A Strategy

Candidates of Civil Services Examination have to go through ONE optional subject and Four General Studies papers, all having equal weightage of marks. But then too, candidates have commonly expressed unsatisfactory tone over preparation and results in General Studies papers, even toppers. Even sometimes, toppers cannot score up to their expectations in General Studies. Many reasons can be and are given for this generally accepted problem :

Uncertain Syllabus of the General Studies papers is one of the reason ‘Why a strong grasp on and full command cannot be acquired over it.’ No candidate or even classes of high repute can draw a boundary for General Studies, not even a loose boundary can be uttered confidently.

So, to understand these two papers properly and acquire good command, at least, to be relieved of the tension, we must have a perfect strategy to prepare G.S. very methodically. For that let’s go through some quite inevitable aspects that we must know and tackle.

Nature of General Studies

As declared earlier, it is quite uncertain and widely unspecified subject matter. Yet UPSC declares it to be acknowledged by every good educated person without having studied the topics specifically. But going through the papers and questions, it comes in mind that even after studying especially in a branch, one cannot answer perfectly some questions. Thus, it is a really deep understanding of general topics that are required. For example, Government’s policies, bilateral agreements, science and technology, economical issues etc.

Wide Coverage

The Syllabus is undefined. Papers cover a wide area of knowledge and information. It is not only topics from current or national and international issues that are widely scattered, but also in science and technology, economy and geographical spheres, questions cross the limits of tradition. So, a candidate has to be in touch of each and every topic happening around us, having their impact on society, nature or the world.

Deep Understanding

It is not just learning a topic and memorizing some facts that pay but a candidate is required to command a deep understanding of the incident or phenomena. He should be capable of presenting his views about its impacts.

Active Involvement

A candidate must develop a habit of actively taking interest in important incidents and should read newspapers and magazines for current related topics. He should also be able to think over definitions and explanations of conventional studies, cultivating the habit of ‘reading between the lines’.

Command over every topic :

In General Studies, a candidate cannot opt for any topic as an alternative for another one. A candidate must develop a stronghold and command over every topic of papers i.e. science and technology, statistics, economics, political issues, social issues, geography, current affairs, sports, international relations, institutions, organizations and so on.

Not only books :

Only books reading, though many, cannot give a good result. So for the General Studies is concerned, a candidate has to go through newspapers, magazines, and sometimes active discussions or debates also, for at least, overview based topics.


Yes, it is perfectly uncertain, unspecified and therefore unlimited in nature. Its sphere never ends with a boundary. It is like a horizon which shifts for and far as much we approach towards it. So it is also advised to every candidate to be selective in reading and a proper time table must be maintained strictly to follow the schedule. He must decide what he is required to read by suggestions of experienced faculties or at least seniors, friends, or some magazines.

Selective and Intensive

The study of General Studies Mains requires a perfect approach that is selective and intensive. It is quite different from the Preliminary exam. And so some topics, as I mentioned earlier, should be selected for intensive and deep study.

A list of books on every topic, required to be studied, can be prepared and then a time for each of them should be devoted. One can decide the number and types of books and extent of time that one can a lot to each according to the weight of the topic and one’s command over it. For instance, a candidate with Political Science as first or second optional would hardly require to a lot much time for the portion of Indian Polity in General Studies. So, this factor varies from candidate to candidate and from stage to stage of preparation.

Moreover, a candidate can decide by the nature of a topic that how much weight can be given to a topic by considering its importance. We can consider the following points while choosing the self-decided syllabus for General Studies :

Previous Years’ Papers can be thoroughly studied to understand what topics are frequently emphasized, especially traditional topics like history, polity, economy, geography, statistics etc.

Current news can guide you to select portions of importance. For example, the topic of bilateral relations can be asked if any agreement or visit of higher authority has taken place during the recent period.

Newly declared policies and its importance should be prepared as it can be expected in papers.

Any International Conference, organization or summit in the news should be prepared thoroughly.

These are only a few criteria for selection of topics of importance from amongst the unlimited reservoir of issues and incidents.

One more important suggestion, on this topic of selective and intensive study, is that preparation should be based on understanding and information apart from getting knowledge but never should be just a bulk of data, figures, and numbers.

Answer Writing

Its a quite necessary skill for mains examination. No word should be missed and no extra word can be spaced between. Besides the shortage of time, words limit is a crucial factor of these papers.

Proper word at proper place’ is applied in this exam. If a candidate, reading a lot and knowing a lot, cannot score well, What is the justification? No justification, just one fault appears on the surface that is lack of answer writing skill. It can be developed. It can be commanded over impressively.

What a candidate knows is expressed by words he writes in his answers. He cannot enjoy a smooth flow of ink nor can create bumpers in the logical flow of answer. He has to maintain the flow of language on the road. He is directed by the question and that too without bumps, covering the whole distance. He is, in simple words, required to maintain the quality of his answers with the following characteristics:

The simplicity of language.

A logical flow of language. • Maintaining word limit.

Clarity of thoughts. • Information and data.

