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Tricks to solve UPSC Prelims

Here in this article, we are going to discuss some useful tricks to solve UPSC prelims paper which are going to be immensely helpful for you in Examination hall.

This exercise will not reduce the importance of study but it will improve your prelims score based on student’s knowledge base. So we are recommending to study less now but to apply these some tips to enhance your score by 20-40 marks easily.

Caution ahead: There is a provision of negative marking in this examination hence you have to be careful while selecting your answer if you are not 100% sure about your choice.

Time tested tricks to score high in the UPSC Prelims:

1.Elimination method:

The entire method hangs on how many options can you eliminate and on basis of that, concluding whether you should attempt the question or not.

Q. Consider the following statements about the ‘Indian Star Tortoise’:

(1) They are found only in the Indian subcontinent

(2) The exotic pet trade threatens their survival.

(3) They were recently downgraded to CITES Appendix II category.

Which of the statements given above are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 1 and 3 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Have you heard about Indian Star tortoise? No? But you should not leave the question, without reading the options and jumping to other. Here statement 2 and 3 are mutually exclusive. Means they together cannot be correct. If some species in threatened for survival, why would we downgrade its status. Hence we can eliminate C and D. Statement 1 will be correct by default as it is common in option A and B. Now of the remaining statement 2 and 3, you will have to prove any on one of them either true or false. By logic, we know that illegal wildlife trade is rampant problem. So we can go with 2 rather than 3. Our answer is A finally.

Q. Consider the following:
1. Black necked crane
2. Cheetah
3. Flying squirrel
4. Snow leopard
Which of the above are naturally found in India?
a) 1, 2 and 3 only
b) 1, 3 and 4 only
c) 2 and 4 only
d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Now, you haven’t even heard of animals like black necked crane or flying squirrel. But read the options properly. Now, cheetah is not found naturally in India and this fact is something which you might be knowing even if you have not read animals in detail. So, if you just eliminate cheetah, statement 2 that is – you get only one option remaining and that has to be the answer.

Q. Lead, ingested or inhaled, is a health hazard. After the addition of lead to petrol has been banned, what still are the sources of lead poisoning?
1. Smelting units
2. Pens and pencils
3. Paints
4. Hair oils and cosmetics
select the correct answer using the codes given below:
a) 1, 2 and 3 only
b) 1 and 3 only
c) 2 and 4 only
d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Now you are no chemistry expert and have no idea where all lead is used and therefore decides to skip the question. But wait, UPSC is not looking for a chemical expert either. The question itself states that lead has been banned from use in petrol as it’s toxic. So now just think if that is the case, will lead be allowed to be used in pens and pencils which are used by children and most of them put it in their mouth? So, eliminate statement 2 about pens and pencils and there you get your answer.

Q. Due to improper/indiscriminate disposal of old and used computers or their parts, which of the following are released into the environment as e-waste?
1. Beryllium
2. Cadmium
3. Chromium
4. Heptachlor
5. Mercury
6. Lead
7. Plutonium
Select the correct answer using codes given below.
a) 1, 3, 4, 6 and 7 only
b) 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 only
c) 2, 4, 5 and 7 only
d) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7

Such a long question with so many elements, better leave this. But again, just apply some common knowledge. Plutonium is a radioactive element used for nuclear purposes. Will that be used in computers? No, never and there you get your answer by eliminating plutonium.

Q. If there were no phenomenon of capillarity
1. it would be difficult to use a kerosene lamp
2. one would not be able to use a straw to consume a soft drink
3. the blotting paper would paper would fail to function
4. the big trees that we see around would not have grown on the earth
Which of the following statements given above are correct?
a) 1, 2 and 3 only
b) 1, 3 and 4 only
c) 2 and 4 only
d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Read statement 2 again. Now, even if capillarity was non-existent, we could still use a straw to drink isn’t it. So, statement 2 has to be incorrect, and that also helps us give our answer.

