Strategy:Ashutosh Kulkarni, AIR 44 (CSE 2019)

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About Me

Hello. Ashutosh Kulkarni here. UPSC journey has been a tumultuous one with lots of ups and downs. The process teaches you to handle mental pressure, be perseverant and not give up.

Having graduated in 2015, it took me five years to get a positive result in Civil Services Exam. The endless cycle of success and failure finally got a conclusion.

Attempt Year Result
1 2016 After a year of study, this was first attempt. Reached till interview but lost selection by 10 marks
2 2017 Again, reached till interview. Yet again lost selection by 7 marks
3 2018 Couldn’t clear Prelims! (Poora Saal Barbaad)
4 2019 Corona lockdown and all delays apart, finally got some success

The crux of the story is to not give up. Believe in yourself and improve on your studies continuously. The fact remains that not everyone is able to clear this exam at the first attempt, although the new candidates generally tend to flock towards such toppers. The basis of this exam is capacity to sustain pressure and failures, something that is critical once you join service too.

They say ‘if you sweat more in peace, you bleed less in war’ Here is my strategy to sweat more in peace time so that you bleed less in Prelims and Mains!

Social Media Handles

Let me add to the information overload of the Internet era. Here are my social media handles

(जो Marriage Proposal भेजेगा उसको Corona होगा)

Telegram Channel for GS and History Optional Notes-




Strategy for Prelims

As it is apparent since last few years, prelims have been become the toughest step in the exam process. Given the high competition and uncertainty in question pattern, the preparation of prelims has become an uphill task.

Although everything cannot be prepared by any candidate, we can implement certain tricks to increase the chances of clearing the prelims.

Limited sources

There are two broad steps in preparation

  1. The candidate reads the sources and prepares notes
  2. Revision of those notes/sources so that the information fits well in the memory

Imagine if a candidate goes on reading sources till the exam, what will he/she revise? The biggest blunder any candidate commits is reading multiple sources. The key to Prelims is to limit one’s sources.

There are six modules for Prelims- Polity, Environment, Economy, Geography, Science & Technology and History. Candidate should narrow down to one or two sources for each module.

Apart from this, candidate can rely on one current affairs magazine supplemented by daily reading of either The Hindu or The Indian Express.

The candidates can refer to the following list, although its neither final nor exhaustive.

Polity Indian Polity by M Laxmikanth
Economy Notes by Sriram IAS
Geography 11th & 12th NCERT, book by G.C Leong
Environment Book by Shankar IAS
Science and Technology Any guide covering basics of Physics, Chemistry and Biology
Modern History Spectrum by Rajiv Ahir

Revise Revise Revise

Most candidates do the blunder of reading too much stuff but leave no time for revision. As a result, when the exam approaches, pressure builds up and the candidate can’t remember anything. Given the diverse topics to study, it is impossible to remember all of it unless the candidate does revision. Revision is the most crucial part which must begin three months before the exam.

Depending on the schedule, at least two to three full revisions must be done before the actual exam. It is only after that the candidate will find it comfortable to recall the stuff studied.

In the revision, the notes/ underlining in the books will prove to be of great help. Thus, when candidates read the sources, they should either prepare notes or underline important stuff in the books.

Usefulness of Question-Answer Format

Solving MCQs is equally important. The candidate can have a mix the revision and MCQ solving in the last three months. Multiple test series are available in the market. Almost everyone solves some or the other test. Then why do only a few clear? The technique of solving matters for two things.

  1. Question-answer format is the best for remembering things. We tend to gloss over crucial facts while reading books. But when we get that fact wrong while solving an MCQ, we tend to remember our mistake.
  2. In almost every paper, we read something new information which was not present in our notes/sources. This new information is crucial as it can be asked in the actual exam. Candidate can create a separate notebook to note down this new information and revise it before the exam. Even if 2-3 questions come in the actual exam based on this new information, you are automatically ahead by 4-6 marks.

How Much to Attempt?

This has been quite debated. On one side, it is argued that an attempt of 75-80 is a safe one as one answers only the sure questions. On the other, there are candidates who attempt 90-95 questions. Both approaches have their issues.

  1. Given that UPSC these days asks difficult/tricky questions especially in science and culture, any low attempt of 75-80 is a risk as one cannot be sure of even 60 questions in such a case. If the wrong answers exceed 20, the marks barely touch 100 bringing the candidate on borderline
  2. Any large attempt of 90-95 is risky too since it can increase the negative marks.

The ideal situation is to attempt anywhere between 85-90.

The candidate can try the following experiment-

  • Take 5-7 test papers from any test series
  • Attempt 75-80 in each of the paper. Now start attempting over and above that and solve about 85-90 questions. Mark the questions attempted above the 75-80 question range
  • During checking, calculate the marks for the 75-80 questions. Then check the further questions. Do this for all 5-7 papers

Two possibilities arise-

  1. The candidate will notice a trend that by attempting more questions than the usual range, the marks are increasing.
  2. On the contrary, if the candidate notices the marks are reducing due to wrong attempts, then he/she should attempt about 80 questions and focus on accuracy of those questions

The candidate can also experiment solving easy and tough test papers. The result would be that in case of tough papers, an attempt of about 80-85 can be useful while in easy papers, it can go up to 90.

Depending on the result of the above experiment, the candidate can formulate his/her strategy.

Need for Intuition Power

After solving decent number of test papers, the candidate will realize that one can properly solve about 60-70 questions. But if one wants to increase the attempt to 85-90, one has to guess answers compulsorily. Given that most candidates lose out by barely 1-2 questions in the final exam, this guess-work has unfortunately gained prominence in the exam.

Here is one technique to develop this intuition power.

  1. In any test paper, first solve all the questions of the A, B, C type. Normally, 15-20 questions would be left to be guessed
  2. Now while guessing the answers to those questions, mark those questions on the question paper separately
  3. When you check the paper, separately check how much of these guessed questions are correct.
  4. The rule is that even if three questions go wrong for every one correct, the net is zero i.e you don’t lose or gain any marks.
  5. Even if you are getting 50% correct, still the addition is positive. Suppose you guessed 10 questions. 5 are correct, 5 wrong. The net addition is about 7 marks- Imagine the importance of 7 marks when candidates lose selection by barely 2-3 marks!
  6. Try building a pattern on which questions you try to guess. Generally, avoid guessing in Art & Culture questions. Take intelligent guesses in Economy and Geography as the possibility is greater for those questions to be correct.
  7. Have the habit of briefly reading through seemingly unimportant headlines in newspapers. You never know something might click while taking a guess.

Art and Culture- Give Me a Break!

Art and Culture questions are increasingly turning out to be a huge problem. The questions are tricky and often cannot be answered by guess work unless the candidate knows the answer definitely

Apart from the standard sources, it is wise not to spend much time reading things about Art and Culture. Instead, better strategy is to concentrate more on modules like Polity, Economy and Geography where the scope of getting answers right is large. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study Art and Culture at all. You just prioritize your focus.

Candidates can prepare Art and Culture in the following way, although the methodology is neither fool proof nor exhaustive-  

  • Read the basic NCERTs for ancient, medieval India and Art and Culture
  • Selective reading of the book “Indian Art and Culture” by Nitin Singhania
  • Prepare your own lists and details about Indian classical dances, folk dances, schools of paintings, important Geographical Indicators, important tribes in India, important festivals of India, etc.

Overall, the preparations for Prelims has become an extensive task which requires planning and dedication. The candidate should plan the schedule and put up daily and weekly targets to achieve.