Art of Making Notes for Civil Service Exam – Part 1

taking notes


Making Comprehensive Notes – the Ultimate Skill  


With a humongous syllabus that covers everything- ranging from economic growth of the country and the issue of NPA to ethics and decision making, UPSC exam checks you on every point. There remains not a single corner of one’s ability set that CSE doesn’t knock into. With the amount of syllabus to be covered and the pattern of Mains exam where you’ll have to improve speed through giving more and more time to improve your writing skills and practicing with time limits, compilation of succinct and precise notes will help aspirants a lot. In the first part of this 2 part series, we will focus on the must cover topics for GS Paper 1 and 2. But first, the basics.

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The very basic must Do’s and Don’ts of notes making are:


Only write down the main points of the lecture, there is no point of transcribing a book or a lecture, word for word, rather extract and record the crux of it. The trick to successful note-taking is learning how to separate the important from the unimportant.


What to choose between electronic- notes or handwritten ones? This is a personal decision as both formats have its own pros and cons. While handwritten notes offer better retention to students, e-notes are more portable and make revision easier and faster for all the stuff is available at one place.


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Keeping your notes crisp from very beginning while keeping in mind about how you would revise them is very important for multiple revisions are must, to be able to recall answers.
Organisation of notes paper wise/ topic wise for quick revision and maintaining separate notebooks for each paper along with making an index of topics covered in that notebook would systematise the process even more.

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Techniques That Could Be Incorporated:


Cornell Style Notes

This system of note-taking was developed in the 1950s by Cornell University professor Walter Pauk. It’s a way to organize your notes to make reviewing easier and more effective.


Mind Maps

Instead of typing or writing sentences, with mind mapping one draw your notes. Advocates of mind mapping argue that the visual format of mind maps allow students to find connections they’d otherwise miss.


Usages of pictures, diagrams, graphs, mind maps, arrows and lines linking words, can be done.


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A Paper-Wise, Must-Cover Topics in the Notes


GS Paper – 1: Topic wise coverage of the following topics should be done-


Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.



• Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.


• The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors /contributions from different parts of the country.


• Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country.


• History of the world will include events from 18th century such as industrial revolution, world wars, redrawing of national boundaries, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc.- their forms and effect on the society.


• Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.


• Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies.


• Effects of globalization on Indian society


• Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism.


• Salient features of world’s physical geography.


• Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian subcontinent); factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India).


• Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location- changes in critical geographical features (including water bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.


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GS Paper- 2: Topics to be covered in the notes for this paper should be-


• Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.


• Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.


• Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.


• Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries


• Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.


• Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.


• Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.


• Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.


• Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies


• Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.


• Development processes and the development industry- the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders


• Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.


• Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.


• Issues relating to poverty and hunger.


• Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.


• Role of civil services in a democracy.


• India and its neighbourhood- relations.


• Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests


• Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.


• Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.


Watch out for the next part of this 2 part series which includes the must cover topics for GS Paper 3 and 4. Happy Preparation!

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Author: Anushka Mishra