The Combined Defence Services Examination, commonly referred to as CDSE, is a biannually conducted examination by UPSC. This is one of the two examinations, the other being NDA, which holds importance for a candidate who is aspiring to become a gazetted officer in the armed forces of our nation.
Every year, lakhs of candidates appear for this exam, but only a few thousand are able to clear it to be selected for the next stage. Although, compared to other UPSC conducted examinations, the nature of questions in CDSE is elementary, yet it will take a candidate a dedicated amount of effort to be able to qualify the written exam.
CDS is conducted by UPSC twice a year in around February and November. The exam is the first stage for a candidate’s journey to qualify for the three honourable armed forces of India- Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Indian Navy. The exam is conducted throughout the nation in designated UPSC centres.
All candidates holding a graduation certificate or are in their final semester of Bachelor’s degree and are a citizen of India in the age group 20-24 years, are eligible to apply for the examination. Those who successfully pass the exam as well as the Service Selection Board, will qualify to be able to train in any one of the four prestigious institutes namely- Indian Military Academy (IMA), Indian Naval Academy (INA), Air Force Academy (AFA) and Officer’ Training Academy (OTA).
The examination takes place in three slots from morning to evening. The first slot comprises of English Language, the second slot consists of the General Ability test and the last slot is of Mathematics. The questions are of objective type MCQs. There is negative marking for incorrect answers.
It is important for appearing candidate to analyse the syllabus and plan accordingly. To summarise, General English consists of mostly grammar related questions in different formats. It also tests the candidate’s vocabulary and knowledge of idioms and phrases.
The format of questions is usually in the form of comprehension, cloze test, antonym and synonym, sentence re-ordering and spotting the errors. Hence, it is important for the candidate to have basic knowledge of the language. Most of the candidates do not give enough attention to this subject as they believe English to be the easiest of them all.
It surely is easy, as long as you have the basics clear. Candidates should do a comprehensive study of English grammar. There are innumerable books which simplify English grammar and in the modern age, practice sheets are available on the internet. Grammar related questions are a very scoring part of the subject.
They should also focus on expanding their vocabulary. Very efficient method of doing so is by regularly reading English newspapers. A dictionary should always be kept handy when reading. Finally, to become familiar with the pattern of questions, it is important to solve the previous year question papers.
Mathematics plays an important factor in selection of training academy. Candidates who want to apply for IMA, INA and AFA have to mandatorily qualify mathematics. While those who want to apply for OTA, do not need to appear for mathematics. The questions are very basic in nature mostly covering syllabus till 10th standard.
It will be easier for students who had continued with maths up to 10+2 or pursued the subject in graduation. The syllabus is limited to general arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics and probability. The main factor that comes here is time. Candidates have to solve 120 questions in two and a half hours.
Hence it is important to practice problems. Following the NCERT textbooks as well as reference books that are prepared for CDSE will give the candidate enough material to understand the concept and practice. Moreover, the previous year question papers will suffice for any void in preparation.
For candidates who are specifically weak in mathematics (just like me), the best suggestion I can give is to practice solving problems with time restraints for each question. It is important to understand that to qualify for the interview phase; the candidates need to clear the sectional cut-off in each of the paper.
Hence, if one is weak in mathematics, do not panic, keep practising and in the exam, try covering at least 40% of the questions.
General Ability Test or GAT is by far considered to be the most difficult of all the three. The questions that are asked cover physics, chemistry, biology, history, political science, geography, economics, general knowledge and current affairs. With such a vast range of subjects with even bigger range of syllabus surely has intimidated many candidates.
Those who have already begun their preparation for UPSC civil services or UPSC CAPF examinations will find it quite easy to comprehend the syllabus for CDSE. But for those who are starting from scratch, it is very important that you understand the essence of the syllabus.
Once again, candidates need to be very clear with the basic concepts in each of the various subjects covered under this paper. They should be well versed with the topics that have been covered up till 10th standard. If they are not, then they should plan and begin their preparation around 4-6 months prior to the examination.
Most of the time, questions are not repeated from previous year. The number of questions per subject too varies from year to year. Hence, it might be a bit overwhelming for the candidate to prepare for this paper. General knowledge and current affairs can easily be covered by reading the newspaper.
Additionally, candidates can read yearbooks to increase their knowledge. A famous book for preparing for CDSE is ‘Pathfinder’ by Arihant Publication. The book is a wholesome and extensive record of all the topics and covers all the three papers.
It saves the candidates a lot of time to search for relevant study material as it is in itself a complete and comprehensive textbook for general studies, English as well as mathematics.
