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Civil Services Mains Exam - Preparing For General Studies

25-12-2018 17:09:25       2040

The mains GS Papers require thoughtful preparation because a number of skills are tested through a vast range of subjects specified in the syllabus and even beyond it.

To begin with, one must keep in mind that the syllabus of GS Papers are not, and can not be self-explanatory. What is implied by this is that the syllabus only provides broad contours of topics and not their entire scope. In other words, the UPSC syllabus is only indicative, and not self-contained. One must develop an insight on the given syllabus and make a detailed syllabus on the basis of contours provided by UPSC. Only this can put the syllabus within a defined boundary or else, one can always hit the syllabus only tangentially and not directly. To do this, the most scientific method is to go through last 10 years GS (MAINS) questions. This way, you will know what are the areas from where questions are being set. For example, look at all the questions asked in previous years on environment. This will help you to know as to which topics on this issue must be prepared. Of course, you will have to factor in new developments on environment also, apart from what has already been asked.

The GS syllabus, set out in four papers, combine 2- 3 disciplines in each paper. For example, GS Paper I is a combination of history (i.e. modern India, post independent India, world history, art and culture), geography, and social issues. One must know the ratio in which questions are asked from each section, or else, one can devote more time on minor parts of the syllabus and less on major topics. Secondly, one must note that the GS syllabus has static, dynamic and deliberative aspects. The static aspects are history, culture, geographical concepts etc. The dynamic aspects are social issues, polity, international relations, Science/Technology etc. The deliberative aspects are mostly in the ethics paper where you have to deliberate on issues relating to ethics, values, morality, conduct etc. These GS aspects can be prepared by applying the following approach:

Static Part: Static parts can be best approached by reading standard text books. The foundational books are NCERT publications on history, geography, economics etc. But, you need to graduate to higher text books after mastering NCERT books. For each static area, a suggestive list is provided at the end in this article.

Dynamic Part: Dynamic part is all about current issues which keeps evolving on day to day basis. The dynamic aspects constitute a very large part of GS and require very careful preparation. One should locate every important topic in the news and ponder over the kind of questions that can be set on that issue. For example, the BLASPHEMY LAW passed by Punjab assembly, should make you ponder over these things: what is blasphemy, what is the purpose of this law, what is its criticism, what has been the experience of such laws in our neighbouring Pakistan, and finally, your own assessment of this law. This is what I call a 360 degree approach to a dynamic topic, which means that all aspects have been given due consideration during your reading of the issue and making brief notes. For dynamic aspects, one must read a variety of newspapers and journals. I have observed a trend among the aspirants not to read diverse newspapers and journals. They use conventional wisdom and restrict their reading habits to only a particular newspaper and few journals, mostly. No doubt these are quite informative sources. But one must go beyond these. Otherwise you will have a very restrictive preparation base.

Deliberative Part: This is that part of the GS syllabus which provoke your own thoughts based on real life experiences. Mostly, such deliberative questions are asked in GS Paper IV, i.e. Ethics. No text book knowledge will help you to frame your answers on such questions. What can really help you is to relate and reflect on your own observations and experiences to answer such questions. For this, you have to cultivate habits of thinking and deliberating. For example, if a question in ethics is: why laws do not attract grater compliance in India, you will have to ponder over it. Compliance of law depends on internalisation of its inherent values and not the provisions of the law per se. We have poor compliance of dowry law, anti corruption laws, or traffic laws because a large section of society has not internalised their values. This is what I imply by deliberative types of questions.

GS Paper I: This paper is the lengthiest of all the four papers and carries a vast static syllabus. UPSC has only given a brief outline of the syllabus and there is a need to broaden the syllabus by self efforts. For modern India, one must cover the national movement, which shaped up after 1885, its various phases, Gandhian era, socialist and revolutionary approaches to the movement etc. The political, economic and social thoughts of leading national leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Ambedkar, Tilak, Gokhale etc. must be covered. Also, questions are set on some important viceroys, like, Dalhousie, Cornwallis, Ripon, Curzon etc. So, even this needs to be looked into. Then, the socio- religious movements, economic policies, educational policies, administrative policies of the British need to be covered.

As regards post modern India, all the major developments in agriculture, industry, science and tech, foreign policy, the task of nation building etc. should be covered. For world history, the major revolutions, world wars and their consequences deserve special attention. For geography, the current issues will be asked in the exam.

Art and Culture: Its true significance is often not realised by candidates. It is narrowly understood only in terms of art forms. Art forms like dance, painting, sculpture, etc. do come under its scope, but there is much more to be studied on what is known as India's rich culture. According to Romila Thapar, a great historian, every society has its culture, viz; the pattern of how the people of that society live. Culture includes: environment, technology, political economy, religious mythology, and social structures. Civilisation can be similarly defined as high culture evidenced in society. The main aspects of civilisation are: philosophy, religious texts, literary forms,poetry, drama, epics, aesthetic values expressed in artistic forms such as sculpture, painting, architecture, music, astronomy, mathematics, medicine etc.If one goes back to last years' questions, one would find questions relating to these broad subjects of culture. For example, a question was asked on Sangam literature some years back which comes under this definition. Therefore, it is extremely important for the aspirants to understand the diverse canvas of art and culture and cover the areas mentioned above.

World History: Though the syllabus of world history is exhaustive, one can afford to go for a selective preparation of this area because only one or two questions will be asked from this section. The major revolutions, viz; French, Russian, Industrial revolutions, the two world wars, and the decolonisation processes in Asia and Africa should be thoroughly prepared.

GS Paper II: This paper is all about the main constitutional provisions, the issues arising in our political system, and governance issues. Secondly, India's foreign policy engage-ments with its neighbours, great powers and multilateral organisations will form part of what is known as international relations. Questions on polity and governance constitute the bulk of this paper.

- S. B. Singh
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