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Civil Services Preliminary Exam: Right Approach to History!

<span style=" font-size:18px"> Dr. N. Sreedhar, Director, Center for Civil Services, Ashoknagar, Hyderabad.</span>
Indian History constitutes a substantial portion in the General Studies Paper I of UPSC Preliminary Examination. Over the last two/three years, especially after the introduction of new pattern of examination, the number of questions related to history has been in the range of 16 to 20 out of a total of 100 questions. This effectively means History accounts for almost one-fifth of total marks. All this makes knowledge of history a must for sure success in the preliminary exam.

Half of the Questions from Modern History
Having said this, mastering history is neither an easy task nor it could can dispensed with. A careful analysis of previous questions papers of last three years will help you to understand what chapters should be the focus of your preparation in given the vast syllabus.

First of all, nearly half of the questions from history are from modern/India including the freedom movement. So, one should study entire modern India without any compromise. Coming to the ancient and medieval segments, it will pay off to focus more on ancient and medieval Indian cultural aspects such as religion, philosophy, art, architecture and literature, among others.

Ancient and Medieval: Mainly from Philosophy, Religion, Art and Architecture
Let’s see some sample questions. In the preliminary exam 2013, the questions in ancient and medieval periods were mainly from philosophy, religion, art and architecture. For example there were questions from rock-cut architecture of Ajanta caves, mural paintings, Harappan civilisation, the meaning of Nirvana of Buddhism, Kevala Jnana of Jainism to name a few. Similar trend could be noticed in the previous years’ exams as well.

Hence, it is suggested that you should get your basics correct in pre-history cultures Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, the Harappan and Vedic Cultures to begin with. Definitely, you can expect one or two questions either in pre-historic period or the Harappan period or the Vedic Culture. In the sixth century B.C., anything from early philosophers such as Charvaka, Makkali Gosala, Purana Kashyapa to Vardhamana Mahavira and Buddha could be asked. There is a need for complete conceptual clarity on the social and economic aspects of these philosophies or unorthodox sects.

Mastering history is not a memory exercise, particularly in the Civil Services Examination but more on concepts. A prominent way of asking questions is to ask the candidate to identify correct/incorrect statements given on the basis on concepts. So, be ready for it.

Avoid Dates and Chronology
After the sixth century BC, topics like implications of Asokan policy of patronising the Buddhism, his inscriptions, Mauryan art forms such as development of cave art, Stupa, information given in literary sources...etc are important. You can safely avoid all dates and chronology of the early or greater Mauryas or the later kings of this dynasty.

Post-Mauryan period
In the post-Mauryan period, Economic History, Central Asian dynasties and Sangam Age social, economic and literary aspects should be studied. From Guptan dynasty to the beginning of medieval India, political history can be avoided while cultural aspects such as the concept of Golden Age during the Guptas, art and architecture, jurisprudence and changes in the Varna system, emergence of new varnas or jatis are vital.

In medieval Indian history, the focus has been on the cultural history as was seen in the 2013 preliminary when questions on Bhakti Movement and Sufism were asked. Medieval Indian history has a very good scope to ask questions on art, architecture including regional styles and literature.

A brief outline of Political History is Sufficient
A major dilemma for many candidates is whether to study political history or not. While political history is definitely not important, my suggestion is that understanding a brief outline of history pertaining to some important rulers as there could be some questions on their policies and administrative reforms. Iltutmish (monetary reforms), Balban (Theory of Kingship), Alla-ud-din (Market Reforms), Muhammad Bin Tughluq (experiments), Firoz Tughluq (appeasement policy towards ulemas), Shersha (land revenue), Akbar (administration, Rajput and religious polices) and Aurangazeb (all policies) are important in this regard. Sometimes, there can be probing questions on expansion of the European trading companies in India from the 15th century onwards as well.

In Modern India: National Movement is Singularly Important
In modern India, I feel there is little scope for candidates to take any chance. While national movement is singularly important, it is beneficial to develop good understanding of 18th century regional states especially the Marathas, administrative and economic policies, soci0-religious reforms are hot areas. Of late, there has been an increasing focus on subaltern history and constitutional aspects. Hence, peasant and tribal movements, caste movements and various acts should also be studied. However, it is not worth to miss any aspect of modern India if you want to clear prelims!

Books to follow
Now, what one should read to cover all these aspects? Without dispute, old NCERT books for Ancient India (RS Sharma), Medieval India (Satish Chandra) and Modern India (by Bipan Chandra) are the most important for basics. This should be followed by selective portions of the Wonder That Was India, Vol I and II (for culture of ancient and medieval India), Advanced History of India, Modern India by Grover and India’s Struggle for Independence will provide good insights.

Always remember one Mantra for success in History. First understand concepts. There is no need to read many books. But, whatever you refer, make a proper study out of it.
Published date : 11 Jul 2014 05:31PM

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