Tell me something about your background, academic and personal
I am Krishnan Kumar Singh. I’m basically from Ghaziabad and I have lived my whole life there. I did my schooling from Delhi Public School Ghaziabad Vasundhara. After that I did my Computer Engineering at NSIT (Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology ) Delhi. Then I thought of preparing for the civil services and appeared for my first prelims and failed them. I thought I should work in the meantime, so I appeared for and cleared the RBI Manager’s exam. After that I wrote 1 mains and couldn’t clear it by a margin of 12 marks. I finally cleared it in this attempt.
What service are you expecting at 181?
I am expecting IPS which is my third choice. IFS should be closing at around 150 or 160.
How do you keep yourself motivated in the face of failure?
That’s a very valid question. Most of us who decide to appear for the exam believe that we will clear it in the first go, but a lot of times things don’t work out that way. Even in my case, I failed my first prelims. One thing that is very important is to always keep the core reason for taking this exam, in mind. My core reason was that I want to serve my nation, and this is the best way I could do it. I kept this is mind and always reminded myself that I have a larger reason for taking this exam and should not shy away from it because of these small problems. At the same time, it is very important to have positive minded people around you, so the support of the family comes very handy. Also, you should have your circle of friends. I have friends who themselves work for corporate but used to call me up to motivate me! All this helps a lot. Then you have to persevere. That is something that goes without saying. One has to work hard.
Do you think it is important to take guidance to clear this exam?
I believe it is. The reason is, you can try doing it on your own, make a few mistakes and then learn. But obviously, those mistakes are going to cost you a few attempts. 1, 2 or 3 attempts. Instead, if you have the right guidance, sometimes these mistakes can be avoided. That is why we see that people who have better guidance clear the exam in their first attempt. So guidance helps.
Is it important to go to Delhi?
I took coaching only for my optional, not my G.S. I believe that going to Delhi is not necessary. In the past two years I was working in Shimla and I didn’t frequent Delhi or Ghaziabad very often. So I believe that if you have the right direction, the right strategy, the right booklist and the right way to learn and do the things, that is sufficient. Moving to Delhi is not necessary. It helps, but that’s it.
A lot of people can’t afford to move to Delhi either.
Exactly! For me taking tuition in Delhi was not possible. I didn’t want to spend this kind of an amount and I didn’t, and it’s not necessary.
Do you think online sources can really help someone to crack the exam?
I believe yes. See, at the end of the day, it is your hard work. It is the effort that you put into the preparation that counts. But at the same time, the right direction and right book-list and content should come from somewhere. In fact I used to refer to a few YouTube videos because there are some areas, say in geography; you need to understand the concepts. In those cases these online sources help.
How do you filter good online content from the innumerable stuff that is available?
In my case the filter is simple, I go to YouTube, I type a topic, say land forms, I see one or two videos, in case I like the video a lot, I would like to see the next video. That is how filtering works. You like one content, then you move on to the second from the same source and then on to the third. That’s how it worked in my case. Views is a very subjective thing, I might not like a video even though others have liked it.
Did UPSC preparation transform you as a person?
One thing is that now I have a much more pragmatic approach to life in general and to the society around me. Earlier I used to think we could change everything. Now I realize that we can bring only incremental changes. What is equally important is that we learn a lot of things during our preparations; our discussions become much more knowledge based. This is something that adds value to whatever we do, even if we don’t become administrators. Whatever we end up doing we will add value to it. This is what UPSC preparation brings into you. You know about so many things, you know how policies are being made; you know that the government is acting in various areas. We get to know about the schemes. I will take an example. I have travelled a lot in Himachal Pradesh. Earlier I used to only hear about Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, but now when I go to the villages, I actually see that roads are being constructed in the villages using the funds from the scheme. So schemes are working on the ground, I believe that this awareness comes to you when you prepare for UPSC. Then we also learn about the deficiencies in the scheme. This makes you a very rounded personality.
Did you start right after your graduation to study for this exam?
I started in the 4th year of graduation. I had decided that I would not take the placements and would rather take one shot at the exam. And like I said, a lot of us believe that we will clear it in the first go, but things didn’t work my way.
Do you think it is good to start during your graduation?
I get to meet a few people who are confused between taking up a corporate job and taking the exam. To those people I say that they better take up a corporate job and after one or two years they’ll be able to take a clear decision. But for people who are very clear that they want to sit for civil services exam, it always helps to start early in the second or third year of graduation. It helps to build a foundation and even the interview board views it positively that you are very young and very sure and categorically want to enter the civil administration.
How does it help you to start early?
The thing is that after 2 or 3 years of graduation you become older and a few things start coming your way. Obviously your peers have moved much ahead of you, some friends are pressurized by their families to get married at 25 or 26. Obviously when you are starting early at 22 or 23, you don’t have much to do, in terms of the years. So I think it’s a good thing to take the exam early if you are clear.
What is more important? Covering the syllabus or developing critical thinking?
