IAS PT 2014- SPECIAL SERIES-1, GS for Prelims: Changing trends

  • by Manoj K. Jha

GS for prelims have always been a nightmare both for the freshers as well as experienced campaigners. This is primarily because of the vastness of the syllabus wherein almost everything under the sun is covered under it and is fit to be studied and known.

GS for prelims have always been a nightmare both for the freshers as well as experienced campaigners. This is primarily because of the vastness of the syllabus wherein almost everything under the sun is covered under it and is fit to be studied and known. Add to it the objective nature of the examination, which makes it important to go through even the minutest details of everything in the syllabus and to be able to recollect and reproduce it accurately in the examination.

This view, though very popular but do not however provide the best picture of the actual nature of the exam. GS for prelims is not actually a synonym of arbitrariness and randomness. A thorough analysis of the paper shall reveal that it is much simple and somewhat predictable. Further recent changes incorporated by the UPSC on the prelims exam has not only made the GS paper much simpler but has drastically reduced the overall effort which was required for clearing the exam provided the candidate follows the right approach and puts in sufficient effort.
However on the other side if a candidate is lackadaisical in putting the necessary effort and fails to appreciate the direction in which the changes are pointing to the task has become even more Herculean.
However to elaborate the point further we need to first examine as to what have been the nature of the changes which have become a part of the GS paper in the CSAT exam. Though some people may differ from this view but that is mainly because  barring a few of them, most of these changes have been very slowly manifesting themselves and contributing to the evolution of the exam.
More and more questions now are framed around concepts rather than events or fixtures and a candidate is expected to work more on the following lines which is by and large a four step process.
Firstly, he is expected to master all the important concepts in a holistic manner across all the disciplines be it history, polity, economy, geography, science and tech etc.
Secondly, he needs to understand the theories/principles/fundamental  around which the concepts are woven to offer explanations.
Thirdly, he needs to incorporate interdisciplinary concepts to explore more theories and explanations and thus further enriching understanding.
Finally he needs to apply these theories and concepts to real situations and discover their validity or falsity for a given set of values.
This four step process though sounds very stupendous but is in-fact foundation to all types of learning. Further following this four step process not only ensures that a candidate clears his GS paper in the prelims but also is very much on track as far as preparations for mains are concerned.
In consonance with this four step process, there are several noticeable trends which are visible in the GS paper of the CSAT examination. Foremost, we find that unlike in the past, the nature of questions asked in the GS paper are more multifaceted that is within the same question, the UPSC tends to identify whether the candidate has a grasp over a concept and whether he is also in a position to apply that concept and give out answers to questions involving theoretical linkages with other concepts. So much so that even some questions from history envisage a candidate to use his knowledge of the social, economic and cultural variables of the time, to answer the questions rather than information like the genealogy of the kings and important dates, that is to indicate a definitive shift from the fact based pattern of asking questions.
Furthermore the increased emphasis on concepts and understanding can be seen in some questions like that on Karl Marx and dialectical materialism (CSAT 2011), which otherwise is a core concept of sociology and political science, and not considered a part of GS, but is of ultimate importance to the understanding of various political and economic concepts.
An extension of the same idea in the disciplines of polity and economics is in the form of asking questions in which the application of the concepts and the theoretical perspectives to real practical situations is required thereby testing for the candidates’ grasp in scenarios where such application of theoretical paradigms is not absolute. In other words not only it is important to know the ‘what’ but also the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ aspects in a critical perspective, taking the entire preparation to the advanced level, closer to that of the mains exam.
This also means that studying NCERT is necessary but not sufficient as the candidate has to cultivate the skill of understanding concepts beyond the conventional perspective himself, which is something he cannot acquire simply by gazing over NCERT which is more knowledge intensive rather than application intensive. In that sense only candidates who have managed to take their preparation to the next level run a chance of clearing the Prelims. All this however has proved to be a blessing in disguise for the smart candidate who knows his lessons well as very much of the questions can now be answered merely by applying common sense and also one becomes more comfortable in hitting at the right answers to those questions which offer more than one correct answer or present very close alternatives or involve application of some level of value based subjectivity in coming to the right answers.
Now the question is as to how to maximize the probability of answering the most number of questions in the paper. Foremost is adhering to the wide extensive approach to which there is no substitute. A candidate must be thorough with the various important concepts across all disciplines in conjugation with popular theoretical paradigms.
Once a wide extensive coverage is achieved, it should be followed by a selective intensive approach in which the keyword is ‘current affairs’. Now the word current affairs itself is so broad that some candidates find the application of the selective intensive approach almost impossible. But an avid observer will notice that there is definite definition of ‘relevant’ current affairs and irrelevant current affairs, which we can very well deduce from the previous year question papers.
Having said all this it is equally important to mention in the end, that a candidate must always try to remain original and honest during the course of preparation. All we can offer are just vital clues to make your approach focused and streamlined but the best approach for you is the one you think is the best for you.
We are starting a special series on IAS PT 2014 preparation along with test series.