What attracted you to Civil Services?
There was always a latent desire in me to prepare for civil services as this is considered to be the most prestigious service. But the desire got wings during my job at Oil India Limited where I got exposed to the ways administration can help people. Moreover, I also got an opportunity to serve as Presiding Officer in two different elections which strengthened my conviction for civil services.
DCAT: When did you start your preparation – along with graduation, immediately after it or something else?
I started my preparation in 2013. So I was already working for more than 1.5 years by then.
DCAT: Was this your first attempt? If not, what changes did you make in your strategy for this attempt?
This was my 4th attempt. I made a few minor changes in this attempt. For example, I gave more emphasis on the Essay paper, practised to structure my answers better, and organized my Optional notes in a better manner for easy revision. I feel CSE is quite an unpredictable examination and thus it is important to have faith in one’s strategy. But one should always be ready for course corrections. For example, I changed my style of answer writing from paragraph-wise to point-wise after my first attempt.
DCAT: Were you satisfied with your level of preparation before the exam and were you hopeful of being successful?
I wasn’t entirely satisfied as I failed to complete even a single mock-test paper within 3 hours. I got penalized for the same as I couldn’t complete some of my papers of general studies in CS Mains. I was hoping for a rank improvement over last time.
DCAT: Considering the extensive syllabus of general studies in preliminary examination and main examination, what strategy did you adopt?
Since the syllabus is extensive, it is important to be organized in your preparation. Be cautious while selecting the source for every topic, but once selected stick to it. Limit the sources for better time management and completion of syllabus.
DCAT: Did you give special emphasis to some particular sections or equal emphasis on all sections? In your opinion, can certain sections be skipped by assuming them to be not so important?
I paid equal emphasis on all sections barring the two topics i.e. Art & Culture and Science & Technology. These two topics have more uncertainty in terms of the questions asked and hence the benefit (marks)/cost (time) ratio is poor. Hence, I paid less emphasis on them.
DCAT: How much time did you take to complete your preparation for all the three stages of the examination? Did you prepare for each stage in sequence or for all the stages simultaneously?
Since this was my 4th attempt, I required relatively lesser time. I devoted around 2-3 weeks for prelims (time between result declaration of CSE 2016 and prelims in 2017), 2.5 months for Mains and 1 month for interview.
DCAT: How important do you think is making own notes with studies? Please enlighten on the basis of your experience.
Notes were very essential for me. Although a tedious job, but pays rich dividends as examination approaches. It helps in quick revision and organization of the study materials. But I didn’t make notes of the materials which are already in notes form like in the Laxmikanth etc.
DCAT: Did you rely on any electronic material and other social networking sites for your preparation? If yes, did you find them useful? Please share some websites you frequented.
I have been a full-time working aspirant and was posted in Assam. Hence electronic materials did form an important part of my preparation. But I only used them for value addition instead of making them my mainstay of preparation. Important websites would be pmfias.com, mrunal.org, insightsonindia.com, gktoday, youtube etc.
DCAT: How did you determine which books, magazines and periodicals to study and which to ignore/leave?
I purchased many books for the same topics on basis of recommendation from different toppers posted on the Internet. But after going through them, I used to select the most relevant and effective ones. For example, I purchased and read three books of polity i.e., Subhash Kashyap, D. D. Basu and Laxmikanth; but finally I settled on Laxmikanth. I couldn’t get my hands on any periodicals in Assam, although several people have recommended following at-least one periodical.
DCAT: In your opinion, how useful is participating in mock test series at different stages of this examination?
Mock tests are extremely useful. I didn’t join any test series in my first attempt and paid heavy penalties in General Studies. But one must not pay too much emphasis on marks obtained in such tests. What’s important is writing practice, execution of strategies developed for writing answers etc.
DCAT: How did you tackle the challenge of time management- whether it was on a daily, monthly or annual basis?
Time management was a must for me as I was a full-time working candidate. I feel the ability to prioritize and self-discipline are the keys.
DCAT: How did you maintain consistency in preparation despite the de-motivating and often frustrating nature of this exam?
I consider myself to be extremely fortunate because I tasted early success in my first attempt itself. I featured in the Reserved List and that was a huge morale booster. I feel if the motivation behind preparation is original, aspirants would bounce back quickly after any setback. It is also important to not let go of everything while preparing. Some time should be taken out for what one likes to do. It helps in maintaining energy levels.
