Preparations for the Civil Services Mains Exam should start along with those of Preliminary exam. This is because there is much common ground for study, and there is little time for the mains exam if one waits for the results of the Preliminaries. It is a long haul and preparations should be done with persistence, over nine months to an year.
Choice of subjects
One of the first questions that has to be answered is the choice of subjects. Here the choice should not only be with regard to your interests but also with regard to the study material available. It has been found that even science and engineering students take up subjects like history, sociology, anthropology, grography, political science, psychology and public administration because there is a huge amount of study material available, which covers the entire syllabus. Even if your branch of study is different, it is advisable to keep in touch with one of these subjects which will help you when you start preparations. Start collecting books and readings once you have made your choice.
The next step is to make a time-bound study plan, which would include not only studying the subject but improvement of writing expression. This is done by writing down the answers to the questions asked in previous years' papers. Show these answers to someone you know, like a teacher in your college or university, parents or friends. The study should be done according to the syllabus and also in the same chronological order as given in the syllabus.
The following topics need coverage for General Studies:
i) Current AffiarsNational and International
ii) Indian Polity
iii) Indian Economy
iv) Geography of India
v) Science and Technology
vi) History of India and Freedom Movement
vii) Study of thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore
viii) Statistics and General Mathematics Ability
To study current affairs, it is essential to read one national newspaper and The Competition Master. When you are studying the round up of national and international affairs, efforts should not be merely taking up the information but also to understand the issues involved. Go into the background of events. For example, the recent Lok Sabha elections threw up many issues. Get to know these issues and be clear about them so that you can answer questions on them.
With regard to other topics, the books published by the NCERT are the best source of study. Take up the text-books for classes IX, X, XI and XII. However, just reading these books will not serve the purpose. What is essential is that the person taking up self-study must pick up past question papers and write down the answers to questions asked therein. A practice in writing is what is required to attempt the paper. Many students make the mistake of studying for hours but have no practice in writing down the answers, which costs heavily during the exam. The skill required is that of organising the arguments and making a coherent answer from the diverse material. One more thing that must be kept in mind is that the answers must be a little different from others and must have some extra bit that is missed out by others. This is not difficult if one has understood the issue in depth.
One important aspect of the Civil Services Mains Exam is that the questions do not ask for mere information as a reply, but seek analysis backed with arguments from the candidates. Usually, one gets the impression that one knows everything but thoughts do not flow out naturally as one puts pen to paper. Hence, writing down the answers is an important aspect of the preparation. Another thing is that the candidate must carefully read the questions in order to make out what the examiner is asking. Having done that, it is important to organise one's thoughts before writing and the sequence of the answer should be from the most important/potent aspect to less important aspects.
If you do not have someone to show your answers, keep them away and after a gap of some time, read them again. You will discover many mistakes, which earlier you could not. Analyse the answers in order to improve them. This exercise of re-analysis of answers improves the ability to be precise. One of the important requirements of the Mains exam is that the answers should be crisp and to-the-point.
While studying for the optional subjects, keep in mind that there is no scope for selective studies in the Civil Services Examination. The whole syllabus must be completely and thoroughly covered. Invariably, some candidates organise their studies in a manner that they study one subject thoroughly, with reduced emphasis on their second subject. It is imperative that equal stress be given to both the subjects you have chosen.
It is also important to remember that the level of questions asked is of the Masters level examination. The questions have an added spin in order to bring out the grasp of the candidate with regard to the basic concepts of the subject. Hence, if you choose subjects in which you do not have a basic grounding, it would be advisable to start from simple books. After getting the grasp of the basic concepts, start with higher level study material. Here again, reflections on basic concepts and their application in real life is important. For best preparation and a success plan, it is suggested that the candidate make a habit of beginning his study by writing answers to three questions each day, one each from General Studies and two from optional subjects. Questions should be chosen from previous years' papers and the answer writing should be preceded by study on the subject.
Most candidates do not have problems with regard to English and Hindi examinations and are able to qualify in them easily. However, it is important to have a good working knowledge of the two languages. In order to improve this skill, pick up a General Studies book and translate it into the language in which you are weak. For instance, if you are weak in Hindi, try translating important essays on current affairs into Hindi which will not only improve fluency but also the general knowledge. Another way is to write letters to friends in the language that one is weak in.
Studying for General Studies
Giving a detailed description of the optional subjects is not feasible here but we give here some suggested readings for the General Studies paper. Students should remember that this list is not exhaustive and they should choose the books themselves based on recommendations of previous successful students, teachers and guides, etc. We are giving a list as a general requirement. NCERT, IGNOU booklets and National Book Trust (NBT) publications are quite helpful. For the Preliminary paper, study the following books:
History: NCERT books of class XI and XII, Freedom Struggle (published by National Book Trust)
Geography: Class XII books of Geography (NCERT), a good atlas.
Indian Polity: Introduction to the Indian Constitution.
Indian Economy: NCERT and other books on Evolution of the Indian Economy.
General Science: NCERT books on science, a science magazine or newspaper supplements on science.
Current Events: A national newspaper, The Competition Master, newsmagazines.
General Mental Ability: Do the Quantitative Aptitude published in The Competition Master, past test papers.
For the main examination, the study should be done in more detail. In addition to the above readings, the following are suggested as well:
History: India's Struggle for Independence, IGNOU publications on Modern India.
Indian Culture: Art and culture portions of history books, India Yearbook (culture chapter), Encyclopaedia on Indian Culture, Gazetteer of India, books on culture published by Publications Division and National Book Trust.
Current Affairs: A national newspaper, The Competition Master, current affairs programmes on Doordarshan, newsmagazines.
Statistics: Class XI NCERT book on Statistics.
Indian Polity: Introduction to the Constitution, Parliament.
Indian Geography: NCERT books on Indian Geography.
Indian Economy: NCERT and other books on Indian Economy, financial newspapers, The Competition Master carries regular analysis of the Indian Economy.
Science: A science magazine, supplements in newspapers.