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How to read the NCERTs - by a UPSC /APSC topper - PART 1

When a civil services aspirant who has just started his/her preparation asks a topper of a mentor “How do I begin my preparation?”, the answer invariably is Start with reading the NCERTs. Now the next question that pops up in the aspirant’s mind are: “Which all NCERTs are to be read? “From which standard?” “Am I supposed to make notes from the NCERTs?” These kinds of questions will arise, which need to be addressed properly so that the aspirant can start his preparation in a smart, judicious and time-efficient way.

In this two-part article, we shall discuss why NCERTs are such a favourite of the UPSC and APSC and how to read them to score maximum marks in prelims or mains.

Every year, especially in the preliminary examination, there are some direct questions which are picked up from the NCERTs. This trend has been followed for many years now, and the importance of the basic NCERTs never tend to fade away. So, why are the NCERTs so important?

  1. The NCERTs are school level books and the language is very simple and lucid. Thus, they are not difficult for anyone to understand and create a level playing ground for everyone.

  2. They deal with the basic concepts. The candidates are not expected to have a scholarly knowledge about the topics in Prelims exam, but are expected to have a clear understanding of the basic concepts.

  3. The information provided in the NCERTs is authentic as these books are written after thorough research.

  4. Most of the questions from the static portion can be covered from the NCERTs.

For example: In 2016, Civil Services Preliminary Examination, UPSC has asked more than 5 questions directly from NCERT books. From the Art and Culture portion 2 direct questions lifted from the NCERTs were:

Q: With reference to the economic history of medieval India, the term ‘Araghatta’ refers to

a) Bonded labour

b) Land grants made to military officers

c) Waterwheel used in the irrigation of land

d) Wasteland converted to cultivated land

Q: In the context of the history of India, consider the following pairs:

  1. Eripatti : land, revenue from which was set apart for the maintenance of the village tank.

  2. Taniyurs : Villages donated to a single Brahmin or a group of Brahmins

  3. Ghatikas : colleges generally attached to the temples.

Which of the pairs given above is/are correctly matched?

a) 1 and 2

b) 3 only

c) 2 and 3

d) 1 and 3

How to read an NCERT?

There are 2 ways of reading the NCERTs. One is ‘subject-wise’ and the other is ‘class-wise’. NCERTs from the 6th to 12th standard are supposed to be read for the various subjects.

(However, not all NCERTs from 6th to 12th are important. In our next blog we shall give a detailed list and names of the NCERTs which are supposed to be covered from exam point of view. We shall also give all the information about whether to follow the old or the new NCERTs.)

  • Subject-wise reading: This method involves reading the textbook from class VI through class XII for each subject. For example, if you are reading history, read the class VI history textbook and work your way up to the class XII textbook. While doing this, always keep the UPSC/APSC syllabus for ready reference.

  • Class-wise reading: In this method, you first finish all the class VI textbooks of all the subjects. Then, you move on to class VII, class VIII and finally reach class XII. However, this method is not very popular, and usually subject-wise reading is followed by maximum aspirants.

Step-wise details of how to read the NCERTs:

  1. Make a list of all the NCERTs that are to be read for each subject.

  2. In the first reading, read the entire book, without making any notes. Just highlight the important parts with a pencil or a highlighter.

  3. In the second reading, make small notes on the side of the pages of the NCERT itself. You can also make a small gist of important facts from each chapter at the end of each chapter in the book itself. If there is less space, then make small gist points on post-its and stick them at the end of the chapter. This is an easy and efficient way of making small notes because it is helpful in last minute revisions as you will have your notes in the book itself.

  4. In the third reading, try t o memorize the important facts in the NCERTs. Use a different color pen or highlighter this time to underline some important parts which you may have missed in the previous readings.

  5. Set a time schedule within which you will finish reading the NCERTs.

  6. The NCERTs need to be revised at least 5-6 times before writing the final exam.

The NCERTs are considered as the basic reading books to build the base of the Civil Services Examination. It covers all topics which are important and gives us a crystal clear conceptual clarity. It guarantees that aspirants are no longer a beginner once you go through them thoroughly. The NCERTs should always be covered first, before moving on to reading the other specialized books for UPSC/APSC. Without a solid understanding of the basic concepts provided in the NCERTs the civil services preparation will not be holistic and will be half-baked. One can either buy the NCERTs or download them online ( to start reading them as the first step towards cracking the civil services examination.

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