[Strategy] UPSC Civil Service Exam (Part 2 of 5) : Notes, Newspapers and Books
- Act II: Weapons of Mass Destruction
- Weapon#5: Your Own notes
- Types of Notes
- #1: Notes on Margin
- #2: Handwritten Notes
- #3: Computer Notes and Mindmaps
- #4: Readymade Notes
- A) Notes of Toppers
- B) Readymade Coaching class notes and Material
- Weapon #4: Internet
- Over-reliance on internet= Bad
- Weapons #3: Magazines
- A) Yojana and Kurukshetra
- How to subscribe to Yojana and Kurukshetra?
- B) CST, PD, Chronicle, Wizard
- Marketing Propagandas
- Which competitive magazine to use?
- Timeframe for current affairs?
- Do I need to follow than one Competitive Magazine?
- Frontline, EPW, The Economist, Outlook etc
- Weapon #2: The Newspapers
- Weapon #1: Standard reference books
- What is this “Older” NCERTs?
- Newer/Younger NCERTs
- List of *NOT* recommended booklist
- General Studies (GS) Manual
- Weapons of UPSC
- Negative marking
- Appendix: Download Links
You need five set of weapons
- Standard Reference books (SRB)
- Newspaper (The Hindu/Indianexpress only)
- Your own notes (assembled using the parts of above four weapons)
These weapons provide fire two types of ammunition
- Facts: features of Government scheme, powers of President, reasons for the spread of disease, some physics concept responsible for mechanism of xyz instrument.
- Fodder: if UPSC examiner was a buffalo, how would you please him? Ofcourse by throwing some grass fodder at him. Fodder is required mostly @Mains, Essay and interview. Pros and cons of a Government scheme / policy, reasons –suggestions-analysis of xyz socio-economic-environmental problem= these are some examples of fodder.
Postal study material and readymade coaching notes = Desi country made weapons (katta and Tamanchaa), most of the time they misfire or don’t fire when you pull the trigger.
So you should not over-rely on such Desi-weapons.
Now let’s see how to effectively utilize these weapons. In reverse order
Q. Why notes making = important?
Well the same reason why practicing math sums is important for CAT exam= To succeed.
- Syllabus of UPSC exam is extremely large. Even if you’re done with the core/static theory portion, the new current affairs keep piling every day.
- Today, if you understand a topic from xyz book, magazine, newspaper or website but cannot recall it in the exam hall after five months, then whole exercise is useless.
- If you’re not processing and consolidating information in compact notes form, then on the night before exam you’ll have so many heaps of books, newspapers and magazines that could fill up a small loading rickshaw! You’ll be under extreme stress and frustration on what to read and what to skip?
- Basically you highlight important lines in a book and then write some important summery/keywords/phrases on the margins of every book page.
- Works well for NCERTs, GS Manuals, M.Laxmikanth, Bipin Chandra and so on.
- doesn’t work well, if you’re supposed to prepare a topic after consolidating information from multiple sources. (Indo-US relations for example)
- Doesn’t work well, if it is a secondary reference book. (i.e. some xyz book from library, wasn’t written for IAS exam but got some good facts/fodder in one or two chapters). In that case, ideal way was to write a separate handwritten summery note.
Made from Newspapers, standard reference books, magazines, websites.
How to make notes out of newspapers, is already explained in a separate article
- When you make notes, please be conscious that you’re not doing it with a ‘90s’ mindset: i.e. too much dates, names and numbers.
- If you can remember something as such then no need to incorporate such data in your note. For example “India got independence on 15th August 1947”=don’t write.
- You don’t have to copy the sentences verbatim. Because that is identical to making a photocopy! Just write keywords and phrases, avoid writing full sentences. Write full sentence, only if it some extremely important quote / fodder statement.
- Notes need not be grammatically correct or pure chaste politically correct diplomatic language. You can mix up Hindi with English, proverbs, slangs, profanity, filmy dialogues even to the point of obscenity …. whatever makes it easy to revise and recall the information. Keep in mind you’re not making notes to impress someone, you’re making notes for quick revision.
