Anunaya Jha (AIR 57) has a whopping 418 in GS with 115, 100, 87 and 116 in GS 1, 2 , 3, 4 respectively. The blog that follows are his wise words. I am merely hosting the same. Hope this helps !
- The gyaan that yours truly is going to dole out in the following 1200 odd words is NOT going to guarantee a fantabulous score in General Studies.
- Take my advice with heaps of salt. Always remember, your path to success is very different from my path to success—what really matters is that we both succeed in the end.
Now that we’re done with the ‘pleasantries’, let’s come down to why I am writing this blog post. For starts, I am a successful candidate of CSE 2014. Add to it, that I scored decently well in GS in CSE 2014. Throw in the fact that I have qualified this examination twice i.e., 2013 and 2014 and improved my GS score by over 100 marks between the two cycles. And let’s seal the matter on the ground that it might just help you, maybe just a tiny bit.
I started preparing for the Civil Services Examination sometime towards the end of 2012, and fell in love with the syllabus from Day 1. I was a rather attentive lad in school and hence, when I started taking classes for General Studies, I had a strong sense of déjà vu. I think my job was well begun because I did not despise any portion—be it Art and Culture or Security or Science and Technology—and hence, the task was half done! So the first takeaway you have is that you should become familiar with the subjects and topics before taking the plunge for preparing full time. Know the basics of History, Polity, Economy et al, and once you get into the groove, bash on!
I have a confession to make, not that I have sinned but because I don’t wish to hide it from you, and that is that I have NOT (yes, NOT!) read a single book for GS throughout my prep. I have never read Bipin Chandra, or Mishra and Puri, or Lakshmikant or… well, I don’t even know what the other books are! My source of information was the notes that I made diligently in class whilst I was coaching and the internet. Yes, the internet is not a distraction. There is more to the world wide web than Facebook and Twitter. Use the vast resource, make it your constant companion. Whenever you hear a new word, google it. I learned so much from this open portal, and I am sure you can use it in a much better way!So, point two, reading books is not the only way to get a good score in GS. You must be inquisitive, and try to find out new things as soon as you hear of them. Newspapers are a great source of knowledge, keep them very close to you. Make precis of editorials, write the major news in bullet point. It always pays off in the long run, believe you me.
The first time I took the examination in 2013, I did not know how to tackle a question. I cursorily read the question, underlined the keyword(s) and barfed everything I knew about it on paper. Please do NOT do that! The examiner is not there to seive your answers for valid points. On the contrary, even if you have meat in your answers but it is covered in heaps of futile words strewn around, the person correcting your script will care two hoots about it. So how do you escape from such a kamikaze attack? Read the question properly. Underatand ‘what’ is being asked. Answer accordingly. And the most important aspect, linkage. Link things that are happening around you to the question being asked. Give A LOT of examples from the present day happenings. I have tried to give an example of this, hope it helps—
“ To what extent has the urban planning and culture of Indus Valley Civilization provided inputs to present day urbanization? Discuss.”
Why do you think this question was asked in the first place? Yep, that’s right! Smart Cities.
So link IVC and the modern civilization to the present day pet project of the government. Talk about Chandigarh grid planning. Issues of drainage and water logging and how that was addressed in IVC cities.
With regards cultural inputs, a distinct architectural features of houses in the IVC was that the kitchen and the lavatory were at diagonally opposite corners of the unit. Why do you think that is? Yes, hygiene. From there came the concept of keeping the two separate– kitchen being a ‘clean’ place and the lavatory, ‘dirty’. Ergo, those working in the kitchen would not be asked to work in the lavatories and those associated with the lavatories weren’t allowed entry into the kitchen. Varna comes from the root ‘varya’ or ‘to choose’ (your profession). Those working in the kitchen were considered inferior to those involved elsewhere. Thus came the concept of high and low in society. So although there wasn’t any caste system in the IVC, no Jati et al, but the seeds of modern day evils of caste system– it’s stringent vertical hierarchical structure– were laid way back in that period.
So this may not be the perfect answer, in fact I am certain it isn’t. But what I’m trying to drive at is that you should try to get inside the mind of the examiner. Know the reason why something is being asked, and once you’ve decoded the message, go for the kill!
Another grey area in the CSM hitherto has been the GS Paper 4 on Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude. How do we write ‘ethical’ answers? Do we quote thinkers? Should we philosophise? Do we use a lot of jargon? My take on this is that you should include thinkers/concepts of philosophy/jargon only when it is absolutely relevant and understandably necessary. Don’t throw around terms and ideas, it’ll backfire. Majorly. Go simple, give loads of personal examples if you can (don’t drop any personal details, though!), and write to the point. I remember this question on Economic Development versus Environmental Degradation, and the strategies for sustainable development in the GS Paper 4 in 2014. Why was this question asked in the Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude examination? This should be a part of Paper 1 and/or Paper 3, right? The reason is that they want to know whether you are aware of something called ‘environmental ethics’—the concept of Stewardship and Ecofeminism. Read up on such things (yes, use the internet!) and link it in the answers. Once you’ve given them a comprehensice answer, no one– absolutely no one– can stop you from acing the examination.
