct the whole interview in the direction you are comfortable.
The candidates should not spend their time memorising facts and figures. They should spend time knowing the other sides of any issue. They should take a balanced approach to every issue rather than a parochial approach. For example, a Vidarbha (Maharashtra) Candidate should read about the problems of Haryana farmers and the construction of Sutlej Yamuna link canal rather than learning the problems of Vidarbha (Maharashtra) farmers alone.
The DAF is like a horoscope which reflects your personality.
The maximum part of your interview session is based on your DAF discussion. Interview is generally dominated by questions on information given by you in DAF and some current relevant issues of general interest. The interview board assumes that you have made a conscious choice while revealing your details in the DAF and, hence, expect you to defend, analyse and elaborate on every bit of information furnished by you. So, while the board may take it kindly if you do not answer other questions convincingly, but if you are not found convincing on DAF related questions, the board will take it seriously.
Analysis of vital details asked and given in DAF:
Personal Details: This can raise number of questions. For e.g., meaning of your name, your date of birth and its historical importance, the place you were born in, the state to which you belong etc. It you have chosen a centre of exam, which is unusual, you may have to justify it. Suppose, you have shown in your DAF that you belong to Mumbai, studied in Mumbai but you have chosen Delhi as a centre, they will get curious about your choice and ask you for a convincing explanation.
You should be prepared to answer questions on your optional subjects, especially if that is not the discipline in which you have graduated. If you have changed your optional subject in the last attempt you should be ready with the questions why you did that.
They may ask the importance of your optional subject for civil services.
Educational Qualifications: Interview board may ask number of questions regarding your educational achievements, educational institutions you have attended. If you have been a great achiever in academics, they will question you as to why you want to join civil services.
And also, if you have bad academic performances, then they will look for reasons. You should always answer such questions with a fair degree of honesty. If you try to manipulate them, you may stuck into a helpless situation before the board.
If you are an MBBS or from an economy background, question can be asked how you are going to use your specific knowledge in the civil services. They may ask you that remaining a doctor and treating poor patients is also a kind of civil service, then why you want to join civil services through UPSC.
If you have studied at the IIM or IIT, you may be asked about the brain drain or if you have studied at IGNOU, then you may be asked about the Indira Gandhi and so on.
Employment Details: If you have been employed earlier, or, you continue to be employed at the time of the interview then you will be asked a lot on your job profile and your responsibilities.
Hobby Details: You have to convince the board that you have a genuine interest in the hobbies and interests mentioned by you. If you try to manipulate a hobby without genuine interest in it, you may end up with lesser marks in your final result. For example, in a real IAS interview, a candidate had given as his hobby to teach villagers in a village in Haryana. The chairman of the board first declared it as a wonderful hobby and then started shooting questions. When asked about the time during which he would go and teach the villagers, he answered that he goes in the morning. Then the chairman countered him by telling him that how can he meet farmers in the morning time when most of them will be away in the fields or rearing their cattle or doing other farming activities. Then he tried to make another bluff and he got into a real awkward situation. He was given exceptionally low marks. So, whatever your hobby may be, you need to make a mark on the board by defending it in a most genuine way.
Order of Preferences Details: If you make some unusual preferences for example- IPS over IAS or, IRS over IPS, then they will ask for a suitable reason. You should convince them with a proper explanation.
Guidelines to defend your DAF:
- It requires a lot of time to collect information about the details you have filled in DAF. Thus, do not wait for the mains result. Start your DAF preparation quite early.
- Interact with knowledgeable people during your interview preparation. Thus, choose a real good mentor who can advice you. Self preparation for interview will not be much effective.
- Be honest at the time of interview. Defend your DAF with honesty which will make your interview safe and scoring.
Candidates are selected for IAS, IFS, IPS, IRS and other posts, where ‘I’ stands for Indian. The panel checks whether a candidate has an Indian or regional attitude. Candidates must use the phrases ‘our country’ or ‘our nation’ while answering the questions candidates should reflect national outlook.
While answering the questions, candidates must be politically neutral, honest and patriotic. A successful candidate is broad-minded, sensitive to the needs of others and has concern to wards weaker sections of the society.
Remember,it is your personality test. The more you are truthful, the more your DAF shows that you are committed and dedicated to whatever you have written (a sign of integrity), the more marks you will fetch!!
Wishing You All the Best!!!
(Dilip Kumar is a noted academician and IAS interview expert.Views expressed are personal)