Preliminary Exam - Choice of Subjects and Strategy
In the three stage UPSC CSE Exams, the Preliminary Exam is the
first stage, and as the name obviates, it is a preliminary exam. It is
usually held on the third Sunday of the month of May.
There are two
General Studies, which is common to all and sundry.
Optional paper, something which you can pick from a basket of
Procedure to be followed at the Exam hall while answering your
Answering a question involves filling up one of four blocks (each
block for each option of an answer) with a good HB pencil- a procedure
which you would do better to practice a little at home (it would take
you about 5-7 seconds to fill up one block). Unlike a conventional
exam in your school or college, don't spend a second going through the
questions. That would be a sheer waste of time. As soon as you are
asked to start answering, read the first question and try to answer
it, and then proceed sequentially. If you cannot answer any particular
question, don't pore of it for long. Fill out any block you
instinctively feel to be the correct answer, note down the question
number in a separate place, and you will come back to brood over
it if you have time left after completing the above procedure with
each of the questions - don't just leave any question blank at any
stage, however! As you go through the questions, ensure that you
give your final answer - unlike a conventional exam, revision is a
luxury you won't have in a competitive exam. If at the end of 150
questions you have time left, now is the time to come back to those
questions which you were unsure of. Go over them, and in case you want
to change you options, do so now. After even this procedure is over,
and miraculously you have time left, you have the luxury now of
revision. Keep in mind that there are no negative marking- NEVER
LEAVE OUT ANY QUESTION.
GS paper contains 150 questions which
you will have to complete in 120 minutes- in other words, you will have
to answer in question in about 48 seconds. Since the paper is of 150
marks and there are 150 questions, each question is of one mark only.
The optional paper contains 120 questions which you will have to
work out in 120 minutes- thus you get one minute for each question.
The paper carries 300 marks, so that each question carries 2.5 marks.
Please remember that the Preliminary Exam is of qualifying
nature only- your ranking at this stage is irrelevant (nor will
you get any ranking- you will only know if you have passed or failed).
You need to study hard enough to clear it, but always your aim should
be at the Mains exam. The irony is that unless you study your best to
make sure that you clear the Prelims, you won't get the opportunity to
sit for the Mains. So, give your best.
The syllabi for both the
papers is so huge that most likely you will have trouble completing it.
Even when you think you have completed the syllabi, you will find that
in any sample paper or pervious year's question paper you cannot
probably answer more than 50 percent of the questions correctly. You are
full of self-doubt, become hopeless, lose motivation and give up- a
suicidal path. Avoid it. Working with a strategy will most probably
prevent this scenario.
The syllabus of the GS is much vaster. Most
aspirants are agreed to the fact that no one can completely master it.
There are so many areas, and the issues are dealt with in such depth
that one cannot conceiving of mastering all aspects of it. Furthermore,
each question is of one mark only. The syllabus of the optional subject
(whatever that might be) is more limited, and probably it is something
you have read before. Thus, you can easily master the syllabus of your
optional paper. Furthermore, each question in the optional paper carries
2.5 marks. When you combine these two facts, you realize that
it is much more profitable to utilize your
limited time studying your optional paper. People in the know
tell that if you get anything over 250 out of the Prelims total of 450
(150 + 300), you stand a good chance of clearing it. And if you get
anything over 300, you can guarantee your place. Thus, if you can answer
correctly 100 out of the 120 questions in your optional paper, you are
Now, don't get the idea that I am asking you to neglect your GS.
All I am asking you to do is to give your preference to your optional.
A good idea would be to devote four hours to your optional for ever
two hours you devote the GS. Another good idea is to start exclusively
with your optional. At this stage do not even touch your GS. After you
have gained a fair acquaintance with your optional, now is the time to
get acquainted with GS.
Since the Preliminary
papers are MCQ (multiple-choice-questions) based, it is very factual. It
helps tremendously if you have a good memory; in case you don't, there
are ways to buttress it. The simplest way to remember facts is to read
them again and again, and then again after some interval. It is always
advisable to make succinct notes- writing down helps memorising, and you
have a useful medium for revision. So, what are the things you should do
immediately before the exam?
Don't read any newspaper or magazine one month previous to the
exam- no questions with that recent reference will ever come. Don't
stretch the period to two months however- two month events do come.
Read how much of newspapers and
magazines should I read for more.
Almost exclusively read from a question bank, or other collection
of questions. Especially read previous years' question papers- that
would give you an idea about how much prepared you are.
Practice at least one question paper each day in full exam
conditions- that you teach you a lot about time management, the most
essential aspect in a competitive exam.
Selection of Optional
Since the Optional Paper is so much more important than the GS paper, the
selection of the Optional is that much more important. Selecting one subject
out of the 21 can be a little tough for many people. But there is a basic
procedure which you can follow to make this process more smooth.
The easy part about selecting the optional at the Prelims stage is that
you have to select only one, unlike the Mains where you have to select two
optionals. Again, since the basic qualification to sit for the exam is
graduation, most aspirants have studied at least one subject at degree level
(the level at which you would be asked questions), unless one is a simple
pass graduate (such people would be very few). You should first look up your
own subject, take a look at the syllabus, and then take a look at the
question papers. If possible, also take a look at the study material of the
subject and see if they are familiar. If you feel easy with it, your problem
is solved. Take the subject.
But sometimes it happen that the syllabi do not match. Engineering
students are at a disadvantage- there are only two engineering subjects
(Civil and Electrical). Beside, most engineers say that the IAS syllabi are
vaster than their college syllabi. Similar is the case with Science
students, who allege that the syllabi is much vaster. Inevitably it is found
that a large number of engineer and science students opt for humanities
subjects. The humanities subjects are very easy to follow for a fresher as
they are non-technical, and one can master them without much guidance. Thus,
although UPSC has increased the number of optionals to allow students from
all disciplines to participate, the difficult syllabi precludes their
participation many times. Arts and humanities subjects are universal
favourites. For this reason, some subjects, like Public Administration,
Political Science, History, Sociology have become very popular subjects
(History being the most popular).
Thus, the choice of your optional should be decided after looking at the
syllabi, previous years' question papers and the study materials (available
in the market).
Remember, Civil Services is a vastly
different exam from other difficult exams. Genius might take you through an
IIT or an MBA screening test, but for IAS you need something more.
Motivation and dedication is the unfailing mantra for civil services.