Thursday, May 15, 2014

How to prepare for the Civil Services Prelims

The syllabus and the pattern of the preliminary examination of the Civil Services Examination have been revised. Here are some guidelines to prepare for the two papers.
In 2010, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) notified changes in the syllabus and pattern of the preliminary examination (prelims) for the Civil Services Examination. The long overdue changes were widely welcomed by civil services aspirants. The first examination in the new scheme was held in June 2011.
The 2011 examination comprised two papers: General Studies Paper 1 and 2 (popularly known as CSAT). Paper 1 in the new scheme is more or less similar to the Paper 1 of the old scheme with a few but significant changes in the content. General Mental Ability has been shifted from Paper 1 of the old syllabus to Paper 2 of the new syllabus.
In the old syllabus, Paper 1 (general studies) was acceptable by and large. It was paper 2 which was a source of concern and discontent and has, therefore, been thoroughly revised. The earlier scheme for Paper 2 offered candidates a long list of 23 subject options from which one had to be chosen. The variety of optional subjects was the chief source of concern, as it was felt that candidates of different subject backgrounds did not get a level playing field. For example, it could be argued that comparing the performance of one candidate in Chemistry with that of another in History might not be completely rational. The statistical procedures used for comparing scores of candidates in various optional subjects led to uncertainty and concern.
Secondly, Paper 2 had double weight since it carried 300 marks as compared to 150 of Paper 1. It is for these reasons that Paper 2 in the new scheme, being same for all examinees and having the same weight as paper 1, has been welcomed wholeheartedly.
This article focuses on the key changes in Paper 1.
The syllabus for Paper 1 has been expanded and refined. The inclusion of topics such as “General issues on environmental ecology, biodiversity, and climate change” makes it more contemporary and relevant from a societal perspective. Changes in the environment are a rapidly growing concern and mandate critical study. Therefore, such topics in the syllabus make it more interesting and meaningful.
A syllabus in itself, however, is not a complete document. Its scope and extent are determined by its interpretation by the paper-setters. So far, there has been only one examination and its question paper is only indicative of the future trend. For instance, there were questions in 2011 which would be difficult to associate directly with any of the specific topics mentioned in the new syllabus. There were three questions from “Computing and communication technology,” a topic which does not find a separate mention in the syllabus. Should this be treated as part of general science? A much clearer picture will emerge only after a couple of years when a few more question papers would have been set.
Although the total time allotted for answering the question paper remains the same at two hours, the new scheme allows, on an average, 50 per cent more time per question as the number of questions has been reduced from 150 to 100. So while the difficulty level of the questions is more or less the same as in earlier years, more time available per question places less strain on the examinee, a welcome change in any examination situation. The examinees will find themselves slightly more relaxed in the high pressure examination.
Another factor contributing indirectly to the availability of more time is the shifting of General Mental Ability (GMA) to Paper 2. It has been a common experience that GMA questions require more time. In the new scheme, Paper 1 has only knowledge-based questions which require relatively less time.
Also, in the new scheme each question carries two marks as compared to one earlier. While the penalty for every wrong answer remains the same at one-third of the marks assigned to that question, in absolute terms, the loss is more now. Earlier, the total loss of marks for a wrong answer was 1.33 (0.9 per cent of the total 150 marks) and now it is 2.67 (1.33 per cent of the total 200 marks). The aim of negative marking is primarily to discourage guess work. In case of doubt it is better to leave the question unanswered than to give a wrong answer. More than one answer, even if one of them is correct, is treated as wrong answer.
Changing format of questions: Both papers in prelims are now based on multiple choice questions (MCQs) with four responses. There are four formats in MCQs: single response correct; single or multiple responses correct; matching type; and assertion reason type.
A close scrutiny of questions asked in the past five years reveals that there were no assertion-reason (format 4 above) questions in 2009 and subsequent years. In 2010 there were four questions of matching type (format 3 above) but in 2011 questions of this type were not included. Thus in 2011 only two types of questions (formats 1 and 2 given above) were asked.
Two specimen questions of these two formats (1 and 2) taken from the question paper of 2011 are given below. These are the first and last questions of test booklet series B.
Example of a question of format 1:
Q. The 2004 tsunami made people realise that mangroves can serve as a reliable safety hedge against coastal calamities. How do mangroves function as a safety hedge?
(a) the mangrove swamps separate the human settlements from the sea by a wide zone in which people neither live nor venture out.
(b) the mangroves provide both food and medicines which people are in need of after any natural disaster.
(c) the mangrove trees are tall with dense canopies and serve as an excellent shelter during a cyclone or tsunami.
(d) mangrove trees do not get uprooted by storms and tides because of their extensive roots.
Of the four responses in the above question, only one response (d) is correct.
Example of a question of format 2
Q.With reference to “Aam Aadmi Beema Yojana,” consider the following statements:
(1) The member insured under the scheme must be the head of the family or an earning member of the family in a rural, landless household.
(2) The member insured must be in the age group of 30-65
(3) There is a provision for free scholarship for up to two children of the insured who are studying between classes 9 and 12
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 1 and 3 only
(d) 1,2, and 3
In the above question, responses 1 and 3 being correct, the answer is (c).
In 2011, there were nearly equal numbers of questions of these two formats. It could be purely by chance that multiple choice questions of only these two formats were asked or it could be a new examination pattern.
Again, it is only after a few more runs of the examination that a clear picture will emerge.
So, on the whole the new pattern of prelims is a welcome change.
Paper 2 has been rationalised to a large extent. Paper 1 also has been refined, with some relevant and contemporary topics having been added, giving benefit to aspirants in close touch with the pressing issues of the time. On an average, more time has been allowed per question for Paper 1 by keeping the total time same and reducing the number of questions.
It will be some time before a clear picture emerges regarding the scope and extent of the syllabus.
Negative marking and a smaller number of questions mean students need to focus on accuracy, making the most of the increased time allotted per question.
There seems to be increased emphasis on specific question formats. Bearing all these factors in mind and studying with the same sincerity that has typically been characteristic of civil services aspirants will be the key for success in this examination.
Courtesy: The Hindu

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