With just 10 days to go, the key to acing the Civil Services main exam lies in time management and critical thinking

Candidates aspiring to join India’s most coveted Indian Administration Service (IAS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS) will soon face the toughest part of the civil services exam — the main (written) exam. This exam will not only decide their service and the cadre (state), but also the inter-state seniority of all the officers in a particular year (according to the 67.5% weightage fixed recently). The main exam begins September 20 across 24 cities of the country in offline mode.

A total of 11,845 candidates were selected by the UPSC out of the 8,00,000 candidates who wrote the preliminary exam for the civil services main (written) exam. The score in the written exam will be added with the score in the interview, for the appointment of the 644 candidates to various services including 177 candidates to IAS, 27 candidates to IFS and 136 candidates to IPS.

The pattern of the main examination is mainly descriptive in nature. Though the Indian language and the English language papers are qualifying in nature, some candidates have failed to score even the minimum of 75 out of 300, because of which their other papers were not even taken up for valuation. Thus candidates should pay special attention to their native languages.

Breaking up the scores

A candidate’s success depends on the score in the general essay, four general studies papers and two optional papers, all amounting to the 1,750 marks.

The general essay carries 250 marks. There are two essays, one essay to be selected from each of the two sections, each essay to be answered in 1,000 to 1,200 words. The word limit is specified so that the essays can be thoughtful and in a comprehensive manner. Three hours should be divided equally between the two essays. It is ideal to spend 15 minutes to choose the questions and organise your thoughts before writing. Each essay should have an introduction, body and the conclusion. Anecdotes, quotations and statistics will certainly add meaning to the essay.

The four papers of general studies comprise 10 marks questions to be answered in 150 words, or 15 marks questions to be answered in 250 words or 12.5 marks questions to be answered in 200 words. There is no choice in these questions. As a matter of strategy, you must spend longer time on these questions. But it is wise to attempt all questions, for there are no negative marks. Time management is the key in civil services main (written) exam as candidates are likely to panic when they are running short of time.

The hot topics that were reported and debated upon recently in the news paper are likely to appear in the General Studies papers. From economics, for example, the economic and social consequences of demonetisation and GST, and from the constitution and law, the appropriateness of the death penalty for the offence of rape of children below 12 years of age and the recent abrogation of articles 370 and 35(A) of the constitution are the most likely questions.

Global knowledge

You must get familiar with the syllabus, the topics and the subtopics. What pays well is making notes under appropriate topic heads and to revisit these notes a few days before the exam. You have to improve and improvise these notes according to the nature of the questions.

You must read the questions carefully to ascertain the tasks, which could be to discuss, to explain, to analyse, to examine, to critically examine, to evaluate, to substantiate or to support a statement. Each task is different from the other and the candidate will hit the bull’s eye by just doing what is called for. If you miss the above magic catch word, you might miss the key answer and may fail to make your mark.

The correct approach in the general studies should be multi-dimensional answer: highlighting the social, economic, and political aspects along with your personal view point. But in the optional papers, an expert’s approach is ideal. In the ethics case studies, the candidate can give his own personal examples keeping in mind the society, the constitution, the law, and the conduct rules.

In the era of touch screens, it is quite obvious that handwriting skills are at a premium. If the handwriting is too poor to read then, it will adversely affect your chances of a good score even if the answers are correct. It is critical that you practise handwriting skills, which can be combined with essay writing practice or the test series at the coaching centre.