How to Score 140+ in Prelims? UPSC IAS Topper Saurabh Dixit (AIR 162 / CSE 2016) First Attempt, No Coaching

 Pre-exam is a test of decision making, and requires more of memorization. In order to be confident of writing the main(w) exam, you need to be sure of a comfortable margin between your expected score and the expected cut-off in your category. Only then can you be firm in planning your time between pre and main(w) exam, if this is your first attempt. And main(w) exam is all that matters. At least for me it did.

The booklist for pre exam is easily available on a simple Google search. Importance of studying Laxmikanth, Bipin Chandra, NCERTs, current affairs and the like can’t be emphasized more. I stuck to these basic books and got a very comfortable score in CSE 2016 pre exam. You will need lot of practice in a simulated environment to clear pre exam. I had joined online test series and that helped me revise important topics several times.

Always remember, anything that you haven’t revised a couple of times before the exam is as good as you not having read it. You won’t recall it later.

Paper 1 for pre-exam is based on facts mostly. Syllabus is well defined. If you’re not reading it from basic books yourself, chances are you’ll miss the train to writing the main(w) exam. Many students, unfortunately, hunt for short notes, gists of magazines etc few weeks before the exam. I made my own short notes, and revised them multiple times. See, you should always write the exam when you’re on your peak. The peak is reached when you’re getting 120+ in test series(s), you aren’t making silly mistakes, you’re thorough with NCERTs etc.

While in exam hall, there will be questions that will need to be solved based on tricks. For example, if I know Nashik isn’t on the Malwa Plateau – all options suggesting so are wrong and hence I can quickly arrive at my answer. The climate change fund transfer as agreed upon by developed countries was $100 billion, if an option mentions it as $1000 billion, it’s wrong. [These examples are taken from CSE 2016 pre exam, sorry if you can’t relate to them].

Then some people call it luck based. I have only one line for them: don’t go to a temple to pray, if you’re an atheist. Nobody forced (or should) you to write this exam. If you’re here, you’ve to play by the general rules.

So, how many days are sufficient for preparing for the exam?

I have a simple answer for this question. The government conducts the exam every year. This is the time required – one year. If it wasn’t the case, the exams would be held every alternate year.

If you can use your faculty in an efficient way, you can prepare and clear the exam in one year. I did it. Many others have done it. Can you? Now, I take your attention to the quote I had written in the starting, those who think they can, and those who think they can’t are both usually right. You’re your own best judge. Confidence is the key here.

Some Important details that need mention:

Now I shall be as honest as possible. I used to study for around 12 hours a day, every day! Consistency is the key. This included newspaper reading & making notes out of it (yes, I made my own notes from December 2015 to May 2016), reading optional & making notes out of it (I did self study for optional as well), reading GS for upcoming mock tests.

I gave even mocks after revising the syllabus. This helped me memorize books like NCERTs, TN history, GC Leong, Laxmikanth – all by heart. I still have a pictographic memory of all of them. It helps. The scores in the beginning were like 59/200, 60s/200. 90s/200. But in 2-month’s time I was building up the tempo. I thought I was late (considering many people join coaching a year before the exam, many take the exam to improve their AIR, several others may have better grasping skills).

But I now realize 6-8 months time is more than sufficient before pre. If you aren’t able to finish the required syllabus in this time, few things can be inferred. You’re not reading relevant books, you’re idling around, perhaps you’ve weak memory (and I don’t think almond helps), or you’re just not in the mood maybe?

I was done with my pre syllabus by end of May 2016. I had also made notes for Sociology for almost 70 per cent of the syllabus (to those coaching institutes who promise to finish syllabus in 3 months time, I have only thing to say: please don’t cheat the innocent). I now decided that I must revise and start taking full syllabus tests. In hindsight, the revisions made all the difference. I stopped studying Sociology and just revised all what I had read.

Right after the exam, I knew I will get through. I matched answer keys and was comfortably scoring 140+, so I knew I was on the right track. Take some time and try to visualize my situation here. I stayed in the UPSC hub yet never took coaching, had just read online success stories*, and had attempted online test series. To me this was big.
[this fact has motivated me to write this piece, what if someone somewhere takes motivation and finally clears the exam just by self study? I will consider time spent in writing this article as a good investment]

The next write-up will be on main(w) exam.

Happy Independence Day to all. 

Until next time,

– Saurabh Dixit, AIR 162

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