Scoring good marks in upsc ias general studies (GS) require a combination of knowledge, skill and strategies. Candidates of the Civil Services Examination have to go through one optional subject and four general studies papers, all having equal weightage of marks. But then too, candidates have commonly expressed unsatisfactory tone over preparation and results in General Studies papers, even toppers. Even sometimes, toppers cannot score up to their expectations in General Studies. Many reasons can be and are given for this generally accepted problem:
Uncertain Syllabus of the General Studies papers is one of the reason ‘Why a strong grasp on and full command cannot be acquired over it. No candidate, or even classes of high repute can draw a boundary for General Studies, not even a lose boundary can be uttered confidently. So, to understand these two papers properly and acquire good command, at least, to be relieved of the tension, we must have a perfect strategy to prepare G.S. very methodically. For that let’s go through some quite inevitable aspects that we must know and tackle.
Nature of General Studies
As declared earlier, it is quite uncertain and widely unspecified subject matter. Yet UPSC declares it to be acknowledged by every good educated person without having studied the topics specifically. But going through the papers and questions, it comes in mind that even after studying specially in a branch, one cannot answer perfectly some questions. Thus, it is really deep understanding of general topics that is required. For example, Government’s policies, bilateral agreements, science and technology, economical issues, etc.
The syllabus of upsc ias is undefined. Papers cover a wide area of knowledge and information. It is not only topics from current or national and international issues that are widely scattered, but also in science and technology, economy and geographical spheres, questions cross the limits of tradition. So, a candidate has to be in touch of each and every topics happening around us, having their impact on society, nature, or the world. Candidates can read newspapers, magazines, online blogs and other reliable sources to keep their notes updated on the latest news and trends in these fields.
It is not just learning a topic and memorising some facts that pays but a candidate is required to command deep understanding of the incident or phenomena. He should be capable of presenting his views about its impacts.
A candidate must develop a habit of actively taking interest in important incidents and should read newspapers and magazines for current related topics. He should also be able to think over definitions and explanations of conventional studies, cultivating the habit of reading between the lines.
Command over Every Topic
In General Studies, a candidate cannot opt any topic as an alternative for another one. A candidate must develop a strong hold and command over every topic of papers i.e. science and technology, statistics, economics, political issues, social issues, geography, current affairs, sports, international relations, institutions, organisations and so on.
Not Only Books
Only books reading, though many, cannot give a good result. So for the General Studies is concerned, a candidate has to go through newspapers, magazines, and sometimes active discussions or debates also, for at least, over view based topics.
Yes, it is perfectly uncertain, unspecified and therefore unlimited in nature. Its sphere never ends with a boundary. It is like a horizon which shifts for and far as much we approach towards it. So it is also advised to every candidate to be selective in reading and a proper time table must be maintained strictly to follow the schedule. He must decide what he is required to read by suggestions of experienced faculties or at least seniors, friends, or some magazines.
Selective and Intensive
The study of General Studies Mains requires a perfect approach that is selective and intensive. It is quite different from the Preliminary exam. And so some topics, as I mentioned earlier, should be selected for intensive and deep study.
A list of books on every topic, required to be studied, can be prepared and then a time for each of them should be devoted. One can decide number and types of books and extent of time that one can a lot to each according to weightage of the topic and one’s command over it. For instance, a candidate with Political Science as first or second optional would hardly require to a lot much time for the portion of Indian Polity in General Studies. So, this factor varies from candidate to candidate and from stage to stage of preparation.
Moreover, a candidate can decide by the nature of a topic that how much weightage can be given to a topic by considering its importance. We can consider the following points while choosing the self-decided syllabus for the General Studies :
• Previous Years’ Papers can be thoroughly studied to understand what topics are frequently emphasised, especially traditional topics like history, polity, economy, geography, statistics etc.
• Current news can guide you to select portions of importance. For example, the topic of bilateral relations can be asked if any agreement or visit of higher authority has taken place during recent period.
• Newly declared policies and its importance should be prepared as it can be expected in papers.
• Any International Conference, organisation or summit in news should be prepared thoroughly.
These are only a few criteria for selection of topics of importance from amongst the unlimited reservoir of issues and incidents. One more important suggestion, on this topic of selective and intensive study, is that preparation should be based on understanding and information apart from getting knowledge but never should be just a bulk of datas, figures and numbers.
Its a quite necessary skill for mains examination. No word should be missed and no extra word can be spaced between. Besides shortage of time, words limit is a crucial factor of these papers. Proper word at proper place’ is applied in this exam. If a candidate, reading a lot and knowing a lot, cannot score well, What is justification? No justification, just one fault appears on the surface that is lack of answer writing skill. It can be developed. It can be commanded over impressively.
