ALERT: This is the strategy I followed for General Studies (GS) Mains preparation. It worked for me, but this is not the only way to succeed in the examination. The purpose is to provide insight into my method of preparation from which other aspirants may pick those points/strategies that suit their needs.
I have got good marks in both GS Mains 2017 (453 Marks) and GS Mains 2018 (435 Marks) exams. This year’s marks is even better than the previous year considering GS has been awarded lesser this year. I have been good in all GS papers. Below is my marksheet of CSE Mains 2018 exam.
Coming to the strategy directly. There is extensive syllabus of GS in both Prelims and Mains examination. Syllabus of Prelims is mentioned in short in the application document while it is descriptive for Mains. Prelims tests horizontal knowledge covering superficial information while Mains tests vertical knowledge focusing deeply on the issues.
MEMORIZING SYLLABUS AND ANALYZING PAST 5 YEAR QUESTION PAPERS
To cut extensive syllabus short, one should memorize the syllabus and look at the past 5-year question papers of both exams. This gives an idea as in what to study and what to leave, makes one aware of the pattern of questions asked and adapt the preparation style accordingly, helps one in prioritisation of topics during study etc. Memorizing syllabus also helps in answer writing as direct syllabus points could be written as points in your answers. Next step which is to be taken care of is the book list / notes / resources which one studies.
USING RESOURCES IN EFFICIENT MANNER
The book /notes list I studied from is present at below link.
There are countless books and websites ready to help in the quest for cracking this exam. I had a single point agenda i.e., to eat as much as I can chew. I tried to pickup one source for each subject of GS. If in case there was more than one source for a subject, I compiled all of them into one source by collecting best points from each of them. I chose limited books or reduced my sources by note making (as described below) to revise them again and again. Unless one revises things in this exam it is of no use and unless one catalogues things well, it is very difficult to revise. It is better to revise 1 book/note source ten times than 10 books one time.
Having discussed how to deal with resources, many aspirants face the common doubt of either to join coaching or to prepare through self-study.
COACHING OR SELF STUDY FOR PREPARATION?
Coaching is not compulsory for success in this examination. Coaching guidance can be mere facilitator for success which could never replace self-study. Strategy for each stage needs to be framed by aspirants themselves assessing their strengths and weaknesses. The aspirants should go for customised approach for themselves while coaching institute does it on one-fits-all basis.
Taking coaching is an individual decision which people often make probably to get an initial idea about the exam, seek initial guidance and set themselves into routine/time table for this exam. I personally took coaching for Optional Subject (Anthropology) and Ethics Case Studies course. Optional subject was completely new to me. Coaching helped me in getting basic understanding of the subject but I had to do a lot of hard work from my side too to get good marks.
In today’s information age era, most of the resources are also available on the internet. It is advised to make judicious use of them. I personally relied on the electronic materials (e-notes/videos) and found them very helpful. I could learn faster through videos than the text materials as it is an active mode of learning. I used to make short notes from videos highlighting keywords and revising these notes in the future. Mrunal.org was quite helpful for learning through video sources. I covered Geography, Economics, Ethics, World History portions from the video courses available free of cost on this site.
After clearing the general doubts to prepare for GS, I would now move into specifics of my strategy. Firstly, I would deal with managing time during preparation as well as in exams and then I would move towards my approach of dealing with each GS Mains paper.
WHAT WORKED FOR ME IN MANAGING TIME?
I consider the following things to be quite important for my success as they helped me in managing time during both GS Mains Preparation as well as in writing exams. They are:
1. Note Making – I made notes for Mains, both for General Studies and Anthropology Optional. For General Studies (GS) static portion, I used to make notes at sides of the book itself. For GS current affairs, I used to make notes on my own through Vision IAS Mains 365 videos having keywords, facts, examples, case studies, definitions, Committee recommendations. For Anthropology, since I had studied from multiple sources, I compiled all of them into one source by extracting best points from all of them on a particular topic.
Advantage of Note Making – It helps in quick revision as one does multiple revisions from Notes. This way I managed time in my preparation process for Mains as well as in last days of revision for each of 7 Mains Papers. I inculcated the issues in my brain very well and reproduced them on the Answer Sheet in good manner.
Before attempting Mains Exam, one should revise his/her content (books/notes) 4 times. Three revisions are done when you attempt Mock Test papers (3 for each paper, 12 in total). Fourth revision is done after Mock Tests are over i.e., 1 month before the final exam.
