How many questions to attempt in UPSC CSE Prelims 2019?
Published on May 11, 2019, 12:47 a.m.

Hello everyone,

I'll try to address the most common question among us.

How many questions should we attempt in GS1 UPSC Prelims 2019?

Before we try to analyze the question. Let us gather some data from 2015 (the year when CSAT became qualifying).

Let's see the trend of "Number of questions" Vs "Cutoff"

2015 | 1129 seats| 107.34 cutoff
2016 | 1079 seats| 116 cutoff
2017 | 980 seats| 105.34 cutoff
2018 | 782 or 812 seats| 98 cutoff
2019 | 896 seats | ? cutoff

What does the above data say?
Observations:
1. Seats decreased in 2016 and the cut-off increased.
2. Seats further decreased in 2017 & 2018 and the cut-off also decreased significantly.

Conclusion: The sample size being just 4, there is no way we can predict the cutoff for 2019 just based on the number of seats.  We can safely assume for now that an increase or decrease in the number of seats do not play a role in deciding the cut-off.  
Please do not go with an assumption that since the seats have increased this year by about 100, the cut-off will decrease. Nobody can speculate about the cut-off until we see the question paper.

So the cut-off can be roughly estimated only in the exam hall once you have thoroughly gone through all the 100 questions, before that don't even try to guess or assume anything. It will be a futile exercise.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Coming back to the original question, How many questions do we need to attempt?

The answer to this question lies in knowing how much do we have to score.

Let's go with an assumption that we need to score 120 marks. This should be our primary target.  

Let's make it a bit more easier to understand. Let's compare it with ODI Cricket (50 overs format).

Without seeing the pitch or without seeing the opposition or without knowing our team composition, if we can say in general, we can say that a score of 300 runs will be safe. Our assumption of 120 marks is a similar one.  

Once we see the pitch, weather conditions, opposition and composition of the teams, we can probably estimate a target. It can be anywhere from 250 to 350.

Similarly, once we see all the questions in Prelims 2019, we can roughly fix our target score based on the difficulty level.

Our target score can be anywhere from 105 marks to 135 marks based on the difficulty level.

Next question, how do we assess difficulty level?

Difficulty level can be assessed based on these factors:

1. Almost every serious aspirant covers all standard static and current affairs sources, including atlas and other compilations.
If any question comes from out of this, it is a difficult question because most of them would have not read about it and this question will definitely bring down the cutoff. So, as the number of such questions increase, the difficulty level of the question paper increases. (if you want to further delve into this and analyse, pick up question papers from 2015 to 2018 and see how many questions are from outside the standard static and current affairs sources, you will can see a correlation between the number of such questions and the cutoff for that year).

2. If the options/statements for a question are too close and confusing. So, as the number of such questions increase, the difficulty level of the question paper increases.

3. If the questions contain factual data (Example: oil import, NSSO survey etc in 2018). So, as the number of such questions increase, the difficulty level of the question paper increases.

Based on the above three factors, we can roughly estimate our target score and try to achieve it in our exam.

With respect to the above three factors,

1. if you find  prelims 2019 comparable to 2018, assume your target score to be 105

2. If you find prelims 2019 comparable to 2015 and 2017, assume your target score to be 110

3. if you find prelims 2019 comparable to 2016, assume your target score to be 130

4. if you find prelims 2019 to be a totally new pattern, with moderate level of difficulty, assume your target score to be 120

5. if you find prelims 2019 to be easier than the paper seen in last 4 years, assume your target score to 135

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Once you have assumed or fixed your target score, you can now think about how many questions to attempt.

(Note: Those who are attempting only for IFoS will need to set a target score of +10 marks).

CAUTION
1. This techinque needs practice before you apply it in the exam. A minimum of 10 mock tests which are of the UPSC standard need to be solved using this technique, so that you can understand how it works and how to implement according to your strengths and weaknesses.

2. If you are not comfortable with this technique, please feel free to ignore the rest of the write-up. If you have your own strategy that has been working good for you, please continue doing so because this is just one among the many strategies that can be employed.

3. This is only for those who are not able to score high and are confused about how many questions to attempt.

RULES FOR THIS TECHNIQUE

1. You will have to solve the exam in three rounds. Round 1, Round 2 and Round 3.

2. Round 1 : In this round, you will attempt only those questions for which you are 100% sure about the answer. No if's and but's. You have to be 100% sure about the answer and only then can you attempt in this round.