Remember, most of time if a question is complex, UPSC itself will give you enough hints to get to the answer. The point is are you smart enough to deduce that hint.

2. Educated Guesswork:

Q. What are the reasons for the people’s resistance to the introduction of BT brinjal in India?
1. BT brinjal has been created by inserting a gene from a soil fungus into its genome.
2. the seeds of BT brinjal are terminator seeds and therefore, the farmers have to buy the
seeds before every season from the seed companies.
3. there is an apprehension that the consumption of BT brinjal may have adverse impact on health.
4. there is some concern that the introduction of BT brinjal may have adverse effect on the biodiversity.
Select the correct answer using the codes given below:
a) 1, 2 and 3 only
b) 2 and 3 only
c) 3 and 4 only
d) 1,2,3 and 4

BT is related with bacteria and must be known to you. So you can eliminate statement 1. But still you have two options left. C has more chances of being correct as you might have read about GM crops causing loss to biodiversity. So, as you can see, you did not get exact answer, but you came closer. You now only had two options, and can go on to take a calculated guess.

Q. With reference to the usefulness of the by-products of sugar industry, which of the following statements is / are correct?
1.Bagasse can be used as biomass fuel for the generation of energy.
2. Molasses can be used as one of the feedstocks for the production of synthetic chemical fertilizers.
3. Molasses can be used for the production of ethanol.
Select the correct answer using the codes given below.
a) 1 only
b) 2 and 3 only
c) 1 and 3 only
d) 1, 2 and 3

Now you may not have much information about these, but you can sense that it’s related to biofuels and organic products. So, from where would synthetic fertilizer crop up here in statement 2. Therefore, statement 2 is false that is certain. This eliminates two options. You can then take a guess and your knowledge will tell you to guess for c) 1 and 3 which is the correct answer.

Q. With reference to ‘stem cells’, frequently in the news which of the following statements is/are correct?
1. Stem cells can be derived from mammals only.
2. Stem cells can be used for screening new drugs.
3. Stem cells can be used for medical therapies.
Select the correct answer using the codes given below:
a) 1 and 2
b) 2 and 3 only
c) 3 only
d) 1, 2 and 3

Again following the technique of avoiding extremities, you can eliminate statement 1- Stem cells can be derived from mammals only. Still you have two options left and can put up a guess. Most people will mark b and that is the correct answer.

Q. With reference National Investment and Infrastructure Fund , which of the following statement is/are correct?[2017 prelims]

1. It is an organ of NITI Aayog

2. It has a corpus of RS.4,00,000 crore at present

Select the correct answer using the code given below

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Neither 1 nor 2

(d) Both 1 and 2

First, is educated guessingwe all know NITI Aayog is a think tank. If you know that think tanks don’t have the access to any funding. 

Now give a true/false testa corpus of INR 4,00,000 crore is a whopping amount. This amount will going to eat a chunk of budget. So will not be the true amount.

3. Avoiding extremities

Answers containing words like ‘always’, ‘Only’, ‘none’ and ‘never’ etc are typically incorrect.

Q. At present , scientists can determine the arrangement or relative positions of genes or DNA sequences on a chromosome. How does this knowledge benefit us ?
1. It is possible to know the pedigree of livestock.
2. It is possible to understand the causes of all human diseases.
3. It is possible to develop disease-resistant animal breeds.
Which of the statements give above is/are correct ?
a) 1 and 2 only
b) 2 only
c) 1 and 3 only
d) 1,2, and 3

Read statement 2 again – It is possible to understand the causes of all human diseases. ALL human dieseas. Is that possible. Does your rational mind allows you to say that this statement can be correct. It’s not possible, statement is incorrect, eliminate 2 and you get your answer.