If you’re reading papercopy of a book, newspaper or magazine, it is easy to make handwritten notes simultaneously.
But if you’re reading something on internet or PDF file, it may not be convenient.
|To organize notes/data||To create mindmaps|
There is no one size fits for all. In certain topics, Mindmapping would be useful,
- but in some topics a simple Excel datasheet would work just fine (for example list of persons in news or Science tech 2 markers.)
- I had created an Auto-notemaker computer script, basically it helps you copy phrases from pdf files and websites.CLICK ME (works perfect on WinXP, not so well on Win7)
- In the mains exam, question papers are quite lengthy. Handwriting speed matters. Therefore donot maintain only computer notes. Also make handwritten notes as and where required. That’d indirectly help you improve writing speed.
Such notes give you inspiration and indirect hints on “the Art of notes making.“
You will find some good facts and fodder in such notes.
However, Notes of toppers should not be your first line of defense or primary weapons because,
- if he could memorize xyz thing without notes, he wouldn’t have incorporated such data in his notes.
- In many places he’d have written sentences, that would make limited sense to you (but they’d help him connect point x with y)…after all he wrote the notes for his easy revision and not yours.
- He may have skipped some topics or chapters because he did not find them exam-worthy.
It can be of two types
- Static = dealing with theoretical part of GS or optionals (History, Geography, literature etc.)
- Current affairs
As we saw in Act I, the Static notes of coaching classes, lost their significance under UPSC’s BackbreakingTM Move.
Regarding the current affairs notes= nowadays the ‘famous’ classes intentionally delay the release of current affairs books/notes- to prevent UPSC spies from changing the question paper.
So, in the coming years, you’ll find such material flooding in streets, just 15-20 days before the exam.
Consider this situation
- Suppose Ajay Devgan exercised for 2 hours per day for 90 days continuously and transformed into a “muscle man” for his movie Singham.
- Therefore if you exercise 12 hours a day for 15 days, you’ll get the same muscular body. Is it possible?
Why not? 90×2=180 and 12×15 is also 180!
Even If you take steroids, this is not possible. Same goes with the short cuts and quick fix solutions.
- It doesn’t require an Einstein to release “readymade” current affair notes. Just hire a retired player of UPSC, ask him to follow Hindu for year, copy paste data, produce a booklet and charge anything between Rs.3000 to Rs.10000 depending on your coaching class’s name and reputation in the masses.
- If a sincere player is doing his own notes since many months, he may quickly scan through such notes to fillup any missing data to upgrade his own personal notes.
- But then again, sincere players would usually find their own notes adequate and well organized than such garbage that floods the street 15 days before the exam.
- But if a candidate had not been preparing current affairs on his own, then he’d end up spending last 15 days just reading, digesting and processing the data, There will be no time left to revise any other topics.
- Maintain your current affairs notes, Don’t look for shortcuts.
- If you get some good coaching note, use it to upgrade your own notes.
- If you donot have coaching notes- don’t feel guilty or inferior. There are plenty of toppers who made it without using such material.
Now let’s move to inspect the next weapon.
- Internet is required for “Follow up Action” on particular topic of current affairs.
- For example there is some climate change summit going on. Newspaper only mentions the highlight but not enough content to write 120 words answer then you’d need to use google.
- Similarly, to find out the timeline/background of a topic, you’ll need to google.
- You’ll need to visit official sites of various ministry
- You’ll need to keep an eye on pib.nic.in
- You’ll need to download IGNOU pdfs from egyankosh.ac.in as per your requirements.
- You’ll need it to access TheHindu.
- And so on…
But as usual, you should digest, process and make note out of it. Otherwise merely saving 10 articles per day in your harddisk = won’t help you.
- You use internet for accessing Hindu/other newspapers and gather current affairs = well and good.
