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UPSC 2018 Mains Analysis By Stephan Tobias IPoS

Analysis – CSE Main 2018
GS 1

  1. The Art and Culture questions were relatively easier compared to the previous years. The
    question regarding Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, although specific in nature, could have been
    answered using common points of all Bhakti saints. Such an approach would definitely fetch
    the candidate average marks. The question regarding ‘preservation of our art heritage’ was
    extremely generic in nature and marks would depend on how well the candidate has
    approached the question. The question regarding account of foreign travellers to India
    required specific knowledge regarding the various travellers and their accounts which are
    readily available in the NCERT books.
  2. There were no questions from the Freedom Struggle, which has always been an area of
    interest for the UPSC. Questions from Indian history required a rudimentary understanding of
    Gandhian philosophy and basic knowledge of the plight of indentured labourers which is often
    mentioned in all books that cover the freedom struggle. There were no questions from World
  3. Geography questions were relatively straightforward and tested the basic conceptual
    understanding of the candidates. Some of the questions were also dynamic in nature as they
    involved current affairs such as IRNSS, Industrial Corridors, depleting groundwater resources
    etc. Therefore conceptual knowledge coupled with general awareness of recent issues would
    have enabled the candidates to answer these questions.
  4. Questions concerning Indian Society were quite challenging and would have immensely
    benefited those who have a Sociology background. However, a keen understanding of current
    events by a thorough reading of the newspaper, especially editorials, would have equipped
    candidates to deal with these questions to a certain extent.
  5. Questions or certain themes have been repeated this year (eg- Indian secularism, India’s
    interest in the Arctic region, etc). Thus, going through previous years’ papers would have
    helped the candidates immensely.
    GS 2
  6. Questions regarding Indian Constitution and Polity involved a good mix of static portion and
    also current events. While a bias towards current affairs was seen till the 2016 exam, this
    year’s paper struck a balance between the two
  7. Current affairs based questions from Polity included some very straightforward questions
    such as the controversy regarding EVMs, the tussle between the Delhi CM and the LG, the
    controversy surrounding the ToR of the 15 th Finance Commission, etc. The static questions

from Polity also covered issues such as Financial Emergency, an area which is often neglected
by candidates while preparing for the Main examination. Therefore, the seemingly obscure or
unimportant topics from standard books like Laxmikanth must be covered by candidates for
the Mains exam was well.

  1. The questions from the Governance section could have been answered by candidates who
    had gone through the report of the 2 nd Administrative Reforms Commission. The suggestion
    for the formation of an umbrella Human Rights Commission body, issues regarding Citizens
    Charters, financial capabilities of Panchayats etc are all comprehensively addressed in the
    specific reports of the 2 nd ARC.
  2. The International Relations questions were on expected lines as they reflected the
    uncertainties in the global sphere such as the impact of the ‘trade wars’ and the withdrawal
    of the US from the Iran nuclear act. Candidates while reading about these challenges must
    assess the specific impacts that they have on India and think of possible solutions for the
    same as the questions were India centric and also called for solutions. The questions also
    covered new and emerging relations such as with Israel and Central Asia, whose importance
    can be easily gauged from the increasing number of editorials that appear in the newspapers.
    GS 3
  3. Economy based questions included current issues such as rising protectionism and currency
    wars along with recent Budget measures. Thus, both 2017 and 2018 exams have seen an
    increased importance of the Budget.
  4. The questions from the Agriculture and Food processing sections were quite generic in nature
    and required candidates to have a good grasp of the various issues and challenges and also
    good writing skills. However, there were also current affairs oriented questions such as
    organic farming (Sikkim was recently declared as an organic state), millets (2018 was
    declared as the International Year of the Millets). Therefore, a basic understanding of Indian
    agriculture, the cropping patterns and the challenges that the sector faces would have
    enabled the candidates to answer the questions.
  5. Internal security questions did not evoke much of a surprise on the candidates as they
    covered trending topics such as LWE, drug trafficking (Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent)
    and the challenges posed by CPEC. Cyber security continues to be an area of focus for UPSC
    especially in the wake of the Justice Srikrishna Committee report which was discussed
    extensively in the media.
  6. Environment related questions tested the candidates’ understanding of issues that have
    gained prominence in the recent years such as wetland conservation, solid waste
    management, bio diversity etc. Therefore, a thorough understanding of concepts that
    frequently appear in the newspapers is called for.
  7. There were also some tough or challenging questions. While the Bose-Einstein question
    would have been answered only by a very few, questions regarding biopharma and
    comparison between Hyogo and Sendai frameworks (Disaster Management) were also very
    GS 4
  8. The case studies were very straightforward and easier compared to the 2017 exam, so the
    key differential would be how candidates were able to answer the theoretical (Part A)
  9. The Part A questions were public administration centric and required a very nuanced and in
    depth understanding of the various ethical issues and concerns. As the syllabus is limited and
    the paper has been in existence for around 5 years, candidates can continue to expect
    extremely challenging and analytical questions in the future as well. Only such an approach
    would enable them to answer questions that seek the difference between actual and potential
    conflicts of interest and also the difference between Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics.
    Reading of the reports of the 2 nd Administrative Reforms Commission would have be
    beneficial in this regard.
  10. The other questions, especially the quote based questions were also analytical and
    challenging and would require candidates to have good writing skills, coherence and proper
    time management.

