How to prepare for Combined Defence Services Exam without coaching


Are you preparing for the Combined Defence Services (CDS) exam, and questions like these come to your mind - How should I start my preparation, What should I read, Is newspaper reading important for this exam, Where will I find the test series and previous year questions? This article provides the answers and some tips on how to crack the exam.

The CDS(Combined Defence Services) Exam as the name suggests is a combined exam for the recruitment of candidates in these Academies :

-Indian military academy (IMA)
- Indian Naval Academy(INA)
-Officers trainer academy(OTA)
-Indian Air Force Academy(IFA)

It is conducted twice a year by UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) in the months of, February and November. Every year more than 2 lakh students appear for the exam and around a few thousands are selected ranging in 7000-10000 qualifies this exam to appear for SSB (Service Selection Board) Interviews.

All the dates related to the exam whether form filling, admit cards, and results are given already on the UPSC calendar for the year. But if any kind of delay happens then its notification and information regarding it, is also uploaded on the official website of UPSC. So a candidate should keep checking the official website for any kind of announcement and recruitment notices.

CDS, Syllabus and How to study it

The most important step towards preparing for any exam is to have a full understanding of the exam pattern and its syllabus. This syllabus can easily be obtained from the UPSC's official site. This syllabus keeps updating every year per the new topics added so it is important to have an updated syllabus.

Basically for CDS focus is on three main subjects-
PAPER I - English
PAPER-II- General Awareness
PAPER III- Mathematics

Here I will start with elaborating from PAPER- II which is the broadest and most feared by students.

Paper II- General Awarness

For paper II other than the good understanding of the syllabus one need to understand what exams such as CDS, NDA (National Defence Academy), CAPF (Central Armed Police Forces), and Civil Services all conducted by UPSC expects and asks from a candidate.

What do they expect from a candidate

- They don't want you to cram everything there is to remember, but have a general knowledge of everything important happening around the world that has relevance for society and administration.

-Topics that a candidate who wants to be a leader should understand, and can use that knowledge in real-life situations when the times come.

-Thus a candidate should have a good understanding of current affairs, good general awareness which he/she can connect with all the aspects of the syllabus.

- Topics relating to Geography, History, Polity, Economics, Environment Issues, World Affairs, Science, Art, and culture are common in all these exams conducted by UPSC, just the content is broad and less in accordance with the Exam.

This ability of connection making can be improved by daily reading and listening to News make short notes and trying to make these notes, especially in one-liners. Try to read, in the newspapers and magazines sections about all the important schemes, international relations, geography (and simultaneously use maps) which are part of the syllabus and solving MCQs from previous years based on such things.

Paper I- English

For Paper I, one should have good knowledge of English be it grammar, vocabulary, comprehension and usage . These things can be improved by reading on the daily basis.

Developing Reading Habits

Firstly, if you develop the habit of reading English newspapers daily, it will help you in both Papers I and Paper-II. Most people advise candidates to read " The Hindu". If you could read it efficiently well and good but if you can't and feel it is too much time-consuming, any good English newspaper be it Indian Express or Times of India will do as well, but the key is consistency, not the particular newspaper.

Secondly, try to focus on editorial, international relations, sports and all the themes related to the syllabus and read them daily.

Thirdly, if necessary paste a printed copy of the syllabus by your bedside or study table, wherever you like to read the newspaper and study as well. So you can simultaneously check whether the topic you are studying is a part of the syllabus or not, it will help you in efficient reading.

Paper III-Mathematics

- For Paper III, First, try to finish all the chapters in the syllabus and then practice daily and especially all the questions in the previous year's question papers. Once finished with all the chapters you should brush up on the entire mathematical concepts you have read so far, as per the syllabus. Make a chart of all the important formulas and paste it on the nearby wall and, see it, revise it every time you pass by so that they get fixed in your memory.

Although you can still qualify for OTA without giving this paper III. But if you want to go for IMA, INA and IFA you have to appear for this paper as well and get a good score, it is very essential for making it into the merit and qualifying list.

You can prepare without Coaching

CDS is one of the exams which is difficult to qualify, but it can be qualified without coaching as well. Only if you are ready to spend time with dedication in studying for it. Preparation for 6 months with seriousness and dedication with consistency will do wonders for you. Reading daily, and trying to relate all the current affairs you see around with the syllabus. And trying to solve as many multiple-choice questions which were asked in the previous year questions your confidence will boost up.

Sectional Tests and Where to find them

You can start these MCQs(Multiple choice questions) on various sectional tests freely available on various sites for preparation for an exam such as Grade up by Byjus, Testbook, adda247, and Unacademy. Solve previous year's papers and also watch for the things which are continuously being asked for years and mark them important in your notes. For example, a question based on equivalent ranks among the army, navy, and air force has been one of the questions asked almost every year in the CDS exam. Once you get the hang of giving sectional tests and are fully prepared go for full-length tests.

Test series

To start taking a full-length test, you need a good test series that you can easily purchase from any of the sites mentioned above. These test series usually range from Rs.300 to Rs.800 and these prices can vary and fluctuate according to these sites and the offers they provide. On all these sites they provide all previous year question papers as well, which you can take if you have more time and fully prepared, and have already solved all PYQs (previous year questions). It is very necessary to take these mock tests, especially a month before the exam, try to take one full-length mock from each paper on a daily basis. Then analyze them simultaneously which feels like time taking and tedious process but it is worth it. Without analyzing exams just taking mocks is not much significant so do analyze them. Check your weakness and strong point and try to improve your weak areas and keep revising strong areas.

Why taking mock exams is a necessity

Giving mock exams on daily basis and analyzing them. It will not only help you to improve your performance but will also let you have a real exam-like environment. So you will not feel nervous or pressurised during real exams and will take exams feeling free and with confidence. The Indian army is such a lucrative career which not only lets you serve the nation in the best possible way one can think of but pays well as well. And also provides you with all sorts of adventures in life that a person can think of. All you need is complete dedication and focus on your preparation and take this exam with a calm and confident mind. You can seek all the information regarding the syllabus, schedule calendar for the whole year exam conducted by UPSC directly from the official website of UPSC.


Article by Neelam
"Opportunities are like sunrises if you wait too long you can miss them"

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