Hey there, this is Parikshit Khatana, AIR- 184 ( CSE-2019). I am a graduate in History from Hindu College (University of Delhi). This was my second attempt at CSE. In my first attempt, I appeared for personality test but couldn’t make it to the final list. I am sharing my UPSC CSE strategy in the hope that at least few readers will benefit from my experience and strategy. It’s going to be a long read, kindly bear with me.
· Things one can’t do without
· Main examination
· Optional (History)
· Personality test
Things one can’t do without
1. A thorough look at UPSC syllabus (in fact paste it somewhere close to your study table) and previous year papers.
2. A good corpus of important yet limited sources.
3. Strategy to revise sources repeatedly
4. An individual approach with short term and long term targets (devise your own plans- daily tasks and long term goals)
5. Rendering one’s heart and soul to the preparation (as long as one is willing to stay in the race)
6. Limited or no use of social media
7. Ability to interlink topics of the syllabus (very important for mains)
8. Stress management (practice yoga, meditation or anything which calms you down)
9. An open secret- practicing a lot of tests
· History- Ancient India by RS Sharma, Medieval India by Satish Chandra ( had lot of questions in CSE 2019), Modern India by Spectrum publication- History was my optional and graduation subject, those of you who are from non-history background should read class 6 to 12th NCERTS too.
· Polity by Lakshmikant
· Environment ( new edition) Shankar IAS
· Geography- Class 11th (very important) and 12th NCERTs and notes of Sanjiv Manocha and Shiv Arpit sir of Vajiram, GC Leong ( for understanding concepts)
· Economics- Shriram IAS and Mrunal Videos, Economic Survey and Budget
· Science- 9th and 10th NCERT ( just read once), class notes of Bindu Ma’am Vajiram (Biotechnology) and Vinay sir (Satellites and Nanotechnology etc )
· Art and culture- Book by Nitin Singhania and class notes of Jain sir Vajiram.
Above-mentioned books have to be supplemented with religious reading of newspaper. (The Hindu or The Indian Express) and monthly current compilation of any good coaching institute.
Please make your own revision plans. Revision is the key to this examination. I made short notes (see samples under different headings for your quick perusal and understanding) of the topics which would require multiple revisions. I would try to revise a source within 2.5 months of its completion, I emphatically stress again please have your revision plans.
UPSC is known for changing the pattern of CSE. If one goes through the previous year papers, change is quite visible. This makes mock tests indispensable. Choose the mock tests of a good coaching institute and attempt those tests within stipulated time. Mock tests will help you develop risk-taking skills. The more you practice, the better you become.
Well, I am not the best one to guide you on CSAT, however, I must warn you against ignoring this paper. It can be the Achilles’ heel for those who are not good in maths and reasoning. So, go through recent CSAT papers and know where you actually stand in CSAT.
For note making, I used to take an A4 size sheet and concisely note down important content there. It’s advisable to keep your notes simple and to the point, especially those which only contain factual information. Notes are really easy way to revise any subject quickly, so wisely prepare your own notes. Some samples are attached herewith. these notes have been attached only for your understanding and perusal.
Candidates who get through preliminary stage have ticket to appear at this stage. It’s unarguable the most exhausting and tiresome of all three stages. There are 9 papers in total and candidates have to write two papers a day except for an essay paper which is the only paper on a given date.
· Mains is more about analysis than facts.
· Answer writing is what ultimately sees you through. Practice as much as you can without fail
· Choose your optional subject wisely and give it sufficient time.
· Don’t ignore essay.
· Current affairs is the reservoir you will have to draw water from.
History- I had history optional, so no separate books required
Art and culture- Ancient Indian History syllabus covers that portion of syllabus.
Society- Mostly done from newspapers, Vision IAS’s material on society and Dipin Sir of FORUMIAS’s class notes on social issues (borrowed from a friend)
Geography- Class 11th and 12th NCERTs and Vajiram class notes.
Gs 1 paper has a mix of both static and dynamic subjects. It requires a lot of data quoting and interlinking, especially in areas like society which are dynamic and ever-evolving. Prepare good notes on each sub-heading for such topics of the syllabus. I am attaching herewith my samples.
Static portion of the syllabus- Indian Polity by M. Lakshmikant
Dynamic portion- PRS website, newspaper and Dipin sir’s current affairs notes, cursory look at ARC summary by Anudeep Durishetty sir.
Governance – NITI AAYOG’s Strategy for new India (made my own notes), ARC summary, Dipin sir’s current affairs notes, newspaper (editorial page)
International Relations- Newspaper and Dipin sir’s current notes.
This paper is perhaps the most dynamic of all. A strong grasp over current events is a must. Try to prepare notes from newspaper for quick revision and quoting in exam. It’s very important that important cases and reports are mentioned in your answers. Important sectors like health, education, role of constitutional authorities which constantly remain in the news shouldn’t be missed. Keep a keen eye on India’s diplomatic engagement with its neighbors and at global level. You can see my sample notes below.
