Tell me something about your background, your education and where you’re from.
I am a B. Tech in mechanical engineering from IIT Dhanbad. I graduated in 2014. After that I worked for a year in Tata Hitachi Constructions based in Raipur. After that I quit my job for the civil services preparation and I moved to Delhi in Aug 2015 and returned from there after 2 attempts. I could not make it to the final list in 2016, I couldn’t crack the interview. I had appeared in 2015 without preparation then I prepared for 1 year and took another attempt in 2016 at which time I did not clear the interview. In 2017, my third attempt, my rank was 450 in civil services and I was AIR 25th in Indian Forest Service Exam as well. After that I was under training for IFS. At that time I was posted in Dehradun and I prepared and cleared the interview in 2018. I got a rank of 160 this time.
Where are you from?
I am from Pittaria, Madhya Pradesh.
You were an engineering student working in a tech organization, so how did the idea of civil services come to you?
There are alumni from my college who have done quite well in the civil services, I was inspired by them. Also, one can read in the newspapers what change a civil servant can bring about in society, I wanted to broaden my horizon and do something that could impact people on the ground level. IAS and IPS are two important pillars in Administrative Services and I always looked forward to being in a career where I could have positive impact on people, that is why I always had an inclination for IPS and IAS and it had become my focus. This is the reason I quit my job of Sales and Marketing in the private sector and prepared for the civil services.
When did this inclination form in your mind?
In my final year when I was thinking of going for an MBA, it is then that my inclination became firm. Even at the start of college I had the inclination, but I finalized on this career option in my final year. I realized that this was the most suitable career option that was meeting both my long term and short goals. Also professionally too this is quite a satisfying career. This meets both one’s personal and societal objectives.
How did you prepare for prelims?
My strategy is that once you are done with the static syllabus well, for example Laxmikant for Polity, Spectrum or Bipin Chandra for History, you will still have the short notes and underlined texts with you. So for people appearing for their first attempt, they should rigorously follow the basic books because you need about 10 months to complete the syllabus. But once you are done, you need to have made such concise notes that you can revise the entire syllabus in one month.
Every aspirant follows the newspapers anyway, you should know the detailed syllabus that well that you can figure out which paper each new article can be relevant for. Keep independent copies of notes of GS I, II, III and IV and make notes appropriately. Monthly magazines are also quite helpful for prelims. I used to follow PT 365 of Vision. From there you can get a year’s news in one compilation. This can be a backup to your self-made notes. This is why it is important to study your basics very well.
Other than this, solve as many objective papers as possible. This will help you in a few things; first, your range of known questions will expand, second you develop an intuition about the questions and their right options. This is because in the exam setting you won’t know the answers to more than 40 to 50 questions. So if you solve enough papers, your skill of making intelligent guesses and using elimination to arrive at the right answer will develop.
Since you spoke of current affairs, do you think reading newspapers is enough or one needs to develop a critical thinking along with that?
Definitely! I never studied thinking that I am studying just for prelims. You need to be always mains ready. Don’t fall for the misconception that you will prepare for mains after the prelims. You need to always have it in mind that you will write the mains paper, this is why you will need critical thinking a lot because you will get the news everywhere, but you need to retain a gist of the analysis of the editorial in your head to succeed. For example if there’s a bilateral issue with any country, editorials will cover their economic, diplomatic and strategic impacts. You need to keep in mind that a single issue will have multiple aspects, social, economic and political and with this critical thinking you’ll have to write your answers in 200 words in an exam setting. So it’s not only a news headline, but rather a new perspective that opens for you.
So discuss with your peers and create a perspective like that of a newspaper editorial of every news headline.
Did you attempt all the questions in your mains?
Definitely attempt all the questions. There are 10 people in with the same marks as I between the ranks of 160 to 170. So every mark counts. A lot of equations change on the difference of each mark. So attempt every question even if you don’t know the answer. If nothing else, make an outline. As far as prelims are concerned you should at least attempt 90 questions even if your accuracy is high, because the competition has turned so stiff that unless your accuracy is really extremely high, you won’t make it to the list.
How important is answer writing practice for mains?
Answer writing practice is 80% of the preparation according to me. Because it helps you habituate yourself to think within a limited time. You will also get to know what speed you should be writing at right from the beginning. Also, the points occur to you as you write, so this habit is extremely important. So as you are writing one point the next point should be forming in your mind because you have only 7 to 8 minutes to answer every question. This habit forms slowly. When I started preparing for the mains, I used to write 5 questions in 45 minutes on IAS Baba portal. When I started achieving that then I progressed to attempting full question papers.
What special preparation did you do for the interview?
For the interview, I Googled every word in my DAF. I thought up questions on my background, schooling, graduation and optional subject and created a trail of leading questions based on the answers I prepared. This is a very important exercise. The second exercise was appearing for mock interviews. In the coaching centre they give you a CD and Youtube link where you can see yourself; from there you can get to know the missing links. You can also practice sitting in front of a mirror. You keep in touch with your peer group and ask them to give you an independent review.
For current affairs I read 3 newspapers for the interview, The Hindu, The Indian Express and The Times of India, for their varied perceptions. By contrast I had only read 1 newspaper for my mains preparation.
Would you say it’s a good thing to start preparing for UPSC right from college?
That’s a very good idea. If someone is already conscious from college days about their career choices, one does get a lot of free time to devote 3 to 4 hours daily. So you can definitely find a peer group and sharpen your views on the current affairs. You can also deal with one or two subjects in college itself so that when you start preparing you only have to tackle current affairs and a little bit more. So you can make the outline of your preparation in college itself. Early start is always beneficial.
Is it really necessary to go to Delhi to prepare for UPSC?
It’s seriously not necessary to go to Delhi, with the number of web portals and blogs that are available nowadays, guidelines for current affairs and even all the material is available free of cost online. So if you have the right guidance in the initial stage, what you need to study, how much and from where, then you don’t need to go to Delhi.
There’s nothing special as such in Delhi, in fact many people get de-motivated after going to Delhi seeing 400 to 500 students in a single class. You can even prepare in a small room far from Delhi, you just need that initial guidance.
How many hours did you study every day?
I didn’t have any fixed routine as such, but I would set myself weekly targets and divide those into days. So in a day I would spend 8 to 10 hours preparing.
Would you want to make another attempt?
Yes, I’d like to attempt once more in 2019.