I have flunked prelims 2018. I did an in-depth analyses of the question paper for the past one week. I urge everyone of you to do the same. You may think it's a waste of time, but this will save you time in knowing what to ignore and how to move prepare for next year (I am not giving this exam again). This has to be done immediately because every question is fresh in your mind and you will have many an a-ha moments when you actually get into the examiners mind.
I have the following things to say,
1) All the analyses of the question paper put out by coaching centers (Vision included) are extremely weak. Passively reading this will make you go back to the same mode of preparation and heart break next year too.
2) There is a profound connection between almost all the questions asked this time. When I found this out I was shell shocked. I am not going to tell you what it is but I urge you to probe and find out. We have been clearly outsmarted by the examiner. The examiner is like Kyser Soze of the Usual Suspects.
3) UPSC does not want you to quit your job. This is not new advice for senior players in this forum. But the point is, the prelims question paper is being set in such a way that, all you knowledge, no matter how much you know is pretty much junk. There is no use in knowing stuff any more. The luck factor plays a big role in stage 1 itself. In the mains stage, optionals are randomly butchered. People who performed well in interviews lose. In other words there are multiple points of failure and the risk of doing this without a job is just too much. A person graduating from tier 1 colleges nullifies his education due to a long career gap. A person graduating from low grade college doom themselves by a long career gap. In this case, they would neither have the experience nor have the educational backing. The outcome is years of a low paying job for the rest of your life.
4) Do not make you happiness contingent upon this exam only. Having found the profound connection (point 2), I realize now that I could have slept more, hit the gym more, pursued my hobbies more, socialized more, loved myself and others around me more. I could still have cleared the prelims. In other words, it is not the number of hours that I put in which decides whether I crack civil services. No matter how much I study I could still fail. The saying 'smart work matters more than hard work' is equally daft. Think of yourself as an examiner an imagine how many ways there are to outsmart the candidates. Yes, smart work is better, but there is no guarantee. Rank 2 (2017) flunked prelims (2016) Rank 1 (2017) flunked mains badly in preceding years. Once you have the basics covered, you just have be easy on yourself. Mindset matters.
5) You just cannot call UPSC unfair. There is no single question (well, there are few) which is random. It seems as if each question was thought out meticulously. All we could say after we come out of the exam hall is, 'we should have known this, but we did not, and we deserve to have failed'. It's that simple. If you ask UPSC to explain itself for the prelims 2018 question paper, it will smile at you, patronizingly pat you on the head and say 'why have you not read NCERT, the news papers, budget, economic survey and have made smart enough connections? why have you not saved yourself for grunt work by simply ignoring all the coaching center materials, mocks tests, revisions etc, you knew we were not dumb enough to copy those questions, right?'. Imagine you own a slave. You make him carry bricks from room A to room B which is a few kilometers apart in the blistering sun. And then you ask the same slave to transfer the same bricks from room B to room A without explaining why. UPSC is the slave owner and we are the slaves.
6) Prelims 2018 is dark. It is usual for questions to have a positive tone especially if it is a government exam. UPSC is after all is part of the government. Not this time. The origins of almost all the questions arise out of something negative. It seems like UPSC was questioning the government at times. That which we ignore in our preparation can no longer be ignored. That which we think of as trivial is no longer trivial. That which we consider important is pretty much what all the coaching centers would consider important, and it will not cut ice. Does this make our work harder? I think it makes your work simpler. Play the lottery, be happy when you win. Move on when you lose. Do not make high stake bets.
7) Vagueness in the question paper is frustrating but it is deliberate. It is part of your job as IAS officer to deal with it. All the situations surrounding you are vague, human knowledge cannot be absolute. Even at mains there is vagueness which puts us in a negative mindset only to miss the questions we know really well. The point is to ignore the unknowns and do the best that we can do in any given situation, including prelims.
8) You are better off internalizing (memorizing) things for mains, esp optional than you are internalizing things for prelims. There is no glory in clearing prelims and too much effort here is a colossal waste of time. This is even more true because you may or may not clear prelims regardless of how good and knowledgeable you are.
9) You cannot ignore one subject completely for prelims. Who would have guessed so many questions from technology this time. I usually ignore art and culture and have paid the price. When the subject you know best trips you in the prelims (history optionals guy not knowing any history question), it is the subject that you choose not to ignore that will help you.
10) Ego kills you. I thought my English was good and ignored preparing for essay and ethics. Had I concentrated on these two papers, I may well have been giving you all this advice form the other side.