Strategy for UPSC CSE Preliminary Exam

Dear Aspirants,
As you should know, Prelim is imminent.
This exam consists of two objective papers which are of 200 marks each. There are about 100 questions for the Paper I and about 80 questions for Paper II. The Question Papers come in English and Hindi, both on left and right side of the questions paper respectively.
GS 1 consists of General Studies and Current Affairs. None can quantify their contribution in the exam. One can make assumptions based on previous year question papers. Then again, the UPSC is known to surprise its candidates.
There are some basic tips to handle Paper 1 or General Studies for the Prelims examination. An in-depth understanding of the contents given in the syllabus can help the candidates to prepare this paper in a much better way.
Strategy for GS 1 (Prelim):
In order to understand this section thoroughly, one needs to have conceptual clarity
Syllabus – General Studies Paper-I

  • Current events of national and international importance
  • History of India and Indian National Movement
  • Indian and World Geography – Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.
  • Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
  • Economic and Social Development – Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc
  • General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialization.
  • General Science

Since the syllabus mentioned by the UPSC seems vague and inarticulate, it is up to you to study these topics and subjects in depth. Of course, one doesn’t need to study at the Masters or PhD level to write the Prelim. They say an IAS aspirant should know something of everything, it holds true in this case.
100 questions are to be answered in a short span of 2 hours with each question carrying 2 marks. Which means, you have little more than a minute to answer every question. Speed and accuracy hold utmost importance, which can come only through practice. Also, not to forget the negative marking. Where every correct answer will give you 2 marks, every wrong one will be a loss of .66 marks.
Questions in the prelim can be summed up into three categories.

  1. Multiple Choice Questions – single response correct
  2. Multiple Choice Questions – multiple response correct
  3. Multiple Choice Questions – Matching type

There is no pattern when it comes to the CSE. None can guarantee that a particular topic or subject will weigh more than the other. Though questions will always be based on basic concepts, be it under geography, polity, economics or current affairs.
Mere swotting of NCERTs will not help much. You will need to develop analytical thinking in order to attempt questions which have very similar options to choose from. To an extent, the trick of elimination helps, but even that comes only when you have studied enough to eliminate the wrong options correctly.
Like I’ve mentioned earlier, a Civil Services aspirant or an IAS officer must know something of everything. So, primary focus has to be wider rather than pin pointed on a particular topic. Gather as much as you can. This will certainly help in the elimination method.
One is also advised to not read from too many sources. There is more content available on the internet free of cost than a student can comprehend. Referring to multiple sources often only eats up your time. So, select and use your resources wisely, most important of it being time. If you have been reading the newspaper daily and making notes from it, you will never need to look for stocked content of Current Affairs online or books. This will save you much more time, if done daily, and keep you well-informed.
Ultimately, tests on particular topics and subjects are a must. I have always iterated the fact that while solving practice tests and mock tests, one must pay attention to the topics more than the questions. None can assure that their questions will be appearing in the exam. But, if you have studied a topic thoroughly, any question on that, no matter how twisted, you should be able to answer it. These tests have to be done in real time. If you are solving 10 questions, solve them in 10 mins. This is the only way you can prepare to ease the pressure in the examination hall. Never look around what other people are doing. You have your paper in front of you, focus on that. Distractions and over-confidence can be fatal in such competitive exams.
Always read the question twice if you don’t understand it in the first shot. This will need some practice of speed reading as well. After you are done with most or sufficient number of questions, revisit the unanswered ones. Since you have a little more than a minute to answer each question, maintaining speed is important. Don’t waste too much time on a particular question. Instead, mark it and move ahead if you aren’t able to answer correctly. It often happens that students panic and lose confidence. This is where your practice of giving mock tests will help you. If you have taken exams in real time and in the most realistic way, you should be able to handle this pressure well.
Coming to Paper II of the Prelim, the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT), I have always seen students being overconfident about this one. And yet, some of them don’t clear this despite clearing Paper I. Why does this happen?
CSAT was made into a qualifying paper only in 2015. The CSE is attempted by students from various backgrounds and engineers mostly seemed to be favored with the earlier pattern, since they are better at Math. Daily practice for an hour or two, even for a student from non-engineering background will suffice.
Comprehensions are multiple in numbers in this paper. These are quite time consuming for many. But these are also the most scoring of all.
Comprehensions, data interpretation, decision making and interpersonal skills remain to be the most important for this paper.
Another important this is to keep yourself fit. Some jogging, gymming, swimming, basically whatever it is you like doing, which will exert you physically, will definitely help. A healthy mind needs an equally healthy body. Avoid smoking and drinking. You have to in a very optimistic and positive environment. You can certainly take time to relax, listen to soothing music. Avoid getting into things which can tamper your thought process in any way. Eat light, you don’t want your mind to be sleepy all the time.
Have faith in yourself and in your studies. If everything falls in place, no sooner your life will change for the better. Of course, there is no shortcut to it. But there isn’t a shortcut to anything else either. Don’t let the magnitude of this exam press you down. ¬†All of us have given at least 20 – 30 exams before appearing for the CSE. Treat is like any other exam and it will treat you better than any other exam in the end!
All the very best!
– Shishir

Akshay Palande

Author: Akshay Palande

Akshay Palande is a passionate teacher helping hundreds of students in their UPSC preparation. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering and double masters in Public Administration and Economics, he has experience of teaching UPSC aspirants for 5 years. His subject of expertise are Geography, Polity, Economics and Environment and Ecology.

Akshay Palande

Author Akshay Palande

Akshay Palande is a passionate teacher helping hundreds of students in their UPSC preparation. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering and double masters in Public Administration and Economics, he has experience of teaching UPSC aspirants for 5 years. His subject of expertise are Geography, Polity, Economics and Environment and Ecology.

More posts by Akshay Palande

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