Civil Services as a career has attracted best of the brains and talents across the length and breadth of the country making it one of the most difficult exams not only in India but across the world. The sole purpose of this examination is to make extensive assessment of various facets of an individual’s talent and personality. This exam preparation is not about studying alone. This is not also about mastering one or two subjects as well. This exam is more about handling multiple things simultaneously-that too in the right quantity.
The Civil Services Exam is conducted in the three successive stages namely Preliminary Exam, Main Exam and the Personality Test. The following is the brief structure of the Civil Services Exam:
The focus of this article is on the preparation for the first two stages of the exam i.e. Preliminary Exam and the Mains Examination.
The difficulty levels of the questions that are asked in the Civil Services Exam are not very high especially in General Studies. However the fact that makes it difficult to crack this Exam is the multidisciplinary nature and extensive syllabus. The questions asked in Civil Services examination are from various disciplines like history, geography, polity, economics, sports, current affairs, reasoning, mathematics, applied science etc. The education system in India is biased towards specialization i.e. the aspirants’ right from their schooling days has to opt for either of the specializations like Arts, Commerce and Science. This trend continues in the under graduate and post graduate courses as well. Contrary to this the Civil Services Exam requires a generalist approach wherein it is expected that the aspirants should have grasp over multiple subjects and disciplines.
The first stage of the Civil Services Exam is Preliminary Exam which is qualifying in nature and the marks of this stage are not included in the final merit. Only those candidates who qualify the Preliminary Exam are allowed to appear for the next stage i.e. Main Exam.
Pattern and Papers
The Preliminary Exam consists of following two papers i.e. General Studies and Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT). The marks of General Studies only are included in the deciding the merit of the successful candidates. The CSAT exam is only qualifying in nature. In simple words the aspirants has to score 33% in the CSAT to qualify the same. The merit of the successful candidates is based on the score in General Studies only. Those aspirants who are not able to score 33% in the CSAT exam are disqualified irrespective of their score in General Studies.
The following are the patterns of the two papers:
1. Paper 1: General Studies
The following is the summary of the General Studies Paper.
|1||Number of Questions||200|
|3||Marks per Question||2|
|4||Number of Options||4|
|5||Negative Marking||-0.667 per wrong Answer|
2. Paper 2: CSAT
|1||Number of Questions||200|
|3||Marks per Question||2.5|
|4||Number of Options||4|
|5||Negative Marking||-0.833 per wrong Answer|
How to prepare for Paper 1: General Studies?
The Golden Rule to prepare for General Studies is to start with the NCERT books. Aspirants should be thorough with the NCERT books (Old Editions) form Class VI to XII for various subjects like History, Geography, Polity, Science, Economics and Sociology. It must be kept in mind that from last few years there are very few direct questions that are asked in the exam. The focus of the exam in its recent pattern is on application of the concepts. Thus aspirants must be conceptually very clear. So command over the NCERT books is necessary but not sufficient to solve the questions in the Civil Services Exam. Following is the list of the NCERT books along with the year of edition that are useful for the Civil Services Exam:
|S.#||Subject||Class & Edition|
|1||History||VI-Ancient India(1978), VII-Medieval India(1988), VIII-Modern India(1989), XI-Ancient India(1999), XI-Medieval India(1990), XII-Modern India(1990)|
|2||Geography||VI-Land & People Part-I(1989), VII-Land & People Part-II(1989), VIII-Land & People Part-III(1989), IX-Understanding Environment(1989), X-Geography of India(2000)|
|3||Science||VI-Science & Tech(2002), VII-Science & Tech(2003), VIII-Science & Tech(2004)|
|4||Polity||XII-Democracy in India(1990)|
The purpose of reading NCERT books is to prepare a base for the concepts and their applications. Apart from NCERT books the following are the books that are suggested for the aspirants:
- Indian History including Indian National Movement
- Freedom Struggle: NBT Publication
- Struggle for Independence: Bipan Chandra and others
- World Geography including Indian Geography
- NCERT Books (Class VI to X old edition)
- Indian Polity
- Democracy in India NCERT
- An Introduction to the Constitution of India: D.D. Basu
- Indian Economy
- Evolution of the Indian Economy: I. C. Dhingra
- General Science
- What, Why And How: Publications and Information Directorate
Aspirants must keep in mind that while completing a topic from various sources, their final aim is to correctly solve the questions in the exam. So after completing a particular topic one must go through the questions that are asked in the previous years’ in Civil Services Exam. The aspirants must consider a topic to be ready for Civil Services exam only when they are able to correctly solve more than 80% of the questions from the same topic that are asked in the previous years’ in Civil Services Exam. It is advisable to move to other topics only when the aspirants are confident enough about one topic. Moving to other topics without fully completing the one would reduce the accuracy and efficiency of the aspirants.
