My UPSC Preparation Strategy
Chandra Mohan Garg
Rank – 25, CSE – 2015
I feel privileged today to share my two cents on civil services preparation. Before I begin let me clearly state that there is no magic wand to clear civil services. Also there is no correlation of intelligence and high aptitude with chances of selection in civil services. Most of the people who crack it are no indifferent (at one point of time even they were a part of the herd and felt the same uncertainty of clearing up this exam).But yes something worked for them, that made them successful.
I would like to list down some of the most important components which you will find common in preparation of all successful candidates. We can call them as Basic Pillars of UPSC Preparation
- A timetable and strategy: Nothing is possible without proper planning, a daily timetable and short/long term goals setting. So plan and timetable is the first pillar.
- A strong foundation and conceptual clarity: it is important to ensure whatever we read, we understand it thoroughly. UPSC questions are very much applied, they need analysis and that can come only when we are crystal clear with our concepts of subject matter.
- Consolidation and revision: The syllabus is like a vast ocean, it is important to keep consolidating and revising it time and again.So make notes and continuosly revise every now and then.
- Evaluation of Preparation: At every point of time you should know where your preparation stand, that is possible through self-evaluation and evaluation through tests.
- Consistency: Nothing happens without it. People who show consistency are sure shot to be rewarded, provided they work smartly
- Discussions and Answer writing: Discussions are very important, they will help in clearing your doubts & better understanding of subject matter. Similarly Answer writing has a very important role, knowledge without ability to express and articulate is futile. It is important to develop the ability to deliver in 8 minutes.
- Being Optimistic: This is the last but the most important one. UPSC is a time taking process, full of obstacles and failures. How to cope up with them, keeping yourself motivated is the biggest key to success.
I will discuss each of the above point in detail sometime later. Also I shall take up discussion on soft aspects like right time to start preparation, should job be left, need of a backup, how do I decide why civil services etc. Clarity on all this is must before giving a full-fledged effort for preparation.
Now let us discuss how to prepare for civil services.
Pre –Preparation Mode
The initial two-three months are very confusing. People are generally not able to understand what to read, how to make notes, which newspaper to refer and other plethora of questions coming to their minds. What most people end up doing is they join a coaching thinking it to be a solution to all problems , others blindly start following some senior who himself is misdirected. This is a very crucial stage and I feel most of the people lose their momentum here because of a faulty start and they find very difficult to realign later.
So starting has to be steady and sober. I think it is important to give at least two months to yourself to get yourself in UPSC mode. Start reading newspapers and noting them down, basic NCERT’s of economics, Polity & other basic ones, some good blogs/book etc. This will not only help in giving you a foundation but also help in taking informed decisions related to preparation (estimation of time you will need, need of coaching, should job be continued, optional choice etc.). This will act as a trial and error time where you can learn how to make notes, how to read books, learn from others etc. So this will make things smooth in your preparation be it self or through coaching.
I shall discuss in detail how to go about in pre-preparation mode
When you start your preparation, have a clear cut idea about your study plan. Which books/material to read, which subjects to cover up, how to divide time between (GS, current affairs and optional), what will be the daily targets, short and long term goals.
Time Required for Preparation: Since every one of us have different grasping power so please do not go by others set timeline. Take your own time for civil services preparation. Ideally 12-15 months is at least required for preparation mode.
Prelims Book List (My Prelims Book List)
Polity – Laxmikanth
Modern History – Modern Spectrum , few chapters from Old NCERT class 12th (before 1857)
Medieval History – OLD NCERT
Ancient History- OLD NCERT CLASS 11th
Culture- Nitin Singhania + CCRT/NIOS selectively , Mrunal Videos can also be seen
Environment – Shankar Ias, Old Biology Class 12 Ecology unit
Economics- Sriram Printed Notes + Macroeconomics Class 12 NCERT . Mrunal Videos are also good .
Geography – Class 11th &12th NCERT, Class 6 to 10th NCERT selectively, Biomes chapter from G C Leong. Mrunal Videos are also good.
Science- NCERT 6th to 10th (Mainly 9th&10th), Some selective chapters from 11th & 12th as mentioned by Mrunal. Vajiram Yellow books of PCB are also fine
Current Affairs- Hindu + InsightsonIndia + Monthly Magazine
Other stuff – Budget+ Eco survey selectively + Indian Year Book Selectively(only if time permits)
Test Series – InsightsonIndia papers for its questions . A question bank like Arihant might also be of help
What if the basics are very weak. You can do the following:-
- Read NCERTS 6th to 10th of subjects you feel you are very weak
- Take help of online videos. Mrunal, Unacademy are good platforms.
General Studies Mains
GS Paper 1
Culture : Nitin Singhania Notes + Vajiram Notes
Modern History – Modern Spectrum/Shekhar Bandopadhyay , few chapters from Old NCERT class 12th (before 1857)
Post Independent History – Vision Ias (selectively), Bipin Chandra India since Independence(selectively).
