Anudeep Durishetty AIR 1 Mains GS Strategy, Sources and PDF Notes

With 1000 marks spanning across four papers in Mains, GS feels like one giant, insurmountable mountain. The point of this article is to convince you that those fears are unfounded.

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I’ve written this post assuming someone who had already read the foundational books for GS Prelims. If you haven’t read them as yet, you should first read my post on GS Prelims. At the end of this article, I embedded download links to my complete GS notes and answer copies.

As you start reading the books I mention here for GS mains, please keep the following points in mind:

  1. Along with these books, get a printout of the syllabus and read it carefully. Your final aim must be: for each topic mentioned in the syllabus, you should have enough content to write a 250-word answer.
  2. Go through the past five years’ question papers to understand the breadth and depth of questions UPSC usually asks. It’ll give you a good perspective of what’s important and what’s not.
  3. Use the internet extensively, especially for topics like Science and Tech. Your target must be to gain knowledge, be it through books or through the internet.
  4. For all subjects, you have to superimpose current affairs over it, especially for GS-2 and GS-3. For both these papers, current affairs form the nucleus. You will inevitably do a lot of reading on the internet, so use Evernote to organise and highlight content like this.
  5. Give adequate time for revision. Without it, you will not be able to recollect whatever you may have read. So please dedicate enough time to it, whether you are giving a mock test or the actual exam.
  6. Many aspirants commit one fundamental mistake: they read and revise, over and over, but never practise. Remember that the examiner checking your copy will have no idea about the number of books you’ve read or the number of hours you’ve slogged. Your answers are all that he has to judge you. So it makes sense to learn it, practise it and perfect it.
  7. Mains exam demands not only our memory and intelligence but also endurance. If you lack prior practice, writing relentlessly for 6 hours a day and do this for 5 days will cause both mental and physical fatigue. The only way to overcome it is to practice enough before the final exam.
  8. General Studies demands only a peripheral understanding of an expansive set of topics. So it’s important that you try to gain minimum sufficient knowledge over a diverse set of subjects rather than obsessively focussing on one topic. For instance, it doesn’t make sense to read World History for three months at the expense of all other subjects. Always maintain that fine balance between all the topics and don’t get imprisoned in one.
  9. In GS, there will be very few questions where you will have absolutely no clue. Even if you only have a vague idea, write those generic points. For instance, in last year’s GS-1 paper, for the question on Malay peninsula, I knew no specific fact except a vague idea that Singapore had a partition story similar to India. So I just wrote a generic answer comprising of problems such as ethnic strife, insurgency, and economic collapse. The examiner checking my copy might have given 2-3 marks for it, which I am sure any aspirant would gladly take.
  10. You must develop the skill to speed read a committee or an organisation’s report on your computer (reading online saves you a lot of time) and highlight important lines as you read along. In the second reading, this highlighted portion is what you need to revise. It should look something like this.
  11. In GS papers, map of India is your most effective tool for illustration. For example, I drew India maps and labelled relevant parts for questions on river linkage (GS-3), North-East insurgency (GS-3), Inland navigation (GS-1), India’s 18th-century fragmented polity (GS-1) etc. Practise it enough so that you are able to draw and label it under 60 seconds.
  12. If you are taking a test series, please give those tests with all the seriousness of the final UPSC exam. In the mock test, if you take 10-15 additional minutes to finish the paper, you are cheating no one except yourself. Observe strict time limits.
  13. You will never feel content with your Mains preparation and there is always a nagging tendency to just keep reading and procrastinate writing answers or skip an upcoming test. You have to overcome this reluctance through conscious effort. Suppose before a mock test if you were unable to finish the syllabus, you can postpone your test by a day or two, but don’t skip it altogether.
  14. Perfectionism is your enemy. If you keep referring to countless sources to make that “perfect notes”, if you keep postponing your mock tests in order to write “perfect tests”, this mentality will bring you to ruin. Getting a good score in Mains is about attempting all questions to which some answers are excellent, some good and many above average. So instead of waiting for that elusive perfection, start imperfect and then keep improving.
  15. When you are buying coaching material, always ask yourself: “what new is this material adding to my preparation?” If you can’t answer that question convincingly, then the material probably isn’t really useful.
  16. Just because I am AIR-1, it does not mean that my notes are the best or that this book list is the last word. If you have been studying some other material, that’s fine, too. To succeed in this exam, the source of material is not important. What’s important is you to understand the concepts, memorise the facts well and have a firm grip over the entire syllabus.