The time planning is also very crucial to crack Civil Services Exam. The time should be proportionately devoted to subjects as per their weightage in the examination. Many a times the aspirants give proportionately high time to the subjects because they find them interesting. As a result they avoid those subjects which they have not studied earlier during their school or graduation. This must be avoided. The aspirants must have the idea about the weightage of the different sections and subjects.
Majority of questions asked in the Civil Services Exam in last few years have some correlation with the current happenings in India and around the globe. Thus current affairs have a very crucial role to play in the preparation of Civil Services exam. Thus aspirants have to regularly read newspapers and magazines that give quality information about the happenings around the world. Throughout the preparation for the prelims exam, it is important to remember that any topic or concept should not be studied in isolation. It is better to understand and establish a correlation between related concepts from other subjects and current events and happenings.
Many aspirants are of the view that as a beginner one has to read the entire newspaper. This is not required. The aspirants should ideally spend about 1 hour on a regular basis for newspaper. The editorials are most important from the perspective of the Civil Services Exam. These editorials not just increase the knowledge of the aspirants but also shape their outlook and perspective. The one hour spent in the reading the newspaper must be effectively used. In this one hour the aspirants should jot down the important points in a note book. It is advisable to read the newspaper with the Atlas. If new places are in the news, the aspirants should try to locate them on the maps in Atlas. The following are the magazines and newspapers that are helpful in the preparation:
|1||Newspapers||The Hindu and Indian Express|
|2||Magazines||Frontline, Yojana, Kurukshetra|
|3||Others||India Year Book by Publication Division and Economic Survey|
Many candidates make a mistake of overloading themselves with lots of information and end up remembering nothing. One should be able to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information. Since the preliminary exam is an elimination round the candidate should also learn to focus only on the information needed and filter out the rest. It helps to discuss with friends and teachers but the most reliable way is to solve past years question papers. One should also keep abreast with current events and information related to them.
How to prepare for Paper II: CSAT?
Unlike the General Studies Paper where the knowledge and conceptual clarity play key role in solving the questions, the CSAT paper requires on the spot mental ability. A good presence of mind is needed to eliminate the least appropriate options and arrive at the right one.
The following is the list of books, which are useful for the preparation of CSAT:
- General Mental Ability & Basic Numeracy
- It can be developed from any guide or practice tests for banking examinations given in competition magazines.
- Objective Arithmetic by Dr. R.S. Aggarwal
- Elementary Statistics: NCERT Book (Class XI)
- Modern Approach to Verbal & Non-Verbal Reasoning by Dr. R.S. Aggarwal
- Dictionaries & General References
- Collins English Dictionary or Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary
- The Penguin Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases
- The International Thesaurus of Quotations
Reading comprehension is one section that is very crucial to score good marks in CSAT. The language and the vocabulary used in the passages in not very tough. However, the context is diverse. There are comprehensions from philosophy, religion, ecology, environment, science and technology, psychology etc that are asked in the examination. One must be aware about the important and frequently used terminologies of diverse discipline. To improve this, aspirants must read the articles and excerpts from diverse fields. The main aim while practicing this should be to understand the context and the terms. The aspirants must also improve their reading speed. Also avoid reading a passage multiple times to answer the questions. The endeavors should be to answer all the associated questions by properly reading the passage only once.
Decision making is the section which does not have negative marking. Also in this section the two options out of the four are considered correct. It is advisable to start the CSAT paper with this section and attempt all the questions. If you find two choices very close, don’t waste time and mark the one you think is most appropriate because as mentioned earlier, the two options out of the four are considered correct.
The main constraint in the CSAT paper is the time. Aspirants have to attempt the questions after reading many passages, do mathematical calculations and apply their reasoning ability in the examination hall. Many aspirants are found complaining after the exam that because of the paucity of time they missed some of the sitters while devoted a lot of time in the difficult questions. So prior to going in the examination hall, the aspirants must clearly know their strengths and weaknesses. It is always advisable to first attempt the topics as per the strength. Also the only way to cope up with the time constraint is to practice lot of questions and mock tests in the exam-like conditions.
