Friday, 1 June 2012


You know, I have realised that the 'mains' are actually called so for a reason. They are indeed the most important part of the civil service exam. In popular usage of CSE aspirants, it often refers to the written exam only- and it most definitely makes or breaks the 'attempt'. A boundary score will not put you in the final list even if one performs exceedingly well in the interview; and to be top of the final list you certainly need a 1100+ score in the written alone (hoping to get atleast 180+ in interview).

So,...this would be the third time I would be writing the mains (if the Gods of UPSC deign to pass me in the prelims that is). It would also be the final attempt for me-so am eager to pour all the remaining blood, sweat and grime of my being into it. But then, what shall I do differently or what shall I persist with in GS prep has bewildered me. The reason being my GS scores in 2011 exam. Despite attempting 520 marks, of which although100 marks was pure hawabazi and the remaining 420-informed writing of various degrees, I managed a measly score of 201 (unfortunately nothing auspicious in that score). And thanks to the scores of my remaining papers I did not even manage an interview call this time. And that was the UPSC ka jhatka- zor ka jhatka bahut zor se laga!

Pondering over my scores and performance in the last exam, I have decided on a few to-do's which will hopefully not repeat this year's debacle.

Statistics: I think most aspirants overlook the importance of this section- i certainly did. It usually amounts to 30-35 marks out of 600, but its value in our GS scores far exceeds its proportion in the exam paper. Being General Studies, there will be much in the question paper beyond our ken. In this context if marks from the statistics section are assured, it will make a very big difference.
Remember it is the only section in the GS papers which allows us to score cent per cent. And the beauty of it is that each of us can get that score- even those with numero-phobia. Just get working on it from now onwards, practice increases familiarity as well as speed, both of which are essential to our answering process.

Direct factual Questions: In glancing through the GS Paper 1 of 2011 and 2010, I have realised that direct questions seeking factual answers have reduced (from textbook syllabus like History, Polity, Geog, Eco etc- and not Current Affairs).
For example in 2010, questions of about 100 marks worth were asked seeking factual answers like features of constitutional amendment bills; grounds of disqualification of MPs; significant local storms; repo and reverse repo rate etc.
In comparison in 2011, I found only one question asking just a factual answer and no analysis: 'distinction between Department related Parliamentary Standing Committees and Parliamentary Forums'. 
And with regard to direct factual questions from Current Affairs, there was an increase in such questions in 2011 compared to 2010.

What's your view? Increasingly questions are asked which seek our views/opinions on issues. In 2010, such questions were of around 32 marks (in GS I), and 80 marks (GS I) in 2011. Thus simply knowing the facts is inadequate- we must understand issues and their impact and develop an opinion.

Although an analysis of two consecutive years does not present a trend, but we can surmise that UPSC is keen to test our understanding of issues and assessing the coherence of our opinions. From the above we can say that a thorough understanding of key texts is necessary as it forms the base of our answers and is also helpful in answering those direct questions.

Note-making: I think my note-making, through this blog, improved my knowledge of issues which was certainly reflected in the number of questions I attempted - 520 in 2011 compared to 460 in 2010. Self-prepared notes create a familiarity with issues that no amount of reading others notes does. This is because in preparing notes, we refer to material much beyond that which we record, and in doing so understand and remember better.

Be Precise and Concise: Although I attempted more questions this time, it certainly didnt reflect in my marks- there was a drop of 15 marks from my last attempt. So, that brings me to the importance of being precise and concise. In my attempt of reading and understanding issues, I reckon I may not have sifted it well and committed necessary points to memory. Doing this while reading and recording will certainly make our answers precise, and by extension concise too.

Revise, Revise, Revise: In my enthusiasm to prepare notes, I seldom made time to revise, and it was often the case that I was reading my own blog notes in the last few hours of the last day before exam. In fact I didnt read one of my own post on Arctic Circle politics which could have helped me write a good 12 mark answer. That is unforgivable.
So, I have decided to set aside time at the end of every week to revise whatever was studied during the week; and time at the end of the month for all that was studied in that month. This constant revision will hopefully nudge info from the short-term memory end of my brain to the long-term memory end.

Practice Answer-writing: This is one of the most important component of our prep and unfortunately the most neglected. For those with access to coaching centres certainly join a test-series. Writing answers in an exam-situation will be of immense help. For those distant from such facilities, do not let that deter you- question papers are easily available and must be solved. This is certainly the key to getting a top 100 rank. If one doesn't do this one will most certainly not making it to the top. So the choice is ours.

Hmm...guess that's enough gyan to myself and those who read this post. Its time to act.

