Elimination techniques for hacking MCQs

MCQs are the first obstacle in your journey toward LBSNAA. Every year lacks of aspirants are eliminated in the Prelims round of the UPSC Civil Services Examination. So getting correct answers of the MCQs becomes paramount for your success.

Here we are going to discuss some MCQ hacking techniques which are also known as elimination techniques. These techniques help you in making some intelligent guesses. We know that there is a penalty in the form of negative marking. It is always better not to make random or wild guesses. But that is not the case with intelligent guessing. However intelligent guessing cannot be a substitute for a well calculated answer. Hence you should always base yor preparation on  traditional knowledge, study materials, books, or mock test series. 

Also, there is no surety that the elimination techniques work always. It may or may not work. Use these techniques only when you have tested them well in your mock tests.

UPSC marking scheme:

  • The UPSC Civil Services Preliminary Question Paper contains 100 Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs).
  • Every question has 4 different answer options.
  • Only one out of the four options is the correct answer.  If you mark it correctly you are awarded 2 marks.
  • If you mark a wrong option, there is a penalty of -0.66 marks deducted from your total score.
  • One of the greatest advantages of the MCQ based exams is that the correct answer is in front of you. It is one of the 4 answer options – a, b, c, or d.

Students generally have two strategies for solving the MCQs

  • Either they find the right option directly with pre-existing knowledge or
  • They eliminate wrong options until they get the right option.

The first strategy is a must for UPSC aspirants. You cannot pass the Pelims if you do not have the capability to find the answer with knowledge you have. But the second strategy often helps you in getting extra marks in order to make it to the merit list. So master both the strategies.

Here are the elimination techniques

We would be discussing a few techniques which may boost your prelims score. 

#1 Eliminate vague/incomplete answer option

  • Sometimes the UPSC provides options which do not convey a clear fact of meaning. Unclear options cannot be the answer. Hence you may eliminate them.
  • For example consider the following question from Prelims, 2019

Q) In the context of polity, which one of the following would you accept as the most appropriate definition of liberty?

(a) Protection against the tyranny of political rulers

(b) Absence of restraint

(c) Opportunity to do whatever one likes

(d) Opportunity to develop oneself fully.

Answer: D 

  • Here the options a, b and c can be eliminated as they are not providing a clear definition of liberty. 
  • Option ‘’a’’ talks about protection from tyranny of political rulers, but are there  only political rulers who can exploit a citizen? A non political officer can also exploit a person. So this definition is incomplete.
  • Similarly option ‘b’ talks about absence of restraint. But it does not define restraints on whom. So it is unclear which statement can be eliminated.
  • Option c is an extreme statement. Can you imagine that a person can be given an opportunity to do what one likes!! If everyone is given that right then there will be complete anarchy in the state. So this is an impossible situation and the option can be eliminated.
  • After elimination we are left with option ‘d’ which is the right answer.

#2 Right answer is hidden in contradictory choices

  • Often you may see that some options are exactly opposite to each other. So logic says that one of those options must be correct surely. Because if something is not true, its opposite is true.
  • Consider the following question from UPSC Prelims, 2019

Q) Why are dewdrops not formed on a cloudy night?

(a) Clouds absorb the radiation released from the Earth’s surface.

(b) Clouds reflect back the Earth’s radiation.

(c) The Earth’s surface would have low temperature on cloudy nights.

(d) Clouds deflect the blowing wind to ground level.

Answer: b

Here option a and b are opposite to each other. So our answer must be one of two options. Now use your common sense. How dew is formed? When the temperature drops. It means clouds must reflect back the heat towards the Earth, that’s why less dew is being formed.

#3 Similar looking options can provide the right answer

  • Consider the following question from Prelims 2019.

Q) Which one of the following groups of plants was domesticated in the ‘New World’ and introduced into the ‘Old World’?

(a) Tobacco, cocoa and rubber

(b) Tobacco, cotton and rubber.

(c) Cotton, coffee and sugarcane

(d) Rubber, coffee and wheat

Here option a and b are quite similar. Tobacco and Rubber are common to both. We have to eliminate either cocoa or cotton. If you know that cocoa belongs to the new world, then you can mark the correct answer as a

#4 Extreme answer choices are generally wrong

  • Look for extreme words like ‘always’, ‘never’ and drastically  . They denote that the answer choice is correct irrespective of the context. Exceptions are always there.  Such options are usually false.
  • For example consider the following question of Prelims, 2019:

Q) Consider the following statements:

  1. Most of India’s external debt is owed by governmental entities.
  2. All of India’s external debt is denominated in US dollars.

Which of the statements given above is / are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: D

  • Here the 2nd statement says that All of India’s external debt is denominated in US dollars. It denotes that external debts taken from any country are counted in US dollars. It is a type of extreme statement.Hence it is wrong.
  • Also if you know that the largest portion of the external debt  are ECBs (commercial borrowings), you can eliminate statement 1. Hence answer is d- Neither 1 nor 2

#5 Strange options are generally false

  • If you have covered the syllabus well, then you can definitely spot an odd option which does not conform to your previous knowledge. 
  • Consider the following UPSC CSE 2019 Question:

Q) With reference to the Constitution of India, prohibitions or limitations or provisions contained in ordinary laws cannot act as prohibitions or limitations on the constitutional powers under Article 142. It could mean which one of the following?

(a) The decisions taken by the Election Commission of India while discharging its duties cannot be challenged in any court of law.

(b) The Supreme Court of India is not constrained in the exercise of its powers by laws made by the Parliament.

(c) In the event of a grave financial crisis in the country, the President of India can declare a Financial Emergency without the counsel from the Cabinet.

(d) State Legislatures cannot make laws on certain matters without the concurrence of Union Legislature.

Here you can easily eliminate option c which is quite odd and impossible. If you have read Laxmikanth well, you can never imagine that the President can declare an emergency on his own. So now you have to choose the correct answer from the rest 3 options.

# 6 The option which contains exact numerical value may be eliminated

  • Sometimes the UPSC creates wrong statements by altering a numerical value because it is easy to do. 
  • It can give an exact range of a missile or satellite's orbit. These are approximate values but if exact numbers are given, then it may be a wrong option.

#7 If any part of a statement is false, then the entire statement  can be eliminated.

  • For example consider the following question from Prelims 2019:

Q) With reference to the management of minor minerals in India, consider the following statements:

  1. Sand is a ‘minor mineral’ according to the prevailing law in the country.
  2. State Governments have the power to grant mining leases of minor minerals, but the powers regarding the formation of rules related to the grant of minor minerals lie with the Central Government.
  3. State Governments have the power to frame rules to prevent illegal mining of minor minerals.

Which of the statements given above is / are correct?

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Answer: A 

  • Her statement 2 can be eliminated just by analyzing its parts. It contains two parts. 
  • We can easily see that the second part of the statement 2 is incorrect because the power to frame policy and legislation relating to minor minerals is entirely delegated to the State Governments. 
  • Based on this info we are left with options a and c. It is now easier to calculate the answers from our previous knowledge to arrive at the answer.

Disclaimer: These techniques should be cautiously applied. There is no guarantee that they always work. But if you practice hard over these techniques, you can certainly ace the UPSC Prelims with flying colours. All the best!