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Beginer Guide to Newspaper reading for UPSC/IAS Exam

How and why to read newspaper for UPSC/IAS exam? How to  Read ‘The Hindu’ or ‘Indian Express’ Newspaper for IAS Exam? Aspirants preparing for the UPSC Civil Services IAS Exam have these doubts in their mind. In this guide, we are providing answers to all questions regarding newspaper reading.

What is happening with newspapers?

When did newspaper reading become so complicated? Why are there so many issues and confusion regarding sources? In my humble opinion, I will blame it all on the hype and FOMO of the students.

In 2010-11 every one knew we have to read newspapers, but no one knew how to make most out of it, no blogs, no daily answer writing, no DNA/DNS YouTube. Few CA Magazines. So people made handwritten notes, saved clippings, consolidated. Life was simple. [Simple is not equal to easy]

In 2021 When Hindu and Indian Express papers come out there is a lot that is happening.

You can also download this guide as PDF here 

Daily:

  • Suggested articles are posted by various institutions [Which articles to read in paper, under which GS topic] Major filtering happens here.
    • Student can also use his/her own discretion to read more.
  • Current affairs analysis: Blogs/Website: Few reputed institutions will take articles from newspapers [Mostly National, International and business sections and add value.] [literally to the point that you can skip reading them in newspapers but be assured that it will be covered here]
    • This is the most helpful part for students to make notes of their own or understand the topic in-depth.
    • Downside:
    • Lot of material is dumped without relevancy and each and every topic is covered irrespective of its importance.
    • Fresher’s might follow it blindly and waste 3-4 hours on CA per day than reading basics and static syllabus.
    • Bulky: Copying all the bulky notes, students will probably never revise.
  • Daily News Analysis: Some Institutes are making videos on important articles in the newspaper and provide context and analysis.
    • Highly useful for some topics.
    • Issues: Some time what can be read in 5 minutes is explained in 30 minutes.
    • In the name of News analysis, static part is taught again.
    • Immediate gratification, less long term retention.
  • Daily Answer writing: Questions are framed on the topics from newspapers and helps people in understanding what kind of questions might come in newspapers.
    • Useful for aspirants who covered the static part and test the application. [3-4 months, then move on to test series]
  • Issues: Aspirants reproducing whatever they read mechanically.
  • Not working on static part and wasting time on answer writing without basics.
  • Writing from day one of preparation.
  • Telegram: Newspaper snippets and short notes and value addition is provided here.
    • Issues: Lot of noise and distraction
    • Supposed to be primary source for materials than newspapers.

Monthly magazine

Magazines: Few reputed institutions will release monthly magazines, some are releasing weekly basis also.

  • Very useful before the exam [ Prelims + Mains revision]
  • Useful for value addition
  • Covers PIB and other sources which sometimes have good fodder points.
  • Most of the National, international, business and miscellaneous areas in newspapers are covered here. [literally to the point that you can skip reading them in newspapers but be assured that it will be covered here]
  • Downside: Not the magazine fault but Student’s side: s/he picks it up one month before prelims and expects to remember everything.
  • Long term retention is difficult as the material is to be remembered without context and mugged up.
  • Analysis and writing skill cannot be learnt much from here.

Role and scope of Newspapers

As one can see from the above that a humble newspaper is taken as primary source and converted in to so many shapes and sizes that there is an entire ecosystem created around it. So in 2021 it’s safe to say two things

  1. Read Newspaper [the National, international, business and miscellaneous areas] for sake of reading it. Just to stay in the know. Just to know what is happening.
    1. Making notes from blogs is easier and saves time.
    2. Reading magazines becomes 10x easier after this.
  2. Read Editorials and Opinions from Hindu and Indian Express,
    1. Anything can have alternative, but not this.
    2. Take value addition points for framework.

Before we go any further, we have to know the role and place of newspapers in the larger scheme of things.

So understanding where Newspapers fits in to the macro picture helps a lot**, it’s a tool, a means to an end.** As you can see in the following diagram, it’s one among many choices for current affairs

Golden Rule [Consolidation]

  • If you invest time, or read anything in UPSC, you should use it in Prelims mains or Personality test. [ or else it’s a waste of time] This applies to newspapers.
  • It should add new knowledge or bring more conceptual clarity to existing knowledge.
  • Help in revision or answer writing
  • All the above cannot be achieved with scattered knowledge, or with weak foundation.
  • Notes or Consolidation is ultimate objective of reading newspapers editorial and opinion.

