Top 10 Tips to Crack the General Studies section : Civil Services (Mains) 2012

Nishatha Abraham Bijeesh updated on : 04 Feb 2016

Valuable preparation tips for General Studies section of Civil Services (Mains) to be held in Octover/ November 2012, being provided by Mr. P.Gopakumar, IRS & Chief Advisor of the Kerala Samajam Civil Services Guidance Programme, Bangalore.

Here’s the challenge - If you are given a topic and are asked to write precisely on it in 20,50,100,150 ,250 or 2500 words and also to analyse and tell about in a balanced way with your own creative suggestions - Can you do it? If yes, then you are a potential candidate for the Civil Services Examination.

Yes, the most coveted examination in the country which gives you the golden opportunity to be a part of the team driving the nation expects you to be precise and focused on issues; to be analytical in a balanced way and to be capable of prompt and objective decisions in testing situations. During various stages of the examination, whether it be preliminary, main or interview, you are assessed for these qualities. Your academic qualifications take a back seat in the scheme of the examination. A level playing field is offered for all irrespective of your qualifications. 

The UPSC Civil Services examination offers this beautiful experience which is not felt in any other examination. The examination process spread over a year, calls for hard work, patience, balance of mind, skills of analysis and social responsiveness. 

With the Main examination for 2011 set to take off from 29th October, let us discuss some finer aspects which may help the aspirants to improve their scores. 

The Main examination is the major scoring part accounting for 2000 marks out of the total 2300. Nine papers – one each in English, Indian language and Essay and two each in General Studies and in the optionals – are to be attempted. It is definitely a daunting task.

As civil services aspirants, you might have completed a round in all the areas by now. You must be waiting for the latest releases of General Studies dossiers; you must be busy with group discussions and some among you may be confused over the topics yet to be covered.

Don’t panic; If you are cool headed and composed, you can make wonders even now. Some useful tips to make a comfortable appearance at the examination are presented here. We will discuss the approach required for General Studies. The approach may well apply for optionals too.

How to Prepare for the General Studies Section:

  • Scoring depends on the perfection of your answers. You may know everything covering the full syllabus, but answering the papers in time with precision is the art to be cultivated.
  • Hence, do practice now. Set a full paper for three hours and write.
  • If you are not able to complete in time, write again. The word limits for various answers shall be kept in mind. 20, 30, 50,100,150,200 and 250 words are required for various answers.


Along with perfection of answers goes time management. You may require lot of practice to achieve this. When you see the paper you may feel that you know everything, but answering all the questions judiciously within three hours is not that easy a task.

In the 2010 examination, the questions as per word limits were:        

Paper I
250 words - 2 questions
150 words - 14 questions
50 words - 12 questions
20 words - 16 questions

Paper II
250 words - 2 questions
150 words - 10 questions
50 words - 17 questions
20 words - 8 questions 
Remaining questions were from Statistical Analysis (31 marks). 

In 2009, the pattern was a bit different:

Paper I
250 words - 1 question
150 words - 12 questions
100 words - 2 questions
30words - 10 questions 
20 words - 20 questions          

Paper II
200 words - 2 questions
150 words - 8 questions
100 words - 6 questions
50 words - 6 questions
30 words - 5 questions 
Remaining questions were from Statistical Analysis (35 marks)            

So, there is a lot to be gained by writing practice. Ability to switch between various word limits is an art that you can master only through practice. You can do it at home, keeping a clock in front of you. 

  • Ascertain your writing pattern –
  1. How many words you write on an A-4 paper with proper margins;
  2. whether your handwriting is legible and
  3. whether your hands are moving fast.

A rough estimate of the word count per page makes it easy to check the word limits while writing the exam in real. Any shortcomings in these areas need to be corrected now.

Writing holds the key. How precise you write matters a lot. Also understand the question properly. Questions will be with tags like this:

  1. Comment: Here you have to discuss the pros and cons of the matter and conclude
  2. Evaluate: here you have to analyse and find the implications
  3. Elucidate/Explain/Describe: here you have to list out all the features of the matter
  4. Critically assess/Examine:  one has to combine the effects of comment and evaluate here.