The list of books for GS Mains:

GS 1

Indian Art and Culture

  1. An Introduction to Indian Art – Class XI NCERT
  2. Chapters related to culture in Ancient and Medieval India NCERTs
  3. Centre for Cultural Resource and Training (CCRT) material
  4. Heritage Crafts: Living Craft Traditions of India -NCERT
  • For someone who is starting just now, this topic can overwhelm them. So I suggest beginners read this section after they get acquainted with other GS topics.
  • In Art and Culture, questions asked by UPSC in recent years are more analytical— which requires both the factual content and good analysis to answer the why and how. You can answer such questions well only when you understand the historical background in which such art was produced. This is why it’s important that you read NCERT XI Ancient India for it gives you that historical context.
  • For instance, don’t just memorise features of say, Sangam literature or Chola architecture, but understand the social, political, religious and economic context in which such grand art was produced. They will form the analysis part and will help you write great answers.
  • Make good use of the internet to watch both visual and performing arts to understand how they actually look in real life. You will be able to recollect such visuals more easily. They will help you write a decent answer for questions which you only have a vague idea about.
  • Wherever relevant, draw diagrams to illustrate your answers. For instance, you can draw a rough sketch to show the features of a Stupa, Dravida, and Nagara style architecture, Paleolithic art, Folk arts such as Warli, Harappan pottery etc. You don’t need to be a Michelangelo for this, but you must ensure that the fundamentals are correct. For example, in Warli art, human bodies are represented by triangles, heads by circles and hands by simple lines. Just get these basics right. Link to download diagrams is given at the end of the article.
  • Art and Culture requires a ton of memorisation and there’s really no shortcut to mastering it except through multiple revisions.

Modern Indian History

  1. A Brief History of Modern India- Spectrum Publications
  2. India’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra (Read selectively for topics not covered in the Spectrum book)
  • Questions on Indian history are something that every serious aspirant will answer well, so you really cannot afford to let go of these questions. If you had done your prelims preparation for this topic well, that is good enough. You just need to practise answer writing.

India’s Post Independence History

  1. India Since Independence by Bipan Chandra
  2. For certain topics, I made notes from this book. Download link is given at the end.

World History

  • I prepared entirely for this topic from this outstanding book: Download
  • Since revising this big book before the exam was difficult, I prepared concise notes from it. I also practised maps to demonstrate major world historical events.
  • Link to download my notes and maps is given at the end of the article.


  • The study plan is the same as for prelims, which I’ve explained here.

Indian Society

  • This is a generic, nebulous topic with no style or structure. Questions are sometimes vague, philosophical and the challenge we face is not so much in lack of content as in presenting it concisely in 200 odd words. To understand the basics, read NCERT Sociology Std XI and XII. Make concise notes on each topic that includes: a crisp definition, latest statistics, govt schemes, criticism of these schemes; causes of issues such as communalism and regionalism, historical and current examples, their impact on our society, and your suggestions as the way ahead. (you can get these suggestions from the internet or ARC 2 or some committee report). In case if you find good coaching material for these topics, that’ll do as well.
  • For this topic, a generic answer with proper structure and subheadings that cover multiple dimensions is good enough to fetch you marks. You can find my notes at the end of the article.

GS 2

Polity, Governance and Social Justice

Static Portion:

  1. Laxmikanth
  2. Polity Notes (this will provide analytical content. Download link is given at the end of the article)
  3. ARC 2 (One of the best reports ever written for the government. It’s been more than ten years since the reports were published, but the content is still priceless. Read complete reports, memorise only recommendations)

Current Affairs:

  1. The Hindu
  2. The Big Picture on RSTV
  3. CivilsDaily current affairs material
  4. I also referred to Insights/ForumIAS current affairs material for topics not covered well by CivilsDaily
  5. PRS India for latest legislation
  6. All India Radio – Spotlight (used to listen during my commute to the office)
  • Open your answers with Constitutional articles. Question on Governor? Art 153 must be there in the first line. Question on Civil Services? Art 312 is where you begin. If there’s a technical term like ‘Parliamentary Sovereignty’, ‘Political democracy’ or ‘Social Audit’ — define them in your introduction telling the examiner what you understand by those terms.
  • Supreme Court judgements are very important. Make a list of important judgements (both historical and current) and quote them to substantiate your answer. For example, when you are answering a question on Free speech, quoting SC judgement in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India case will add tremendous value to your answers.
  • For a debatable topic, always write both sides of the issue even if not explicitly asked in the question. Example: A question might ask: Do you agree that Civil Services is in need of drastic reforms? For this, explain under a subheading why drastic reforms are needed. And in the next paragraph, counter by saying why drastic reforms are harmful. In the end, you can add the view of ARC 2/Hota/Surendranath committee to convey your view and end on a balanced note.
  • For miscellaneous topics like the comparison of Constitutions, RPA Act, SHG, e-Governance etc refer to any good coaching material to have 200-word worth content. Source latest examples and issues from newspapers and quote them in your answers.
  • Prepare thoroughly on Govt policies and bills. PRS India is an excellent resource for all the latest legislation in the offing and The Hindu for policy criticism. But the newspaper is patently leftist and they publish articles incessantly and nauseatingly ranting on policies they don’t like (Eg: Aadhar). But as someone aspiring to be a civil servant, you need to be more dispassionate. This is why you must actively pursue articles with a contrarian and balanced opinions like this and this.
  • Cram latest statistics pertaining to health, employment, women, education, poverty etc. Also apart from committees, you may quote authentic reports from reputed organisations such as Lancet, Transparency International, UNICEF, FAO etc to substantiate your point. I made notes on important statistics that can be used for all papers of GS and essay. Download link is given at the end of the article.
  • Conclusion: Wherever possible, end with a committee/ commission recommendation or observation. For instance, a question on Centre-State relations should invariably end with Punchhi Commission, a question on death penalty with Law Commission and a question on Indian Constitution with NCRWC. Referring to Sustainable Development Goals, Preamble, DPSP is also another good way to end your answers.

