Interview with Bhumika Kaushik (AIR 395) – With Awesome Advice for Prelims Exams

Bhumika Kaushik

Full Length Interview

How does it feel to become a civil servant from a student?

I am not feeling any different now. It has just been a week. Feeling like a civil servant will come only when we go for the services. Right now it is just rank calculation and service calculation that’s going on.

A lot of mental mathematics must be going on now?

Yes, mental mathematics, and people around me are ecstatic and the fact that I like what has happened makes me feel like “ok at least something has happened”

Would you tell me something about your background and educational qualifications?

I have lived in Ghaziabad for most of my education. I did my 10th from Delhi Public School Ghaziabad Vasandhara, I scored 96% there. I did my 12th from Alcon Public School Mayur Vihar, New Delhi where I scored 91%. I sat for the Engineering Entrance Exam and cleared IIT. I took Environmental Engineering in Delhi College of Engineering. It is now called Delhi Technological University. I graduated in 2015 and started preparing. I did not take any job. So I appeared for 2016 prelims and got through to mains. 2017 I did not clear the prelims. So in 2018 I cleared my 2nd mains and got through the interview.

When did you first think about becoming a civil servant?

I think it happened sometime in college itself because I did sit for my placements and get a job, but did not eventually join it. I had a group of friends too who were considering it as an option so we started taking some coaching and started looking out for it. In DCE also I went for Environmental Engineering because I was interested in something that has a social impact. I had not opted for other branches that were available for me. I wanted Environmental Engineering because it spoke to me. There itself I realized that UPSC has a larger impact and a more diversified service area. So I wanted to attempt. If this had not worked out I would have joined something in my domain.

There’s a perception that it is important to go to Delhi in order to prepare for civil services. What is your opinion on that?

Even though I was in Delhi I never went near Karolbagh, Mukherjee Nagar. I was at home the entire time because Karolbagh gives me the chills. You cannot survive the kind of pressure. It isn’t mandatory for anyone to be living there. Even though I lived just 50 minutes away I never lived there. I never attended too many classroom set up programs even though I took coaching because for me travelling for 2 hours is a lot. So most of my papers like mains test series I used to write it at home on 3 hour timeline then scan them and upload them. They would come back checked.

Similarly for the current affairs classes I did everything online. After the mains I did not even visit Karolbagh much. Nowadays you have people in Karolbagh who will courier you the material and you can get them at home. First of all it’s a lot of expense. Not everyone can afford the rentals around that area. Some people always have that perception, people go to Kota for Engineering, and they go to Karolbagh for UPSC. It is one’s perception and one’s personal choice.

I like to be in a more vibrant atmosphere where my parents are there. I was at home, I was happy. I cannot live in that pressure 24/7. If you think you cannot focus in a household setup or make your own schedule then you could go to live there and study in groups. But you can study in groups everywhere. Today social networks are so strong that you really don’t need to physically go there and form groups.

So the homely environment was more important for you?

See there are exceptional people who get through in the first attempt, but even they put 2 to 3 years of preparation before that. I think it takes a minimum of 2 years to understand the process and get under the skin of the exam. So you need to enjoy this whole process because otherwise this will bog you down. The amount of failures this exam will give you is more than what you have had in your student life. It will make you fail in every possible stage. So it is important that during this entire process you are surrounded by positive people and you’re living in an atmosphere where you are comfortable and where you can study. If you don’t need the kind of pressure that comes from constant comparison with how much others have studied, then you don’t need to live there. Because there are people who have been living there for 6 years and they don’t know any more than you do.

What would be your message to the people who are going to appear for the prelims in the next 2 months?

Firstly, both the times that I had cracked prelims, I had solved many more questions than the time I did not. I had become complacent after clearing the mains. But there is no guarantee that you will clear prelims even after clearing the interview. So it’s not easy. There’s a lot of hard work because the current affairs syllabus is ever changing, there’s always something new, you have to keep in touch.

Secondly, since there are still 40 – 45 days left, I think for the first 25 days everyone should attempt more questions and see how they are performing in tests. Prelims are not about what you know. Only 20 to 30 questions people know for sure, rest are all intelligent guesses for most people. It is not about knowing the right option but rather choosing the right answer through intelligent guesses, by process of elimination. My strategy has been attempting most questions. Both the times that I cleared it I attempted 90 plus questions. The one time that I did not clear it I had attempted around 80 to 85 questions. My accuracy is not that great, so I need to attempt more to balance the once that are wrong. This you need to practice at home. I used to divide the paper into the 80 I knew for sure and mark the ones that I was not sure about. I would try to find an answer to those unknown ones by guesswork or elimination. Then I would try to find the balance where I was getting the maximum. Everyone has to find that sweet spot, whether by answering 85 or 90 or 95 questions.

