Monday, June 20, 2016

My Interview Notes - On Hobbies and Intersts - Yoga, Gardening and Jogging

I had the hobby of Yoga, Running, Kitchen Gardening and Cartooning.

I also used to draw some cartoons at my blog

Notes of which are available here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Essay Paper Tips


I never prepared separately for essay because if you are well versed with your GS syllabus, then you can easily attempt an essay on any topic. 

However, your essay should be well structured (in terms of introduction, conclusion, thought flow, exploration of dimensions and original thinking). 

Further, it is estimated that essays are checked by people from literature background, so your grammar and language also matters a bit. 

Finally, since most of the people select the same topics for essay (and may even write the same stuff as well), you may need to differentiate your essay and make it attractive. You may do it with the help of relevant quotes, suitable facts and figures, some anecdotes, diagrams and illustrations and so on. There are no fixed rules of writing UPSC essays. Try to be as innovative as possible.

Best of Luck!
Nitin Sangwan

Reading Newspapers and Making Current Notes (plus some of my Current Notes)


Civil Services papers have two broad areas - static and dynamic (mainly current events related).

When you read the newspaper, always keep in mind that - GS papers are of 'General Knowledge', i.e. something which a well read mature person should know. So, my advice is that - while you should read the newspaper thoroughly and try to understand the issue and concepts at hand, never do a deep research as it may be very time consuming and may not be significant from the point of view of the exam.

Secondly, the question may arise - Which newspaper(s) and magazines? How many newspapers should I read? I would suggest that you pick only one newspaper as you have limited number of hours in your day and all the papers cover more or less same stories (especially the significant ones). The Hindu and Indian Express are two good newspapers primarily because they are limited and concise in their content and don't have many distractions and 'extra' news as in case of other tabloid styled newspapers like ToI and HT. My favorite was The Indian Express as content wise it is generally richer than The Hindu (It carries a readable Op-Ed page also apart from a page called 'I.E. Explained' which covers contemporary issues of importance in depth). Also try to read the readers' comment daily. They often give interesting insights and give you an alternative perspective than the column writers. You may also start thinking critically and may send a comment once in a while. It can be a sort of answer writing practice for you (and since in this case you will be read by millions of other readers, you will automatically more careful in writing your thoughts :) ).

Thirdly, the question may arise - What to read in the newspaper(s) and magazines? To get an idea, read last years question papers again and again to enter into the psyche of the paper setters. You will slowly realize that often conceptual things are asked and you need to learn only basic facts. Further, you will also realize that development of critical thinking is an integral part of answer writing. So, whenever you read, give a critical thought to the item you read.

Fourthly, I would also suggest that you also try to search the issue on internet or Wikipedia. Often, there are Wiki pages on all the major issues (you will find wiki pages on every possible topic - say for example, try searching Indo-China relations) which give background, causes, consequences and so on of a particular event. 

Finally, never keep cuttings of newspapers or magazines (and similarly, save the raw articles from internet) as over the time they become so bulky that you will never be able to even skim through them during exam time. make your own notes topic wise and try to find every dimension of it (background, players involved, significance for India/society/World, future possibilities and so on). By doing so, you will be kinda writing a comprehensive answer on a particular topic and you will save time on separate answer writing practice.

Here are some of my notes on current events and other topics -
  1. Current Events Notes
  2. International Organisations and Events Notes (Static Part)
These notes will give you an idea that you should organised your notes so that you don't have to save the same article many a times. You may simply make new addition to the topics already covered in such notes. 

Leave a comment if you notice some discrepancy in these notes or have some suggestion or query.

Best of luck!
Nitin Sangwan

Sociology Optional Preparation Guide


Many of you asked about my approach for my optional subject of sociology. So, I am writing this post. This optional is relatively easy. Most of us are generally familiar with the topics which are part of syllabus (except the thinkers part), so it is likely that this subject is familiar to every aspirant.

However, due to very this fact, some aspirants become complacent and take many topics for granted. So, you should try to read thoroughly and should never overlook the core concepts (for example, while studying caste - you should not overlook the very basic definition and perspectives on caste. You should ask yourself - What is caste? How it has changed historically? What is the theoretical framework lying beneath it? Is that framework accepted as it is by various social thinkers? If not, how and why?)

I am writing this post considering two way of preparing for sociology - one approach is that you are using our book Essential Sociology (I am editing this post and including mention of our book after many of you put this question that 'whether this book alone will be sufficient for the optional?') as the basic reference and the other approach is the one in which you are not using  Essential Sociology as a source.

