This is the third 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.
I am consistently scoring low in mock tests, what should I do?
This is a common concern. Testimonials tell us that even toppers used to score 50-60 in mock tests but sailed comfortably in UPSC Prelims.
There are several reasons why you may score less in mocks. Before you take any further steps to rectify your mistakes, it is important to identify the reasons behind the same: are there genuine lapses in your preparation or are your scores low naturally just like every other aspirant?
1. Scale of coverage, toughness and relative scores
An entire mock test series may cover anywhere from 2000-4000 questions spanning across a vast array of topics. Mock tests also cover the syllabus in a lot of detail, as a result of which it is not unusual to find a lot of unheard questions, sometimes even 50% of the paper!
If your scores are low because mock tests are genuinely tough (so that they can prepare you for the final exam), there is nothing to worry about. You should rather focus on learning new material so that you can tackle the final exam better. In such a case, look at relative scores or rank or percentile to see how you are faring amongst others. Absolute scores do not matter in this exam. If you have scored 50-60 marks and the topper has scored only 65, then your score is relatively good. This is all that matters for selection.
2. Genuine lapses:
These may come under two categories:
1. Conceptual/factual gap: This may happen because you were unable to complete the syllabus or did not prepare well enough to handle mocks.
Rather than worrying, you should think optimistically and see how you can improve your preparation given the limited amount of time. An important way to identify gaps is to solve as many mocks as possible.
If the gap is in current affairs preparation, go through coaching note compilations to fill the gaps. If you are short of time, focus on the happenings in the last 6 months. If you can follow newspapers everyday, that is ideal.
If the gap is in static portion, revise the relevant portion and then attend a mock test covering that section. If a major part of the syllabus is left (such as Arts and Culture) and you are rushing to complete it, make sure that you do not ignore revision of already completed syllabus. Completing the syllabus is ideal but not at the cost of revision. You want to ensure that you comfortably answer questions from the portion you have already covered.
2. Mistakes despite rigorous preparation: We have answered it here https://www.insightsonindia.com/2021/07/18/faqs-prelims-series-how-to-reduce-mistakes-in-the-upsc-prelims-examination/
3. Understanding the demand of the exam
A correct assessment of the demand of the examination is critical. You might score low in specialized mock tests (that focus on a certain portion) but if you assess the pattern correctly, you will do extremely well in the final exam.
The exam requires you to read widely like a generalist and not focus on specialized facts or trivia. The best way to understand the exam’s demand is to go through past year papers as many times as possible. Each time you will get a new insight into how UPSC designs the paper or what kinds of questions UPSC may ask. Keep your preparation along those lines.
If you learn the pattern by heart, you can go through and revise voluminous amount of information in a very short amount of time focusing only on what is relevant for the exam. In other words, going through past year papers repeatedly makes you very efficient in filtering out relevant content for the exam. This is why you may notice that some aspirants revise at a blistering speed while others slog far behind.
You also need to focus more on areas where the cost-benefit ratio is more favourable (such as ecology or agriculture) and less on portions that have consistently formed a miniscule part of the prelims paper (such as Medieval history).
Understanding the demand of the exam thus removes a lot of undue mental burden and guides your preparation in the right direction. All this helps you to significantly boost your score in the final exam.
To sum up the article, if you are scoring low because you are unable to filter out relevant content for the exam or you are making genuine mistakes due to conceptual/factual gap, then you can fix these mistakes. And this does not have to take a lot of time. Even a month or two in the right direction is more than sufficient. Follow the steps mentioned above. On the other hand, if you are scoring low because the mocks are genuinely tough, then you need not worry. Keep learning from these mocks and revise the syllabus several times. You are bound to do well in the final examination!