UPSC prelims: draft the right GS plan

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FOCUSSED: Staying composed and going about the examination meticulously hold the key to success.
FOCUSSED: Staying composed and going about the examination meticulously hold the key to success.


Some strategies to help you come out with flying colours in the civil services exam.

Every correct /incorrect response makes the ‘big’ difference between success and failure.

The quality of governance is critically dependent on the quality of its public servants. A major determinant of the quality of government servants is the rigour and integrity of the recruitment process. Therefore, the recruitment process, apart from being transparent, objective, fair and equitable should ensure that the right type of persons join the civil services.

The present structure of the civil services examination is designed accordingly and is based on the “comprehensive method” of selection. The objectives of such a method are two-fold: to select aspirants who are capable of continuously acquiring knowledge and skills, and to find aspirants who are temperamentally and motivationally suited and emotionally attached to the service to which they are appointed.

The first stage in this method is the Preliminary Examination which comprises an optional paper (of the choice of the candidate) and a compulsory General Studies paper. The examination is designed to reduce the aspirants to a manageable number.

4.9 lakh candidates

The 2009 Preliminary examination is scheduled to be conducted on May 17. About 4.9 lakh candidates have applied for the examination this year. This is probably the highest number of applicants in this decade. The top 12,000 rankers will be selected to appear at the ‘Main’ examination to be held in October.

The increased number of aspirants is a source of anxiety for every candidate. In such a situation every correct/incorrect response makes the ‘big’ difference between success and failure. One slip and you will join the bandwagon of ‘also ran’. An appropriate strategy backed by relevant information is the secret of success.

The ‘Optional’ paper accounts for 300 marks and the ‘General Studies’ paper accounts for 150 marks. To qualify at the examination, one has to score ‘high’ in the optional and maintain a reasonably average score in General Studies.

Assuming that every serious aspirant would be thoroughly prepared in his optional, it is the marks scored in General Studies that would make the crucial difference.

Strategy for GS

The appropriate strategy for General Studies would be to analyse the previous papers and extrapolate the trends.

Such an exercise would not only help in answering the questions but it would give the much needed ‘confidence’ before the examination.


The following trends can be discerned in General Studies if we undertake a subject-wise analysis of questions from the year 2004-2008.

i) The emphasis on Indian Polity has been on the decrease. The same trend is expected to continue. Students who have opted for Public Administration or Political Science as their optionals can allocate less time for this section and use this time for other areas.

ii) The number of questions in General Science which includes Science and Technology, Biology, Chemistry and Physics has been less during 2004 - 2006. From the year 2007 the numbers of questions have increased significantly. This year the number of questions could witness a decline. Among the General Science subjects, Biology continues to be the most important, and more questions are expected on the human system and human diseases. The ‘social costs’ of these diseases could also figure in the questions.

Indian Economy has been receiving less importance in the last few years. This year there could be more questions with specific focus on India’s economic interaction with the world and the ‘macro economic parameters’ in India.

In Geography, the number of questions has been high for the last few years and a minor decrease is expected. The thrust will be on the Current Affairs related to Geography. It is important to be aware of the maps and the locations of the places in the news.

The number of questions in General Mental Ability is expected to remain the same. However, there could be an increase in the degree of complexity. Moreover the questions are being asked from hitherto less expected areas and are increasingly complex. Questions on probability have shown an increase. No specific areas can be logically suggested.

Current Affairs has been the most important area in the recent past. Almost, every question has a current affairs dimension. Current affairs would include all events that have been taking place for the last one and half years. However, it is expected that questions would not be asked after April 1, 2009.

General Knowledge has become a crucial part of the Preliminary examination since the year 2004. In 2006, there were 52 questions and similar numbers were seen in 2007 and 2008. The same trend is expected to continue this year.

Objective type

Read the sentence carefully to get a feel for its meaning. Before you look at the choices, think of a word that makes sense. Look at all possible answers before you make your final choice. Watch out for negative words and prefixes. Use your knowledge of context clues to get at the meaning of unfamiliar words. Break down unfamiliar words into recognisable parts. Watch out for signal words that link one part of the question to another.

On exam day

Remember the exam is scheduled for one day after the election results. Victory processions could throw your planning out of gear. It is advisable to remain in the centre during the gap between the optional and General Studies.

Answer the easy questions first in General Studies and then tackle the hard ones. Easy questions (a few from every area) can usually be answered very quickly. On these questions, your first guess is probably right. Questions from Mental Ability are relatively more objective than the questions from other areas. Answer these questions first.


If you aren’t sure of an answer, guess only if you can eliminate at least two of the choices with confidence. Otherwise do not guess. Wild guessing had cost dearly last year. To prevent the effects of negative marking, keep your target at 95 questions in the optional and 100 questions in general studies. However, do not change answers on a last minute guess or for fear that you have chosen too many A’s and not enough ‘C’s. Lastly, remember that no one is perfect and no one is in a position to answer all the questions.

The author is Director,

Brain Tree

Every correct /incorrect response makes the ‘big’ difference between success and failure.



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