Monday, 25 June 2018

Preparing for the UPSC Civil Services Examination - Prelims by Satyakam Dutta - Part 4

In this final part of the UPSC Preliminary examination series, we shall discuss 1) General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change and 2) General Science and also the CSAT PAPER 2 of the Preliminary examination.
UPSC in the recent past has put a lot of emphasis on topics related to Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change. A lot of questions in the prelims as well as in the mains have been asked from these topics. Hence, a good understanding of these topics is very essential to clear the Prelims as well as the Mains examination. In the initial few years, when UPSC introduced these topics, candidates were at a loss as to what has to be studied and how. But over these years, a lot of study material has been created and also a good view is formed about what UPSC seeks in candidates in terms of Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change.

The most important material in this regard is The Hindu where in every week they publish Environment related news and articles under the page called “Environment” ( The Agriculture page also deserves good reading.  ( One can read them from the website of The Hindu. Materials from National Institute of Open Schooling are also widely followed for these topics. However, for me, what also worked was the magazine called “Down to Earth”. It is undoubtedly the best magazine in the Environment and Ecology sector. Not only for UPSC preparation, but also otherwise this magazine is required to be read, so that one becomes more sensible towards environmental issues. can also be followed for this topic.

For the General Science part, anything under the sun may come in the examination. However, on close inspection we find that along with the very basic scientific intricacies, news about science making headlines in the recent past, often find themselves in the question papers. Various awards in the scientific domain, like the Nobel awards etc, used to be the favourites among question setters of UPSC but now other awards, discoveries and inventions are also followed and picked up for the questions. As a reading material, the science portion of The Hindu can be religiously followed ( along with

Here we come to the end of the PAPER 1 of the UPSC Civil Services Preliminary Examination. One thing one has to note is that the syllabus for the Prelims is vast and one needs to understand that the preparation for Mains and Prelims has to go together and the focus on Prelims should be more in the last 2 months of preparation before the examination. If one thinks that he will study for Prelims and only after clearing the Prelims, would start the preparation for Mains, then it is very likely that he will fail in the Mains. One hardly gets 2 months after the results of the Prelims to prepare for the Mains. Hence, the preparation for Mains has to start early and one should understand that the preparation for Prelims as well as Mains can happen together.
Coming to the PAPER 2 of the UPSC Civil Services Preliminary Examination, it is only a qualifying paper i.e. one needs to just get a minimum mark to qualify and the selection in Prelims will happen based on the marks obtained in the PAPER 1 only. The qualification criteria is 33%. If one has a good grasp of basic English, Numerical Ability and Logical Reasoning, one can easily sail through this paper. 

The topics in PAPER 2 are:

  • Comprehension
  • Interpersonal skills including communication skills;
  • Logical reasoning and analytical ability
  • Decision-making and problem solving
  • General mental ability

·         Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude, etc.) (Class X level), Data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. - Class X level)

If one is not very comfortable with Numerical Ability and Logical Reasoning, one can study these two books for practice: A Modern Approach To Verbal & Non-Verbal Reasoning by R. S. Aggarwal and Analytical Reasoning by M. K. Pandey. However, as I said earlier, if one has a good grasp of Maths of high school standard, one can easily do the Numerical Ability part of the PAPER 2 of Prelims.

A good answer in Quora sums up the preparation required for the PAPER 2:

“The following deserve your attention.
·         Solving comprehension questions every day is critical. Equally important is analyzing your answers. By this time, we consider you have enhance your comprehension skills by solving sample papers and reading a lot from various sources.
·         For Quantitative Aptitude, Data Interpretation and Basic Numeracy, your basics should be 100% clear. Solve questions and analyze them to rectify your weakness. But don’t waste too much time in dealing with questions on a particular topic
·         Logical Reasoning and Analytical Ability does requires a lot of practice. By now you must have learnt the short cuts to solve reasoning and analytical questions. As the exam is approaching, you can solve more of mock or sample papers within a set time. Also analyzing your answers is important to correct before the exam.”

Hence, I would suggest that anyone preparing to appear in the Prelims, should practice an hour a day for the PAPER 2, even though it is a qualifying paper. For people a bit comfortable with PAPER 2 topics, they should at least prepare 5 hours a week, because the more you practice the more it becomes easier to clear the PAPER 2.

The cutoffs for Prelims PAPER 1 in 2015 were: General - 107.34, OBC - 106.00, SC - 94.00 and ST - 91.34 out of a maximum of 200 marks. For Prelims PAPER 2 it was 33% as discussed earlier.
One should try to practice mock papers or practice papers at least one in a week under controlled environment i.e. creating the exam environment for oneself, for a period of 3-4 months prior to the Prelims. Mock Test series from any of the good coaching institute in Delhi like Vajiram and Ravi, Sriram IAS, Vision IAS, ALS etc can be taken. Many offer such Mock Tests online. The Test papers are either emailed or uploaded on the website of the coaching institute which can be then printed and attempted for 3 hours. Both for Paper 1 and Paper 2, the mocks should be tried. If such Mock Papers are attempted every week, one can gauge one’s improvement in preparation levels and the deficiency areas which can then be improved upon. Attempting mocks is very important. One need not go to Delhi for appearing in the Mocks. One can attempt them from the comfort of one’s home. However, sometimes one should sit in a classroom or library and try to attempt the Mocks for 3 hours. One should also attempt at least 5 years of old question papers. Doing that would acquaint one with the level of difficulty of the actual questions asked in the Prelims.

Talking to people or listening to people who have already cleared the examination helps a lot during preparation. Many videos are available in YouTube wherein the toppers have shared their strategies for clearing the examination. I would like to ask the serious candidates to listen to them and follow the relevant guidance. There are also many like me who would like to reach out to the aspirants and help them with their strategies. I want to assert that seniors who have cleared the UPSC examination earlier also have been very helpful to me, specially Shri Biswajit Pegu, IAS (also a school senior from Dhemaji) and Shri Narayan Konwar, IAS, who guided me upto the Interview stages. One the day of my Interview Biswajit da pepped me up over a call and boosted my confidence. Aspirant should not fear approaching the seniors, as rarely I have found someone who did not respond to my queries when I was preparing.

Other articles in the series on Prelims:


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