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How to prepare for UPSC civil services Preliminary Examination General Studies paper I?
UPSC civil services Preliminary Examination General Studies Paper I is the deciding factor for reaching the Mains Examination stage. Till 2014, the result of the Preliminary examination was decided by the General Studies Paper II, popularly called as CSAT (Civil Service aptitude test). The CSAT paper largely decided the fate of most candidates and the weightage of CSAT in the overall Prelims score was very high. Many candidates used to score 2/3rd marks from CSAT out of overall score. There was a general grievance from non-urban candidates and non-engineering background candidates, especially from North India that the CSAT paper was detrimental to them and favoured only those from urban background with English knowledge
From 2015, CSAT has been made a qualifying paper which means that a minimum of 33% marks is required in the CSAT paper. Hence, from now on, General Studies Paper I will largely decide the fate of candidates and their entry to the Mains stage.
What Skills set is necessary?
General Studies paper I doesn’t test any specialized skill of the candidate. Academic knowledge is not tested. Questions from various subjects such as History, Science, Geography, Polity etc will be asked apart from international affairs and current events. Any graduate can succeed in the paper provided he/she is prepared to work hard. The cut off marks for General studies paper I is expected to come around 120 marks for unreserved candidates and may vary each year. Remember that there is negative marking in the paper.
Preparation Time: A Period of 6-8 months is enough to prepare for the exam if you study full time. However, a 12-month preparation will ensure 100% success. You need to dedicate at least 6-8 hours for study each day.
Books to read: The most popular books are Laxmikanth for Indian Polity, Ramesh Singh for Indian economy, Cheng Leong for Geography. NCERT books can be used as foundation books for all subjects, especially History and Geography. Updates from Science and Technology and Environment can be taken from Newspapers such as Hindu.
Newspaper Reading is must: In Prelims 2016, many questions were from current affairs eg, Birdlife international, Indira Gandhi Peace Prize, NITI Ayog etc. Compulsory newspaper reading for atleast 40-60 minutes daily is must. ‘The Hindu’ is the standard paper preferred by most candidates in India. Indepth analysis of most important topics is given by Hindu. International relations, bilateral issues and Science & Technology updates are also given. The Editorials are invaluable though they are more useful for Mains rather than Prelims. Times of India is useful for frequent updates on current national events though the articles are not elaborate as in The Hindu
Magazines: You can buy competitive examination related magazines like Competition Wizard, Competition Chronicle, Pratiyogita Darpan Etc. Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) is also useful though it is useful mainly for Mains. These are available at most book shops
Online Material: If you read books and newspapers properly, it is more than enough. However, you can refer to specific updates on the internet. Wikipedia is a useful source. Prsblog is a useful source for Parliament bills. Press information bureau (PIB) website is helpful as well for regular updates. I would suggest not to rely too much on the internet since too much information is available on it and you may lose focus reading unwanted topics.
Always stick to the Syllabus: Always keep the exam syllabus with your hand. You can read anything but it must be within the ambit of the syllabus. For example, we need to know the difference between Capitalism and state-controlled economy but there is no need to read into topics like Keynesian economics or neo-liberal economics
Take notes: Whatever you read, take them as notes. You can revise again and again, especially just before the examination
Understand the concepts: UPSC Prelims is not like any Banking Examination. You must have holistic knowledge. You must understand whatever you read. This exam is not just memory based. More than 60% of the questions are analytical in nature and hence you must understand the concepts. Merely memorizing facts and figures will not help you at all.
Plan a Strategy: Always have a strategy. Plan your preparation schedule months before the examination. For example, you could allocate the first month for History and the second month for Geography, third month for Economy and so on.
Revision: I would suggest a minimum of 2 revisions before the examination. However you can increase or reduce the number of revisions based on your individual capacity and ability. Whatever you read, write it down and practice down. One time writing is equal to 3 times reading
Take model tests: Take at least 5-6 model tests before the examination. You could enroll in some reputed IAS institute or you could even taken online tests on the internet. Many model papers are available on the internet for Free
Take care of your health: Take good care of your health as this exam requires lot of energy and concentration. Sleep well. This will help you to memorise things better and recall them
Wish you all the very best