Monday, June 4, 2012

CSAT Preparation: The way Ahead

How to prepare for CSAT:- By Rushikesh Dudhat 
Last year UPSC brought in a major change in civil services preliminary exam pattern by removing the optional subject and introducing a new paper 2 commonly known as CSAT. Though it caused lot of anxiety in students initially, the two preliminary examinations on new pattern gives us fair idea about paper 2. Most importantly it dispels the myth that CSAT favors students with mathematics background. In fact the number of mathematics questions in 2011 paper which were around 15, could be categorized into more of logical questions and this year, i.e. in 2012 paper the number of  mathematics question were reduced to just two.
Also a comparative analysis of paper 1 and paper 2 shows that , CSAT paper consists of 80 questions with each question carrying 2.5 marks as against 2 marks carried by each question of paper 1 (G.S.) having 100 questions. So the weightage is more to paper 2. But the number of question may vary in coming years as UPSC has not specified number of questions thus making the current pattern more dynamic.
The syllabus of paper 2 is as follows:-
1.       Comprehension
2.       Interpersonal skills including communication skills;
3.       Logical reasoning and analytical ability
4.       Decision making and problem solving
5.       General mental ability
6.       Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude etc.) (Class X level), Data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. -Class X level)
7.       English Language Comprehension skills (Class X level).
·         Questions relating to English Language Comprehension skills of Class X level (last item in the Syllabus of Paper-II) will be tested through passages from English language only without providing Hindi translation thereof in the question paper.

Let us go by each topic of syllabus and discuss the strategy in brief.

·      Comprehension:-

This is the most important topic in syllabus. Last year around 36 questions were asked and this year the number of questions increased to 40. Thus Reading comprehension (RC) consists of around 50% or 100 marks of CSAT. A good grasp over this topic makes scoring in CSAT a lot easier. And it’s relatively easy for students to have mastery over this topic. There is no need to attend special coaching for RC. A person needs good command over English and good comprehension skills.
A good command over English can be achieved by:-

·         Inculcating good and diverse reading habits. Reading good books increases our comprehending skills and helps us understand the way famous authors want to communicate with us. The book is nothing but a medium of communication the only difference being that reader has to be active while reading and he/she needs to summarize and understand the material.
·         Reading good books also increases our vocabulary and improves English.
·         Reading on diverse topics is also equally important as it improves our thinking process, enriches our knowledge and most importantly makes us familiar with various topics in exam as in the examination passages belong to different subject matter like economics, humanities, science etc.
·         Extensive reading also increases our reading speed giving us definite advantage in the exam.
People in their spare time can go through various books like My Experiments With Truth, Discovery of India, books by Dr. Amartya Sen, Alchemist (2011 paper had paragraph from the Alchemist), books on governance etc.. Also regular reading of editorials from good news paper like The Hindu, Indian Express helps in improving RC. Regular reading of paper has twin advantage of increasing your scores in GS as well as CSAT. Keep referring to the dictionary for some difficult words and thus building up your vocabulary. RC is a section on which you will have to work yourselves and attending coaching may be not of much help. Also there are good books on reading comprehension available in the market which will provide you with good material.

These tips may be useful while solving RC:-
Becoming an Active Reader
Critical reading and thinking skills require active reading. Being an active reader means you have to engage with the text, both mentally and physically.
Skimming Ahead and Jumping Back
Highlighting or Underlining Key Ideas
Making Marginal Notes
When asked to choose a title watch out for choices that are too specific or too broad
When asked to make inferences, base your answer on what the passage implies, not what it states directly.
In coming years the difficulty level of passage is going to increase so prepare this topic well. Devoting half an hour a day will increase your accuracy to a large extent.

2. Interpersonal Skills including communication Skills:-
Interpersonal skills are the life skills we use for everyday to communicate and interact with other people individually and in groups. It includes not only how we communicate but also our ability to listen and understand. Problem solving and decision making are also considered interpersonal skills. Contrary to what most of classes are teaching, this portion involves some real life situations wherein you will be required to choose correct answers among alternatives. This portion is highly linked to decision making questions. The portion specifically mentions interpersonal and communications skills… NOT English language skills. So there is no need to remember a long vocabulary list or to read books on English grammar usage nor is the need to do sentence correction statements. Mugging long list of words as is done in CAT or GRE at most may help you in improving your English. Still I don’t feel the need to do it. Developing following traits in your personality may help you in solving questions related to above topic.
·         Learn to listen or be active listener
·         Choose your words carefully and be clear in communication
·         Learn about various barriers to good communication
·         Be positive and relaxed while communicating
·         Empathize with people
·         Learn to be assertive. This means you should be neither aggressive nor passive while communicating

This is also an easy topic. I personally feel that studying a good book of logical reasoning will make you comfortable with this topic. This topic involves questions such as
·         Statement-assumptions
·         Evaluating inferences
·         Forcefulness of arguments
·         Syllogism
·         Relationships
·         Venn diagram
·         Arrangement problems etc…

There are good books available. I personally liked books of Arihant publications and BSC publication by the name of logical and analytical reasoning. You can go through the books of other publications too and buy as per your choice.
Decision making and problem solving are important social skills for business/job as well as life. A type of personality is reflected in strategies adopted by individual to solve a problem. These skills cannot be acquired in a day but is a learning process for life. Develop the following qualities:-
·         Define and clarify the issue - does it warrant action? If so, now? Is the matter urgent, important or both. 
·         Gather all the facts and understand their causes.
·         Consider and compare the pros and cons of each option.
·         Select the best option - avoid vagueness.
·         Keep your eyes on goal.
·         Think rationally and have scientific attitude.
·         Freedom from prejudice, superstitions, open mindedness and lack of rigidity.