Indian Economy- Newspaper, Economic survey, excerpts of Budget, Dipin sir’s notes, class notes of Vajiram, few topics from vision 365
Science and Technology- Dipin sir’s notes, newspaper and Vajiram class notes.
Environment and disaster management- newspaper (made my own notes), Dipin sir’s current notes, few topics from Vision 365, Yojana magazine 2017 disaster management edition (made my own notes)
Security- newspaper, few topics from Vajiram’s yellow book, newspaper and Dipin sir’s class notes.
This paper is mostly current oriented. Diversity of the subjects in this paper makes it really difficult to cover entire syllabus. One has to wisely navigate through lots of sources available in the market. My piece of advice is to focus more on those topics that are in the news and prepare notes on those topics. Notes should be comprehensive enough to have multiple dimensions on important topics for eg- there’s always a burning debate between environmentalists and policymakers, you must know their standpoints and counterarguments.
I made my own notes in the ethics paper after picking up important terms from the syllabus. I teased important information out of Vajiram’s yellow books, class notes and notes of some previous years’ toppers. I also jotted down a lot of examples from the newspaper like President Trump’s unusual tweets, good initiatives by common people and bureaucrats. Important teachings by great thinkers and leaders like APJ Abdul Kalam, Swami Vivekananda, Gandhji ji were mainstay of my answers and case studies. I also freely quoted couplets by Rahim, Kabir and other Indian poets (it’s necessary to translate them though).
The Ethics paper is all about your ability to relate to the question asked in the exam. Don’t hesitate to even quote examples from your own life and people around you. Cut to the chase and keep your answers simple, your job is done. Don’t ignore topics like RTI, Official secret act etc. I am attaching sample of my notes below.
As you must have heard multiple times that optional is usually either a deal-maker or breaker, therefore, choosing right optional is very critical for your success in the CSE. For me, History became a natural choice as it was my graduation subject and I have keen interest in it. History’s syllabus is vast and it takes one some time to figure out right sources and approach. My approach in history was simple- picked up right (read limited) sources, had a deep look at previous years question papers, bought Balyan class notes from market and got handwritten notes of important books like Upinder singh (from my college friend) for quick revision. An important exercise which is worth-mentioning here is mental interlinking of content from books and Balyan notes. I feel that one supplements the other.
Another important part of History syllabus is Map. Simple calculation will tell you that it contains 50 marks i.e. 20% of total marks in paper one of the optional. More importantly, it’s usually the confidence boosters or breaker as it the first question in the question paper. i downloaded map from UPSC’s previous year history papers and erased dots marked over it then I took out lots of print outs of that edited map and with the help of Self Study History (a website) and Google map precisely located important sites. It’s desirable to make separate maps for different periods like Paleolithic age, Mesolithic then Neolithic and so on. Make sure that you have five points description for each site; I referred to the description booklet of GS Score for it. I am attaching samples of my map below.
Ancient India- Upinder Singh (read it many times), Balyan notes.
Medieval India- IGNOU BA booklet (made notes of important topics), Balyan notes.
Modern India- Shekhar Bandhopadhyay (read it many times), Balyan notes
World History- Balyan notes, Videos by Khan Academy, selective topics from websites like Ideas of History etc.
I can’t but emphasize upon practice of previous years’ question papers in History. You may see many question being repeated after 2-3 years, most of them are off-topics, so you are advised to do as many such questions as possible.
This paper is my personal favorite. I am itching to see my improved score in essay paper this year. Essay provides one very wide scope to explore various dimensions. You derive your content from GS preparation, however practice is a must. In my first attempt, I ignored practice and was deservingly given 116 marks in the essay paper. In this attempt, I practiced a lot and was getting decent marks in the mock tests. I personally like writing philosophical essays which, according to me, make for a really nice read for the examiner. Additionally, it gives one enough space to quote philosophers, leaders, scriptures etc.
· Choose your topic wisely. ( no prejudice- I chose “Biased media is a threat to Democracy” while many weaned away from that due to political reasons)
· No dearth of time in essay paper, don’t hurry.
· Brainstorm for 15-20 minutes and come up with 5-6 dimensions.
· Start with an anecdote or a quote (in my case a couplet)
· It should flow like a calm river meaning no abruptness.
· Use catchy phrases, movie references, sayings of great thinkers.
· End on futuristic and optimistic note.
The Last stage! you are usually brimming with confidence. Well, the chance to be at Dholpur House isn’t a low hanging fruit, you earn it. In my both attempts, I have had really great experience as far as interview is concerned. It’s all about judicious mix of confidence and wisdom. Enjoy every bit of your interview preparation- talk to good people like friends, college professors etc, roam around and visit monuments in your city and area. If you carry enough confidence into the room, the battle is half won.
· Fill up your Detailed Application Form honestly
· Don’t discover or invent new hobbies,
· Prepare your DAF really well.
· No bias or inclination towards any board.
· Be confident and respectful to them
· Keep your answers brief with right choice of words
· Make it a conversation not a question answer session
Enough said guys, if you have come this far reading this, Thank you!
“That doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”