This you have to do it at home at figure out your sweet spot. So my advice would be, solve papers and revise them, look at the solutions, and don’t make a mistake in something that you know for sure. Silly mistakes are not an option because that is what will put you behind. There are so many questions that all of us know but in the heat of the moment we do the wrong thing and then there’s no coming back.

Were you able to attempt all the questions in mains?

I like to practice a lot so I had attempted around 20 GS papers at home before the mains. Not everybody prepares this huge number of a 3 hour paper. In my final paper I had attempted all the questions at least in the GS paper. I might have missed 1 10 mark question in some paper but all in all I attempted all questions. Even the ones I did not know I had written at least ½ to 1 page, at least a diagram or some explanation. The point is the margin is so close that even a one mark can make a lot of difference. So just write something. If someone gives you even half a mark out of compassion it might just put you on the list. Also managing time will come with practice. You need to practice in advance; you need to build up speed to finish the paper. That will come with practice. Writing in lesser number of words, making diagrammatic representations, all these will come with practice.

What are the preparations that you went through for the interview?

I did not have very long to prepare for my interview, but I did attend a few mock interviews and paid enough attention to my DAF. I googled everything that was mentioned in my DAF. I had a lot of things mentioned there, more than what people usually mention. I had to struggle with that, but I googled every word and prepared that very thoroughly. I also prepared current affairs very thoroughly.

I read 2 newspapers everyday and a third newspaper in the preceding 2 weeks, because that’s what they ask from more because the recent events are fresh in their memories. 2 of the questions in my interview were from that day’s newspaper and another from a week old news story.

Personality test is not about knowledge. You don’t have to worry about not knowing something in the personality test, lots of people, myself included, have said that we don’t know an answer. The idea is to take a call. You should know what you know and what you don’t know. They are looking for a self aware and confident personality.

How has the preparation for the civil services changed you as a person?

I think the exam humbles you first. Because when you graduate out of college, you have hopes and dreams and aspirations and you think you are good at everything. So it puts you on a platform where you realize that there are so many people who are better at so many things than you are. There’s a lot of introspection that happens during the examination itself. It’s about you, because it needs perseverance and a very honest attempt.

In the mock test after seeing the solution if you give excuses for yourself like “I had actually thought the right answer but did not mark it” then you are being dishonest with yourself. Once you do that, you’ll get 2 extra marks in the mock, but not in the final paper. There’s so much to look out for in you. It teaches you planning. It teaches you how to plan, how to meet your targets and to set realistic goals. So you have to keep planning, then you change your plan based on what outputs you got in the last failures. You revisit them.

Also as a person I had to cut down on my social life a lot. I am an extrovert who loves to go out for meeting friends, shopping, partying etc. but this makes you spend a good 10 hours of the day with yourself. You need to cut down the noise around you and focus. It needs a lot of focus.

What would be the right things to do in college if someone is planning to appear right after college?

While in college you can always start reading the newspaper. You can discuss it with your peers or your parents. It will improve your inquisitiveness about things. The key to this exam is this inquisitiveness. It is only when you are genuinely inquisitive about things happening around you that it creates interest in you. Unless there’s interest, it will be like trying to mug up something that’s written somewhere. So reading newspapers will make you understand that you don’t understand anything written in the editorials, you have no clue what’s happening in India. So this will at least create an interest. Next time you read a text book and there’s something related, you will understand it better. The basic books you can start off by yourself. Books like Laxmikant, Spectrum, and Modern History etc should be gone through once. Economic Survey is something that’s very interesting to read. When you come across a term that you don’t understand look them up.

There’s also so much online content available, just being on YouTube for half an hour will be enough to learn a lot of new things. One should start preparing in college if one decides to sit for the exam. My GK was zero, so when you suddenly know so much, so suddenly it is impossible to retain all that. If you read 200 things in a month then you will retain 10. But if you start in college, at least one layering will happen. I have read Laxmikant 25 times and I still make mistakes! So you can never read enough of these basic books. So newspapers, the basic books and a few videos here and there should be enough for preparation in college.

How do you manage current affairs?

I used to read the newspapers and make notes on Evernote. I would categorize the notes into each paper and then further reclassify them. You need to keep adding important points to the notes. But don’t copy the entire newspaper there. Read the newspaper and make your own notes. I also referred to one monthly compilation of current affairs. This makes you capture the news that you missed out. Also I took current affairs classes online before mains. Also Rajya Sabha TV is an amazing resource for all 3, prelims, mains and interview.

How many hours in a day did you study?

I used to sit for 12 hours so that at least 8 hours would be substantial. The hours increase before prelims and mains. Especially before mains it is bloodshed. When you start, if you put 8 hours a day and for interview also 6 to 8 hours would suffice.