International Relations

  • Any good book that adequately covers the historical aspect of India’s bilateral relations.
  • Current affairs: The Hindu, India’s World on RSTV, CivilsDaily or Insights or ForumIAS depending upon the topic.
  • Questions on IR will be almost, always be about the current happenings in the world. But before you run after the Hindu or some other latest magazine for this section, it’s important that you understand the historical background of India’s relationship with other countries. This is indispensable because every bilateral issue that you see in the news can be traced back to history. Once you understand this historical context, this topic becomes uncomplicated.
  • For example, let’s take India China relations. Don’t merely focus on Doklam crisis and troop positioning, but understand the larger context of our border dispute with China, the agreements we had signed starting with the Simla Accord of 1914. For India-Sri Lanka, don’t just concentrate that India voted for or against Sri Lanka at the UN, but understand how India always championed peace between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, the 1987 accord, its fallout, Sri Lankan civil war and what India did during these times. When you have that bigger picture in mind, each part of the puzzle becomes easier to fit in.
  • For miscellaneous topics like diaspora and international institutions, refer to any good coaching material.
  • Draw map wherever relevant. Example: for India-Iran relations, you can draw a rough map to show how the Chabahar port helps us to bypass Pakistan and reach Afghanistan. Act East policy can be demonstrated with arrows pointing from India and showing our specific relationship with Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia and ASEAN, MGC, BIMSTEC etc.,
  • Each bilateral relationship or a global grouping is multi-faceted. To make your answers comprehensive, always write a multidimensional perspective that includes: the strategic dimension, defence co-operation, technology, education, culture, diaspora, trade and investment, co-operation in global fora etc.

GS 3


Static part:

  1. Standard resources I already mentioned in my prelims post
  2. Budget (any coaching material compilation)
  3. Economic Survey (gist)
  4. Niti 3-year Action Plan report (a good resource for policy recommendations that come in handy while you write conclusion)

Current Affairs:

  1. The Hindu
  2. CivilsDaily
  3. I referred to Insights/ForumIAS current affairs material for topics not covered well by CivilsDaily

Indian Agriculture, Land reforms, PDS, Food Processing, LPG, Infrastructure

  2. Vision IAS
  3. The Hindu and CivilsDaily for current affairs
  • You need to remember that for GS-3, questions revolve around current affairs and there is no dearth of material. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the trick is to restrict yourself to material that’s good enough for you to write a 250-word answer for all topics. It’s very important that you don’t get sunk under the heap of current affairs and coaching material.
  • So for each topic mentioned in the syllabus, make concise notes from the resources mentioned above. I also found Niti Aayog’s 3-year Action Plan report really helpful for this paper. And just as I had mentioned for GS-2, statistics and committee reports are very important.


  • Vajiram and Vision IAS material
  • The Hindu and CivilsDaily for current affairs
  • Prepare crisp and clear definitions of technical terms such as cybersecurity, terrorism, organised crime, money laundering, left-wing extremism etc.
  • For questions on border security, draw India map to illustrate.

Disaster Management

  • Fundamental reading: CBSE book
  • Prepare concise notes on NDMA (structure, functions, rules etc), international agreements such as Sendai Framework, latest current affairs from newspapers, internet and coaching material.
  • Draw diagrams to illustrate concepts like river embankment, land zoning, watershed management etc.

