How To Approach the IAS Prelims – Last 10 weeks


Prelims is almost here. Preparation would be at full swing. It goes without saying, you have to best utilize these ten weeks to maximize your score in prelims and crack it without any hiccups. As time is of essence, I would not waste any more time on introduction and niceties and come straight to the task at hand. And the task is how to best utilize these last 10 weeks and how to approach prelims paper.

This blog is primarily based on a talk delivered at Visionias. Here I would add to those points and give more examples to drive home the essence of the entire talk.

First thing first, nobody can afford to flunk CSAT paper. There is simply no excuse for flunking that paper. To make sure, you don’t flunk the paper, just solve last 4 years UPSC CSAT papers, match your answers with official answer keys and if you score >90 <24 marks cushion over cutoff to discount for a tough paper and bad day> in all 4 papers, you need not touch CSAT.

If you are scoring <80, you need to do some work. You can decide for yourself what needs to be done if you score b/w 80-90.

With CSAT out of the way and whole game being based on general studies, our task in these last 10 weeks is to organize our studies in such a way that examination feels like an extension of our daily routine and we can score maximum marks.

By now, most of you would already have done at least one reading of all the standard books <NCERTs plus Laxmikant, any one book for modern India, G.C Leong, climatology part, Highlights of budget and Eco survey, Current affairs at least from jan to may and later june>. If not, don’t waste any time and finish these books first.

Before moving forward, I take it that basic books are done.

Now some Do’s and Don’ts

Prioritize – Don’t spend disproportionate time on one or two particular subjects or topics <often aspirants spend too much time on art and culture and Environment and ecology with very poor return on your invested time>. Please remember it’s okay to leave a few questions. No body gets all 100 correct and all the questions are of equal marks. So, if you get easy questions wrong and difficult ones correct, it’s not gonna help you.

For instance, You can not get this question incorrect

To uphold and protect the Sovereignty, Unity and Integrity of India” is a provision made in the

(a) Preamble of the Constitution
(b) Directive Principles of State Policy
(c) Fundamental Rights
(d) Fundamental Duties

Or This

Which one of the following is the best description of the term ‘ecosystem’?

(a) A community of organisms interacting with one another.
(b) That part of the Earth which is inhabited by living organisms.
(c) A community of organisms together with the environment in which they live
(d) The flora and fauna of a geographical area

Or Fortaleza declaration or non plan expenditure, repo rate, Basel Committee, Cabinet Mission Plan, Rowlatt Satyagraha etc.

Marking them incorrect is simply criminal and punishment is 1 year rigorous jail term

But it’s okay if you got this wrong

Kalamkari painting refers to

(a) a hand-painted cotton textile in South India
(b) a handmade drawing on bamboo handicrafts in North-East India
(c) a block-painted woollen cloth in Western Himalayan region of India
(d) a hand-painted decorative silk cloth in North-Western India

Or This

Which of the following has/have been accorded ‘Geographical  Indication’ status?

1. Banaras Brocades and Sarees
2. Rajasthani Daal-Bati-Churma
3. Tirupathi Laddu

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a)  1 only
(b) 2 and  3 only
(c) 1 only 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3

You just can not remember all the things that have been accorded GI tag. If your guess turn out to be right, well and good, if not, don’t be too livid on yourself.

Always remember not all questions are doable, your 1st aim should be to mark all doable questions correctly.

2. Solving Question papers– Solve at least 2 papers every week till last Sunday of UPSC <1 test series paper and 1 past year UPSC paper>.  There’s no harm in solving 4 papers every week either. You know where to get papers from <you know all about copyrights law enforcement in India, I am not getting paid by coaching industry, wasn’t paid by vision either, no conflict of interest>

Analysis of paper -But just solving isn’t enough. Analyse the paper. Analyse your mistakes. Jot them down in your notebook <doesn’t matter if you have to jot down 80 mistakes>.  You would soon realize there’s pattern to your mistakes. Rectify the though process which makes you commit those mistakes.

Go back to standard books and read the topics which you find yourself weak at and improve upon them.

