With IAS Prelims-2016 examination being barely three months away, the die is cast literally now for the final round of preparations. To an average aspirant of civil services, there is a tendency to think of the prelims and mains exam in separate terms which they are not. Under this fallacious impression, most of the candidates are found either preparing for the main exam. or the prelims exam. at one given point of time. This perception of the exam in watertight, separate compartments is wrong . There exists an organic link between the two sets of the exam. and separate preparation is neither possible nor desirable. A combined approach is the most efficient way to do it. Given the composite nature of the test designed under the UPSC syllabus, one is bound to look at the complete picture rather than looking at it in a fragmented way . The basic point to remember here is that this exam attempts to test a well rounded knowledge of a candidate which can be possessed by an integrated pattern of thinking and preparation.
What I am suggesting by all this is to go for a holistic preparation for the civil services exam.
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There will be broadly two sets of candidates pursuing the prelims exam. at this stage. First, those who are planning to appear this year and second, those who wish to appear next year with one whole year of advance preparation. But, my advice will be for both types of candidates to look at the exam as an integral whole. This makes for better preparation and saves time and repetition.
Starting with candidates taking this year’s exam. i. e. prelims- 2016, my advice will be to demarcate the fine line between the static and dynamic preparations. By static preparation I mean those portions of the Genral Studies syllabus which remain the same over the years. This part mostly consists of: Geography, History, Polity and Economy and General Science. In these parts ,there are static parts as well as dynamic parts. By dynamic parts, I mean the evolving current issues relating to these subjects. Let me give an example. If you are preparing on Indian Constitution, you should thoroughly read all the Constitutional provisions article wise. At the same time, you should pick up the dynamic aspects of these provisions simultaneously so that you can better relate the current constitutional issues in the context of the original provisions contained in the Constitution. For example, if you are covering Supreme Court for prelims exam., you should also cover the controversial issue regarding setting up the NCA i.e, National Courts of Appeal as an intermediate court for appeals to reduce the number of appeal cases in the Supreme Court. Similarly, if you are reading about the post of Governor under the constitution, you must also
read simultaneously about the controversies regarding the role of the Governors/Speakers in situations of constitutional crisis. This way, you will be able to prepare for both the prelims and the mains in one go and understand the topic holistically which is a prime requirement of the civil services exam.
Let us take another example. Suppose you are covering the Paris Climate talks 2015 which is very important for this year’s prelims exam., the best way to cover it will be through an integrated approach as I have suggested here. For prelims , they may ask the various agreements reached at the Paris talks like INDC, India’s commitments to reduce the carbon footprint in coming decade etc. But Paris talks will also be an important issue for this year’s main exam. Therefore, it would be wise if you prepare the aspects of Paris talks from mains’ perspective also. There are many aspects of this climate conference which may be asked in the main exam. say for example, the concept of CBDR, climate justice, principle of equity, the polluter pays principle, mitigation, adaptation etc . A smart preparation would include all these aspects rather than looking at Paris talks from a factual angle, which most candidates are apt to do.
I have cited only two examples. There can be numerous such examples where prelims and mains preparations converge and one needs to recognize this convergence and factor this in ones’ preparations. I am addressing this issue particularly to those candidates who are going to write the civil services exam for the first time. This technique is a time tested one suggested to hundreds of IAS aspirants which has worked wonders towards an efficient and effective preparation leading to success in civil services .
The best way to combine both prelims and mains exam is to go for a twin approach i.e. either going from static to dynamic aspects or vice versa as required at the time of your study. Let me explain this. Suppose you are reading Indian Constitution and you have read the topic on Parliament, its role, the respective powers of Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha from a text book on constitution, you should look for some dynamic aspects relating to this topic. For example, in recent past, role of Rajya Sabha has been criticized for obstructing various bills. So you should look for articles on this issue from standard newspapers regarding the controversy around the role of Rajya Sabha in our federal polity and conceptualize the issues involved. This way, you are moving from the static to the dynamic aspect of the same issue . This is the first way to combine the preparations. Conversely, You may read a current topic on India’s foreign relations in a newspaper, say for example, the Madheshi problem as an irritant in India- Nepal relations. Although you have just read about one aspect of Indo- Nepal relations by touching upon the Madheshi issue, you should be smart enough to go back to other outstanding issues between India and Nepal at the same time. For example, we also have issues relating to India- Nepal treaty, 1950, the water sharing of Himalayan rivers etc with Nepal. While covering the Madhesi issue, you must go back to other issues in this bilateral relationship as mentioned here, which are of a more permanent nature. This way, you are going from the dynamic to the static way of reading. So combine this kind of reading for a complete grasp over a particular issue and it will help you to answer both at the prelims as well as the mains exam.