- But don’t just keep random surfing internet for your preparation (especially prelims). Because likelihood of getting question from some random internet article of Wikipedia or newspaper in UPSC = very less. Why? Because UPSC has to keep in mind the candidates from small towns and villages, who may not have 24/7 internet access. So many questions come from ‘static’ theory part- NCERTs, other Standard reference books, to give them level playing field- particularly @the preliminary level.
- Initially you’ll feel enthusiastic about doing google-research, but after 15-20 days, you’ll lose the tempo and start feeling nervous thinking “I can never complete the syllabus”
- Ofcourse you can search internet for further explanation of a topic. But UPSC exam is not made up of one particular topic alone. It is a mixture of everything. So don’t overdo anything. for example digging Sci-Tech, folk dances etc. day and night.
They are released by the Government.
Yojana deals with socio-economic issues, poverty, water sanitation, women empowerment etc.
Kurukshetra deals mainly with rural Development.
Both are important for UPSC, because they provide fodder material.
Every article in those two magazines, follows or less the same structure that is
- Initially it’ll describe an issue or problem, give you some data.
- It’ll list the Government scheme / project and their salient features
- Thant it’ll give you data and charts on State wise money allotment and achievements.
- Sometimes it’ll give reasons why targets are not achieved.
- Ultimately, some over-glorified success story of xyz NGO or Self Help group.
For us, point number 1,2 and 4 are important.
If Yojana magazine issue has 75 pages, you can summarize the fodder material in less than 5 page note, just containing keywords and phrases. So do it, highly recommended, will help you particularly for descriptive question (mains and essay).
It is said that Kurukshetra is important for candidates with Public Administration optional only. My opinion is Kurukshetra is important for everyone irrespective of optional subject – given the current trend of UPSC asking yearbook, socio-economic Development type questions.
Although you can download the free PDF files from their official website, here is the link
but I would suggest subscribe for paper-copy.
Reason: Each magazine cost Rs.100 subscription per year = not very expensive.
+ Reading on computer screen for long time= not good for eyes.
Goto post office, buy following things
- Buy two IPO (indian postal orders) worth Rs.100 each
- One envelop worth Rs.5 (it already has postal stamp.)
On Each IPO, write “Director, Publication Division, Ministry of Info. & Broadcasting, New Delhi”
Now prepare two paper chits/letters: One for Yojana and One for Kurukshetra.
- Your Name and Address:
- Subscription: Yojana/Kurukshetra for 1 year
- Language of magazine: English/Hindi/Gujarati/ whatever language.
- IPO number:
Now staple each letter with each IPO.
Slip it into that Envelop.
On the Envelop, write following address and mail it.
Publication Division, East Block, Level-VII,
RK Puram, New Delhi-110066
CST = Civil Service Times
PD= Pratiyogita Darpan
These magazines provide you information on current affairs, truckload of coaching class advertisements on every second page and useless clichéd topper interviews.
In the 90s era, magazines were important because preliminary exam used to be current affairs heavy (sports, awards, places and persons in news etc). Nowadays not so much.
Besides, the level of current affairs questions in the mains examination, requires that you follow the newspapers rather these magazines. However magazines still have some utilities because
- Helps you fill up the gap in your notes. e.g. if some topic was not covered in newspaper, or in case you missed noticing some important development.
- Saves you the trouble of following sports related News everyday.
But keep in mind the magazine publishers cover the news-item is still from the 90s mindset. They throw just way too much names,dates and numbers at you. So it’d be better if you just noted down keywords in separate diary (especially for science-tech part) e.g. We are not interested in knowing the exact height and weigh of satellite, we only need to know its function or use.
Each magazine has following structure
- National affairs
- International affairs
- Persons and Places in news
- Some “filler” articles for the sake of filling pages, because they couldnot find coaching class ad sponsers..
- Usually doctored and ghost written topper interviews
For you section 1 to 4 are important. Rest depending on your time and mood. Don’t pay much attention on what topper is saying (or recommending) in the magazine interviews, because mostly they’re doctored and ghostwritten interviews. Read following blogs by IAS officers and you’ll understand what I’m saying:
- Supreet Singh Gulati (IAS, AIR-2/CSE-2007, Punjab Cadre)
- Gokul GR (IAS, AIR-19/CSE-2010, Kerala Cadre):
From January to May= Diwali time for competitive magazines.
