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Rethinking on GS for Mains exam

The most important aspect of UPSC Civil Services Examination is the Mains Exam. It consists of 1750 marks comprising almost 90% of the total marks and decides the position in final merit list, remaining 10% being the interview. These 1750 marks are further distributed across various subjects vis History and culture, Geography, Sociology, Polity, Governance, International Relations, Economics, Environment, Science and Technology, Internal Security, Disaster Management, Ethics, Essay and Optional paper.


Excluding the Optional paper of 500 marks and Essay paper of 250 marks, the rest of the 1000 marks depend upon the above General Studies subjects. One may think that this means one should devote the available time and resources on comprehensively exhausting each subject in and out to score well in General Studies. But this might not be true, especially if one has limited time, which is true for most of the candidates.


Analysis of past year papers points to the skewed distribution of questions across the above subjects. This also changes every year as the exam pattern is unpredictable. For example, in the last couple of years, 6-8 out of 20 questions in General Studies Paper 1 are being asked from Geography. On the other hand, 3-5 questions out of 20 in General Studies Paper 3 are from Economy. This was not so in the preceding years. However, when looked closely, one will see that every year consistent number of questions are being asked from certain specific subjects. Such as 20 questions on Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude, i.e., the entire General Studies paper 4. And 5 out of 20 questions on Internal Security in General studies paper 3. Vital points can be deduced from this analysis. 


Firstly, the return on investing months and months on huge subjects such as Geography and Economy are dicey. Secondly, few smaller subjects such as Ethics and Internal Security give a sure shot return on investment. Let’s keep Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude for another discussion and talk about Internal Security.

Internal security, unlike economy and geography, consists of very limited topics and can be easily prepared in a week. The very same topics relating to Extremism, Border Management, and Cyber Security are repeated every year. Hence, rather than trying to cover unlimited subheadings of large subjects, one should spend more time on covering the very clearly defined topics of Internal Security. Comprehensively covering various possible dimensions of these topics by referring to previous year questions and using all the available material at hand will guarantee maximum marks in the 5 questions that are being asked every year. And most importantly this won’t take much time. The major part of syllabus for security issues is static and rest is deduced from current affairs preparation.

This doesn’t mean that one turns a blind eye to core subjects such as Economy and Geography. They are crucial for clearing the exam and need to be given adequate attention. However, diving deep into these subjects at the cost of simpler and smaller subjects will not be wise because the key to clearing UPSC lies in efficient and effective utilisation of time.


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