2. Practice – Be it any stage, Prelims or Mains or Personality Test, practice is the master key to manage time within 3 hours of each Mains (subjective) paper. Practice papers (Mock Tests) also give an assessment as in where one stands and how much he/she needs to improve. For example, initially I could write only 16 questions out of 20 in GS Mains Test Series papers which I improved and took it to 19 or 20 Questions in Civil Services Mains Exam.
3. Group Studies – I found it very useful to manage time. Wide range of issues got discussed with like-minded sincere aspirants which helped save a lot of time. Group studies also helps in consolidation and inculcation of information very well when compared to text reading mode of books and materials. Former is an active mode of learning while latter one is passive.
4. Prioritisation of Topics – It becomes important to give different emphasis to different subjects depending upon their weightage in the Mains exam. This knowledge comes by looking at past 5 year question papers. For example, weightage of World History is hardly anything (10 marks for last 2 years) and whatever questions are being asked (Refer CSE 2017 and 2018 Mains GS1 Paper) are difficult to be answered. On the other hand, weightage of Security topic in GS Paper 3 is of around 40 to 50 marks each year and its coverage could be done in no time as its syllabus is small.
5. Make Weekly and Monthly Targets – As Mains syllabus is huge, it is important to make weekly and monthly targets to not loose the momentum of study and complete everything in time. The weekly targets could be made for 5 days and rest 2 days could be kept for revision. It should be neither too rigid nor too easy so that everything planned is covered well within time. It’s not necessary that every target will be completed each week but even if 80% gets covered, the work is done.
6. Remain open to feedbacks and correct mistakes – Many aspirants commit mistakes but are averse to correcting those mistakes by taking feedbacks. They should be receptive to honest feedbacks and make corrections in their approach, whether in Mains Answer Writing or Personality Test. I personally changed the approach in both of them and have improved marks in both of them.
APPROACH TOWARDS GS PAPER
1. Paying equal attention to both Static and Current Affairs portion – Knowing what to study and what not to study after seeing the syllabus and past 5 year question papers, the next step is paying equal attention to both static and current affairs portions. Static portion is covered from basic books like NCERTs of different subjects, Spectrum, Laxmikanth for Polity, Mrunal Economy and it builds up the basic understanding of different subjects. Static portion reading is true for all papers GS 1, 2, 3 and 4.
For current affairs portion, it should be clear in mind that the static portion only builds up their foundation. Current affairs utilises the basic concepts gathered in static portion and relates it to the news occurring in the current time.
2. Restricting your study through Current Affairs especially for GS papers 2 and 3 – GS Mains Syllabus is huge as it covers around 10 subjects in four GS papers. Thus, it becomes important to restrict your study to minimum topics especially during revision. This comes from current affairs portion particularly in GS papers 2 and 3. Last 1-year news i.e., current affairs give a rough idea of what topics to be more emphasised from static portion. This helps in restricting reading to those topics only.
3. Approach towards Paper 4: There are 2 main components of this paper which have to be prepared – Theory Part and Case Studies Part.
- Theory Part: Studied from Mrunal Videos, Justice Videos by Harvard University Professor and few chapters of G. Subbarao (mentioned in the Book/Notes List). These sources ensured that I had enough content on each topic of the syllabus. Notes were also made from above sources and compiled into one source.
The theory answers should be written in such a manner that it remains interesting and relevant to the question. To substantiate points, examples or case studies should be mentioned. Hence, around 40-50 examples have to be collected from newspapers and they need to be mapped to different syllabus points so that whenever question is asked on any of the syllabus topics, these examples or case studies could be quoted.
- Case Study Part: Knowledge of theory part was utilised in Case Studies to add fodder to the answer.In addition to it, I joined Lukmaan IAS Case Study course in which Ansari Sir beautifully dealt with the approach to write good answers with proper structure and presentation. A good case study contains structure with following sub-headings:
- Subject Matter
- Ethical Values
- Facts / Laws / Rules
- Ethical Dilemma
- Philosophers / Thinkers / Reformers / Administrators
These headings should be presented in a good manner with clear visibility to ensure comfort to the examiner in checking questions.
My ethics Case Study Notes of Lukmaan IAS and 2 Mains Ethics Test copies are also uploaded on below link
For more on my GS Paper 4 (Ethics) strategy, I am sharing Youtube video link prepared by Delhi Knowledge Track (DKT)
I end this post by this final piece of advice – Nobody knows one’s strength, weakness, learning capacity, reading speed, writing skills etc better than himself/herself. So take opinions from others, hear what the toppers, your fellow aspirants, teachers have to say but in the end form your own strategy and make amendments as and when you feel along the way 🙂