UPSC Prelims Strategy by Abhijeet Sinha, IAS [AIR 19, CSE 2017]

Hello everyone,

I am Abhijeet Sinha. I have secured 19th Rank in Civil Services Exam 2017 and joined the Indian Administrative Service in 2018. I gave two attempts at CSE and scored good marks in both my prelims: 163 in CSE 2016 and 152.66 in CSE 2017.

My Prelims strategy was slightly different from others. I almost always attempted over 95 questions, even though I barely knew more than 50 questions with full certainty (no blind guesses though ). My focus remained more on deducing the right option by following all kinds of thumb rules, some of which I learned from others and others I developed on my own.

Because of many variation in nuances, it would be pertinent to inform you beforehand that the strategies mentioned below are slightly risky. What worked for me, may not work for others. There is no single strategy towards success. Also, don’t let these rules interfere with your strong intuition and knowledge. They merely help in deducing answer intelligently when your core knowledge on a particular topic is insufficient. So, please continue to prepare for Prelims thoroughly, practice well and use the following thumb rules as guidelines to help you make intelligent guesses in the exam.

I. Extreme Statements are Likely to be Wrong

Wherever statements which make sweeping generalisation and use words such as every, all, only etc, they are likely to be false.

Example :

Q. With reference to Manipuri Sankirtana, consider the following statements:    (2017)

  1. It is a song and dance performance.
  2. Cymbals are the only musical instruments used in the performance.
  3. It is performed to narrate the life and deeds of Lord Krishna.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1, 2 and 3
(b) 1 and 3 only
(c) 2 and 3 only
(d) 1 only

Here, because of the word “only”, option 2 could have been easily eliminated.

II. Names and Phrases Hold Clues

There is a reason behind name of any scheme/ person / body/ institution. That can be used to solve many questions

Example :

Q. The term ‘M-STrIPES’ is sometimes seen in the news in the context of   (2017)

(a) Captive breeding of Wild Fauna
(b) Maintenance of Tiger Reserves
(c) Indigenous Satellite Navigation System
(d) Security of National Highways

Because of the word ‘Stripes’, there is a natural connection to tiger that possibly no other options share.

This principle was useful in in another question too:

Q. Recognition of ‘Prior Learning Scheme’ is sometimes mentioned in the news with reference to ( 2017)

(a) Certifying the skills acquired by construction workers through traditional channels.
(b) Enrolling the persons in Universities for distance learning programmes.
(c) Reserving some skilled jobs to rural and urban poor in some public sector undertakings.
(d) Certifying the skills acquired by trainees under the National Skill Development Programme.

That’s one small bubble for UPSC, but one giant leap for an aspirant.

III. A Lot’s in the Language of A Name

Example : 

Q. What is ‘Greased Lightning-10 (GL-10)’, recently in the news? ( 2016)

(a) Electric plane tested by NASA
(b) Solar-powered two-seater aircraft designed by Japan
(c) Space observatory launched by China
(d) Reusable rocket designed by ISRO

Only an English speaking country would name its plane in English.

Q. Consider the following pairs:  ( 2017)

Traditions                                            Communities

  1. Chaliha Sahib Festival     —           Sindhis
  2. Nanda Raj Jaat Yatra        —           Gonds
  3. Warkari                               —            Santhals

Which of the pairs given above is/are correctly matched ?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 1 and 3 only
(d) None of the above

Sahib is a name that is commonly used in Urdu language, common to Sindhis. Using this, we could have eliminated 2 options.

Sometimes, when you breakup the root terms of a name, it can give valuable leads. Consider the following questions:

Q. Which one of the following books of ancient India has the love story of the son of the founder of Sunga dynasty?  ( 2016 )

(a) Swapnavasavadatta
(b) Malavikagnimitra
(c) Meghadoota
(d) Ratnavali

Here Malvikangnimitra is clearly made up of 2 terms  Malvika + Agnimitra, possibly the name of 1 female and 1 male person, indicative of a love story.

Q. What is/are unique about ‘Kharai Camel’, a breed found in India? ( 2016)

  1. It is capable of swimming up to three kilometers in seawater.
  2. It survives by grazing on mangroves.
  3. It lives in the wild and cannot be domesticated.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 3 only
(c) 1 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3

Here, Kharai seems to be made up of Khara + I and Khara refers to Salty in Hindi which correlates to sea water and this could have been used to find out that options 1 and 2 are possibly correct. Meanwhile, option 3 can be eliminated by using the rule of Extreme.