1. In the first approach, many of you have asked what else you should read apart from our book Essential Sociology. To answer to that - we have covered more than enough in our book and we are pretty sure that the book can deal with all possible questions in the exam. But at the same time, it is also advisable that one should read maximum and from multiple sources to have a deeper clarity of the topics. For this reason, if one has sufficient time before one is planning to write Mains exam, following other sources, apart from Essential Sociology, can also be referred:
  1. New NCERTs of class 11th/12th: They are very lucid and very basic material and are suitable for absolute beginners. They also carry examples from day to day life (many of which very recent ones also), hence, they give you a good start. According to me, new NCERTs are much well designed than the older ones. They have less factual errors and have a better flow. Try to read them again and again during various phases of your optional preparation. (Old NCERTs were more suitable for the older syllabus and hence may not be as useful, but if you have a hell lot of time, you may read them as well).
  2. A good Sociology Dictionary by Penguin or Sage publication (some pirated soft copies available online which aspirant may search/download at their own risk as I personally don't recommend this route). Read any one dictionary of Sociology cover to cover i.e. every single page. Dictionaries are helpful because, they provide the fundamental definitions of the topics of syllabus. They also carry reference to the works of important social thinkers which can be used as examples in exam. Both of these dictionaries are relatively simple in language than the Oxford one. One may read the dictionary thoroughly from first to last page and note down those terms and topics which are either part of syllabus (directly or indirectly) or have appeared in previous years' exams. Some references to case studies may also be found there in these dictionaries. 
  3. Sociology: Themes and Perspectives (Haralambos an Holborn) (Blue Cover) This is a very useful and comprehensive book for paper 1. But it is about heavier one with more than 1000 pages. However, it is a very updated one and covers almost all aspects of syllabus. Following topics: Basic Theoritical Perspectives, Aging, Research Methods, Stratification and Inequality, Gender, Poverty and Exclusion, Religion, Family, Power and Politics, Education etc are covered very well. If you have patience too read, it is an extremely useful book. If you are not reading Giddens, you may read this one. Either will do.
  4. Newspapers and other GS source and selective noting down of events related to Sociology. For example, latest data on Census, gender issues, statistics on poverty or inequality, caste discrimination incidents which are widely reported in media, news for tribal development and so on.

In the Second approach (i.e if you are not referring to Essential Sociology book), I would suggest following material - 
  1. New NCERTs on sociology - Read this section in the First Approach above.
  2. Sociology: (Haralambos and Heald) (the one with reddish cover and not so thick) - For the beginners it is a good book as one gets familiar with the core concepts and some landmark studies in the field of sociology. This book is a bit outdated in terms of the data and studies it uses as it has not been revised since long. But at the same time, the case studies it uses are classical ones and are still referred by the social scientists and students alike. Try to match the topics of syllabus and read selectively. Its writing style is extremely lucid and most of the concepts are explained very well.
  3. Sociology (Anthony Giddens) - While Haralambos (red/orange cover) gives you a conceptual framework, Giddens Sociology is more about the contemporary perspectives in sociology. It gives a fresh and novel perspectives through recent examples and illustrations. It helps you in developing a unique sociological perspective. If you are reading Haralmbos and Giddens, then in that case you need not refer the next source at number 4 that I am mentioning next.
  4. Sociology: Themes and Perspectives (Haralambos an Holborn) (Blue Cover- This is a very useful and comprehensive book for Paper 1 of Sociology Optional. But it is a bit heavier book with more than 1000 pages which sometimes perturbs aspirants. To this, I would say that one should read very selectively as per syllabus. It is a very updated book and covers almost all aspects of syllabus of Paper 1. Following topics: Basic Theoretical Perspectives i.e. thinkers part, Aging, Research Methods, Stratification and Inequality, Gender, Poverty and Exclusion, Religion, Family, Power and Politics, Education etc are covered very well. If you have patience to read, it is an extremely useful book. 
  5. Sociology Dictionary (Penguin/Sage Publication) - Regarding utility of this source, please refer to the concerned section in the First Approach above.
  6. IGNOU Notes (only graduation level, not post graduation) - They carry more or less the whole syllabus, even of Paper 2. They are especially useful for the Paper 2 as one generally doesn't find the topics anywhere else and that too compiled in one source. 
  7. Other supplementary sources - Apart from these, for specific topics, you may refer to some other books as well. For example, for Mead (you may refer the Sociology book by Ritzer), for Indian thinkers, you may refer a book by B K Nagala (though this book doesn't explain thinkers in a very coherent way and hence, this book has its own issues) and so on. Some topics like Social Background of Indian Nationalism, Modernization of Indian Tradition etc may have to be researched separately. 
  8. Newspapers and other GS source and selective noting down of events related to Sociology. Regarding utility of this source, please refer to the concerned section in the First Approach above.
Finally, as I always say, the exam is not only about reading books, but also about managing what you have read. Try to consolidate what you have read at a single place as it is easier to revise that during exam. Making your own notes also serves as a kind of writing practice and boosts your confidence as well.

