Civil service aspirants have a reason for cheer this year — over 950 vacancies are to be filled. However, experts say preparations for the exam need to be as meticulous as ever.

With 965 vacancies for the civil services announced by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) this year — higher than the number of the last few years — aspirants are likely to feel more optimistic about their chances of success. But trainers and successful candidates of the past few years say meticulous planning is an absolute requisite as ever before.

The applications process has just been completed and there is only about three months to go for the preliminary examinations and aspirants will be well-advised to take preparations in the home stretch seriously, they say.

“UPSC has been trying to introduce an element of surprise in the civil service exams each year. The unexpected questions in the mains question paper last year was an example. A similar development may happen this year for the prelims,” says P.S. Ravindran, who has been training civil service aspirants for over two decades.

The preliminary examination will consist of two papers of objective-type questions. The general studies paper carries 150 marks and the optional subject paper carries a maximum of 300 marks.

Questions on current affairs may continue to dominate the general studies paper, says Mr. Ravindran. “To cope with possible changes in the question paper, students should cover the entire seven topics of general studies,” he adds. The seven topics include general science, current events of national and international importance, history of India and Indian national movement, Indian and world geography, general mental ability, Indian polity and Indian economy. “Students have to be careful in Indian economy,” says Mr. Ravindran.

“We are asking students to make notes from newspapers. But the time for preparation is less and more focus on time management is needed for scoring well in the general studies,” says U. Chidambaram, a trainer at the All India Civil Services Coaching Centre, Chennai, under the control of the Tamil Nadu government.

As the prelims examination is a screening test for the mains and the marks obtained in the prelims by the candidates will not be counted for determining their final order of merit, better learning of relatively important topics of general studies are enough for clearing the prelims, says V.R. Subbulaxmi, who was selected to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) recently.

She stresses the need for more focus on current affairs and higher awareness of socio-economic issues for the prelims. As the vacancies are higher this year, a larger number of candidates are expected to be admitted to the main examination. This would be about twelve to thirteen times the total number of vacancies to be filled in the year in the various services and posts. However, this may not reduce the cut-off marks this year, says S. Ganesa Subramanian, a trainer.

“The increase in the number of candidates from the private sector preparing for the civil services is one of the reasons for the tougher competition,” he says. Around 50 per cent of the candidates undergoing training in private and government-run coaching centres are women, adds Mr. Subramanian.

“Questions on current events from broadsheet newspapers are increasing every year,” says D. Shankar, another trainer. In current events, knowledge of significant national and international events would be tested. Questions to test the mental ability and quantitative aptitude are also increasing, he says.

However, T. Anand, a successful candidate on IAS probation, says focus on NCERT books and yearbooks like India 2010 are the key to success in prelims. Candidates should answer easier questions first and avoid wasting time on tough questions, says Michael Jerald, another successful candidate.

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