Aspirants should grant importance to the Preliminary Exam (PE) as this is the gateway to the next two stages, the main exam and the personality test (PT). As a large number of candidates appear at this stage, the PT becomes the deal breaker. Several bright students who may have done well in the main exam fail to clear it, including those who may have failed the PT in previous attempts. So the PE should not be taken lightly. Candidates should follow a result-oriented strategy to crack it.
HERE ARE A FEW USEFUL TIPS:
First things first:
It is essential that the candidate has no shortage of ‘information’ or what is known as the knowledge base. The syllabus for the PE is not exhaustive -- it is of a reflective nature. Therefore, a majority of candidates find it really difficult to decide what to read and what to exclude. Candidates must develop the knack of gathering information. It is a knack, because if you don’t cultivate it, then the ‘quantity’ of the info goes up, and its ‘quality’ comes down. To develop this knack, candidates should:
Take utmost care when selecting readings and references. Don’t refer to just anything and everything. Read quality books, government journals and selective government documents at all levels of this exam. Remember, there is no short cut to a good thing.
Go through previous years’ question papers. While browsing through them, examine the way the questions are fashioned -- their nature, style of framing, depth, the element of confusion being created, etc.
What comes next:
Get in sync with what is expected of you. Since the process of change commenced (precisely after the so-called CSAT paper was introduced in the PE), there has been a declared shift from rote learning- to application learning-based questions. This was one of the aims of the change as declared by the Cabinet Minister, Department of Personnel Training in Parliament in 2010. Now ‘cramming’ is almost of no use. It is now essential that candidates have conceptual clarity about the information they have. Now, a majority of the questions are of a hybrid nature, based as much on factual knowledge as on conceptual clarity.
This is why just having (or knowing) the information is not enough. One is supposed to have the ability to comprehend the various applications (or uses) of the information. Application-based preparation is the need of the hour. Materials or dictated notes are of little use in this regard as their application cannot be written or taught, it is a thing to be learnt, either through the right experts or through self-teaching.
Last, but certainly not least:
To achieve success in competitive exams, one has to beat others with traits, such as precision, speed, etc. And for this, practice is essential: one should take a few mock tests. Mock tests have several benefits: they teach you to manage time; face a variety of questions based on a variety of relevant info; and help you listen to the analysis of experts. But taking care of the quality of mock tests is also essential: they should be able to simulate the pattern, standard and originality of the UPSC.
Ramesh Singh has experience of over two decades in mentoring the civil services aspirants. He has authored several books for the McGraw-Hill Education and is a popular columnist.