Monday, February 8, 2016

How to prepare for UPSC - Pre first, then Mains, or Both Together?

When you prepare for the Yearly exam in school, does it help you prepare automatically for the Half-yearly?
UPSC, IAS exams, Prelims, Mains, 2016 IAS exams, PT education, PT's IAS Academy, Sandeep Manudhane, SM sir, Indore
The roaring lions
The analogy is almost perfect for UPSC Mains and Prelims too, except the slightly extra effort that Prelims - Paper II - CSAT will require, which in case you are a Maths background student, will be very little.
I can see the beauty of the UPSC exam in the interconnected nature of the three stages -
  • If you prepare only for Prelims, and actually clear it, you've invited disaster. There's no time to prepare for Mains for same year.
  • Conversely, if you prepare only for Mains and neglect the Aptitude part and the Objective Testing part completely, it just won't work out. The mindset needed to cruise through objective questions and options is different than the skills needed to write beautiful essays.
  • And once you're doing a holistic preparation, the third stage - personality testing - is taken care of largely.
Nature of the Prelims Exam :
  • Fully objective (as of 2015 - 2016 notification awaited)
  • General Studies (scoring) + Aptitude Paper (only qualifying)
  • GS syllabus quite vast and interlinked with Mains syllabus
  • No Optional papers (as of 2015 - may change in 2016)
  • Ability to eliminate the options very useful (not needed in Mains at all)
Nature of the Mains Exam :
  • Only for those who clear the Prelims
  • Essays and Subjective answers to be written - Writing skills crucial!
  • Extremely vast syllabus, including almost everything general created by God almighty till date :)
  • Lot of topics directly linked with Prelims syllabus, but much deeper
  • Quality of handwriting, and ability to Connect-the-Dots crucial
Nature of personality test / Interviews :
  • Checking your personality, knowledge, maturity & confidence
  • Totally depends on your depth, as gained for the preparation for above exams + Spoken skills and Body Language

Now when you start preparing for your UPSC goal, you just cannot separate these three stages. You have to start as if you are definitely going to get a call for the Interview. That builds the first step of confidence and commitment to start working. Then you have to imagine yourself writing the detailed essays and subjective answers to a whole range of questions. That helps build ease with the vastness of the syllabus. Then you have to convince yourself that the Prelims is just a subset of the Mains, with many interlinking features.
All this gives you the desired mental bandwidth while preparing. Students who do this piecemeal are making a big mistake - they allow extra stress to build at every stage. Pointless if you can't take it well.
A very good strategy to really understand this is to analyse actual papers of Prelims and Mains for a few years, and see the detailed solutions to realise how it is all interlinked. A start can be made here - 

At the most basic level, a student will find various Mains Papers tougher or easier depending on some parameters:
  1. His/her academic background: A person who studies economics in graduation would find GS III of Mains easier to comprehend whereas a law graduate would find GS II relatively easier.
  2. How diligent has he/she been with this studies in the past: If a student has generally (before thinking of appearing for UPSC) studied only from the perspective of scoring marks in College Exams and has not paid proper attention to the micro details of the subjects, the toughness level goes up
  3. What is his/her interest level in various subjects of UPSC: Some students find geography very dull and useless, whereas some find Ethics too heavy and impractical. This determines their inherent interest, and often, their capability in it.
  4. What is the nature of questions asked vis-a-vis the syllabus: In GS IV, for example, there at times is a huge gap in terms of the syllabus prescribed and the questions asked. The syllabus is very technical but the questions so far have been very general. It could change any moment.

However, if you consider a regular guy attempting the UPSC, this would be the order of difficulty I would set.
  1. GS IV: Simply because it is about ethics and the syllabus mentions important moral philosophies of the world. For any regular student, chances that he/she has encountered philosophy till the time of his graduation are rare. Apart from this there is a widespread abhorrence to anything philosophical! (The low number of candidates taking Philosophy as an optional is a major pointer in this direction)
  2. GS I: Syllabus-wise this is the largest of all. One unit simple mentions Physical geography of India and the World. These seven words among themselves would take up hours and hours of preparation. The unit mentioning Important events in World History is one more voluminous area of preparation, that is usually not encountered in school or college syllabus, or in regular newspaper reading. In the same GS paper you also have India's modern history and Arts, Architecture and Literature of India. However this is the toughest and not the second toughest because with some effort, it is easier to understand than GS IV. The questions in this area also require you to analyse a situation completely before writing an answer. Bookish knowledge is important but by no means sufficient. In-depth understanding is very crucial otherwise the questions may be totally misunderstood.
  3. GS III: After GS I comes GS III in the order of toughness. One wrong approach usually adopted during preparations is to learn the latest. A lot of time needs to be spent on understanding the fundamentals of Economics before we get to the concepts of measures of national income and the Budget. If a student ignores this, his/her learning would be incomplete. Also, this content is pretty straightforward and unambiguous. If you are not a person who revels in philosophy and such, simply interchange GS IV with GS I in my ranking.
  4. GS II: This tends to be the easiest for an average Indian graduate. This paper focusses on Polity and Governance. Very rarely does one need to sit and think deeply for scoring well in this paper. A lot of information is available for this particular paper. There's a host of government websites (some not updated) which provide you all the information needed. Once a few technical terms are learnt and the jargon gets going, the student will find this paper the easiest to answer.
Thanks for reading, and have a good day!


Unknown said...

it is good to study 3 piller of exam during same time of preparation, inspite of seperating it with to develop knowledge of objective and subjective which required differnt approach..and mindset

Sanatan Trivedi said...

Can you suggest some strategy for students working in the private sector who are preparing for upsc but have very few hours to prepare. I have taken self prep course but its getting very difficult to juggle between the two. Any suggestions or strategies are awaited.

anup upadhyay said...

hope against hope..and as you say sir, you don't set the target you reach of daily,weekly,monthly are paramount.
thanks for you insight sir.

Unknown said...

Thank you for advising Sir, We should prepare for Mains, and it inclues the GS1 of prelims. As it concerns with CSAT, We have to prep differently.

Anonymous said...

Sir I have not started yet for this, so could you please tell me how to start the preparation without joining coaching classes...and what magazine should I prefer??

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