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What more is needed from you? : A critical note on strategy and the changing nature of the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination

 

 

We all need signposts in life. Signposts keep us informed and remind us how far have we come in the journey. Some signposts discipline us. They tell us which direction we need to go in order to get to the goal and how far should our eyes be set on the path. The sinking feeling of walking alone is familiar to those who have attempted long adventures on paths unknown. This examination is no less uncertain, no less adventurous and the journey no less unknown. Without clear signposts, routing, re-routing and re-adjusting consumes time. It creates anxiety. Perhaps many of us go through this feeling on a regular basis. And time is crucial.

A typical re-routing process looks like this. We consult multiple sources, read blogs of successful aspirants and settle on a plan. A few months go by and comes the feeling that something is not right. We talk to peers, participate on forums, watch videos and re-route. And time has passed in between. Meanwhile, long dreary days, hard work and wakeful nights become regular friends. A few weeks remain before the final test. For some, a feeling of not having done enough washes down the throat – only if I had studied harder, only if I had a clear plan, only if I did not lose so much time. The cycle goes on. Sometimes for one or two attempts, sometimes longer.

But do you have to go through all this? Why not consult someone who has been through this long uncertain journey? Why not have clear signposts that tell you where to go and where not to? Making this long journey without signposts or a guide can be an overwhelming experience. Yet, many freshers go through this.

What a test series or a guided program does is to give you these signposts, all along the year long journey. There is a clear sense of direction, there are stops and there are rewards. All you need to do is to keep moving, sincerely. There is a sense of accomplishment when you clear a signpost. You cherish the small steps. Confidence grows along the way and the journey becomes more worthwhile. And there is also a community of peers to keep you motivated. You are less likely to get lost and distracted walking with peers than alone.

The examination has also changed considerably in the last 4-5 years. While building basics is still important, clearing the exam just with the help of NCERTs and some standard textbooks has become a challenge. Less than 40-50% questions now come from these sources. Newspapers are critical, but not sufficient. While you must read them on a daily basis, mastering them alone will not guarantee a good score (110+) in Prelims.

In 2020 Prelims alone, over 20 questions were asked from emerging technologies and agricultural techniques. If you also add environmental technology, the number reaches close to 30. Similarly, in 2019, alternative energy sources, digital communication technologies and environmental technology accounted for over 25 questions. This is over 1/4th of the paper! And there are many more ‘surprises’ when you open the paper. (See Appendix at the end of the post.) About half the paper seems unfamiliar to most aspirants, even to the more experienced ones. So, chances are that with the typical preparation strategy, most aspirants are unlikely to correctly answer more than 40-50% of the paper. This is not discouragement; this is a recurring reality for many aspirants.

Because UPSC can ask you only 100 questions to select or reject you, there is a general inclination towards testing the candidate on a wider range of topics even if this has to be done only via 100 questions. You see multiple topics within a long single question, often framed from various sources. With all the burden that you already have, it is not possible to consult a wide range of sources during your preparation. And doing so may not have a good investment-return ratio.

To clear the examination comfortably, you need to attempt over 70-80% of the paper assuming that 10-20% questions are going to be incorrect. This requires substantial breadth in preparation which is unlikely to come when you finish only NCERTs, newspapers and standard books. The weightage of static portion is going down every year as UPSC exhausts its traditional base of questions and moves to more dynamic sources.

It is natural that the dynamic pattern of the examination requires one to engage as widely with the syllabus as possible. When it comes to wide engagement, one of the easiest ways to access such a relevant material is to solve a test series of one or more institutions. If you have neglected something in your preparation, it will be covered by the test series because the examiners have a wider exposure to the syllabus than an aspirant. The more well-read you are, the luckier you will find yourself in the examination hall.

If that is the case, then a test series is not only a series of mock tests and a list of signposts, it is also a reservoir of some very useful and important information. It includes a lot of such questions and topics which are generally not touched by most aspirants. Every year, many of these questions directly or indirectly appear in the final exam and aspirants straightaway benefit from having solved them in the test series.

With a clear division of syllabus, study plans, discussion videos, strategy classes (live and recorded), doubt clearance forums, rank lists and continued support from a mentor, it is hard not to succeed in the examination if one has sincerely made use of all these facilities. And they come at a nominal cost so that is it is affordable to most of you.

Unfortunately, pirated materials are illegally available in the market, but using them comes at its own cost. The sense of entitlement and responsibility that comes from purchasing and material and holding yourself accountable to a year-long plan cannot come from using illegally obtained material. What comes easily is rarely appreciated. Plus, you do not get access to mentors or the community of peers or a rank list or even doubt clearance forums. Most aspirants who use such material relegate it to the end of their study queue. They solve it only at the fag end of their preparation. As a result, they are unable to utilize the dense material where each test requires a sustained effort of 4-5 hours which should ideally be done on a year long basis.

