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PRELIMS STRATEGY – How to Score Good Marks in UPSC Civil Services Prelims? Topper’s Perspective – By Minal Sawant, AIR 46, Indian Forest Service Examination (IFS) 2019, Prelims (2019) Marks – 140!

minal sawat rank 46 IFS, minal sawat forest service topper

Hello friends,

This is Minal Sawant, AIR 46 in the Indian Forest Service Examination (IFS) 2019. I completed my B. Tech in Agricultural Engineering (MPKV Rahuri) and M. Tech. in Natural Resources Engineering and Geoinformatic (IIT Bombay). I was working with RMSI Private Limited and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Limited as a Domain Consultant for past 7 years. My work profile was related to climate change, watershed management and climate smart agriculture studies.

In Feb 2018, I decided to appear for UPSC examination especially for IFS (because of interest due to experience in the said field). It was a bit challenging especially after the marriage with the responsibilities of managing home and study together. But, my husband Santosh supported and motivated me throughout this journey.

I had just 3 months in my hand to prepare for prelims. In 2018, I could not qualify IFS prelims but had cleared civil services cutoff with good margin. This time (2019), I decided to be well above cutoff marks for prelims and got a score of 139.33 (as per Insights key) and 142 (as per Vision key).

Herewith I would like to share my strategy for UPSC prelims. It is based on 5 key points. 

  • Firstly analyse the previous year prelim papers of UPSC (including other exams such as CDS, CAPF) to get an idea about questions.
  • Thorough understanding of basic concepts instead of just reading and mugging up.This will ensure you remember the things for longer duration. You can watch small videos to clear the concepts especially for science tech.
  • Keep limited sources. Whatever extra reading you do to understand the topic can be noted at one place for easy and fast revision. For example, I added many things in basic books (NCERT, Laxmikant) itself.
  • I focused on detailed reading at first and at max one or two revisions; this allowed me to cover the syllabus in shortest possible time. 
  • And lastly, identify your strengths and accordingly decide your strategy. For example in my case first detailed reading and one revision worked for me but some may be comfortable with initial fast reading and multiple revisions.

Sources which I followed-

Ancient and Medieval HistoryNCERT+Class XI Tamil Nadu board
Modern HistoryNCERT+ Class XI Tamil Nadu board+ Spectrum
Art and Culture Class XI culture NCERT, NIOS selective reading
Polity Laxmikanth and NCERTs
EconomyMrunal Sir lectures (very useful)
Science and TechOverview of NCERTs, YouTube small videos for current topics
EnvironmentRajgopalan book of Environment (very informative), InsightIAS’s Environment and Forest report summaries
Geography physical NCERTs (brief reading)
Current affairs Vision IAS monthly and InsightIAS monthly quiz, Yojana, Kurukshetra
Misc.India Year Book and Economic Survey Summaries


Along with reading the above sources, I tried to solve as many test papers. This would give you confidence and chance to do as many mistakes in mock tests itself and correct those mistakes well before actual UPSC prelims. There is no thumb rule to solve specific number of tests; I solved around 20 mock tests to get fair experience in solving the questions attentively. Keep the test number also optimum because I could not even get chance to revise those 20 test before prelims. You can choose any good test series (Insights or Vision) and follow it devotedly. I had referred Insights papers for subject wise tests.

You can very well refer to summaries for India year book and Economic survey. This will save your precious time. I referred India Year Book summary prepared by Jamir Shaikh (AIR 18, IFS-2018) and Eco Survey Summary of Vision, Environment and Forest report summaries of Insights.

Tips –

  • Keep limited sources.
  • Daily newspaper reading (Indian Express / The Hindu) and noting the important points or take pictures in mobile.
  • Keep solving the question, 10-15 daily or 1 paper weekly. Try to solve UPSC questions as far as possible.
  • Develop habit of reading full question and options thereof. 
  • If you do not know the exact answer, try to eliminate from known facts and intuition (it is mostly based on your subconscious knowledge). Many a times you need to follow this approach as nobody surely knows all the answers. However do not go for wild guess.
  • Do not follow time based study (like study for 12 hours a day). Instead try to do target based study (like complete polity constitutional bodies in a day). Then you can have ample time for relaxation and your preparation will be efficient and interesting.
  • Keep weekly off (half day or full day). Here you can watch informative movies or documentaries. This will boost your energy level for effective study over the next week.
  • Do discussion based study with friends; keep asking questions to each other. This will ensure you remember the things effectively for long time. 
  • Syllabus can be divided among fellow aspirants and can be taught to each other. I did the same for current affairs monthly.
  • Time table should be prepared to complete the syllabus in time. Keep checking the status at least weekly. No need to panic if you are not able to complete targets as scheduled (it happens generally). Here you should modify your schedule as per available time and importance of remaining topics (as per previous papers). I modified my schedules at least 5-6 times ;).

Most importantly ‘Be calm and confident in exam hall’. If you have studied devotionally and with deep and curiosity, definitely you will clear the exam. Otherwise also lot of knowledge is gained in the process which will help you in other career options. Take this as a learning experience rather than burden.  Learn every day. Finally combination of confidence, consistency, dedication and hard + smart work is the key to clear this exam.

I would like to thank Insights team for providing good study material and inspirational toppers’ articles which helped me to maximize my score in prelim.  Its availability at utmost ease over internet is very crucial to support candidates preparing from home or remote areas. At last but not the least I like to thank my friends (Santosh, Jamir, Prashant) who guided and motivated me throughout this journey.

All the Best!