Demolish the myth of negative marking holding you back– In the question paper itself, mark those questions which you are not 100% or even 80% sure <this 100%, 80% is subjective, we all know> and see if marking them benefits you or harm you. Also you would get the knack of marking dicey options correctly.  <this exercise is very important, as many of the questions which we solve by calculated guesses turn out to be correct but we attribute them to our knowledge while all the wrong ones are attributed to guesses and then we trash this whole exercise of calculated/ informed guessing>

Practice elimination method and informed guessing

For instance, if the question is-

  • Which of the following country is not a member of Mercosur
  • Options are – Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico

Now even if you don’t remember much about Mercosur but could recall reading about it in an article about trading blocks at CD, you would be able to vaguely remember that it had members from South America and Mexico is in central America or North but not in South so this could be the answer.

Very conservatives among you would not mark such options but IMHO, one should definitely mark such options. It’s not tukka, it’s not cheating. It’s calculated/ informed guessing.

But in exam you may develop cold feet while marking such options, hence it;s important you apply this in test papers, see the benefits for yourself and become confident.

Similarly sometimes you would be able to eliminate two options, it’s advisable to mark a tukka b/w the two options <You can do the math of probablity for CSAT>

Consider this question (Pre 2015)

Consider the following statements

1. The Executive Power of the Union of India is vested in the Prime Minister.
2. The Prime Minister is the ex officio Chairman of the Civil Services Board.
Which of the statements given above is / are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

  • Everyone should know that 1st statement is incorrect <if you don’t know this, no need to do PHD in art and culture but immediately go back to Laxmikant>
  • Statement 2 even if you don’t know IMO, you should mark either b or d after doing akkad bakkad bambe bo <you can do the math of probability>

What if you are able to eliminate one option?

You should mark based on your preparation and risk appetite

For instance this question ( Pre 2015)

In the ‘Index of Eight Core Industries’, which one of the following is given the highest weight?

(a) Coal production
(b) Electricity generation
(c) Fertilizer production
(d) Steel production

Anyone with slightest knowledge, commonsense and logic can easily eliminate fertilizer <agriculture’s contribution to GDP <18%, fertilizer ka kitna hoga> with  more logic you can reach to electricity, I applied but reached to steel and my answer turned out to be incorrect <don’t mark in 1/3 if you feel you are comfortable in prelims, no point in going for glory>

In tests as also in exam, read every question and every option carefully. Don’t leave a question even if you don’t have much idea about without reading the options. Apply all your previous knowledge and all the logic at your disposal to see if you can arrive at correct answer or if you can eliminate at least two options.

For instance this question (prelims 2015)

Which one of the following best describes the main objective of ‘Seed Village Concept’?

(a) Encouraging the farmers to use their own farm seeds and discouraging them to buy the seeds from others
(b) Involving the farmers for training in quality seed production and thereby to make available quality seeds to others at appropriate time and affordable cost
(c) Earmarking  some villages exclusively for the production of certified seeds
(d) Identifying the entrepreneurs in village and providing them technology and finance to set up seed companies

Many of you would leave this question just after reading seed village concept. I didn’t have any idea either. But let’s read the options

  • 1st options seems like a BS option. Why should anyone discourage farmers from buying seeds from others if they are of good quality
  • 3rd option, is it even possible to earmark some villages exclusively for seed production i.e leave your animal husbandry, farming, other activities just produce seeds.
  • Now you can choose from b and d. In the exam I chose d which was incorrect but the point I am trying to make is don’t move without reading all the options

Some important red flags which should alert you to the possibility of statement being wrong. In such situations, you should pause and think about that possibility. I am not saying that statement with red flags would always be incorrect, what I am saying is you should pause and think about that possibility.

