How to Approach GS Paper 1 in Civil Services Examination – Tips by Anuj Malik, AIR 16, CSE 2016

Recently, a mega seminar conducted by Chanakya IAS Academy at Hotel Jaypee Siddhartha in New Delhi, where the academy invited 8 CSE toppers as speakers who shared their expert tips to successfully get through Civil Services Examination. This seminar conducted on special request of the CSE aspirants. In this article, we are going to summarize the tips given by Anuj Malik, (AIR 16, CSE 2016), who is also the topper of GS Mains this year.


In fact, the session conducted by Anuj Malik can be referred to as one of the best sessions conducted so far to guide CSE aspirants for their preparation. She began by saying that every time candidates make a mistake while answering questions and that mistake is not reading the question paper carefully and therefore jeopardizing the chances of scoring high marks.

Click Here to see previous year question papers

You should be very careful while reading the questions.

Underline the keywords in a question

The second step is to underline the keywords, so that important points are not missed. It will also help you to maintain focus while answering the questions. This is a terrifically competitive exam and a difference of just one or two marks can make all the difference.

Write a multidimensional answer

While writing an answer, cover its general, social, political, economic, cultural, geographic, environmental (if any) and historical aspects. Focusing on just general and social aspects will not help you much in scoring high marks.

Don’t be narrow-minded while answering it.

Never go to details

Many aspirants make the mistake of going into unnecessary details. It will kill your time and will not help you much. UPSC needs to know that you have good grasp of the topic, so short and crisp answers are better with the main points covered depending on the specified word limits.

Write answers and cover topics in points

Stick to main points and maintain accuracy. If you are going to delve deeper, you’re likely to spend extra time explaining something that doesn’t need any explanation. This will ultimately hurt your ability to write well-planned answers in the stipulated time frame. Furthermore, this exam doesn’t test your academic knowledge; it just tests your leadership skills, clarity of thinking, analytical skills and an overall understanding of things around us.

Practice a lot

Because of the time pressure, aspirants usually aren’t able to plan the answers. It leads to repetition.  To avoid this, you need to practice answer writing a lot.

Write a lot of mock test papers

Take as many mock test papers as possible. This is the best way to prepare for the GS papers.

Specific Tips for GS paper 1

Keep in mind that GS paper 1 is different from Prelims, and therefore you shouldn’t be under the impression that you don’t need a revision if you have recently cleared Prelims.

Revise it even if you have passed Prelims and have recently covered the syllabus.

Have a look at the syllabus

You need to first go through the syllabus; plan your studies accordingly.

The first topic is- Art and Culture and Literature. Though it appears at the outset, questions asked are not that tough on this topic.

For example, if a question is asked about Buddhist art and architecture and Buddhist religious practices, you won’t find the content anywhere that matches the question. You will have to combine the first part of the question with the second part articulately, discussing points very clearly.

For these, refer to NCERT Books, Books on themes, and CCRT Publications (in case something is missing from NCERT books).

Write 5-6 unique points on every topic

Make it a standard rule and try to write 5-6 unique points on every topic.

For example, if a question is asked on the medieval kings’ contribution to the architecture, list down the specific contribution by the dynasties (belonging to 12th and 13th centuries), Mughals’ unique contribution to architecture and then add Gothic architecture contributed by the Brits.

Modern History part

Don’t devote too much time to modern history.  For Mains, just read the summary section of books. Read the events related to famous personalities associated with freedom struggle. Anything related to these personalities, especially if they have been in news recently, can be asked.

We expect questions on the famous personalities of modern Indian history.

Post India Independence Part of the history

Vipin Chandra book is relevant but it’s a thick book. Generally, questions are based on their relationship to current affairs.

For example, Indo-Chinese conflict in 2017 (Doklam standoff) was in the news so questions related to previous Indo-China war of 1962 can be asked.

Questions related to Indian social issues such as regionalism and communalism are frequently asked by the UPSC.

Scan important topics from current affairs

UPSC focuses on the topics such as regionalism, population, and communalism, etc.  For example, if you are supposed to write an answer about communalism, it might include the reasons, present situation, and major communal incidents in India.

Social issues

Update yourself on social issues through Indian Express and The Hindu editorials.

If you are preparing for Mains immediately, then you can go for NCERT’s book of sociology for 12th Std.
You can also refer to Social Problems in India by Ram Ahuja. You don’t need to read the entire book, just go through the summary points mentioned at the beginning of every chapter. If the question is about the causes of poverty, mention its general, social, economic, and political causes. People have a tendency to just focus on social causes, regardless of if the question is asking for it or not.

Questions on world history

These days, from world history, there aren’t many questions asked.  However, you can refer to Arjun Dev’s NCERT book. Read events from 1767. First, cover the industrial revolution in all of the countries and then focus on post renaissance events in Europe. If a current event has a connotation with any of such historical events, it’s likely to be asked.

Geography optional

For geography, you can refer to NCERT books from Std 6 to Std. 12.

Watch out for the news related to geography. For example, there was a news item on the discovery of mythical Saraswati River in 2016. Similarly, questions can be asked about global warming and the Arctic Ocean, etc. There are no typical geography questions; they are mostly linked to news items and current affairs.

Let’s consider a question that was asked in 2016

“Discuss the role of women in the freedom struggle especially during the Gandhian era?”

Ideally, the first part of the question should take up 40% content, whereas the second part that relates to Gandhian era should take up nearly 60% of your answer. Most of the aspirants make the mistake of focusing entirely on the second part of the question. They will discuss everything related to the role of women in the Gandhian era but are likely to forget mentioning their role during the rest of the freedom struggle of a hundred years.

While writing the answer to this question, start with the revolt in 1857 and include Rani Laxmi Bai and Begum Hazrat Mahal in it. Non-Cooperation Movement, Civil Disobedience Movement and Quit India movement should also be covered.

If you are asked to compare and contrast the two personalities, take a balanced approach. For example, a question was asked about the comparative approaches of Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose in the freedom struggle. Aspirants are supposed to first mention the common things between the two leaders, such as their mutual love and respect for each other, their commitment for non-violence and peaceful approach and their joint participation in many freedom movements. Then, you can go on discussing how Subhash Chandra Bose also emphasized the importance of using force in case the non-violent methods don’t work. He also formed INA to reaffirm his opinion.

If there is a question about Smart India Program, you can discuss the background and quality of urban life, common urban problems, and objectives of Smart India Program, etc.

It will be a complete answer.

Read the question with a calm mind

Often, people read the questions in a hurry while utterly failing to understand the purpose and “intent” hidden in the question. This often results in a simple question appearing to be more complicated than it actually is.  So, read the question slowly and try to grasp everything that is there in it. It will lead to clarity and better answers.

Attempt all the questions

Given the nature of this exam, you should not leave even a single question unanswered. Attempt every question.

The last but not the least, practice as many mock test papers as you can.



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