IAS Prep


10 steps 2 IAS

Everyone knows that the examination conducted by the UPSC for the recruitment of candidates for the Indian Civil Services is one of the toughest tests. Why does every candidate find the test difficult? Is the test really difficult? Actually, the test is not particularly strenuous. It is our perception about the test. ‘Unpredictable service commission’ is a ‘meme’ that has stuck to our mind. This meme is transmitted from the veterans for the first timers. This meme will survive as long as the test is conducted. Why does this meme survive? It is not the topic we discuss now. However, I would give a brief explanation later. The selection of the civil services is not a complex process. It is clearly defined. What you have to study is clearly given. What is expected from you is clearly explained. Then why should we think that the test is difficult?

This mindset, that the examination is very difficult, is the first obstacle every candidate encounters. You will have to remove this thought from your mind if you want to succeed. Secondly, after removing the thought that the test is complicated, sometimes you find it tough in the middle of your preparation. You are right. It is a genuine feeling. It is authentic because the topics you just have to study for the examination are vast. Though the topics are vast, most of them are not something you have not studied yet. The real problem is you don’t remember what you have studied in the past. When you study new topics this year, you forget the topics you studied last year. When you will study different topics next year, you will forget the topics you studied this year. This process goes on and on. Finally when you appear for the examination you will remember only what you studied recently. It is certainly not your problem. It is your brain’s problem because your brain wants to work efficiently. Because your brain wants to work efficiently it deletes information that is not required currently. Thus, it enables you to study new topics efficiently. So the problem is something about the way your brain functions. Your brain does not know that the information you stored in the past will be required by you in the future. But the solution is very simple. You have to inform your brain not to delete important information. How do you affect that in your brain? The solution is again simple: repetition. If you want to store information in the long term memory area of the brain you have to store and retrieve it periodically. The more you repeat it the easier you retrieve it.

Now you know how to retain information in your brain. The next step is to start your preparation.

  1. Collect, study, and memorize the syllabus: Study the syllabus of each paper and memorize it. Take plenty of time to memorize it. It will be very helpful before the examination day. You can recollect all the topics and information under each topic without opening the books. Besides, it will enable you to link the current news to the specific topic of CS when you read newspapers and periodicals.
  2. Recollect your existing knowledge: Once you memorized the syllabus, try to recollect whatever information you knew under each topic. You can do this even without going through step I. In fact step I and step II are mutually reinforcing. Simultaneously, you can write it down. That is the beginning of making good notes. Then search for additional information from other resources. Add information, as you get, to your earlier notes. When you add information, try to recollect your previous notes. That will be a useful revision.
  3. Orient yourself with the exam pattern: While you collect information on a particular topic think, what kinds of questions are most probable? Refer previous years’ questions. You will get a fair idea of the types of questions such as analytical or descriptive, limitation on number of words, and time availability. This will allow you to make your notes brief and to the topic. Do not write anything, which is not information to the topic, and do not write the same information again.
  4. Practice writing: Periodically, answer some selected questions and evaluate yourself. Check whether you are able to get all the points expected from you, your word limit, and your time limit. You are supposed to write legibly without spelling and grammar mistakes. Improve your English. After all, UPSC is also testing your communication skills. Your communication skills will make a terrible difference in your life.
  5. Ease your mind: Do not buy many books. Purchase few good books which cover the CS topics and study thoroughly those books. If you find some topics are missing or are insufficient then collect those topics from additional resources.
  6. Manage your time: Managing your time is of great importance. Allocate time for each paper according to your comfort level. You might take longer to study certain topics. Be flexible; make adjustments as you progress. SWOT analysis is a useful instrument that helps you to solve many of your problems.
  7. Think about thinking: Though our brain has the capacity to store large number of information, we cannot do it in a single stretch. Read less and think more. It means read for 10 minutes and think on the subject matter for 30 minutes. Thinking helps to transmit the data to long term memory.
  8. Know your mistakes: Lack of clarity in the subject matter undermines your confidence in every stage. Practice writing and show it to an expert who can point out your mistakes.
  9. Relax after a great work: Take time to relax. Relaxation revitalizes your body and mind. A revitalized body and mind replenish fresh energy to your brain.
  10. Shed the unnecessary load: Do not accumulate many news clips, which you cannot revise quickly. Extract the relevant points and add them to your notes immediately. It helps you to shed the unnecessary load that you carry throughout your preparation. However, a few news clips might be useful for the essay paper.

The ten steps are not exhaustive but generally sufficient to be successful in the examination. The actual challenge is your ability to keep your focus on the area of study. The time taken to meet a task depends upon your knowledge about the task, existing skills and knowledge, additional skills required achieving the task, and time spent on the task every day. Better take stock of the situation right from the beginning. If you don’t evaluate yourself, you will face various obstacles. Many of these obstacles are illusions in our mind. Once you find out who you are, what you are, and where you are the illusions will vanish. The vanishing obstacles will clear the way to success. Otherwise, the meme will continue to haunt you.

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How do I prepare for GS papers in CSE mains?