Apart from above qualities, as this examination is for civil services you must have following qualities:-
·         Knowledge and commitment to our constitutional values
·         Sympathy towards weaker sections of our society
·         Emphasis on transparency and accountability.
·         National outlook
·         Honesty
·         Breadth of vision.
·         Avoid extremities in decision making.
 Go through books of decision making and solve as many questions as you can. Also analyze the correct option and compare it with other options. Sufficient practice will make you comfortable in examination.


This was the section which had caused lot of anxiety especially among students having background other than math’s and engineering. But the papers of two years have shown that UPSC has balanced the paper in right way so that educational background does not give undue advantage to students and has ensured level playing field for students belonging to different backgrounds.
A typical general mental ability questions include:-
§  Pictorial reasoning, mirror images, rotation, odd figures etc
§  Geometric perception, graphs etc
§  Number series, coding-decoding etc

Again familiarity with these topics can come only with practice.
The portion of basic numeracy and data interpretation (DI) specifically mentions Class X level. So anyone who considers himself/herself weak in mathematics should religiously go through NCERT mathematics textbooks of class VII to X. Assumed weakness in mathematics is just lack of practice because you are not in touch with subject since school days. Going through NCERTs will build foundation, give you confidence and also ensures that you do the basic minimum of what is stated in the syllabus. Then after building the foundation you can enrich by going through books such as R.S. Aggarwal and solving papers of various competitive examinations. Also you may skip the portion of trigonometry as it is not mentioned in syllabus (trigonometry is specifically mentioned in syllabus for CDS examination and hence asked). I personally don’t favor remembering shortcuts as I find them of not much use in examination. Sufficient practice will make you familiar with mathematical language and I again stress the importance of NCERTs in developing this.
Most of coaching uses the fear among students for mathematics and charge exorbitant fees. But I personally believe that couple of hours of daily practice of mathematics will make you comfortable in examination.

Again here syllabus specifically mentions class X level. A person comfortable in first topic of syllabus (Comprehension) can easily solve these passages as papers have shown that passages in this portion belong to basic level. So the tips given in first topic can be applied here.

Thus if we look at CSAT papers I feel that person can do them easily without any coaching. Remember ‘Practice Makes Man perfect ‘and apply it here. You will be more than comfortable in CSAT.
Regarding books I will suggest you to buy a comprehensive guide of Paper-II. There are many guides available in market from publications such as Pearson, TMH, Spectrum, Arihant. You can go through these books and buy depending upon your choice. These guides will give you good idea about various topics and will also provide you with theory along with large number of practice questions. CSAT is all about practice.
So I am wishing you all the best for your preparation.


  1. Dear Sir,

    Thank you so much for these guidelines. They are very helpful, it has kind of cleared every doubt in my mind. I can begin my preparation with this. After reading this I think that I can prepare for prelim all by my own effort, still is it advisable to join any coaching? as in for practice?

    1. It is advisable to join any classes only because it gives much needed guidance and direction to our study. It will also help in practice and in turn minimize our efforts.
      But if one is self motivated enough and if there is any constraint ( Time, Money, Location) then one can decide not to join any classes. Remember class is not a essential precondition for you success, but well directed effort is!

    2. Thank You Sir,I have completed my Graduation in economics and looking forward to prepare for Civil services. Can you advise me some good coaching??. I'm basically from patna, Bihar and I did my studies from Pune. I have decided to take sociology and public administration as my optional for mains as I have a keen interest in these subjects and I have been a student of Humanities throughout , I just wanted to clear whether I should start to focus on Mains also or just prepare for prelim right now. Is it advisable for me to appear in 2013 or prepare for two years and then appear? I have thought of taking admission in PG with economics simultaneously is it a right decision? I'm also planning to move to delhi or can I stay back in Bihar and prepare for Civil services?

    3. I strongly suggest for 2013 attempt as one should give first attempt as early as possible. As far is UPSC preparation is concerned very important aspect of preparation is Main exam and Prelims is only screening test thus starting with main preparation ( say in June ..a year before actual exam ) is good strategy which I followed. And later say in December one can start prelim preparation.
      Simultaneously doing PG is very good idea but with a caveat that such PG should be your secondary goal and should not waste valuable time in any way.
      I guess Delhi would a better choice for civil preparation but I prepared from Pune only. So choice is yours totally!!

  2. sir for history n political science as my optional and marathi as medium for mains ...which books i should refer u suggest me books please

    1. For History Optional same books which are suggested are made available in Marathi medium by Ksagar Publication; you can use that. And for political Science book list is given by Shivprasad Nakate (IAS) on this same blog .

  3. Sir i have completed my graduation i want to prepare for all india civil service examination...i dont know how actually i should start my study ...i cant join coaching/classes bcoz of financial problems..... i am from marathi background Sir which optionals i should choose so that i can easily get the study material in marathi...and Where i will get this study material ...which news paper i should read,How i can do plan for study...sir i like history and geography but suggeted me that geography is very vast and this subject has no limitations...sir i am in confuse mode ..plz help me

  4. Sir can you suggest best coaching in pune for optional subjects geography and public administration. Can you please tell me where I P Singh and Bhushan Patil provide coaching in pune

  5. sir i am presently in 3rd year and am currently concentrating on news papers,reading biographies of personalities like Gandhaiji etc. and books like India after gandhi by Ramchandra guha,India's struggle for independence... sir what should be my strategy now and method of preparation, i want to prepare in a effective and planned way right from now, sir kindly suggest and guide me.. i am eagerly waiting for your response..
    thank you sir..

  6. Thank u sir for your valuable guidence.

  7. thank you sir give us guidence for simple word.............

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  9. sir,when should one ideally start preparation for CSE...???