An approach or strategy to clear IAS/UPSC exams (Both Civils and Forest service): K-SET Principles.

What is KSET?

K – Knowledge
These are four important levels or dimensions to any competitive exam. You master these four levels and cracking the competitive exam becomes, we wouldn’t say piece of cake but the process of preparation becomes smoother and systematic rather than arbitrary, random, filled with doubts and anxiety.

LEVEL 1: K – Knowledge

As the name suggests, it’s level 1, so it forms the foundation for all other levels to stand upon and this level involves acquisition of Knowledge.
This is the most crucial part of your preparation as other levels and the effectiveness of completion of other levels greatly depends on how you have mastered LEVEL 1.

What is the acquisition of Knowledge?

It’s having clarity and authority over every subject mentioned in the syllabus. Now, as said here, there are 2 comments to acquisition: 1. Clarity and 2. Authority.
1. CLARITY: By knowing the concept in and out, we can say you got conceptual clarity. How do you decide you have reached that level? Well, it’s very simple. Yes, the word “simple” is the focus here. 
If you want conceptual clarity, firstly simplify any concept in your own words. For instance, if you are a Tamilian, then after reading the book, explain to yourself the same concept in your own language (In this case, Tamil) and in your own sentences. This exercise will make you break the concepts into very simple components and hence automatically simplify the concept. Secondly, try and explain the concept you have read to someone who is not exposed to the subject who just read. For example: Younger brother or sister, or your parents or any school kid in your neighbourhood. If that someone is able to understand your explanation of the concept, that means you have the ULTIMATE CONCEPTUAL CLARITY. 
2. AUTHORITY: By no means authority means you have to start chasing different books on the same subject. Please be aware not to chase content but instead chase revisions or reiterations of the same content. Yes, according to IASUNIVERSE, authority means more revisions of the same book. Keep revising the same book on a specific subject again and again and again. So what would be the ideal number of revisions for every subject?
Well! There is no correct number. What is sure is, the more the better. Revisions are never to be stopped until your goal is reached. So until you see yourself clearing this exam ( Your name in that Holy PDF!), make sure there is always room for revisions.
Important Note: To keep revising the same book for every subject again and again, make sure you have a limited and a narrow set of sources fixed for all the subjects. And take a pledge that under no circumstances, with whatever temptations the market will throw at you, you will not allow that list to be expanded or increased. 
Again mind you , Not at any cost 🙂 
So by revising the book many times, you achieve two things:
1. You start interlinking concepts of different chapters. For instance, concepts from chapter one with concepts from chapter ten. 2. You start applying the concepts you have read to real life events, or examples. For instance, while reading newspapers if you read a Member of a Party being disqualified for Defection, you’ll know that the disqualification is in accordance to Schedule 10 of the Indian Constitution, 52nd amendment and the also can recollect all the provisions for defections and powers of the speaker in that instance. If these two objectives are achieved, then we can say that you have got the authority over that subject. 

Level 2: S-Skills

Now after acquisition of Knowledge, comes acquiring Skills. This is key to your preparation because you have learnt many new concepts, now it’s time to use these concepts that you studied to solve questions. 
Solving a lot of sample questions and previous year questions is what we at IASUNIVERSE call as acquiring skills.
Skills are as important as knowledge, however acquisition of knowledge should be followed by acquiring skills.
Now let us see the reasons how to acquire skills:
1. SOLVING MCQs: Solving Multiple choice questions, is not all about knowing the exact answer, it is more than that. What is this “More”? More is about identifying clues given in the questions, identifying extreme keywords such as “Only”, “First”, “Last”, “Not” etc.  This comes with a lot of practice in solving papers. So we would advise you all to solve around 100 questions on a particular subject after every one revision of that subject. (Plenty of questions are available free in the market, IASUNIVERSE will also design questions in the coming year to help you all out).
2. WRITING ANSWERS: Answer Writing is an art and not science. So there is no set formula you apply and you start writing beautiful answers. The word “beautiful” itself does not bode well with science as beauty is a subjective concept. Anyways, how to develop an art, it comes only with practice. So acquiring skills of answer writing comes with writing plenty of answers. Don’t worry about the quality of the answers initially, just keep writing and I promise after a few months of consistent writing, you will automatically improve. 
Our advice is, start writing answers for every chapter you study after you have completed at least two readings of the same book. After that keep writing answers after every revision. Again keep the books less, write more.

Level 3: E-Experience

Level 3 is highly dependent on the execution of level 2.
What is important is to take the  time to absorb the experience of solving a question paper(Both MCQS and Mains Answer writing). How do we do that?
 Let me explain what it means. For instance, let’s say that you just solved a POLITY MCQs question paper. After solving the paper, don’t just look at the marks and throw the paper. 
Retrace the question paper to see all the mistakes you made while solving and the reasons why you made those mistakes. Make a note of all the reasons in one book. The reasons for those mistakes can be: knowledge deficit, silly mistakes, no conceptual clarity or you didn’t understand the question itself but still attempted the question anyway. Whatever be the reason, make a note of it.
Before solving the next polity MCQs question paper, make sure that you go back and see the book where you had noted down all the reasons for making mistakes in the previous tests. Now, this  time when you solve, you consciously make sure you don’t make the same mistakes that you did previously. Keep updating the list of mistakes and reasons in the same book. That list of mistakes and reasons for mistakes should get reduced gradually. If it is reduced gradually after every test, that means you are gaining experience in solving MCQs.
The same goes for answer writing. After writing answers, analyse why you feel that the answers you write are not upto the mark. For instance: Introduction could be better, answer could be well structured, points written are very generic etc,.  Make a note of it in some book. When you come back to write answers on the same chapter/topic, revisit the book and see the mistake made previously and then start writing answers. So gradually the list of mistakes comes down and you start writing standard or good answers. 

Level 4:  T-Tuning

Tuning refers to orienting yourself to the demands of the exam. You would have analysed the previous year questions from level 1 itself (Acquisition of knowledge). But doing it at the later stage will help you get more clarity or understanding or mindset of the question paper setter. For instance, UPSC civils exam question paper will not be set in the same tune to the question paper for NDA or CDS though all the three exams are set by the same institution called UPSC.
So at this level, when you revisit the previous year questions, you’ll be able to observe two things.
1. Which are all the heavy weight subjects?  Heavyweight subjects are those that attract most of the questions in the exam. For instance Polity, Economy and Modern India in UPSC prelims will attract nearly 45 questions.
Important note: By identifying heavyweight subjects, that doesn’t mean you neglect other subjects. Please don’t neglect any subject. What we meant is, if you are revising all subjects 6 times, heavyweights must be revised 9 times. It means just more emphasis and not sole focus.
2. What are all the focus areas in every subject? This is easy to identify as recurring themes. For instance, in UPSC prelims recurring themes in POLITY are Parliament, Fundamental rights, DPSPs, President etc. In this way identify recurring themes and revise them more than normal. Again we are advising emphasis and not sole focus. So there is no room to neglect any subject or any area.
Tuning yourself to the exam means you know what to prioritise and emphasise. It does not mean neglecting any subject or topic.
Follow this four level approach and get rid of all confusions and anxiety on how to go about preparing for any competitive exams.

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