Roadmap For The Beginners

Congratulations for taking your first baby step towards this wonderful, yet highly competitive examination. You are now one step closer to your destination. Just head into the right direction and you will certainly enjoy the success. Otherwise you might go round and round the goal. It really needs courage to decide and start walking in the wilderness. Hence, congratulations once again.

This section will help you plan your study, your study methods, timely assessments and following all those do's and don't in this whole journey of self-development.

Read ... section before you proceed. It is really important to know the basic skeleton of CSE before you actually plan to study for it.

Let’s find the answers to very basic questions like what, when, why and how. These questions can be re-framed in the following way:

  1. Why am I studying for the CSE?
  2. What is required to pass the CSE?
  3. When should I start and complete my study?
  4. How to study?

Having asked these questions now, we shall deal with each of the them thoroughly.

What is required to pass the CSE?

Unlike other exams in which your knowledge do suffice, cracking the CSE requires knowledge plus skills. Although knowledge alone might get you past the Prelims (though not always), skills of many kinds are necessary to get through the later stages of the CSE. 

Simply put, CSE = 50% knowledge + 50% skills.

So, the answer to 'what' of our question is knowledge and skills. These are the two things you have to learn in this whole preparation phase.

When should I start and complete my study?

UPSC conducts the CSE in definite cycles. A typical cycle starts with a Prelims and ends with an Interview. This is the general cycle of approximately one year the UPSC follows. Let’s call it an 'exam cycle'.

At best, the duration of an 'exam cycle' should be used to revise, update and practice. Strictly speaking, one should not start studying just at the start of exam cycle. For instance, in a particular year, say 2020, you can’t start studying in May-June for the CSE attempt in the very same year, i.e. 2020. This is a very logical and easy fact to understand considering the syllabus and the nature of the exam.

Now let’s consider a ‘study cycle’. This is a time when you start preparing for the next CSE attempt till your final selection or till you fail in any stage, whatever the case may be.

Now, the candidates plan for this study cycle very differently. Mostly it depends on the following factors:

  1. completion of your graduation
  2. leaving your job for CSE
  3. is it your first attempt
  4. till what stage you went in previous CSE attempt
  5. appearing for other competitive exams simultaneously

Let’s restrict ourselves to the two cases:

  1. You just passed out your graduation and you will be appearing for next exam cycle
  2. You appeared for previous CSE but couldn’t make it past the Prelims/Mains

In Case of Your First Attempt

Start your study at least 10 months prior to the start of exam cycle. For instance, to appear for the Prelims 2020, start preparing at least from the July-August 2019. Till the December 2019, you should have covered:

  1. Optional paper
  2. GS IV: Ethics
  3. GS I, II, III: Syllabus from the Mains which is not covered by the Prelims

This is absolutely necessary because if you don’t prepare for this syllabus beforehand, it is very very difficult to cover it after the Prelims. This is a static part of syllabus and devoting a major chunk of your time after Prelims for this part is tactically disastrous for such a dynamic exam. So remember, the time after Prelims should only be utilized for revision, updation and assessment.

Apart from this, devoting two hours for newspaper/ magazine/ current affairs daily will prove very fruitful.

From 1st January, you should start preparing for Prelims by any means. This is because, you need to build yourself up from the basics. The stronger the foundation, the easier is to erect a colossal structure by piling up the updates. To be on safer side, you can prepone the start of Prelims preparation by a month or two if your circumstances permit.

For next five months, you should prepare exclusively for the Prelims. Occasional one day revision can be given to an optional paper of Mains. But deviating from the Prelims in this crucial time is strictly to be avoided. Mastering the Mains exam is useless if you can’t pierce through the Prelims.

Out of five months, invest two and half months in first reading. Next one month should be given for second reading and solving some tests. Don’t bother if you still feel diffident in tests at this stage.

In the next one month, have third and fourth reading. Simultaneously, increase the paper solving because it will reflect the current status of your study. Take account of two parameters:

  1. How much do u recollect from your previous readings (it should be satisfactory by now)
  2. How much time are you taking to revise (fast revision generally means more recollection)

Last fifteen days should be devoted to covering the leftover portion, group discussing the current affairs, government schemes, etc.

In Case of Your Non-First Attempt

In case you are not selected for Mains, prepare the same way for Mains had you had been selected for it. It will definitely help you in your next attempt.

Apart from this, follow the same schedule of beginner by starting for Prelims from 1st January. You should now be able to rectify the lacunae you had during your previous Prelims. Analyze yourself correctly against your performance in last Prelims. Improve on it at any cost.