Newspapers are the primary source of Current affairs.

  • Newspapers act as daily Revision for almost all the areas of USPC and sometimes optional too.
  • CA is not something that exists in isolation, CA is static syllabus in news [ Current events]
  • CA is Polity and economy, etc. in action. Which we get to revise daily.
  • On a daily basis most of these topics are in news in one form or other.

CA stage and types

  • To appreciate Newspapers fully we will see how on daily basis it helps. As discussed above, editorial and opinion is for mains mostly, rest all daily revision of static and prelims bits.
  • Prelims: Notes in myriad forms is available, so reading daily is best investment.
    • EG: Brent crude oil, mars missions, 100 times we hear them in news, and it’s hard to forget.
  • Mains: Only Purpose is to develop analysis and save or remember points as per answer writing framework.

Types of CA

  • Fresher’s mistake a lot of static part as CA and makes notes, which end up being very bulky.
  • Static means whatever is printed in Polity, economy and other standard books like Laxmikanth.
    • E.g.: Special majority or zero hour explained in newspaper need not be saved, it’s already is given in laxmikanth.
    • Notes: Please don’t waste time on these kind of topics.
  • Evergreen Topics: These or in news on most regular basis to the point that we can call them static CA, and hardly any new value addition happens.
    • MGNREGA, National green tribunal, Privacy Judgment
    • Smart Notes making: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Copy paste from blogs to your Evernote.
  • Occasional or Seasonal: These topics are in news sometimes, like season or situation based.
    • Cyclones, Performance of parliament, Kharif crops, repo rates.
    • If you observe most of it is static and performance of parliament is one time save. No need for extra notes making.
    • Smart Notes making: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Copy paste from blogs to your Evernote.
    • Refer Static where applicable.
  • Context based or in news this year: These are things we need to save as one page notes, consider them as top 100 of this year.
    • Please keep in mind they might overlap with occasional or evergreen topics.
    • Notes: Copy paste from blogs to your Evernote. + Add notes from newspapers.
  • Slow Burn: These are topics where time and patience is needed and notes are to be made in a piece meal fashion.
    • E.g. Any student who made notes on should Olympics happen or not, and that too in an elaborative fashion wasted huge time.
    • Afghanistan issue: Daily an article is published but we need not make notes, unless there is a really interesting value addition or point. Let the topic develop in a month or two we will have more clarity.
    • Notes: Exam happens once a year not every month, these are kind of CA where magazines are more helpful than making notes.
  • General Facts and data: Irrespective of topic they are in news, like India’ rank in HDI, Corruption index etc., can be used whenever the opportunity presents itself. Or can use as points just to kill the word limit.
    • Notes: have a proper notes for mugging up such facts, 100 facts is more than enough for most.As you can see, there are different types of CA in the newspaper and not every thing deserves to end up in notes and not everything is worth your time, magazines + Static books will do,But from Opinions and editorials you need to save value addition points from them, and you will have to do it for one reason and one reason only, that is Answer writing framework to create one sheet notes.

Answer writing framework

  • The Ultimate goal is to be able to write a 150/250 words answer in mains hall with relevancy and do justice to the demand of the question.
  • Mugging up data is not going to be helpful, you cannot humanly remember every point with crystal clear clarity.Gaurav Agrawal said it bestSo the bottom line is, our answer should be such that they make the life easier for the examiner. She would be happy while reading them and would give us more marks. So no PhD types stuff… just stick to basic points and present them in a way which is easy to read.Next, this exam is not a science exam. This is a generalist exam, a humanities exam. It’s like a BA or MA exam. In a science exam, if there are 5 points in an answer but point number 1 is the most important point and rest are insignificant as compared to point 1, so if you cover point 1 only in your answer in great detail showing good understanding, you would get good marks. But in a BA, MA exam this doesn’t work. You have to not only write those 5 points, but also invent 2 more points and write. Only then the examiner would feel that you have covered all ‘relevant’ points. So one cannot ignore the trivial points and has to blindly write everything.