Analysis – CSE Main 2018
Public Administration- Paper I

  1. In general, the paper was easier and more open ended compared to the previous year. Thus,
    it was quite similar to the 2016 paper which saw high scores in Public Administration.
  2. The compulsory questions, barring a few, were relatively simple and straightforward. The
    questions covered relevant issues and topics such as NPM, Administrative Law, Weber’s
    bureaucracy, Simon’s approach etc which could all have been answered by any well prepared
  3. While the optional questions in section B covered a myriad range of topics from Comparative
    Administration, Development Administration, Personnel Administration, etc, they could have
    been adequately addressed by a candidate who had practiced answer writing along with
    multiple revisions. The optional questions in Section A, however, were a bit more challenging.
    Here, the candidate’s understanding of concepts, his ability to inter link various disparate
    topics as well his general understanding of the basic subject matter were tested. The
    questions in this section also included relatively easy concepts such as MIS, Barnard’s
    Contribution Satisfaction Equilibrium etc.
  4. All in all, thorough preparation along with a proper choice of questions to be answered is
    likely to fetch a candidate good/ very good marks in this paper
    Public Administration- Paper II
  5. The questions were very generic and GS type. Therefore, the key would be to answer them
    from a Public Administration perspective and not to make the answers very GS oriented. (Eg-
    in the question pertaining to role of distract administration in mitigating climate change,
    knowledge of PM Krishi Sinchayee Yojana should be brought in with a focus on the
    preparation of District Irrigation Plans.) This would be the differential as some candidates are
    likely to be carried away.
  6. The questions also covered dynamic issues such as the setting up of the NITI Aayog, the ToR
    of the 15 th Finance Commission, the position of the Governor, etc
  7. Here again, the choice of questions made by the candidate is likely to be a deciding factor in
    the final scores. Those who have chosen to answer GS type questions such as the ones on
    TRAI and small and marginal farmers should have brought in adequate Public Administration.
    Similarly the ones who chose questions related to the Governor, 15 th Finance Commission etc
    should have comprehensively covered all the major points to ensure maximum marks as
    these questions are likely to be attempted to by a vast majority o the candidates.

Why Civil Service?

“If we are born ordinary, it’s not our fault. But if we die ordinary, that’s solely our fault”
The Indian Civil Service Exam is perhaps one of a kind in the world because it offers a cheat code to life. It is an exam which opens up the highest seats of permanent power to one who manages to clear it. Thus, by merely cracking an exam, an aspirant irrespective of his background enters the corridors of power in India. While those in political sphere have to compete ever five years to maintain power, a Civil Servant enjoys the same till retirement, with a steady rise in position and reach.

