NCERT Books form the major part of the syllabus of the UPSC Civil Services Examinations. So every aspirant falls back or should fall back on the basic NCERT books. However, though each aspirant reads the same books, there are some top rank holders and then there are others who don’t even make it through the first stage or Prelims.
So what differentiates these two sets of candidates? The difference, therefore, is not in what they are reading, but how they are reading it.
Let us then try to understand…
So what exactly is expected out of you in the UPSC Exams as far as the knowledge on the subjects is concerned? It is expected that you have a thorough understanding of the subject, that you understand the reasoning associated with each topic and that you remember the important facts of the subject. It is also expected that you are able to reproduce all this in the answers as required during the examination.
How are you going to read each subject and each topic? We suggest starting from the books of the sixth standard. Initially, the books will seem to be very easy and you will be going through the chapters very fast. At this stage, try not to stop to understand concepts if you are unclear. Just go on reading to get an idea of the subject. How it works, what the logical connections are, how each chapter flows to the next and get a general sense of the topics in the subject. This will be your first step.
Reread the subjects again, but this time with the objective of understanding each concept of each topic. This is the step where you will seek external help to understand if required and not skip any topic to go to the next. Do not skip any part of any chapter either because generally, a chapter to be understood requires knowledge from the previous chapter’s topics. So at this stage make sure you understand every nook and corner of the book. Underline concepts that you need to remember, make notes and do short revisions if required so that you are comfortable with the topics. Also, solve each question in the exercises following the chapters. In case you are unable to solve the problems, you need to redo this step and go back to understanding the concepts.
Do a final reading of the subjects. During this reading, you should be so comfortable with the subject and the topics that you read smoothly without much pause. Of course, you might find things you had missed earlier, facts and data and some concepts, however, on the whole, you will be comfortably covering chapter after chapter quite fast. Work on your notes and make them concise and crisp at this point so that you can revise each subject in a very short period of time. If you have done the earlier steps correctly, you should find this step to be easy and quite enjoyable.
Finally, correlate the everyday events that you are reading in the newspaper to the subjects you have read. For example, if a government scheme on poverty alleviation is in the news, try to make use of it and revise other similar schemes from the past or the constitutional framework in which such schemes are made. This will really help to cement both the current affairs topic and the static syllabus topic in your mind.
If you do your reading following these 4 steps, you will already be ahead of the lacs of aspirants who aspire to crack this exam but don’t know how to study for it.
However, here is a little more to take you even further. Let us look at how to internalize the topics rather than just read them. This is exactly what UPSC expects out of candidates, not just knowledge, but a deep understanding of the topics correlated and connected with reality.
How to get a deep understanding of every subject you study?
First of all, try to get deeper into each word rather than just understanding its standard definition. Let’s say we are talking about poverty alleviation. We all know what it means, but what does it really mean in the context of the economy, in the context of governance, in the context of the constitutional rights, in the context of the duties of the government as defined by the constitution? How does a poverty alleviation scheme affect GDP? How does it affect it in the short term and how does it affect it in the long term? Understand each topic in this kind of depth. Each term that you study should be clear to you in as many aspects. So try to understand the essence of the terms rather than just sticking to meaning. If you get this right you should be able to easily write 200 to 500 words on any topic or terminology.
After this, you need to understand the basic principle behind each topic or subject. For example, if you are studying the constitution, you must realize that this document has been created to protect democracy and ensure fair governance. When studying polity you need to understand that each policy and system must respect the constitution first and foremost.
The next thing you need to do is understand the workings of each subject. How the subject is woven in the chapters, what are the interdependabilities, how exactly does one chapter lead to the next, what are the common threads keys flowing through multiple topics? For this, you need to really immerse yourself in the subject for a while and hopefully, the 4 steps mentioned earlier will enable you to do that.
Last but not least you need to know the facts associated with each subject topic. This is not blindly memorizing, but remembering the facts against the background of the understanding of the topics. For each subject, you will find such facts that you need to remember irrespective of your understanding and you need to get those imprinted in your memory. Don’t try to memorize without understanding though, as that will be counter-productive. You have to remember what is important to each subject and each topic so that you can cite the data as required in the exam.
Finally, we would suggest that after following the above advice you keep time for one revision before your exams, and practice with plenty of mocks, both short and long answers. Remember, irrespective of how much you read, if you don’t write and practice writing, you won’t be able to reproduce your knowledge during the examination.
To reiterate, it is expected that you have a thorough understanding of the subject, that you understand the reasoning associated with each topic and that you remember the important facts of the subject. It is also expected that you are able to reproduce all this in the answers as required during the examination.
So follow the 4 steps and the advice given above to fulfill the expectations and sail through the UPSC Civil Services Examination.