"The Power is Yours"

p.s.: Enlightenment from my fellow aspirants is actively sought :)


  1. Hey your blog had a post regarding Arctic Council as well !!!! I too missed it in that case and had written wrong answer to this question in the exam. Though luckily my marks in GS were satisfactory. But Pub Ad gave me a big Shock ! Hoping not to miss any article from your blog this year :)

  2. Yes, it did- but kya fayda :( But we learn from our mistakes. How did you score in GS this time?

  3. I scored 139+136 = 275 marks in GS.

  4. Ohh thats an awesome score! Way to go Ankur- keep it up and please give me some tips.
    Like for example:
    - did you do too much hawabazi, (ie guess the answers and hope you were correct)
    - in your prep were you able to identify possible issues better and thus prepare for them? if yes can you share some of the identifying markers of issues.
    any other thing which could be useful...

  5. I think there is some technical issue with blogspot where it doesn't allow longer comments to be added. I have added twice the same comment, but its not showing on your blog. If this comment shows on your blog I'll break my comment in many comments.

  6. So I think putting smaller comments is working so here it goes -


    Well I already used a word - "Luckily" .. Given the unpredictable nature of this exam, No one can be sure what actually clicked for them in exam. So I prefer to call it my experience rather than any tips (On a lighter note, tips are meant to be given by toppers only :D )

  7. 2/7

    Regarding, hawabazi - yes I am too not an exception - but did this only in those questions where I had at least some 5-10% idea about the question and I wrote only that much in such questions which could be easily digested by examiner without getting much annoyed. Like I did this for Arctic council question as well, but when I checked back at home, my arguments were far from the actual answer. At the same time there were some question which I had absolutely no idea like Broken Chair - so I preferred not to write anything for them. Honestly I think it depends on those 3-5 sec after reading the question how we feel about it - and take a call to write about it or not. There is no set formula as such. My total attempt was around 530 this time with varying degree of accuracy.

  8. 3/7

    And 2nd point - For GS I think its more preferable to have some idea about most of the things. So I didn't prepare any topic for GS in much details. i.e. I didn't try to identify any important topic as such, but tried to have a look at as many topics as possible for me.

  9. 4/7

    You talked about Stat - yes its scoring but its time consuming as well. I would say rather than going for 100% of stat marks in exam, just fix half an hour in Paper-II for stat portion and try to cover as much as stat as possible.(unless you have very very good speed in stat) Otherwise to complete stat portion, it can easily take some more than 45 min as well. And spending more than 45 min for just 35 marks doesn't make sense when we are already short of time in the exam. Like this time I had attempted around 26 marks only in stat in half an hour.

  10. 5/7

    Regarding GS test series - I doubt its utility. Reason is that in GS its not "how to write" which is problematic, but it is "what to write" which is the main hurdle for scoring good in exam. Moreover for most of the question we just have to write at max 150 words (except 20 markers). So for 150 words I don't feel writing skills can make any difference provided that we know the right answer. So better way is try to collect some good test series question papers and just see if we know all the question asked in them and know about the topics which we don't know. Wasting 6-7k seems futile when we can have that in Rs 60-70 photostate copies only ! But yes for optionals like PUB AD - Answer Writing - does have an importance - where everybody knows answer to every question - but how well one can convey his answer in a 20-30 markers question that is important.

  11. 6/7

    And regarding having a view which u said in your post, somehow personally I find it easy to have a view on issues, provided that I know the basic info about that issue / topic. So I stress more on knowing the basic data / information about as many topics as possible.

  12. 7/7

    And though you just asked about just 2 points, I ended up writing 2 extra free points. I have honestly gained a lot from your blog, so I thought if I could be of any help for you, it will be my pleasure. But again repeating, especially seeing the performance in Pub Ad this year, I am too feeling like there is no sure shot strategy which will work for us. Its just we should do our hard work and pray to god ( or examiner ) for good marks.

  13. Thanks Ankur for taking the trouble to post your reply. [vaise I am surprised that longer comments were not accepted, cause my answers to the history quizzes were all given in comment section only. Maybe only the blog-owner is allowed that] But nonetheless, much appreciated. And you have certainly given me food for thought about GS test-series and Stats.
    You make a good point about time allocation for Stats- i have not had good command over the latter so dont know how much time i will take to attempt all. Will get back to you on this in a month's time.
    Hawabazi- i took the same approach but i was a bit reckless in some questions, like Omega 3 Fatty Acids- i knew if affected health but didnt know whether positively or negatively- but went ahead and answered and got it wrong. Maybe such answers irk the examiner cause they too know that we are making a guess and an unintelligent one at that.

  14. Just checked, the long comments are getting categorised as spam.

  15. thanks for the tips for the IAS mains examination for public administration. I am an ias aspirant and a regular visitor to your blog. Also enrolled in Public administration course at I always go to sites in the internet for the question practice. A request, do post some questions for ias mains preparation.

  16. very informative post indeed.. being enrolled in,I was looking for such articles online to assist me.. and your post helped me a lot :)