They come up with issues with attractive covers for example
- “Complete geography in 15 days”
- “Entire coverage of Biodiversity”
- 1000 questions on current affairs!
The new player would ditch his books and start mugging up data given in such magazines. Nothing really comes in the exam and he suffers. So don’t make that mistake. Your Primary weapons = Standard Reference Books+newspapers+your own notes.
All these readymade things are secondary. These are only the supplements, not the substitutes.
Use any one of following.
|Civil Service Times (CST):||
If money is the problem, then no need to buy, visit local Government library.
Question: From which month to which month, should I cover current affairs?
If you’re appearing in the year 2013, you should prepare current affairs from minimum Jan 2012. (it doesn’t mean UPSC won’t ask you some topic that happened in 2011 or from 2007, because UPSC is the baddest thug you’ll find in this part of South East Asia.)
Anyways, the ideal and plausible “current affairs” time frame = start from one year i.e. Jan 2012. Finish upto that part, then worry about 2011.
If you’ve started preparation from Nov 2012, then I hope from November onwards you’d religiously follow newspapers and maintain notes (if you don’t want to dig up your grave) but what about the stuff that already happened? i.e. what to do for the current affairs from Jan 2012 to Nov 2012?
Go through the competitive magazine issues of those month
Ya but Where to find the old magazines?
A. local library
B. For Pratiyogita Darpan – their official website.
Same advice for Yojana, Kurukshetra.
Okay now assuming that you have covered up to January 2012. But about few years back?
For Jan 2011 to Dec 2011
For 2001 to Dec 2010 = http://www.hindu.com/revents/events.htm
Yes it 2001 and no I did not make typing mistake. Just give a cursory reading to (National and International) section of that Hindu diary of events.
Reason: there have been some landmark events for example Bt-Brinjal, Iraq and Afghanistan war, 9/11, 26/11, sub-prime crisis, Indo US nuclear deal, Tsunami, Right to education Act, women reservation bill, Law Commission, Justice Sacchar Committee, controversy regarding office of profit..…. And so on.
Many such topics would continue haunting you indirectly and implicitly in the mains, essay and interview. So better have some idea about them.
- Any One magazine is sufficient. More than one magazine = overlapping and overkill.
- Ofcourse there would be some xyz science-tech term which was given in PD but not in CST, then What to do? Well in war, there is always some casualty. If you start worrying so much, you cannot prepare. One competitive magazine (combined with one newspaper) should do the trick.
- If after you’re done with core syllabus, notes making and everything…you may visit local library to upgrade your notes. But “now” is not the right time. All those things are “secondary.”
Who should refer secondary reference?
- Player with decent command over core GS, Yearbook, Polity, current affairs and he’s already done with the syllabus and notes on opt. subject (if optional subjects are kept in UPSC exam)
- Someone who has appeared in mains and right now waiting for the interview call. He should visit local library, go through as many issues as he can- to build up his knowledge for interviews.
In short, these “secondary” things are made for Level 3 player. Who is this level 3 player? click ME for the answer
- But If you’re yet to become master of level2, then there is no point in indulge in these things at the moment. First finish your core syllabus, revise it multiple times and get good grip over the conventional General Studies.
- Often the “Ideal strategy” is not the plausible strategy. Use your head, know your strengths, limits, time available to you and proceed accordingly.
- Besides in UPSC lot of questions come from standard reference books and newspapers so they should be your primary weapons.
So far we discussed weapon #5- notes, Weapon #4- internet, Weapon #3- magazines. Now time to examine
- Why newspapers are important,
- How to read them effectively without wasting 3-4 hours a day?
- How to make notes out of newspapers?
…all that already explained in a previous article: click ME
How to read The Hindu online, using Google Reader, already explained= Click ME
What is NCERTs?
In India we have three school boards
- State Education boards
NCERT= the textbooks used by CBSE students.