Civil Service consists of three stages, the preliminary examination, popularly known as prelims, the mains examination and the personality test. The prelims consists of two papers, the CSAT I or the General Studies Paper which deals with the current affairs and other knowledge based questions and CSAT II or the aptitude paper which tests the mental ability of the aspirants through comprehension passages, simple mathematics and logical reasoning questions. The first paper decides the candidate’s fate in the prelims round. The second paper is qualifying in nature and requires one-third marks to clear. The mains papers are divided into nine, three-hour-long written papers. These include essay, general studies papers I-IV which includes an ethics paper, two papers on the optional subject opted by the aspirant and two qualifying papers, one in English and one in the regional language of our choice. Personality test endeavours to assess a candidate’s mental acumen as a civil service officer. As the candidate’s knowledge has been assessed in the previous two stages, this stage is not an assessment of the candidate’s knowledge but of his capacity to become a bureaucrat. There is a clear cut syllabus for the prelims and mains papers, but none for the personality test.

Even today, many see this exam as an impossible task, only to be attempted by the extra-ordinarily bright. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Only a negligible percentage of the total intake into civil service every year falls under the category of bright. The vast majority of aspirants who make it are regular people from regular backgrounds who have put in dedicated effort and thousands of hours of hard work. Intelligent hard work is what civil service finally boils down to. The ability to sit down and read, to practice hundreds of question papers, to undertake hours of writing practice, to shift through books, newspapers, web sites and coaching material on a daily basis, the ability to do this for an year or two, without losing patience or motivation. At the end of the day it’s a numbers game.

Civil service coaching used to be an expensive affair. People still associate civil service preparation with images of aspirants taking the first train to Delhi after graduation to attempt this impossible feat, spending lakhs in the process. Times have changed. Now quality coaching is available much closer to home. Thiruvananthapuram now house some of the best coaching centers in the country, so much so that even people from Bihar and UP can be found preparing for civils in our little heaven. While individual classes in Delhi usually hold up to three-hundred students, classes in Trivandrum usually keep a ceiling of fifty students. Thus classes here ensure that the students get personal attention and one-on-one care. Perhaps more important is the expense incurred. A single prelims class in a good institute costs over one and a half lakhs in Delhi. Living expense is astronomical. Closer to home, a prelims, mains and optional package costs less than a lakh while maintaining, if not surpassing the Delhi counterparts in quality. It begs the question, why go anywhere else?

Civil Service is, at the end of the day one of the best jobs that India has to offer. Successful candidates are inducted at a senior bureaucratic post which provides ample opportunity for affirmative action. This is the beauty of the job. A civil servant gets to lead from the front and make key policy decisions in her twenties. To be an active participant and contributor to nation building is no mean feat! And the power, status and privileges that accompany the job are second to none. This is utopia for someone who wants to serve the nation but also wishes for a stable life. And all that stands between you and this life is one exam. So the question you should be asking is
“If they can, why can’t I?”

Prelims Analysis – Updated Version

UPSC’s Uncertainty Principle- if you have written UPSC prelims 2018 you need to read this!
The first rule in UPSC preparation is to expect the unexpected. The second rule in UPSC preparation is to expect the unexpected!
However often one tends to read all the compilations from various coaching institutes and expect to crack the exam. UPSC has a reputation to maintain as the mother of all competitive examinations and in 2018 it did just that. It was more of a test of presence of mind than just the knowledge aspect.

2018 Paper- Focus on depth, not just breadth
One of the most striking features of the 2018 paper was the depth in the questions asked. The level of questions asked for even static portions like Polity or History required a deeper understanding of topics and is a clear signal that aspirants need to go beyond the Laxmikanths and Spectrums of the world. Most prominently for polity there were many public administration related questions including an understanding of the “Rule of law”. Even for History questions from unconventional sources, like Swarajya Sabha and Hind Mazdoor Sabha left many aspirants stumped.

Framing of the questions also saw an innovation in terms of paragraph-based questions like on Internet-of-things and Sixth extinction. These were in fact easier questions but contributed to the paper being lengthier and hence many aspirants were unable to do the second and third rounds of analysis that they had planned.

