“Oh I know this question, I had specifically studied it. Yes the answer is B. Wait, it could also be C. B or C? Oh no, should I leave this question because I am not 100% sure? But I had studied this stuff specifically. What to do?”
If you have given Prelims exam or any mock test, you would have surely faced this situation. The fact that UPSC has negative marking means that one has to be careful about attempting such questions about which you are not 100% sure. So what is the ideal strategy?
Attempt at least 80 questions in GS Paper
Well, few things are clear. You have to score 130+ marks to be sure that you are going to clear the prelims. That means at least 65 correct answers, assuming there are no wrong answers. And there are bound to be questions which you thought were definitely correct, but they ended up being wrong.
Also, the way UPSC is creating papers these days, the chances of knowing 65 questions will full surety is a bit slim. So an aspirant with decent preparation can expect that he/she would be able to do 50 questions with full surety. Can an aspirant who can only get 100 assured marks raise the score to 130 (in a negative marking environment) with a little smart tactic. I would say yes. By attempting at least 80 questions. You might not know the answers, but you can play probabilities and use intelligent guesses to maximise your score. How exactly?
Never give up on an MCQ
Sometimes when we have made up our minds that we will attempt only those questions which we know 100%. What happens in such case is that we give up on a question before properly giving it a try. But even if you do not know the correct answer, but are able to eliminate three options, it is as good as knowing the answer. So never give up on a question without trying to eliminate the options.
If attempts in GS Paper are still less than 80
There would be some questions where you are able to eliminate two options with surety. I would suggest that even in such cases, an answer should be marked, despite the negative marking. Let me explain why. There is 50% probability of the guess being correct. If there are 4 such questions, the likely situation is 2 being correct and 2 being wrong. This means +4 and -1.33. It results in a net profit of 2.67. You score 2.67 against 0 which you have scored had you played safe. Now if you are slightly unlucky, you will get 1 correct and 3 incorrect. This means +2 and -2. The net result is still 0, so there is still no loss in following this strategy if you do this consistently over a large number of questions. Finally, if you are terribly unlucky, you will get all 4 wrong. But that is only if you are terribly unlucky.
So the steps to be followed in UPSC Prelims could be summarised as:
- Make sure you attempt at least 80 questions
- Make sure you are not giving up on questions without trying to eliminate 3 incorrect options
- If after following first 2 attempts, number of attempts is less than 80, attempt all such questions where you are able to eliminate at least 2 options
Smart Hard Work
To become an IAS officer and to clear UPSC, hard work is necessary but not sufficient. One also has to be smart. This is one of the trick of maximising your chances to clear prelims. I am moderating an online study group where I keep posting such tips and advise. If you think you liked the above strategy, join my UPSC study group on Eckovation by following these steps:
2. Join the UPSC study group with Group Code: 873541