    Prince Dhawan said the same: Your answer sheet should be like a cool drink in a summer day to the examiner.

    Knowing that the purpose is to write a simple answer with good quality, you have to build that framework in mind. How you think is how you write, how you organize points in your brain is how you recollect.

    The Mental model is 250 words answer, everything you read in papers should work in this direction or else it’s a distraction.

    For example sake: You can watch a YouTube video, read paper, blog or book or static or even a telegram channel, but if you summarize the notes in the following fashion, you can remember more and at same time can be very adaptive to the demand of the question.

Afghanistan issue*Context: USA has withdrawn from Afghanistan, Taliban are on rise occupying Afghanistan using violence.Issues: Globally:

  • Afghanistan will become hub of terrorism – Global security
  • Drug trade and terror funding
  • Human right issues – Ethics in international relations.

India:

  • J&K – security
  • Pakistan role in hurting Indian interest in AF
  • Access to central Asia. Trade

Solutions/ Suggestions /Way Forward

  • Engaging with Taliban?
  • Soft power
  • Global coalition
  • Supporting the elected government.

Prelims based on PYQ: Map pointing bordering nations, tribes/places in news. You cannot under no circumstance extend your notes more than three pages on any topics.You cannot remember 10 facts about malnourishment alone, even if you do, you are never going to use all of them, but if you remember 17 Sustainable goals probability is higher that you use them. So when you make notes for Malnourishment one or two facts will do.

  • The Framework provided is just for idea sake and not perfect in any way, you are free to modify it in any way you see fit, as per your strengths and weaknesses.

One Page/Sheet notes

So the ultimate goal of reading papers, magazines, blogs or YouTube is to have that one sheet notes on all important topics. Do not let FOMO misguide you, this is not an exam of accumulation, it is about making most out of existing knowledge.

Why to Read newspapers?

  • To stay in the loop: To be aware that something happened [current events]. A bill passed, a SC judgment, or an international event.
    • Occam’s razor, 1 hour a day on newspapers will have high ROI than anything else I know in UPSC given that you are doing it correctly.
  • Develops Analysis: When you read opinions, you develop a lot of analysis capacity on how to see an article or issue from multiple perspectives, and use it according to the demand of the question.
    • Helps in essay and GS answer writing.
    • Develops interlinking which is very helpful in indirect questions.
  • Keywords: No better place to learn lot of keywords and adopt them in your expression along with conceptualization.
  • Formal Expression: You can criticize the government or a policy using a very formal tone using facts and empirical data. [Constructive criticism.]
  • Read between the lines: Everyone who is writing an opinion will have an agenda, right, left, pro or anti-government, political bias and personal biases, you can observe everything but take only what is needed. [helps you develop maturity and deeper understanding of reality]

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it” Aristotle · [Seems that as per internet Aristotle never said that!]

  • It makes you more Humane. [Most important point in my opinion]
  • The most common mistakes I have seen in ethics and essay papers are that students write answers mechanistically without any underlying conviction or value system, they assume copy pasting Anudeep presentation with some random keywords will automatically fetch them good score.
  • Trust me, such answers will never fetch marks, write with understanding and conviction it will make a lot of difference. [Write what is asked not what you know]
  • This is first paragraph of an article written by Kailash Satyarthi for The Hindu

Sita was 13 years old when she was trafficked. Her parents worked in a tea garden in Assam for meagre wages. She was trafficked to a placement agency in New Delhi, and bought for about ₹20,000 as a domestic worker by a couple. Sita was not paid a single rupee. Instead, she was re-trafficked, raped, and exploited by employers and traffickers. Sita’s father and I found the young girl trapped in a house in Delhi three years later. But she did not step out when we found her. She hid behind a wall, crying. “I cannot show my face to my father. I am impure now. I want to kill myself,” she said.

  • How can you not stop and think deeply about the sad state of affairs?
  • How not to empathize and sympathize with Sita here?
  • Think about society / moral values: Pure and impure.The Intricate connections you make on daily basis are hard to explain that “aha” moment is something you have to experience and develop on your own.

Daily Brainstorming

When you see an article in newspaper it helps you in multiple way for answer writing and over all preparation.