Proper structure of answers. • Precise and brief writing.

Appropriate diagrams, graphs or figures can be drawn.

A candidate cannot just fill up pages without having any relevance to the answer. A story, for instance, explains it. Once there was a person, not much intelligent, rather known as even lacking common-sense as a matter of fact. It was natural from him, not to expect anything that requires intelligent, expertise or skillful knowledge. Yet, being on a high post of reputation, he used to believe and boost of being a scholar, an expert.

And in this illusion, he, among the surprise of all, published a book, “Shivaji—Life and story of a Maratha leader”. It was not inspired by interest and curiosity of the story but by curiosity to know what and how he can write, people purchased the book.

Of course, the book was made quite bulky, as if it had to be proved as the level of his intelligence. When the readers were to go through the pages, they found the story something like this :– There was a Maratha leader. His name was Shivaji Maharaj…… He used to ride his horse tik-tak and fight battles with sword sweeping Syuen-shyuen, tik-tak, syuen-syuen (voice of sword, cutting air) and every morning this Maratha leader ride his horse and fight battles, tik-tak, tik-tak, syuen, syuen tik-tak syuen ….. tik-tak syuen…….

(Many pages were just filled up with these two words). Then he concluded the story :

And this Maratha leader was really great.”

How would a reader feel when reading this story of Shivaji with barely three to four sentences or paras but filled all pages with two words only. tik-tak, tik-tak and syuen shyuen ! Same boredom might be felt by the examiner when a candidate has just filled up pages and completed words.

Moral of this story for us is that we cannot end up with such surprising answers.

A candidate must remember one more thing that he cannot fix in the answer whatever he knows and has learned. He has to strictly examine the relevance of the information he possesses. Only if it is relevant, he can write it in the question. Not only to make it an impression that he knows something extra about the topic – he can be allowed to write whatever he has gained so far.

One more story will explain this bad habit that many candidates have in them.

A student of primary school makes his mind to participate in an essay competition to be held in the near future in his school. He determined his efforts and started to find out a topic which can give him more points or grades. He at last, according to his level, found out and decided to draft a model essay on “A Pig” and he prepared it.

He read it over and over till he could do it by heart! And not yet satisfied with his efforts and his intense desire to win a medal, he also practiced to write it, many times. When the day of destiny came, at last, he entered the competition hall and prepared his arms and ammunition.

The examiner declared topics of essay which did not contain topic “A Pig” that the boy had prepared. He was nervous. He would see his dreams breaking and scattering. But after some time he again collected all his courage. As we are, he was advised so many times by his teachers and parents that even though you don’t know anything about the question, you should not be left it blank. You should try to think over it and search for any knowledge that you might gather from inside and then you should write about it. So, was the case with this “Our dear boy”, he again had a glance at the topics and after thinking over them, of course, because he was advised, he thought that he knew something about cricket and finally decided to write about cricket. He started in this way :

Cricket is a game. It is played with a bat and a ball and some sticks and many players. Once there was a cricket match. A player threw a ball and another player hit it with a bat. The ball went high in the sky and went away from over the wall. The ball fell on the road outside. It tumbled and crossed the road. It fell in the mud. In that mud, there was a pig…….. and not surprisingly, then he wrote the whole essay about a pig which he had prepared.!!

How strange, in an essay about cricket, he could manage to fill up pages, intelligently making his way, with the essay of a Pig.

Sometimes, candidates also, like this boy, direct his answer to accommodate what he knows and then fills up pages with that knowledge only. But it is as foolish act as this boy had done.

I hope, no need to suggest now in clear words that a candidate must not and never unnecessarily try to write whatever he knows unless asked and to pull the answer in the direction, which he has knowledge in.

Time Management

Time Management is required at two stages :

(i) During Preparation

(ii) In the Examination Hall.

(i) During Preparation: While preparing for the mains, especially after result of Preliminary, candidate rests with a little time, hardly three months at hand. In this short span of time, he requires to thoroughly prepare the optional subject and General Studies. Apart from these Six papers, a candidate has to prepare for Essay and two language papers, though not much emphasized by candidates.

In addition to all these, the must require preparation of acquiring writing skill and practice is also there.

Among these needs, one has to manage time for each optional, essay and the G.S.

Some tips can be given on these points :

Divide total time for all these six papers, sparing an evening a week for the essay.

For each paper, you can again divide the time allocated to it, even for topics separately.

Confirm a little flexibility in your time division.

Ensure that you give enough weight to every topic, providing more time and concern for the important one.

Be confirm that you allocate time for each, based upon two strategies.

(i) your command, knowledge, and background.

(ii) previous years’ questions and marks weightage.

Do not indulge, in any topic for expert knowledge and just be sure that you are gaining enough knowledge required for General Studies. Even your personal interest should not lead you to this mistake.

(ii) Time Management in Exam. Hall:

Do not read the whole paper in starting, because all questions are compulsory in General Studies.

Among questions with options, go through each (a), (b), (c) ….., where option is available.

Think which question you can attempt well.

