By Balaji D K , AIR 36
Many of you have requested me to pen down strategy for General Studies (Mains). I don’t intend to give any strategy for GS-1, since it is more of studying from standard books and writing answers. Then, I’m left with the task of drafting strategy for GS-2 and GS-3.
GS 2 & 3 are more, nay, all about CURRENT AFFAIRS (CA). However, the ability to connect CA to conventional subject matter is also needed, at least to some extent.
Thus, the prime source for these papers is THE HINDU. If you keep track of THE HINDU’s editorials and lead articles for about 8-10 months, that would provide you the required content to answer most of the questions.
Now, comes the most pertinent question of most aspirants. Is it mandatory to read THE HINDU daily and make self-notes? The ‘ideal’ answer to this question is a resounding YES. However, this may not be practicable for most aspirants because they are first-timers and have to invest more time in mastering fundamentals and standard books; Or they find the English written in THE HINDU too complex; or they may not have the required skill to pick exactly what is required for exam from those articles and because of so many such reasons. If you fall in any of these categories, don’t feel bad. It is just human to be so.
Such aspirants may have to follow a slightly distinct strategy. Here insightsonindia.com can be of great help. You can do like this.
For 3-4 days, randomly go through the answers written for SECURE questions on insightsonindia.com and find out the aspirant who writes ‘quality answers’ regularly. Everyday you can just go through answers written by that aspirant. Here, I must acknowledge that I regularly followed the answers written by MSI (Mohammad Sameer, CSE 2014, AIR 564). Make notes from that. Ardous task is greatly simplified and precious time is saved. A word of caution – This approach should be followed only if you are not able to read THE HINDU regularly.
Despite giving this short-cut, I emphasize that the best approach is to read articles on THE HINDU and writing answers regularly on insightsonindia.com.
Second, the notes you make about a particular issue should not be fragmented. It should be brought at one place. To elaborate, suppose you come across an article on pros of LAND ACQUISITION BILL today and you make notes about it on, say, Page 1. Next week, another article on the cons of LAND ACQUISITION BILL is published. Thus, by the time second article is published, say, 10 pages notes is ready pertaining to other articles. Please don’t make the notes of second article on LAND ACQUISITION BILL on page 11. Please use a stick-note and paste the summarythe of new article on Page 1. Alternately, you can write the notes of second article in d free spaces available (if any) on Page 1; or add a fresh page between Pg 1 and Pg 2 and name it as Pg 1A.
This approach to notes-making is very important, since you would get points on multi-dimensional perspectives about an issue at one place. This helps you in constructing a multi-dimensional and comprehensive answer in the exam hall. Bear in mind, multi-dimensional answers always fetch you above-average marks.
Third – let your notes not be a repetition of sentences from the source. Please make them in your own words. Try to make notes with fewer words. Concise notes need not mean incompleteness. Your notes should be consice and complete at the same time. If your notes is verbose, you can’t remember it. What’s the point in making notes of something that cannot be remembered and used in exam answers. Sheer waste of time and energy!!!
Fourth – Your notes should have a few important key words being put in a box (for highlighting purpose). To illustrate, in the notes on LAND ACQUISITION BILL, words like SIA, Consent Clause, Multi-crop land, etc should be highlighted. In your revisions (if possible), rather than simply glancing over the notes, first see the key words and try to recollect what it may mean. Then, see the notes and glance through.
Fifth – Answer Writing – I did not attach much importance to the words, “comment”, “Examine”, “Critically Analyse” and so on (Justify is an exception). I just went ahead to frame a standard-type answer. This was my approach. You can try this at your own risk. The exam-WRITING is literally a race against time. Hence, I was not confident that I had the ability to frame different type of answers to suit ‘literal’ meanings of such words. So, I decided to just ignore such words. You may be smarter than me and you may have the wisdom to answer differently, in the short-span of time. If that is the case, you can go ahead.
My standard approach was to start the answer with the meaning of the issue as crisply as possible. To illustrate, for a question of ‘Judicial Activism’, I used to start answer as “Judicial Activism implies judiciary activating legislature and executive to discharge their duties in letter and spirit. Another illustarion, for a question on global warming, the answer could start as “Global Warming implies rise in the average global temperature”. Women Empowerment means making women as powerful as men in all spheres of life. Please observe that I used to derive the meanings from the issue nomenclatures themselves. Judicial Activisim – “….. activating…..”; Women Empowerment – “…… as POWERFUL as….”. Thus, this was the obvious introduction to any question.
