How to Prepare Prelims Exam

General Studies: An Introduction

As the name suggests, General Studies is not an in-depth study of a particular subject but study of various subjects for which no research or expertise is required. The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), in its notification related to the Civil Services Examination, has clarified the meaning of General Studies as such,

"In General Studies, such questions will be asked to which a well-educated person will be able to answer them without any specialized study." The questions will be such as to test a candidate’s general awareness of a variety of subjects, which will have relevance for a career in Civil Services. Through the questions, along with testing the basic understanding of the candidate on all relevant issues, it will also be examined how much ability he has to analyze conflicting socio-economic goals, objectives and demands. ”

If seen, this declaration made by UPSC is only of formal importance, the truth is that in the General Studies question paper often such difficult and in-depth questions are asked that even the experts of that subject feel difficulty to answer them.

Challenges of the Syllabus

If you really want to become an IAS or a Civil Servant, it is not easy to reach your destination without studying General Studies in detail and in depth. General Studies is so vast and inclusive that it is necessary to give at least one year time with seriousness. For English medium students, there is the ‘problem of plenty’ where a lot of varied but not-upto-the-mark study material is available. A student has to be wise enough to choose the best source and guidance amongst a volley of online and offline preparation platforms.

What should be the proper preparation strategy ?

Due to different academic backgrounds, the preparation strategy may not be the same for everyone. For example, if a candidate has graduated with History, Geography and Political Science but has problems in reading and understanding Science, then his strategy will be different from a candidate who is an engineer or doctor. Science graduates are very comfortable in Science, but they did not even have the opportunity to look at History or Geography books. Naturally, their strategy will be different. Broadly speaking, some suggestions regarding strategy may be -

  • Instead of giving equal emphasis on all the segments, more emphasis should be given on some selected segments. Candidates should select such sections which show a tendency to have at least 80-85 questions so that with serious preparation, about 65-70 questions can be answered correctly. While it is not a good thing to leave out the remaining sections, it can be considered as a contingency plan when the preliminary examination is close.
  • If you carefully look at the questions asked in previous years, you will find that there is a tendency to ask more questions from some specific sub-sections within all the sections. So it would be better to spend more time on those sub-sections. For example, under the History section, there is a tendency to ask more questions from two subdivisions - one from the Freedom Movement, and the other from Art and Culture. If these two sections are studied properly then about 85-90% of the History questions could be answered. Similarly, special attention should be paid to Ancient India within the Art and Culture subdivision.
  • Another thing to note is that more work should be done for those sections which are also included in the syllabus of the main examination. This increases the chances of success in the main examination. For example, if you look at the History section, the History of Modern India is also included in the syllabus of the main examination, so reading the History of Modern India in detail in the preliminary examination increases the chances of better results in the main examination as well.
  • One more thing to note is that the sections of the General Studies syllabus which are asked only in the main examination, should not be read in the remaining two-and-a-half months for the preliminary examination. These sections include World History, International Relations, Social Justice, Internal Security and Ethics.
  • It should also be assumed that whatsoever the candidate prepares, there will always be some questions in every section which will be outside the periphery of his or her knowledge. So, whichever section you prepare seriously, aim to ensure that 70-80% of its questions are solved by you. If you fall in the direction of correcting all the questions in a section, then you will waste a lot of time in an unproductive way in preparing for a single section.

It should be kept in mind in the preparation of General Studies that the questions of all the sections in it are of a very deep level and they demand a subtle understanding of the subject. Normally complex choices are made by combining certain facts or statements in every question so that the shallow-minded candidates do not succeed. For example, in most questions 3-4 statements or facts are given at the beginning, some of which are true and some are false. It is often the case that the candidate is familiar with some of them but not with all of them. After that, by combining those facts, the candidate is given 4 difficult choices, such as (a) Statements 1, 3 and 4 are correct and Statement 2 is false, (b) Statements 1, 2 and 4 are correct and Statement 3 is false... . The candidate has to choose the right option from among such difficult choices. There is always a chance of the question being wrong, due to difficult choices, it also takes more time to solve the questions and in the end time-management itself becomes a problem.

A better way to solve this problem is to first try to solve those questions which are within the scope of the candidate's knowledge; they should be given enough time. The questions which come in between and about which there is no deep understanding, should be left behind by marking and if time is left in the end, try to answer them, otherwise it would be good to leave them.


CSAT: An Introduction

The paper - II of preliminary examination is popularly called 'CSAT’ i.e. ‘Civil Service Aptitude Test'.

The 'CSAT' paper virtually examines the IQ-Intelligence Quotient. In this paper the nature and proportion of the questions have been determined according to the requirements of Civil Services or administration. For example, it consists of some questions of Decision Making & Problem Solving related to problems of administration which are of a different nature from management problems.

Overall, 'CSAT' is a test of Intelligence Quotient specifically proposed with the objective of examining the intellectual abilities required for Civil Services or administration.

Role of CSAT

As we have discussed in the beginning, in the preliminary examination, the CSAT question paper is of qualifying nature. For any candidate to pass the preliminary examination, 33% marks has to be obtained in the CSAT. In the preliminary examination, 80 questions are asked in the CSAT paper, in which 2.5 marks are prescribed for each question and thus the CSAT question paper carries a total of 200 marks. To qualify the paper, any candidate has to get 66 marks (after applying negative marking) out of 200 marks in the CSAT. For this, he has to correct about 27 questions out of 80 questions (after applying negative marking).

Therefore, if a candidate fails to obtain 33% marks in the CSAT (Paper-II), it will be considered a failure, even if he did outstanding in General Studies (Paper-I).

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