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How to Study Art and Culture for Government Exams?

Important Sources to refer to while studying Indian Heritage, Art & Culture

This is an exclusive list of NCERTs which you should be studying or going through (3-4 readings).

New NCERTs
  • Class XI: An Introduction to Indian Art (Part I)
  • Class XI: Living Craft Traditions of India
  • Class VI-XII NCERTs (Art & Culture Portion)
  • ThoughtChakra Articles (We’ll be uploading regular content related to all sections of General Studies)

The first and foremost thing is to go through the Art & Culture Section of the Previous Year Papers (Both Prelims and Mains)

After you have an understanding of what question types are being asked in the exam (single liner? 3-4 statement questions? Multiple choice questions? Match the following?), you have to start reading the Basics from NCERTs.

It is recommended to start from Class VI NCERT, which would help in covering Art and Culture as followed in Ancient India.

Try to build an understanding of what is written in the NCERTs. In the first reading, you need not make notes or start underlining.

In the second reading, you have to make sure that you are building an understanding, where you can differentiate between the Political Aspects of the various periods, from the Art & Culture Part.

It is here that you start working on notes making.

Further, once you start to read the Newspaper, you need to try and connect any topic appearing in the Newspaper with the broader syllabus of Art & Culture.

The broader syllabus would include the following:
  • Architecture
  • Sculpture
  • Indian Paintings
  • Religion
  • Philosophy
  • Indian Music
  • Indian Dance
  • Theatre
  • Puppetry
  • Indian Cinema and Circus
  • Bhakti & Sufi Movement
  • Language & Literature
  • Fairs, Festivals and Craft
  • Science & Technology (Art & Culture)
  • Promotion and Preservation of Indian Heritage
  • Pottery tradition in India
  • Martial Arts in India
Some of the issues that have been in news and are related to Art and Culture include:
  • Jallikattu
  • Sabarimala
  • Art Theft (Subhash Kapoor)
  • Toppling of Statues. Example – Gandhi’s Statue in University of Ghana, Africa was toppled.
  • Returning Artefacts taken by colonialists
  • State of Preservation of Artefacts in India

How many questions can appear in UPSC Prelims from Art & Culture

UPSC is known for its unpredictable nature, and while it can even ask more than 20 questions just to topple the preparations, it is expected that generally 5-6 questions come from the Art & Culture section.

How many questions can appear in UPSC Mains from Art & Culture

In the Mains Examination, Art & Culture forms a major part. But, the pattern of how UPSC asks questions keeps changing. For example, while in 2019, there was just a 10 mark question that was asked, in the 2020 Mains Exam, there were 4 questions worth 50 marks.

Is there a Mantra to crack the Art & Culture Portion?

There is only a mantra for anything you study – sticking to limited sources.

There are an immense number of sources available on the internet. You can keep on reading loads and loads, and it would just be the tip of the ice-berg that you have read. Would this guarantee a good performance in the subject? It could, Art & Culture was the only subject you had to give an exam for.

Hence, we recommend you to stick to 1-2 sources, and focus on revising. Most of all, the idea to keep practicing tests – for both Prelims and Mains.

Steps to ace Indian Art & Culture

  • Study the sources once
  • Start making notes in the second reading
  • In the third reading, make even crisper notes from what you have studied
  • Start solving test papers
  • Value Addition for extra marks in Mains: Start preparing maps for different aspects like Martial Arts, Folk Music, Theater, etc. (Tip: Look for the NCERTs, you will find loads of them)
  • Chronological Order:
    • Make a table with approximate dates of construction of different architectures and sculptures
    • Note down the time period of existence of different important personalities
    • Try to find out who are contemporaries

Studying Art & Culture for the Prelims Exam

  • Make crisp-short notes for what has appeared in the Previous Year Papers
  • Revise your short crisp notes that you have made after reading your primary sources 2-3 times
  • Revise and keep revising
  • Attempt Mock Tests (Subject-Wise and Full-Length Tests)

Studying Art & Culture for the Mains Examination

  • Identify recurring topics in the exam and prioritize
    • Example – Questions on Bhakti-Sufi Traditions tend to appear
    • Questions on Buddhism and Jainism Architecture, Art, Philosophy, Sculpture have high chances of coming in the exam.
    • Recent trends focus on Ancient and Medieval Kings which have been neglected. Example : KrishnadevaRaya Literature Patron (2018)
    • Chinese and Arab accounts in reconstruction of Indian history; 2020 etc
  • We shouldn’t leave the subject altogether just because there are bouncer questions that have appeared from the subject. For example, not even the toppers would be able to answer questions related to Persian Literary Sources of Medieval India.

But if you revise and re-revise your notes and content from your tests, chances are high that you would be able to recall, connect the dots, or reproduce something fruitful in the real exam.

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