This is a guest blog by Col D Sarin, former CO of 15 PUNJAB (PATIALA), my India Squadron friend and course-mate.
- Whenever you see the syllabus of any written competitive exam, the heart misses a beat. It seems so vast and terrifying. So is the case with the Forces entrance written exam. You do not know where to start your preparation from. Don’t you worry, a lot of it is semantics and once you have read the syllabus a couple of times, you will start seeing some familiar topics, and realize that you have studied these subjects somewhere, and you start breathing normal again.
- I am not going to lay down the syllabi or the importance of various subjects, percentage wise, in the written question paper. These are available with the application forms, or, at the start of various guides and the numerous websites.
- In the succeeding paragraphs, I would be stressing on a method of preparation of some key subjects (scoring subjects). Mind you, it is just a suggested method. You can twist and turn it to suit your preparation.
The Question Paper
- Before we go any further, let me just explain as to how a competitive question paper is prepared. It is only an educated guess. This will tell you where to get your study material from. This is how I would prepare one, in case asked. Secrecy of the question paper is of paramount importance. Keeping that in mind, the central organization responsible (UPSC), selects more than one person (a subject expert) to prepare some questions on the subject, separately. The organization would give them certain terms of reference to prepare and forward by a due date. The organization would then pick some questions forwarded by each expert and make a comprehensive questionnaire. No person knows whose paper or what questions have been selected finally. The subject experts selected can be any number. Thus, secrecy is maintained.
- How do the experts select the questions? Remember, they have to send the answers along also. Hence they would want to select questions for which answers are readily available. They will pick some questions from personal knowledge, some would be from competitive periodicals, some would be related to old question papers, some from prescribed school textbooks and some from other professional written exams (if the syllabus is similar). These, therefore, become your study material.
- Now that we know where to look for the study material, start collecting as early as possible. Are the various guides available in the market helpful? I would say yes. Coaching classes are also quite helpful. If nothing else they will definitely give you a sense of what to expect in the exam and some practice in written work. However, these should form a part of your preparation only, and by no means are an exhaustive material. Your preparation needs to be broad based. No time period can be laid down for your preparation as it is differs from candidate to candidate. If you are a regular student, then at least six months preparation time would be required.
- Mathematics. All competitive exams have this as an important subject. It is scoring as well as time consuming. It is very easy to get bogged down on a single question, forcing you to lose time. Our teachers have always told us that the best way to revise the subject is practice, practice and more practice. Once you are clear in your concepts given in the syllabus, then take the last fifteen years question papers of the exam, and see the topics that are frequently covered in each paper. Study and note the twists that the examiner has put forth in a question. Get your math expert to guide you on the twists that can still be made in that question, and finally, request your expert to give you some practice sums on those twists. Please understand that all questions need not have a twist. Your basic concept should be clear. At crunch time, you will find that you are adequately prepared.
- One to two hours of such practice, for five days in a week for five months, will ensure that the syllabus is adequately covered. A word of caution: Please do not waste time in looking for a ‘ghundi’ in every sum. Please do not waste time in case you cannot solve a sum in the required time frame. Move on to the next question, and fall back to it time permitting. Please do not guess the answer ever. You will be penalized with negative marking.
- English. This again is a scoring subject for those whose basic English skills are good. A candidate who has studied in a vernacular medium, will be at a little disadvantage, but nothing that hard work cannot solve. The examiner is not looking to select Shashi Tharoor! The basic everyday use English language skills should be known to the candidates. How do you prepare for this subject?
- The pattern of questions asked is generally the same. The paper will have questions on synonyms, antonyms, an odd comprehension, spotting errors, reconstruction of sentences, fill in the blanks etc. Remember, the examiner is going to ask the meaning of general daily- use words and not select long, tongue twisters from the dictionary. Hence, read the English daily and periodicals regularly. Underline the words that are new to you. Find out the meaning, and from an online thesaurus, find out other words that have the same meaning and the opposite meaning. Around ten words from the English papers and periodicals every day, for five months, will take care of the antonyms and synonyms.
- Endeavour to score full marks in the question on comprehension. This is the only question which has the answer in the passage itself. One way to tackle this is to read the questions first and underline the keywords and when you read the passage, look for those keywords. The answer will be somewhere there itself. The other topics like spotting errors, construction of sentences etc can be dealt with by solving old question papers and specimen papers given in periodicals on competitive examinations like CSR (competition success review).
- Current Affairs. A very important topic for all written examinations. The examiner wants to find out how well you are aware of the happenings in the country and around the world. Lay emphasis on activities related to the field of Defence. To prepare for this, read the paper every day, thoroughly. The other good periodical is the CSR. This is a monthly periodical and covers just about everything from a competitive exam point of view. It is concise and covers all events, major and minor, national and international, sports and culture. If the exam is say, in Sep’ 20, then refer to the periodicals starting from the month of Feb’ 20. Although the previous exam would have been in Mar’20, considering the time required for making the Mar’20 paper, the procedure would have commenced in Feb’20. Hence, events in Feb’20 may not have been included/ considered. The previous question papers will show the kind of questions asked, be it on awards, military exercises, personalities in news etc. hence stress on those.
- Remainder Subjects. Physics, Biology, Chemistry, History, Geography, and Civics etc. can be prepared through the text books. Although, the percentage of questions asked may be less, please do not ignore their importance. You need to score more marks than the other candidates to get into the merit. CSR covers these topics in the form of mock tests for all competitive exams. Some of the questions of other professional entrance exams may be applicable to your exam. Remember, the examiner is also looking for his questions and he may just include something from here! Study all questions in mock tests relating to English language, current affairs, history, geography, political science, economics etc. from the monthly periodical, irrespective of the professional exam it was meant for. This will broaden your knowledge base and you will be better prepared.
- The above is only a suggestion and by no means exhaustive. Your preparation must be systematic and not haphazard. It has been seen that while answering questions on subjects other than English, Mathematics and general awareness, the candidates are almost at par. What keeps them apart is how well they fare in the subjects of English, Mathematics and current affairs. If you are able to score well in these three, well, you have won half the race. However, do not ignore or take the other subjects lightly. Some other issues I want to highlight are: DON’T panic in the exam hall! Your mind may become blank, but things will come back to you in moments. Calculate your time. Be ruthless in leaving questions if they are consuming more time than what you have allocated. Come back to the unfinished questions later. Do not guess the answers even if you are 90% sure. Mark the answer if you are cent percent sure. One does not realize, but negative marking becomes a game changer, unknowingly. The outcome may not depend on the questions that you have answered correctly, but the answers that were incorrect.
- Finally, divide your six month preparation period optimally. Keep the last month for solving mock question papers only. You will find them plenty in the market. The written exam is like a ‘Tapasya’ and at the end of it all, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you have given your best. Good luck!