UPSC has recently published the Mark sheet and Cutoff for CSE 2018. While the selected candidates are elated with their victories, there are Lacs of candidates who are reappearing or appearing for the first time, who are in utter need of guidance and direction to achieve their goals this year. But before proceeding with the actual preparation part, it's important that you have an idea about how things go in the UPSC Civil Services Exam. You have to have a clear understanding of the trends of cutoffs and marks in UPSC from the previous few years, in order to know how much effort you need to put-in to seize the opportunity. In this post, we are going to give you a detailed analysis of the trends of cutoffs from the past few years and will guide you on what score could be considered as a safe score for the upcoming CSE 2019 and how should you go about implementing an on-point strategy. We are going to discuss the trends separately for Prelims, Mains and Interview and clarify how UPSC goes through the selection process.

Prelims Cutoff this year

The Prelims Cutoffs for UPSC 2018 for each category are given in the below chart. These marks are out of 200.
Category Cutoff
Gen 98
OBC 96.66
SC 84
ST 83.34
  Please note that UPSC terms the cutoff as "Minimum qualifying mark". It means that a candidate getting the Minimum Qualifying Marks is considered "selected" and qualified for the next round. Now, let us take a look at the Prelims Cutoff from previous years. Also, note that the General Vacancies are filled on the basis of Merit as there is no reservation for General Candidates. A candidate from a reserved category can also fill the vacancy allocated for General Candidates.  
From the above data, you can see that the cutoff for this year is comparatively the lowest in the last 4 years. The above cutoff marks are on the basis of GS Paper 1 only as GS paper 2 was of qualifying nature. As you can see from the above chart, a General category candidate had to get a minimum score of 98 (out of 200 = 49%) in the GS paper 1 to get shortlisted for the next round i.e. the Mains Exam, which is less than previous year's minimum score. Also, the 2018 Paper was the most difficult paper at least in the last four years.

Why low Cutoff in 2018?

The major reason behind the very low cutoff this year is the increase in the difficulty level of GS paper-1. The number of factual questions asked in the Examination was more than the number of analytical questions. A very detailed and thorough study of topics and Current Affairs was required this time, in order to clear the cutoff. The questions demanded much time than usual, hence decreasing the number of attempts a candidate would usually make. Then, there also were those candidates who, in the desire of making more attempts, lost the battle to negative marking and got eliminated. The other important factor on which the cutoff depends is the number of vacancies UPSC releases every year. This year's vacancies were recorded as the lowest in the last 5 years.
Even though the vacancies were less, the cutoff came out be 98 - a very low cut off. This was majorly because of the difficult paper this year. Another important factor that affects the cutoff is the number of candidates appearing for the exam. The more this number increases, the more the cutoff rises. The number of candidates, however, remain almost the same every year, i.e. approx 5 lakhs. Hence, this year, this number didn't have anything to do with the cutoff.

GS Paper-1 Analysis

As discussed above, the paper was tougher than the usual UPSC level. A huge variety of questions were asked and the options seemed to be very tricky, rather trickier than the questions. So, there was no scope for partial knowledge in the paper as almost every question required an in-depth study and insightful knowledge. It wasn't like each question on a particular concept, there was an application of multiple concepts in a single question which required the candidates to dig deeper into their knowledge. The paper demanded a candidate to be well versed with the traditional topics as well as the topics associated with some evolving research. The paper could be divided into 3 categories: Easy, Medium Difficult, Very Difficult. While there were 12 questions that were considered easy, 54 questions were regarded as Medium Difficult and the rest 34 questions were of extreme Difficulty. The easy questions were direct and factual that were to be answered in seconds. Rest of the questions were fully based on deep analysis and concept application.
Current Affairs section was the main deciding factor this year. Those who didn't do well in this section couldn't clear the margin. The number of questions asked in CA was 35, including both direct and indirect. Generally, students are intimidated by Indian Polity as the questions asked from this topic are known to play with their heads. This year, around 18 questions were asked from Indian Polity, in which some were a mix of Current Affairs, Law and Indian Economy, while some 7 questions were considered highly Difficult in this section. Around 18 questions were asked from Indian Economy, including the direct and indirect questions. The level of questions was quite difficult. Most of the questions were from the Indian Banking System. There wasn't much from Geography as only 14 questions were asked from this topic, out of which 5 questions were overlapping with the Current Affairs section. History of India and Indian National Movement were in great prominence this year as 17 questions were directly from this topic. Though the questions were direct, a comparative analysis of data was expected from candidates in this section, which made the overall level difficult.
A major portion of Current Affairs and General Questions was covered by Science and Technology this year. There was a comprehension-based question on IoT technology and other technology related questions that can be covered by following Current Affairs.

How the Trend has been Changing Over the years?

Uptil 2010, there was a prevalence of direct current affairs questions and school level conceptual questions. From 2011, the year when CSAT paper 2 was introduced, the trend of asking Analytical and Application-based Questions in the Exam started pacing up. The years 2011 and 2012 were among the tough ones, considering UPSC had started increasing the difficulty level of the paper. The 2013 paper was considered an "ideal paper" because of the perfect balance and weightage of questions asked from each topic. The idealness of this paper was judged as per the fact that it did justice to a candidate's year-long preparation. Then came 2014, a year when the paper broke all the existing trend speculations and came up with so many surprising elements. It was expected to be filled with Current Affairs questions, though it covered roughly 7% of the paper. The least expected topics, that were earlier not given too much weightage like Ecology and Culture, were all over the paper this time, covering at least 50% of the weightage. 2015, however, was the year of Moderate level. The difficulty level was lowered and the sectional weightage was completely modified. Economy, Polity, and History took maximum coverage this year. The questions were more factual than conceptual. Again in 2016, there was a prevalence of Current Affairs along with Economy. Although the paper was factual than 2015, candidates who didn't dig deeper into the Current Affairs suffered. In 2017, it became quite clear that UPSC isn't interested in asking factual straightforward questions anymore. The conventional portion too was filled with application-based questions. Current Affairs alone took the maximum coverage with 33 questions, some of which were very insightful questions. 2018, you know, how it continued to maintain this trend of inconsistency and troubled the candidates with a completely different pattern.
Hence, you saw how UPSC has been showcasing non-uniformity in the paper every year. No two years are the same. We saw how it came from being an "ideal paper" to becoming a complex and unbalanced paper. Very little or no portion of the paper has remained predictable now.

Target Areas for the Upcoming Prelims

Considering the above trends and recent changes, one should go about making certain considerations while preparing for upcoming Prelims Examination. Since the paper is quite unpredictable, a candidate should be prepared any kind of drift from the conventional pattern and be ready for the uphill battle. Thus a candidate must be habituated to perform well in any type of paper of the past ten years. ForumIAS Simulator Tests - which have 8 Simulator Tests simulate the exam pattern of each year, such that a candidate who is consistent in his performance across all the papers, will not find the Prelims examination a surprise. For covering the Current Affairs section, as well as otherwise, a candidate must revise the same things as many times as possible so as to avoid making an error. Revision is the key to cracking a Prelims paper. Give Science and Technology equal importance as History or Economy as you saw how Science and Tech ruled this year, but with maximum coverage in Current Affairs. While Covering the Current Affairs of the last one year, cover some contemporary issues from past 3-4 years too as they might have a huge weightage and relevance in the present year. ForumIAS Current Affairs Classes for Prelims cover past 2-3 years facts which are important for the exam so that you get a maximum output for your time invested. Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments. Or you can email us at blog@forumias.com