  • Daily Brainstorming: When you read an editorial on urban floods, it gives you an opportunity to enter in to that 250 words answer mental model. How can I split this article in to sub parts and is there any new international best practice or fact that is missing in my one page notes.
    1. Context
    2. Empirical data
    3. Issues
    4. Steps taken
    5. Solutions /Way forward

E.g. Dutch model – water conservation / management, just one key word will do.

  • Repetition priming and spaced repetition: if it is related to static part, please go back to your basic books if you don’t remember that particular information.
    1. E.g. pardoning power of president. Don’t read from 10 places, always go back to your original polity source, laxmikanth for most.
  • If it’s a topic which you have already made notes on, then “Active Recall”.
    1. E.g. Naxalism / left Wing extremism, Think of all the points you know of the topic. Make your brain struggle for few minutes, but it will give you reality check.
    2. Take a paper a draw India map, mark out red corridor.
    3. Or interlink with golden triangle.

How you think is how you write, how you organize points in your brain is how you recollect. Clean sorting and storing, quick recall. So practice it on daily basis, you need not do it will all articles or all topics in newspaper but 1-2 articles per day also might give you significant progress in your answer writing.

The Flow of Newspaper reading

Let me explain

Reading:

In the initial days:

  • No matter how hard you try it’s confusing and irritating and feel like you don’t understand topics fully.
  • The vocabulary is difficult and don’t even know what to read.
  • Which topics are important, which section to start and read?
  • Which paper?

See that data: random dots, that is exactly how you feel in first 3-6 months, you hear so many things on which you have zero clue and you hate newspaper like anything, watching a News analysis instantly makes you feel like last point Impact. But the truth is somewhere in between, give it time, let your static knowledge help you connect the dots. Slowly but steadily if you invest time and read newspaper daily, the results are amazing.

So some basics:

  • Hindu, Indian express or any other newspapers are not published for UPSC.
  • But these two are good sources of information.
  • Most of the article [95% have a static base]
    • Land slips – Geography
    • SC Judgment – Constitution related.
    • Pegasus –Technology, Governance and Internal security
    • Retrospective Tax – Economy and Governance
  • Unless you complete basics at least once reading papers is going to be difficult.
  • What we see is only the surface, the foundation behind it is even more important.
  • Stronger your static, more easier to read newspapers.

This does not mean you can read after completing syllabus, just to stay in the loop, to be aware of what is happening in the world, you can read newspapers from day one.

What to READ, what to focus?

1st attempt people mostly, think each and everything that comes in newspapers is important. That is not the case. There is a method to the madness. UPSC have a boundary more or less, that is Mains syllabus copy. These three sources are going to be your guiding light on what articles to read and where to focus.

First Three months:

Read them whenever you are free or feel like bored.

  • Take a print of mains syllabus copy
  • Take print of Mains PYQ [ Previous year question] From 2013 -2020
  • Purchase a PYQ prelims book.

The PYQ [Mains and Prelims] should be on your fingertips, the moment you see an article you should know what kind of PYQ have been asked on the same, you may or may not realize the question or importance of the article, immediately.

Take your time but build this habit, it will save a lot of time and won’t fall in to the material collector mode.

E.g.: You might see a heading, HC allows woman to terminate pregnancy is it important? Why, it must be important don’t assume, know why is it related to UPSC – is it about bodily autonomy of the women? Is it useful in ethics or governance? Think of the Ultimate Goal – One Sheet notes.

The North Star will guide you!

Interlinking:

When you see an article, you should start recollecting the PYQ and Syllabus line and provide a context to the article. Please remember it’s for EACH Article. [When you start doing it you will save time. Because you are removing the unnecessary stuff.]

E.g. Afghanistan issue: GS 2 [IR] can I use it in ethics? Prelims? Any other paper? See that Insight and wisdom pic that is exactly how you will feel and think, once you complete IR syllabus and understand every line in paper, no matter which direction the question is framed you will be ready.

Summary:

  • Keep reading daily for sake of reading.
  • Once your static books are done you will understand it better
  • Do not make notes in first three months
  • Focus on PYQ and Syllabus copy
  • When you see a topic link it to syllabus.
  • Don’t chase background and do research on keywords. [ Give it some time, things will come to you]

Saving

  • What is more important than reading is saving and reusing the data. Start making notes only after making good progress in remembering syllabus + PYQ + some understanding in static part. [ 3 months or later after your preparation has started]

Digital or hand written.