What a candidate knows is expressed by words he writes in his answers. He cannot enjoy a smooth flow of ink nor can be create bumpers in logical flow of answer. He has to maintain flow of language on the road. He is directed by the question and that too without bumps, covering the whole distance. He is, in simple words, required to maintain the quality of his answers with the following characteristics:
• Simplicity of language.
• Logical flow of language.
• Maintaining word limit.
• Clarity of thoughts.
• Information and data.
• Proper structure of answers.
• Precise and brief writing.
• Appropriate diagrams, graphs or figures can be drawn.
Time Management is required at two stages:
- During Preparation
- In the Examination Hall.
1. During Preparation
While preparing for the mains, especially after result of Preliminary, candidate rests with a little time, hardly three months at hand. In this short span of time, he requires to thoroughly prepare his both optionals and General Studies. Apart from these Six papers, a candidate has to prepare for Essay and two language papers, though not much emphasised by candidates. In addition to all these, the must required preparation of acquiring writing skill and practice is also there. Among these needs, one has to manage time for each optional, essay and the G.S.
Some tips can be given on this points:
• Divide total time for all these six papers, sparing an evening a week for essay.
• For each paper, you can again divide the time allocated to it, even for topics separately.
• Confirm a little flexibility in your time division.
• Ensure that you give enough weightage to every topic, providing more time and concern for important one.
• Be confirm that you allocate time for each, based upon two strategies;
- your command, knowledge and background.
- previous years questions and marks weightage.
• Do not indulge, in any topic for expert knowledge and just be sure that you are gaining enough knowledge required for General Studies. Even your personal interest should not lead you to this mistake.
2. Time Management in Exam Hall
• Do not read the whole paper in starting, because all questions are compulsory in General Studies.
• Among questions with options, go through each (a), (b), (c) …, where option is available.
• Think which question you can attempt well.
• After deciding the question to be attempted, jolt down relevant points according to nature of the question. Then start to write answers. No extra words or comments, only straight forward answer on proper direction will surely shorten your time.
• The condition is that before starting to write an answer one must had points and structure of the answers in one’s mind.
• Do not waste time in noticing behaviour and impression of others about the papers though this is not to say to a candidate of Civil Services, yet it is necessary.
• Proper managed preparation can give you sweet fruits even in General Studies and allowing you enough time for your optionals also. Just remember one thing, no one can be perfect in general studies, learn to be satisfied with your preparation, yes, improvement must always be yearned for.
Many toppers advise to prepare notes and many to follow strategy of underlining important parts. Some combine both. What is the best way for main preparation of General Studies? Should a candidate spare time for notes making? Answer is again amalgamation of both where to use notes and where underline is an important question.
You can follow the stages given below:
• Stage 1 : To be precise, you can underline your references with a pencil and different colours of pens and highlighters.
• Stage 2 : You can underline with pencil, that portion of a book or magazine which you generally find important, as a whole.
• Stage 3 : Now you can, from among these portions underline that sentences which can provide you central idea of the topic with one colour pen, may it be blue.
• Stage 4 : Then again, if you find some words and phrases, numbers, figures and datas of vital importance, underline that part with another colour of pen, as more important for revision and memorising. May it be black or green.
• Stage 5 : Then at last and inevitable task, you can round up or underline or box-up only a few words for the portion which can be used as the stimulation to your grasp of that topic. For example, in History of Modern India, while learning the topic of “Gandhi in Indian National Movement”. You can just, for a few, use this last technique and remark words like, ‘Champaran’, ‘Dandi’, ‘Civil Disobedience’, ‘Non-Cooperation’, ‘Swadeshi’, ‘Round-table’, ‘Satyagraha’, ‘Ahimsa’ and ‘fast’. It is sure that while reading these words only, you can surely recall the whole topic. Am I right? So, follow these techniques for underlining?
For making notes:
• It must be topic and sub-topic wise,
• It must include only relevant and most important points in brief language.
• Grammar and full sentences are not required to be taken care of.
• It must be handy in size and shape.
• It must be with clean and legible hand-writing.
• It must be attractively drafted and designed.
• It should not be with scattered points but with well arranged topics, indexed based on importance or incidents.
• Even in notes, most important words can be rounded up or highlighted, as in books and references.
• No preface, conclusion, views etc. on a topic, but only relevant explanation in point based language and datas should be there.
• Notes should be prepared subject-wise and if possible topic wise.
• Head points and titles should be given in notes.
• Different colour pens and signs can be used to indicate importance, weightage and probability to be asked in papers for different topics.
Once again, notes must not be like a manuscript of original texts, it must be in your own words and if possible, language and style too. It must be brief, summarily prepared and portable that can be revised even in a single day before the papers.
Understanding Nature of Topics
When involved in preparation, each topic should be evaluated in contexts of its probability of being asked in examination, its probable weightage and importance.
