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A Beginner's Guide for UPSC Mains Exam

Tuesday January 9, 2018 5:22 PM, Anish Passi,

UPSC Mains

Civil Services offers one of the best career opportunities to the youth of the country to work for the socio-economic development of the nation. A job in civil service allows to take the important decisions concerning the life and well being of millions of the people of the country. There is no other job with such great responsibility, and so the exam has to test the level of motivation and dedication of the candidates towards the job.

The pattern of the exam is designed to test the above qualities of candidates.The exam consists of three steps- Prelims exam which is for screening of the candidates, Mains exam which is subjective in nature and Personality Interview.

In this article, we will cover the strategy from novice to master for UPSC Mains exam. If you follow even 90% of what is written in this article with 90% efficiency, then you will have easily sailed through the UPSC Civil Service Exam.

Common Strategy for UPSC Mains Exam

The mains examination consists of nine papers of conventional (essay) type questions. Normally a candidate has to write 20-25 questions in the exam of 250 to 200 words. This means that a candidate has to write almost eight answers in one hour or approximately 7-8 minutes per answer. So, unless your writing speed is fast, the chances of completing the paper is very less. So, please revise again and again and practice answer writing in a time-bound manner to make sure that you can finish the question paper with good answers in the prescribed time limit.

UPSC Mains Exam Paperwise Strategy

Paper A: An Indian language chosen by the candidate from the eighth schedule of the Constitution.

Paper B: English, The marks scored in Papers A and B will not count for ranking. You should score at least 25 percent marks in each of these papers to be qualified for the Personality Interview.

Strategy: Since Paper A and B are qualifying in nature, practising a few mock tests is more than sufficient for these papers.

You should devote the majority of your time for other subjects whose marks will be used for calculating the final merit list.

The core of the civil services examination lies in the remaining seven papers, each with 250 marks. The total marks scored in these seven papers and the marks in the interview (personality test of 275 marks) put together to decide the rank in the test. The remaining seven papers are:

Paper – I: Essay

In this paper two essays each of 125 marks are asked. A candidate has to write the essay in 1000-1200 words as mentioned in the question paper. Usually, UPSC gives candidates option to select the essay of their choice from a pool of 2-4 topics.

Strategy: Please take your time to select the topic on which you have relevant information and can write it up to the prescribed word limit.

Next step after selecting the topic, you should write summary points in the last pages of the answer sheet. The whole purpose of this activity is, it will act as a blueprint while you are writing the essay and hence you won’t miss any important point.

Follow the standard essay writing pattern

  • Introduction
  • Thesis statement [the main argument of your essay]
  • Mini-thesis statements to support the main argument
  • Antithesis, if needed
  • Conclusion

You should write at least 40-50 essays in the prescribed format and get it evaluated by experts. Reading of the editorials in The Hindu newspaper will help the candidate greatly. Yojana magazine articles and Rajya Sabha TV debates also help greatly in essay writing.

An important note for GS 1 to GS 4 papers- The questions are likely to test the candidate’s basic understanding of all relevant issues, and ability to analyze, and take a view on conflicting socio-economic goals, objectives and demands. The candidates must give relevant, meaningful and succinct answers.

Paper – II: General Studies I (Indian heritage and culture, history and geography of the world and society)

Strategy: GS 1 is one of the most scoring papers in the written examination. It also has the most static portion of all the four GS papers – once you read the standard books and understand the content, answering questions from this paper becomes easier. So, the key to master this paper is thoroughly covering the syllabus mentioned by the UPSC from the standard book. Once you have read and re-read the topics mentioned in the syllabus do extensive answer writing practice.

Paper – III: General Studies – II (Governance, Constitution, polity, social justice and international relations)

Strategy: For GS 2 static part, Laxmikant is a very good book. Keep yourself updated on current affairs by reading The Hindu and Yojana magazine. You can also selectively read ARC report or Punchii Commision report. Apart from that, it is only time bound writing practice that will come to your rescue.

Paper – IV: General Studies III (Technology, economic development, biodiversity, environment, security and disaster management)

Strategy: The preparation of GS III paper is to be done with prelims preparation. The syllabus of this paper is very vast. Look into the past year question paper to analyse and get an idea what kind of questions are asked by UPSC. Stick to the standard books and sources. For economic development NCERT and Ramesh Singh will help, the articles of Yojana and The Hindu are great for recent developments in technology, biodiversity and environment.

Paper – V: General Studies IV (Ethics, integrity and aptitude)

Strategy: GS IV is a different paper altogether from other papers. First of all, you should scan the syllabus and previous year’s question papers to get an insight on what kind of questions are asked?

Try to understand the meaning of each and every term mentioned in the syllabus and try to correlate it with you. For example, emotional intelligence. Understand its meaning and then try to remember an incident in your life where you showed emotional intelligence or didn’t show it.

You can refer a few standard books such as Ethics by G. Subbarao or Lexicon. Remember that you need not learn all the complex jargons and philosophies for ethics paper, you need to have the understanding in your own simple words which you can relate to day to day life. Further half of the paper consists of Case Studies. So, practice case studies accordingly.

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