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Civil Services prelims: What to expect

The exam will become more contemporary and focus on topics like development and environmental issues, says Rahat Bano

education Updated: Jan 19, 2011 10:05 IST
Rahat Bano

Earlier, the preliminary stage comprised two papers, General Studies (GS) worth 150 marks and an optional subject (chosen out of a list of 23) of 300 marks.

In the new scheme of things, total marks of the preliminary stage have been reduced from 450 to 400. Papers 1 and 2 carry equal weight while the time limit for both — two hours — remains as earlier. The UPSC increased the weightage of paper-1 from 150 marks to 200. It seems to have kept the paper in question more or less the same in terms of the broad topics, but the mental ability section has been shifted to paper-2. The optional subject with 120 questions has been done away with. In its place, paper-2 will be common for all candidates and include questions on comprehension, mental ability, and logical reasoning.

According to coaching industry professionals, the examination seems to be becoming more contemporary. Sriram Srirangam, faculty member, Sri Ram’s IAS, Delhi, says that aspirants should peruse newspapers with a missionary zeal. “Spend at least three hours on the newspaper every day. You should have a genuine love for national and international events and developments.”

Dhrubajyoti Banik, course co-ordinator - civil services aptitude test and chief knowledge expert, TIME New Delhi, says, “Till last year, whether it was economics, geography, or sociology, the stress was on static information. For example, in the Mughal empire, who started such and such system, etc.” Now, the UPSC has spelt out topics like development and environmental issues.

DP Singh, counsellor, Rau’s IAS Study Circle, says their institute included topics like climate change and sustainable development in geography. “Now they (UPSC) have mentioned these.”

“Paper 1 is turning contemporary — with events of recent importance, events a civil servant will directly face (in the course of his duty), such as climate change, rehabilitation, infrastructure,” says Banik. Therefore, he suggests that in addition to what aspirants were studying till last year, they should gather as much knowledge as they can over development projects and policies formulated by the government in the past four-five years. So, general knowledge, too, should be current. For starters, do you know about the personalities present at the recent Pravasi Bharatiya Divas? Canadian MP Ruby Dhalla, anyone?

Also, make note of all the Padma awardees for the year, says Srirangam. What transpired during Obama’s, Sarkozy’s and Medvedev’s last India visits? Who were the notables in their contingents?

Singh says that previously, mental ability was a small part of the first test. “Out of 120, there would be 20-25 questions on mental ability in the first paper. From this year, I think the number of questions will be more.” So, students should give more attention to mental ability and vocabulary for the English language comprehension portion of paper-2, he advises. The comprehension passage (different from the English language comprehension passage) may be from various topics of paper-1. The comprehension question is designed to test your understanding of the passage and not the language per se whereas the other passage is assessing your language skills. Therefore, prepare thoroughly for the first paper. Srirangam says that the reading comprehension passage is largely going to be on economics. “I don’t rule out a speech by the RBI governor, Subba Rao or by external affairs minister SM Krishna.” However, the topics of paper-2 are “familiar territory”, he says.

Srirangam adds that the civil services examination seems to be turning increasingly to analytical questions.

What’s changed

Students will now have to take two compulsory papers, each of 200 marks and of two hours’ duration, in the civil services preliminary exam. The new elements in the exam for candidates going to take it in 2011:
Paper 1, 200 marks, two hours
. Current events of national and international importance
. History of India and Indian national movement
. Indian and world geography — physical, social, economic geography of India and the world
. Indian polity and governance — constitution, political system, panchayati raj, public policy, rights issues
. Economic and social development — sustainable development, poverty, inclusion, demographics, social sector initiatives
. General issues on environmental ecology, biodiversity and climate change — that do not require subject specialisation
. General science

Paper 2, 200 marks, two hours
. Comprehension
. Interpersonal skills, including communication skills
. Logical reasoning and analytical ability
. Decision-making and problem-solving
. General mental ability
. Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude etc; Class 10 level), data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc; Class 10 level)
. English language comprehension skills (Class 10 level)
. Questions relating to English language comprehension skills of Class 10 level are going to be tested through passages in English language without

Hindi translation in the question paper.
. The questions will be of multiple-choice, objective type.
Sample questions for both the papers are given on the UPSC website So far, the UPSC has not changed the civil services main exam and the personality test.