Kartic Godavarthy

Cogito, Ergo Sum

Anthropology Optional for UPSC – Revision Tips and FAQs

Q. Can I revise in any order, or only in the sequence in which I have learnt?

You can surely revise in any order, and in fact, if physical anthropology is something that was new to you, I recommend that you start with that, or a topic that you  like. You can go in any order, as long as

  1. You are giving sufficient time to chapters that you are weak in, and
  2. You ensure you are covering all the topics well.

Q. Do I need multiple revisions?

Multiple revisions are always helpful in retention, but if you are short of time, focus on the quality of your revision, not only on the quantity. Mindlessly going over the topics again and again without any focus wastes more time than one or two intensive, attentive and clear revisions which you remember. Find your balance.

But please remember to brush through the important numbers, data, and examples that are up to date as close to the examination as possible. As it is harder to remember numbers or data, go over them multiple times.

Q. Are there topics I need to revise again and again before the exam?

Yes, the ‘dry’ data and information topics will be what you need to brush up not only often, but even close to the examination. This includes current events, data, and classification or topics in archaeology and those that contain factual data.

Q. Do I need to mug up definitions or quote them verbatim?

If you remember the essence, and who gave the definition you do not need to remember a definition verbatim. Explain the answer as “According to XYZ…”, or “XYZ explained this concept as …..”, without giving the exact words, and by paraphrasing. Remember that if you DO open quotation marks, you MUST write the exact words, or you risk losing marks for an inaccuracy.

Q. I am not very strong in English, and worried about my answers. Do I have to use textbook language in answer writing for mains?

No, that is not necessary! You are not graded on your vocabulary, you are graded on the content and clarity in your answer. Simple language can go a long way, but remember to use the anthropological terminology. But a word of caution, please do not over-simplify to the point that you say “family tree” when you mean “genealogy”!

Try to learn the etymologies, meanings and construction of technical words or jargon.  If you remember the origin and meaning of a term, you tend not to forget it.

Q. Should I revise only ‘Anthro’, and then go for general studies?

Not necessary, you can revise them both side by side, and if you find the topics overlapping, please revise them together. But if you feel more comfortable studying or revising paper wise, then go ahead separately. My personal advice would be to make a schedule for every day and accommodate both general studies and optional subject in the schedule.  It is always advisable to study a part of every paper every day and being honest to these schedules.  I would space out my day earmarking sometime to one chapter / topic in every paper in General Studies and the Optional subject. This in addition to earmarking a little time to reading newspapers of the day. 

Q. How long does it take for one full revision of Anthropology?

I usually say that if you are giving it about four to six hours a day, and practicing writing as well as studying cover to cover, it should take you about 60 to 70 days, or one and a half months. But this is not always the case, please revise “according to your strengths”. If you had spent time making good notes and revising DURING the course while taking classes, you won’t even need more than five to six weeks for your full revision of Anthropology. Just ensure one thing; while revising, or while reading any new item related to a chapter in your syllabus, go back to your notes in that chapter and make a brief mention of the current event there itself.  Make a box item or use a different coloured pen to note it down.  One thing while preparing notes is to leave few blank pages in your notes after every chapter so that you can accommodate these current events / contemporary issues related to those chapters.

Q. Should I practice answers based on marks or write topic wise?

If you are practicing answer writing, please practice for every topic as if it were a 20 marker. Then you will find it easier to shorten it to a 15 marker or 10 marker. This is easier than making notes of one page and then trying to expand it on the day of the examination.  Make your practice answers comprehensive.  Remember there is no word limit except for the 10-marker in the optional paper and you have two sides of the answer sheet earmarked for it.  For a 15 and 20 marker, you have three and four sheets respectively.  Practice accordingly. 

Q. During my first revision, should I time my answers,? Like 3 minutes for each side, or 8 minutes for an answer?

At the beginning of your revision, I suggest you focus on the quality of your answer as you gain practice, get used to writing, and thinking about the structure of your answer. Focus on sharpening your answer-writing skills like an axe’, as Abraham Lincoln said – “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

There are three mantras for successful writing- practice, practice, and practice. Practice writing till you get used to it and forming a structure for a question becomes easier for you. THEN, focus on writing answers with a time limit for the overall section or paper, so that you do not compromise on answers you can score well in.

Q. If I want to save time, can I present only schematics or flow charts for all of my answers?

  • Unfortunately no. Flow charts are handy only to support the text, but please do not use them to completely replace the text. Use them where relevant, but you are scored on what you write.
  • However, for your revision, flow charts are a good way to remember the concept.
  • To save time, you can use bullet points in your answer as long as they are CLEAR points and not just strings of important words.  Ensure every sentence is self-explanatory and is not abrupt or truncated.  Do not leave anything to the examiner’s imagination and discretion. You should drive the point home and clearly. 

Q. Are there any words to avoid in answer writing for mains?

Yes, please avoid writing things like

  • “as you are aware…”,
  • “as we saw earlier”…
  • “it is easy to understand now…”,
  • “it will become clear to you now…”.
  • General tip, avoid the word “you” in all your answers.

Q. Can I skip topics in Anthropology?

Unfortunately no, there is no ‘real’ choice in this examination, as you still have to answer all sub-questions in a question you choose. Please study everything, and do not skip topics as much as possible. Any new concept will take time to master, and there is no substitute for hard work.

Q. If I use jargon and complicated language, will it impress the examiners?

You don’t need to “impress” the examiners, you need to convince them that you know what you’re talking about. The answers are graded according to a uniform key, so you have to write the important points, and are not rewarded according to your linguistic prowess. Assume the examiner needs everything to be explained, and explain in simple and straightforward manner. Keep it simple, cover the topics, but don’t forget the basics.

Q. If the optional is scoring, should I focus on Anthropology more than GS?

ABSOLUTELY NOT, please don’t compromise on any part of your preparation in the name of a ‘trick’ or a ‘hack’ for scoring. Everything is important – you need GS for your prelims and mains, and you need Anthropology because it is important; it is one third of your written paper marks…. Imagine your preparation is like building a table or a platform. If you compromise on any one leg of a table, the table will collapse, and cannot hold anything.

Q. Do I need to remember the biodata of the anthropologists, like where they studied and when they were born?

What is more important is knowing accurately what their contributions were, and the significance of it. If you can remember some personal details, it can add value but does not constitute the answer itself. Their own personal experiences and situations and their academic training itself must have inspired these scholars to ideate on a concept, method or a theory. That is when these personal details become worthwhile to mention.  If the question asks you to discuss their contributions to a particular area, your answer will need to focus on the contributions, and not on their personal lives.

Biographical information about significant anthropologists are covered while learning a particular concept or the anthropological theories.  This should take care of most of the questions in this context, in both papers. 

Q. I don’t know where I stand in comparison to others, and I am confused on how to revise in a short period of time… What should I do?

Please remember to make a list of strengths and weaknesses. It makes a huge difference to your planning, because you can plan to work on your weaknesses and make them into your strengths. Do not forget to give everything a reading. Just because something seems scary or daunting do not skip it completely either, please!

And remember, while you are COMPETING in this examination, your ‘preparation’ is your own, and so are your strengths and weaknesses… give each chapter it’s due effort so you are strong in a majority of areas, and THEN compare yourself to others..

You are not a drop in an ocean but, you are the entire ocean in a drop.

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i think, therefore i am.

Cogito, ergo sum is a Latin philosophical proposition by René Descartes usually translated into English as “I think, therefore I am”, probably the one thing that defines our specie.

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