The civil service examination is characterised by its wide syllabus and the need to understand and memorise a large amount of data. In order to master the General Studies as well as optional subject, one needs to have a strong basic knowledge as well as an updated information on the latest happenings. So, whenever one interacts with the budding aspirants, one often repeated question is about the relevant books to study.
Most of the articles related to civil service preparation and interviews of toppers include a list of books which one needs to follow. Many senior officers talk about the books they used while preparing and suggest the youngsters to refer them. Once a bureaucrat insisted that all budding aspirants should buy a rather expensive book which we had not heard till then. He emphasised that this book was a must for a candidate to get through. People are very anxious about making no mistakes about this. So, is there a prescribed set of books for civil service examination?
Well, the Union Public Service Commission does not suggest a book list. In fact, there used to be an interesting sentence in the examination notification along with the syllabus which states that “an educated person should be able to tackle these without any special training”. That means if one has a sound schooling as well as higher studies, one should be familiar with most of the General Studies syllabus. The level of competition of course, demands one should have proper practice if not formal coaching. People generally start with the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) text books till Class 12 to get their basics right. This is particularly useful for people who have done professional courses as they would have lost touch with subjects like History, Geography, Politics and Economics which constitute the major part of General Studies syllabus. For those with Humanities background and those who remember their basics from school, this routine is not compulsory.
There are certain standard books one could refer to for the above-mentioned subjects. One book should be enough for each of these subjects as the idea is to get the basics right. One should read them thoroughly, digesting the information and revising it periodically as these are the core of General Studies syllabus. I have seen people who keep on buying new books for basic areas which is a sheer waste of time and money. The importance should be given to understanding the concepts. Coaching institutes provide study materials for the same both online and offline but a quality text book is more reliable when it comes to the basics.
Since a major section of the General Studies syllabus involves current happenings, one need to constantly update on events of national and international importance. Newspapers as well as periodicals and exclusive magazines become important in this regard. Here also, one should stick to one or two newspapers and magazines. Making notes regularly from them will be very helpful. It is always better to make notes on current affairs by oneself rather than getting them from an institute. A reliable newspaper and government publications like Yojana and Kurukshetra should be good enough.
With the information available on internet, one could get both basic General Studies and current affairs related information online. The websites of Central Government ministries and the Press Information Bureau are highly reliable for any governance related updates. The website called prsindia does excellent policy analysis. One could always check websites of international agencies like the United Nations for first-hand information. The search engines help one to get multiple articles on an issue easily.
People are biased against online resources as they suspect the authenticity of its content. Just like we have books of different quality, there are genuine and fake websites. So, one should be careful to stick to official sources online just like the way one chooses quality books.
At the end of the day, it is all about relevant information. So, one should get guidance from seniors about reliable sources and start with that. In the process, if one finds out a new source which is relevant and valid, it could be added to the preparation list. As said in Rigveda, let the knowledge come to us from everywhere.
(The author is a former IPS officer and a trainer for civil service aspirants)