Ankita Choudhary (AIR 14, UPSC CSE 2019) sharing her Preparation Strategies
How do you feel?
I am feeling very happy and on top of this world, because I was not expecting this.
Tell me something about yourself, your educational background and how preparing for the civil services came about.
I am basically from Rohtak district in Haryana and I did my BSc. Chemistry from Hindu College Delhi University, and then I did my post graduation from IIT Delhi. After that I started preparing for UPSC.
You did not prepare for the civil services while at Hindu?
Actually I had decided to prepare for civil services right from when I was in school, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for civil services after I graduated, so I wanted to a little bit matured before I take up this job. That is why I decided to first pursue post graduation and then I’ll do it.
Do you think it was a good decision to pursue your post graduation and then prepare for civil services rather than preparing along with your graduation itself, in hindsight?
No I am happy with my decision and I have no regrets. I am happy that I have enjoyed my college life and my life at IIT Delhi during my post graduation and now I will be a civil servant.
Do you think one can devote some time towards developing certain personality traits if they want to start preparing right from college?
Yes, if you are a serious candidate for the services then you should start preparing yourself at a very early stage. So in college and IIT Delhi, I was preparing myself, grooming myself. I was trying to be a positive and optimistic person. I was trying to speak in public forums, so yes I was trying to improve myself. So it is very important that you work on yourself before you get into depression.
What exactly are the things that you were doing to improve yourself?
I started looking at things from a very positive perspective. Every decision I took, I looked at it positively. I was not a very positive or hopeful person initially, so gradually I inculcated this quality in myself. And then when I was at IIT Delhi I tried to participate in the cultural events and trying to be a person who is good at communicating at others. So I was working on that part of my personality. I was participating in events and organising events.
What was your strategy to complete the syllabus?
I started preparing in 2016 -17 so I took coaching for the GS initially. I didn’t get the time to revise and that I think was my mistake in my first attempt. After that I started working on that part and I think the most important part is to do self study after you have your notes and all the study material, and make your own notes. I think that has been important for me.
So you think making your own notes is a very important part because it helps you in revision?
Should one have a study plan?
I am a person that likes plans. I plan my schedule for each day and I try to give myself a target and I don’t go to bed unless I have completed them all. I am very strict about that.
How did you manage to keep yourself motivated?
I started making short term goals initially. Like, if I am capable of doing 4 papers a day, I used to give myself a target of 3 papers. Initially this generated a confidence that yes I could do this, then, gradually I made my schedule more difficult by increasing my targets step by step. If you are not able to fulfil a single target then you should do like that. You can take chapters, saying you’ll do 4 or 5 chapters of a particular subject in a day.
How did you manage a balance between the knowledge depth and the time crunch?
I made it a point that I would not refer to a thousand sources for a subject. So I was very particular and choosy about what I was going to read for a subject. So I made sure that I stuck to those only. My main focus was to revise the part that I had covered. So I referred only 4 to 5 sources for each subject and revised them multiple times.
How did you manage the uncertainty with respect to prelims?
I think the prelims are the most difficult phase in UPSC examinations. For prelims I took a lot of mock test series and I revised them. I attempted thousands of questions and revised them too. So before going for the paper I was sure that I had revised, I had taken the PT365 from Vision and I had revised all my notes at least twice before my paper. So my main focus was on revision.
How many questions did you attempt in your prelims?
I generally tried to attempt between 80 to 85 questions and I don’t go beyond that. Even in this prelims I was sitting idle for about 15 minutes. I attempted around 86 questions and then I told myself that I wouldn’t attempt any more. I think the most important thing is to balance so that you don’t miss out because of incorrect answers. For some people I have seen that the range of 85 to 90 has worked, but for me 80 to 85 has worked, so I tried to follow that. Next I try to read my question paper at least twice before marking the final answer.
How did you manage the current affairs? Is mere reading newspapers enough or do you need analysis of the news?
I referred to The Hindu. Newspaper is the basic part, and over and above that you need to do something else too for cracking current affairs. So I referred to Insights Current Affairs and I made my own notes for every month. And I focused only on my notes before prelims and I revised that.
How important is practicing writing answers for the mains?
Writing practice is important from 2 perspectives. One is for increasing your speed to answer all the 20 questions in the 3 hour period. The other aspect is improving how you present your answers because you can’t write as if you are answering your graduation papers in college. So it is very important how you are presenting your answers. You should use diagrams and flowcharts and examples and dos and don’ts and you need to highlight your answers so that it is easily readable and it is easily communicated to the examiner that you have attempted all the questions.
Do you think the personality of a person has a role to play in the mains answers?
Yes, I have personally experienced it, because all my answers would end on a very positive note because you can’t fake positivity while you are writing the paper. You could fake only for 2 to 3 questions but after that you have such limited time that your personality and belief will show through in your answer. So it is very important that you believe what you write.
What was your optional?
I had public administration.
What were the special things you did to study Public Administration?
I referred to ARC report summary and I was more concerned about the Governance part. I was just looking for examples from the Daily Populika Administrative Life so I could give loads of examples in my answers. I think that has helped me score.
What was your ratio between time devoted between GS, Essay and Optional?
I think it was a smart move on my part to have chosen public administration because it has an overlap with GS II and IV. So I didn’t have to allot separate time for the syllabus of public administration. If you have a lengthy optional subject like history or geography then you might have to devote more time to it, so I think it varies from subject to subject. I think you should give equal time to GS and optional.
How did you prepare for your interview?
I did 5 to 6 mocks. I was told to read 2 newspapers, so I read The Hindu and The Indian Express. So the interview was quite easy, they were opinion based questions. And it is very important to have an opinion for the opinion based question even if you tell them you don’t know the answer for factual ones. I was very concerned about the current affairs of that time and I had an opinion about things that were going on. I tried to be honest in my interview and did not fake anything. I think that shows.
What was your gut feeling about the result?
I was not much concerned about the result. I already had a job and was happy in that. So I was relaxed thinking that even if I don’t clear this time, I will prepare the next time. I was just not expecting rank 14. I was expecting in 200 or something.
But you were sure of a selection.
I think my family was surer. They were saying that I would be in the top 20 or top 10, so I guess they know me better than I know myself.
Were there mentors who helped you?
I didn’t have any mentors in my life, but I think I have very good friends in my life with whom I didn’t want to discuss anything related to UPSC. Sometimes you just want to be distracted and they were my distraction. It has helped me to relieve the stress. In the mains I had a mentor through my coaching centre, he has really helped me in improving my presentation skills.
What did you do during the breaks?
I listened to music, I danced, went out with friends. Basically I avoided being in the room.
Is it necessary to go to Delhi for UPSC preparation?
I think it would have been difficult for a person like me because I don’t like consulting many people. For me I need a path. But I have a friend who stayed home and didn’t take any coaching, so it is not impossible. It is not like you have to be in Delhi only. You just need to be consistent in your approach to preparing for the exams.
How many hours did you study each day?
I studied for 10 to 11 hours every day and made it a point not to take long breaks during my preparation. I never took more than 1 day break.
So consistency, being positive, working on the personality and practicing writing are the keys.
Don’t refer to too many sources, limit yourself to few.
So pick one, pick the best and stick to that?