With regards the list of books to read, and other sources, I may not be of much help. But then again, most of the source material and the booklist is readily available on several blogs. What I just wanted to put out there was the fact that GS can be made scoring with just a little effort. And no, it is not unpredictable if you know how to go about it. I learned it in a year, and I am sure you’ll get a hang of it much faster. Just be at it, you’ll shine. For sure.
I think one of the most important, yet most neglected areas in the course of preparation is answer writing. I had not written any subjective papers since school days and so after prelims I realized that I was in a tough spot. In the mock tests that I appeared in September 2014 , I could only finish 17 out of 25 questions in 3 hours . I realized then that all my preparation amounted to nothing if I could not present my knowledge to the examiner. Hence this is an area where I tried to improve my performance religiously in the next 3 months. In this process I realized the following:
- Love thy examiner
This one person holds the key to your success. It is not only fair but also logical for you to make his/her life as easy as possible. Remember that he/she is not doing you a favour by checking your answer-sheet. Its your job to generate his/her curiosity and then grasp his/her attention.
For this, you should keep a neat and legible handwriting, use considerable spacing and write in a logical flow. In case of GS , I tried and wrote in bullet points wherever possible. I wrote an introduction, then analysed the pros in the first section and cons in next and finally gave a conclusion. Your introduction should set the tone for your answer and conclusion should be balanced with a slice of your own outlook.
In political science, I wrote in short paragraphs and avoided bullet points as I personally thought that as a specialist writing an answer, paragraphs imparted greater maturity and connectivity. As I stated earlier, put the most important point first and the least in the end. Also, use references of political thinkers wherever possible. For example, in the question on SAARC I wrote in the conclusion that following a functionalist approach ,we can resolve regional problems issue-wise leading to “peace by pieces”- which is the takeaway of Functionalist theory.
Such elements convince the examiner that you not only follow the news but you also think like a strategic affairs specialist. This is where I believe he/she will give you those extra marks which can propel you ahead of others.
Takeaway: Try and make your answer sheet the most pleasing one in the stack.
- Keep points ready:
Answer writing has two parts- first and the more critical one is the recollection and organization that takes place in our heads and the second part is pure execution of the same. I realized that I was writing answers slowly because I had to pause and think. It was the first part that was pulling me down as my writing speed was fairly good.
So I started consolidating what I knew. I kept some points ready in my head for almost all topics. There are many topics which are in the news and seem important or broad issues at that. For example: In India’s role in UN peacekeeping, I clearly organized the issue into India’s past missions, laurels won, problems faced and need for reform. When I saw the question, I could tailor the answer to the requirements of the question much faster.
So, for speed not just writing practice but the whole exercise of retention and retrieval in your mind are very very important. While writing one point, you should plan about your next ones. By December, I could attempt 25 questions in 3 hours. In political science, I could attempt almost the full paper (left about 5 marks) because of my answer writing practice in GS mock tests.
Takeaway: The faster you think, the faster you write
- Stick to your time schedule:
I had never given a political science test before the actual mains paper and so in the first paper my time management was horrible. I wrote 50 marks worth in the last 15 minutes. I am thankful that I got 136 because I am sure in those last minutes of blitzkrieg my brain was on auto-pilot.
In the 2nd paper, I managed time better and gave the right amount of time to each question. I ended up scoring much better in it ( 157) . Sticking to the time schedule is very important so that you can do justice to every question. Remember that attempting all questions well will fetch you much more marks than writing a thesis on 3-4 questions.
Takeaway: Your watch is your friend
- Innovate and Interlink:
Especially in a subject like Political Science where there are so many connections, linking events can fetch you more marks. For example in US-India relations, you must mention the rise of China and the possibility of US visualising India as a counterweight to China in its Pivot to Asia policy.
Similarly, give examples to reinforce your points which will add weight to your answer, Using key terms which you may have picked up from newspapers can help. For example: I remember writing about the possibility of formation of a “middle powers coalition” in the question related to Japan. This is a reference to possible cooperation between India, Japan and Australia in the Indo-Pacific considering greater Chinese assertion. I thought then that putting such an idea seemed like a gamble, but it seems to have paid off.
Takeaway: Train your mind to form a web of information
- Practice! Practice! Practice!
Needless to say, all of the above aspects can only be covered through thorough study, planned revision and practice in answer writing. Try and write answers of past years questions and try to observe the pattern and focus areas, especially in the recent years. You can then get them peer reviewed and assimilate the best points.
Takeaway: Do a little more when you think it is enough
With time, you should be able to plan an answer roughly before you put it on paper.
Hope this helps
Good luck! via Ananya Das (AIR 16, CSE 2014-15)