Environment and Ecology

  • Shankar IAS book
  • The Hindu and CivilsDaily for current affairs
  • My handwritten notes (Download link given at the end)

Science & Tech

  1. The Hindu
  2. Vision IAS Mains 365
  3. YouTube
  • This topic terrifies many aspirants, and for good reason. There’s no single book or resource to help one navigate this section and it all feels like one big haze. But there’s good news: the questions asked in S&T are mostly from current affairs and you are expected to have only a general understanding of the topics.
  • During my preparation, I used to note down in my book whatever scientific term or technology that’s frequently talked about in news. For instance, these days we repeatedly encounter terms such as Artificial General Intelligence, Blockchain, Machine Learning, Cryptocurrency, CRISPR-CAS9 in news and on the internet.
  • Note down all such scientific concepts that are in news and then scour the internet (especially Youtube) to understand them. There are many explainer videos on Youtube that explain the concept so well that even a school student can understand it. For instance, take this excellent video on blockchain technology. Once you see it, it’s impossible for you to miss a question on blockchain and its practical applications.
  • Apart from the above, you need to learn fundamental terms and technologies used in Space (PSLV, GSLV, Cryo Engine etc), Nanotech, Nuclear Research (Fast breeder reactor, Uranium enrichment, Nuclear fission and fusion etc.), Defence (Cruise missile, Ballistic missile, Stealth Bomber etc), Biotech (Gene editing, Stem Cells, GM food etc), Communication (LIDAR, RADAR, LiFi, 5G etc). Any comprehensive material of a coaching institute will be sufficient for this (I referred to Vajiram printed notes).
  • Whatever S&T topic you are learning, always focus on the concept, why is it in news, practical applications, potential threats, benefits far into the future etc. Just do this and you will easily handle this topic in the final exam.

GS 4

  • 2nd ARC reports: Ethics in Governance, Promoting E-gov, RTI, Citizen-centric Administration, Personnel Administration. Read all ARC reports completely, memorise only recommendations.
  • For moral thinkers, Google them to read about their major contributions and for misc topics such as corporate governance, I referred to Vajiram printed material. I also prepared some notes for certain topics (download link at the end of the article)
  • I went through the syllabus and tried to define each term in clear words and simple sentences. I found this exercise very useful because these definitions inevitably formed the introduction to most of my answers. For all of ethics paper, the essence can be distilled as just this: a clear and simple definition of the term and a real-life example to illustrate the concept. You can draw flowcharts and schematics wherever apt.
  • It’s important to understand that each question is an opportunity to display your ethics. This will be best demonstrated by the actions you did or some other personalised/ real-life examples you quote. Reflect on your childhood, school life, college time, professional career etc and glean examples that are simple, unpretentious and at the same time bring out your ethical values clearly. For some questions, you can also quote historical examples from the lives of great leaders.
  • For case studies, my aim was not so much in writing ingenious, extraordinary solutions, but to write something that’s realistic and practicable and finish the paper no matter what.
  • I always started with Q1 and not with case studies because I could not see how one mark in Section B (case studies) is superior to one mark in Section A. I gave equal importance and dedicated equal time to both the sections.
  • Rest of the GS papers have 20 questions each, Ethics has only 14. But don’t let that number 14 fool you. I’ve always found GS-4 to be the lengthiest paper of all. Every question in Section A has many subparts that drain an inordinate amount of your time. In fact, if we go by the absolute numbers, we write more words in GS-4 than in other papers. So to manage your time well: Abide by the rule that you must complete at least 80 marks worth of questions in each hour, irrespective of whether you start with Section A or Section B.
  • Just before GS-4, you would have had written three stressful GS papers that would put your body condition under severe mental and physical strain. But it’s important to stay mentally tough during this crucial period and push your endurance limits so as to survive another 3 hours of relentless writing. Remember that it’s all in the mind— it can be your biggest enemy or your greatest strength.

My Notes

GS 1

GS 2

GS 3

GS 4




My GS Answer Copies

GS 2

GS 3

GS 4


GS may look insurmountable at first, but remember that it’s always the small steps towards the summit that count. Through effective planning and adequate practice, anyone can conquer it.

My best wishes.

Until next time,

Via How to conquer GS in UPSC Mains, Explained .  Re-posted in full instead of Linking. Wanted here in full for a benchmark. Our links are auto updated and not provided in original post.

Newspaper notes for UPSC 02-06-18

Hello friends, this is a short briefing of the important points for prelims and mains, this is not a substitute for newspaper reading , just a collection of important points.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016

In news:  Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) that is examining the The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, intends to have wider consultations.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016

  • Highlights of the Bill:  The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.
  •  Under the Act, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years.  The Bill relaxes this 11 year requirement to six years for persons belonging to the same six religions and three countries.
  • The Bill provides that the registration of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders may be cancelled if they violate any law.