From the day one, you should keep in mind that since the subject is about society and its relationship with individuals, so, you should be very keen observer of it. Whether there is some news article (say on marital trends, caste, family, demography, tribes, polity, socio-economic indicators of development and so on), some development in your neighborhood or even a personal observation, you should try to think over these and note down a thing or two. Such illustrations about society and its working will come handy in form of examples while attempting the questions in the mains paper and will definitely fetch you some extra marks.

If you have any suggestions or queries regarding sociology optional, please comment below this post.

Best of luck!
Nitin Sangwan

Monday, June 13, 2016

My Notes for Civil Services GS Papers


Here are some of my notes -

10. Ethics - I never read too much on this paper. I referred only a case study book by Donald Menzel. Whatever definitions etc appeared in this book, I tried to cover them. I never referred to any other source (including various school of philosophies) as to me this paper is more about your logical thinking and problem solving approach rather than you knowing some theoretical frameworks. Just think on your own feet in this paper.

11. Polity - For it, Laxmikant is more than sufficient. Apart from it, read newspapers and note down the current developments. Past years' papers can also be helpful.

I hope they will be helpful.

They also include a tentative study plan and strategy for these topics in the beginning of the notes.

If you notice a discrepancy, or have some suggestion or feedback, please leave a comment here. 

Best of luck!
Nitin Sangwan

Monday, June 6, 2016

Suggested Book List for UPSC Civil Services Exam (Pre and Mains)


If you are an absolute beginner, you may refer to the following booklist and material sources (for both pre and mains as I think the preparation of the two cannot be separated) -

1. Indian Polity - by M Laxmikanth, Tata McGraw Hill Publication

2. Geography - NCERT Old 11th and 12th class (Photocopy available in bookshops in Delhi and other places in other cities at popular preparation destinations etc). Also available on internet, search on google. You may also go through new NCERTs for 11th and 12th, they are also good.

3. History - Bipan Chandra, "History of Modern India" Orient Black Swan Publication

4. "Indian Culture and Heritage" - National Institute of Open Schooling. Also available on internet on website of NIOS, search on google. Also refer to the Art & Culture :NCERT Class XI – An Introduction to Indian Art; Art & Culture

5. Economy - Ramesh Singh, Tata McGraw Hill Publication or any other standard book like Dutt and Sundaram of S Chand publications.

6. Environment and Ecology - any popular coaching institute notes - (Photocopy available in bookshops in Delhi and other places in other cities at popular preparation destinations etc)

7. Science and Technology - any popular coaching institute notes - (Photocopy available in bookshops in Delhi and other places in other cities at popular preparation destinations etc)

8. Magazine - Frontline (if you have time, else skip it)

9. Newspaper - The Hindu or Indian Express (read only one, it would be sufficient)

10. World History - Old NCERT Books of History 9th and 10th class, new NCERTs are more illustrative and colorful, you may also go through them as well. (for Mains paper only)

11. Ethics Paper - try to note down from newspapers, books etc examples of ethical conducts etc. Try to think on your own. It is more of a paper of reasoned thought and rational arguments. Don't read too much of material, just practice a few case studies. Use your original thoughts.

12. India - An annual book published by Publication Division of Govt of India for overview about government scheme and working of government of India

13. CSAT - Take notes of any popular institute or some standard book on reasoning and aptitude.

14. India After Independence - Bipan Chandra, Penguin Publication (for post -independence history, for Mains paper only)

15. Past years solved papers of both GS Preliminary and Mains. Read them again and again so that you have an idea about the type of questions they ask.

16. Download syllabus of both pre and mains and read it many times so that whenever you read newspaper, you know that what has to be read and what has to be left. Don't read multiple books on same subject, but read single book or notes multiple times. Material with you should be only so much only that it is manageable at the time of exam.

It is advised that limited books and material is refereed as the exam is not only about reading so many books, but about managing what you have read. It is not so important that how many books on a topic that you read, but how well you read them.

Any suggestions or queries can be sent in form of comments for the benefit of all.

Best of luck!
Nitin Sangwan