Current Affairs for GS is an area which is by far the most important aspect of the GS paper and also perhaps the most difficult area to master. Important, because most of the questions whether they are in the prelims or the mains draw their inspiration from what is happening in the current affairs, and difficult because of its vastness and difficulty in identifying what is important and what is not.
An important dimension to issues of current relevance is-Understanding the importance of current relevance will also help in prioritizing the syllabic content and directing your energy towards most rewarding topics. (Remember the universal advice by almost all successful candidates that “It is not important how much you are studying rather what you are studying is more important.”)
For example the topics mentioned like Salient features of world’s Physical Geography, Contribution of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and world are limitless topics as far as breadth of topics is concerned. Similarly, many topics like Philosophical basis of governance and probity, role of civil services in democracy, human values -lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators, concept of ethics, attitude and aptitude etc. are limitless as far as the depth of topics is concerned.
In such a scenario, one who is aware of happenings in surroundings can smartly chose the areas that need to be focused. For example because there was a recent issue in South China Sea over the sovereignty, one should not forget to see the important geographic features of area concerned. But overstretching the above criterion will again lead to problem of plenty, because invariably every region of world must be witnessing some important event at one time or another. In such a scenario, issues that have direct repercussions on interest of India must be focused, rather than important issues of general nature. For example in row over South china sea, vital interest of India were at stake because it is a major trade route and OVL had interest in oil exploration in same area.
Apart from this, the new syllabus explicitly mentions several topics which can be dealt only with a current affairs approach. For example, in GS paper-II, devolution of power and finances up to local levels and challenges therein, Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation, Development processes and the development industry, Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector, Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests and Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests are some areas which have to be studied in current relevance only.
In GS paper-III, we have chapters like Inclusive growth and issues arising from it, e-technology in the aid of farmers, Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life,
Linkages between development and spread of extremism, Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, etc. which must be read in the light of recent developments in the respective fields only.
Even in the newly introduced GS paper-IV, we find many topics which are required to be studied in the light of recent happenings and which are meant to judge the student’s awareness level for the society he lives in. These topics include Emotional intelligence- their utilities and application in administration and governance, ethical issues in international relations and funding and Information sharing and transparency in government among others.
Now let us come to the “how to tackle the vastness of current affairs” part.
Most students have been found to be complaining that they have not been able to recall and reproduce whatever they have studied in the current affairs in the sense that the factual part which is useful in the prelims cannot be recalled and the analytical part which is useful in the mains cannot be related and incorporated in the descriptive answers. However the factual versus conceptual demand for GS is now an outdated story. Concepts are paramount. People have been suggesting several strategies to prepare for current affairs but very few people have really decoded the challenge. Those who manage to do so, are success stories now.
Though every person may have his own way to deal with the challenge, yet by far all the toppers concur on certain important aspects. Firstly, the preparation of the current affairs is not a separate activity carried out in isolation with other topics, rather the concepts in all other areas together contribute both to the understanding and the relevance of whatever we study in current affairs.
Secondly the study of current affairs has to be essentially based on those issues which are of contemporary importance nationally as well as internationally. This is by far the most important aspect of studying current affairs. This alone shall ensure that whatever is studied is not only methodically arranged in the mind but is also logically reproduced in the exam. By adopting this approach a student can even create his personal notes extensively replete with references for current happenings on all the major issues of the time. However this approach is best carried out only when a student is thorough with all the concepts across the various disciplines and is in a position to identify the areas where these concepts overlap and contribute to enrich the overall understanding. Once this happens the student automatically develops the ability of identifying issues and sub-issues within the issues which on the one hand reduces the vastness of studying current affairs and on the other makes the study more methodical, enriched and easily reproducible as now he can easily relate facts and events to issues and quote them at appropriate places.
Despite all this, a student will find that there are still some questions both in the prelims as well as in the mains examination which he does not know anything about. First of all, one must never get discouraged by such questions as no matter how well you study there will always be some areas which will remain unchartered. Even the toppers do not write answers to all the questions. The important point is to minimize rather than eliminate the number of questions you do not know because that is what which makes the difference in a competitive examination. Further whatever you write you must write well i.e. to say that whatever answers you write, you must try to make sure that you have given it the widest and most lucid treatment, within the boundaries of what is being asked in the question. Even in the preliminary exam the demand for current affairs and contemporary issues are at the higher end.
Lastly, every serious candidate must try to develop a healthy group from among his peers, where he can discuss the various issues he has read and studied about. Such group discussions not only help in fine-tuning the understanding as various ideas come to forth for analysis but also allows for introduction to newer facts and perspectives along with a revision of already developed concepts and knowledge bytes. However in course of these group discussions, the participants should essentially ensure that it is carried out in a healthy spirit rather than becoming a platform for settling personal scores and mouthing ego clashes, because such discussions will lead to nothing but wasting of your precious time. Most of the toppers have had the opportunity to become a part of productive and serious groups, to which they all attribute a measurable part of their success. Make a deliberate attempt to try these techniques and you will surely find definite improvement coming your way.