Issues with the bill : 

  •  The Bill makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees right to equality.
  •  The Bill allows cancellation of OCI registration for violation of any law. This is a wide ground that may cover a range of violations, including minor offences (eg. parking in a no parking zone).  Via PRS
  • As per the orders of the Supreme Court, the next draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is to be published on June 30 2018, and this has also created hurdles to the passage of the Bill.

Issue in Assam: 

  • Assam has witnessed protests over an amendment to the Centre’s Citizenship Act 1955 that proposes to make minority (non-Muslim) immigrants from three neighbouring countries eligible for Indian citizenship.
  • Opposition to the bill : Brahmaputra valley The opponents stress Assam cannot accommodate any more immigrants and feel the Bill goes against the 1985 Assam Accord signed between the Rajiv Gandhi government and leaders of the Assam movement spearheaded by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) against illegal Bangladeshi immigrants — irrespective of religion. Under the Accord, any person who came into Assam after midnight of March 24, 1971, would be identified as a foreigner.
  • Those pressing for the Bill: express concern about “Partition victims” who have been displaced and persecuted.

What is JPC 

A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) is an ad-hoc body. It is set up for a specific object and duration. Joint committees are set up by a motion passed in one house of Parliament and agreed to by the other. The details regarding membership and subjects are also decided by Parliament. A JPC of 30 members of which 20 were from the Lok Sabha and 10 were from the Rajya Sabha.

Read about JPC in detail from Laxmikanth Indian Polity.

Cauvery Water Management Authority

  • The Cauvery Water Management Authority is notified by the Center , it will determine the total residual storage in the specified reservoirs on June 1 every year.
  • The share of each State will be determined on the basis of the flows together with the available carry-over storage in the reservoirs.
  • If the Authority finds that any Government of the party States, namely Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Union territory of Puducherry do not cooperate in implementing the decision or direction of the Tribunal, it can seek the help of the Central Government for implementation of the Award of the Tribunal as modified by the Supreme Court vide Order of 16th February, 2018

Growth Signals: 

  • Official data showing the GDP expanding at the fastest pace in seven quarters in the three months ended March 31, at 7.7% is a good sign for economy.
  • The Hindu 

What is the ‘Purchasing Managers’ Index

  • The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector by Nikkei India
  • The PMI is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment.
  • A PMI of more than 50 represents expansion of the manufacturing sector when compared to the previous month. A PMI reading under 50 represents a contraction, and a reading at 50 indicates no change.

Singapore a strategic partner

  • India and Singapore on Friday agreed to deepen their economic and defence ties as they signed eight agreements, one on logistics cooperation between their Navies, after wide-ranging talks between Indian Prime Minister  and his counterpart.
  • The two countries signed an implementation agreement between their Navies on mutual coordination, logistics and services support for visits of naval ships, submarines and naval aircraft — including ship-borne aviation assets.
  • They also successfully concluded the second review of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).
  • They agreed on the need to maintain an open, stable and fair international trade regime. And also reiterated their strong commitment to combat terrorism.
  • India and Singapore were collaborating on technology, smart cities and skills development.  Singapore also continue to support India as a permanent member in a reformed United Nations Security Council.

India and Indonesia

  • During his first visit to Jakarta this week, Prime Minister announced the elevation of bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership and outlined a shared maritime vision for the Indo-Pacific.
  • Delhi’s Look East Policy and the ASEAN’s embrace of India brought the two nations together, the relationship remained way below potential.
  • Over the last couple of years, they have pushed hard to impart a new momentum to the partnership.
  • The comprehensive strategic partnership will be built around
    • annual summit meetings between the leaders,
    • sustained high level bureaucratic exchanges,
    • substantive defence cooperation including on arms production, stronger counter-terror collaboration,
    • deeper economic integration and more expansive people-to-people relations.
  • The joint maritime vision for the Indo-Pacific is founded on the long delayed recognition that the two nations share a vast oceanic neighbourhood.

comprehensive strategic partnership meaning in international diplomacy is fairly clear:

  • It defines a bilateral relationship more important than others, but stops short of an actual alliance.
  • The term “strategic” further implies a future convergence of interests in areas that are vital: security, defence and investment.

Comprehensive EU-Asia strategy

  • Europe and Asia’s  economies and cultures are interconnected; and security is connected.
  • They face the same challenges, confront similar threats, and share an interest in preserving peace in our regions and international cooperation on a global scale.
  • The foreign ministers of the European Union’s 28 member states decided to enhance security engagement in Asia and with Asia.
  • Work on security has become the biggest area of growth in terms of EU expanding cooperation with Asian partners.
  • The most pressing matter for EU-Asia security cooperation at this time is de-nuclearisation. It shares an interest to save the Iran nuclear deal and to support de-nuclearisation talks in the Korean peninsula.
  • EU will expand its cooperation with Asian partners into areas such as capacity building, training programmes — including on UN peacekeeping — and joint exercises.