Digital Notes

  • Digital note making is better.
  • Easy to search
  • Copy paste of images, notes saves time.
  • Evernote is more than enough. [ For idea sake]

  • Can do same in folder with Google drive and MS word. Everything should lead to ultimate goal one sheet notes.

Hand Written notes

  • Some students prefer this, but most common mistake they make is make notes date wise than topics wise.
  • ALWAYS make notes topic wise, e.g.: crime or violence against women, there should be a single page in your notes with that heading.
    • All future notes will go under that side heading.
    • Can use folders and white papers subject wise or GS paper wise.
    • Hard to search without index, always make an index.
    • First 4-5 pages for index. [ Example Index, just for idea] can have separate books for GS 2 & 3
    • All Value addition or points about Gandhi will go in to page 38.
    • I am sure you can create a much better index and more efficiently.

Rule of thumb

  • Digital or handwritten, the mental model of one page notes should always be in your mind.
  • Ask yourself, humanly how much one can remember, we usually copy paste everything, all the cases mentioned in the newspaper, verbatim quotes and points, 4 GS papers, 100 topics each, thousand page notes is impossible to revise.
  • One sheet notes is target, so filter as much as you can,
  • Write down quotes, facts and recommendations or suggestions, problems or issues in one keyword one line.
  • You cannot have Fear of missing out FOMO, you have to remove lot of noise.
  • Please refer to Answer writing framework section.

Usage:

Now that you are making notes, you should start recollecting the data, and check the quality and usability of your notes.

  • Every Sunday you can consolidate your notes. [Remove further noise]
  • Relook at the notes you made in the last one week and consolidate and remove unnecessary data, what looked like very useful a week ago, may not be so now.
  • See PYQ mains and Essay, also take your syllabus copy and Identify areas where you already have decent notes and focus on untouched areas.
  • Work on areas which you have no clue or notes at all.
  • Start using the value addition points in your essays and mocks. [6 months in to preparation]
    • This will act like a feedback loop, you will know whether you are actually saving anything useful or just dumping data.
    • It will also give you clarity on how to save time in future by using only limited notes.

Compounding:

  • Once you start making a consolidated notes, on any topic, after that whenever you see that topic in news, reading and understanding it will be 10x easier than in initial days.
  • E.g.: if you know the issues of MSME, understanding Factoring amendment bill will be 5 min work. And also can retain that point for long time. What happened is previous efforts compound and help your revision and retention easier.
    • While writing down point under MSME you also can revise that entire topic of MSME in 5 minutes. Helps in Retaining data on regular basis, helps in active recall.

Newspaper will be the catalyst to your GS revision, they help you revise on daily basis without too much effort and also helps you keep that memory fresh. If you read it once and forgot it then the clue lies in blue line.

The Curve of Forgetting — the blue line on the graph dips into a curve to show that our memory of new

Facts we have learned declines over time, unless we revise that information regularly. There are 4 pink curved lines to represent how our memory retention will be higher if we revise the information we learn.

By repeated exposure to the words and topics you not only develop familiarity, the issue becomes very familiar and easy to handle, and keywords and points flow in the exam hall naturally, no extra efforts.

There are so many aspirants who went to exam hall in 2020 without knowing what West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil is and it’s a free 2 marks for all those who read newspapers, no special efforts needed. Just one hour a day.

Interlinking

  • Once you start getting rhythm, Interlinking becomes very easy. One more advantage of daily reading.

Final notes and Consolidation

  • Because you are in a position, to understand that your preparation for a particular topic is more or less done, can finalize the notes and try not to add anything more unless really important.
  • Mostly after prelims.

One Page notes

  • Even the most serious and senior aspirant’s fall in to the trap of more notes and material.
  • This is not an exam of accumulation, you have to use existing knowledge efficiently and effectively.
  • Facts, Data, keywords in notes and analysis is created around these basic building blocks.
  • Those who adopt to the mental model of storing data as points in logical order and revise will be able to master the notes making quickly.
  • While others keep chasing material and new sources they revise and there lies the difference between those who are doing things differently and those who are doing different things.

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