3. Round 2 : In this round, you will attempt only those questions in which you can "eliminate 2 options" with 100% surity. You have be absolutely sure that those two options cannot be the answer.

4. Round 3 : In this round, you will attempt the remaining questions. This round involves questions where you can eliminate at least one option or those questions which you solve totally through your logic or intelligent guessing. There's no guarantee of how much you will score in this round, it's literally gambling but if you have tricks up your sleeve, you can definitely make some profit, albeit not a significant one. As you keep reading, you will understand where will you need the support of this round.

5. Your approximate score in round 1 and round 2 will decide how many questions will you need to attempt.

6. Your approximate score in round 1 and round 2 will decide whether you should go for round 3 and take risks or not.

7. Remember this, probability is just theory. It can only predict the future but cannot match the reality, when you are not dealing with large numbers (say millions of questions). We are just solving 100 questions and our accuracy will definitely be lower than the probability on most days because of human errors. So dont assume that in round 1, your score will be 100% accurate and in round 2 it will be 50% accurate. This will be no where close to reality unless it's your lucky day, i.e, when the odds are in your favour.

8. That's why, in order to compensate for the human element and errors, we need to fix the accuracy of round 1 to be 90% and the accuracy of round 2 to be around 40%. (Remember, when you solve your mocks, make sure you get these accuracy numbers in round 1 and round 2, if you are getting below it, then you are not solving the mocks with seriousness or you need a few more rounds of revision).

9. This is a time-consuming process, you need to practice a lot before applying this in exam because you will literally be working like a real-time computer, trying to estimate your score as you keep solving. This is certainly doable, but needs thorough practice, so keep this in mind.

I hope the rules are clear.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------

For now, let's assume our target score to be 120.

Case 1:

Round 1 - 50 questions solved
Round 2 - 30 questions solved

Estimated score after round 1 and round 2 - ? Let's figure it out

Remember round 1 accuracy should be minimum 90% and round 2 accuracy should be minimum 40%

Round 1 score - 50 x 0.9 (90% accuracy) = 45 correct, 5 incorrect
Round 2 score -  30 x 0.4 (40% accuracy) = 12 correct, 18 incorrect

As you all know, +2 marks for correct and —2/3 marks for incorrect

Total score after attempting round 1 and round 2 (80 ques) = (45 + 12) x 2 — ( (5 + 18)x(2/3))
Total score after attempting round 1 and round 2 (80 ques) =  114 — 15.33 = 98.67

You clearly are far away from your target score. A clear deficiency of 21.33 marks. And you have 20 more questions left.

There is no way out, if you don't attempt all the questions, you are out of the race and if you attempt all the 100 questions, you at least have a chance of scoring around 110s to 115s if it turns out to be your lucky day. But, if you attempt anything less than 100, you will know that its over (REMEMBER, this is assuming the difficulty level is easier than 2016). If it was of 2018 level, you would need to do something else, and that i'll explain in case 2.

Conclusion: So if you find this difficulty level and if your score in round 1 and 2 is as above, you need to attempt 100 questions by all means.


Case 2:

Let's assume our target score to be 105. (assuming a difficulty level of 2018 paper, after seeing the questions in the exam hall).

Round 1 - 50 questions solved
Round 2 - 30 questions solved

Estimated score after round 1 and round 2 - ? Let's figure it out

Remember round 1 accuracy should be minimum 90% and round 2 accuracy should be minimum 40%

Round 1 score - 50 x 0.9 (90% accuracy) = 45 correct, 5 incorrect
Round 2 score -  30 x 0.4 (40% accuracy) = 12 correct, 18 incorrect

As you all know, +2 marks for correct and —2/3 marks for incorrect

Total score after attempting round 1 and round 2 (80 ques) = (45 + 12) x 2 — ( (5 + 18)x(2/3))
Total score after attempting round 1 and round 2 (80 ques) =  114 — 15.33 = 98.67

You are just short of 6.33 (105-98.67) marks from your target score and you still have 20 more questions remaning.

How to proceed next?

1. Do you need to attempt all 20 questions? A clear No.
2. Your aim should be get half of the needed marks because that way you will reduce the risk and also reduce the negative. Its about playing safe and smart because you are near to the cutoff score.

