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Prelims preparation: How to approach General studies paper.

With two more months left in hand for prelims, I felt this is the right time to evaluate the course of our prelims preparation.

Syllabus for General studies prelims is too vast. UPSC tries to filter us with tricky questions. It's too hard to cover the syllabus in the short time. It's difficult to clear the exam without joining some coaching institute. These are the terms you must have heard quite often from your peers.

In order to allay those fears, I've analyzed the past five years' GS question papers with the following factors in mind. Time required for preparation, vastness of syllabus, types of questions asked and relevancy of questions with the syllabus.

These are my conclusions:

3 Golden rules:
1. Stick to the syllabus: You must clearly understand the exam pattern and stick to the syllabus to clear the exam. Many aspirants spend too much time on collecting materials which are irrelevant from the exam point of view. They realize it only when few days are left before the exam, which is useless. Prelims is about testing your knowledge on multiple subjects and general awareness so, UPSC will ask the questions which will test your basic knowledge and how you apply your common sense on contemporary issues with that basic knowledge. So, don't keep on collecting the materials until you get satisfaction because you will never get it. Just choose the right materials which can cover the syllabus and at the same time eases you burden and saves your time. If you want, print the syllabus in a large paper and stick it in your study room.

2. Revise the fundamentals again and again. Read and reread the fundamentals of all subjects until you can answer the question even when it is twisted into multiple forms. Because you can surely get 50 - 60% of the questions directly from fundamentals alone. You don’t require any degree level knowledge in any subject for prelims. Just because few questions look completely unfamiliar to you, it doesn't mean that it requires some deep level of knowledge. It's just because you haven't read that specific topic with the exam point of view or haven't covered that part of syllabus yet. Even insufficient revision may be the major cause for such conclusion. So, read and revise properly before assessing the questions.

3. Understand the cause and effect relationships: As you can see from the analyzed questions, most of the application type questions are framed based on "cause and effect" relationships between contemporary issues and fundamental knowledge of the relevant subject. Such as, cause and effects of inflation on economy; cause and effects of CO2 on environment etc… So, don't waste your time digging too much into the same topics like some PhD scholar. Keep the question pattern in mind and read the topics just enough to answer the questions.

You don’t have to mug up numerical data from survey books or any other manuals. Studying the interpretations from survey data is sufficient. Such as how GDP is varying from the past few years. Whether it is ascending or descending or fluctuating irregularly etc…

You should spend a bit more time on Arts and culture, History and Economic geography, as these subjects require a considerable amount of mugging up of terms, sequence of events, names etc…

Use previous years' question papers only to understand the nature of questions and to learn how to deduce answer for certain type of questions from answer options.

Don't try to revise all the current affairs materials or magazines before the exam. It's impossible. Try to relate the current affairs with the fundamental content to revise easily. For example, if you read a news about discovery of some new plant species, then write it next to the relevant topic in biology such as taxonomy of plants, instead of collecting separate materials for current affairs. When you revise current affairs along with the fundamentals you can easily relate, understand and recall during the exam.

There is no smart work without hard work. You can get smart only by studying harder and harder. So, never waste your time on justifying the quality of your exam materials or preparation strategies. Instead, collect the right materials for the topics and study like a reigned horse to cover as much of the syllabus as possible and revise before the exam. You can definitely clear the prelims.

All the best.