In terms of the spread of the questions, UPSC has stuck to the trend over the past 5 years (see table 1 below). A noteworthy trend is the steady increase in questions related to International Affairs with seven of them relating to International organizations this year. Environment questions this year largely focused on International climate initiatives and organizations whereas traditional areas like animal biodiversity and protected areas were ignored.

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What to do during the final week before UPSC Civil Services Prelims?

June 3rd, 2018- The date most aspirants dread already is a week away and butterflies are in swarms inside your stomach. You may want to revise every subject on the planet, heart would be racing at 140 bpm.
If you are a person who missed out on last prelims the pressure intensifies.
What is the ideal preparation on the final week before the prelims exam?
DISCLAIMER: If you have not done proper preparation or is planning to give a casual attempt at civil services examination, STOP READING NOW and go back to the other pleasures of life.
For the rest of the people, lets take a look at the important To-Do’s a week before prelims

1. Do Maximum MCQs: Because Prelims is all about ABCDing Target around 100 questions per day minimum.
Identify how you attempt known and alien questions, accuracy of smart guesses. Feel free to experiment with number of attempts and find your own sweet spot.

2. Quick revision list – Ideally the revision list should be topics in which you are neither too strong nor too weak; the point being revising strong area is unnecessary while revising the unknown is no revision at all. Apart from that the following lists would come in handy
• International organizations and reports
• INC sessions(Freedom Struggle)
• Newspapers and publications (Freedom struggle),
• Govt schemes
• Diseases and vectors
• National parks
• Articles & provisions
• Timeline of Indian history (links to YouTube videos)

3. Revising what is already done

4.SNOOOZE!- A minimum of 7 hour sleep is said to boost memory retention and recall. Make sure you get your sleep cycle figured out.

5.Beat the stress – A healthy level of stress would increase your productivity by keeping you alert when it matters the most. However, it is natural for candidates to go over and freak out in those crucial hours. Find your inner peace – Be the Kung FU Panda. PS- Maybe Yoga and Exercise would help

6.Avoid daytime sleep especially during exam timings i.e. from 9-11 AM & 2-4PM. (If possible try out MCQs during the same time slots)

7. Breathe out!! You’d do well!!


How do I crack UPSC CSE in the first attempt while being under any circumstances?

I will share my story and the strategy that I followed to clear the coveted Civil Services Exam in the first attempt.

First of all, let me tell you a bit about myself. Civil services was never childhood dream. I did not start preparing from my school days and if anyone tells you that you need to start preparing from 8th standard, it is a myth and do not take them at face value.

I did my B.Tech from College of Engineering, Trivandrum in Kerala. After graduating in 2015 I was working with ITC Limited, as a mechanical engineer. It was during my stint at ITC that I decided to prepare. So, I put in my papers in the June of 2016 and started preparing from July 2016.

Term of preparation:- I started my preps from July 2016 and wrote Prelims in June 2017. So that is a total of 11 months of focused preparation before appearing for CSE 2011.

So let me now come to the topic of how to crack civil services in the first attempt.

These are some prerequisites that anyone should have before starting their preparation.

1. Unflinching self belief:- No one in the world is going to believe in you and your capabilities. And every tom, dick and harry will not miss any oppertunity to question your abilities and to blame you for every decision. So you of all people should believe in you, without that kind of confidence in yourself, seeing through this exam would become a Herculian task.

2. Having an original plan/strategy:- Before I started my preparation for civil services, I had gone through strategies of many toppers. What I found out was that no two people had cleared this exam with the same strategy, but the common factor that runs through all those toppers were that they had their own strategies. Now that is rule number one. Do not blindly follow the strategy shown to you by a coaching institute or any topper, you need to have your own plan which magnifies your strong points and diminishes your weaknesses.

3. Be tougher than the exam:- The civil services exam is dubiously dubbed as the toughest exam in the world. So to master the exam you need to tougher than it. You need to be prepared to face failures and get up and fight back stronger.