Prelims Keywords :

  1. Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC)
  2. Purchasing Managers’ Index
  3. GDP and GVA

Mains Keywords : 

  1. permanent member in United Nations Security Council.


Busting some UPSC exam myths

The challenging Civil Services Examination (CSE) conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) is spread over an entire year, divided into three extremely competitive stages, in which anything can go wrong at any stage leading to one’s failure.

This must sound scary to over seven lakh aspirants who will be sitting for the exam. While beginning their preparation, many students have partial knowledge about the exam, its nitty-gritties and preparation strategy. Confused by half knowledge and filled with fear, many of the students start believing in myths floating around. Here are some things aspirants should avoid.

Myth: IAS officers/aspirants should know everything about every topic/subject under the sun.

Reality: No, they do not. But since this is a generalist exam, they are supposed to be generally well read, with a balanced outlook towards issues. Moreover, the syllabus of the exam is huge, covering many subjects. So, an IAS aspirant is generally much more aware than others. What is required is a general understanding of the topic and conceptual clarity. The exam does not require one to be an expert in a topic, rather, aspirants should have general awareness and analytical skills.

Myth: I need to remember a lot of facts to clear CSE.

Reality: No, the exam does not test factual knowledge at all. It tests your understanding, conceptual clarity and analytical skills. However, some facts are considered to be the basis of building perspective, which are important to know. So, you should know a few basic facts such as size of the GDP, demographic data, and so on, but it will be easier to remember them once you understand their significance.

Myth: You need to be a topper throughout to clear the exam.

Reality: Although being a topper helps, it does not guarantee you success in this exam. What is required is general awareness, logical reasoning and good writing skills. If you can develop those, you can clear this exam even if you had a second division in Class X or XII. Yes, you might have to explain in the interview as to why you scored less, but it is not held against you if you have a valid reason.

Myth: You cannot clear the exam without the help of a coaching institute.

Reality: Wrong. In the new era, one can make use of various great resources, such as mobile apps and websites. Coaching centres do have a study plan that they enforce on you, but it cannot guarantee success and they charge an astronomical fee, which many aspirants cannot afford. It is important to first understand where you stand and how much you need to improve. Once you know your study objectives, you can decide between self-study or joining a coaching institute.

Myth: Writing skills cannot be improved, so one should read now and directly write in the exam hall.

Reality: This is one of the biggest mistakes one can make. Writing at home and writing in the exam hall are two entirely different scenarios. There is so much pressure in the exam hall that you can find it hard to think about new points. So, if you do not practice, you would not be able to finish the paper on time. Writing skills improve slowly, hence, it is more important that you practice regularly. Consistent writing practice helps in honing articulation which leads to better expression, and, ultimately, better marks.

Myth: You must attempt more than 90 questions to clear prelims.

Reality: This is not true. Another myth that has been made popular by some of the ‘hacks’ and ‘shortcuts’ floating in the market is that if you attempt more questions it is easier to get more marks. It doesn’t work like that. To attempt more number of questions correctly, one needs to have a certain level of “intuition”. And that level of intuition comes from years of reading and internalising information which helps in creating links between topics.While a well-read person may attempt a disproportionately large number of questions and still manage to get them correct, not everyone can do it. So, one should attempt only those questions one is reasonably sure of, and not because someone gave you a hack. You need to practice and figure out a strategy that works well for you.

Myth: One needs to study 16 hours a day to clear.

Reality: Let’s face it. No one can study for 16 hours per day for an extended period and not crash. Moreover, it is not the hours that matter, rather the quality. So, you have people who clear by studying for four to five hours a day alongside a job, and people who have studied for 12 hours per day continuously for months. You must find your balance.

Myth: You need to read many books on a single topic to gain absolute “mastery” over the subject.

Reality: First, “mastery” over any subject is a super ambitious target, in case of UPSC exam. Second, it is always better to understand a single book in great depth rather than reading multiple books to understand a topic. Also, even though you have read and understood something, it takes time to get internalised as you are going to study many new topics. If you don’t make notes and revise, you might not be able to retain them effectively. If you genuinely understand a topic and want to expand your knowledge and/or build more perspective, reading more books can certainly help.

Myth: One must read standard books from cover to cover and make notes on every topic in the syllabus.