- They’re are available in both Hindi and English
- They can be downloaded for free, download links are given at the bottom of this article.
- But if you can afford, then go ahead and buy them from market.
- NCERTs are important because many questions in the preliminary exam, are directly or indirectly asked from them – History, geography, science, economics. ICSE text-books are also good for preparation (particularly for Geography segment), but they’re expensive and not readily available in market. So just go for NCERTs.
- If you’re appearing for State PSC exams, then use NCERTs and also Use State Education Board textbooks (History, Geography, Social Science) to get the GS/GK specific to that xyz State.
- They are old black-and-white editions, contain truckload of facts, names, dates and numbers on history, science and geography – were important during 90s era…question on this alloy and that chemical, world geography, ancient history etc. But now The nature of questions has changed.
- The colourful new editions, they’re not bloated with names, dates, numbers and other boring stuff.
- They are designed with main objective of explaining the underlying concept/principle of topic without boring the hell out of a reader.
- So, they are quite good for preparing under the BackbreakingTM regime of UPSC.
- some topics were better covered in the older NCERTs for example World geography and History- particularly the Colonization and economic angles to it.
- For that reason- some coaching sirs and senior players advice “older NCERT”.
- Personally i feel, one is not going to suffer from any competitive disadvantage, if he has not read the older NCERT books. because the question style has changed. + whatever ‘facts’ were present in older NCERTs and absent in New NCERT= they’re usually covered in GS Manual.
- Besides, UPSC too understands that older NCERTs are rarely available outside Delhi and some guy from small town or village cannot easily access them. (recall BackbreakingTM principle)
- So if you can get your hands on older NCERT, read them, else there is no need to lose your sleep or burn your blood over this issue.
Taking inspiration from Mrinalini Sarabhai (again), I give you a list of *Not recommended books*,
|Not recommended book||Why?|
||90s are over. Nature of question changed. NCERT+GS Manual =sufficient for physical geography.|
||NCERT+GS Manual = than sufficient to cover human body/biology.For First Aid, there is better PDF on IGNOU.|
||Lolz. Hardly any question on World geography, in last three years. NCERT+GS Manual will do the trick.|
||No need for Ph.DMonsoon question is so clichéd, 90s and repeated, unlikely to reappear even in mains under the BackbreakingTM era.|
||Good read for time pass, if you’ve free time.Problem is- there is no free time.|
||This is used for M.Sc courses.NCERT + Spectrum’s Book on Statistics =good enogh.
Besides Spectrum also contains solved Stat sums from GS papers from 1979 upto 2011.
||These are meant for Economics (Optional subject) paper II.NCERT+NOS+Ramesh Singh (TMH)= less boring, less pages, exam oriented.|
||Laxmikanth is better organized and exam oriented.|
Yes you’d find some fact/fodder from all ^such books, but time is a luxury you cannot afford, at best these all could come under “Secondary”, you may refer to them if and when you’ve the time, but “now” is not the right time- first get a decent grip over core GS, yearbook and current affairs.
In case you wonder, if these books are not useful, then why would someone recommend them over internet?
- They may have had their (limited) utility in 90s era. So the old sites recommended them and they’re still on top of google search engine.
- Such huge list assures that a new player feels frustrated during self-study and decides to join coaching.
- When it comes to Science, Geography or History: your first choice of Weapon= NCERTs.
- But at times some important concepts and principles are not covered fully in NCERTs.
- GS Manual bridges that gap + provides you truckload of mock questions to practice at home.
- You can download the blank answersheets by clicking me, and use it to practice those mock questions.
- Yes you must practice mock question, because they train you against negative marking. (just like a Circus lion is trained by whipping). Negative marking is a huge factor for success and failure @CSAT prelims.
- General Studies Manuals also contain lot of useless stuff for example chemical equations of respiration/ATP cycles and truckload of breeds and species of cows and buffalos and names of States where they’re found. Therefore, Not everything given in GS manual, is important from exam point of view (+it won’t go in memory anyways). You’ll see tips on how to effectively utilize GS Manual, in Act III.