Similarly, question on Araghatta ( 2016) could have been solved by realising that root term Arag is similar to Irig, that which makes up Irrigation

Q. With reference to the economic history of medieval India, the term Araghatta’ refers to

(a) bonded labour
(b) land grants made to military officers
(c) waterwheel used in the irrigation of land
(d) wasteland and converted to cultivated land

IV. Common Sense is Your Friend

There is no substitute to common sense, and common sense can be utilised to solve many more questions. Consider the following question:

Q. The Global Infrastructure Facility is a/an   ( 2017 )

(a) ASEAN initiative to upgrade infrastructure in Asia and financed by credit from the Asian Development Bank.
(b) World Bank collaboration that facilitates the preparation and structuring of complex infrastructure Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to enable mobilization of private sector and institutional investor capital.
(c) Collaboration among the major banks of the world working with the OECD and focused on expanding the set of infrastructure projects that have the potential   to mobilize private investment.
(d) UNCTAD funded initiative that seeks to finance and facilitate infrastructure development in the world.

Here, a global body can’t be centered to ASEAN or OECD. Plus since, it talks about Infrastructure, it shouldn’t related to UNCTAD which is a trade centered body.

The summary of the entire discussion above is to practise and think logically. It will help you to solve four to five questions correctly. Almost all my friends, who I have told this strategy have seen improvement in their marks by 5- 10 marks.

At the same time, these strategies are not a substitute hard work because for the majority of other questions, you needs to get the fundamentals right.  Without those basics, all strategies— no matter how so appealing— backfire. I realised the importance of hard work a year too late. I don’t want you to repeat it.

My best wishes,
Abhijeet Sinha

Note: My book, Fundamentals of Essay and Answer Writing is out now! It’s a comprehensive guide that helps you write better Essays and Answers in the UPSC Mains Exam. You can get the book here.

33 thoughts on “UPSC Prelims Strategy by Abhijeet Sinha, IAS [AIR 19, CSE 2017]

  1. John

    Dear Sir,
    Answer for trade dispute question is indeed (d) a system of tribunals and a ban on strikes.

    Sometimes thumb rule backfires as well but overall its a big plus.


  2. Aditya Narayan sonawane

    Thank you so much sir…

  3. utkarsh sharma

    Sir I mailed you last time for the breach of copyright .

  4. Naveen

    Dear sir
    In your blog “how to prepare current affairs page” is missing sir please add it sir

    Thanks for sharing this article sir


    worthy tips sir,

  6. Vichitra Veer Yadav

    Thank you so much!!

  7. Deepak

    Such a great …observation with logical sense…
    in my first attempt I can’t clear prelims..some few marks ..

  8. Deepak

    Lots of thanxxx sir you and Abhijeet sir…

  9. Dinesh Kumar

    Thank you sir


    Nice share sir,
    With this I have come to know that, careful reading and understanding the statements in a question is very important in UPSC civils examination.

  11. Mrinalika Srivastava

    Thankyou sir for such relevant information 🙂

  12. mahender chukka

    Thanku so much 😎

  13. Sagar

    Thank you !

  14. Anwesha Howlader

    This was indeed helpful.
    Thank you Sir.

  15. Roma Yadav

    Thank you sir

  16. Saraswati sonwane

    Thank you sir 😊

  17. Laxmi Chauhan

    challa challa thankyou sir

  18. Anuja Salwatkar

    This is very useful.

  19. Lipuna Behera

    Thank you so much sir.

  20. Kavya

    Thank you very much

  21. Rajvi

    Thank u sir. This tips are much useful.


    Thank you sir

  23. Abhishek

    Thank you SIR !

  24. Rushikesh Patil

    Thanks for tips

  25. Harshith T S

    Thank you Anudeep sir and Abhijeeth sir..for this wonderful tips

  26. Priya Srivastava

    Thank you Sir for tip !!

    1. Priya Srivastava

      Good noon sir ! I want to start my upsc preparation …so please guid me how can start my preparation 1st …from where please sir guide me !

  27. sravanthi mondepu

    Thank you Sir,the tips are very helpfull. thank you so much.

  28. bullseyeandrobinhood

    Hello Sir! The article above proves to be very helpful but I’d really, really like to know if despite employing all these techniques one is not able to score a desirable score, then what should be the approach? I, as an aspirant have been attempting mocks for quite some time now with my scores almost stagnating at around 75 – 90 for maybe last 20 tests. Do you suggest practicing more mock tests, different ones or revising the same ones over again? And any more tips, if you might, I’d be highly grateful.

  29. Ahalya reddy

    Sir.I had paid 399 …but I’m not getting the book


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