Your answers should be written according to these tags.

  • Catching the nerve of the question and answering makes the difference. For this, you need to be cool and composed. Read the question carefully once and understand/underline the key words on which it is to be answered.
    For example, if the question (250 words), appears like this: "What do you mean by the term “Micro Finance”. What are its various manifestations in India? Discuss the issues around it and suggest your views to make it as a strong tool for improving the economic conditions of the under-privileged."
    1. Here, we first identify the nerves in the question. The key words are to be underlined.
    2. You have to catch these nerves and write precisely, apportioning the words for each part and conclude the answer neatly. The volumes of information you have on the matter-i.e. micro finance – has to be oriented accordingly, with in the word limit. Then you'll be successful.
    3. Otherwise, if you start writing on micro finance, without seeing this orientation, you will end up writing long and not concluding, at the cost of other questions.
    4. If you do not have much information required to write the answer in the required words, do not attempt writing irrelevant points to satisfy the word limits. Write the few points you have, in a neat and logical manner.
  • Do not neglect any section in the question paper. Give equal importance to all. There are some areas where we get almost full marks- the 20 words questions and the Statistical Analysis part . In the 20 word answers section, write two key aspects, then you get 2 marks. For example, on a question about the personality Dr.Gopa Sabharwal, what you can write? "An eminent professor in Sociology, she has been appointed as the inaugural rector of the Nalanda University , being revived by the Government with the co-operation of East Asian Countries"- that’s all, you get two marks.
    Even two marks make a huge difference in the examination. If you lose 2 marks, you may go down in the ranking by around 7-8 positions.
  • Statistical Analysis section is a gold mine. If you practice and perfect it, full marks are due. Nowadays, around 35 marks are devoted to this area. Graphs, diagrams, and general statistical calculations –mean, median, mode, standard deviation- and derivations based on it appear in the section. Practice alone makes wonders. Irrespective of the candidate’s background, it can be perfected. Neglecting this area may prove costly.
  • Now, with few days left for the examination, you may prepare selectively.
  1. Identify a few expected areas and study these in depth.
  2. While studying /discussing, keep an analytical bend of mind.
  3. Think about the implications, with particular reference to the society and the common man.


  • Group discussions are better forums for study. By forming comfortable groups, you derive confidence, better presentation and articulation, enrichment of the ideas better memory and expression of your commitment. If you do it now, it will also take way the tension.
  • Newspaper reading should continue as an indispensable part of the preparation. Most of the answers are available in the News papers.
  1. Read good editorials, analytical articles and columns.
  2. One standard Economic daily is also useful.
  3. You may note down the key aspects and discuss in your groups. The reading for the next few days will also get you a command over the questions going to be asked.
  4. The newspapers will throw light on the basic facts, background and history of the issues being discussed. It is a very useful resource for the examination.
  5. Indian Economy, India’s economic interaction with the world, environmental issues, latest constitutional developments, socio-economic health issues of the country and such topics forming majority of the syllabus you will find from Newspapers. The questions in these areas are asked on current trends and hence you will find maximum answers from newspapers. 
  • Achieve the confidence that you can answer any question asked. Sometimes the questions are very abstract and a cursory reading of the matter somewhere coupled with your analytical tinge will help you in writing a good answer. Frame whatever points you have, they may be two and three only, in a relevant and impressive way. This is what expected is in General Studies. Your clarity of mind on general understanding of various issues is being tested. 

A solid strategy for the General Studies section is essential to have the edge in this examination…And with a good score in your optionals, you are sure to enter the top Civil Services. Wish you all the best!!!

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Author: Mr. P.Gopakumar, IRS

Mr.P. Gopakumar is Assistant Commissioner of Customs and Central Excise, Bangalore. Apart from this he is also Chief Advisor, Kerala Samajam Civil Services Guidance Programme, Bangalore.


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