• How much influence does it create upon the society, politics or nature, is to be taken into account.
• Whether the topic has relevant facts and figures which are important from the examination’s point of view.
• If the topic is view based, different types of views, for and against must be acquired with by candidate.
• One cannot be biased to one side of it, one must learn to be natural while understanding the topic, only then candidate can balance answer in examination hall.
Some topics can basked in context of its contribution on particular or various fields, some can be for explaining implication and some for discussion. While learning a topic, according to its nature, a candidate must evaluate its purpose and perspectives. It can be directed to discussion, justification, examination, elucidation, arguments and comments, all or any of these possible manners. In another way, representing and understanding the same aspects, from the angle of marks and words should also be taken into account. Topics possible to be asked in two marks only, ten or thirty marks etc., can be decided or at least expected by candidates and then preparation can be directed to that track.
Model and Practice
Various question papers, as models and practices should be gone through for the exam purpose. The more one practises papers, the more marks be scores; is hitherto noticed fact. We need to be careful while choosing models which are of good standard and level. Solving such papers can boost a candidate’s confidence and can make him aware of some expected topics that can be asked in papers. It also helps in tackling the problems of time management, exam fear and so on. Therefore, it is always advisable for every candidate to go through various questions and topics by means of model papers and practice sets.
Having going through all these aspects of strategy, now a candidate, at last, requires to know and decide what material he can use. For different topics of General Studies, a candidate has to go through various references, guides, magazines and newspapers. One must decide carefully what books can be read for what topics. For this, friends, seniors, faculties or toppers (if not personally than through interviews in magazines) can be taken help of. Classes materials if found reliable can be used. Guides from various publications can also help understanding very easily. Dictionaries and Atlas are must for proper understanding of every topics, points and phenomena, dictionaries and Atlas are must to be used. Otherwise ambiguities of meaning may be created in candidate’s mind. No boasting of knowledge or vocabulary should come in a way. Neither a candidate should feel boring in Atlas for map reading.
Interpreting “Words” Given in the Questions
Candidate should answer the Question in accordance with the terms specified in the question. Some of those terms are mentioned here.
• Elucidate : It means to throw light on or explain. A statement is to be made intelligible by providing relevant facts and figures. You are not going to differ in such questions but just follow the track it provides to you, just giving explanations, if required with examples, to elucidate i.e. convince the statement.
• Explain : It is almost like same as Elucidate. Minor difference that appears in answer writing is that with definition and necessary details, one can just be within the area of statement while explaining it.
• Comment : Requires personal views of a candidate. Remember “to comment” is not “to argue”. It is necessary here to be balanced on each aspects, for and against, including every topic of the statement. Though a candidate can conclude either for or against but not necessarily to any one side specifically. Illustrations, incidents, datas, facts can be used to comment your view.
• Examine : This question compulsorily requires result of examination. One cannot be at middle point or remain indecisive to be neutral. The statement requires a close inspection to bring out facts throwing light on various merits and demerits and concluding on any one side.
• Critically : Here too, one must give judgement, most important here. One needs not to justify any fact or point but to be critical to them so that no side- for or against- seems to be favoured. As a critic does not be either for or against but for at some aspects and against at others.
• Discuss : It gives you a chance to narrate various aspects and details of the statement. It is comparatively easy to discuss as you are neither required to explain nor to examine. Just providing necessary detail about various aspects of the question will suffice the answer.
• Analyse : Analysis is something like scientific technique. One by one each aspects of the statement are taken into consideration. While dealing with one aspect, examine it, discuss it and comment upon it and then conclude separately for that aspect without having relevance to others. But remember each aspects, differently analysed must be coordinated and conclusion should be formed as a whole, of the whole analysis.
• illustrate : To give example to explain the topic in the statement, to make it clear. Here too, relevant data, quotations and facts can help to point out. But it must be remembered that you are not going to write an opposite to the statement. One needs to follow the direction of the statement and to explain it in that way.
• Simplify : To simplify means to made simple the statement. Give definition, meaning, explanation, details, examples and make the statement easy to grasp.
• Elaborate : It requires to add related details to make it full of meaning. Without necessary details some statements do not bear meaning. You are to provide its back ground, basis and then related detail to clear the whole picture in your words.
• Argue : To argue is to give for and against arguments on different aspects and effects of the statement. Remember, both sides must be covered. Balanced argument is advisable but if the topic is very positive or very negative, that side can be emphasised.
• Review : To review is to have a look on the historical facts of the statement. It is an expertise inspection of any topic. What outcomes and results you get, produce there.
• Justify : A statement regarding any result, decision or fact is given. Candidate has to justify it by explaining its benefits or merits and expressing its effect on minimising the adverse side. To prove propaganda in the statement logically and step by step is the expectation.