If I were to give a one-word answer, the answer would be no. Coaching is not essential or necessary to crack the UPSC or IAS examination. There are aspirants who have cracked the examination without formal coaching and in the future too there will be aspirants who will be successful in doing so.
However, note the usage of the word “formal” in the last sentence; that’s the key. Aspirants might have succeeded in the UPSC examination without a formal coaching institute’s tag with their names, but did they really achieve it without any “coaching”?
The UPSC is like the Mount Everest of exams and if you are thinking of conquering it, can you really go unprepared? If the answer is no (which it should be), how are you planning to prepare for it and how will you ensure that you can do it even without a formal coaching institute’s help?
Let us first understand that a coaching institute only makes your job a little easier by guiding you about what to study, what to focus on, what to avoid, etc. Finally, the preparation, hard work and sweat is yours in making your preparation culminate into success.
So what are the problems you will face when you think of preparing for UPSC by yourself?
First of all, it is the syllabus and exam pattern that is confusing. The syllabus is huge and largely undefined. You are expected to know a lot about a lot of things and it can be difficult to know where to stop once you start preparing. If you had unlimited time, this isn’t a difficult thing to do, but since all of us would like our preparation to be productive in the shortest possible time, we will need to know where to stop as well as where to start the preparation.
The second confusion is usually around what optional to choose. Even if you are familiar with one of the subjects or even considerably good at it, does it make sense for you to take it as an optional for UPSC? Or should you opt for a subject that is “scoring” or a subject that the last topper had opted for?
Read: A Detailed Guide to Choosing the Best Optional Subject for UPSC
Then there is the confusion about how much to read. How deep do you need to delve into a subject? Where do you stop probing deeper into a subject? What detail of facts do you need to have on your fingertips?
The next confusion is about what sources to use and therefore, largely about what not to read. As soon as you ask around about the booklist you will be handed a long list of books needed for UPSC, but you need to choose a few from them that works for you. How will you choose the right books for you?
Then there is the problem of this being an examination that requires a fairly long preparation of about 1 to 1.5 years. You need an exam strategy and a preparation strategy. You will have to perhaps break up your preparation into disjointed segments where you leave off preparation and prepare for something else and come back to the first again at a later date.
Then there is the problem of keeping oneself motivated through this long period. You will see your friends perhaps doing things that have more immediate results, maybe jobs, taking solo trips, settling down, and you will be preparing for something that is highly uncertain.
So given all these confusions, it is quite natural to seek guidance and help. If you have that in the form of parents or well-meaning relatives, you might actually succeed without any formal coaching. However, if you don’t have such a support system readily available to you, I would strongly suggest that you seek help instead of wasting time trying to reinvent the wheel.
What coaching institutes will help you with is their knowledge and experience to help you decide on all the parameters discussed earlier while also helping you with notes and self-testing.
In case you are still deciding to prepare by yourself, I would like to leave you with a few tips.
Work on Your Reading Capacity
- Practice active reading
- Filter out unnecessary information
- Learn to be discerning
Practice Writing Longer Answers
- Practice writing daily
- Make it a habit
Improve Your Analytical Skills
- Develop analytical thought
- Analyze everything
Stay up to date with important current affairs
- Learn which news is important
- Learn to analyze the relevant current affairs
Start thinking in more inclusive ways
- Train yourself to think in a more inclusive and balanced fashion
- Inclusiveness means thinking not only of your social class or region but of India as a whole
Improve Your Argumentative Thinking
- Can you give arguments that are strong, logical and evidence-based?
- Can you think argumentatively and articulate an opinion within a stipulated time?
- Can you think argumentatively and articulate an opinion spontaneously?
Enhance Your Memory
- Learn how to retain what you’ve learned
- Learn how to revise
- Learn how to recall
- Learn to cross-link different subjects
And last, but not least
Take a well thought out decision about taking coaching or doing self-preparation. Remember, coaching makes your preparation shorter and smarter and more efficient. However, it is you who has to put in the hard work and take your preparation for success.