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Must Read Guidelines for INSTA Prelims Test Series 2021

A warm welcome to our 1 year long Prelims Guidance Programme – Insights Prelims Test Series 2021! We would like to orient you with the broader objectives of this test series so that you feel more at home, more at ease with us on this year-long journey. Even non-subscribers will benefit reading the article. This article is important in so many ways because everyone holds a certain expectation when they join a guided program, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they are not only met but exceeded. The article gives you some crucial information and helps you understand the broader objectives of the test series. Most aspirants doubt themselves at some stage in the journey and it is this period of self-doubt and evaluation that you need such advise the most. In the interest of everyone’s time, we will keep this short and crisp. Some important pointers have been listed below which you should be mindful of – they help you come to terms with your performance in the test series. At the end of the article, we have mentioned some nitty-gritties of the syllabus which you should be aware of.

Here are some important pointers to keep in mind:

  1. What is coming up? This test series is more than just a set of mocks! We do not design tests only to serve as mocks to evaluate yourselves, but also to give you a comprehensive coverage of the syllabus. The test series is going to become a ready-to-refer resource base or a Ready Reckoner for you that consolidates some of the most important topics from across the board. It not only covers concepts found in NCERT and other books, but a lot of such other topics that are nowhere to be found in your traditional textbooks and newspapers.

Some of them happily make way to the UPSC Civil Services, and this is all the more true for Insights Test Series. Sometimes, even 20-30% of the test might seem completely alien, and yet it will be extremely useful to have covered them. Toppers recognize this, our past subscribers recognize this, and gradually you’ll begin to recognize this. This is where you get that extra buffer, that extra edge so that you can mark those crucial questions in the exam hall.

You get to finish your NCERTs, you get to finish your current affairs, and so much more! Aspirants who emerge out religiously following this guidance programme over 11-12 odd months feel empowered, feel strong and feel confident. They get absolutely ready to face the uncertain, the unpredictable and this is where they see their biggest strength. The tests, even though largely adhering to the syllabus, will have that unpredictability right from the very first test, so that you learn to tighten the seat belts. Be patient with what unfolds!

  1. Score as a parameter of performance: Since these tests aren’t strictly mocks, measuring your performance by a score can be misleading, at least for the first 15-20 tests. Freshers, please note this! The idea with each test should be to apply what you’ve read and learn a host of other things that you had not even heard of. If you can’t mark a question, and learn something new, that is good news! Don’t be disheartened if you can’t score even 50 marks in the first few tests. It is absolutely normal and, in fact, was common even among toppers. We cannot emphasize how important is this, because this is where most aspirants feel helpless.

They believe that scoring more and more with each passing test means improvement, and the inability to do so means a decline in preparation. This is a misleading indicator of success. Rank is a much better indicator, but your scores and rank will fluctuate a lot between tests because not all tests are created equal, and not all parts of syllabus have the same difficulty level. Start minding your test scores only when you have finished a significant chunk of the syllabus and you get closer to the full-length tests.

If you score low in the first and subsequent tests, do not stop taking tests – unfortunately, a lot of aspirants do this thinking UPSC is not their cup of tea. We recommend absolute caution here! If you start judging, you will start to focus more on increasing your scores and less on learning. Learning curve will be gradual and robust. After attending 15 tests, you will know so much more about your course material than you would have known had you followed only the standard sources. This alone should make you feel more satisfied about your preparation. Scores will improve with time, and so will your confidence levels!

  1. Level of difficulty: Insights tests are known to be on the difficult side and there is every good reason that it should be that way. UPSC papers are getting more and more unpredictable, and it is our responsibility to not only catch up with the trend but also guess the trend. The paper will test basics, advanced and more difficult concepts/facts, so please do not feel the weight of the mocks as you go through them. We will keep stepping up the difficult level gradually; initial 4-5 tests may not be so difficult since they are based on 6-10th standard NCERTs, but later tests will get more and more difficult. Do not feel uncomfortable with the difficulty levels, just keep sailing. You will emerge out victorious.
  2. Unconventional portions: With the 2015 to 2019 UPSC Prelims papers, we have come to realize that the weightage of static portion may go down considerably as UPSC exhausts its traditional base of questions and moves to more dynamic sources. We have always relied on this strategy when framing questions, and it has not disappointed us till date. Little value is served, if we do not include questions in the test that are probable for the coming exam, even if it is at the opportunity cost of including traditional revision-based questions.

So, you will keep encountering new questions/topics/ideas in the coming mock tests; be prepared, it is to help you. It is better to feel insecure scoring low in these tests while learning new things, than by accumulating a false sense of security built on scoring well over easy portions.