Remember, UPSC is changing the civil services exam from the traditional mode to an understanding based exam. For the last many years, the exam was mostly based on information and rote learning under which candidates were fed with facts and data by the coaching shops without a very good general understanding. Having realized this fact, UPSC is constantly changing the pattern of the exam. which is quite obvious from last two years’ question papers of both prelims and mains exam. The lesson to learn from this is that mere facts and figures will not work to your advantage in the new pattern of the exam. You have to take interest in each issue and apply your own mind to develop a fundamental, basic understanding which will help you to answer prelims and mains questions.
If you are following the stale method of preparing you will hardly get any relevant questions. The study materials available in the market is often of no use for the present purpose. They have little value beyond a psychological satisfaction of reading the so called good material or attending the so called reputed institutes. The fact of the matter is that the present format of the civil services examination is self- driven. Most of the basic issues can be done by self preparation rather than wasting time on available coaching material and attending repetitive, routine coaching. But the role of a good mentor, who is widely exposed in academics has risen under the new pattern of examination. Only a highly qualified mentor ( difficult to find ) can provide you a very large canvass of preparations. At the moment, same books which were being read in last 10 years are being recommended. There is no awareness among the students and the coaching teachers that there is a need to shift the list of books now. UPSC is not asking many questions from the few books available among the students. They are going beyond this narrow range of books and setting questions from sources largely unknown to the candidates. To cite an example, in 2015 mains exam. a question on art and culture was asked about India’s ability to continue its old civilization till date where as other countries like Egypt, Greece etc. almost lost their link with the past. For this question ,the popular books available in the market had no clue at all. This question was set from A. L. Basham’s book on: The Wonder That Was India (page no. 4). Similarly, a question was asked few years back comparing Nehru with Curzon. The books circulating in the market and the study materials available had no answer to this question. For this, the answer was in Durga Das’s book: ‘India from Curzon to Nehru and After’. Therefore, I suggest cultivating the habit of lateral reading.
What I am implying to suggest by these first hand examples is that you can not be a frog in the well anymore. You have to move beyond the existing standards of coaching and materials and rise above mediocrity perpetuated by old system of learning. I have personally experienced that most of the students who have converged around coaching shops and blindly depended on what they teach and what they sell, have failed repeatedly in the exam. On the other hand, I have seen many students, who have never been to a coaching institute and never bought the stale material available, including the online materials, have passed not only prelims but also the mains exam in the first attempt. They did it because they had access to new material, new mentoring etc. I am narrating all this to drive home the point that you have to be smarter than the market in terms of knowing new, fresh sources of studies from where bulk of questions are being asked.
Finally, the clue to success for both the prelims as well as the mains exam. lies in the current affairs. The nature of questions is turning out to be very general and if you follow the news and events with keen interest, you will be able to answer many questions smoothly. Again, a caution regarding reading newspapers. One particular news paper has become so popular among the Candidates that all of them follow this particular newspaper religiously ignoring other newspapers. It’s a big blunder. One should read at least 3- 4 newspapers to get the widest possible coverage for prelims and mains questions. One should also read online papers. They carry very useful articles on current issues. For example, I found a very good article on controversies related to Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in an online paper.
To sum up, my advice is, don’t follow blindly what the traditional teaching market would suggest, be your own guide, choose a competent mentor, diversify the sources of studies and go for a combined prelims and mains preparation.
( S. B. Singh is a former Professor, Delhi Univ. and IGNOU. Views expressed are personal. He can be reached at his email: sb_singh2003 @yahoo.com)