Such red flags are

  • Broad sweeping statements – all, always, only
  • Unnecessary negative sentence which seems odd or seems logically incorrect
  • Too much over exaggeration

Now I discuss such statements and questions asked in last year’s exam

1. With reference to ‘Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC)’, consider the following statements:

1. It was established very recently in response to incidents of piracy and accidents of oil spills.
2. It is an alliance meant for maritime security only.
Which of the statements given above is / are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Discussion- Look at the statement 2 –Maritime security only. You should observe this and think if it can be false. It’s actually false as this organization has noting to do with security <economy actually>. Also if it had to focus on maritime security only statement could have been, It is an alliance meant for maritime security.  <ye to nhi likha hoga naa that can’t talk about anything except security>

Now look at the statement one – very recently <could it not be recently, it’s a very lame reason actually> but you should think, be skeptic, mark them right if you are sure they are right.

Also statement 1 and 2 contradict each other. Accident of oil spills are not related to maritime security.

Imp.- You should know that this organization is focused on economy and both the statements become incorrect automatically and no such tikdam required

2. With reference to inflation in India, which of the following statements is correct?

(a) Controlling the inflation in India is the responsibility of the Government of India only
(b) The Reserve Bank of India has no role in controlling the inflation
(c) Decreased money circulation helps in controlling the inflation
(d) Increased money circulation helps in controlling the inflation

  • Option 1 only should make you think, <it’s logical that inflation would be the responsibility of both govt and RBI, yes primary responsibility of RBI but even only RBI would be incorrect>
  • Also if statement one is true, two has to be true and both can’t be true simultaneously <single choice answer>
  • Statement c and d are opposite so one has to be true unless money supply has no role in inflation

Note– Very easy question, done your NCERT, solved all economy questions I solved for you in the forum, no need for any tikdam

3. With reference to bio-toilets used by the Indian Railways, consider the following  statements:

1.The decomposition of human waste in the bio-toilets is initiated by a fungal inoculum.
2. Ammonia and water vapour are the only end products in this decomposition which are released into the atmosphere.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Option 2- why only water vapour and NH3, why not CO2 and other gases. Stands to reason. Again it should make you think. You should not mark a statement incorrect just because you see only.

Note- I don’t think anyone would remember all the gases which are released so this question is apt to be solved by our tikdam after thinking about the statement

4. Which of the following statements is/are correct regarding National Innovation Foundation-India (NIF)?

1. NIF is an autonomous body of the Department of Science and Technology under the Central Government.
2. NIF is an initiative to strengthen the highly advanced scientific research in India’s premier scientific institutions in collaboration with highly advanced foreign scientific institutions.

Look at the exaggeration in the statement 2. High advanced scientific research with highly advanced foreign institutions. This made me think and I recalled that NIF was actually for grass root level innovation. Again the point is I knew about NIF but I was still going with the flow and marked the option as correct until I focused on exaggeration. So, imp think is stopping and thinking

NOTE- Knowing about NIF was imp. These tikdams work only when you are well prepared.

5. With reference to ‘fly ash’ produced by the power plants using coal as fuel, which of the following statements is/are correct?

1. Fly ash can be used in the production of bricks for building construction.
2. Fly ash can be used as a replacement for some of the Portland cement concrete.
3. Fly ash is made up of silicon dioxide and calcium oxide only, and does not contain any toxic elements.

Look at the statement 3. Why can’t there be anything else in fly ash? I didn’t know much about that but I thought if that was the case, they should have written made up of silicon dioxide and calcium oxide, what was the need of silly only?

6. With reference to ‘dugong’, a mammal found in India, which of the following statements is/an; correct?

1. It is a herbivorous marine animal.
2. It is found along the entire coast of India.
3. It is given legal protection under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1 and 2
(b) 2 only
(c) 1 and 3
(d) 3 only

Look at the statement 2. It should at least make you think, at least 1 km stretch mein to nhi milta hoga. Now you can say what if the statement was deer is found everywhere in India?? Tikdam is only to stop you and make you consider the other possibility

Some questions where logic can help you

7. Which one of the following issues the ‘Global Economic Prospects’ report periodically?

(a) The Asian Development Bank
(b) The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
(c) The US Federal Reserve Bank
(d) The World Bank

Global report should be published by a global body, right. You can easily rule out Fed and European Bank. Asian bank can also be ruled out similarly <though there is a possibility of even regional institutions publishing global reports>

8. With reference to the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency Limited (IREDA), which of the following statements is/are correct?

