UPSC IAS Exam General Studies Strategy
Raju Mishra, Rank – 65, CSE-2014
ALERT 1 : This is the strategy I followed for preparation of GS . It worked for me, but this is most definitely not the only way to succeed in the examination. Neither can I or anyone else guarantee that following the same strategy, as those of toppers will bring you success. The purpose is to provide insight into my method of preparation from which other aspirants may pick points/strategies that suit their needs and proceed!
ALERT 2 : This is a long , long post so take your breaks and naps while reading it 😀 !
Let us begin with the NCERTs, which as per me are a sine qua non for this examination. Besides providing a huge amount of information, the simple language and concept clarity enable the foundation of a sound base for each of the subjects. I had read 6-10 NCERTS and made topic wise notes on them .The information is mostly scattered , for instance the Indus Valley Civilization is spread across 2-3 books which I gathered at one place making it easier for revision . 11-12 NCERTs I usually underlined in the books as almost every page I found new info, and used to revise from there. More focus was on history (Modern India) and Geography books. Sociology I had made notes (Sanskritization , effects of colonial rule on caste , effects of globalization etc ) . NCERTs also enabled me in a smooth transition to the humanities subjects and it is after this that I suggest you move on to the more conventional books for better grasp.
- History : Brief History (Spectrum ) , Bipin Chandra ( Struggle for Independence and India after Independence ) , Baliyan Printed Notes ( World History )
- Culture : NCERT XI Arts , Ancient and Medieval History (NCERT) , Nitin Singhania notes
- Geography was my optional so prepared all topics in depth. One should definitely read NCERTs, GC Leong for sound fundamentals.
- Sociology from NCERTS and current affairs
- Polity : Laxmikanth read this book multiple times cover to cover , newspapers , ARC Reports
- RPA , welfare schemes , development issues : 12th Five Year Plan , Yojana(policy issues) , Kurukshetra (rural issues ) , PRS monthly report, ARC
- R. : Newspapers , Rajiv Sikri : Challenge and Strategy , RSTV debates , Vajiram booklet
- Economy : NCERTs ( X,XI,XII) , Sanjeev Verma , SRIRAM IAS notes , Ramesh Singh
- Environment : Shankar IAS , Down to Earth magazine(geo optional )
- Sci Tech : NCERTs ( special focus on XI-XII Biology for Prelims) , Science Reporter , Hindu special on Thursday
- Security : Vajiram and SRIRAM Booklet , idsa website
- Vision IAS booklets for topics not covered by above books like investment models , food processing , cropping patterns ,indigenization of tech etc
- Ethics : S.K. Mishra Sir’s class notes , Ethics Integrity and Aptitude Book by G. Subba Rao , ARC notes , online random reading .
- Online resources : mrunal and insightsonindia ( everyday ) , idsa ,pib , prs
- Magazines : Yojana , Kurukshetra , Science Reporter and selective reading of EPW .
- Newspapers : The Hindu , Indian Express
- Note making
I personally never made notes from the standard books. I found them a waste of time and rather underlined the important portions in the book itself. In Bipan Chandra struggle for Independence , I used to frame questions which I wrote at edges of book like economic policy of British , reasons for rise of communalism , reasons for success of peasant revolts etc. and underlined the points and marked them as 1,2,3,4 … which helped me in quick revisions later . At times questions could not be framed and there I just used to highlight the important names/points.
- Current affairs
This was the portion I enjoyed the most and made extensive hand written notes. I personally read two newspapers (Hindu and Express) for I found coverage of express especially their editorial, columns and opinion very apt for GS, and complementing the Hindu in many ways thus giving me a sense of fulfillment. Besides the Insights Secure Mains had links to important articles of other newspapers ( Business Standard , New York times , Live Mint etc .. ) which sort of gave me the filtered important articles from these newspapers relevant to CSE at one place :!
I had 4 separate 5-subject notebooks for GS 1,2,3 and I.R. I made an index with topics like Judicial Reforms, Police Reforms, Internet Reforms, WTO issues, Urban Transportation, etc.. And country wise for I.R. For I.R. particularly in the beginning I had to devote a lot of time online to get a grip over the background of the current issues. For instance to understand the ramifications of Iran-U.S. deal , or the cyclical Israel-Palestine conflict one needs to understand the history of relations between the two nations, the various uprisings and wars fought , their causes and effect. You need not know the nitty gritty details but a overall big picture is needed.
In the beginning it always takes more time to read the newspapers, but with time besides an increase in reading speed, you sort of get accustomed to the style of writing and as your knowledge on topics build up you breeze through the articles instead of the jittery , jerky reading at the beginning where you feel all lost !
While reading newspapers I used to underline the important lines which covered the core of the issues, some data/facts etc. At the end of it I used to write them down in the notebook or cut and staple the newspaper article at the relevant place depending on how many points are there. One may see the videos by insightsonindia on how to read Hindu , besides I think Gaurav Agarwal post on how to read newspapers effectively is also very helpful.( https://thesupermanreturns.wordpress.com/2014/07/04/how-to-read-newspapers/ )
- Resource and Efficiency
There are countless books and websites ready to help you in the quest for cracking this exam. I had a single point agenda that is to eat as much as I can chew. Everything I read and found useful had to be recorded/written/saved somewhere for future use. Unless you revise things it is of no use and unless you catalogue things well it is very difficult to revise!
Hence I choose limited books, which I read again and again. But yes I made sure I had the entire syllabus covered. I often used certain chapters from coaching booklets (Vajiram SRIRAM, Vision) which I felt were not covered in standard texts or if I could not get conceptual clarity from the text. I was lucky that my two roommates did coaching in Vajiram and Sriram so had no issues with access to these two!