Q. The Chinese traveller Yuan Chwang (Hiuen Tsang) who visited India recorded the general conditions and culture of India at that time. In this context, which of the following statements is/are correct?
1. The roads and river-routes were completely immune from robbery.
2. As regards punishment for offences, ordeals by fire, water and poison were the instruments for determining the innocence or guilt of a person.
3. The tradesmen had to pay duties at ferries and barrier stations.
Select the correct answer using the codes given below.
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 1 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3

So, you left ancient history as it was too much to cover and UPSC asked you some in depth question from it. You thought of skipping it. But for a moment just read statement 1 – The roads and river-routes were completely immune from robbery. COMPLETELY IMMUNE ? Again is that possible? As an UPSC aspirant you need to avoid extrmities, so things like completely, fully, all does not hold good for you. Even the most peaceful countries of Europe does not have anything like completely immune from crime places. So this is incorrect, eliminate statement 1 and get your answer.

Q. What is/are the most likely advantages of implementing ‘Goods and Services Tax (GST)’?

1. It will replace multiple taxes collected by multiple authorities and will thus create a single market in India.

2. It will drastically reduce the ‘Current Account Deficit’ of India and will enable it to increase its foreign exchange reserves.

3. It will enormously increase the growth and size of the economy of India and will enable it to overtake China in the near future.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

A) 1 only

B) 2 and 3 only

C) 1 and 3 only

D) 1, 2 and 3

Be cautious of the extreme statements. Statement 2 mentions about ‘drastically reduce’ while Statement 3 mentions about ‘enormously increase’. The adjectives do not fit the above context with respect to GST and can hence be easily eliminated.

Every once in a while you might be able to eliminate a possible answer choice by using grammatical context.

Q. The annual range of temperature in the interior of the continents is high as compared to coastal areas. What is/are the reason/reasons?

1.Thermal difference between land and water

2.Variation in altitude between continents and oceans

3.Presence of strong winds in the interior

4.Heavy rains in the interior as compared to coasts

Select the correct answer using the codes given below.

A) 1 only

B) 1 and 2 only

C) 2 and 3 only

D) 1, 2, 3, and 4

Sometimes, if you look at the UPSC question statements or answer choices you notice something as missing. For example, statement 3 just mentions the Presence of strong winds in the ‘interior’. It is not properly clarifying interior of ‘what’. Same is the case with statement 4. Much more problematic is statement 2 which mentions ‘altitude of continents’ which is not a phrase true grammarians agree.

Often at least one or two of the possible choices will be unnecessarily complicated and are designed to serve as distractors for those who do not know the material.

Q. In India, if a species of tortoise is declared protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, what does it imply?

A) It enjoys the same level of protection as the tiger.

B) It no longer exists in the wild, a few individuals are under captive protection; and now it is impossible to prevent its extinction.

C) It is endemic to a particular region of India.

D) Both (b) and (c) stated above are correct in this context.

Option B is artificially complicated. It goes even to the extent of saying “…it is impossible to prevent its extinction.” This should raise a red flag in your head. This should be wrong. If B is wrong, D too is wrong. This line of thinking helps you to eliminate 2 answer options. (Ans- A)

If UPSC uses the word ‘can’ in the answer choice/statement for Science and Technology Questions, that choice/statement has a high probability of being correct.

Q. With reference to agricultural soils, consider the following statements:

  1. A high content of organic matter in soil drastically reduces its water holding capacity.
  2. Soil does not play any role in the sulphur cycle.
  3. Irrigation over a period of time can contribute to the salinization of some agricultural lands.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

A. 1 and 2 only

B. 3 only

C. 1 and 3 only

D. 1, 2 and 3

The first 2 statements use extreme words – ‘drastically’ and ‘any’. It can be eliminated. To further ease your selection, the last statement has a ‘can’. ‘Can’ shows a future possibility – which is most likely true with respect to most of the Science and Technology questions.

If UPSC specifically mentions any numerical value in the answer choice, that answer choice has a high probability of being wrong.

Q. With reference to ‘Astrosat’, the astronomical observatory launched by India, which of the following statements is/are correct?

