Sharpen your skills to clear the Civil Services Aptitude Test. What matters is how you react to a question.

The introduction of General Studies Paper II, or the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT), in the preliminary examination is a game changer in the way one is expected to prepare for the Civil Services Examination conduced by the Union Public Service Commission.

Prior to this, the pattern of, and the preparation for, the preliminary examination was a reasonably straightforward proposition.

The basic logic for clearing it was be very good with your optional subject (300 marks) and reasonably good in general studies (150 marks).

Then any serious aspirant will have a definite advantage over the relatively underprepared aspirant.

However, with the introduction of a separate paper on aptitude, the focus of preparation needs to undergo a significant change.

Two sections

The examination now consists of two sections: general studies Paper 1 of 200 marks, which is the conventional paper with a mix of subjects and issues; and Paper 2 of 200 marks, also known as the CSAT, mainly consisting of aptitude tests under the following seven sections (question categories):

Comprehension

Interpersonal skills including communication skills

Logical reasoning and analytical ability

Decision making and problem solving

General mental ability

Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude, and so on) and data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency, and so on), both class 10 level.

English language comprehension skills (class 10 level).

Basic difference

However, before you embark on your preparation process for the various areas of Paper II, you need to understand the fundamental difference between preparing for an aptitude test (like the paper II) and preparing for a conventional knowledge-based examination (like paper I and a host of university examinations you may have taken).

In the conventional examination, you do not have to do much mental processing whether you have the knowledge of the question being asked or you do not. You just have to “take out” the answer from your mind by accessing it.

Focus

Hence, preparation processes for knowledge-based examinations require you to focus on acquiring knowledge (perhaps by rote learning) and creating opinions and “information stores” about anything and everything under the sun.

However, solving a question in an aptitude examination is drastically different: The key issues in solving a question on aptitude are the abilities to:

React correctly to the information provided (be it in a question on numeracy, comprehension, data interpretation or reasoning).

Know the correct steps to follow or correct thinking to follow in order to arrive at an answer to the question asked.

Execute those steps correctly.

Best processes

So what are the point one is trying to make here? Focus on developing the best processes for each and every question type.

To put it in short, the process of preparation for an aptitude examination consists of improving your mind's ability to react to the kinds of situations thrown at you by various question types; improving your mind's ability to design a series of steps to get to the actual answer; and have the belief to execute those steps under immense pressure situations, which you are likely to encounter in an examination.

Obviously then, good quality preparation for the CSAT starts and ends with identifying the various question types that are asked under each of the areas of the examination's portion and understanding the most efficient thinking and the best processes for solving the same.

Develop beliefs

Do not just develop your abilities to solve a particular question type — also develop your beliefs about your abilities to solve the question type.

An aptitude examimation such as the CSAT is not just a test of your skills — more importantly, it is a test of your beliefs.

Vast gap

There is a vast gap between knowing how to do something and knowing that you know how to do something.

In aptitude tests, your belief about your ability to solve a question is the most critical thing that will help you face the examination.

Unfortunately, very few aspirants focus on this all important issue while preparing for their examinations.

Hence, focusing on belief strengthening — with every question category in every area that you can identify — can actually take you a long way in crossing the selection barrier.

Remember: the target belief has to be “Give me five more questions on this topic; I will be able to solve them in less than the allotted time.”

The above statement applies to the questions pertaining to the topics of Paper II: basic numeracy, comprehension, logical and analytical reasoning, interpersonal and communication skills, decision-making, general mental ability, and English language.

Arun Sharma, Author and trainer of IAS examination candidates