NCERT books are good to start with. Collect all NCERT books and mark the topics which are covered by the CSE syllabus. Study those topics and take your own notes. Your notes need not be very elaborate because you have to write in the examination within the constraints of time and word limit. Key points and key words are important. NCERT books will provide you a strong foundation. Once you complete NCERT reading you can go for higher level authenticated books. Don’t waste a lot of time reading these higher level books. After all you need only additional points, if any. These higher level books may consume a lot of your time. However, if you have enough time they are worth reading.

Read the Hindu and Yojana for current affairs. Centre page articles provide you a lot of points and different points of view. Relate the articles to the syllabus. Not all media coverages are relevant to CSE. You have to be selective. When you select an article you should first think ‘What kind of question can be asked from this article?’, ‘Does this article have additional points or different point of view?’, ‘Am I reading an irrelevant topic?’.

Taking notes is not enough. How much you remember those important points is more important. Practice writing. Communication is very important. If you cannot write exactly what you think then the assessor might not give you good marks. Sometimes we write exactly the opposite of what we intended to write. Write answers and get them evaluated by an expert. Then only you will know your mistakes. Correct your grammar/spelling mistakes. After all, you are going to be a role model to the younger generation.

Is it the right way to start my preparation with prelims?

I would advise you to start your preparation for the mains. Once you are comfortable with mains’ preparation you can think of writing the exam because you require only 3 or 4 months’ preparation for prelims as you must have already covered most of the topics of prelims. However, you have to orient yourself for objective type questions. One strategy is parallel preparation for both prelims and mains. When you study for mains you should note down important concepts, facts, and figures for prelims. At the same time you should also practice writing essays. By February, you should have completed your mains’ preparation. Then on wards, prepare for prelims. Revise your notes and attend mock tests and previous years’ papers(you can skip current affairs’ questions in previous papers).

How to write answers for the questions asked in main examination?

In the main examination you are required to write different types of questions. I divide them mainly into two types:short answers and long answers. The short type questions are answered with few words to one or two paragraphs depending upon the marks allotted by the examiner. For short answers, you have to focus on key words, facts, names, terminology, and concepts. Remember that you have to just answer to the question. Do not try to elaborate. Plan the keywords, facts, and figures that you have to include in your answer. Articulation is important.

For the long type questions you have to write more words that may run from one page to three pages. When answering these type of questions you should first read the question carefully so that you understand it correctly. Next plan the answer that you are going to present. You can either use a mind map or jot down key points and interconnect them in a logical way. Facts, figures, concepts, examples, case studies can be used to make your argument stronger. It is good to start an answer with a paragraph that indicates that you have correctly understood the question. Use a paragraph for each of your ideas. Your answer has to be logically coherent. The logical flow should finally lead you to a conclusion.

Keep it in your mind that you are writing each answer with time and words constraints.

Is Sociology a good option for mains?

I took maths major in my college studies, but I opted for sociology and history for civil services preparation. I wanted to learn more about Indian history and Indian society in order to be a good civil servant. How do you make a good public policy without understanding your country and society? You need to understand the social problems in your society. Perhaps, you would like to find the causes for those problems. History might help you to find some causes and to refine the solutions experimented in the past. Why did civilizations fall? Civilizations grew and fell at some point of vulnerability for reasons not known to them. However, they grow steadily, flourished, and fell suddenly. What is that one root cause that was responsible for the fall of civilizations? What is that one sub-system or sub-sub-system that punctured the whole system and eventually brought down the society to the brink of collapse? Sociology and History throw some interesting questions like these. Having learnt some abstract and truth finding thinking from maths I thought I should apply that thinking to find solutions for the misery of human beings.


How to calculate the number of years I take to clear Civil Services exam?

This is really an interesting question that every aspirant wants to know. It is quite difficult to predict how much time you require to clear this exam. However, I have made an attempt to predict that period. The time taken depends on mainly three factors which are your existing knowledge, intelligence, and personality. Others minor factors such as your memory, communication(speaking and writing), problem solving, common sense, language skills, etc., are included in one of the above three factors. Each factor is given a scale of 0 to 1. For example, if you have full knowledge of civil services syllabus, then you might be given ideally a score of 1, however you will not be given a score of zero if you have not studied the civil services syllabus, because existing knowledge includes your certain abilities that are considered as minor factors. To find out your existing knowledge you need to attend and evaluate your first test on preliminary and main exams before your start of preparation. Similarly, other scores are also evaluated on a scale of 0 to 1. Intelligence and personality will determine how fast you can improve your knowledge from your present level. The sum of these scores is your total score. The percentage of your score will indicate the number of years you need to clear the exam. For example, a candidate got scores of 0.25, 0.50, 0.75. The total score is 1.50 and the percentage score is 50%. This candidate might ideally take 3 years to clear the exam. The reasons are: a) the candidate has only 25% existing knowledge, b) has average intelligence. With the kind of 75% personality, and 50% intelligence the candidate might need 3 years to improve his knowledge to the standard of Civil Services. The higher the percentage of existing knowledge, intelligence, and personality, the candidate can reduce the number of years to 2 or even 1. For a total score of the range between 1.5 and 2, the number of years is 3; between 2 and 2.7, the number of years is 2; and above 2.7, it is 1 year.

µ=K+I+P; where µ is your total score; K- existing knowledge, I- intelligence, and P- personality. The maximum total score is 3 that gives a 100%.

So, what is your µ score?


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