The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Services Examination prelims is on 4 October 2020. Around 10 days remain till the big day.
The marks of the prelims examination are not counted in the final scores, instead, the prelims cut-off is only used to select candidates for the next stage of the examination - the Mains.
The prelims paper has 100 questions, ranging from current affairs to those from history, polity, geography, economics, environment, science and technology etc.
For each correct answer, a candidate gains 2 marks, and for each incorrect answer, she is penalised 2/3 marks. Not attempted questions beget zero.
The cut-off changes each year, and each time a candidate in the exam hall has to make a decision regarding the risk she is going to take with regards to dicey questions. Every candidate thinks of maximising their score so as to cross the cut-off, which may be anywhere between 95 to 120. This is a wide range.
It is important to remember that UPSC prelims papers often has many questions that are completely new as such, but an educated guess can be made by reading the standard material.
So, what is the strategy that a candidate can take regarding this risk management?
First, look at the last year question papers and try to understand the trend. For past few years, the cut-off has been hovering around 100.
Secondly, give a quick glance to the paper and estimate how tough the paper is (a candidate who has prepared seriously, given practice tests would be able to guess). If the paper looks tough to you, you can assume that the cut-off would keep hovering around 100. If the paper looks easy, it will move closer to the 120 boundary.
Don’t panic or get excited in either case.
Let’s assume the paper is easy.
Start attempting questions. In first attempt, tick all the answers you are above 90 per cent sure that you know correctly. Mark with a dot the questions that you are unsure of but can guess. Mark with a cross the questions about which you don’t know anything.
Count the number of questions. Let’s say the number is 60. You have attempted 60 questions that you are 90 per cent sure that will give you full marks. Let’s assume 5 (upper limit) of these go wrong. That would be 55 correct, 5 wrong, that is, 110-4 = 106 marks.
Since you found the paper easy, this is a borderline score. You should now go through the paper a second time, and look at the dot-marked questions. By giving sometime, you can attempt a few of these correctly. Use you judgement and attempt a few of these.
Don’t take random guesses for cross-marked questions. The number of questions that can be done only through guesses is very small, and has been declining in UPSC.
In a way, easy papers are more difficult because a candidate has to take the score higher, and hence, take more risks (a certain percentage of questions in UPSC are always surprising/unexpected). In any case, you can be sure that the cut-off won’t rise above 120.
Let’s say you find the paper difficult.
In this case, you don’t need to take risks with a lot of questions. Cut-off is likely to stay close to 100 as has been the case in the past few years. Carefully attempt the ones you are sure of, and take another few educated guesses. Don’t get disheartened and start marking questions recklessly - leaving it up to fate. Temperament is key.
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