How to approach Prelims Mock Tests | Reducing Negative Markings

Once you have decided to prepare for UPSC Civil Services Examination, the first thing to do is getting to know the examination, its pattern, syllabus, and go through the past papers. You should clearly understand the syllabus and also analyse the past papers. But, only understanding the syllabus and going through the past paper is not sufficient to excel in this examination. You should also be familiar with the pattern of questions asked, the exam environment, elimination tricks for prelims, and also writing for mains. The only way to master your preparation is through mock tests.

There are many mock tests available in the market provided by different institutes, and you should choose one which suits your preparation. You can also choose to follow the mock tests timetable if you want.

Advantage of mock tests 

  1. Mock tests help you get acquainted with the actual examination feeling thus reducing any chances of you being nervous on the exam day. Taking regular mock tests will take fear and anxiety out of the picture.
  2. Mocks will help you get valuable feedback and also help you improve your answers by looking at answer copies of candidates who have scored good in that particular mock. This way, you can keep rectifying your mistakes and keep  improving when you have time for it. 
  3. Mock tests will help you in improving your endurance and speed before the actual exam, thus making you immune to any fatigue or slow writing issues on the exam days.
  4. Taking mock tests will help you understand where you are going wrong and you can make changes to your answer writing at the right time.
  5. Writing practice is very important for mains, and the only way to do is by giving mock tests. No matter how much you study and revise, the examiner is going to judge you only on the basis of your answers.To write good answers in the stipulated time, you need to have have enough writing practice before the actual exam.
  6. If you have difficulty making your own timetable, the test series do it for you. You can always choose to follow their timetable for preparation.
  7. Many students write their answers without clearly understanding the questions. To score well in the exams, you need to read the questions carefully and should be able to understand the demands of the question before writing a balanced answer.
  8. Mock tests will help you in identifying your strengths and weakness and help you focus and revise accordingly.


Advantages of Online Mock Tests:

  1. Your place of convenience: Online mock tests enable you to take the tests at your place of convenience. You don’t have to go to Delhi, Bangalore or any other major city to take the. All you need is a good internet connection.
  2. Your Time of convenience: Online mocks allow you to take your tests whenever you want. You don’t have to adhere to any strict starting time and can prepare well and then take the tests.
  3. Helpful Analysis: Online Mocks  are very helpful when it comes to analysing the tests you take.  They provide you with graphs and charts over the course of your tests which help you know where you need to improves and where you are doing well. It helps you know your strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Everything at one place: All the tests you take will be at one place and it is very convenient to browse through all your tests whenever you want to.
  5. Topic wise segregation within tests: When you are done with any test, you at once get your marks and also have a look at how many and which questions were asked from a particular topic.


Negative Marking in Prelims:

  1. Prelims has two papers. Each paper is of two hours duration. Both contain multiple-choice questions(MCQs). You have four choices out of which only one is the correct answer. For each incorrect answer, you will be penalised 1/3rd of the marks.
  2. Out of 4 questions, if you get 1 correct and 3 incorrect, you neither gain nor lose anything. If you mark one right answer and three wrong answers, you get zero marks.
  3. Negative marking is introduced to nullify the effects of guesswork by the aspirants.
  4. Start attempting the questions right from the beginning.
  5. Along with the first read, also mark all the questions to which you know the answers for sure. Remember, mark only which you are sure about.
  6. Only when you are confused about the correct answer that you should leave that question to be reread and re-thought later on.
  7. If you feel that there could be two possible correct answers among the four given options, put a small mark with pencil in the two circles corresponding to these in the answer sheet. Or mark them with a small dot with a pencil on your question paper. For example, for some question, you think either A or C could be the correct choice and therefore you want to think over it again later, but you also feel that A could be the better choice, then mark 1 in pencil against A and mark 2 in pencil against C in the answer sheet. The marking of 1 or 2 in the answer sheet should be done softly and with a blunt pencil, to be erased later on.
  8. There might be some questions about which you have no idea, and, due to negative marking, there is no point in attempting such questions, so don’t attempt those.
  9. Now, once done with the initial read, in the second read the questions which you have narrowed down to two options must be attempted. If you don’t have enough time, mark the final answer as the choice beside which you marked ‘1’. Don’t forget to erase ‘2’. And if you have enough time, think and analyse your answer choices again and mark the answer. Many times you remember some things in your second read. Remember that you are not wildly guessing, rather you are taking a calculated risk.
  10. You must attempt all such questions where you have narrowed down to the two answers, because the ratio of negative marking is 1:3. If you mark one correct answer you get two marks whereas you lose two marks if you mark three wrong answers. The theory of probability says that, out of 20 such questions, you will happen to mark ten correct answers, and, therefore, you will gain despite the negative marking.
  11. You will get better at this if you keep taking online mocks regularly.


When to take mocks?


The answer to this will depend on your requirements. If you think you cannot plan your studies, you can enroll for any good mock test series and follow their time table.  If you are planning your study schedule on your own, it is best to first complete the entire syllabus and then start taking full length mocks. Having said that, you can also start writing tests that deal with particular sections rather than waiting to complete and take tests on entire syllabus. It really depends on your preparation schedule and comfort level with the syllabus. Remember that, it is never too late to start taking mocks.

Things to remember:

  1. Even if you are practicing daily answer writing, you need to take mock tests. Daily answer writing is not a substitute for mock tests because writing one answer is entirely different from writing 20 answers in 3 hrs. Your endurance and speed won’t be tested during daily answer writing practice.
  2. Perfectionism is your enemy. Do not keep postponing your mock tests in order to write the “perfect tests’. Follow the schedule religiously and keep analysing and improving as you go ahead.
  3. Observe strict time limits. If you take 10-15 additional minutes to finish the paper in your mocks, you are cheating no one but yourself. 
  4. You will never be satisfied with your preparation, and you always feel that you are not ready for answer writing or appearing for mocks. This way you will keep procrastinating answer writing or mocks. You need to quell such tendencies. You may postpone your mocks if not entirely ready, but never skip them altogether.
  5. The feedback from your mocks will give you incredible insight into where you are going wrong. You should make the effort to analyse your mistakes and keep improving your answer writing in the process.
  6. Remember that you don’t just have to give the tests. You also need to prepare notes for the questions you get wrong and keep them ready to revise. This way you keep adding to your knowledge.
  7. Do not worry about your marks in the mock tests. Just focus on improving yourself with every mock that you give. You are bound to score less at the start, but if you keep revising, analysing, you will start getting the hang of it and eventually improve your scores.


The Civil Services Examination is a marathon. As with all marathons, you need proper training to complete the full 42 KMs on the race day. Same goes with the CSE. By joining a good test series, you will get the practice that you need, and it prepares you both mentally and physically for the final battle.

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