World History – NCERT 9th &10th Old ones, Class 12th NCERT (all selectively) , Vision IAS notes
Society – Ram Ahuja selectively can be seen, current affairs
Geography – NCERT 11th& 12th , GC Leong , Mrunal Videos, Vision reference for resources part
GS Paper 2
Read one reference source for static part and compliment it with current affairs .
Polity: Laxmikanth thoroughly + Current Affairs
Public Admin related topics:Vision IAS + Current Affairs
IR: Current Affairs. If need be Subhra Ranjan mam IR notes of Pol science are also good to be selectively referred.
Insight secure Initiative is very helpful here. Look at paper 2 questions posted up and read answers on topics you have little or no idea. Collate it in your notes.
GS Paper 3
Economy & Infrastructure : Prelims studied sources + Sanjeev Verma + Economic survey + Budget + Current Affairs
Agriculture & related topics : Mrunal + Vision Ias + Current Affairs
Security – TMH book on security + Current Affairs
Environment & Science : Mainly current affair + whatever studied for prelims
Disaster Management : Summarise ARC on DM + Current Affairs
Here also make most of Insight secure Initiative + Newspaper + Vision Ias Magazines
GS Paper 4
It is not a technical subject , this subject requires very clear understanding of value aspect and then its application in real life and contextual problem. So focus should be on general understanding and answer writing.
Read one reference book say lexicon. Summarize and make your own notes for values, concepts and relate it to examples. Eg attitude. what is attitude, attributes of attitude, how to change attitude etc. Make simple points on all these and relate it to real life examples.( how to change a bureaucrat attitude, society attitude etc). This year a question was based on it only- changing attitude of villagers towards female education. How will you do it.
UPSC expects application of ethical knowledge in real life and this is how we need to do it.Refer Insights secure for answer writing and reading others answer.
Key is read less, think more ( collect examples, reason and analyse etc) and then practice how to write. Refer some test series if you want. GS score case studies solutions were really good earlier. Don’t know now.
Use: Lexicon, InsightsonIndia articles + Secure Initiative , Some test papers with solution on case studies( GS score solutions/Lukmaan), self analysis and note making.
General Good books / sources for knowledge addition :-
- India After Gandhi :- Must to understand India’s transformation
- Imagining India :- Discusses well India’s issues and solutions to them
- 12th 5yr Approach plan: Very helpful for paper 3
- Economic Survey and Budget
- RSTV discussions
- Selective reference to Kurukshetra, Yojana, EPW
How to Cover Syllabus
Syllabus can be divided into 3 parts
- Pre cum Mains:
This is that part of Syllabus which is more or less common for prelims and mains. E.g. Polity, World Geography etc. You will get to know just by seeing Syllabus which all parts are common.
Prepare this part holistically for prelims and mains together i.e. understand the concept and as well learn the factual part. For example if you are reading Laxmikant and topic is Speaker, from prelims perspective you will focus on how speaker is elected, his powers, which committees he heads etc. & from mains point of view you will focus on role of speaker in effective functioning of parliament, how to ensure political impartiality of speaker, UK vs India model for speaker etc.
If possible make some notes or put stickers in the book and summarise. Write some answers for practice every now and then (get this evaluated by someone).
Pre cum mains section needs to be covered well in advance before prelims examination, so that you can revise twice before prelims. Also you should practice at least one test series for prelims.
I will discuss prelims and GS-1, 2, 3, 4 preparation paper strategy separately, where I can talk about how to cover syllabus, book list, note making, how to link static and current knowledge, how to consolidate and what to write in answers.
2. Mains topics Only
This refers to those part of syllabus which are not common with prelims. E.g.- GS Paper 4, World History etc. Refer syllabus and you will get all of it.
One should read each and everything from this section and make some notes also before prelims. So that after prelims you can join a test series and write test and evaluate and revise only.
Choose optional on the basis of interest, time requirement, material availability, marks trend etc. It is very important to cover the entire syllabus of optional before prelims. After prelims it should only be revision, value addition and answer writing practice.
Other Important Components of Syllabus
- Current Affairs
Current Affairs is very important for prelims and mains point of view. One needs to make continuous notes because most of the questions asked in prelims and mains have a correlation with contemporary developments taking place. Sources you need may include:-
- A current Daily: to capture recent happenings, reading editorial, noting examples, general awareness and facts. Hindu and Indian Express are good sources
- Monthly Magazine: To get a consolidated source every month end. Vision, IAS Baba or any other will do.
- InsightsonIndia: Secure Initiative for Mains Value addition and Current events for prelims majorly.
For prelims: Capture all events, organisation, initiatives, schemes & policy, scientific developments, Institutions, people etc. in news
For Mains: Go through the syllabus thoroughly and make categories (Polity, IR, S&T etc.). Capture any government initiatives, policies, latest development in any field, issue analysis, editorial, case study, facts related to the syllabus.