I have myself been clearing CDSE examination. I have so far attempted it thrice and cleared it all the three times. The first two times I had applied just for OTA, so I did not have to study mathematics. I am a graduate from B.Sc. Biological Sciences, and have a background in science in 10+2.
For the first attempt, I had begun my preparation six months prior to the exam during my college summer vacations. Being a college student, it was important for me to juggle time between studying for CDSE as well as college exams. With ample time in my hand, I allotted a maximum of two to three hours a day for CDSE.
I had made a time table of study and focused on my weaker aspects- Social Sciences and Current Affairs. It is important for aspirants to understand which area they are lacking in. For me, being a science student, I was very much proficient in physics, chemistry and biology, but had almost negligible knowledge of history, political sciences, geography, economics and current affairs.
My main sources of knowledge were the newspaper and Pathfinder for CDS entrance examination by Arihant Publications. Every day my target was to finish at least one whole topic and I focused on writing down what I had studied as it is very helpful for remembering facts.
For example, if I am studying history, I would aim to finish pre-history in one day, ancient history of India on another day, medieval history of India on the next day, and so on. I had allotted two days a week for science subjects and English as it was important to keep in touch with them too.
I also had the habit of writing down important news reports that I would come across on the newspaper. With the given amount of time, I was able to develop enough knowledge with this practice as well as solving previous year papers and successfully clear the exam.
The next attempt I gave in within three months of my first one. This was during my college semester exams so I had lesser time to devote to CDSE. But since I had developed a basic understanding of the subjects in my previous attempt, I planned for a week of crash course study prior to the exam day.
As soon as my semester exams were over, I charted out my time table and had allotted six hours of study a day, with my main goals being history, political science and economics. In the forty two hours of studying, I would study for four hours in the morning and solve a question paper in the evening.
I had solved seven previous year paper by the time it was exam day. Although my preparation was not as extensive as in my previous attempt, I was able to cover major chapters and in the end was able to clear the examination again.
In my third and last attempt so far, I had appeared for the exam after a whole year and had lost touch with the subjects. This time I also had applied for mathematics paper and had an additional challenge in front of me. I started with one month in hand, on first of January.
The first two weeks were continuous studying for six hours a day. I used my previous week long preparation strategy or as mentioned previously- the crash course study- and extended it over two weeks of time period. I studied Maths for one to one and a half hours in the morning, mostly solving the practice question in Arihant’s Pathfinder.
Evenings were reserved for social sciences. After two weeks, in the third week, I started solving previous year papers. In the morning, I would revise the notes and practice problems from mathematics, and in the evening I solved a mathematics paper compulsorily and a GAT paper or English paper on alternate days.
Once again, I had solved seven papers of mathematics, four five papers of GAT and 2 papers of English. I had planned to continue the revision and paper solving plan in the fourth and final week before the exam, but unfortunately, my grandfather had fallen ill and had passed away. Yet, I appeared for the exam, confidently and was able to clear all the three papers- mathematics, English and General Ability Test.
This was the gist of how I prepared for the UPSC CDSE examination. To summarise, it is important for the aspirants to keep up to date with the current affairs. The newspaper is a very good source, but aspirants can also use smartphone apps to do so. The next part is to evaluate yourself and find out the subjects you are lacking in.
Thereafter, focus more on developing those subjects while at the same time, keep in touch with the subjects you are strong in. Chalk out a daily plan of study, I suggest one month before the exam is sufficient enough or even two months to be able to cover the whole syllabus.
Finally, it is upon the aspirants to study sincerely as there is no shortcut to success. Studying hard and sacrificing some of the comforts of life will definitely yield success in the exam and I stand testament to that. Do not forget to keep relaxing from time to time.
I use to watch some TV or go outside for fresh air and play some sports. Also, do not over-study. Six to seven hours a day is more than enough. If aspirants feel like they can extend it to eight hours a day or even reduce it to four hours a day, but ensure you are achieving the goal that you have set for the day. In the end, always remember to sleep healthy and eat healthy as a healthy mind resides only in a healthy body.
Do not rush through books and chapters right before the exam as it makes people anxious and nervous and aspirants tend to perform poorly as a result.
Talk to the people around you in the exam venue, make a few friends and discuss some current affairs, it will keep you relaxed and confident and in a proper state of mind to appear for the exam.
All the best to all UPSC aspirants! Hope we all achieve our dreams and make our nation proud.
—–> Article by Nishan Mukherjee
(Written Qualified Candidate of CDS 2019 | Roll No. 0807090)