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Issue no 49, 05 March - 11 March 2022

Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination - 2022 The Right Strategy

S B Singh

Every year, the UPSC calendar begins with the preliminary examination which sets into motion the process of recruitment for the most coveted Civil Services. This process, which takes more than a year to conclude, includes the preliminary, the main examination and the personality test. It attracts lakhs of motivated, educated young minds from brilliant academic backgrounds. Success in the preliminary examination is like winning an entry ticket to write the next level of the examination viz; the Civil Services main examination. Over the years, the preliminary examination has acquired a unique character that can be best described as “one of its kind” in the world. No other examination is as diverse in terms of issues and areas on which questions are framed. Though it was originally designed just to test the basics and fundamentals of a limited syllabus, it has turned out to be formidable complex if one looks at the wide range of questions asked in the last several years.

The Civil Services preliminary examination has truly become an unpredictable examination because of various factors. First, the emphasis on different aspects of the syllabus keeps changing from year to year. For example, in one particular year, there were more questions on current issues, while in another year; more questions appeared from the static portions of the syllabus. Secondly, often many questions are asked from the peripheral, and not core parts of the syllabus. In other words, lesser known facts and terms, which often escape our attention, are asked. Therefore, no amount of preparation will translate into success in the preliminary examination unless it is based on a sound strategy. The key to success is sustained efforts. But sustained efforts must also have a purpose and direction. Once an aspirant is able to familiarize himself with the pattern of the preliminary questions, it becomes easy to pursue preparations aligned with the requirements of the examination. It is in this sense that preliminary can be called a “strategy drivenexamination.”

This year, preliminary examination is tentatively scheduled from 5th June. The next three months will be the most crucial months to decide the result of a sincere aspirant. If a candidate approaches this examination with clarity of mind and sense of purpose, success will not elude him. Apart from covering the syllabus, there are additional dimensions of preparation which must be kept in mind while preparing.

Psychological Dimensions

An often ignored aspect about the Civil Services examination is that without the right mental, psychological disposition, it is not possible to crack this examination at any level, be it preliminary, main, or the interview. It is noticeable in many cases that candidates just study without looking at their mental state. The anxiety, peer pressure, and huge family expectations exert tremendous emotional stress in the mind of the aspirant. If he carries this stress which is generated from the external environment, it will impair his ability to prepare with efficiency and effectiveness. Secondly, life is never a smooth run; it poses day to day challenges. These challenges will not spare you just because you are preparing for an examination. How you are able to deal with these challenges will depend on your emotional intelligence. You need to understand your emotions in order to empathize with yourself. You should be able to weed out negative emotions of self-doubt, inadequacy, impatience etc and develop calm, self-empathy, steadfastness. It is pertinent to quote Einstein here, “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.” The message from this quote is that the sheer madness of success in the Civil Services should not keep your mind in a restless and agitated state, because it will take its toll on your preparations. Try not to focus on the results, but on your efforts. You cannot determine the outcome of your efforts as it will depend on many factors beyond your control. So, the lesson to be learnt here is: be dedicated to the cause without being attached to the result. This mental disposition will calm you down and reduce your fears and anxieties.

Physical Health

Physical health is as essential as your mental health. To follow a rigorous study plan, you need a supporting, healthy body. It does not take much to keep healthy. Maintaining a regimen on daily basis is key to good health. Adequate amount of sleep at the right hours of night, nutritional food intake, light exercises will ensure that your body allows you to do what your soul is willing to accomplish. There is no wisdom in torturing your body in the name of preparation. Keep everything light.

The Problem of Plenty

In today’s world of information, one encounters an ocean of facts and figures which is mindboggling. It is called: ‘the problem of plenty’. Online sources, coaching materials are flooding the market. Not every piece of material that is dished out is necessarily relevant. So struggling with millions of data available in the market is neither beneficial nor feasible to memorize. You just cannot afford to stretch the boundaries of your preparation as determined by the market. Always remember: Civil Services examination is simple, but it is made to look complicated. Just as everything being discussed on news channels is not important, everything being made available in the market is also not important. Therefore, you have to be wise in choosing your sources and stay focused on them.