Reality: Absolutely not. Apart from NCERTs and some books, nothing is required to be read cover to cover. Though reading and acquiring knowledge is almost always helpful, it is far better to adopt a topic-wise approach. Break down the syllabus in keywords and try to cover them from relevant sources and books. Also, making notes is important. But they shouldn’t become an end-in-themselves. They should aid in your understanding and help in effective revision. Making a mind map is far better, and so is scribbling on the margins, than making traditional notes.

To sum up, we know you face a daunting task. But we hope that you’ll enjoy the learning experience instead of becoming anxious and burning out. Focus on the mantra of “Read, Revise, Internalise.” It is also important not to blindly follow any advice that is doled out to you, including this one.

The writer is head, UPSC exam preparation community, Gradeup.

Via The Hindu 

Explained : How CSE Mains papers are Evaluated by UPSC

How CSE Mains papers are Evaluated by UPSC is really a mystery to most of the aspirants well at least till today, someone filed a case against UPSC and the commission responded and explained how it evaluates the papers.

This is really interesting and kind of scientific too, the process is long and little complicated, but it works for the commission if not for the candidates. Thanks to Krishna for excavating this document in the archives of UPSC.

In the counter affidavit filed on behalf of the Commission, the entire methodology of conducting the examination and evaluation of answer scripts has been explained in the following words:

  •  The UPSC conducts 14 structured examinations a year involving lakhs of candidates. Some of these such as the NDA and the CDS Examinations consist of Objective-type (multi-choice) Question papers with OMR answer sheets wherein candidate has to blacken the correct answer choice. Other examinations, including the Civil Services Mains) have ‘conventional’ (essay-type) question-papers that require discursive handwritten answers.
  • While objective-type answer sheets are evaluated through a scanner and computer, conventional answer-books are evaluated manually by Examiners.

How mains papers are evaluated:


  1.  Head Examiner is called early (before the Examiners’ meeting) and evaluates sample/ random answer-books for each Additional Examiner being called. All answer-books are coded with fictitious numbers prior to the start of the evaluation exercise.
  2. The Examiners’ meeting starts immediately after (i) above. Head Examiner and Additional Examiners discuss the question paper exhaustively and agree on assessment standards and evaluation yardsticks.
  3. Each Examiner evaluates the specimen random answer-books allotted to him/her that have already been seen initially by the Head Examiner and indicates a tentative award. The answer-books are then scrutinized by the scrutiny staff for totalling errors, unevaluated portions etc. and where necessary, got revised by the Examiner.
  4. After (iii) above, the Head Examiner meets each Additional Examiner, in turn, to compare evaluation standards based on marks awarded by each for the specimen random answer books. Reconciliation/ recalibration of standards, wherever required, is done, and marks are accordingly finalized for the specimen answer books.
  5. Ideally, once standards are thus set as above, assessment should be uniform. In practice, however, assessment standards tend to vary during the course of evaluation- with some examiners being ‘strict’ and others liberal’. Ideally, once standards are thus set as above, assessment should be uniform. In practice, however, assessment standards tend to vary during the course of evaluation- with some examiners being ‘strict’ and others ‘liberal’.
  6. To ensure uniformity therefore, the Head Examiner re-examines a certain number of each Additional Examiner’s answer-books to check if the agreed standards of assessment have been followed. The Head Examiner may therefore, after this re-examination, either confirms the Additional Examiner’s award or revises it and indicates the revised award on the answer-book. Based on this revision (wherever done), the quantum of moderation to be applied (upwards or downwards) on the remaining answer-books evaluated by the Additional Examiner are determined. In extreme cases where the marking of the Additional Examiner is determined erratic based on the Head Examiner’s check, all the answer-books evaluated by such an Examiner are re-examined by either the Head Examiner or by another Additional Examiner whose standards are seen to match those of the Head Examiner.
  7. Based on (vi) above, inter-examiner moderation is carried out and applied to each candidate (identified only by the fictitious code number). Before this is done, however, each and every answer book is scrutinized by the scrutiny staff and totalling errors, unevaluated portions, credit awarded to answers exceeding the prescribed number of attempts etc. are rectified and revised awards indicated on the answer-books under the initial of the Examiner(s).
  8. After evaluation of all subject-papers is over, the performance of candidates in each is looked at based on marks awarded at the end of inter-examiner (intra-subject) moderation above. Candidates for this Examination choose any two optional subjects (each subject having two Papers) from among a basket of 55 diverse optional subjects (30 Literature and 25 non-Literature) – in effect, 4 Optional Papers from amongst 110. Apart from the differences in the scope and coverage of the syllabi; the difficulty level of the question-papers, and the standards of evaluation are therefore inevitably different and can vary from year to year across subjects/papers. Based on a holistic perspective, therefore, and with its decades of experience, the Commission applies upward or downward inter-subject moderation, wherever required. This is done to ensure a level playing field for all candidates. It is important to note that at this stage too, only statistics are taken into consideration with full anonymity as regards candidates’ details.
  9. Based on the inter-subject moderation, above, marks are finally awarded to each Paper of every candidate (as represented by the relevant fictitious code numbers). This final award subsumes all the earlier stages. It is only these final paper-wise awards that are then considered for preparing the common merit-list after decoding of the relevant fictitious numbers. In all subsequent processing, it is only the final (moderated) awards that are factored and the earlier stages are no longer relevant in this context.


