UPSC Topper Strategy for General Studies : How to Prepare
by Gaurav Agarwal (Rank-1)
General Studies : How to Prepare :
In this phase we should cover all the basic books. These include:
– Bipin Chandra for Indian freedom.
– DD Basu’s for Indian constitution.
– Class 11th and 12th old ncert textbooks: 3 in Geography (1 physical, 1 India, 1 economic), 3 in History (Ancient and medieval for the culture, philosophy part only, and the modern one for modern history)
– Class 9th and 10th Science old ncerts (specially the biology part)
We must prepare notes in our own language when we read these books and not merely underline for reasons mentioned later.
Once we do this strongly, we will also realize we won’t need to prepare much for prelims as well!
Underlining vs Note Making
Some people prefer underlining to note making. However, note making is preferable for at least 3 strong reasons:
1. In UPSC Mains exams, its the stuff we have internalized which helps. We may have studied something in some context but in exam we may apply it in some other context. This kind of ‘cross referencing’ is very helpful and can make our answers very powerful. While making notes, we convert the language of the book into our own language and this process helps a lot in internalizing stuff.
2. It saves time! This may sound contrary to common sense because underlining is definitely faster than painstakingly writing stuff in our own language. True, preparing notes takes lot longer than underlining books. But because they are in our own language, revising them takes lot lesser time than revising underlined stuff. In fact, with well prepared notes, it may be possible to revise your entire syllabus some 5-10 times and each successive revision will be faster!
3. Notes are customizable. We can frame our own questions which we think may be asked in UPSC and prepare our notes accordingly. But we can’t do the same for underlined stuff.
Notes on Paper vs Notes on Computer
Try to make notes on computer if your typing speed is even half decent.
– Making notes on computer has one very very big advantage over making notes on paper. It is editable and can be formatted easily. We can delete, format, append, insert, do anything with notes on computer and yet make it one clean nice story. For instance, many stories in current affairs develop over weeks and months. eg. the question on Maldives. No newspaper story will have a complete picture of it. But the question will only ask the complete story. So in our notes, we will have to edit bit by bit over time so that by the exam time we have the entire story in one place. The choice is yours – read n number of newspaper cuttings or physical paper notes, each containing partial information or read one coherent, complete story in one place only on computer. This will help us in quick revisions as well.
– Online note making will also help us in revising our entire syllabus 5-10 times, so that all the stuff is so well placed in our mind that when we are solving 25 questions in 3 hours in the exam, we don’t take a long time to recollect and arrange stuff.
– We should also get into the habit of making notes for anything and everything we read. This may include the basic books, the advanced books, newspapers, magazines, reports etc.
– These notes must be organized issue-wise (eg. say Coal energy) irrespective of the sources we may read from. Thus whether we read from a book, newspaper, internet or wherever, all our notes on coal energy should be in one place only. To give an example of what I am talking, uploading here my note on ‘Energy’. Click here to see the note on energy. This will provide a picture of how to organize the notes (forgive me for some instances of lack of formatting in the note as they were added when I had grown lazy).
Newspaper and Magazine Reading
News vs Issues
People in the beginning tend to focus on news and make notes accordingly. UPSC never asks news… it asks issues. For example, MDR-TB is an issue, we need to focus on that and not any individual news item. While reading any news on MDR-TB, we need to connect it to the key points of the issue. An issue specific reading thus tries to:
1. identify key points with the issue in hand. For eg. in MDR-TB, the key challenges are the challenges it poses to the public health, why is it different from normal B, why is it more difficult to handle, what are the institutional factors which are leading to its spread, what needs to be done to tackle it, what steps is the government taking.
2. Then when we read any news, we need to connect it to the key points so identified and not bother about facts and figures. For eg. a news item on MDR-TB may talk about some places, some drugs, some persons… we need to only worry about our key points and skip all the rest.
Other aspects of newspaper/magazine reading
1. Politics, sports, masala news etc. can be skipped straightaway.
2. Keep an eye on any committee, any law, any rules, any policy, any supreme court orders etc. These are our bread and butter in upsc preparation.
3. Hindu has become very very important since last 2 years. Read one more newspaper at least. Since Hindu is left leaning, so may suggest a pro-reform newspaper say Indian Express.
4. UPSC is a left leaning exam. So one may read EPW magazine, but beware of the excessively left leaning rattling. Similarly yojana is a helpful magazine as well.
5. We should never go in too many details or detailed news/articles can be straightaway skipped. GS is a generalist exam and reading has to be kept generalist too. For eg. no need to spend hours in reading and understanding about what Higgs Boson is. Even if we get a common man’s understanding on Higgs Boson, its good enough. No need to do a PhD on an issue – no use in writing things the examiner doesn’t know about.
Our goal should be to finish one newspaper in max half an hour.
Using Internet And RSS Reader
Using the internet is of vital importance for proper UPSC preparation. The reason is simple:
– Very often the newspaper/magazine/book/report we are reading will only contain partial information on the issue (say just the committee or bill name and only 1-2 points). But for our exam we need full information. Only place today to find complete information is internet.
– Even reading 2 newspapers will never be sufficient. We should scan everything so that there are no ‘surprises’ in the exam. This can be done only on internet.
How to use the internet
1. As mentioned earlier, the moment we find something useful and yet incomplete in the newspapers/books, we should look up for it on internet.
2. Since newspapers and magazines can’t cover everything, we should use a RSS reader (say feedly on Google Chrome) and subscribe to the editorials / sections of all major newspapers. It is free and easy. Any new item will show up with title and one line on your feedly. We can decide to either read it or skip it. We will find that we would normally skip ~95% of the items. But remaining 5% are needed.
3. For certain topics like WTO & India, one may create Google alerts. This way one will get an email everytime something is published on the net containing keywords such as ‘WTO’ and ‘India’. Other meaningful alerts may be created.
During our preparation we will need to read multiple committee reports.
– Sometimes newspapers talk about certain reports and publish a few of their recommendations. There is always a temptation to just make our notes based on that newspaper article. But this is not the right approach – because the newspaper article has not been written for the upsc exam and the reporter may not have covered all points relevant to us in our preparation for the exam. So the correct approach is to always look up for the original report on the internet and read it.
Courtesy: Mr.Gaurav Agarwal