4. Know your syllabus:- The most common mistake that most aspirants make is that they fail to go through the syllabus for the exam. Knowing what the syllabus demands and not demands is absolutely necessary fpr clearing this exam. Only then will we be able to target our efforts for quick results. Merely pouring through volumes and volumes of history and geography is not what the exam demands. there is a very highly defined syllabus and our effort should be to cover as much of the syllabus with as much clarity as possible.

5. It is breadth that matters and not depth:- The Civil Services Exam is an examination to recruit generalist bureaucrats who would be able to handle any department under the government. The exam, therefore, demands the exact same thing, your vastness and breadth of understanding matters and not depth of understanding in any subject. A common mistake that I have seen aspirants make is that they try to cover a subject from cover to cover and in the end amassing as much knowledge in the subject as a PhD holder in that subject would have. Whereas the exam demands a mere fraction of that knowledge.

Should one attend a coaching class to clear Civil Service Exam?

This is perhaps the first decision any civil service aspirant will have to make before starting your preparation. Now this is highly subjective. Given the huge amount of online content that is available now-a-days it is perfectly possible to clear the CSE without joining any coaching institute.

But I had enrolled at a coaching centre in Kerala. I did so because, at the start of my preparation I had absolutely no idea about the exam or how to prepare for the same. So for me some amount of guidance and handholding was necessary for me.

Now I should add a word of caution here. Even if a candidate decides to join some coaching class there is only so much classes can do (at best say 20–30% of the work might get done in a classroom), it will entirely depend on how much effort that you put in that will decide your result.

What books should I read?

This is again a very subjective topic and there is not a single comprehensive book list that will help you clear this exam.

NCERT Text books of history, geography, economics and polity from class Vi to XII are a must read in my opinion. Reading these books will help you cover and basics and create a strong foundation which you can supplement with your further reading. Personally almost 60% of my knowledge base for the static subjects come from NCERT text books.

Below is a list of books that I followed for my preparation.

Modern Indian HistorySpectrum, Bipan Chandra
GeographyNCERT 6-12, Goh Cheng Leong
EconomicsFortune Class Notes, Sankar Ganesh
Ancient HistoryNCERT, Tamilnadu SCERT
Medieval Indian HistoryFortune Class Notes
Art and CultureFortune Class Notes
Science and TechnologyNewspaper, Class 9, 10 NCERT
EnvironmentShanker IAS Material

The key here is to select the books you are comfortable with and to stick with them. Reading all the material that comes out daily is both impractical and unfruitful. Reading the same texts multiple times will be much more beneficial.

How important is newspaper reading?
Newspapers are vital for any preparation strategy. I used to spend atleast 2–3 hours daily reading the newspaper. It helps one cement the concepts and helps you evolve opinions and will help you analyse a given situation from multiple perspectives. This will come in handy especially during mains and interview stages.
I used to prepare notes from The Hindu daily on the evernote app. This helped me stay organised. During the last 2 months of prelims preparation, I further reduced my one year worth of newspaper notes into crisp notes that filled one 100 page notebook. I read this condensed version multiple times and was the major source for current affairs preparation for prelims as well as mains.

How important is mock exams?
Mocks tests are very very very very very important in all the three stages of the exam. I cannot stress the importance of mock tests any more.
For Prelims, giving lot of mock tests will help you refine your strategy to maximise your scoring. For some answering only those questions which they are absolutely sure of will do the trick. Whereas for someone else (like me) maximizing the number of attempts may help clear the cut off. And there is only one way to find out the strategy that will work for you, do umpteen number of mock exams.
Perhaps, mock tests for mains are the most important. In mains it is not how much you know that matters, but how well you can articulate the things that you know in the limited time that is available. Mains answer writing is a skill, which can be mastered only with practice.

Choosing the right optional subject

The optional paper can make or break your career. So be very careful in choosing your optional. Your criteria while choosing the optional should be
1. Do you like the subject, enough to spend thousands of hours pouring over it.
2. Is there good guidance available for the subject. Especially are there good mock tests with good feedback available for the chosen subject.
3. Also check the trend of past few years and check the scoring trend. However this should be the last consideration and the primary consideration should be for your passion for the subject.