After deciding the question to be attempted, jolt down relevant points according to the nature of the question. Then start to write answers. No extra words or comments, only straight forward answer on the proper direction will surely shorten your time,

The condition is that before starting to write an answer one must have points and structure of the answers in one’s mind.

Do not waste time in noticing the behaviour and impression of others about the papers though this is not to say to a candidate of Civil Services, yet it is necessary.

Properly managed preparation can give you sweet fruits even in General Studies and allowing you enough time for your optional also.

Just remember one thing, no one can be perfect in general studies, learn to be satisfied with your preparation, yes, the improvement must always be yearned for.

Note Making

Many toppers advise to prepare notes and many to follow the strategy of underlining important parts. Some combine both. What is the best way for main preparation of General Studies? Should a candidate spare time for notes make?

The answer is again amalgamation of both were to use notes and where underline is an important question. You can follow the stages given below.

Stage 1: To be precise, you can underline your references with a pencil and different colors of pens and highlighters.

Stage 2: You can underline with a pencil, that portion of a book or magazine which you generally find important, as a whole.

Stage 3: Now you can, from among these portions underline that sentences which can provide your central idea of the topic with one color pen, may it be blue.

Stage 4: Then again, if you find some words and phrases, numbers, figures and data of vital importance, underline that part with another color of pen, as more important for revision and memorizing. May it be black or green.

Stage 5: Then at last and inevitable task, you can round up or underline or box-up only a few words for the portion which can be used as the stimulation to your grasp of that topic. For example, in History of Modern India, while learning the topic of “Gandhi in Indian National Movement”. You can just, for a few, use this last technique and remark words like, ‘Champaran’, ‘Dandi’, ‘Civil Disobedience’, ‘Non-Cooperation’, ‘Swadeshi’, ‘Round-table’, ‘Satyagraha’, ‘Ahimsa’ and ‘fast’. It is sure that while reading these words only, you can surely recall the whole topic. Am I right?

So, follow these techniques for underlining.

For making notes :

It must be topic and sub-topic wise,

It must include only relevant and most important points in brief language.

Grammar and full sentences are not required to be taken care of.

It must be handy in size and shape.

It must be with clean and legible hand-writing.

It must be attractively drafted and designed.

It should not be with scattered points but with well-arranged topics, indexed based on importance or incidents.

Even in notes, most important words can be rounded up or highlighted, as in books and references.

No preface, conclusion, views, etc. on a topic, but the only relevant explanation in point-based language and data should be there.

Notes should be prepared subject-wise and if possible topic wise.

Head points and titles should be given in notes.

Different color pens and signs can be used to indicate importance, weight, and probability to be asked in papers for different topics.

Once again, notes must not be like a manuscript of original texts, it must be in your own words and if possible, language and style too.

It must be brief, summarily prepared and portable that can be revised even in a single day before the papers.

Understanding Nature of Topics

When involved in the preparation, each topic should be evaluated in contexts of its probability of being asked in the examination, its probable weight, and importance.

How much influence does it create upon the society, politics or nature, is to be taken into account.

Whether the topic has relevant facts and figures which are important from the examination’s point of view.

If the topic is view-based, different types of views, for and against must be acquired with by candidate.

One cannot be biased to one side of it, one must learn to be natural while understanding the topic, only then the candidate can balance answer in the examination hall.

Some topics can bask in the context of its contribution to particular or various fields, some can be for explaining implication and some for discussion. While learning a topic, according to its nature, a candidate must evaluate its purpose and perspectives. It can be directed to discussion, justification, examination, elucidation, arguments and comments, all or any of these possible manners.

In another way, representing and understanding the same aspects, from the angle of marks and words should also be taken into account.

Topics possible to be asked in two marks only, ten or thirty marks, etc., can be decided 0or at least expected by candidates and then preparation can be directed to that track.

Model and Practice

Various question papers, as models and practices, should be gone through for the exam purpose.

The more one practices papers, the more marks are scores; is hitherto noticed fact. We need to be careful while choosing models which are of good standard and level. Solving such papers can boost a candidate’s confidence and can make him aware of some expected topics that can be asked in papers.

It also helps in tackling the problems of time management, exam fear and so on.

Therefore, it is always advisable for every candidate to go through various questions and topics by means of model papers and practice sets.

Reading Material

Having gone through all these aspects of strategy, now a candidate, at last, requires to know and decide what material he can use.

For different topics of General Studies, a candidate has to go through various references, guides, magazines, and newspapers. One must decide carefully what books can be read for what topics. For this, friends, seniors, faculties or toppers (if not personally than through interviews in magazines) can be taken help of.

Classes materials if found reliable can be used. Guides from various publications can also help to understand very easily.

Dictionaries and Atlas are a must

For a proper understanding of every topics, points, and phenomenon, dictionaries and Atlas are must be used. Otherwise, ambiguities of meaning may be created in a candidate’s mind. No boasting of knowledge or vocabulary should come in the way. Neither a candidate should feel boring in using Atlas for Map reading.

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