  1. Sitting with the test solutions and making notes: An Insights test contains over 100 pages of dense material with heaps of information and inter-linked facts/concepts. So, spend lots of time with the test paper and analyse the detailed solutions. This is one of the most important and usually neglected part of the whole programme. Once you complete a test rather than jumping to conclusions and commenting on the platform about the usefulness or standard of the test, take time to review the whole test.

Don’t just see why and how you made a mistake, try to read a bit more on the new things that you learnt, absorb them. We recommend about 4 to 5 hours for each test. Highlight useful portions and make quick notes – do not leave this exercise for the end of your preparation phase. Students finish the entire test series and then find it extremely difficult to revise it at the end moment making it an exercise in futility. If you already have short notes made from this dense material, it is so much easier to revise it as you near exams.

  1. Making the most out of the Discussion Platform: You are now a part of a community of thousands of serious aspirants. Make use of this platform to not only express your concerns, but also clarify your doubts, get tips from fellow aspirants and build useful connections. This is one of the greatest assets of joining this test series – an online discussion platform. We will try our best to address them within 1 or 2 days. If you are asking doubts for a test within the test window (10 days usually), there is no need to tag us, we will respond as soon as possible. But, for all previous tests that are past their due window, please tag us “@insights prelims” in all such comments else there is a high likelihood that we will miss it. It is difficult to monitor every single test discussion page every day. Tagging makes our job a bit easier.

Also, we recommend going through all the comments before posting a new one as it is possible that your doubt has already been addressed in the forum by other fellow aspirants or us. It is an inefficient practice to address the same doubt individually over and over again when the answer could have been easily found by scrolling just a few lines below. In such a case, we’ll assume that you’ve read the discussion platform and we may not be able to reply to such comments. Do keep reviewing the discussion page for new comments within the test window.

Even if you cannot check discussion pages regularly, there is a high likelihood that you will find answer to your doubts in the Clarification/corrigendum document uploaded regularly on the blog. You will be notified on any updates via e-mail or via the update section on the test series portal. There will be constant communication from Insights. We will keep guiding you with articles on major issues that we find during the test series. It will not be a one way process where we merely give you questions to attend the tests.

Since this is a dedicated community, please refrain from asking loose questions like “How do I prepare for this exam”, or “what newspapers should I read”. We assume all aspirants are well researched and are aware of the basics.

  1. No premature judgments: Look at the test series as a whole rather than looking at it in parts. If you do not like a test because of its partial coverage or difficulty level or even weirdness, understand that there is a reason why things were done in a certain way or topics were covered in a certain way. An individual test is not so important as the whole test series. The test series is designed in a way that it covers the most ground and gives you enough clues on potential questions for UPSC Civil Services Prelims. It is what you take away at the end of the whole programme. Have trust in your mentor and keep sailing. You will know for yourself when you finish the programme and emerge out victorious.
  2. Keyword Research and coverage: As mentioned before, please note that the questions asked will not be confined only to the exact text given in your syllabus material. We will also pick up keywords from the material, research them and put questions based on concepts/information/facts given in the material. So, you need to research your material thoroughly. A mere reading is unlikely to be helpful.

Also, there might be several statements, as parts of the question, that are picked up verbatim from the material. It is not because we are lazy to design original statements, it’s just that UPSC does the same and we would like to stick to how it is done by UPSC. We will modify a statement only when it can be put up in a better way, else you are likely to see statements similar to how they appear in your book.

  1. Intelligent Guessing: The tests are not only supposed to increase your knowledge but also improve your understanding of attempting a paper, even if you do not know most of the questions. As you proceed with the tests, you will learn two things:
  2. a) Conventional elimination methods:
  • Pure option-based elimination, when options are designed so that even a single easy/incorrect statement leads you to the right answer.
  • Statement based elimination, when you encounter extreme (such as ‘only’, ‘completely’, ‘always’ etc) or partially correct statements.
  • Partial knowledge of the statements: Often the examiner will give you seemingly complicated questions, but as you survey the question, you will realize that the knowledge of a single fact (often well known) leads you to the answer. Keep your eyes open for such questions.
  • But, also be aware of minor and subtle differences in statements that can make a statement either correct or incorrect. You will face many such questions.

Usually when such a technique is applicable in a question, we will explain ‘how’ in the solutions.

  1. b) Elimination by Intelligent Guessing:

You cannot know everything asked by the examiner. You are not supposed to. The exam checks not only the aptitude, but also your attitude when you are faced with such situations. But, if you understand the mindset of the examiner, you can outsmart him. Often, the examiner willingly wants to be outsmarted to screen candidates with the right aptitude. Taking tests one after another will help you decode how to do this.

Read these articles on:

We will keep publishing articles on this issue, as and when need arises.