Pacing your preparation:-
It is of utmost importance to rightly pace your preparation so that you never run out of steam. One must start slowly, but steadily build up momentum so that he/she can give the final push close to the examination.
But the most important aspect to clearing this exam is to enjoy the journey and not just the destination. One must thoroughly enjoy the preparation phase to be able to bear with the stress that this exam puts on an aspirant. Take it one day at a time, enjoying the learning process and you are sure to succeed.
All the very best!!


Anand Mohan
Rank 472, First Attempt

How to select the right optional for UPSC Civil Services

In the present scheme of exam for Civil Services, optionals hold a position of paramount importance. Choosing the wrong optional could mean whether you become IAS, IPS or not even clear the mains.

So what are the parameters you should have in mind when you choose an optional? The usual parameters are possibility of getting high marks, overlapping with GS syllabus, availability of guidance and material, number of people in service and also your personal interest in the subject. Lets look at them one by one:

1.Possibility of scoring High Marks

The bottom line in Mains examination is the marks you score. Optionals which help you score high are in great demand as it usually increases the probability of you getting into the top services.

Analysis of past 10 years UPSC marks shows that subjects like Mathematics, Physics, Engineering subjects and the Literature of Regional Subjects are those which fetch the absolute premium marks.

However, except the Literature subjects every other subject also comes with the risk of “hit or miss”, i.e. subjects like Mathematics or Physics you may score really low as well.

Public Administration and Geography are two subjects which usually return high scores as well.

Both also have the same issue of “hit or miss” as certain years the paper is tough.

Political Science and International Relations, Anthropology have also been doing well in the past 2 or 3 years.

Economics died very well for a couple of years (2012 and 2013) but has been under the radar now mostly.

Sociology is one optional which may not always touch the real high marks but is always a stable subject.

2.Overlapping with GS Syllabus

Certain optionals have very high overlapping with GS syllabus which will help with the preparation for General Studies for prelims, mains and even interview. The overlapping can greatly reduce the overall load on the student during preparation.

Public Administration is the subject which overlaps maximum with GS syllabus. Starting with polity topics Public administration is present in all four GS papers and will definitely help with personality test/interview as well.

Political Science and International Relations has an overlap especially with General Studies Paper II in mains. It also covers polity topics which are important for prelims. It covers various topics which come for Personality Test as well.

Sociology has good linkages with mains and also is helpful for personality test or interview

Geography has overlap with Paper I and III of General Studies mainly and would be really helpful if you also want to try for Indian Forest Service exam.

History is another subject which would helpful in Paper I (and a bit of Paper II/III) and in personality test/interview.

Philosophy and Psychology would be a tiny bit helpful in General Studies Paper IV i.e. Ethics.

3.Availability of Guidance and Material

The major subjects like Public Administration, Geography, Sociology, History, Political Science etc. have tonnes of free material and guidance available in the internet. However, it is still advised that you go to a proper course for these topics in case you choose one of them.

Economics and science subjects are taken up at specialised institutes in Delhi only.

FortuneIAS offers Sociology, Public Administration, Political Science and International Relations, Geography, Anthropology, English Literature and has a tie up for Malayalam Literature.

4.Number of people who cleared with an optional

As per data from UPSC annual reports over the past 10 years, Public Administration is optional with maximum number of selections. . The annual average has been ranging between 15 pc to 35 pc in final selections

Geography comes second with an annual average ranging from 32 pc to 9 pc in final selections.

Political Science and International Relations is one optional which has had good number selections and also a very good conversion ratio of about 10 pc.

Sociology has a maintained a stable number in most years in final selections over the past 10 years.

Literature of Malayalam Language has had excellent results and conversion ratio.


This perhaps is the most determining factor in deciding the optional. Even the toughest optional for general public can be easy for certain people with aptitude for it.

If you are good in Physics or Maths you can take it and clear with it. There are people who take Agriculture and clear as well.

All these aspects in mind, you must do soul searching and decide on the topic after reading essential material, conversing with the people who have cleared with the optional and also looking up good institutes for the same.