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volume- 5, 4 - 10 May 2019

Civil Services Exam

Mastering Current Affairs

S.B. Singh

Current affairs to the  civil services exam  is what the backbone is to  the human body . Just as without a backbone, our body shall not get the support to stand erect,   without current affairs, civil services preparation shall come crumbling on the ground. If there is one thing that defines civil services exam, it is current affairs. And if there is one thing that needs top priority, it is again, current affairs.  To state a simple fact, current affairs accounts for almost  sixty percent of the GS syllabus. If we take an extended view, then current affairs counts  even in optional papers such as Political Science, Sociology, Public  Administration Geography etc. The second paper of these optional are applied aspects of the subject with special bearing for India. And unless one knows the current developments related to the topics of these optional papers, it will be impossible to write an effective, relevant answer. Thus, one can safely say that current affairs is an all pervasive phenomenon in civil services exam and no one can get away from this reality. Sadly, few understand the importance of current affairs in this exam. Even those who are aware of its importance are  at  a loss to  understand as to how to handle it. It results in  poor preparation, poor marks and frustration among the aspirants.  Therefore, a true understanding about the  value and significance of current affairs is  key to success in the civil services exam. This article briefly summarises current affairs in all its aspects to navigate the path of preparation for the aspirants who lack direction and purpose while attempting to cover current affairs part.

Why current affairs in civil services exam?

As we all know, civil services exam  is a process to select generalists and  not specialists in  various administrative jobs. It follows from this that a candidate must demonstrate a good knowledge of the issues and events that have social, economic, political and administrative implications. For a career in civil services, knowledge of issues of current relevance is important  to make informed decisions. Macaulay, who introduced the merit based civil services under the Charter Act 1853, said :" Knowledge is transferrable" By this what he meant was that if a candidate has a wide knowledge of diverse subjects, it will translate into   his capacity to govern better. In other words, a  civil servant, with a wide knowledge base , is better equipped to discharge his duties in order to meet the broader administrative goals as also to act in larger public interest. Thus, the goal of wider knowledge as advocated by Macaulay can be achieved by  a good comprehension of current affairs which is made up of a very wide, diverse range of topics reported in newspapers, journals, websites and  electronic media.

Current affairs: Its interface with prelims and mains syllabus

Prelims exam and current affairs: As it stands today, prelims has emerged as  the most difficult  part of civil services exam.  Many candidates are not able to clear prelims even in  2-3 attempts. Some even do not qualify it after 5 attempts. This huge failure rate can be explained in terms of 1). Prelims being a screening test, it is more of an elimination process rather than a selection process and 2). The growing weightage  of current affairs in prelims. Thus, current affairs has become a major determinant of success in prelims exam in its present format. In GS Paper I of prelims exam, current affairs accounts for 25-30 questions out of a total of 100 questions. Thus it accounts for one third of marks in prelims and sometimes even a little more. A poor performance in  current affairs in prelims, thus, is bound to doom prospects of success.

How to command current affairs for prelims? It is a formidable task indeed to command current issues for the prelims because anything from anywhere can be asked in the exam. But the  phrase  "anything from anywhere" can be understood to mean that it encompasses certain broad areas and certain time periods. In terms of time period, the current events of last three years are from where questions are going to be set. But it is going to be a big challenge to do last three years current issues. So what does one do? Well, the answer to this question is that more focus is to be given to events of  last one year as bulk of questions will be from this segment. Then, one should also quickly revise  last two years current affairs (i.e. preceding the current year). To   explain it further, it means that if you are going to  appear in 2019  exam  being conducted on 2nd June , 2019, you should focus on events between July 1, 2018 to May 15, 2019. In addition, you should also  check out important issues and events which took place in 2016-17 as well as 2017-18. It will be risky not to consider last three years' current affairs and just  concentrate on last one year.

Areas of current affairs to be covered  for prelims:

  1. Political, constitutional, legal issues: This will include major constitutional amend-ments, supreme court judgements, issues in RPA Act etc
  2. Economic issues: Under this, one should focus on issues confronting our agriculture, industry, trade and commerce, foreign trade, inflation, export , RBI, features of budget etc.

III. Govt  programs and policies: Each year a number of govt schemes are launched. One must know thoroughly about these schemes and programs which can be accessed directly from govt websites or  are extensively covered in Yojana, Kurukshetra magazines.

