Like other competitive exams, this too requires careful preparation.
In the IAS main exam, for Paper I and Paper II of the Optional subject,

there is a choice, so that you don’t have to attempt all questions. Therefore it is important to read the question papers carefully right at the beginning. Each question should be read at least twice before deciding which questions are to be attempted. The question paper in the Main exam is not very long and all this can be done in the first five to seven minutes; the instructions at the top of the question paper are also equally important. Now, in the first five minutes, or, at the most seven minutes, you know which questions you should attempt within the choice given in the question paper, and then you should start writing the answers accordingly. But in all four papers of the General Studies in the Main exam, one has to attempt all questions and there is no choice. If at all any choice is given, it will be clear from the instructions printed right at the beginning of the question paper.

In the Essay exam one has to write only one essay out of the four topics given or two essays out of the eight topics, and there are three hours. Therefore it is important to choose the topic for the essay carefully and you may keep in mind the main areas and the points to be discussed and their sequence. For the essay, one must do some rough work to build up its skeleton before actually writing it.

The answer sheet has also been modified with effect from 2013. The questions are printed on the answer sheet, starting with Q1 followed by the space in which the answer has to be written, and further Q2, followed by the space for the answer and so on. It means that not only the number of words is prescribed but even the space for answering is limited.

General studies
In all four papers of the General Studies, all questions are compulsory, and you must immediately start answering the questions. You need not read all the questions right at the beginning, just go on attempting starting from the first one. Since in all GS Papers you are supposed to write almost 4,000 words you must start answering very quickly without wasting any time. If in between any question is not attempted the given space for that has to be crossed and it should not be left blank. But this should be done only in the end, because you may later realise that you know the answer of a question well which you might not have understood initially. At the end of the answer sheet in all papers of the Main exam, there are two or three pages for doing the rough work. These rough sheets can also be effectively used in the exam for Optional subjects where it involves making calculations, etc.

The answer sheet already has the question and its number printed, so you should be rather careful to write the appropriate answer in the space provided. If there are some important words or the sentences in the narrative part, these must be underlined or highlighted. If you have drawn a well-labelled diagram (when required), written the headings and sub-headings and underlined them, you have shown the examiner that you know everything and you have made it easy for him to spot the correctness of your answer at a glance.

As mentioned before, the diagrams, graphs, formulae and equations are important in the Main exam if your optional subject is Botany, Zoology, Physics, Chemistry or an Engineering subject. A well-labelled diagram is sometimes a complete answer to the question and in such a case the answer should start with the drawing of the diagram and labelling it, and the narrative part of the answer should follow.

Suppose you have 15 minutes to answer a question, the answer of which also contains one or two important diagrams, you may spend even 10 minutes to draw the diagram and label it right at the beginning and write the narrative part of the answer in the remaining five minutes. The diagrams need not be artistic, these should be rather simplified but technically correct and of course well labelled.

In all four papers of the General Studies and the Essay, you will notice that at the end of the question they have asked you to limit your answer to a certain number of words. It is necessary to stick to this limit. And now even the space for each answer is limited. The idea is that you should be brief and write only important points or the information.

No one is going to do the actual counting of words. Ten per cent more or 10 per cent less number of words will not matter. In an exam, everybody understands that you cannot waste so much time in being accurate with respect to the number of words.

The writer is a Commissioner of Income Tax and Chief Advisor at Face The Challenge Academy.
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