Example,
In this case you need 6.33 marks, Aim for 3.165 marks. And if you are lucky and get one more question correct, you will get close to 6 marks. But if you attempt all 20 questions, then you may end up losing more than 6 marks.

So let this be clear, if you are near to your target score, say by 5 to 8 marks deficiency. Then always try to get 3 to 4 more and not entire 5 to 8 marks.

3. Unlike what most people think, the accuracy in intelligent guessing is more than 25% and is between 33% to 40%. You will get this number if you solve a lot of mocks.

Let's assume you need to X number of questions and get Y number of questions correct and Z number of questions incorrect, with an accuracy of 33%.

Assume X = 10
For 33% accuracy
Y = 3 and Z = 7
Net score = +1.33 marks (Which is lesser than 3.165 marks)

Assume X = 12
For 33% accuracy
Y = 4 and Z = 8
Net score = +2.66 mrks (Which is lesser than 3.165)

Assume X = 13
For 33% accuracy
Y = 5 and Z = 8
Net score = +4.66 mrks (Which is more than 3.165)

So, round 1 - 50 ques, round 2 - 30 ques, round 3 - 13 ques
Total = 93 questions is all you need. You dont need to attempt below that or above that.

If you attempt more than 93, you will be taking more risks. Ofcourse the reward will be higher if your , but also the losses will be heavy if its your bad day.

If you feel like attempting more, just attempt one or two more (95 ques max), but please dont go beyond that. Luck is a zero sum game when you utilize it for a long stretch. You gain some and you lose some. Don't take very high risks where you dont need to.

Conclusion:
In this case attempt minimum 93 and max 95. This is the best you can do.

Case 3:

Let's again assume our target score to be 120.

Round 1 - 60 questions solved
Round 2 - 25 questions solved

Estimated score after round 1 and round 2 - ? Let's figure it out

Remember round 1 accuracy should be minimum 90% and round 2 accuracy should be minimum 40%

Round 1 score - 60 x 0.9 (90% accuracy) = 54 correct, 6 incorrect
Round 2 score -  25 x 0.4 (40% accuracy) = 10 correct, 15 incorrect

As you all know, +2 marks for correct and —2/3 marks for incorrect

Total score after attempting round 1 and round 2 (85 ques) = (54 + 10) x 2 — ( (6 + 15)x(2/3))
Total score after attempting round 1 and round 2 (85 ques) =  128 — 14 = 114

You are just short of 6 (120-114) marks from your target score and you still have 20 more questions remaning.

How to proceed next?

1. Do you need to attempt all 20 questions? A clear No.
2. Your aim should be get half of the needed marks because that way you will reduce the risk and also reduce the negative. Its about playing safe and smart because you are near to the cutoff score.

Example,
In this case you need 6 marks, Aim for 3 marks. And if you are lucky and get one more question correct, you will get close to 6 marks. But if you attempt all 20 questions, then you may end up losing more than 6 marks.

So let this be clear, if you are near to your target score, say by 5 to 8 marks deficiency. Then always try to get 3 to 4 more and not entire 5 to 8 marks.

3. Unlike what most people think, the accuracy in intelligent guessing is more than 25% and is between 33% to 40%. You will get this number if you solve a lot of mocks.

Let's assume you need to X number of questions and get Y number of questions correct and Z number of questions incorrect, with an accuracy of 33%.

Assume X = 10
For 33% accuracy
Y = 3 and Z = 7
Net score = +1.33 marks (Which is lesser than 3 marks)

Assume X = 12
For 33% accuracy
Y = 4 and Z = 8
Net score = +2.66 mrks (Which is close to 3 marks)

Assume X = 13
For 40% accuracy
Y = 5 and Z = 8
Net score = +4.66 mrks (Which is more than 3 marks)

Assume X = 12
For 40% accuracy
Y = 5 and Z = 8
Net score = +5.33 mrks (Which is more than 3 marks and just short of 0.66 marks to meet 120 target score)

So, round 1 - 60 ques, round 2 - 25 ques, round 3 - 12 or 13 ques
Total = 97 or 98 questions is all you need. You dont need to attempt below that or above that.

You may take risks in the next 2 or 3 questions but its entirely up to you. Those 1 or 2 negative marks may prove to be crucial if you have applied only for IFoS.

————————————————————————

Thank you for reading such a long post. I hope to tried to address to the best of my understanding. 🙏😇