Is NCERT books still relevant for Civil Services Exam (CSE) ?

The most frequently asked question by any new CSE aspirant is “What books should I read for prelims and mains?” Since UPSC does not recommend any specific study material, this is an obvious question from any new aspirant. But does the new aspirants get a credible answer for this question? I have seen several coaching institutes (not all) providing a standard study material list which hasn’t changed for years together. The most unacceptable part is that few toppers also acknowledge this list. The standard list of study material recommended is NCERT for General studies along with few more standard books such as LaxmiKanth’s Indian Polity, Spectrum Modern India, etc.,
            Considering the last two examinations and changes in exam pattern (which always will be) my opinion is NCERT is too overrated from CSE point of view. Everywhere I can see aspirants purchasing NCERT books and read it page by page. Additionally the buzzword is OLD NCERT books.  In the last 14 years NCERT have changed the books several times. In fact I have a full set collection of each set in my shelf .
Until the introduction of CSAT, I was recommending NCERT for my students. It’s undeniably a one point of reference for handling prelims.
            But after introduction of CSAT pattern by removing optional subject from the Prelims, It’s high time to contemplate on the advice about NCERT books. Yes, I agree there were several questions from NCERT (even direct questions) till 2015. What happened after that?
            My assumption is, whatever the questions that came from NCERT till 2015 is the spill over from UPSC general studies question bank that was created before introduction of CSAT. In fact the spill over is too evident by seeing repeated questions from previous years. Here I don’t mention repeated questions from the same topic, I point the straight reoccurrence of the same question in prelims. For example a question about places of Buddhism and another on managing Fiscal deficit.
            Does NCERT books are artificially hyped? My doubts stems from the following points
1. When the New NCERT pattern books are published several years ago, how are we getting unlimited stock of Old NCERT books freshly printed? Who is doing it and why?
2. How does UPSC imagines that the OLD NCERT books are still available throughout India when its printing must ideally be stopped several years ago.
3. If NCERT books are the most qualitative books, why does CBSE schools use the rewritten version of it published by private publishers like oxford etc.

Back to our topic of Civil services examination this discussion is crucial because many new aspirants still get advice that UPSC takes questions from NCERT. Hence they spend a sizable amount of time in reading NCERT rather considering it as a fundamental book to brush up their Knowledge.  Like a warm-up before heavy lifting.
We all know that the CSE is a graduate level examination. The old CSE prelims exam pattern (GS + Optional) = GS paper heavily relied on NCERT and Optional at Graduate level.
Optional paper removed in prelims after introduction of CSAT pattern (GS + CSAT). The level of CSAT paper cannot be at a graduate level for several reasons (language, basic numeracy etc) and also it is not counted for cutoff (33% enough to get through this paper). So the obvious choice of making this examination to graduate level is by elevating the General Studies Paper 1 in prelims from NCERT level to a graduate level syllabus.

In this scenario do you think that still questions will come from NCERT books for prelims. If that is the case how does CSE prelims can be counted as a graduate level exam. This is something we must think over before heavily relying on NCERT alone.

Let me validate my point – In the prelims 2016, I can show that all the ancient history questions were asked from a book written by Upinder Singh and the Questions on modern India was from the book Plassey to Partition by Shekar Bandhopadyay. I can challenge this finding and give proof with the page number and the line number from which the questions were taken even without rephrasing the sentences.
            Not limiting to this, I can see the trend spill over to Combined Defence Service examination of UPSC as well where the History questions were asked from the same books. So this makes it clear that the new question bank of UPSC has a major reference to these books for History part. Both the books are considered as a reference material for Academic syllabus for graduate students in History.
            It’s really surprising that from no direction I can see that this shift in pattern is not discussed in any forum.
            Wait, don’t immediately assume I am recommending the two books mentioned above. That is not my intention. And also Iam not against NCERT books (In fact several state CERT books are more qualitative).

My inference from the above discussion is
-          We must accept that Prelims GS paper 1 have evolved to a precise graduate level exam after the introduction of CSAT pattern.
-          Candidates can use NCERT & NIOS as a fundamental book to skim through and brush up their schooling knowledge and gradually shift to graduate level reference text books available in the market that may provide enormous subject knowledge to score high marks with confidence.
-          Already NCERT books have been ploughed between each and every line for questions and there is a poverty of content to ask further in exam. Hence the evolution of CSE to Graduate level reference material is obvious.

To summarize, I advise new aspirants to see NCERT books as a warm up material and quickly move on to standard graduate level reference materials for History, Geography, Polity, Economics etc. Specifically don’t be complacent with NCERT alone. You can see the truth in upcoming exams. Those who are future ready will taste success at the earliest.

- Many of you may be eager to know more about my claim on two books mentioned in this post. I shall give more evidence in my upcoming posts.

- A certain skill set have to be developed to move on from NCERT to Graduate level reference materials. I shall discuss about those skills in my future posts.

Disclaimer: What ever written in this post is a telescopic view of how the CSE exam is going to evolve.Iam just recording my assumptions and leave it to the readers free will to contemplate on their study plan decide their course of preparation.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority it is time to reform
                                                                                          -          Mark Twain

All the best
Kind Regards
Purush & Team