Most of the people generally ignore essay preparation. I could increase 32 marks in my GS altogether (375 to 407) after putting up lot of efforts. But not even 1/10th of effort was required to increase 28 marks in essay (121 to 149). So it is very important to prepare for essay. Essay preparation does not require any coaching as fodder you will get from GS preparation. What needs to be learnt is how to articulate that knowledge, how to create an outline of essay and structure your ideas, how to give illustrations and include quotes, facts, examples in essay. All this will come with practice and some homework.
I will write on this in detail later.
PRELIMS TIME (what to do)
Prelims has become highly competitive, keeping in mind that CSAT is out and cut-off is going very high one needs to give a lot of attention to prelims .Now focus has to be on two areas. One is what to prepare and Second how to solve the paper.
What to prepare:
Firstly focus on basic books and NCERT and cover them thoroughly. This is the most conventional and safe area from where you can be sure that question will come and you will be able to solve. Secondly read budget, economic survey and current events thoroughly. This is another favourite area of UPSC now. Apart from this there are so many growing resources for environment, culture, conventional subjects coming up. Read them selectively on your discretion once you are done with above mentioned things.Most Important is revision, revise at least thrice.Also do give tests they help in evaluation, course completion and revision. If you don’t want to join take papers from the market. InsightsonIndia papers are very nice.
How to solve the paper:
The papers these days are very confusing due to multiple choices, making it difficult to attempt questions with 100 percent surety. So at times we need to take calculated risks. Paper need to be solved through 2 ways. One you know what is the answer, other you know what can’t be the answer so indirectly leading you to the answer. Read the questions and solve them in the question paper first. If you know the answer put a tick in the question paper, if you don’t know leave it, if you are 50-50 ( able to eliminate at least two options) you can put a round or any other way you like to make it like a marked question. Now in your answer sheet first fill only those questions you are 100 percent sure. Count such number of questions. Based on your self-evaluation figure out if you need to take some risk. If you think you have done ample questions and will easily clear so don’t take a risk. If you feel your attempt is very less then take some calculated risk with questions you had put as marked questions, choose those questions among them where you are able to eliminate one more option or are more or less confident towards one of the two options left.
I am only sharing an approach using it is solely your discretion, don’t go by mine or anyone else advice. Practice it in mocks and then take your own decision. Though best thing is to ensure you take minimal risk, but such conditions are idealistic and we have to be prepared for emergency situations.
PRE-MAINS TIME (what to do)
This is the time when all your notes/revision sources should be ready. No new reading in this period except current affairs and some value additions. Now set a timeline for revision. You can use a test series or even self-defined deadlines. This time 116 days are there so plan accordingly.
Consolidation (75-80 days)
Tests will have a weekly/bi weekly plan and a part of syllabus is supposed to be covered. First cover the left over parts of the topics if any left. Then revise everything. While revising keep your static and current affairs notes /sources together and consolidate them.
For eg- you read speaker in Laxmikant, in current affairs you would have come across how speaker misused anti-defection law in Bihar, how a bill was labelled as money bill to bypass Rajya sabha etc. Likewise consolidate your knowledge of current and static parts for every paper.
Most importantly focus on answer writing a lot. Not just writing but get evaluated through test series, friends, seniors in services or Insight on India. Objective behind writing is solely improve your articulation, structuring etc.
First and Second Revision ( 35-40 days)
It is important to remember basic ideas in the examination hall. Rather than reading new things focus on strengthening what you have read. So two rounds of revision are much needed. It sounds idealistic when we are not even able to cover the syllabus. But my focus is on quality of coverage than quantity. And if you plan properly you can have quality along with quantity.
Whatever you read in Static and Current part keep consolidating topic wise. Anything new add in your notes rather than reading again and again. Later these notes can be consolidated and used for revision purpose. If you will not make notes you will not be able to catch hold of entire syllabus, keep forgetting things. So start making notes from day 1. In course of time you will learn how to make, manage and revise them
What else is required?
I think three biggest facets of this preparation are Knowledge, articulation and positive attitude. Nobody talks about this third facet which is the most important and critical aspect of not just Upsc preparation but life in itself. I am focussing on this because I left my preparation once thinking I am not capable of clearing UPSC and here I am with rank 25. It happened only when I changed my outlook, had I not changed it, my capabilities would never had come out. I could not have achieved this feat.
I am sharing a small link to an article I wrote sometime back. https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-best-attitude-one-should-maintain-to-crack-civils-upsc
I know all of us are full of confusions and queries. So in case any one of you needs any help you can reach out to me on a fb page I created this page to upload articles and videos and answer all your queries. In case you need any help in answer review. You can post here only.
Also you can poke me on quora. https://www.quora.com/profile/Chandra-Mohan-Garg-1
I shall try to write a series of article or make some videos on each and every aspect related to UPSC preparation. Please give me some time.
Best wishes to all of you. Hope we all do our best in our lives.