Albert John, AIR 179, Prelims strategy 145(2016), approx 130( 2017)
I write this as I would like to share something which worked for me in prelims preparation. In 2016 I gave a full fledged attempt, scored about 145 marks. In my next attempt, I was working as a Professor, my 2016 results came on may 31st, all the celebrations began, after 2 weeks I had to face the demise of a close family member, and after a week on June 18, I gave prelims. Despite all these I had a fair score of around 130 from various keys. So let me share what worked for me.
Prelims is a skill. That’s why some people don’t get it even after exhausting all attempts- and why some people get in the first time, and continuously get high marks (No I couldn’t qualify in my first two attempts). But from my experience of 4 prelims, let me tell you – how much you have learnt has less to do with it than you think. So that is one myth to be broken.
Though anybody living an aspirant life is going to be fed up with formulas, kindly pardon me for introducing another one;
PRELIMS = KNOWLEDGE+ PRACTICE + THOUGHT.
- Do the most basic things first – and improve as you get time.
- The Basic includes – Studying all the standard texts for each- Ncert for geog, Laxmikant for polity, Bipin Chandra/ spectrum for history (I personally did BC & those back pages of spectrum to be frank, and gave a fast reading of the spectrum text), I preferred Shankar Ganesh than Ramesh Singh, (selective reading of RS also gave same effect – but not full), selectively read Shankar IAS material for environment & selectively read culture from various sources like CCRT & NIOS. For current affairs I used the Hindu (Yeah took down notes), Pib , Insights daily current affairs and Vision IAS monthly compilation ( I would say this was too much). But never do this expecting that a question is going to come directly from any of these sources. That is poor attitude. Do it so that you are fairly aware of current affairs and that you can give a fair try on any question with that info.
- Value addition – economic survey Gist, Yojana, India year Book gist
- Test series is more important than sitting in any coaching class. Don’t join it hoping that a question is going to come – what you get from test is perfecting the art of attempting more and reducing your errors. Join test series of any organisation, which you feel has imbibed the changing contours of UPSC questions well.
THINK HOW TO THINK – My “Take – retake” strategy ( Now this is my Intellectual Property : D)
- TAKE your mock tests well – learn well, revise well, and take the test. Maximise attempts by intelligent guesses based on some logic/previous knowledge. Go back and RETAKE the test mentally with answer key in hand.
- Now there are 2 ways by which you would have made your answers wrong –
- knew it well, but marked it wrong – There is no excuse for this. If you are so negligent, you are out of the competition.
- Had the idea, but couldn’t convert it to answer.
- And 2 ways by which you would have left question unattended –
- knew nothing about it.
- options were equally confusing.
RETAKE 1. Recheck all questions that went wrong. Identify which was that specific thought that made your answer wrong, i.e, what piece of knowledge/ perception/ thinking prompted you to eliminate the right option and choose the wrong one. Now simply think how you should have thought to eliminate the wrong answer (which you marked), and choose the right answer (which you eliminated earlier). While you are doing this, you are actually fine tuning your mind to reach the right answer, from the same piece of information .This not only makes you sharp, but also enlightens you.
RETAKE 2. Take the unattempted ones. For those questions about which you had no idea, try to find some logic to derive the answer by connecting it with some fact you already knew. Practice it with answer in hand. The next time do it in your mocks without answer in hand. The more you do the more sharp you get.
RETAKE 3. Take the ones you left unattended because you were equally confused with options – take the two equally compelling options, simply mark the one which has more logic. If you went wrong, do the take retake Strategy. ( but now at least you were brave enough to attempt.)
- ADD SPICE: Solve UPSC previous question papers the same way. Never expect a question to repeat. This practice will tweak you to the UPSC way of thinking and reduce confusions. This was perhaps the best thing I did. It makes me to tell with a fair certainty, that according to UPSC, Indus valley wouldnever have heard of horses, even though horse remains were reportedly found from Surkatoda. (I can be wrong here.)
I have some caveats also
- Be ready to fail. Wonders won’t happen the first time.
- Continue / follow only if you feel this is going to do some good. I won’t guarantee this works for everyone, or for any percentage of aspirants for that matter. This is simply an account of what I did.
- Though this looks lengthy, never make this process time consuming. Finish off analysing the QP in max 2 hours, and go back to your work/rest schedule.
- The answers you thus derive may not be right always. In 2017 prelims for the question of trade disputes act 1929, I answered that it gave arbitrary power to managements to quell disputes. My logic was CPI was formed by 1925 and should have gathered strength, and the act has to be the knee jerk reaction of the govt. But keys say I was wrong. So It happens usually.
- There always is a luck factor in prelims. At times all that you logically derived may go wrong. But you can reduce the chances by practice. I attempted 90 in my 2016 prelims and got only about 13 wrong, even though I knew only about 45 sure shot answers.
The last thing- you may not get a mock test to practice take- retake every day. I made use of Insights daily quiz for this. I used to read yesterdays newspaper today, and attempt yesterdays daily quiz tomorrow- it allows multiple revision+ improves memory. You can clearly see how a news item can beautifully turn into a potential question on a daily basis. Attempt maximum and practice analytical strategy here again. Improve each day. Practice them in your mock tests, and do wonders in the prelims. ALL the best.