When I was writing my first mains my friend had told me that content is the most overrated thing as far as this exam is concerned, and I have realized that this is a fact. They are not testing you on content over those 2 or 3 pages. You can only write so much in the given time. The more important thing is how well you comprehend the question; how well you are analyzing it and how many dimensions you are covering in your answers and how many facets you have in your answer. The other important thing is, when you identify the facets, structure it well and present it to your examiner. So the examiner should get to know that this person is a thinker, he has understood the question well, he has delved on it and is trying to explain all possible dimensions of it. So basically it should bring out all aspects of the question. So if a question is on the electricity generation in India, one should give out all the facts and statistics, what is the present scenario, it should cover the problems, the schemes the government is having and also the way ahead. This is what differentiates an average scorer from a high scorer.
How did you manage to cover current affairs efficiently and effectively?
As you know I was working during my preparation and thus I did not get enough time to read the newspapers, so I did not make any notes from the newspapers. I used to read The Hindu for 15 to 20 minutes daily. So I knew what are the events happening and from those events you have to derive the issues. I was always conscious of that. Also, before the prelims I referred to one of the standard compilation booklets that are available in the market for current affairs. I did not go around looking for a lot of sources because that would have been difficult for me to revise. So more than learning from a source, what is important in this exam is revision. If you have fixed a particular source, try to revise it 3 to 4 times. This is what helps. Just fix one source and revise it multiple times. So before my prelims I used to meet people, I met a friend and he asked which source I was referring to. When I named my source, he asked if I was not referring to two other sources. I said I could not. He exclaimed that it looks difficult for me to crack prelims. However, I ended up getting 14 more marks compared to him. Somehow the more important part is taking mock tests well. Because a lot of people will soon be sitting for their prelims, I’d say mock tests are more important than hunting for current affairs. Just fix one source and revise it.
How do you keep yourself focused?
I think the most important thing is to have faith in oneself. I should be very sure that what I am preparing and how I am preparing is the best I can do. If I am truthful to myself, I won’t listen to anyone else. So I knew that I had taken a week’s leave and this is the best I could prepare and this would help me sail through. There’s one more thing. Have a good mentor and don’t listen to anyone else except your mentor. This also helps for new aspirants. This could be some teacher in your coaching, your online guru, or your senior in college or UPSC. Just listen to what they say and try to follow it. I see a lot of aspirants who are confused about whom to listen to. Listen to someone whose advice feas manels right to you.
How did you manage to study while working?
When you have 6 hours in a day and you realize that these are the only 6 hours you have then you start working and start realizing the value of time. For every candidate procrastination is the biggest issue. We always feel that we are tired. Every day after work we feel that we are tired and feel like moving the things to be done to the next day, when we will be less tired. Sometimes we push things to the weekend, then we aren’t able to get a lot of throughput in the weekends and the preparation suffers. This happened to me and this happens to everyone. I devised a few strategies. I used to pay my friend Rs.10,000 if I defaulted on writing a test on a particular day. Since I was working I had money but I had no time, this helped me. Because I knew that I would lose Rs.10,000 in a day. I wouldn’t have studied that day and also would have lost Rs. 10,000. So I made myself write a test every day. The other thing was that since I was travelling a lot, I recorded a few of my notes and I used to hear them while travelling regularly. A lot of people in Mumbai and Delhi travel for an hour or two hours every day. One could either hear these voice notes or watch YouTube videos. Just after my prelims whenever I travelled I used to watch YouTube videos of toppers’ talks. This is a good idea because you don’t have to focus a lot but you get to learn about a few ideas about how to write better answers or to deal with prelims or mains. So just try to utilize whatever time you have.
How did you prepare for the interview?
I did prepare a lot for the interview. I ended up getting good marks, 204 to be precise. What I have realized is that it isn’t the right strategy to not prepare for the interview. One should prepare for the interview as religiously as one prepared for the mains. I went through each and every bit of my detailed application form (DAF) and prepared as much as I could. I knew my limitations that I could think only in a particular way, so I sent my DAF to as many friends as I could and asked them to ask 10 to 15 questions to me based on my DAF, and I prepared all those questions, starting right from my name. So my name is Krishnan so I read up on Krishna, the Bhagavad Gita and also on the political aspects of Krishna’s character, because he is a political thinker. You should connect the dots in your DAF. Since I had political science as my optional, I should also be preparing on Lord Krishna as a political thinker. I prepared on all these lines and somehow my entire interview went on predictable lines. I had answers to more or less all the questions. The other thing is that the interview is more of a personality test and not a test of how much you know because UPSC is already testing that in the prelims and the mains. It’s a test of your personality, so try to be very honest and sincere, and try to be truthful. If you don’t know the answer to any question, be forthright and say you don’t know.
What was the reason behind choosing your optional?
The primary factor was interest in the subject. I did zero down on a few subjects. I zeroed down on Pol. Science, Public Administration, Sociology and Physics during my college days. I went through the past papers and the preliminary material of Public Administration because I was considering it along with Political Science. I found Pol. Science more interesting than any other option and I thought my interest will help me sail through. So I believe that interest should be the primary motivation behind taking any optional.
What would be your success mantra?
I doubt I have any specific success mantra. Of course it is the grace of God and the support of your family members and friends that help you get through. But there are 2 things that are very important, confidence and consistency. Like you said, you might meet a few failures on the way, but you must be confident that you will sail through. The second thing is consistency. Even if you are short on time, if you are working or have any problem back home, try to be consistent give as much time as you can in a day to the preparation and that should be it. Do not procrastinate, have your goal in mind. Keep good company.