Disclaimer - It worked for me, but this is most definitely not the only way to succeed in the examination. Neither can I or anyone else guarantee that following the same strategy, as those of toppers will bring you success. (This compilation is derived from his blog )
UPSC IAS Exam General Studies Strategy
Let us start with the NCERTs, which as per me are a sine qua non for this examination. Besides providing a huge amount of information, the simple language and concept clarity enable the foundation of a sound base for each of the subjects. I had read 6-10 NCERTS and made topic wise notes on them .The information is mostly scattered , for instance the Indus Valley Civilization is spread across 2-3 books which I gathered at one place making it easier for revision . 11-12 NCERTs I usually underlined in the books as almost every page I found new info, and used to revise from there. More focus was on history (Modern India) and Geography books. Sociology I had made notes (Sanskritization , effects of colonial rule on caste , effects of globalization etc ) . NCERTs also enabled me in a smooth transition to the humanities subjects and it is after this that I suggest you move on to the more conventional books for better grasp.
- History : Brief History (Spectrum ) , Bipin Chandra ( Struggle for Independence and India after Independence ) , Baliyan Printed Notes ( World History )
- Culture : NCERT XI Arts , Ancient and Medieval History (NCERT) , Nitin Singhania notes
- Geography was my optional so prepared all topics in depth. One should definitely read NCERTs, GC Leong for sound fundamentals.
- Sociology from NCERTS and current affairs
- Polity : Laxmikanth read this book multiple times cover to cover , newspapers , ARC Reports
- RPA , welfare schemes , development issues : 12th Five Year Plan , Yojana(policy issues) , Kurukshetra (rural issues ) , PRS monthly report, ARC
- R. : Newspapers , Rajiv Sikri : Challenge and Strategy , RSTV debates , Vajiram booklet
- Economy : NCERTs ( X,XI,XII) , Sanjeev Verma , SRIRAM IAS notes , Ramesh Singh
- Environment : Shankar IAS , Down to Earth magazine(geo optional )
- Sci Tech : NCERTs ( special focus on XI-XII Biology for Prelims) , Science Reporter , Hindu special on Thursday
- Security : Vajiram and SRIRAM Booklet .
- Vision IAS booklets for topics not covered by above books like investment models , food processing , cropping patterns ,indigenization of tech etc
- Ethics : S.K. Mishra Sir’s class notes , Ethics Integrity and Aptitude Book by G. Subba Rao , ARC notes , online random reading .
- Magazines : Yojana , Kurukshetra , Science Reporter
- Newspapers : The Hindu , Indian Express
This was the portion I enjoyed the most and made extensive hand written notes. I personally read two newspapers (Hindu and Express) for I found coverage of express especially their editorial, columns and opinion very apt for GS, and complementing the Hindu in many ways thus giving me a sense of fulfillment.
I had 4 separate 5-subject notebooks for GS 1,2,3 and I.R. I made an index with topics like Judicial Reforms, Police Reforms, Internet Reforms, WTO issues, Urban Transportation, etc.. And country wise for I.R. For I.R. particularly in the beginning I had to devote a lot of time online to get a grip over the background of the current issues. For instance to understand the ramifications of Iran-U.S. deal , or the cyclical Israel-Palestine conflict one needs to understand the history of relations between the two nations, the various uprisings and wars fought , their causes and effect. You need not know the nitty gritty details but a overall big picture is needed.
In the beginning it always takes more time to read the newspapers, but with time besides an increase in reading speed, you sort of get accustomed to the style of writing and as your knowledge on topics build up you breeze through the articles instead of the jittery , jerky reading at the beginning where you feel all lost !
I choose limited books, which I read again and again. But yes I made sure I had the entire syllabus covered.
Every Yojana issue has many articles that you will find pertain to the main topic in discussion but are repetitive. I used to make handwritten notes / tear the important pages and supplement them in my GS 2 / GS 3 notebook and the dump the magazine. This I did for all magazines be it EPW, Science Reporter or any other. Read the article, get the relevant portions and clear your room of it instead of stacking it one over the other. In short use your resources efficiently!
Focus and timeline
The UPSC has penchant for at times stunning the candidates with out of the box questions for instance the NAlanda-Taxila , Panipat question in last mains . However don’t lose your focus and start preparing for these things at the beginning even before you read the NCERTs, conventional books or you know the traditional dances , paintings etc. Very limited people in the country know these answers well, so focus and prepare the conventional portions first before venturing into these unconventional areas. Master the shallow end of the pool before going for the deep, turbulent waters!
Secondly instead of going for wayward preparation, taking it as it comes I had an established routine for myself. It included 2-3 hours of newspapers, online reading and then 8-10 hours of subject reading. There was sufficient time for bakar, catching on TV series and chai breaks! Usually I took up 2 subjects a week and had a daily, weekly schedule two weeks in advance with adequate breaks and reserve days for no one is perfect: D.
Answer Writing and Revision
A big mistake in my first mains was that I wrote all that I knew on a specific topic often missing out on the heart of the question.
The Misconceptions I would like to dispel:
- Anybody, I mean anybody can succeed in this examination. You don’t need to be from an elite institute (IIT/NIT/IIM) or have a super solid background/schooling to succeed in the exam . All you need is focus, smart and hard work.
- You do not have to go to Delhi to succeed in the examination. It is indeed true that a competitive environment, availability of coaching/test series, peer discussion groups etc are a major attraction for many students. However the cons include high cost of living ( I stayed in Patel Nagar and it came to around 15k a month ) , average food , horrible weather , water issues etc which are normally associated when you stay away from home . So speak to your seniors/friends/ others living in Delhi and make your own informed decision before rushing to join the overcrowded streets of old Rajinder Nagar.
I end my two cents with reiteration of the fact that nobody knows your strength, weakness, learning capacity, reading speed, writing skills etc better than yourself. So take opinions from others, hear what the toppers, your fellow aspirants, teachers have to say but in the end form your own strategy and make amendments as and when you feel along the way J .