This year, the main exam for the Civil Services is going to start on October 29, 2010. The main purpose of this exam is to assess candidates’ overall intellectual traits and depth of understanding, rather than just their memory and range of information.
For general studies papers in the Main exam, the nature and standard of the question will be such that a well-educated person can answer them without any specialised study. The question is designed to test candidates’ general awareness of a variety of subjects, which will have relevance for a career in the services. The questions are likely to test candidates’ basic understanding of all relevant issues, ability to analyse, and take a view on conflicting socio-economic goals, objectives and demands. Test-takers must give relevant, meaningful and succinct answers.
The scope of the optional-subject papers’ syllabi is broadly equivalent to the honours degree level i.e. a level higher than the Bachelor’s degree and lower than the Master’s degree. In the case of engineering, medical science and law, the level corresponds to the Bachelor’s degree.
There will be a total of eight questions in every optional subject paper. All questions will carry equal marks. Each paper will be divided into part A and B, each containing four questions. Out of eight questions, the candidate is asked to attempt five. The first question in both parts will be compulsory.
Candidates will be required to answer three more questions out of the remaining six, taking at least one question from each part. In this way, at least two questions would be attempted from each part i.e. one compulsory question plus one more.
For compulsory subjects, English and an Indian language, the exam is meant to test the candidate’s ability to read and understand serious discursive prose and to express his/her ideas clearly and correctly, in English and the Indian language concerned. For the essay paper, candidates will be required to write an essay on a specific topic. A choice of various themes will be given. Examinees will be expected to follow closely the subject of the essay and arrange their ideas in an orderly fashion, and to write concisely. Students can get credit for effective and exact expression.
The chief concern for all candidates is “how to write a good answer” in the main exam. Or, put more simply, how to please the examiner. I have always told my students that the examiner is a man in a hurry. So, if you make his life easy, he will make your life easy. Here are a few last-minute suggestions to strike such a trade-off:
Have faith in your preparation, memory and ability to recall what you have read. What I mean by this is to basically ask you to trust yourself. Ability to believe in yourself gives you a feeling of control on the whole process of examination.
Read each question two or three times with a cool head. Give a fair interpretation to each word in the question and then decide what its requirements are. To do this, the question should be treated as a single inquiry and not as a collection of inquiries. Though at times a question may require you to focus on more than one aspect of a theme.
Subsequent to the decision about the broad nature of the main inquiry contained in a question, split the question into its basic components as almost every question will have two or three components.
After deciding upon the components, give these components an order or sequence. This is necessary since on a plain reading of a question, students mostly don’t find the components and their relation to each other laid out in a neat manner.
Next decide the “points” that you are going to mention in your answer. Classify these “points” as “major” and “minor”, with the major ones coming in the beginning of the answer and the minor used to finally supplement the thrust of the main argument. In short, all the points should appear in a logical sequence to prove the relevance of the material or arguments given by you. You are being asked to weave a cause and effect chain in your answer.
Your answers should be crisp, dry like dust, bare-to- the-bone statements of facts, commanded in simple prose without resorting to any devices of ornamentation. You should not use any quotations as far as possible. Don’t quote names of authors, books, articles etc. with the intention to impress the examiner.
One more thing here, desist writing everything that you happen to know on the subject, since it is a weakness among most students. This habit ultimately also results in mismanagement of time. By being precise and economical in your answers and by not including any unrelated detail, you help the examiner and make his task easier which he would reward generously at the end of your answer.
VP Gupta is director of Rau’s IAS Study Circle, New Delhi