Hi, I am Yognik Bagel. I am an Engineer in Information & Communication Technology. I cleared my UPSC in 2017. And, I cleared it in my third attempt! Believe it or not, I didn’t even clear my Prelims in the first two attempts! But now, I’m a happy 340 rank holder. That’s because I didn’t give up on my dream of joining the Civil Services.
In this article, I want to share my experiences and learning from my UPSC preparations.
Let me first share why I chose the Civil Services, despite being a qualified Engineer. I believe while taking up a job, a person envisages the kind of work in the job, salary, and the possible career graph and opportunities.
I firmly believe that the civil services offer the best job package in India. Once you reach the senior ranks, the salary is about 1 Lakh, which along with the many emoluments, makes for a pretty good package. Combine that with the diversity of work, owing to working in different departments and districts, and you have a winner recipe for a great career.
1. I Decided Early
I decided in my second year of Engineering, that my calling lay with the Indian Civil Services, and started preparing.
2. My Preparation Strategy
Believe me, there is no standard strategy for preparation.
I mainly studied myself. I believe that candidates should chalk out their own study plan, worked out basis their capabilities. I did that.
Studying videos was a crucial part of my preparation. The Rajya Sabha TV channel on YouTube was a monumental part of my studies. Videos on relevant issues, and the documentaries I watched for my Essay paper, gave me helpful insight into various issues.
Using videos to study, has its pros and cons. They are useful for aspirants who live in areas with difficult access to good facilities and also those who have time to attempt eg. students. The flip side is some videos can be repetitive, as they feature the NCERT course. People with less time on their hands to appear for the exams will lose out on precious time, as it’s difficult to filter videos to study.
3. To Read or not to Read, that is the question…
I knew the syllabus for the exam. But, more importantly, I knew what not to study. I have seen people falling into the trap of feeling that the syllabus comprises of everything under the sun, and then getting demotivated.
I’ll try to demystify the syllabus. Syllabus for Prelims is one of the shortest – comes only in 6 lines! But, it can also be misleading as it doesn’t give enough details. Mains Exam has four papers, each with a syllabus covering approximately an A4 sheet. Very clear. Has various keywords, to be covered.
4. My Strategy
I studied the NCERT books, regularly read the newspapers, and searched for keywords on the world wide web and in the books I studied. And, made my notes.
I regularly iterated and updated my notes
My notes helped me every step of the way. Since the paper pattern has changed now, 80-85% of the questions are on current and thematic issues. You’ve always got to stay updated. I made digital notes on my iPad and kept iterating and updating them as and when.
Regular iteration of notes can be very tricky if you make notes on paper, though you can work around it. I would strongly recommend making digital notes, basis my experience.
A question often asked of me is how I developed the inquisitiveness and curiosity to know more, which helped me clear my exam. Let me put it this way, I was always innately inquisitive and curious about things, which helped me attempt the CSE. You cannot develop curiosity because you want to attempt the UPSC.
5. Choosing the Right Optional
I find it very interesting. Philosophy has a lot of abstract concepts. Secondly, Philosophy has one of the shortest syllabi in the CSE. It’s a scoring subject. The past papers revealed a lot of repetitive questions.
Optionals are scoring, they can be your make or break point.
Having mentioned all my ‘practical’ reasons for taking up Philosophy, I’ll emphasize that, had I not found it interesting, all these reasons wouldn’t have helped me clear the exam.
6. I Practiced my Writing Skills and Cleared the Mains
Prelims is about MCQs. In the Mains paper (held over two sessions in a day), you’ve to answer each question in about 250 words. I practiced writing on issues every day and also took at least 15-16 tests.
I figured that in the Mains, you don’t have the time to think and then write your answer. You have to understand a question and immediately start answering. That’s the only way. My practice helped me write cohesive answers quickly in legible handwriting (what if they can’t understand what you’ve written!).
With practice, I was able to connect the multiple dimensions in questions. Not only link and analyze, but conclude the answers well.
Eg., if you are writing about Manufacturing and linking it to Environment, you should be able to talk about ‘Green Economy’. A concept that’s linked with sustainable manufacturing and environment.
Helps you answer a question very well and score high. I found success in my GS paper 3 and scored 135.
7. I Kept a Tab on the Word Limit
It’s important to remember the 250 words limit for answering in the Mains. Make notes on facts and analysis, not exceeding an A4 sheet. Remember, questions aren’t straightforward and will have a body of their own, much different from what you study.
Better than diving very deep in one topic, is to cover many things in your notes, which anyway should be as short as possible.
Remember, do not exceed the word limit, as you might not be able to finish the paper.
8. I Developed my Analytical Skills
We all know that the UPSC Mains questions have many parts to each of them. One has to watch out for that and give multi-layered answers. The answers are never simple. One should be able to analyze and objectively reason to attempt them well.
It doesn’t matter what kind of question is asked in the Mains. It’ll always be about a thematic issue. Let me explain with an example.
Has the ‘Make in India’ scheme been successful? What can make it better?
This question will need elements from ‘Make in India Scheme’, production in the manufacturing sector, Indian economy, and reforms that’ll be required to influence the GDP.
You should address all these points in the answer.
Your notes on thematic issues will help you. Notes can’t be on each and every Government Scheme. Divide them into sectors like economy, health, agriculture etc. You’ll be able to analyze and answer such questions.
9. Are Bullets Better Than Paragraphs?
Bullet points are better. Also highlighting or underlining key words. Make for easier reading for examiners and help them evaluate answers.
On the lighter side, if you’re not well clued into the answer, write a paragraph. You might get a half mark. A very crucial half mark, that can affect your rank.
10. Survival skills I Learnt in my First Two Unsuccessful Attempts
I learnt that this exam is not as much about amassing knowledge, as it is about a master performance in the examination hall.
In my first two attempts, I was engrossed in mastering the skill of studying for UPSC and memorizing. I then learnt that it’s imperative to focus on developing skills to perform better in the exams.
For the Prelims, work on getting the tricky questions right. Subscribe to a test series and practice such questions.
For Mains, in addition to studying, also practice writing well-reasoned answers quickly, in legible handwriting, highlighting key points, and making your answer stand out.
My knowledge wasn’t enough to get me through, until I honed these skills.
11. Coaching Versus Self Study
I joined a leading coaching center for my first two attempts. Much of what was taught, wasn’t useful for the GS papers. Though coaching for my optional was useful.
I chose self-study over these centers. I am from Jaipur, and I went to Delhi only for the coaching classes. After four months, came back to study on my own, a sensible decision for me.
There were 85 people in the optional classes and about 60 in the GS classes. I’m not an advocate of large class sizes, you don’t get personal attention. It might work better for aspirants to have a personal mentor or a teacher.
My advice to all aspirants – find your own nirvana. Take coaching for your optional subject if you need.
12. Find Your Own Style
In fact, the UPSC examiners have been asked to reject all answers which look ‘coached’! They want novelty of approach. Simple.
My answers written in my style got me through my first Mains’ attempt. My suggestion to all you aspirants out there – find your own style.
Our personal style will also help us in our chosen career. So yes, go find your style.
This Article Is Based On The Interview Yognik Bagnel IAS Topper 2017 (AIR 340) Had With UPSC Pathshala