After introduction, I addressed the requirement of the question. Here, I made a habit to make it multi-dimensional. To illustrate, suppose an answer on causes of FARMERS’ SUICIDE. Majority of the candidates mention only about unscrupulous money-lending, lack of access to insititutional credit, lacunae in agricultural insurance delivery and so on. However, please observe that only economic cause is mentioned in this answer. Even though more causes are mentioned, all the causes mentioned are economic causes. Thus, such answers are uni-dimensional. In my answers, I consciously avoided this. I used to bundle all such economic causes into a single point. Other points could be social stigma attached to being a defaulter(=social cause), lack of moral support and psychological strength (=psychological cause), absence of political and bureaucratic will and absence of farmers’ representatives at the policy-formulation level (=political cause) and so on. Thus, what I intend to stress is that don’t just restrict yourself to more visible and obvious ‘points’, think a little deeper to find out some oft-forgotten ‘points’. For every answer, think in one dimension, you get one point. Think in another dimension, you get one more point. Third dimension gives you third point. Thus, your answers get formed easily. You need not have to worry at all.
Next crucial thing in answer-writing is SUBSTANTIATION. Whatever ‘point’ you write, try to justify it with some piece of statistics, research finding or an illustration. This, according to me, is very very important. Because, it projects that you are a well-informed person. At the same time, you would be treated as a person who would not simply gossip, but talk everything with facts. (SUBSTANTIATION may not be possible for every ‘point’ in every answer. Nonetheless, try to do it as much as possible).
Now, I know what is lingering your mind – how to remember so much ‘figures’. It is tough to remember numbers. I have a self-discovered solution for this.
- Remember statistics only in PERCENTAGE (Thus, you have to remember only 100 different numbers, at max)
- Don’t remember the decimals involved in PERCENTAGE. Just round them off.
- Try to link those percentages with your life. To illustrate, contribution of agriculture sector to GDP is 13%. My mom’s birthday is on October 13. So, I just link them and it is easier to remember. You can try linking those ‘numbers’ with birthdays, vehicle numbers, distance between places you often travel, your academic marks/percentage and so on.
- If you find this is also difficult, please round off percentages to the nearest multiple of 5. Then you have to remember only 20 different numbers. Here, while quoting such ‘numbers’ in answers, use such qualifying words as APPROXIMATELY, SOMEWHERE AROUND, CLOSE TO and so on.
As far as possible, mention the sources of those ‘points of SUBSTANTIATION’. It gives credibility to your mention of the same. Now, you should be thinking – remembering ‘numbers’ and research findings itself is a herculeanh task; then how to remember sources also. Solution – reduce the sources and stick to very few sources like ECONOMIC SURVEY, NSSO surveys, prsindia.org and a few others. Then it is not very difficult to remember the limited sources.
While going through the Economic Survey, make a separate notes of statistics.
Finally, prepare a manual of ‘numbers’ and glance them everyday. Don’t make it bulky. A few such statistics that should always be remembered are – GDP growth rate for current year and projected rate for next year; contribution of various sectors to GDP and employment dependence on those three sectors; fiscal deficit, revenue deficit, current account deficit; GER at primary and higher education (for all, boys, girls, SC, ST); ASER survey findings strictly one or two) to throw light on quality of the education; budget allocation to EDUCATION as a percentage of GDP); IMR, MMR, (for India and Bangladesh plus MDG targets for the same), number of doctors per 1000 population; budget allocation to HEALTH as a percentage of GDP; percentage of MPs with criminal background, percentage of female MPs, (information available in the website of ‘Association for Democratic Reforms’); performance of Parliament, I.e., Lok Saha and Rajya Sabha, as reflected in average hours of sitting, average number of bills passed per session, number of bills gullotined, number of bills passed within 5 mins (information available on.prsindia.org). These statistics should be on your tongue tip always.
Be smart in using these ‘numbers’ to suit the demand of question. To illustrate, if you have to praise the development of HEALTH sector, write that ‘India has made a impressive reduction in MMR from 212 to 178 per 100000’. If you have to mildly criticize, then you can write, ‘even though India has been successful in reducing MMR from 212 to 178 per lakh, the performance is lower in relation to other developing countries’. Same ‘numbers’ are used with different tones, to suit the demands of your argument.
