- Cover the NCERTs: It is very important to cover them thoroughly as they make the base of the critical concepts asked in the exam. Understanding of all subjects such as History, Polity, Economy, Social Science, etc. is essential for effective governance. Read the NCERTs thoroughly so that concepts can be applied while solving the questions asked in the exam.
- Role of Coaching Institutes: In the start, coaching does help to give direction to the preparation as the UPSC syllabus is very vast. In this examination, it is necessary to know what to study and what not to study! Diligent segregation and selection help a lot in saving time, effort as well as the attempt. But if one has a mentor, guide, senior, or alumni who know the process and can help save efforts without wasting crucial time and energy. Right guidance and strategy is the key for this exam to qualify.
- Optional selection: Very important step! Choose the optional Ultimately, one’s selection in the merit list is very much decided by the marks scored in the optional along with the General Studies paper.
- The main reason behind choosing the optional should be the interest of the candidate. Candidates should go for the subjects that interest them, and UPSC also gives flexibility while doing so. As the Commission does not make it compulsory for the candidate to choose the subjects that were there in the graduation.
Note: Do not worry about the prevailing trends such as X, Y, Z optional is not doing well, or how many candidates opt for so and so optional... One must focus on the interest and if familiar and comfortable with the kind of questions asked in the previous years, then practice enough to get a good hold. Therefore, interest, familiarity, comfort, and the resources available should be given priority while selecting. Remember a candidate has to spend the preparation years with the subject, so select accordingly.
- Integrated Study: Never do segregated study except for a few months before the prelim examination, where one needs to practice mocks and revise multiple times. Preparing first for the prelim and then thinking of dedicating time for Main is a very wrong strategy as there is hardly sufficient time to prepare for all the 9 subjects for which one has to write in the exam. It certainly does not work!
- When NCERTs are covered, join optional coaching. If confident about self-study then no need. At least for four months club General Studies and Optional subjects parallelly. Syllabus and previous year papers are very, very important. For around 1-2 months, one must analyze the previous year's papers and syllabus. They will give an idea, what UPSC is asking and what is the demand of the UPSC exam. The easier for a candidate to understand this, the easier it will be the journey of the preparation.
- When to start with current affairs?
For the initial four months, when one starts the preparation should not focus much on newspapers or answer writing. One should not read newspapers for a long time, as it is more likely that time is wasted in newspapers, without knowing what to emphasize more on. Just for the sake of reading, one should spend time on headlines but do not indulge much for at least the initial four months.
- After the candidate is done with NCERTs + GS + Optional reading, i.e. after spending 4-5 months covering these. Now is the time when the role of current affairs and newspapers become essential. By then, a fair understanding is developed as to what to read and what not to read!
- After the first reading of GS and Optional, which is very important, focus on other areas also. So the next four months can be spent with the second reading of the optional and GS and get hold of current affairs. Also, focus on Ethics and Essay papers. Now one would understand the demands of the essay when a proper understanding of GS and optional is acquired. In this period, only second reading should be done, as revision is very, very important.
- Restrict the sources and do not go for extra books or magazines. A candidate should focus on convincing the notes and revise it multiple times. In this period, develop a habit of note-making that is very, very crucial. Note making will help in both Prelim as well as Main.
In a nutshell, the second revision of GS + Optional should be done, and ethics (case study) and essay paper should be practiced regularly.
- 3 months before the Prelims Examination
- Now when three months are remaining for the Prelim examination. Dedicate them only for the prelim. Until now one had an integrated study-focused on prelim and Main. Strictly focus on prelim is highly recommended. Focus on books that have objective parts such as Spectrum for History, Laxmikant for polity Books like these are a reservoir of minute facts that are asked in the prelim exam. Revise them again and again.
- Get a good hold on CSAT, though qualifying, but the level of questions is such that many candidates find it difficult to qualify.
- Do solve as many IAS test series as possible and revise the concepts, facts, and current affairs multiple times. Solving test papers is very helpful as it will give an idea of what kind of questions and in how much time frame can the questions be attempted. It provides a good insight into the effective time management and the performance under the exam pressure. Understand one has to manage time in the exam hall.
- When the prelim is over, candidates should start the Main preparation from the very next day of the exam itself. Do not waste time in waiting for the Prelim result to declare, as precious time is lost. UPSC takes around a month to 40 days to announce the result, so when declared qualified, one has already lost time which could have been utilized for the Main preparation, and covering up nine papers becomes difficult.
- What to focus on, in these months?
- The candidate's primary focus should be answer writing. Understand that if one does not understand and write, conceptual clarity will not be there for the Main exam. Writing is an essential part of the Main exam. Write a set number of questions every day, join a 'Main test series', work on the feedback to perform and score better. Discussing in a peer-group helps develop perspectives and opinions about the ongoing issues. Remember, it does not matter how much one knows, what, and how he/she expresses in the exam counts and becomes the deciding factor!
- one should join the 'writing program', and continuously upgrade in managing time for the given number of questions to be attempted diligently without compromising on the quality of the answer. The time given is 3 hours and 20 Qs to be written. So how one finishes them becomes very important. Writing performance will ensure the merit of the candidate (prelim is qualifying, and marks are not counted) and so is the service and cadre allotted.
- Current events and Notes: Whatever issue is coming up in the news, one should link it with the syllabus and should make notes on that topic. That will help in the effective preparation of the Main. Practice thoroughly; one must have written answers in the test series or while making notes on the prevailing issues. And yet be ready to formulate answers, if taken by some surprise questions asked in the exam hall. In such situations, one should be able to derive the answers in a short span. Be aware that there is hardly any time to ponder in the exam and someone else would get an edge to perform. So diligently express yourself on the paper.
In a nutshell, for the Stage II, the focus should be on Answer Writing, Practice of Main test series, Current affairs notes, and the revision.
After the Main exam is over, do not wait for the Main result. UPSC takes around two months to declare the Main result. One should start the interview preparation.
- DAF preparation: The interviewer mainly asks questions from the DAF. One's educational background, place of work, hobbies, etc. should be thoroughly known.
- Read the newspaper thoroughly during this time
- Should make an opinion on various issues particularly debatable ones
- Appear for mock interviews, the feedback helps one improve the verbal and non-verbal aspects. These will help refine one's personality.
With this article, we intended to give a fair idea about the basic preparation strategy. It is upon the individual's strength how he/she makes most of it.
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