I am of the opinion that Prelims is a test of temperament and not of knowledge. Let me explain.
There are at least 50000-60000 aspirants who deserve to clear prelims each year. This number is based on getting an estimate of number of candidates who took coaching and number of attempts they are giving etc. All of these have achieved a certain knowledge level which is sufficient to clear Prelims on their good day. Now what matters is their temperament i.e how they manage the paper on the D-day. Do they sweat after seeing that the first 10 questions are about topics they never heard of? Do they start getting panicky? Or are they able to maintain a balance state of mind for those two hours and come out with flying colours?
Thus it is extremely important to not loose hope or get too excited after seeing the paper. Temperament building is important once you attain a certain level of knowledge. You can do this by giving as many mocks as possible in exam conditions i.e. by going to a coaching centre/library and sitting for 2 hours to solve the paper and fill the OMR sheet. Would be great if you can do this in morning hours between 9:30-11:30 – the time when actual exam happens and thus your brain would gets accustomed.
Let us cover the sources by topic
- Vision current affairs for previous 12 months
- Wizard compilation for awards, honours, medals etc
- India year book
- Yojana + kurushektra
- – Spectrum Modern India
- – Tamil nadu board 11th History
- – NCERT 11th fine arts
Indian culture – I combined notes from 3 sources –
- Notes by Nitin Singhania Sir (Handwritten)
- GK Today notes
- TN Board 11th history
- – 11th and 12th new Geography NCERT
- – G C Leong
- – Laxmikanth
- – NCERT 11th and 12th
- -Sriram IAS notes
- -Economic survey
- – Shankar IAS notes
- – NCERT 12th Bio relevant chapters
- NCERT 9th, 10th
- IAS parliament (Shankar IAS) compilation on Schemes, International organisations, different reports and indices
- GS Score India Year book compilation
- Insights exclusive compilation on Environment, Polity, Economics etc
Note making for Prelims
I use to make all my notes on evernote (following Gaurav sir – rank 1 in 2014).
I use to read newspaper online via RSS readers like Feedly. My mains source of current affairs were daily reading of newspaper+vision IAS current affairs. I use to copy whatever I find useful into my notes (Although you will find that my Prelims notes lack content as those topics are exhaustively covered elsewhere in my Mains notes)
After each mock test I use to analyse it. I use to highlight in solution PDF important things and later copy them to my evernote. At times I could segregate topic wise and other times I couldnt.
This is a graveyard for lot of candidates. Due to “andolan” which happened few years ago, Paper 2 was made qualifying. Many thought that now it would be a cakewalk for almost everyone as getting 33% in an analytical and reasoning papers is easy. But it appears after 3 years that is not so. I know many aspirants personally who are failing in prelims just because of this. There are two reasons for this –
1> Candidates have underestimated the paper setting ability of UPSC. Although the paper has become qualifying, its difficulty level is increasing each year. There was a time when engineers used to get 180-190 easily. Now even they struggle to cross 140. This has made life difficult for those very people who did andolan and thought that by virtue of being qualifying paper, it would become irrelevant. Moral of the story – UPSC is not dumb to ask 5-6 lac people sit for 2 hours for an irrelevant exam. They will extract something out of it.
2> Candidates have tendency to not prepare seriously for this paper. They think it “ye toh ho hi jayega”, “4 din padh ke kar lenge”.
To address these issues – it is important to first get your mathematics fundamentals (like percentage, ratio and proportion, time speed problems, profit – loss etc ) clear. Secondly you must practice 2-3 months in advance to check your level. If you are crossing 100+ already then good enough but if you are stuck below 100 then it is about time to start practicing. How? Get few mock papers from market and start giving them in exam conditions – 2 hours in afternoon between 2:30-4:30.
Even when I was confident of getting good marks in this paper, I used to solve important questions from a book called Last 17 years CSAT paper (by Disha Publication) 3-4 months before each prelims in last 4 attempt. I had marked these ones in my first attempt and in subsequent attempts used to have a look before exam. You need to know the tricks for certain questions. And there is no guarantee that paper wont be “leak se hatkar”.
So better to be prepared and not take chances
Revision strategy for Paper 1
This is a very critical part which lots of aspirants forget to plan about. So you must have a robust revision plan which could be like
- Completion of entire syllabus 1 month before exam. You should have given 3-4 full length mock tests (and all the sectional tests) by now.
- 1st revision in next 15 days with 3-4 more full length mock tests
- 2nd revision in next 8-9 days with 1 full length mock test
- 3rd revision in last 4-5 days with no mock test
How to make the most of mock tests
- I joined Prelims test series only once at OreintIAS in 2016. I gave free open mock test at VisionIAS and ForumIAS a few times though. Otherwise I just use to get paper from market and solve it in library
- One need to spend 2-3 hour in analysis of a test to make the most of it. It includes analyzing which questions went wrong despite you knowing them and why, what are new topics that you haven’t covered till now, any new piece of information that should be part of your notes and filing it subsequently.
Exam strategy for Paper 1
- Attempt questions that you are 100% sure – around 45-50 mins
- Mark those questions which you have no idea with a “X”. Leave them
- Mark those that you might want to guess as “?”. Also mark the possible choices or write down your thoughts next to the question. Will reduce time spent on it when you come back to it later
- Revise – 25-30 mins
- Make sure that the questions already attempted are correct
- Guess work for “?” marked questions
- Fill the bubbles. And stay calm
- Try not to attempt more than 85-90
Exam strategy for Paper 2
- Attempt questions that you can straightforward solve confidently in one go – including all English comprehensions – around 70-80 mins
- Fill the bubbles.
- Try to solve the questions which you couldnt in first go
- Take a water bottle
- Take two black ball pens
- Take cardboard
- Take a watch
- Have data pack on mobile in case you want to google something about at last moment
Prelims is the most difficult stage in the examination. The competition is cut throat and a single question can make or mar your attempt. So don’t take chances. Put all your effort. Stay calm and you’ll do well. I wish you all the luck.
PS – I appeared for 4 Prelims (2014-2017) and wrote mains each time. Appeared for IFoS twice in 2015 and 2016.