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UPSC Prelims Current Affairs Strategy

When I talk with students regarding UPSC Prelims, many seem worried about Current Affairs. The common arguments include ‘current affairs occupy almost half of the total questions’, ‘current affairs is mostly unpredictable’, ‘current affairs is so vast’, ‘I have not read any newspaper for the whole year’, ‘even institutes’ current affairs material is not reliable’ and so on… 

1. Weightage of Current Affairs in Prelims

I have been of the opinion that the role of current affairs in Prelims is exaggerated. My beliefs were strengthened when both times (2019, 2020), I could clear the Prelims when I had not read the newspaper for an entire year. I also observed a similar trend with few of my friends and students. And now, with the publication of the recent Prelims PYQ Book, I have data to back up my arguments.

So, the table given below represents UPSC Prelims Current Affairs based questions since 2011.

Current Affairs in UPSC Prelims

The average no. of questions based on Current Affairs is around 17. Thus, considering worst case scenario, assuming that 25 questions in CSE Pre comes from current affairs will be a safe conclusion. 

2. Importance of Current Affairs vs Other Subjects

Although 25 questions do come from current affairs, the question is how important are they? Are they doable? And how much accuracy one should expect in it? And consequently, how much efforts should one take for Current Affairs? 

Please understand that you don’t need 200/200 in CSE Prelims. Since 2018, the exam cut-off has not even crossed 100. The cut-off for 2023 has been predicted in the range of 80-55,  and therefore, the target of 120 in Prelims is fairly reasonable. 

Now, of the 25 questions that will be asked on Current Affairs, even with very good reading of current affairs, you will be able to answer maximum 15 of them. And you don’t study at all (for current affairs), probably you can only get 3-4 of them correct. 

I would recommend neither to skip , nor try to be comprehensive in CA. Pick CA study material of any proper institution, study it well and do 3-4 revisions as your preparation proceeds. Also remember all the CA related facts you’ll come across in Mock tests. Beyond this, current affairs do not deserve more attention or worry. 

The time thus saved, should be utilised in studying other subjects more thoroughly. Perhaps giving priority to subjects which are more static and on which, more questions are asked. We have already discussed the subject-wise weightage of different topics in CSE Prelims in this article.

3. Preparing Current Affairs for Prelims Exam

Current affairs is not a single subject like Economy or Polity. It is related to every other subject. I would recommend to also include ‘General Knowledge’ in Current Affairs, for the purpose of simplicity. 

3.1 Scope of Current Affairs

The first thing is, scope of current affairs. Following subtopics can be said to be part of Current Affairs

  1. Art and Culture CA
  2. Indian Polity CA
  3. Indian Economy CA
  4. Geography CA
  5. Environment CA
  6. Science and Technology with its subtopics
  7. Defence and Nuclear deals/treaties related CA
  8. International & regional Organisations, Groupings, Rankings, Reports etc. 
  9. Nobel Prizes, Sports, Awards etc. related General Knowledge

3.2 Studying for Current Affairs

For all the topics mentioned above, you need to have study material. The 9th topic may be skipped considering the output vs efforts ratio.

Study material of any institution that is trying to be comprehensive will do. There are some institutions more focused on CA (like Level UP IAS), their study material will also do. I believe that any student who’ve been preparing for at least 3-4 months will able to distinguish good study material from bad.

After that, you need to consider Current Affairs just like other static subject. And include it in periodic revisions like other subjects. 

If you come across any new CA topic in Mock tests, just include it in your notes of CA and move ahead. You don’t have to do anything beyond this. 

3.3 Static Current Affairs

Also note that a good portion of CA an GK is actually static. The topics of Science and Technology, Biotechnology, Astrophysics, Space Technology, ISRO, NASA, IT and Communication, International Organizations, Groupings, Rankings and Reports, Defence and Nuclear Treaties etc. do not need everyday reading of newspapers, rather a good study material as discussed above will be sufficient.

When this static part is done well, this gives a very good fundamental knowledge.  On the basis of this, even questions based on latest happening on these topics can be answered. 

4. Why the Narrative About Current Affairs?

I believe that even after reading the article, there will be some who will ask, ‘What you said sir, everything is okay. But what about current affairs? What about that current affairs, which is unpredictable? Which we’ll not be able to answer?’.

I think there are few reasons why the existing narrative around current affairs exists. 

4.1 It’s the Most Difficult Part

As discussed before, only 25 questions come from CA. However, the accuracy in this section for most of the students is far less than other questions. As a result, CA questions are the most discussed in institutions, in peer groups and on social media. In fact, in analysis of 2022 Pre paper, an article from IAS Score says that U in UPSC stands for ‘Unpredictable’ and S for ‘Surprise’ 😀 (although I cannot disagree more).

4.2 It’s also the Unclear Part

Unlike other subjects, there is no syllabus for Current Affairs. I personally believe that there are certain areas which are prominent in CA and it’s not as unpredictable as people say. I’ve discussed this detailed CA syllabus in our recent Prelims PYQ Book as well.

Since it is vague, and it’s also a part of other subjects like Polity, Economy etc. The classification of questions is never proper. According to VISION IAS document (page no. 100), there were 45 questions from Current Affairs in 2022 exam. Although that is not the case. 

4.3 It’s a Good Excuse

When you say that Prelims is unpredictable, its a good excuse for someone to explain their failure. Mass of the people who’re studying for exam are non-serious candidates, and like everywhere else, they define the narrative. You should not become victim to this. 

I know many students, who’re little more than average, but clear UPSC Prelims every year without fail (for last 5-6 years). And there are those, who’re failing in it consistently since 5-6 years. 

Those who clear exam have a very good and almost thorough understanding of static subjects like History, Polity, Economy etc. and static part of Current Affairs. Those who don’t clear, say U stands for ‘Unpredictable’ and S for ‘Surprise’.

5. Conclusion

Please do not go by the narrative. Don’t loose focus on static subjects and static current affairs. Take more efforts for the topics which are static, doable, predictable and thus scoring. 

Again, you don’t need to score 200/200 to pass the exam and the target of 120 should be reasonable. So prioritize accordingly. Best Wishes 👍. 

Our next article will focus on ‘Actual Syllabus of UPSC Prelims’. Please let us know if you have any other suggestions.

UPSC Prelims PYQ Book Image
UPSC Prelims PYQ Book
  • Collection of more than 3200 Previous Year Questions (1995-2023)
  • All questions divided into 10 Subjects
  • Subject further sub-divided into more than 75 topics
  • All answers according to official answer key
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