Testimonials of thousands of our students tell us that those who subscribe early and start giving tests regularly are able to utilize the full potential of the test series. They cherish achieving the milestones, are motivated regularly, and also handle the occasional letdown by the toughness of the tests that keeps them on their toes. There is something to look forward to every day and it makes their journey worthwhile.

As someone said:

“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance, and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.”

All you need is to take small steps, follow the signposts and keep moving. You will eventually be there.

Appendix

Given the changing pattern of the UPSC prelims paper, we have grouped various different topics that carry a weightage of 30-40% in the exam, and these are the ones that remain the most neglected by aspirants. Our test series covers all these areas with a detailed plan on the resources to follow (see timetable in this link). Appendix table below:

 

AreaTopic2020201920182017
TECHEmerging technologies/related newsCarbon Nanotubes, AI, Drones, Geotextiles (old tech used in new ways)Virtual reality, Wearable devices, Blackhole observation,GPS in Power grids/Banking, Wanna Cry/Petya, IRNSS, General Theory of Relativity, Internet of Things , 3D Printing, PSLV/GLSV-MkIII,OLEDs, Singularity/String Theory (Black holes),
 Alternative Energy SourcesBiofuel materialsHydrogen CNG, Methane Hydrate-Mixed-Algal biofuel
 Digital/data technologies/news Visible Light Communication, Blockchain, PKI, Cyber insuranceDigital signature, RBI Storage of Payment data, General Data protection regulation, LTE and VolTE,API Aadhaar, BHIM payments, Digital IndiaDigital Single Market Strategy EU, UPI, NPCI, Cyber security incident reporting,
 NASA initiatives LISAeLISA
AGRIAgri StatisticsPulse production,Kharif crop area, Crop import stats, Rice exportsImported edible oil, NSSO Survey of Agri households,Post 1991 Agri and exports growth
 Agri GeneralPublic investment in Agri, KCC, MSP fixation,Economic cost food grains,GACSA, MSP for crops,AGMARK, NAM, Soil Health card,
 Agri techniques Fertigation, Zero tillage, Sugarcane cultivation, Solar pumps, eco-friendly agri techniques, Biochar-NA-Conservation Agri, Carbon fertilization,Bio-remediation with plants, Zero-tillage/Gypsum application,
ENVIGenetic EngineeringGenome editing, Pronuclear transferFunctional chromosomes, RNAi, Cas9,Belle-2/CRISPR, GM MustardGenome sequencing, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer Tech,
 Pollution management Benzene pollution, Coal burning,Crop residue burning, Pyrolysis/Plasma Gasification, Carbofuran/Parathion, N2 and CH4 release from Agri, Solid Waste Management Rules– Mixed –Anthropogenic CO2 emissions, Consumer materials and pollutants (lead/Monosodium glumatate)
 Protected areasDesert National Park, Critical Tiger habitat, Cauvery river basin areas,Valley of Flowers, Agasthyamala,Pakhui Wildlife Sanctuary,Sathyamangalam, Bhitarkanika, Sariska,
 Protected/important speciesMusk deer, Swamp deer, Schedule VI, new species (Ceylon frogmouth)Himalayan Nettle, Asiatic Lion/Double-humped camel/One-horned Rhino, Blue-finned Masheer/Irawaddy Dolphins,Prosopis Julifera, Coral reef conservation,m-STriPES, Schedule I,
 Environmental termsSocial cost of carbonCirrus cloud thinning technique, MicrobeadsCritical Wildlife Habitat,
 Environmental bodies/schemes/lawsCWGACAMPA, Environment Protection Act, PNGRBNGT & CPCB, NPOPTRAFFIC, GCCA, CCAC
ECOEconomic StatsTrade data (neighbours), Trade data specifics, Short-term Agri creditExternal debt stats,Post 1991 changed in Macroeconomy, Tax revenue and fiscal deficit as a % of GDP,
 Economics unconventionalTRIMS, Non-financial debt,Equalization tax
 International agreements/bodiesUNCAC/UNTOC, RamsarNSG, ILO 133 & 182, IAEA Additional Protocol, UN PAGE, Climate Neutral NowNuclear Security Summits/International Panel on Fissile Materials, APMCHUD,
OTHERSC Judgments/new laws Aadhar data,Extended producer responsibility, Industrial Employment orders,-Mixed--Mixed-
 Total Qs39/10036/10030/10029+/100