- There are many publications involved in General Studies Manual. Tatamacgrawhill, Unique, Spectrum, Pearson to name a few.
- If you already have one, then no need to purchase new GS Manual. But If you are yet to purchase a GS Manual, then I would suggest go for Tata Machgrawhill General Studies Manual, particularly for its good coverage of Geography and Science segment and truckload of Mock Questions.
- You can also buy a second hand/used GS Manual, there is no harm in it.
Other standard reference books will be discussed in appropriate sections of next Act III.
So, These are your weapons, but what about weapons of your enemy?
It got 3 weapons
- BackbreakingTM : already discussed.
- R.T.I stonewalling (i.e. not divulging information via R.T.I or doing It only after the whole exam is over=1 year late) Hopefully CIC will resolve it.
- Negative Marking (in prelims/CSAT)
- Plays huge factor in preliminary stage.
- The answer choices are designed in such way that applying common sense or smart guessing or smart elimination= many a times you end up ticking wrong answer.
- You’ve to train your mind not to fall in that trap.
- That’s why practice all questions from GS Manual using blank answersheets and then check answers =your mind will be trained like a circus lion – not to touch ‘doubtful’ questions.
- Every year nature and difficulty of questions are different so donot force yourself into ticking answers merely to cross an imaginary cutoff based on previous RTIs.
- For example you’ve ticked 60 questions accurately and there are 10 questions where you feel “50:50″ between two answer choices. But someone or something has brainwashed you into believing that one must tick 70 questions to clear prelims. So your mind starts playing tricks, makes you think that your ‘smart guesses’ are correct and you get seduced into ticking those 10 questions. This usually leads into #Epicfail. Don’t push your luck in prelims.
- Cutoffs are not decided by the eminent sirs of Delhi, cutoffs are not decided by internet forums, cutoffs are decided by UPSC. So once prelims or mains are over, don’t raise your blood-pressure by what they’re predicting. Besides, your fate was already sealed the moment you submitted answersheet to the hall supervisor. Burning blood over cutoffs is not going to change your result.
Q. Should I join some (Expensive) mock test series of coaching class?
If you can afford go ahead join, if you can’t (or don’t want to), then no need to lose sleep or burn your blood over this issue. Following toppers cleared UPSC Civil Service exam without joining such mock tests. (list is not exhaustive.)
|All India Rank (2011)|
These Zip files contain PDF files. All of them important for concept/fact based Multi choice questions on Science, History, Geography, Polity, Culture.
|Science Class 7||Download|
|Our Pasts Part 2 – Class 7||Download|
|Social and Political Life Part 2 – Class 7||Download|
|Our Environment Class 7||Download|
|Science Class 8||Download|
|Our Pasts Part 3 – Class 8||Download|
|Resource and Development Class 8||Download|
|Social and Political Life – Class 8||Download|
|Science Class 9||Download|
|Contemporary India Social Science for Class 9||Download|
|Economics for Class 9||Download|
|India and Contemporary World 1 for Class 9||Download|
|Science Class X||Download|
|India and the Contemporary World 2 Class X Social Science||Download|
|Democratic Politics Part 2 for Class X Social Science||Download|
|Contemporary India Part 2 for Class X Social Science||Download|
|Understanding Economic Development Class X Social Science||Download|
|Fundamentals of Physical Geography Class 11||Download|
|India Physical Environment Geography Class 11||Download|
|Indian Economic Development Economics Class 11||Download|
|Themes in World History Class 11||Download|
|India People and Economy Class 12||Download|
|Introductory Microeconomics Class 12||Download|
|Macroeconomics Class 12||Download|
|Fundamentals of Human Geography Class 12||Download|
|Themes in India History 1 Class 12||Download|
|Themes in India History 2 Class 12||Download|
|Themes in India History 3 Class 12||Download|
If it doesn’t work visit (or you want Hindi version): http://www.ncert.nic.in/ncerts/textbook/textbook.htm
You’ll also find sociology and other ^subjects in this official NCERT link.