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[Prelims – 2020 MUST READ ARTICLE] What’s the Difference between Textbooks Based and Subject-wise Test Series of Insights? And New Features in Test Series + Why it makes Sense to Start Preparing for Prelims -2020 from now Itself

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[Prelims – 2020 MUST READ ARTICLE]

What’s the Difference between Textbooks Based and Subject-wise Test Series of Insights? Which one you should Choose?

And New Features in Test Series + Why it makes Sense to Start Preparing for Prelims -2020 from now Itself


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This article will clarify why we decided to launch two different Prelims Test Series packages – textbook and subject-wise; how are they different from each other; which approach will benefit you more and give you some tips on how to use a test series effectively. We have been receiving many queries on this topic and this article is a consolidated reply to them.



Textbook-wise Test Series is built on our old and time tested model. We cover multiple NCERT books and other sources of similar levels in a given test (e.g. 6-7th NCERT of different subjects in Test 1). Subsequent tests cover higher level textbook and aspirants complete all the required books in a time-bound manner as they keep taking the tests. Such an approach builds the basics first and then allows you to tackle more difficult sources as you mature in your preparation. A lot of aspirants, especially freshers, find a textbook-based approach natural and more aligned to their way of studying.

Other aspirants, especially the more experienced ones, approach the syllabus differently. They have already commanded the basics and thus prefer to complete the syllabus subject or topic wise. They have read the textbooks multiple times, and it makes sense to focus on one’s weaker areas rather than an entire textbook from cover to cover.

Until 2017, we ran only one textbook-wise test series which was received very well by both freshers and veterans. The tests cleverly balanced basic conceptual questions with higher order questions. For 2018 and 2019, we experimented with a subject-wise (topic wise) test series. There, a test focussed on some key topics which students were supposed to cover from a variety of sources (NCERTs, standard books, official websites etc.), and we gradually covered all the topics in over thirty five tests.  

Needless to say, both the approaches were successful and the results are quite clear (see here and read feedback of students in the comments here when 2019 Prelims results were announced). Our old students and veterans, who prefer reading the material subject-wise, have been requesting us to keep the subject-wise approach. However, we realized that freshers might get a better hang of preparation with a textbook-based approach. We cannot set aside the concerns of any of these camps and thus decided to launch both the packages – textbook and subject-wise test series so that both freshers and veterans benefit.

Sample questions

Below, we have put up screenshots of questions from the first few tests of both the packages.

Note: You can also notice that in the images below that we have added a new feature where you can choose how did you solve the question – elimination, logic, accurate knowledge or wild guess. This helps you analyse your test performance more precisely and helps improve elimination.


From Textbook based Test Series

We are posting some of the Test 1 and Test 2 questions. The syllabus, among other sources, included NCERT books of 6-8th standard and current affairs (see full schedule here). NCERT books are a gold mine in that they often mention some very important topics cursorily and move ahead. Aspirants usually read only those brief cursory mentions and do not read further above. In UPSC 2019, a question on viviparous and herbivorous species was lifted directly from 7th Science NCERT, but the question was a little improvised, i.e. it cover some other details which were not mentioned in the NCERT books.

If you have been solving Insights Prelims Test Series, you would know that a lot of questions have AR (Additional Research) or Improvisation written after the NCERT page Q source. This implies that the questions cover additional details other than mentioned in the NCERT or other books., similar to how UPSC sets questions. You will find very few direct Qs from NCERT books in both 2018 and 2019 Prelims examination. This has proved to be very crucial in the effectiveness of our test series. A mere reading of NCERTs and standard books is insufficient and thus you get a much larger coverage from our textbook-based approach.

In the examples below, note how important topics like taproots and fibrous roots which find a brief mention in the Science NCERTs (7th Std), or the cyclone warnings that do not receive a detailed exposition in newspapers, have been covered in detail. 

insights prelims test series 2020

prelims test series 2020Questions from current affairs too are covered in a little more detail as per the present trend (or expected future trend).

prelims 2020

Also, we try to cover ‘issues’ rather than just ‘news’. For instance, this question on drug control covers not only API (which was in news), but also drug price control, generic drugs and related issues. A comprehensive coverage of news is a must given how UPSC has been going after current affairs.

Overall, the textbook based test series broadens the syllabus treatment as much as possible and also covers the more unconventional part of the syllabus (see here the article on hidden/unconventional syllabus), which has been one of the hallmarks of Insights Prelims Test Series.

The conventional part is not neglected and as the books/sources/references are covered gradually building up from basic books, they are easier to follow for freshers. Test start from new NCERT books and as you move ahead we cover CCRT, ICSE Books, Goh Cheng Leong, Ministry Websites and the like. The difficulty level of both the sources and the questions generally increase with each test.

However, even as the test series is meant for freshers, sometimes they may feel that the questions are of a higher standard than what they have prepared for. This is a common concern, but be assured that the difficult level is on or above par that of UPSC and as long as you keep learning from the tests, you have an excellent chance of succeeding in the finals. As they say, “The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.”


From Subject-wise test series (Test 1 – Topics from Ancient and Medieval history)

This test series is different from Textbook based test series primarily in its sharp focus on the subject, coverage of key details and deepening relevant subject-knowledge. In the past few years, UPSC questions have become a lot more detailed or technical and a cursory reading of only broad details may not be very helpful in the exam.