Of all the three stages of the Civil Services Examination, the weightage of the Main Examination is the maximum. The Main Examination consists of seven papers of total 1750 marks. Along with these seven papers, there are papers for English language and Indian language of 300 marks each but these are qualifying in nature and these marks are not included in the final merit list. The aspirants have to essentially score 30% marks in the Indian language and 25% marks in the English language as minimum qualifying standards.
The following are the papers and their respective weightage that are counted for the ranking.
|Paper I||Essay||Aspirants may be required to write essays on multiple topics||250|
|Paper II||General Studies||Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society||250|
|Paper III||General Studies||Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations||250|
|Paper VI||General Studies||Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management||250|
|Paper V||General Studies||Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude||250|
|Paper VI||Optional Subject||Candidates may choose any optional||250|
|Paper VII||Optional Subject||subject from amongst the list of Optional Subjects||250|
How to prepare for Essay Paper?
Essay writing is somewhat different from other kinds of writing since the topic is given in the exam is in a capsule form. Aspirants are expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay, to arrange their ideas in an orderly fashion and write concisely. Credit is given for effective and exact expression.
If an aspirant is clear with the basic concepts and is a regular reader of newspaper editorials and monthly magazines, no extra effort is required to prepare for the essay. However, one must write at least 3 to 4 essays per month for practice and self assessment. The aspirants must practice to express their thoughts on the paper in an impressive way. They must consistently work on expression and presentation.
How to prepare for General Studies?
General Studies constitute the lion’s share in the Mains Examination. The syllabi are extensive and anything under the sun could be asked in these papers. Aspirants must stick to the broad guidelines of syllabi as given by UPSC. They should be through with the topics mentioned in the syllabi first and then only think about the other topics.
Aspirants should first prepare the base for these papers by being conceptually clear, apart from this they must regularly read newspapers and magazines and should view quality news channels and debate and discussions pertaining to the topics of the national and international importance. They must critically evaluate various news and events and try to develop their own unbiased viewpoint and perspective towards these. The aspirants should avoid reflecting the ideology of a particular political party, religion or class while writing the answers.
Only knowledge will not help the aspirants to excel in the General Studies papers. Knowledge along with its proper expressions in the prescribed word limits is the key to success in these subjects. The aspirants must be competent enough to frame their ideas in 30 words to 300 words. These require a lot o practice of answer writing. Aspirants must attempt at least 5 to 10 previous year questions as per their word limit for the purpose of practice.
The following is the list of books prescribed for the General Studies Papers:
- GS Paper II
- NCERT IX, X, XI - Political Science
- Yojana & Kurushtra magazine
- 2nd ARC Reports
- Newspaper & Magazines
- World Focus Magazine
- India’s Foreign Polity-Khanna
- Democracy in India-NCERT
- GS Paper III
- Economic And Political Weekely Magazine
- Newspaper And Magazine
- NCERT XI And XII - Environment
- NCERT XI And XII - Economics
- GS Paper IV
- Ethics IGNOU Material
- Ethics in Governance and Business - R. K. Arora
- Ethics in Public Administration - Patrick Sheehan
- Social Psychology - Baron
- 2nd ARC Reports
- Society and Social Issues
- NCERT XI And XII - Sociology
- IGNOU Material
- Indian Society - Ram Ahuja
- World Focus-Magazine for International Affairs
- Economic Times-Newspaper
- Yojana- Magazine
- DD Loksabha Channel
How to prepare for Optional Subject?
The choice of optional subject plays a crucial role in the performance of the aspirants and in their final merit list. There exists lot of myths about the Optional subjects. Some subjects are perceived as the better scoring ones’ vis-à-vis others. The aspirants must not choose an optional subject just because some of their friends or teachers have told them that a particular subject is easy to prepare and is very scoring in the Civil Services Exam.
The aspirants should choose the Optional Subject very rationally on the basis of their interest and prior knowledge of the subject. It is always advisable to choose the Optional that one has already studied during the graduation or post graduation.
Writing skills of an individual plays an important role in getting good marks in the Optional subjects. One should be aware of her/his strengths in the answer writing. However there are many subjects like Physics, Mathematics, Psychology, Geography etc in which grasp over the subject are fairly important than the writing skills. On the other hand there are subjects like History, Sociology, Public Administration, Political Science etc in which high score is difficult to achieve without writing skills even though if an aspirant has good grasp over the subject. Thus the subject should be chosen as per ones’ interest and strengths.
Answer writing plays a very important role in the preparation of the Optional Subjects. Aspirants should write the answer regularly and them checked by their seniors or teachers. It’s better not to prepare the optional subjects in isolation but relating them with the current happenings in and around the world.