I am sure many of you must have seen the question papers of the UPSC 2017 Mains examination. Though the jury is still not out on the difficulty level of the paper and visiting various blogs is getting one more and more confused instead of sorted, there were some very clear messages which were conveyed through the question papers.
1. You can’t prepare for the syllabus: If you have a good look at the question paper, it is extremely difficult to even categorize most questions under any chapter leave apart preparing for them. In this exam, you have to expect the questions you have never read about or even thought about. The best you can expect is to know a lot about the things around the question.
2. You can’t depend on textbooks: There are no textbooks which can cover the extent of the syllabus to the points and details that have been asked in the exam. Students, who are wasting months on finishing NCERTs should understand that they are just for creating a launchpad of thinking. They need to be finished in maximum 10 days and must be read super fast.
3. Newspapers are not that important: There were days when 30-40% of the question paper will be directly from the newspapers. Those years gave The Hindu iconic stature among the UPSC aspirants. This year’s exam must be a clear shock to everyone who was banking too much on the study of newspapers as almost nothing directly came from newspapers.
The above list just talks about the negatives, like what you shouldn’t do. So the logical question arises what an aspirant should do to prepare himself/herself better for the examination. Is there a way at all to prepare for the examination in a foolproof manner. The answer is yes! How? Let’s have a look.
1. Prepare for the skill: Civil Services Examination is now becoming more and more skill oriented. More than knowledge, which can’t be easily obtained from any specific source (I call it orphan knowledge), it requires candidates to know a little about almost everything and then possesses the skill set to write a short answer on that issue.
2. Reading, and reading, and reading more: The syllabus now includes a lot of orphan topics, which cannot be read from any fixed source. The candidate will be required to read about a lot of things from various sources. You must read from varied sources about agriculture, science, and technology, art and culture, administrative reforms etc. Read from books of scholars, textbooks, magazine articles. The idea is just to keep reading and keep developing an interest and an insight.
3. Write every day: With unprepared topics, writing has become even more of a challenge. Candidate must write at least one answer on a new topic every day. Think of an innovative question and write on that. Write that answer and then evaluate it at least 48 hours later. Then try figuring out where you went wrong in that specific answer.
4. Be curious: You should not just read about the topic in your comfort zone. That is a mistake most of the serious aspirants make. If they like Polity, they would just read about Polity, ignoring the rest. You need to be a learned individual in every aspect of the exam. Curate your reading list carefully and force yourself into reading the areas you are not really keen on.
5. Learn to analyze and link: You must learn to analyze a given piece of information into various sections. That will make the one information a useful data point for various usages. For example, if you read about Delhi smog, take some time and try to link it to the lack of scientific research in making no alternative to pollutant fuel, to socio-economic aspects of agriculture in the necessity of stubble burning and to the limitations of federal system of governance, where one state can refuse to help out another state in such a disastrous situation. Such linkages make your answers more rounded and put you in a better place as compared to other candidates.
There is no need to be scared of the changes that are being brought in the examination. They are for the betterment of the cadre getting into the Civil Services as the examination now focuses more on dynamism and presence of mind than rote learning from a few sources. It is time to realign the preparation to the new methodology and be ready for the new yet interesting challenge UPSC is throwing.
In the next week, we will be discussing the points mentioned above with specific reference to the questions asked in Mains 2017 through videos. If you have any queries about that, do post them in the comments section. For the videos, keep watching this space!
All the best!
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.