  • Final awards subsume earlier stages of evaluation. Disclosing answer-books would reveal intermediate stages too, including the so- called ‘raw marks’ which would have negative implications for the integrity of the examination system, as detailed in Section (C) below.
  • The evaluation process involves several stages. Awards assigned initially by an examiner can be struck out and revised due to (a) Totalling mistakes, portions unevaluated, extra attempts (beyond prescribed number) being later corrected as a result of clerical scrutiny (b) The Examiner changing his own awards during the course of
    evaluation either because he/she marked it differently initially due to an inadvertent error or because he/she corrected himself/herself to be more in conformity with the accepted standards, after discussion with Head Examiner/colleague Examiners (c) Initial awards of the Additional Examiner being revised by the Head Examiner during the latter’s check of the former’s work (d) The Additional Examiner’s work, having been found erratic by the Head Examiner, been re-checked entirely by another Examiner, with or without the Head Examiner again re-checking this work.
  • The corrections made in the answer-book would likely arouse doubt and perhaps even suspicion in the candidate’s mind. Where such corrections lead to a lowering of earlier awards, this would not only breed representations/grievances, but would likely lead to litigation. In the only evaluated answer book that has so far been shown to a candidate (Shri Gaurav Gupta in WP 3683/2012) on the orders of the High Court, Delhi and that too, with the marks assigned masked; the candidate has nevertheless filed a fresh WP alleging improper evaluation.
  • As relative merit and not absolute merit is the criterion here (unlike academic examinations), a feeling of the initial marks/revision made being considered harsh when looking at the particular answer-script in isolation could arise without appreciating that similar standards have been applied to all others in the field. Non-appreciation of this would lead to erosion of faith and credibility in the system and challenges to the integrity of the system, including through litigation.
  • With the disclosure of evaluated answer-books, the danger of coaching-institutes collecting copies of these from candidates (after perhaps encouraging/inducing them to apply for copies of their answer-books under the RTI Act) is real, with all its attendant implications.
  • With disclosure of answer-books to candidates, it is likely that at least some of the relevant Examiners also get access to these. Their possible resentment at their initial awards (that they would probably recognize from the fictitious code numbers and/or their markings, especially for low-candidature subjects) having been superseded (either due to inter-examiner or inter-subject moderation) would lead to bad blood between Additional Examiners and the Head Examiner on the one hand, and between Examiners and the Commission, on the other hand. The free and frank manner in which Head Examiners, for instance, review the work of their colleague Additional Examiners, would likely be impacted. Quality of assessment standards would suffer.
  • Some of the optional Papers have very low candidature (sometimes only one), especially the literature papers. Even if all Examiners’ initials are masked (which too is difficult logistically, as each answer-book has several pages, and examiners often record their initials and comments on several pages-with revisions/corrections,
    where done, adding to the size of the problem), the way marks are awarded could itself be a give-away in revealing the examiner’s identity. If the masking falters at any stage, then the examiner’s identity is pitilessly exposed. The ‘catchment area’ of candidates and Examiners in some of these low-candidature Papers is known to be limited. Any such possibility of the Examiner’s identity getting revealed in such a high-stakes examination would have serious implications-both for the integrity and fairness of the Examination system and for the security and safety of the Examiner. The matter is compounded by the fact that we have publicly stated in different contexts earlier that the Paper-setter is also generally the Head Examiner.
  • The UPSC is now able to get some of the best teachers and scholars in the country to be associated in its evaluation work. An important reason for this is no doubt the assurance of their anonymity, for which the Commission goes to great lengths. Once disclosure of answer-books starts and the inevitable challenges (including litigation) from disappointed candidates starts, it is only a matter of time before these Examiners who would be called upon to explain their assessment/award, decline to accept further assignments
    from the Commission. A resultant corollary would be that Examiners who then accept this assignment would be sorely tempted to play safe in their marking, neither awarding outstanding marks nor very low marks-even where these are deserved. Mediocrity would reign supreme and not only the prestige, but the very integrity of the system would be compromised markedly.”

This methodology is used for  old syllabus but some thing similar might be adopted for new exam pattern.The Source document: UPSC .