Certain myths have to be erased before we discuss the strategy for the UPSC Civil Services Exam. First, one must not be academically brilliant to appear for the exam. Even UPSC has not put that condition. They want people who can analyse the situation and take quick and effective decisions. This is what they check in the exam too.

Secondly, one need not be from humanities background to have an edge in the exam. Your academic background does not affect your performance in Civil Services exam much. This is so because the approach for Civil Services Exam is very different from our usual university exams.

Candidates must not that the Civil Services Examination (CSE) is held by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) only once every year. At present, its three levels span over a year. It recruits young talent for two all India Services i. e.

As well as for 22 other Central Government Services mentioned below

The exam for Indian Forest Service is held separately.

The Civil Service aspirants have to adopt an 'integrated approach' while preparing for this toughest exam in the country. It means that while one is preparing for one level of the exam, one should think as to how the same content can be utilized for the other two levels of this exam. This not only broadens the thinking of the candidates but also saves time and improves their conceptual foundation.

Here we would be discussing the study techniques for each of the three levels separately. However, one must keep in mind that the suggestions given here are based on the personal experience of the successful candidates of C D Deshmukh Institute. The suggestions mentioned below must be altered to devise a customized study method to suit the needs of each individual and that of the exam.

How to prepare for Civil Services Preliminary Exam

The Civil Services Prelim, commonly known as Prelim, is the first of the three stages of the Civil Services Examination. Unless one passes the Prelim, one can not appear for the Main Exam and subsequently for the Interview.

The Prelim is only a qualifying exam. The Prelim score is not added to the scores while deciding the final merit list. However, the studies for Prelim are the foundations of the preparation for the Main Exam and the Interview. Also, of the lakhs of students appearing for the Prelim in the country, only 10-15% candidates qualify for the Main Exam. Hence the Prelim is of utmost importance.

UPSC has changed the syllabus for the Prelim. The optional subject paper is now replaced by a paper of aptitude test. Now the Prelim consists of following two papers:

Since both the papers have equal weightage, one must pay equal attention to both of them.

Preparation for General Studies

Candidates must take into consideration following things about the Prelim:

UPSC declares neither the cut off nor the scores of candidates in the Prelim. According to the observation so far, one must secure at least 65-70% marks in each paper to pass the Prelim.

Negative marking is the biggest deciding factor in the Prelim. For every wrong answer, we lose 0.33 marks. For every 3 mistakes 1 mark is deducted. Hence one must be very careful while choosing which questions to attempt and which ones to skip. Due to the time constraints, one must learn to manage to solve maximum questions correct while attempting least number of questions wrong.

For effective time management, one must solve maximum number of questions and comprehensive question papers regularly. Since we have to minimize the number of wrong answers in the exam, following strategy may be useful:

All the questions in the Prelim are multiple choice questions (MCQs). To choose the correct alternative of the four options given, we must be able to eliminate the options which are definitely wrong. This helps save time and increase accuracy.

One must also cultivate the habit of checking the answer sheet. Since we may skip answers to some questions, we must make sure that we have marked the answers to the corresponding question numbers properly.

How to choose from and use the available study material?

It is of utmost important to remember that the Civil Services exam requires an analytical, comprehensive, multi-disciplined, solution-based and concise approach of answer writing. It is very different from how we study at college or university level. Hence, instead of using too many books, one must read few selected books repeatedly and carefully. It is advisable to first use the books written specially for UPSC exam. One must refer to BA/MA books only if and when additional reference is required.

Before reading books for any topic, go through all the questions that have been asked on that particular topic in the UPSC exam before. Use the scanner or strategist for it has the assorted questions on all topics from previous UPSC papers. Always follow this 'reverse engineering' method to yield better results in less time.

Analyse questions regularly and try finding out the 'themes' and 'focus areas' for all the topics in the syllabus. For instance, in Indian history, art, architecture, literature, important rulers, scholars, social reformers, revolutionaries, Congress sessions, women leaders, etc are some of the important and recurring themes.

You must learn to read quickly. You must know what is to be picked up from the text that you are reading. Otherwise you may be misguiding yourself.

Similarly, in geography, important geographic features like rivers, mountain ranges, power projects, biosphere reserves, etc are some of the important themes. In Indian polity, important articles in the Constitution of India, prominent constitutional and non-constitutional bodies, boards, commissions and their chairpersons, chronology of Presidents, Prime Ministers of India, etc. are some prominent focus areas.

One must work smart while preparing for the Prelim. It is advisable to chart out a schedule based on the time available, the study topics and material to cover and our own capacity to study. Even if one manages to cover 50% of the target, a lot is achieved.

How to prepare for Civil Services Main Exam:

The Main Exam is the second and most exhausting level of the Civil Services Exam. You get barely four months after the Prelim to study for it. The marks of the Main Exam decide where you will stand in the final merit list. Even though UPSC adds the marks of the Main Exam to your Interview score, Interview marks are unpredictable. One can have a better estimate of what will possibly be asked in the Main Exam and hence can prepare well for it. That is why it becomes even more important to devise an effective strategy for the Main Exam. It consists of following papers at present:

Each paper carries 300 marks and has the duration of 3 hours. Essay carries 200 marks but is to be written in 3 hours.

The Compulsory papers of English and regional language are qualifying papers. Their marks are not counted while making the final score. However, UPSC checks these papers first. If one does not secure adequate marks in these papers, then his/her remaining papers are not evaluated at all. Hence one must pay attention to preparation of these papers too, if one is weak in English or the chosen regional language.

Choosing the optional subjects

Candidates must choose their optional subjects carefully. There have been cases when candidates could not score well in a particular optional subject and switched to another optional subject after one or more attempts. To prevent this wastage of time, money and efforts, following steps are suggested to help the candidates select optional subjects:

When you have selected your optional subjects, begin with the following method of study:

How to prepare for Civil Services Interview

Interview is the last and the most unpredictable stage in the Civil Services Examination. It is a test of your personality. You are evaluated by a panel of 5 people who are eminent personalities in their respective fields. You have hardly 20-30 minutes to prove to these complete strangers that you are 'officer-like-material'. A careful and planned approach is required to ensure a good score (180 and above out of 300) in the Interview.

Following are some useful suggestions to prepare for the Civil Services Interview: