Academician and IAS mentor, S B Singh, writes in Employment News that, whether in sports or examination, what matters is not the starting line but the finishing line. In other words, however serious the preparations for the prelims may have been in the beginning, unless they are sustained and accelerated at their last stage, the advantages gained during the early phase of preparation may become infructuous. Therefore, it is crucial to use the time between now and the exam date to prepare for the most difficult part of the IAS exam, which is the prelims. In order to ensure success, the nature of the exam must first be understood properly. The prelims is a qualifying exam and it is immaterial for the final success. It is just meant to give you a permit to write the main exam, which is the real test that would decide your success in the civil services. The objective should be to just secure the minimum qualifying marks in the prelims exam. But the minimum score, or required cut-off, in itself is very difficult to obtain given the unpredictable nature of the prelims exam. Therefore, one has to focus on the core areas where the most questions are asked and prepare accordingly. To grasp the pattern of the prelims, one has to analyse the last several years' questions of the UPSC, preferably those asked in the last three years and find out which areas are carrying a higher number of questions. In order to secure the required cut-off, which is usually 95-100 marks out of a total of 200 marks in the GS paper, one needs to attempt some correct questions from all the areas. This calls for a balanced and complete coverage of the prelims syllabus.
It is not practical or necessary to prepare all areas of the syllabus equally. This is so because the allotment of marks is not equal for all the areas of the syllabus. So, emphasis should be put on some areas that should be sufficient to acquire the required cut-off. Say, for example, that history alone carries 15-20 questions and therefore, constitutes a large chunk of the syllabus, accounting for almost 20% of the total marks. Similarly, polity accounts for 15-17 questions and is, therefore, another major area to be covered. Geography, however, weighs comparatively less in terms of marks allotted to it nowadays and just 10-12 questions are being asked on this subject. This is due to the fact that now environment occupies more importance than geography and at least 10-12 questions are asked on this area each year. Economy is another important area in which one can expect to have 15 or more questions. In science and technology, at least 15 questions will be set. Finally, current affairs makes up the bulk of the questions and 20-25 questions are usually set from different aspects of current affairs. The distribution of marks on different areas of the syllabus is not constant and varies from year to year, but the broad pattern remains the same.
The core of the prelims syllabus comes from the four disciplines- history, polity, economy, and geography. These cannot be prepared casually. Standard texts by NCERT are available on all these subjects that can be covered in just a few months’ time. Of course, just NCERT cannot be adequate for preparation and a few higher level books also need to be referred to in addition to these. But caution needs to be exercised, i.e., you should not read too many sources. Select your sources wisely and depend on them without feeling tempted to read anything and everything. In this information age, there is what is called the problem of plenty. You can never have a command over the syllabus from so many sources and it is not required either.
Preparing for History: History being a very important part of the syllabus, it has to be given top priority in prelims preparation. Of the three areas, viz., ancient, mediaeval, and modern India, one should prepare modern India thoroughly and next to this, ancient India should be accorded importance. Questions on mediaeval India are fewer compared to the other two periods.
Ancient India: Topics to be covered more intensively are: Pre-historic period, Indus Valley Civilization, Vedic Age, religious movements including Buddhism, Jainism, Ajivikas, Brahmanism, six schools of philosophy and the Lokayat philosophy, Mauryan Empire; the 18 Mahajanpads; foreign invasions and their impact, Gupta period, Harshvardhan, Sangam Age, Satavahanas, Chalukyas and Pallavas.
More emphasis should be placed on aspects relating to art, culture, administration, and religion pertaining to each of the above-mentioned topics in ancient India. One should cultivate the habit of preparing a glossary of important terms about ancient India. For this, you must look at the index given at the end of the books. Try to constantly update the glossary as you collect more and more information on the topics.
Mediaeval India: Topics to be Covered: Delhi Sultanate, Vijayanagar Empire, Cholas, Mughal Period, Marathas, Sikhs, and the Bhakti and Sufi Movements. The art and architecture of mediaeval India are very important and deserve good coverage. Similarly, terms related to administration, taxes, etc. must be, given due emphasis. Like ancient India, one should prepare a glossary of important terms for mediaeval India, too.
Modern India: As stated above, Modern India needs extra focus as maximum number of questions are asked from this section. Topics to be' covered are: Coming of the Europeans and the expansion of the British rule, Revolt of 1857 and other tribal, peasant revolts, formation of the Congress and the pre.Congress associations, Mode-rate phase,extremist phase, era of revolutionary terrorism, Home Rule League Movement, Gandhian phase- Champaran, Kheda Satyagraha, Ahmedabad Mills strike, Rowlatt Satyagraha, Khilafat movement, Non Cooperation Movement, Vaikom Satyagraha, Civil Disobedience Movement, formation of Congress ministries in the provinces, Quit India movement, and events leading to independence.
One should make specific notes on the following aspects of modern India:
Making a plan for yourself based on the above-suggested pattern will make your preparation target-specific. Making, notes is very important while studying it is a must to go through previous years questions asked by the UPSC on history. For example, once you have finished ancient India, try to check how many questions from the UPSC you are able to answer based on your preparation. If some areas remain untouched, you can accordingly prepare again.
The author is an academician and IAS mentor.
The views expressed are personal.