It has been widely felt among the students as usual that in Prelims 2017, UPSC again showed that it has the power to spring a surprise catching both students and market coaches unawares. This is also a move towards democratisation of this exam as it seeks to undermine the hegemony of coaching institutes. No more will compilations of current affairs and run of the mill carpet bomb test studies work as quick fix solutions. Knowledge scores over pure examination tactics like guess estimation.
Generalisations that can be drawn out of PT 2017 Preliminary examination
- A high percentage of Polity questions, linked to constitution as well as current affairs were focal point of this year’s exam. This was in turn a surprise for newbies as well as veterans of this exam as this portion was in loop line for previous many years. The questions were of very conceptual nature and demanded understanding of the subject rather than rote learning.
- History, Geography, Environment and Science & Tech have maintained their importance in terms of number of questions asked (nearly 10 questions each)
- Current affairs have turned out to be factual in place of related study. This is in contrast to Polity section. The questions also required careful scrutiny to catch illogical figures mentioned to throw students off track.
- Paper required focused reading, interpretation and rational guessing
- A sectional dissection of paper also brings us various trends that are visible in last few years:
- Government schemes have to be studied (Sometimes in detail, Unnat Bharat Abhiyan was asked about this year and all options seemed to be correct). That obviously can’t be done,. A candidate can only evince interest in how India is progressing. His eyes should lit up
- Also, the fact that schemes from previous years don’t become irrelevant with time.
Generalisations that can be drawn
- The questions asked have been very analytical.
- In most questions, two options were kept very close. So elimination wouldn't have worked as a viable tikdam.
- Compositionally Polity dominated the paper. That too basic conceptual questions from it. This doesn’t mean that next year too lot of questions are going to be asked from Polity
- Current Affairs unlike last year, was from areas, which the so called coaching classes couldn't predict or include in their materials. It by and large avoided forming questions from some portals which framed questions more conventionally. The limitation of coaching classes in framing cosmetic questions was well taken care of as it framed questions from backgrounds and dimensions as well.
- Modern History was not exactly from the Main freedom struggle as such. Questions were instead asked about Committees, Acts, Labour laws, Organizations during the times of British.
- General awareness was also tested in certain questions such as the one about lipstick containing lead and soft drinking having brominated vegetable oils.
- From culture, certain things could have been attempted based on NCERTs. However, some questions especially the one about festivals, or the one about Kakatiya ports would have been difficult because they came from less obvious areas. For instance, ancient ports were in news because of Muziris Heritage Port. And so were the Kakatiya dynasty as Telangana had started a scheme named on them. But they decided to combine both elements which one couldn't have seen coming. For example, if there had been centenary celebrations on Champaran this time, then anything and everything associated with Chaparan would be asked. For example, the derivation of the name, the type of trees, economics of Indigo, none of them in the present perspective all of them with a background
- In Geography, questions were based mostly, on observation of map
- In environment, organisations are important especially now there is more focus on bodies in which private sector/ Civil society involvement is there such as Clean Air Coalition. M-stripes was asked, which was in news a 4-5 years back. Hence the static aspects will have to be covered as well in environment.
- Certain things however are more easy to predict especially, the questions asked from the world organisation report. There has been one question each year. Usually this report will be easy to confuse. This year Global Gender Gap Report was asked. Though its by WEF, one might get confused unless one has seen the list 3-4 times.
Preparation now therefore will have to cover both aspects. Conceptual as well as factual as more and more questions are being asked which will test the candidates ability to answer out of box.
As far as knowledge attitude is concerned, one cannot merely rely on compilations and regular material. One must process it thoroughly.
Who could have answered these questions?
- This year Prelims tests one’s ability to enjoy the subject, only then can the diversity and range can be tackled rather than having any cosmetic approach to preparation.
- For example, anyone who would read and try to understand most of the topics, who can be a traveller and has the ability to enjoy the maps, imagine any philosophy as if to deliver a lecture on it and its roots were in a better position.
- In environment, organisations are important especially since now there is more focus on bodies in which private sector/ Civil society involvement is there such as Clean Air Coalition. The uniqueness in this case was private sector -public initiative for the first time some students did observe that.
- A good number of questions are knowledge intensive, insight stirring, based on observation. It suited students having high awareness level from surroundings and are by nature curious.
New Approach required?
It tests the candidates ability not how much does he/she knows rather the manner in which the candidates—'Cosmetic or non cosmetic' he knows.