Finally the ‘conclusion’ part of your answers. As everyone says, conclusion has to end on an optimistic note. However, your optimism should also reflect that you are not blind to the challenges and obstacles associated with that optimism. So, your conclusion can be structured as below:
- If in the answer you have mentioned ‘pros’, in conclusion, you quote ‘cons’ as well (just quote, don’t explain). Later, say that since ‘pros’ outnumber ‘cons’, we should gear up to nullify ‘cons’ and realize ‘pros’.
- If in the answer you have mentioned both ‘pros’ and ‘cons’, in the conclusion you can quote (=not explain) the ways to overcome negatives. And say that these steps have to be strictly implemented to ensure realization of advantages and so on.
- If in the answer you have mentioned only ‘cons’, in conclusion mention that there are ways to overcome these ‘cons’ and it is absolutely possible to overcome them.
- In conclusion, always mention that the issue or resolution of the issue would lead to promotion of ‘public interest’, realization of ‘spirit of constitution’, safeguarding ‘the unity and integrity of nation’, achievement of ‘equitable development of society/national’ and so on.
The major sources for GS 2 other than THE HINDU articles include
- Bill summaries, Articles, committee reports on prsindia.org
- Articles and ‘Ask a Question’ feature on idsa.in (for International Relations)
- Debates on BIG PICTURE program of Rajya Sabha TV (Summaries of these are available on insightsonindia.com)
- INDIA AND THE WORLD program (for International Relations – summary available on insightsonindia.com)
Try to use the following in your answers to improve their quality.
- Articles of the constitution – You need not have to remember every article from 1 to 395. Just remember important articles pertaining to Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy. Knowing this much is adequate to use in most answers. To illustrate, while answering a question on BAN ON COW SLAUGHTER, mentioning the DPSP that directs government to ban that along with the article would enhance quality of your answer. (This is just an example. This, in no way, reflects my stand on Cow Slaughter. In the current scenario, I found this example to be more pertinent. So I have used it).
- Use the words mentioned in our preamble – SOVEREIGNTY, SOCIALIST, DEMOCRACY, REPUBLIC, EQUALITY, JUSTICE, LIBERTY, FRATERNITY, UNITY INTEGRITY and INTEGRITY profusely in your answers. While using these concepts, write like this “…… this is in accordance with the’ ideal of ‘democracy’ as enshrined in the preamble of our constitution”. The words just mentioned above have been so much overused by everyone that if you just mention those words, it may not be taken as a part of constitution. So, it is advisable to establish an explicit link between such words and PREAMBLE.
- SC and HC judgments and cases – Quote those judgments and cases in your answers. For example, cases like Naz Foundation case, Bachan Singh case and others have to be mentioned wherever needed. Don’t just remember that Transgender is ruled to be third sex by Supreme Court in a ‘recent judgment’. Please also try to remember which judgment it is.
- Committees – Know about the important committees constituted by the government. No need to mug up all recommendations. Just remember the essence of recommendations. For example, Jeevan Reddy Committee recommended for the revocation of AFSPA. Shanta Kumar Committee recommended for reduction in the coverage of population under National Food Security Act and so on (This is important for GS 3 as well). You can use this for SUBSTANTIATION puroposes. The summary of recommendations of major Committees is available on prsindia.org
Besides, articles on THE HINDU, following sources can be useful:
- Indian Economic Survey
- Selective study of 12the Five year Plan Document
- Yojana (Read Yojana issues selectively. Rather than reading the whole magazine, it is advisable to thoroughly read the first article that is comprehensive most of the times).
- Budget Highlights – one should be smart enough in using this. This can be used to infuse optimism into your answers. Quoting the budgetary allocations and expressing that such allocation would lead to a positive outcome can bring optimism to your answers. To illustrate, while writing on ‘sustainable development’, I vagualy remember writing that “in this budget, Rs. 100 crore allocated towards NATIONAL MISSION ON SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE is likely to promote sustainable development”.
- Articles in idsa.in throw adequate light on north-east insurgency and occasionally on naxalism as well.
I’m not an authority on Science and Technology. So, I don’t want to write anything on that.
[PS – I cannot guarantee mind blowing marks by following this strategy. However, this strategy may help you not score below-average score. One more important thing is that there is no success in mains without writing practice. Write as many mock tests as possible. That can indeed guarantee you a fantastic score. Merely following the strategy outlined above or any other strategy without adequate writing practice would indeed give you below-average marks.
I have secured 93 in GS 2 and just 75 in GS 3 by following this strategy].
I wish all of you a heartfelt ALL THE BEST
Balaji DK, IAS
(CSE 2014, AIR 36)