1. It is a Public Limited Government Company.
2. It is a Non – Banking Financial Company.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 or 2

Option 1 you can mark correct by name of agency, option 2 if you know it’s function

9. Kalamkari painting refers to

(a) a hand-painted cotton textile in South India
(b) a handmade drawing on bamboo handicrafts in North-East India
(c) a block-painted woollen cloth in Western Himalayan region of India
(d) a hand-painted decorative silk cloth in North-Western India

Kalam means pen, option c is easily incorrect but if you don’t know difficult to mark in 1/3

10. Consider the following statements :

1 The Legislative Council of a State in India can be larger in size than half of the Legislative Assembly of that particular State
2. The Governor of a State nominates the Chairman of Legislative Council of that particular State.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

If you don’t remember the exact provisions, think what would be the purpose of making a law if size could be more than half. If it can be more than half, it can be anything. Provisions are made to limit size (<15% size of CoM, <1/3 size of councils>

Note- Again better to know exact provisions so that tikdam is needed only in difficult questions

11. With reference to Indian economy, consider the following statements:

1. The rate of growth of Real Gross Domestic Product has steadily increased in the last decade.
2. The Gross Domestic Product at  market prices (in rupees) has steadily increased in the last

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c)  Both 1 and 2
(d)  Neither 1 nor 2

I don’t need to say anything about this question. Whether you know anything or not, this question can not be marked incorrect

12. The term ‘IndARC’, sometimes seen in the news, is the name of

(a) an indigenously developed radar system inducted into Indian Defence
(b) India’s satellite to provide services to the countries of Indian Ocean Rim
(c) a scientific establishment set up by India in Antarctic region
(d) India’s underwater observatory to scientifically study the Arctic region

Name se clear hai India and Arctic. option D

13. The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee is constituted under the

(a) Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006
(b) Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999
(c) Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
(d) Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972

Whenever Bt cotton or BT brinjal issue comes up, environment ministry pange karti so obviously EPA

Note– This should be known so no need for tikdam

14. With reference to the Union Government, consider the following  statements 

1. The Department of  Revenue is responsible for the preparation of Union Budget that is presented to the Parliament.
2. No amount can be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund of India without the authorization from the Parliament of India.
3.  All the disbursements made from Public Account also need the authorization from the Parliament of India.

Which of the statements given above is / are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 2 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3

Apply all and no principle, think. If you mark it incorrect without thinking, you would be wrong. If you stop and think you would realize statement 2 is correct, If you don’t know you would mark statement 3 also as correct which is a incorrect statement

Moral of the story-  Red flags are to make you stop and think, not for marking indiscriminately

15. With reference to Indian history, which of the following is/are the essential elements of the feudal system?

1. A very strong centralized political authority and a very weak provincial or local political authority
2. Emergence  of administrative structure based on control and possession of land
3. Creation of lord-vassal relationship between the feudal lord and his overlord

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c)  3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3

Statement 1, see the exaggeration. Very strong, very weak. It’s a red flag. Pause and think. If you think, you would realize it actually makes sense, correct statement but if you mark indiscriminately based on red flags only, you would be in trouble

16. With reference to the art and archaeological history of India, which one among the following was made earliest?

(a) Lingaraja Temple at Bhubneshwar
(b) Rock-cut Elephant at Dhauli
(c) Rock-cut Monuments at Mahabalipuram
(d) varaha Image at Udayagiri

Eliminate option 1, temple would not be constructed before rock cut architecture. This is the question, you can mark incorrect. No need to go after such questions. It’s important to focus on high yielding topics.

Some questions from prelims 2014

  1. The scientific view is that the increase in global temperature should not exceed 2 °C above pre-industrial level. If the global temperature increases beyond 3 °C above the pre-industrial level, what can be its possible impact/impacts on the world?

1. Terrestrial biosphere tends toward a net carbon source
2. Widespread coral mortality will occur.
3. All the global wetlands will permanently disappear.
4. Cultivation of cereals will not be possible anywhere in the world.

Look at option 3 and 4 <all, anywhere> Pause and think, obviously incorrect

2. Consider the following countries:

1. Denmark
2. Japan
3. Russian Federation
4. United Kingdom
5. United States of America

Which of the above are the members of the ‘Arctic Council ‘?

