How do I remember so many things for the UPSC Civil Service Exam?

This is a very relevant question. The nature of the Civil services examination is such that you are bombarded with this ocean of information, anecdotes, facts, data etc. and you are expected to remember all of them (In the mains, you just don’t need to remember it but reproduce the same!)

Some ways to remember things:

  1. Talk to yourself- This is the most ingenious way to remember things easily, according to me. We can use this as a study tool for almost all examinations. When we constantly talk to ourselves while studying, we actively learn things, not just being passive information gainers.For example : If I would be studying in depth about say Preamble – I would normally say these words loud in my mind –  let us learn the Preamble by heart- We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved …..give to ourselves this Constitution” What is it’s history ? (Objectives Resolution etc) Now, let us focus on the meaning of specific words and adjectives in Preamble. Also, Relevance of Preamble = jewel set, identity card, guiding light etc. What did Supreme Court say about the Preamble in the two important cases ? (Berubari and Kesavananda Bharati) Can the Preamble be amended or not ? What were the past amendments ? Just do this while talking to yourself. I am writing this answer without seeing anything and I know Laxmikanth has this mentioned exactly in the same way. This is very normal and comes by simple practice. Do this for every thing you read and it will help you a lot. This results in better learning outcomes!
  2. Watching videos: Watching videos for Mains exam really helps. If you just watch important and specific videos from RSTV – Big Picture, Security Scan, India’s World, InDepth – it would really help. It helps form a strong and firm balanced opinion in your mind with pros and cons from both sides of the debate. Watching videos is helpful because many of us tend to remember more from what we have seen than what we have read.
  3. Photographic Memory – This has immensely helped me throughoutmany exams in life. This is mainly useful for PrelimsTo remember things in this way is very easy. Many humans tend to have a stronger photographic memory and you should try it if you haven’t. To give an example, it is very difficult to remember specific Acts of the British period and related provisions (which legislations introduced bicameralism, direct elections, dyarchy etc etc). This is mentioned in the first chapter (the most important chapter) of Laxmikanth. I have remembered this whole chapter through pictographic revisions – example – this act is mentioned in right side, bottom column and at the same place is mentioned bicameralism. It is really easy when you use this effectively. I don’t think I can now ever easily forget things which are in my pictographic memory.
  4. Sticky notes – It is impossible that you are preparing for this exam and have not used sticky notes! This is very helpful to remember facts and data for Mains exam.  Make a specific diary for facts/data for Mains examination or use such notes and stick them to your wall. For example, you read that – WB Report says – Climate Change would cost India 10 Billion $ a year, ADR Report says – 69% poll funding is from unknown sources, 34% MPs have criminal cases declared against them etc – just stick these on your wall. When you see these facts daily (as they are stuck on your wall), it is just so easy to get them inside your head. These sweet childhood techniques do help a lot in remembering and should be utilised to the maximum!
  5. Multiple revisions – Doing well in the UPSC Mains examination is generally about mastering the 4Rs – Read, Remember, Revise, Reproduce (in actual exam). The 3rd R – Revise: is the most important aspect of this examination. Revise multiple times to ensure that you remember things you have read. A typical 3rd revision should take less than 10% of the time it took in reading the matter for the first time.
  6. Importance of a peer group – This is very important for Prelims. Books like Laxmikanth, Spectrum, Current affairs magazines account for almost 30–35 Questions in the actual exam. When you have a good peer group and ask tough questions daily amongst your friends, you tend to remember things and small titbits you could not answer and also things you have asked as questions. This is what is referred to as active learning. Such a group should constitute 3–4 likeminded people and this exercise can be started 2 months before Prelims.
  7. Mnemonics- Think and say whatever, but mnemonics do help a lot! For Prelims, you will find various mnemonics for International groupings, countries bordering specific lakes, countries through which Equator, Tropics pass through etc on the internet. Even for MAINS examination, having mnemonics help us to remember important points in the exam quickly. To give an example, take one question – Why did militant nationalism grew in India ?  A small mnemonic for it: MELT WISC.
    1. M – Militant school of thought
    2. E – Education
    3. L – Trained Leadership
    4. T – True nature of British rule
    5. W – Impact of Westernisation
    6. I – International Influences
    7. S – Growth of self confidence and self respect
    8. C – Reactionary policies of Curzon.

      Once it’s in your mind, it’s very easy to reproduce such quick points in the exam. The whole idea is to do this quickly in the Mains exam. And it doesn’t really take any major effort to remember things this way.

  8. Patience – Last but not the least, have patience. There are things you will read so many times yet you will forget. The examination is a constant mental struggle between our actual and potential abilities. Just ensure that you are enjoying this process of learning. There are times you will get frustrated when you will forget even basic things but keep going on. Patience and hardwork are surely rewarded at the right time.

People have been remembering things and excelling in the exam since years and it should be no different for any of us. There is really no other way to remember things than to be passionate about what we are doing. This is a great opportunity to learn and improve upon our views and thoughts refining ourselves for the better. The ultimate goal of becoming a civil servant for a life dedicated to public service should always be in our minds so that we are always pumped up!

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