1. Other than the USA and Russia, India is the only country to have launched a similar observatory into space.

2. Astrosat is a 2000 kg satellite placed in an orbit at 1650 km above the surface of the Earth.

Select the correct answer using the codes given below

A. 1 only

B. 2 Only

C. Both 1 and 2

D. Neither 1 nor 2

Lets first consider Statement 2. The problems with this statement are wrong numerical values. Actually, ASTROSAT has a lift-off mass of about 1513 kg and was launched into a 650 km orbit. The UPSC Question Paper experts just changed the numerical values about Astrosat to make this question wrong. If you keep a suspicious eye towards numerical values you see in question papers, there is every chance you can eliminate wrong choices. (This does not mean every numerical value mentioned in UPSC Question paper is wrong).

The problem in this statement 1 is the word ‘only’. India is not the ‘only’ country other than the USA and Russia. We have already warned you to be cautious about extreme statements.

 If any part of an answer choice is false, then the entire answer choice can be eliminated as wrong.

Consider the following in respect of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS):

1. Inaugural IONS was held in India in 2015 under the chairmanship of the Indian Navy.

2.IONS is a voluntary initiative that seeks to increase maritime co­operation among navies of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean Region.

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

A) 1 only

B) 2 only

C) Both 1 and 2

D) Neither 1 nor 2

We have already told you to be cautious of numbers in the statement. In this question, the first statement has a number  – 2015. This value is actually wrong. Apart from this, the rest of the statement is correct. However, if a part of the statement is wrong, you should eliminate the entire answer choice as wrong.

Hard to verify facts options can be eliminated easily.

Q. Regarding the taxation system of Krishna Deva, the ruler of Vijayanagar, consider the following statements:

  1. The tax rate on land was fixed depending on the quality of the land.
  2. Private owners of workshops paid an industries tax.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Solution: C

If you were the examiner, what would it take you to make a statement that negates statement 2? A lot of research into the financial system of the Vijayanagara Empire!

History is vast, it is easy to assert a fact with confidence, but it is quite difficult to negate a certain fact because history is an evolving subject. If you keep digging, you will keep finding something new. In fact, that is what keeps the research departments in History alive where new University courses in history (e.g. tracing the tribal roots of Vedas) are being designed each day. 

So, for the examiner to claim that there were no workshop taxes in the Vijayanagara empire, it would really take a lot. He can make his life simpler by asserting the affirmative and move to the next question. From this, you know that such statements that assert a minute historical fact are likely to be correct.

Q. What is/are unique about ‘Kharai Camel’, a breed found in India?

  1. It is capable of swimming up to three kilometres in seawater.
  2. It survives by grazing on mangroves.
  3. It lives in the wild and cannot be domesticated.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Solution: A

Observation: The statement that Kharai camel cannot be domesticated needs solid academic research or needs to be grounded in the experience of conservation officers working across India.

The examiner is not likely to go through all the research into Kharai camels because it is time consuming and belongs to the domain of wildlife experts.

You can safely mark this statement as incorrect. There are exceptions to this approach such as the Indus Valley question in 2017 that talked about Horses, but these are marginal occurrences and do not qualify as the trend.

For this and ‘NOT’ for this type statements are most likely to be incorrect.

Q. With reference to ‘fuel cells’ in which hydrogen-rich fuel and oxygen are used to generate electricity, consider the following statements :

  1. If pure hydrogen is used as a fuel, the fuel cell emits heat and water as by-products.
  2. Fuel cells can be used for powering buildings and not for small devices like laptop computers.
  3. Fuel cells produce electricity in the form of Alternating Current (AC).

Which of the statements given above is / are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Solution: a)

Q. With reference to the ‘Gram Nyayalaya Act’, which of the following statements is/are correct?

  1. As per the Act, Gram Nyayalayas can hear only civil cases and not criminal cases.
  2. The Act allows local social activists as mediators/reconciliators.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Solution: B

These should not be taken as hard and fast rules that you apply everywhere. Apply them intelligently.

All the best!

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Source: Internet and experts’ guide.
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September 2022