  1. Corrigendum: Clarification document for each test is uploaded, if needed, before the test widow closes. A combined corrigendum is usually posted after every 10-15 tests. Please feel free to point errors or typos in the test. We would also like to hear different perspectives. If you think a question could have had a different answer/interpretation, do let us know. Keep your comments precise and relevant so that it is easier for us to follow and implement.


To summarise:

  1. Do not prematurely judge either the tests or your scores. What matters is how much you learn by the end of the programme. Do NOT simply label tests as good or bad based on how you score or how you find it. Look at the larger picture and understand that the intent of the examiner was to help you learn and nothing else!
  2. Spend at least 4-5 hours with the test material and make regular notes. It is extremely helpful for revision. It is wise to comment on the discussion pages after you have thoroughly analysed the solutions.
  3. Difficulty level will be on the higher side and there will be a number of unseen/unconventional topics being asked in the tests. This is in accordance with the present exam pattern.
  4. Tag us in doubts and comments (@insights prelims), especially if you are attending tests after the due 10 day window. Keep checking the forum for doubt redressal. If a doubt has already been addressed, it is unlikely that we will keep replying to the same doubts asked by new users again and again. Test clarifications will be regularly updated.
  5. Questions asked will not be confined only to the exact text given in your syllabus material. We will also pick up keywords from the material, research them and put questions based on them. Read the text with due research. A mere reading is unlikely to be helpful.
  6. Use conventional elimination techniques as well as intelligent guessing (read that article) to make sure that you can mark 5-10 questions safely apart from what you can mark based on your knowledge.
  7. Most importantly, Do not judge your performance by scores. Learn, unlearn and re-learn – there will be so much of that happening over the next few months!


Appendix (note on resources/syllabus):

  1. 1. NCERTs: We follow new NCERTs, unless old NCERTs are specifically mentioned in the syllabus.
  2. Current Affairs: UPSC covers current affairs from 1-2 years, so in order to make sure that we are up on track, you might see questions from past events (that aren’t in your test syllabus). This is important.
  3. On Map-based questions: We ask questions from both political (e.g. name and location of major regions such as national capitals such as locating Jakarta or Rangoon on the map) and physical geography (seas, mountains, plateaus). Rather than using a standard map such as Oxford Atlas, we would recommend using various free and authentic online maps. This is because looking at different maps for the same region from difference sources highlight different parts of the map. For e.g. some maps omit all the details except name of capital regions and major seas/gulfs, and some others give a lot more detail. You would want to avoid maps with a lot of details and stick to the basics such as location of seas, gulfs, bays, capitals, deserts, rivers, national and international borders etc. Survey a few past year UPSC questions to see what should you focus in a map, or even Insights Revision MCQs will give you a fair idea of what to expect from mapping questions.
  4. Questions based on UPSC past year papers: We will cover UPSC papers (Civil Services, CAPF, CDS and IES General awareness) to increase the breadth of the syllabus which is otherwise not possible if we restrict ourselves only to the conventional syllabus. A lot of questions in UPSC papers appear based on the concepts/topics covered in previous year papers (for e.g. Cas9, RNA interference, Ramsar Convention etc. in 2019 Prelims based on 2012-2017 prelims papers). You will see that your Textbook-based syllabus mentions “Questions based on UPSC past year papers” for most tests. Do not worry about it now, we won’t give more than 4-5 questions from these papers until we reach Mock Test 19 (i.e. once Revision Test number 18 ends). We will then share a detailed breakup plan of how to cover UPSC papers (2011-2019).
  5. 10% Qs based on topics covered in any of the previous tests: We ask these questions to: a) keep you covered for revision, b) add some diversity in the tests, and c) makeup for a short test syllabus sometimes. We keep a list of residual topics that we could not cover in the past tests and keep asking them in the coming tests. So, if you encounter a question on a topic from Test 2 in Test 10, do not be surprised. It is to help complete the syllabus comfortably and successfully so as to enable you to revise it at regular intervals. Sometimes, the number of such questions from the syllabus covered in the past may increase to 15-20; that is for your good!
  6. Thematic parts of the syllabus: National Parks/Biosphere Reserves; Regional and International bodies; Tribes of India: These are currently not mentioned in the syllabus but we will share a break-up plan, syllabus and resources in due time (from Mock Test 19). These sources would mainly include websites of UN, WB, WWF, IUCN, MoEFCC, ENVIS etc. You can check out resources listed in our Thematic Test Series if you are curious (freshers would find it more convenient to look at them later since the Thematic syllabus won’t make much sense to you if you haven’t covered basics first).


We want to assure you, our team is behind your back, whenever you need us! Feel free to ask us questions and reach out for support ( We begin the journey in the next few days. Make the most out of this test series. Wish you all the very best!

Please note : We are starting all test series from the month of August 2020 considering the expected prelims date of 2021. Revised dates will be available shortly.