The civil services examination can be compared with the three forms of cricket: the main test resembles the test match, the prelims is like one-day cricket and the personality test mimics the twenty-twenty.

In the preliminary test of the civil services examination, the General Studies and Aptitude papers, both, demand the attention of the candidate. Both papers should be given equal importance as the UPSC plans to adopt a compartmental qualification system whereby minimum qualification marks are to be fixed in each of these two papers. Definitely the preparation for General Studies paper is more arduous, demanding more effort and time due to the vastness of the syllabus. But the knowledge capital gained as part of General Studies preparation will empower the aspirants to answer questions in the Aptitude paper, too, particularly in the backdrop of the fact that the UPSC has designed an entirely new kind of Aptitude test that has no similarity with its counterparts in Banking Service Recruitment Board (BSRB) or management entrance exams.

How to study

The examinees have to simultaneously adopt both extensive and intensive preparation strategies. There are certain areas that require intensive preparation like Indian economy, Indian polity, Indian geography, international politics and science and technology. Likewise there are areas like world geography, ancient India and medieval India that warrant only an extensive and rather superficial preparation as the questions here are not expected to be intellectually profound. The candidates must adhere to the rule that there should be intensive focus on the portions that are relevant in all three forms of the civil services exam and for areas that are only specific to preliminary test extensive attention is sufficient.

The preliminary test consists of only multiple choice questions and the choices are closely interrelated. The students may miss the wood for the trees as at times more than one answer is seemingly apposite. Only a thorough preparation will enable them to sail through. An ideal preparation comprises subjective study of source materials followed by regular working out of objective question papers. In fact, the format of the preliminary test is rather misleading as more often the subjective understanding of the concepts and issues is indispensable to achieving success.


As far as resource materials are concerned the aspirants ought to concentrate on NCERT books, particularly the eleventh and twelfth standards in Indian geography, Indian polity, Indian economy and modern India. Additionally, they should study the conventional, standard textbooks. An analysis of the previous question papers reveals the fact that the NCERT books are a reservoir of knowledge for question paper setters. In fact there is some measure of veracity in the popular belief among civil service aspirants that 40 per cent of questions are from NCERT books and 60 per cent of questions are from the different pages of national newspapers. Governmental sources like reports of commissions and committees, surveys, websites of different departments and ministries, vision and targets documents, white paper, etc constitute the fulcrum of any successful preparation because these data are authoritative, up-to-date and reliable manifestations of the government’s priorities.

Know your English

The students should have a good command over English to have better prospects in the preliminary test particularly in the Aptitude paper. The question papers are set only in English and Hindi and non-Hindi candidates can understand them better only through their English skills. The Aptitude paper seems to either primarily or predominantly examine the powers of comprehension and communication of the candidates in English language and therefore mastery in English including vocabulary building needs to be given special priority.

A strong emphasis on current affairs is indispensable in any sound preparation as questions in all major sections are asked mainly in the domain of contemporary issues. Reading the same materials repeatedly reiterates and reinforces the lessons in the minds of the candidates.

Just cricket

In a lighter vein, the three stages of the civil services exam can be compared with the three forms of cricket. While the main test resembles the test match cricket, the preliminary test is more akin to one-day cricket and the personality test is similar to the twenty-twenty format. Just as an intelligent batsman approaches one-day cricket the aspirants need to handle the preliminary test with meticulous preparation and measured speed. Time management has become crucial now especially after the introduction of the new pattern in 2010. The candidates should spend as little time as possible on both thoroughly known questions and completely unknown questions.

They need to devote as much time as possible on questions about which they are uncertain. Since the introduction of negative marking there is a greater need to be more careful in attempting the questions of ambiguous nature.

Keep fit

The last but not the least, the candidates must get proper sleep and rest the night before the exam to be psychologically fresh and fit in the exam hall. As part of a strategy the aspirants must practice yoga and meditation to keep them energetic and stress-free.

The author is Associate Professor of Political Science in Government Arts College, Coimbatore and gives IAS examination coaching for free.