How to prepare Science and Technology for UPSC?

Two very important thing to remember before reading anything for the Civil services exam are:

 

  1. First, You have to know your syllabus and be familiar with the past papers before starting to read anything. Syllabus and the past papers show you the road, give you directions. If not for directions, it is very is to get lost in the jungle of information that the exam will put you in. More about this in our syllabus blog.
  1. Second, ALWAYS think LONG TERM. Your aim should be to read for the exam and not just for the sake of reading. Read and make concise notes such that you can revise it in as little time as possible and are able to recall in the exam.

 

  • First, let’s have a look where Science and Technology is mentioned in the syllabus.
  1. The Preliminary Examination: The prelims syllabus mentions just two words “ General Science”. Now, what this does is, some are perplexed as to what actually is included in this and start worrying, while some don’t give it the respect it deserves because they start associating it with just the general science that they had in school. So, let’s get one thing clear, while ‘General Science’ is more than what you had in school, it is also not so much that you need to have a bachelor’s degree in it!

     2. The Mains Examination: Science and Technology takes its place in the mains syllabus for General studies paper 3. Here are the excerpts from the syllabus The terms “Developments, applications and effects in everyday life; indigenization of technology, developing new technology; Awareness in IT, Space…’ are a direct indication that it needs to be prepared from current affairs. There can be no one book covers all for these topics as these are topics which keep evolving over time.  The only way to prepare these is through current affairs. Questions have been asked in the past on almost every topic given in the syllabus. You will get a clearer picture once you go through the past papers.

  • Past Trends: Though past trends are a good way to know the importance given to different topics of the syllabus, in an exam as unpredictable as UPSC CSE, deciding whether to study or not to study any particular topic based on the past trends is not advisable. Past trends help us to decide how much time should be devoted to the particular parts of the syllabus. Past trends should always be taken with a pinch of salt, and seen just as facts than conventions. 
  1. The Preliminary examination: It is very difficult to analyse trends of Science and Technology in prelims because many questions can be classified both in technology as well as in Current awareness. There will be on an average 10-15 questions one way or another connected to this.
Year 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Number of Questions 16 8 8 9 10

      2. Mains Examination: The questions in mains from this sections not only expect you to know the facts about various technologies, but also its various implications, specially its effects in India. Some questions also want you to be analytical and ask for your opinion. Going through Newspapers and magazines yourself rather than the short compilations will help in writing good answers here.

year 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Number of questions 4(50 marks) 4(50 marks) 3(37.5 marks) 3(40 marks) 2(30 marks)

Some Past Questions:

  • The Preliminary examination:

1.This question from Prelims 2018 is a blend of current affairs as well as general science. As well as being in news very often ,It can be traced to the Explained section of The Indian Express here.

 

  1. This question from prelims 2018 again can be attributed both to technology as well as current affairs. This is always in news, has had many articles and also was covered in The Hindu editorial.

  • The Mains Examination:
  1. Why is there so much activity in the field of biotechnology in our country? How has this activity benefited the field of bio-pharma? [2018,20 marks, 200 words]

 

Biotechnology is a hot topic for CSE both for prelims and mains as it has applications in four major industrial areas, including health care (medical), crop production and agriculture, non-food (industrial) uses of crops and other products (e.g. biodegradable plastics, vegetable oil, biofuels), and environmental uses. Notice the demands of the question, it not only expects that you know what is biotechnology, but also why it is trending so much in India, and its effects on bio-pharma. So, one needs to know all facets about the topics. If you have prepared specific notes for all the topics in the syllabus, this question would be a cakewalk for you.

 

     2. India has achieved remarkable successes In unmanned space missions including the Chandrayaan and Mars Orbiter Mission, but has not ventured into manned space missions. What are the main obstacles to launching a manned space mission, both in terms of technology and logistics? examine critically. [2017, 10 marks, 150 words]

 

Again, very much in news, but they expect you to not only know what is in news but also be able to analyse it like, why not venturing into manned missions etc. If preparing for any topic, you keep questioning yourself about the different aspects of it like why unmanned, why not manned, any other examples of manned/unmanned and facts related to it, you can directly use it in answering this question.

 

    3. Stem cell therapy is gaining popularity in India to treat a wide variety of medical conditions including Leukemia, thalassemia, damaged cornea and severe burns. Describe briefly what stem cell therapy is and what advantages it has over other treatments ?[2017, 10 marks, 150 words]

 

There have been so many articles about stem cell therapy here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. If you had just read The Hindu religiously, you would naturally have recognised this as a potential question and had notes on it! Not only that, all aspects about the question can be directly covered from these articles and you would have such a beautiful answer to write.

 

   4. Can overuse of free availability of antibiotics without Doctor’s prescription, be contributors to the emergence of drug-resistant diseases in India? What are the available mechanisms for monitoring and control? Critically discuss the various issues involved. [2014, 12.5 marks, 200 words] 

  • Sources:
  1. NCERTs: I believe that General science NCERTs give a very low to non existent Cost benefit ratio and can be completely skipped. Should be referred only if you have no basic knowledge about basic terms in science. For basic science subjects (chemistry, physics and biology), refer the NCERT books  from class VI to class X. Getting into class 11th and 12th Science NCERTs is really futile as they are too technical and really not worth it.
  2. Any Other books: Again,no book for Science and technology gives enough Cost benefit ratio meritting your attention. If you look at the past paper for the last 5 years, you will know that almost all questions are from current affairs and nobody can cover it from any book!
  3. The Hindu: Current affairs is the best source for Science and technology and no better way to start preparing it than The Hindu. Anything related to the syllabus that keeps making it to the news is a potential topic for the exam.While reading current affairs, always be analytical and ask different questions on that topic, so that you will cover the topic comprehensively.Note down any scientific term or technology that’s frequently talked about in news and go through the internet to know more about it. 
  4. Science Reporter: Science Reporter is a monthly science magazine published  by the National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources. NO NEED to read it from front to back. You need to be selective. Get yourself acquainted with the syllabus and past papers and then start this magazine. Once you are well versed with the syllabus and the type of questions asked,  you can easily know what to read and what to skip.
  5. Science Monitor: This is a weekly show on Rajya Sabha Tv . These are 20 minute videos and cover all the important science related news about India in general. I would advise you to go through the entire video as they also have great explanations. If you don’t have time, you should at least go through the summary at the start( hardly 2 minutes),and know what all science and technology topics are in news and prepare notes yourself.

The most important thing to remember while making notes from current affairs sources like newspapers, youtube videos, magazines, compilations is thinking long term and making notes accordingly. Always sit with a pen and paper while covering these and make sure that you don’t need to go to the original source ever again. You should be able to revise efficiently again and again directly from your notes. 

Whatever Science and technology topic you prepare, always focus on the concept, and try to ask some basic questions to yourself like, why is it in news, practical applications, potential threats, benefits for the future, etc. and try to find answers for them. This will help you in writing better answers for this section.

It is a myth that Science and technology is difficult for non science background students. As you can see from the questions above, the questions asked in prelims and mains are very general in nature and can be answered by anyone who has been reading newspapers and other current affairs sources religiously. You don’t need to have in depth technical knowledge of Science and technology topics to be able to answer these questions.

 

Happy Reading.

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