  1. Environment: This section has come alive recently in the prelims exam and a good number of questions are being asked from this section. It requires both the basic knowledge of ecology and environment as well current happenings on this front. For example, one must know about World Overshoots Day, Earth Hour, Earth Day all of which were globally celebrated recently. Many reports on climate change have been published e.g. IPCC report, UN reports on loss of biodiversity etc. One has to look into the major findings of these reports. Special emphasis should be given to Indian environmental problems that have been recently reported in news.
  2. Awards: This includes sports, film, cultural awards and also awards given to Indian personalities. For example, PM Modi has been accorded highest UAE award " Zayed Medal" this year. Similarly, an Indian teenager, Amika George was given  "Goal keepers of the world "award for her movement "Free periods" which is about  making sanitary pads accessible to poor women. A documentary on India called "Periods: The end of Sentence"has won an Oscar award this year. These are highly likely questions in this year's prelims exam.
  3. Science and Technology: Latest developments and discoveries in sc./tech, with special reference to India must be covered with minute details. For example, the first picture of a  black hole taken by the  Event Horizon telescope, the naming of this black hole as POWEHI, and the computer scientist, Ms, Katie Bouman, who developed the algorithm for this picture -such details are required to cover these scientific events. Similarly, use of technology known as CRISPR-cas9 for producing twin babies by a  Chinese biotechnologist, He Jiankui   and the significance of ASAT's  success to  India's space achievements are relevant for this year's prelims exam.

Current Affairs for Main Examination

The real test of current affairs is taken in the main exam  which requires  both analysis  and precise writing skills on a number of current issues having social, economic, political significance. In other words, the main GS papers are closely linked with current affairs and it is unthinkable that one can do well in main examination without a substantive knowledge of current affairs.

GS Paper I (Mains): In this paper, there is a section on geography in  which most questions are asked on current geographical issues e.g., melting of glaciers, warming up of Antarctica region, air pollution, changes in monsoon due to el nino factors etc. There is also a section on social issues in this paper which includes current social issues such as problems of women, elderly people, child abuse etc.

GS Paper II (Mains): This paper is heavily drawn from current issues relating to polity and international relations. In addition, it also  comprises governance issues which again is  current affairs based. In polity, issues like electoral reforms, judicial decisions and judicial reforms, constitutional amend-ments , functioning of parliament and parliamentary system in India should be paid good attention. On international relations, India's bilateral relations with its neighbours  as well as with great powers, policies like Act East Policy, Neighbourhood First Policy, Indo-Pacific Policy, India's engagement with international institutions and regimes like the UN, SCO , EU, BRICS, AU etc. should be covered well with emphasis on their current aspects.

GS Paper III (Mains): This GS paper is truly multidisciplinary in nature and comprises economy, sc./tech., disaster management and internal security issues.  It is obvious from these captions that they are another name for current affairs. On economy, agriculture and current issues facing it, e commerce, India's trade issues with China and US, engagement with WTO, RCEP and several more such issues need to be covered. On sc./ tech., India's space  and nuclear programs, artificial intelligence, etc should be extensively covered. On disaster manage-ment, our national disaster policy, preparedness on natural and manmade disasters deserve attention. On internal security, border management, illegal immigration, drug trafficking, insurgencies and ethnic conflicts in north east , naxalism are important areas  from current affairs perspective.

GS IV (Mains): This paper is on ethics , integrity and aptitude. But even this paper has a close interface with current affairs. There are questions on corruption, ethical  governance, issues in international relations  and funding  etc, which can be answered only on ones' knowledge of current affairs.

Current affairs and the Essay Paper: The essay paper can be broadly divided into two categories: 1. Philosophical essays and 2. Current affairs based essays.  For example essay topics on NAM and its current relevance, cooperative federalism, agricultural distress etc which have been asked in previous years belong to current affairs only. Thus, current affairs can be quite helpful in covering the essay paper also.

Current affairs and IAS interview: IAS interview, known as personality test, revolves mostly around two areas  viz;  biodata and current issues. It has been observed that the best strategy to make an impression on the interview board is to answer current affairs based questions well. It is difficult to imagine facing the interview board without a good command on recent current affairs.

Sources of Current affairs: Most current affairs are news based and therefore, their origin lies in daily news. News can be derived from a variety of newspapers. One would be better off in current affairs by following news on day to day basis as reported in various newspapers. I recommend   reading of at least two national newspapers and one economic newspaper daily. If  there is paucity of time, one should identify the important news and preserve it in the form of clippings and peruse it on weekends. Apart from newspapers, some journals, magazines need to be consulted. Frontline, EPW, YOJANA, KURUKSHETRA, DOWN TO EARTH are extremely helpful magazines. I suggest that if possible, one should visit a good library everyday where these journals are available. If that is not possible, then one can access them online also. Some authentic websites like PIB, PRS, ENVIS INDIA are good sources of current affairs  and must be made use of by the candidates.

Finally, just  raw knowledge of current affairs is not adequate. They must be converted into UPSC type questions and answered in prescribed word limit. This is   a habit one must cultivate  to master answer writing in exam. The answers should be shown to a competent person who can advise on further improvement on writing skills.

(S. B. Singh is an academician and Civil Services mentor. He can be reached at his email:

sb_singh2003@yahoo.com)

Views expressed are personal.

(Image Courtesy : Google)