Selection of Sources

Let there be no doubt in your mind that unless you read from the right sources, you will not find UPSC obliging you with questions asked from irrelevant, non –official sources. Always remember that questions are set from standard text books, not from sources flooding the market. This is why it is difficult to find questions from the so called test series being religiously followed by everyone. Doing test series indeed has some advantages like putting yourself in real examination-like environment, mastering time management, learning elimination tricks etc., but they cannot ensure that you will get the same questions in the examination. For that, you need to read from the original text books. A perusal of last years’ questions clearly reveals that they are being set from very good, high quality books. The question setter will not consult market materials at all. He will always frame questions from authentic sources. If you also read the same sources which will be consulted by the question setter, you are bound to find many familiar questions in the examination. For example, if you cover constitutional provisions from P M Bakshi’s book on the Indian Constitution, you will surely get questions based on various articles and their clauses. Similarly, if you read D.D Basu’s book on the Indian Constitution, it will make your concepts clear on various chapters of the Constitution. So, instead of reading compiled books and materials on the Constitution, it is always more rewarding to read from original text books. In history and culture, they are asking quite a few questions from the famous book by A L Basham (The Wonder That Was India). If you master this, it will be thousand times better than reading from market - supplied materials which are often compiled by unreliable, selfproclaimed experts who have mushroomed in the commercial market. The lesson here is that you must give up old reading habits and pick up new habits i.e., reading from authentic texts.

Mastering Short Notes

Without making notes, you cannot revise or retain what you have read. But making detailed notes is not the best way to cover a topic. After reading a topic thoroughly, write down the main points, covering every dimension of the issue. Also, prepare a glossary of the terms that you have read in the chapter. Say for example, if you are reading an article on climate change and global warming which includes terms like net zero emissions, emission gap , mitigation, adaptation, carbon tax, and so on, you need to read more about such terms from other sources and write them in a glossary form on environmental issues.

Utilizing Glossary

The four static subjects in the preliminary examination are: History (it includes culture also), Political Science, Economics, and Geography (including ecology and environment). While you read good texts on these static portions, you should look at the index given at the end of these books. You will come across many terms which are important. Make an alphabetical glossary of these terms. This will be of tremendous help to revise the entire syllabus in just a few hours through terms. If you read twice, thrice from this self-prepared glossary, it will help you to memorize the difficult terms.

Tackling CSAT

Over the past few years, CSAT has become a big challenge in the sense that it is not so easy to score even the qualifying percentage,( i.e. 33% ), in this paper. There has been a deliberate attempt by UPSC to make CSAT increasingly tough so that it is not taken lightly by the candidates. The earlier attitude to take CSAT easy and still hoping to secure the minimum required marks must be shed and CSAT preparation should be taken very seriously. CSAT syllabus comprises Comprehension, Math, and Reasoning. For those who are not strong in Math and Reasoning, Comprehension will have to be commanded very well. For this, you just need to practice last five years’ UPSC questions on CSAT. This will expose your strengths and weaknesses in various aspects of CSAT. Once you know your weak areas, you must work on that and master it. All this should be done well in advance and not at the last moment. CSAT is more about practicing than reading, therefore, it is advisable go through a number of tests to assess your preparedness. Keep taking CSAT tests till you are able to achieve a decent score.

NCERT Books: Myths v/s Reality

There can be no denying the fact that NCERT books are authentic sources. But they should be used wisely and not blindly. The myth is that all NCERT books from class VI to class XII should be studied in each subject. This is true only of Geography. In History and Economics, only XI, XII standard NCERT Books will help. In Polity, there is no need to read NCERT because P M Bakshi’s book, together with D. D Basu’s book will suffice. Only those NCERT books should be read which cover the syllabus very well. The second myth about NCERT books is that it will suffice for your GS preparations. A look at the previous years’ questions makes it clear that only few questions are being framed from NCERT books. If all questions are going to be set from NCERT books, then it will become too simple for all because everyone reads NCERT religiously. Therefore, one must graduate from NCERT books to text books of a higher level.

Mastering Current Affairs

Without a reasonable command over current affairs, it is impossible to crack the preliminary examination. But it is truly challenging because of the vast nature of current affairs. It must be approached systematically under various headings like international treaties, conferences, important geographical areas in news, important bills passed by the Parliament, important judgments of the Supreme Court involving the Constitution and Citizens’ Rights etc. Keep adding new issues to such captions on day to day basis. Current affairs must be followed on day to day basis or else, you will lose track of events. It is not prudent to skip reading newspapers for a week and then read them together in one day. You must devote at least two hours on newspapers every day. Again, too much reliance on market sources for current affairs will not be wise. It is always better to directly learn from good newspapers rather than choosing an easy way out, viz; compiled materials.

Reports of Ministries & Departments

One cannot ignore the plethora of information available in various government reports. Questions are bound to be asked from these reports which carry information about important schemes, programs being undertaken in various sectors like health, education, agriculture, women and child development, environment etc. Important annual reports to be consulted are: department of space, atomic energy, ministry of health, environment, tribal affairs, social justice, agriculture, water resources. These reports are available online.

(The author is an academician and Civil Services mentor. He can be reached at: sb_singh2003@yahoo.com.

Views expressed are personal)