While framing the preparation strategy for civil services examination, the general studies portion is always considered to be the trickiest to crack because of its perceived complexity. This happens due to lack of understanding of the syllabus and the pattern in which questions are asked in the exam.
The best way of preparation, therefore, is to first have a meticulous planning for handling the GS with ease, both during the time of preparation and the exam.
The first myth that has been speculating for years especially after the change in syllabus and pattern in 2013 that there is no syllabus for GS which, is utterly false. UPSC looks for such aspirants who are well informed of all the national and international events, institutions and personalities that holds significance for India. It is for those who are always willing to learn and have their eyes and ears wide open in its pursuit. Thus, primarily, one must know what to read and what to skip.
The second myth about GS preparation is that reading basic books like NCERT is wastage of time and normally questions are not asked from these.When you read and study NCERT books you are not studying it with expectations that questions will be asked directly, but to create a solid foundation for your preparation in GS.
But even in recent years' Prelims papers, there were many questions which could have been answered only by studying NCERT books properly.
Thus, for beginners, the best start to GS preparation is by comprehensively covering all the NCERTs from class VI to class X for History, Geography, Economics, and Polity. The NCERT books for class XI and XII must also be studied in addition to the lower class NCERTs. This will give a concrete foundation to build up your preparation.
One big change noticed in GS these days, especially in the preliminary examination, is the increasing portion of general awareness questions. If we look into the recent Prelims papers there were many questions which can't be totally billed as Current affairs.
One must widen the horizon by reading books related to General knowledge, for example, Yearbook(published by publication division of Government of India), Economic Survey, Yojna, Kurukshetra EPW, G&Y etc
Another aspect of this exam is the minimum marks required in GS(paper-II) CSAT to clear the preliminary examination. As of now, it is fixed at 33 percent. So general studies paper II should be taken seriously and it should also be given sufficient weightage in your preparation strategy
Now let us look into the subject wise breakup and analysis of GS paper I of the Preliminary Examination
In recent years the importance of Policy has increased tremendously both in the preliminary and mains examination and it is expected to continue in the future also. The thing regarding Polity is that the questions are more or less straightforward which can be easily answered with the careful study
In polity, there are chapters from which questions are frequently being asked. These are Constitutional developments, FRs, FDs and DPSP, Union Government, Judiciary, Amendments, Local Governments, Federalism and Election process.
Most of the available books lack information on current constitutional developments. So a keen perusal of newspapers and magazine is essential with a good knowledge of provisions of the Constitution.( for example, one should be aware of the historical judgments given by the Supreme Court of India like Triple Talaq, Right to privacy, Right to be forgotten, Adultery repealed, Adhar verdict etc)
This section can be divided into 4 parts - Science and Technology, Biology, Chemistry and Physics
For students with the arts background, this section is always a nightmare. But the basic understanding of science, especially a thorough coverage of NCERTs, can be of great help in solving most of the questions.
Science and Technology has become an important section of GS for the last 15 years
Considering the overall increase in the weightage of current affairs, questions are mainly asked from India specific developments.
Recent analysis shows that questions on General Science cover general appreciation and understanding of day to day science.
So observing and experiencing everyday science could be handy. For example, question regarding NAVIC was asked in the 2018 prelims; so the future initiatives of ISRO like Gaganyaan and other mission automatically become more important and get the higher probability of being asked in the upcoming preliminary examination. So one must have to prepare the strategy of prioritizing things based on the abovesaid.
In life science, the thrust is on Zoology. Only a few questions are being asked from Botany, particularly from agriculture, biological diversity, and plant system. In zoology, most of the questions are related to the human system and diseases. The topics of Communicable diseases and Nutrition are always significant
This includes Sustainable development, Poverty, Socio-economic Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives etc.
Most of the questions in this area are from Indian Economy but one also has to keep abreast with International Economics that has its bearing on India (For example, the recent trade war and its impact on Indian market)
Recent trend analysis reveals that most of the questions are asked from Industry, Agricultural production, Exim policy, Money and banking, public finance and reforms. 3 to 4 questions are from different programmes announced in the previous and the current fiscal year. Some more areas like economic reforms( government initiative in ease of doing business) infrastructure and reform policies ( eg RERA ) are to be taken care of.
In money and banking, one has to keep an eye on financial and banking reforms( eg. Merger of banks, Insolvency and bankruptcy law, twin balance deficit problem, NPA etc)
In the last few years, there has been significant shift to this section. Most of the questions are of contemporary nature but requires a proper understanding of static areas of Indian Economy
One must carefully follow economic survey and budget. The basic understanding of the subject can be achieved by reading class XI NCERT book on Indian Economy.
This is one of the most vital section in the preliminary examination which covers a good amount of questions.
In Indian Geography a thorough understanding of physical aspects of India with a proper clarity of locations is the essential minimum requirement and it also helps in economic as well as the human aspects of Indian Geography.
In General geography, the emphasis is on conceptual aspects. A careful study of "A Certificate course in Physical and Human geography by Goh Cheng Leong" would be helpful in greater aspects.
In World geography, the relevance is more with contemporary developments. It is better to locate places in your ATLAS while reading the newspaper every day.
A new dimension to the Preliminary examination is set of questions related to Environment. One should be aware of the developments associated with Ecology and Environment related issues and also the various initiatives and conferences which have been held, especially those for preserving the biodiversity and the ecosystem of the country and the world.
For the preparation of Geography, a proper reading of NCERT textbooks on Geography (from 6th to 12th) along with Goh Cheng Leong and a regular study of Atlas are more than sufficient.
Analyzing the pattern of previous years questions gives us the information that while number of questions has been declining, the level of difficulty is increasing. The questions in recent years have been asked from untouched areas.
If we talk about Modern History most of the questions are being asked from the period between 1857 and 1947, which includes the uprising of 1857, social reforms movements, Governor General and Nation Movements.
In Ancient India the Vedic age, the Mauryan Period and the Gupta Period are dominating. Sultanate and Mughal periods are the most important in Medieval History
Marathas, Vijaynagar, Bahamani kingdom and South dynasties are getting more importance in recent years.
The importance of Indian Culture has increased significantly. A thorough knowledge of the development of Indian Culture, right from the Ancient times, is vital to score good marks in the Preliminary Exam.
Current Affairs has gained maximum significance in Civil Services preparation. Its weightage has been increasing every passing year.
Current Affairs is a vast area comprising of events of national and international importance, multilateral developments, sports and personalities in various fields along with prizes, awards and honors of highest accolade.
A part of the Current Affairs questions can be termed as General Knowledge questions.
So it is wrong to assume that reading newspapers and current affairs magazines will be sufficient to solve such questions.
In the final analysis, we can conveniently conclude that GS can be handled with much more ease and is not as frightening as projected by many. A successful candidate is the one who has faced the challenge with proper planning and management.
After the change in syllabus and introduction of CSAT, the second paper comprises of General Mental Ability and Reasoning
In General Mental Ability, the total number of questions have shown a fluctuating trend with an increase in the level toughness. Moreover, the questions are being asked from hitherto less expected areas, which have made the preparation more difficult
The most important fact to remember is that this paper is of qualifying nature and candidates are expected minimum of 33% marks in this paper. If a candidate fails to score this minimum marks, then he/she is not considered for selection at all.
Comprehension and Reasoning questions are also included in this paper. Proper practice of previous years questions papers and model questions are sufficient to score in this paper.
Team CL IAS