This is the first article of our FAQ series on UPSC Prelims. We will answer one popular question every 7-10 days. We hope it helps you to better prepare for the final exam.
How to reduce mistakes in the UPSC Prelims Examination?
If you mark 70-80 questions and end up with 30+ wrong answers, often unknowingly, this is for you. Not all mistakes are due to lack of conceptual clarity or lack of knowledge. On an average, every aspirant makes 3-4 silly mistakes, 3-4 oversights, misreads some questions and even fills up wrong bubbles in the OMR sheet.
Remember, every question counts, and it can put you on either side of the merit list.
So, follow these steps to cut down on your mistakes.
- Categorize your mistakes: Attend mock tests, lots of them. Once you attend them, do not think that your job is done. The most important part of the process starts afterwards and this is to reflect on how you have performed. Sit down with the paper and analyze your mistakes.
Group them into these categories:
(a) Silly mistakes: These may include OMR mishaps; marking wrong answer in your question paper despite knowing the answer; absence of mind when attempting the paper and so on.
They are best reduced by practice, awareness and observation. The more you are aware of the circumstances in which you made silly mistakes, the less likely you are to make such mistakes. For example, you were perhaps stressed and anxious, in which case more practice helps. You can also breathe deeply several times right before the exam and even practice it on a daily basis to tackle anxiety issues. Or, you may have skipped lunch/breakfast before the mock exam, which drained you mentally and physically and you failed to give your best. In such a case, make sure that you take adequate meals at least an hour before the exam. Meals should not be too heavy or too light. (A lot of rice in the afternoon does make you sleepy!)
Silly mistakes are completely avoidable and can help you get those crucial 8-10 marks thereby making a huge difference to your result. But these techniques work only when you have practiced them enough beforehand in mock tests.
(b) Misreading questions: This is a habit that does not go so easily. Even veterans, who have given several attempts, face this problem. Again, it is important to understand when and why you misread a question after the mocks.
One major reason for misreading questions is rushing into the paper and this may come from the anxiety to finish it on time. If you face this constantly, clearly you have not practiced enough mocks to train yourself to face UPSC type objective questions. A sincere attempt at the entire paper should not take make than 90-100 minutes and you can use the rest of the time to take a relook at the questions where you were unsure. It is also useful to mark such questions, during the first go at the paper, so that you can easily deal with them later.
Another reason for misreading questions is having an untrained eye. This means that you are not paying enough attention to the keywords in the questions, such as NOT, only, necessarily, must etc. In your next mock, make sure that you hunt for such keywords in the question in a more mindful way so that your eyes (and mind) are trained to spot these important keywords which often change the answer completely.
(c) Overthinking the question: This is one of the most common mistakes. If you think like a specialist in the exam, you are bound to make more mistakes. The key to cut down on such mistakes is to think as simply and as generally as possible. If it has taken you 5 minutes to think/reason about the answer by logical deduction, you are most certainly thinking it wrong.
Also, always choose the answer that is the most appropriate or a primary response to the question. There may be more than one secondary response that seems correct, but ignore them in your own interest. Again, practice helps and attending mocks allows you to figure out when and how you overthought what question. For more details, see this article where we have discussed this at length https://www.insightsonindia.com/2019/05/08/insights-into-upsc-prelims-how-to-avoid-overthinking/
(d) Genuine conceptual/factual gap: The best way to address these is to revise your syllabus at least 2-3 times. You cannot do much if UPSC asked a question completely out of the blue, however, many questions are such that they can be tackled with better revision.
Also, reading widely is the key – if you have relied only on NCERTs and some standard books so far, it is time that you diversify your sources just a bit, not too much though because there are only a few months left before Prelims. Make sure that you read and revise the India Year Book, Indian Economic Survey, Budget documents, current affairs notes (especially last 4-5 months) and any mock test papers that you have attempted.
It is okay not to be able to attempt such questions the first time, but learn these new concepts eventually. Do not think that just because you had not heard of a particular term, appearing in mocks, they are not important for UPSC. Again, practice and revision hold key to cut down on such mistakes.
(e) Poor guesswork: If you are someone who thrives on guesswork (often wild ones), we would discourage any such guesswork unless it is intelligently informed. An intelligent guess is where you are sure of at least one of the options/statements or can reason out the answer using your background knowledge. Many questions in UPSC Prelims are framed in a way that you can reason the answer merely by using your background knowledge or even just by common sense. In this year’s Insights Prelims 2022 test series, we have focused on improving this component by teaching students how to improve/sharpen your guesswork in a way that you can be nearly 100% sure about the right answer.
To do this, start by solving past year UPSC papers (2011-2020 at least) and see if and when you solved a question by guesswork. You will notice a pattern in these guesses and the lesson is to learn these patterns and implement them in the actual exam.
Also, some people, irrespective of how reasonably they make these guesses, seem to do poor every time. We would then discourage guesswork of any kind to such aspirants because it can affect their final score quite severely.
Improving and cultivating intelligent guesswork takes a lot of time, practice and a lot of background knowledge (of the syllabus). It comes slowly but surely.
(f) Bouncer questions: Every paper will have a few bouncer questions (more than 15-20 sometimes) and do not make mistakes attempting these. Unless you are partially sure of the answers, it is best to leave them and not to indulge in any guesswork of any kind.
- Practice the OMR marking strategy beforehand: You may fill the OMR sheet as you solve questions or fill it all at once: whichever style you prefer (there are pros and cons of both), make sure that you have practiced it enough number of times in the mock exams. Take at least 6-7 offline tests with an OMR sheet sitting in exam like conditions. This will train you subconsciously to mark the OMR in a correct way (when you are not under pressure) and thus help you stay calm in the examination hall (when you are under pressure). You can save 5-6 crucial marks even if you have averted marking 2 incorrect OMR bubbles! The difference is significant.
- Get into the exam mindset: One reason why students stress out before the actual exam is because they have not trained themselves enough to face these conditions. If you attempt mock tests, make sure that you do it with all sincerity and not take it as just another job in the day.
By sincerity we mean that: plan your mock tests well in advance (if not every test, then at least a few tests) so that your mind starts preparing itself to face an exam like situation. Get the OMR sheets printed, have a schedule ready and find a quiet place to attend the mock. Also, follow every etiquette or practice that you would follow on the actual exam date, such as getting up early or sleeping early the night before so that your mind knows that something important is coming. It will gear up automatically. If you are someone who gets tensed before such important occasions, this practice will eventually rewire your mind in thinking that there is nothing to be tensed in such situations. When you have practiced enough this way, the actual exam day will seem like just another mock and you will have an easy and relaxed day. You are at your best when you are relaxed!
All of the above steps require adequate training and rightly so! But if you follow them diligently, you will see a huge improvement in your temperament, your test scores and eventually your final result as well. All the best!