But to solve this year’s paper, the approaches required will be
- Knowledge based preparation.
- This requires self questioning oneself related to many types of questions.
- One is Why-
- The other is how come it be?
- The third is what are the peripheral relations of the topic.
- The biggest base question can be-How much curious one can be? Where the curiosity applies? How the curiosity applies. Curiosity is everything now. And training to be curios is a trait to be followed."
New Abilities and Skills
With respect to the Prelims there are several notions one must build and some they must modify as well.
- What will not change, There are certain things that will always be asked irrespective of any changes.
- What will be needed is a change in thinking, and many of the attitudes.
- There are certain things that will require a close observation,
- The ability to gather knowledge from surrounding, and how
- How to develop awareness, curiosity, and enjoy that as well.
Just think of it—
- One will be drive car well only when they are interested in driving.
- One can cook well only when they enjoy cooking.
- One cannot travel far off places unless they enjoy travelling.
- One cannot develop insights into film unless they enjoy watching films.
- One cannot play cricket because they want to be popular, or earn money they have to enjoy playing cricket.
· Being a student must be a character trait rather than a façade. Consequently one requires training into being a students rather than forming a façade. There are many Characteristics of students. These are associated with.
o Learning attitude.
o Non judgemental attiude.
o Advanced ability to probe into phenomena.
o Ego less personality but full of self esteem
o Being flexible to receive and process any information.
o Be leader in the sense that is devoid of any herd mentality.
o And a thinking that is solution oriented.
o Preparing for the examination must be an interesting journey rather than a desire to obtain power and prestige or even to earn money. Thus some are natural students while others have to acquire the characteristics of students.
STRATEGY FOR 2018 AND AHEAD
Any strategy that is devised, must bear the traits that the UPSC is looking for in a candidate. UPSC is actually looking for students who can be trained in the Academy, who are trainable towards any solution oriented management. Thus UPSC is looking more for students rather than consumers or traders. UPSC is not looking for students (candidates) with give and take attitude. This attitude reflects itself in the examination in the tests in the way the candidates pick up choices and the mistakes that they make. The student’s attitude is to have some cosmetic changes in themselves to somehow quality for exam. UPSC is seeking students who learn because they have the attitude to learn and those who enjoy learning and have every trait of being a learner. A learner always feels more involved in learning rather than feel the burden to learn and study.
At present the students in order to attain these cosmetic changes undergo four stage preparations
They study NCERT in coaching institutes after already have studied these books insincerely in schools.
Then they prepare Mains Examination with test series and practice writing and practicing everything that may not be correct. And by practicing perfect their incorrecttedness.
Then they follow a cosmetic preparation by studying everyone's notes.
Then they practice test series to be perfect in Current affairs.
Despite the so called unpredictable nature of the paper, (as per the students) or curiosity-based questions as per the mentors, solving a paper through Test Series certainly helps as it helps in developing the examination frame of mind as well in time management. It helps one develop pattern recognition ability, which helps one in answering questions that one may have little idea about.
Now what the aspirants need to do for 2018?
Aspirants need to develop an approach to studies that is interrelationship based, has involvement with the understanding and gives interest & curiosity. Most important is ability to sustain this momentum of studies and retain important concepts.
What should be the way of studies for 2018?
You cannot visit each and every government website, international organization’s website in order to know about their scope of work. Instead change your curiosity pattern, hold the rod from a different angle, which allows you to see the progress of the country through these schemes. Anyone getting involved in the economy of India must know these schemes, not memorise them. Try and find some tools that ease your preparation. An excel sheet containing all these at one place would come in handy both at initial preparation as well as final revision level.
Same goes for government schemes and other such topics too. (This does not mean blindly running behind compilations of various coachings)
Try to link your current affairs preparation with its background. Limiting yourself to just that part of news will provide no gains as seen from 2016 and 2017 papers.
A test series is necessary in order to keep track of your preparation and regular setbacks in form of low scores that motivate you to push your own limits and study further. (Not necessarily that of famed institutes as they also failed miserably this time). A test series going from basic to advanced level is recommended.
Don’t forget basics, stick to them and try and relate them to current affairs.
While the shower of tips can be kept on for an unlimited time and words, the only thing to remember is that you have to be multitasking and keep your horizons wide enough to accommodate all knowledge that comes your way in this battle ground of UPSC where you are a lone warrior despite lakhs of soldiers fighting same battle.