(a) 1, 2 and 3
(b) 2, 3 and 4
(c) 1, 4 and 5
(d) 1, 3 and 5

Everyone would know UK is incorrect. Choice b/w option a and d that is b/w USA and Japan. Even if you don’t know anything tukka laga do

3. Which reference to Agni-IV Missile, which of the following statements is/are correct?

1. It is a surface-to-surface missile.
2. It is fueled by liquid propellant only.
3. It can deliver one-tonne nuclear warheads about 7500 km away.

Statement 2, pause and think, it could be correct also. actually it’s incorrect. Statement 3 is also incorrect <even Agni 5 does not have that much range>

4. With reference to two non-conventional energy sources called ‘coal bed methane’ and ‘shale gas’, consider the following ‘statements:

1. Coal bed methane is the pure methane gas extracted from coal seams, while shale gas is a mixture of propane and butane only that can be extracted from fine-grained sedimentary rocks.
2. In India abundant coal bed methane sources exist, but so far no shale gas sources have been found

Look at the statement 1 only, pause and think why only propane and butane. Actually mainly methane hota hai

Similarly statement 2, no shale gas source, not even one? pause and think

5. Consider the following international agreements:

1. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
2. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
3. The World Heritage Convention

Which of the above has / have a bearing on the biodiversity?

(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 3 only
(c) 1 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2. and 3

Common sense, all 3, statement 1 mentions genetic, statement 2 desert, statement 3 heritage, natural heritage sites

6. What are the significance of a practical approach to sugarcane production known as ‘Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative’?

  1. Seed cost is very low in this compared to the conventional method of cultivation.
  2. Drip irrigation can be practiced very effectively in this.
  3. There is no application of chemical/ inorganic fertilizers at all in this.
  4. The scope for intercropping is more in this compared to the conventional method of cultivation.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

  1. 1 and 3 only
  2. 1, 2 and 4 only
  3. 2, 3 and 4 only
  4. 1, 2, 3 and 4

Statement 3, no chemicals, none at all, pause and think, this could be true but read the question again practical method. <practical mein to thoda scope hoga hi chemicals ka>

7. Other than poaching, what are the possible reasons for the decline in the population of Ganges River Dolphins?

1. Construction of dams and barrages on rivers
2. Increase in the population of crocodiles in rivers
3. Getting trapped in fishing nets accidentally
4. Use of synthetic fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals in crop-fields in the vicinity of rivers

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 1, 3 and 4 only
(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Look at option 2, pause and think, crocodile seriously?

I think, with these examples it would be amply clear that one need to finish basic books, read questions and options carefully, pause and think when red flags so indicate, practice test papers, revise weaker topics etc. etc.

What to do in Exam Hall

  1. Don’t go in the exam hall with any pre-conceived notion of number of questions to be attempted. Attempt as many as you know, make informed guesses, use elimination method, mark where you are able to eliminate two options
  2. Don’t speculate cut off in the exam hall itself. Your task is to maximize your score. 10 extra marks wouldn’t hurt you
  3. Don’t make mistakes in bubbling the circles <keep ample time for that>

What not to do after Prelims 

  1. Don’t engage in futile speculation of cutoff
  2. Don’t try to correct your wrong answers by sending 100 URLs to your friends
  3. Take a few days break and start studying for mains

My prelims marks 

  • 2015 – 142 + 182 <rank 20>
  • 2014 – 125 +157/ 175 <interview, back to square one>
  • 2013 – 118 +192 <interview, back to square one> <2013 and 2014 marks could be +- 2 either side>

P.S. As I have clearly said, there’s no substitute for hard work and studying standard books. Once you are done with them, practicing papers help in knowing our weak areas and taking corrective steps. Red flags and tikdams are like check lists which enable us to pause and rethink and prevent us from making mistakes

P.P.S.  Constructive criticism is welcome but please don’t get personal. Leave a comment if you appreciate the article. Too lazy to leave a comment, just order a pizza for me.

Best Luck


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