It is the right strategies combined with organised and systematic work that will yield success in competitive examinations.

In the previous parts of this series on the Civil Services Examination, we dealt with at length the strategies for facing multiple-choice objective questions. But all those strategies will come to nought if you are not sure of the substance of the syllabus.

A quick look at the syllabi of the two papers of the preliminary examination will tell you that the first paper focusses on general knowledge, whereas the second stresses on reasoning and aptitude. The first paper may be treated as General Studies. The second paper, which is the replacement of the optional subject paper in the former pattern of examination, is sometimes called CSAT (Civil Services Aptitude Test). The approaches to the two papers have to be different for gaining mastery over their contents.

You should remember that hard work, which is often wrongly measured by the number of hours spent for studies and preparation, may not take you to success. It is the right strategies combined with organised and systematic work that would produce success in competitive examinations. There are certain elements in good preparation.

* Garnering the syllabi and previous question papers

* Planning schedules of preparation

* Identifying the most useful sources of information

* Selective gathering of the most useful information

* Focussed and goal-oriented learning

* Practice tests

* Learning from the errors committed in the practice tests

* Correction of the errors and error-free work

* Discussion with fellow candidates

* Periodic review of work and consequent course-correction

Paper I

In an earlier part of this series, we had indicated the syllabus of Paper 1. The topics fall under the umbrella of general awareness. The preparation for this paper may be treated as part of the preparation for the General Studies in the Main Examination as well. The area covered by this paper is very vast. It cannot be limited to specifics. Anything under the sun can be brought in the examination paper. You have to read extensively. While reading the daily newspaper, you should not totally ignore any topic. One of the objectives of the test is to check the range of your information. But you have to be selective on certain things, as otherwise learning may turn out to be tedious and boring. Further, there are certain limits beyond which questions are not asked. You should critically read a few question papers of the previous Civil Services Examination to get a general idea of the breadth and depth of knowledge expected.

General awareness can be broadly classified into two — classical or traditional knowledge and current affairs. Traditional knowledge can be acquired well before the examination. But for current affairs, the preparation has to be continuous, going up to the examination. You should carefully watch current events and contemporary development in science, technology, economy, polity, sports, terrorism and so on. New policies declared and implemented by the government are important from the point of view of the candidates. You should pay attention to news analysis by experts, in the print and electronic media.

You need not wait for the notification of the Civil Services Examination for starting your preparation for General Studies. Develop active interest in diverse subjects that are usually discussed in the public domain. You should have your eyes and ears open. Be receptive to new information. If you maintain intellectual curiosity coupled with keen observation, half the battle is won. Many people are obsessed with “starting trouble.” They may go on postponing the commencement of their preparation. A very useful formula you can trust is “Do it now.”

Conduct a pre-test

It is a good idea to subject yourself to a self-test using a previous question paper, before intensive preparation. This exercise of pre-test will help you to assess where you stand. Your experience in taking the test and the analysis of the result would enlighten you on your strengths and weaknesses. This can offer some guidance regarding the emphasis you should give for specific areas during your preparation.

Some of you who have done exceedingly well in the medical and engineering entrance examinations may feel that you can handle easily questions that may slightly exceed the bounds of the prescribed syllabus or questions at the application level that may demand sound reasoning and fine discernment. However, you should keep in mind that the Civil Services examination is a different kettle of fish. The syllabus is just indicative and not exhaustive. The UPSC has the tough task of identifying the best one thousand or even fewer from a crowd of a few lakhs of candidates who write the preliminary examination. The questions may not be limited to the narrow boundaries of the dictionary meanings of the words in the syllabus.

For example, a question from the current events segment may not just demand a sketchy knowledge of an occurrence or its date or the related bare facts. You should have fine appreciation of its background, causes and implications. Analytical approach, judgment and evaluation may be needed for arriving at the right answer. Memorising names and numbers may not be sufficient in most cases.

The emphasis is more on concepts, understanding and appreciation rather than on numbers and names. You should process the facts in the crucible of your mind and arrive at your own inferences and conclusions.

Comparisons and contrasts of similar events will lead you to better understanding.

(Next week: Knowledge Base of Paper 1)