How to practice Prelims MCQs for UPSC?

How do you practice questions for prelims? Do you just read the question and then check the answer? Or do you ponder over the question, come to an answer and then check it? This post elaborates an approach to get the maximum from practicing prelims MCQs


1. Pondering over the question

When you read a question, try to ponder over it and come to an answer. This pondering is very essential as it helps in organizing the information in your memory.When you spent time over a question trying to recall information from your memory, it gets properly structured.  Moreover, if you ponder over a question giving time over it you will be better able to remember it’s answer than if you just read the question and answer straightway. Do this for few questions and you can notice the difference.


2. Writing what you learnt from the question

This is the essence of practicing questions. Write down whatever that question made you learn in a short and crisp manner. We try to understand this with examples from our Prelims MCQs | Self Study IAS

With reference to narrow money, consider the following statements :
1. They are highly liquid.
2. Banks run their lending programme mainly with this money.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct ?
a) 1 only
b) 2 only
c) Both 1 and 2
d) Neither 1 nor 2

The answer for this is - a) 1 only. Narrow money = currency with public + demand deposit with banks + “other’ deposits with RBI. It is denoted by M1. It is highly liquid. Now, banks cannot carry their lending progam with such highly liquid money as they have to return it pay when required by depositor. For eg. demand deposit is a part of M1. Banks have to return the demand deposit immediately if the depositor demands it. But if bank had lent that money to others, it cannot return it. So, the lending program is mainly carried by such money which is less liquid, like broad money (M3). So, statement 2 is incorrect.

So, we learned from this question

Narrow money = liquid; Broad money = less liquid, used by banks for lending

As you can see, we have written in just one sentence, whatever the question is trying to make us learn.

Another example –

With reference to acidic lava ,consider the following statements :
1. they are viscous and flow slowly
2. they form a flattened lava dome
Which of the statements given above is/are correct ?
a) 1 only
b) 2 only
c) Both 1 and 2
d) Neither 1 nor 2

The answer is a) 1 only. Acidic lava are viscous and hence flow slowly. They even solidify before flowing for any significant distance. This results in formation of steep sided cone. Flattened lava dome are formed by basic lava which are very fluid and hence travel great distance before getting solidify.

So, we learned from this question

Acidic lava = viscous – flow slowly- make steep sided cones;
Basic lava = fluid – flows quickly – make gentle sided cones

We not only wrote what the question directly makes us learn, but also its corollary.


The Indian Supreme Court is a court of records. This means :
1. it has power to punish for contempt of court.
2. it can punish for comment on its administrative side.
3. its judgments are recorded for testimony
Select the correct answer using the codes given below.
a) 1 and 2 only
b) 1 and 3 only
c) 3 only
d) 1, 2 and 3

The answer is b) 1 and 3 only. Please note that comment on court’s administrative side is not punishable as are any fair and reasonable criticism. Contempt of court – both civil and criminal are punishable. The court’s judgments are recorded for perpetual memory and serve as a legal reference.

So, we learned from this question

Court of record = punish for contempt + judgements recorded for testimony (admin excluded)

Biodigester toilets are hailed as a solution to many of our problems. Which of the following about biodigester toilets is correct?
1. they use aerobic bacteria
2. they require no or very low maintenance
3. the use less water
Select the correct answer using the codes given below.
a) 1 and 2 only
b) 1 and 3 only
c) 2 and 3 only
d) 1, 2 and 3

The answer is c) 2 and 3 only. Bio-Digester Toilet System is based on anaerobic biodegradation of organic waste by unique microbial consortium. In this system, faecal matter is decomposed to bits and converted into water and little of carbon dioxide &methane gas. It is totally maintenance-free system and does not require any sewerage system.

So, we learned from this question -

Biodigester toilets = anaerobic + low water + maintenance free


This process has some very good advantages –

a) Concise your Notes

This way you can write important stuff from solving say 100 questions in just two to three pages. It will make things look easier and simpler. The best part is it will make things revision friendly. You may not want to go through those 100 questions again for revision, but you can surely go through two pages of concise notes.

b) Increasing your Knowledge Base

Essentially through this process, what you are doing is adding stuff to your klnowledge base. I have always iterated the three step process of learning – 1. Base book reading 2. Practicing Questions 3. Revision and correlation.

By reading the standard books for a subject, you will build up a base. Then by practicing questions and writing what you learnt from it you will be adding stuff everytime to your knowledge base. This way, your knowledge base will expand becoming broader and more refined.


c) Developing Conceptual Clarity

Further, you will develop conceptual clarity, which is extremely important for UPSC exams. No matter how much time you read theory, your concepts will only refine when you practice questions based on them. Tell me did you learn to drive a bike by practicing or by reading theories?


Need to write decreases

Next time, when you come across a similar question which you had practiced earlier, you may not need to write as much. You may not learn anything new. So, slowly and slowly, the need to write will decrease as you would already have expanded your knowledge base.

For instance consider this question (this is from Test 1 of our GS Prelims Mock Test Series 2015), which is based on an extended concept of basic/acidic lava we did earlier –

The lava cone of a volcano is having steep sloping sides. Which of these can be said about the volcano?
1. the lava must have been highly fluid.
2. it must have high silica content.
3. the volcano must have been explosive.
Select the correct answer using the codes given below.
a) 1 and 2 only
b) 1 and 3 only
c) 2 and 3 only
d) 1, 2 and 3

The answer is c) 2 and 3 only. If the lava is fluid, it will flow quickly and form a gentle slope. If the slope formed is steep, the lava must have been viscous. Viscous lava has high silica content and such volcanoes are explosive.

Now, we already know some points about acidic lava from the first question. We do not need to write it again. We only need to write what new we learnt from this question –

So, the “new’ thing we learnt

Acidic lava = high silica + explosive


There as you can see, the need to write decreased. So, if you keep on practicing, the need to write will keep on decreasing.


3. Revising the write-up periodically

Now you have your concise notes that you made up from practicing questions. You just need to revise them regularly. As I said, they will be revision friendly. Constant revision will store the information in your memory in an organised way. You can then easily recall it when you need it during the exams.

For a start, you can begin by practicing free Prelims MCQs from –  Prelims MCQs | Self Study IAS

The questions are also arranged subject wise –

Environment Quiz | Self Study IAS
Economy Quiz | Self Study IAS
Polity Quiz | Self Study IAS
Science Quiz | Self Study IAS
History Quiz | Self Study IAS
Geography Quiz | Self Study IAS
Full Syllabus Quiz | Self Study IAS


Self Study IAS’s GS Prelims Mock Test Series 2015 ( 10 full length mock tests @ RS 500 only). For details, click HERE.


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