The Prelims exam is also known as Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) that includes two objective type question papers of two hundred marks and two hours duration for each paper. One is on General Studies and the other is General Aptitude Paper (which has now an optional paper). Many students appear multiple times to clear Prelims because limited numbers of candidates are chosen to write the mains exam.
One common misconception about the prelims is that it is a test of facts and figures. That was never so and specially now. A proper action plan is needed for the preparation of this exam. The thumb rule of this exam is making a quick decision. You will be tested for some essential qualities like power of retention, clarity of concepts, ability to identify the correct alternatives with efficiency and accuracy. So work on these aspects on a consistent basis as these are skills that are developed over years and not just in a few months.
This includes areas like; Indian National Movement, Indian Polity, Basic Economic Understanding, Geography. While these are static part of the syllabus, the dynamic part includes current affairs, General Knowledge and that does not proper definition, thus making the syllabus quite vast.
Paper 2 Aptitude Test; unlike paper 1 which has some static part, paper 2 is totally dynamic in many senses. This includes mathematics, reasoning, analytical ability, and interpersonal skills that requires spot mental ability. The Paper 2 is now of only qualifying nature and it's mark is not counted in preparing the merit list of the Prelims exam. However, you have to score 33 per cent in this paper to qualify the Prelims exam.
Since the preliminary exam is a test of endurance, candidate must prepare themselves mentally to adapt to the requirements of this test. The main constraint is the time one gets to answer about 100 questions in 120 minutes. On an average one gets around 40 seconds for each question.
The prelims exam is a multiple choice answer test. It needs a proper strategy for its preparation. Since the preliminary exam is an elimination round the candidate should learn to focus on the information needed and filter out the rest. This test is designed to evaluate qualities like a sharp memory and basic retention power. There are ways to increase one's memory and those techniques have to be followed. A separate time slot has to be allocated for regular revisions and you have to take mock tests on monthly, weekly and daily basis as you progress in your preparation.
An important thing to remember is that conceptual clarity is needed for this exam. The questions asked are of Plus 2 level and therefore such level books should read properly to gain conceptual clarity. Any concept has to be understood with its origin, merits and de-merits, then it needs to be analysed with other relevant topics and has to be correlated with the events that have taken place. It is better to understand and establish a correlation between related concepts from other subjects and current events and other happenings.
The preliminary exam requires the ability to choose the right option from given four options. This has to be done through a proper method of elimination. It is a good idea to go through previous years and model question papers and solve as many of them as possible. Taking a mock test each static papers questions and also of current affair and general knowledge could give you a good practice to pick up the most appropriate option. It is not enough to know the right answer but it has to be marked correctly on the answer sheet. Speed and Accuracy are important, so solving model question papers on a regular basis would be a great help. You should be aware of negative marking in the Prelims exam so you must be guarded while making guesses.
Even with all this preparation, it is necessary to have a positive attitude and a great amount of will power to succeed in this exam. You must remember to achieve your goal of getting through the Civil Services exam, qualifying the Prelims exam is the first hurdle.