The subject-based test series ensures that not even a corner of the syllabus is left uncovered. The tests start from a specific part of History (Ancient and Medieval), move to Arts/Culture, Ancient/Medieval Science & Tech, and then to portions of Polity, Economy, Ecology and Geography (see full schedule here). As the tests start straightaway from the core portions, you can expect all the tests to be more or less equally difficult and a difficulty gradient that you may see in the textbook-based series (meant for freshers) may be missing since more experienced aspirants may be taking them. This is not to say that freshers should not opt for it, but if freshers do, they should be comfortable reading the prescribed syllabus.

In the questions given below, notice how the they tend to concentrate on chosen topics without leaving the required width simultaneously (e.g. evolution of stone age or 6th CE religious reforms). Maintaining both depth and width in your coverage is the key to success in UPSC Prelims examination.

For instance, the question on Indian cinema not only covers the historical but also the contemporary aspects of the topic. You can make a similar observation for the question on classical dances below.

If you carefully look up the syllabus of subject-wise test series, you will also see that it is highly suited for those looking to beef up their Mains preparation. For instance, Test 2 will cover Promotion and Preservation of Indian Heritage; Ancient and Medieval Science & Technology; Bhakti & Sufi Movement; Language & Literature; Architecture; Indian Philosophy and Religion among other topics.

Once you have completed the test, you will be confident to answer not only Prelims questions but also Mains related questions from those topics. The test discussion portal will also help you clarify any conceptual doubts. The coverage is comprehensive.  


Summing up

Summarizing the article from a bird’s eye view, you will see that the subject-wise test series is quite focussed and sticks to the given sources very closely. You will be able to probe the given topic in depth and you can be sure that any questions asked by UPSC from those sources will not be left unanswered by you. The syllabus covers even old NCERT books.

The textbook-based approach, on the other hand, being based on sources, rather than topics, has the flexibility of covering a much larger area of the syllabus. Even as it is meant for freshers, the questions are far from being elementary in nature. Given the present trend of UPSC, the questions are ‘based’ on the books, rather than just being lifted from the books. Thus, the textbook-based test series is broad and unconventional, whereas the subject-based test series is focussed and largely conventional.

Nonetheless, both packages cover current affairs comprehensively. The former is targeted more towards freshers who may (or may not, in some cases) have difficulty in reading advanced sources right from the very beginning of the test series, whereas the latter assumes that you will not face difficulties starting a focussed study of both basic and advanced sources right from the beginning. Since different approaches suit different people, you should chose which approach works better for you based on your level of preparation and reading style. Both freshers and veterans can opt for any test series if the model suits them.

Needless to say, you get the best of both the worlds if you opt for the combined package, i.e. both the textbook and subject-based test series. We highly recommend solving both the packages. If as a fresher, you cannot opt for both right now, you should ideally begin with one package (preferably the textbook one), complete it religiously and then opt for the other package. The more experienced ones can go ahead with both packages together since they have read most of the sources already and will be comfortable handing large number of readings for any given test.

Our experience shows that those who have solved a test series consistently, rather than rushing towards the end, have a higher chance of succeeding since they get so used to the exam pressure, the unpredictability of the tests and can retain a lot more over a longer period of time. Retaining information is the key! On top of that, the competition among peers (rank list) keeps you on your toes and helps you being focussed for the entire year. If you preparing from a remote area without access to a dedicated circle of aspirants, there are high chances of slacking off, and therefore adhering to a thoroughly planned test series becomes very important. You will not lose track since the competition around will force you to complete the syllabus and write the tests on time.

Buying pirated copies in April-May believing that you will retain over 3800 pages of information (yes, each test has over 100 pages of questions and explanation) in just a month is not only foolish, but also illegal and dangerous for your career! Most aspirants comment on our test platforms that to complete a single test, to read its solutions/explanations thoroughly and then to assimilate all the information, they need at least 7-8 hours! This cannot be more closer to the truth. Those buying pirated copies are attempting to complete 38 tests X 7 hours = 266 equivalent hours of work in just a month! Even if you study every single day for 8 hours, a month will only give you 240 hours!!! And, this too is when you need to keep everything else (newspapers, revision, optional etc.) on the backburner and focus only on solving a test series. So, please understand the consequences of what you might be getting into and chose wisely. Such a last-minute approach to studying can be extremely detrimental to your success.

You will miss lots of features that we have added to our test series portal as well. These tools will help you analyse your mistakes in every question in-depth and help you improve both knowledge and skills. For example, the new feature of marking your answer as Guess Work will help you know if you are making any progress in making right guess. In one Tab you can get all  Guessed questions and do in-depth analysis too. 

Moreover, your performance in each test is graphed and you will see if your accuracy rate is improving or not. 

A Test Series is not only a set of questions, but is direct supervised guidance over a period of an year along with a dedicated group of aspirants online which helps you be focussed, consisted and dedicated. Aspirants who only read, but fail to revise or retain the material are not as successful as those who revise repeatedly and retain much more information. Covering a large range of information is useless if you cannot retain it, and while there are many ways to be able to retain information, solving tests is one very effective way.

The feedback and experience of thousands of our students tell us that if you have solved the Test Series sincerely, follow newspapers regularly and have a good command of your basics, there is no good reason as to why you should not qualify UPSC Prelims! Having read the article, you should go through the syllabus (here) of both the packages, analyse your requirements carefully and then subscribe to what you feel serves you best. Sustained effort over a long time will lead you to where you want to be. All the best!