Similarly for magazines I made the notes then and there. Every Yojana issue has many articles that you will find pertain to the main topic in discussion but are repetitive. I used to make handwritten notes / tear the important pages and supplement them in my GS 2 / GS 3 notebook and the dump the magazine. This I did for all magazines be it EPW, Science Reporter or any other. Read the article, get the relevant portions and clear your room of it instead of stacking it one over the other. In short use your resources efficiently!
Our efficiency, by the way also fluctuates with the UPSC cycle . For instance the time after mains most of us waste time till the results are out and after that the lucky souls who are called for interview waste time till results as the cycle of hope , glaze of success often blinds us . Instead of that read those long reports ARC, FYP , Sarkaria , IPCC etc which you may not have the time ideally after prelims to do . I mean obviously one cannot prepare with the same vigour as before Prelims or mains but do read the newspapers, the occasional magazines and these reports next time! See even if you name is on the list except maybe 200-300 people most would be reappearing for the examination , so hope for the best but prepare for the worst J
For websites I followed mrunal , pib , insightsonindia (everyday) , and the others mentioned in the booklist section as and when I needed them . Online resources are very effective today and helped me in streamlining my preparation. In fact guidance from blogs of many toppers helped me tweak my strategy, realize my follies and correct them.
- Focus and timeline
The UPSC has penchant for at times stunning the candidates with out of the box questions for instance the NAlanda-Taxila , Panipat question in last mains . However don’t lose your focus and start preparing for these things at the beginning even before you read the NCERTs, conventional books or you know the traditional dances , paintings etc. Very limited people in the country know these answers well, so focus and prepare the conventional portions first before venturing into these unconventional areas. Master the shallow end of the pool before going for the deep, turbulent waters!
Secondly instead of going for wayward preparation, taking it as it comes I had an established routine for myself. It included 2-3 hours of newspapers, online reading and then 8-10 hours of subject reading. There was sufficient time for bakar, catching on TV series and chai breaks! Usually I took up 2 subjects a week and had a daily, weekly schedule two weeks in advance with adequate breaks and reserve days for no one is perfect: D.
How you plan your day, how many hours you study per day are all dependent on you but plan your studies for it helps you channelize your energy and deadlines improve your efficiency.
- Answer Writing and Revision ( handled in previous two motivational posts )
You should also read this brilliant piece written by Anunaya (AIR 57, 418 in GS!!) https://thusspakethebabelfish.wordpress.com/
A big mistake in my first mains was that I wrote all that I knew on a specific topic often missing out on the heart of the question. For instance this year
- Account for the change in the spatial pattern of the Iron and Steel industry in the world.
Myself last year would have seen iron and steel industries of the world, got excited and written all about it! What needs to be done is show with examples how the pattern has changed from previous years to present day structure. How Ruhr Valley, Clyde Valley resources exhaustion, technological development of utilization of scrap iron by Japan, rise of India China etc has led to this shift. Then draw a map showing this shift with arrows towards the rising economies from the western world.
Moreover don’t be fooled by the fact that only 20 questions is being asked. Q. Two parallel run schemes of the Government viz. the Adhaar Card and NPR, one as voluntary and the other as compulsory, have led to debates at national levels and also litigations. On merits, discuss whether or not both schemes need run concurrently. Analyse the potential of the schemes to achieve developmental benefits and equitable growth.
These are in fact two questions a) On merits, discuss whether or not both schemes need run concurrently. And b) Analyse the potential of the schemes to achieve developmental benefits and equitable growth. There are many such questions which effectively take up the count to not less than 25 so practice writing 25 in the given time limit .
Finally the Misconceptions I would like to dispel:
- Coaching is not compulsory for success in this examination. It is an individual decision which people often make (mostly those who have no idea about the exam) probably to get an initial idea about the exam, seek initial guidance and set themselves into routine/time table for this exam. I personally feel that many people join these institutes due to the fear of lagging behind in the cut throat competition or to avoid the feeling of “ Only if I had done coaching I would have cracked the exam “ ! I never took GS coaching and my advice to all those who are taking is that consider the coaching centers at best as just facilitators and that you need to work a lot on your own, do a lot of self study and not just be dependent on these coaching institutes .
- Anybody, I mean anybody can succeed in this examination. You don’t need to be from an elite institute (IIT/NIT/IIM) or have a super solid background/schooling to succeed in the exam . All you need is focus, smart and hard work.
- You do not have to go to Delhi to succeed in the examination. It is indeed true that a competitive environment, availability of coaching/test series, peer discussion groups etc are a major attraction for many students. However the cons include high cost of living ( I stayed in Patel Nagar and it came to around 15k a month ) , average food , horrible weather , water issues etc which are normally associated when you stay away from home . So speak to your seniors/friends/ others living in Delhi and make your own informed decision before rushing to join the overcrowded streets of old Rajinder Nagar.
- Nobody can remember things after just one reading or rather very few photographic /eidetic memory gifted individuals prepare for UPSC. So instead of wasting time over worrying how you always forget things , understand this that it is only after repeated readings that any one can remember all that is expected from us . Use mental maps/ other techniques apart from multiple reading/revision. I used a white board in my room to write down key words /points which I found difficult to remember.
I end my two cents with reiteration of the fact that nobody knows your strength, weakness, learning capacity, reading speed, writing skills etc better than yourself. So take opinions from others, hear what the toppers, your fellow aspirants, teachers have to say but in the end form your own strategy and make amendments as and when you feel along the way J .