DCAT: On an average, how many hours in a day did you devote to studies? What activities did you indulge in when not studying?
My study hours differed because of the nature of the job I was in. But on an average I tried to manage 4-5 hours on all working days. If not studying, I would be watching movies, hanging out with friends, reading some poetry, or walking.
DCAT: What was your optional subject? Did you study it during your graduation or at any level after that? If not, on what basis did you choose it?
Sociology. I am a Petroleum Engineer which is not available as an optional. So I chose my optional quite systematically. I purchased the basic books of Public Administration, Psychology and Sociology. Got bored with the first two, while the Sociology book was un-put-down-able for me. I got my answer. For my preparation, I took leave from office for a few months and did classes at Daksh IAS from Praveen Pandey sir and it helped me in building my foundation. Later on, I joined online test series of Bibhaas Sharma sir in my later attempts.
DCAT: Some people say that some optional subjects are smaller, easier and more scoring than other subjects and hence are more popular. In your opinion, would it be right to say so? While choosing your optional subject did you consider its popularity as a basis?
It is difficult to actually predict anything about CSE. Moreover the toughest part of preparation is having to read the same thing over and over again. So I feel one must choose an optional that he/she enjoys. Although it is true that syllabus of some subjects are smaller than some others, but optional subjects in CSE are like companies listed in Stock Exchange. And the most important warning is: Past performances are not a guarantee for the future. Moreover one should also choose an optional according to one’s strength. For example, people with good writing skills may have an advantage in subjects like Sociology.
DCAT: In your opinion, to what extent is success in main examination dependent on the answer writing style? What approach did you follow in developing the right style of answer writing?
Answer writing style is very important for Mains. In fact, I learned this hard lesson only after getting penalised in my 1st attempt. However this only means that certain basic conditions should be fulfilled like simple language, proper structuring of answers, substantiating your points, balanced approach, neat presentation etc. I followed the Intro-Body-Conclusion format and wrote in points. I tried to write complete sentences instead of half-ones.
DCAT: How did you prepare for the essay? On what basis did you select the topics of the essay in the exam hall?
Joined a test series for the essay and wrote at least 10 essays. I selected topics on basis of the content that I had on them and my level of comfort with the topic.
DCAT: How did you prepare for the interview? Does the preparation done during the short period immediately after the mains result actually help in the interview?
I formed a study group with some of my friends for interview preparation. I prepared topics related to my DAF thoroughly; prepared answers for some tricky questions with help of friends and organized mocks amongst ourselves. Along with that I gave few mock interviews at different institutes as well.
DCAT: Please share some of the questions asked to you during the interview.
My interview was mostly on expected lines. Questions were from my home state (Jharkhand), qualification (Petroleum Engineering), and current service (IRS – Indirect Taxes and Customs). Apart from that some questions were from Commonwealth games and Hindi poetry (my hobby).
DCAT: Which board conducted your interview? Does the board that you get for interview make a difference in the result?
It was PK Joshi sir’s board. And I don’t think that it really matters which board is interviewing you. I have given three interviews so far for civil services and all three were taken by different boards. But surprisingly I have got the exact same 171 marks in all the three interviews. So it is futile and wrong to believe that some boards are more suitable to your personality or are more scoring.
DCAT: Is it necessary to support/justify/endorse the policies and views of the government while writing the answers of civil services examination or replying in the interview? Can the government’s opinion on any issue be opposed?
The questions of Mains are non-controversial and hence it is advisable to argue in favour of government policies. But interview questions may veer towards grey areas and a nuanced criticism of the government policy is acceptable. For example topics like prohibition, beef ban, Jallikattu etc can be argued from both sides equally well. But the government decisions are backed by adequate reasoning and it is important to know those reasons before being able to criticise the policy.
DCAT: How important do you think it is to have an alternate career back-up while preparing for civil services? Which path had you chosen?
I feel having a back-up plan is important. UPSC CSE is a very tough examination and has reasonable amount of unpredictability. Moreover after 2 serious attempts, one should be able to manage preparations along with a job. I have been a full-time working aspirant and it allowed me to stay focussed even when I didn’t get expected success in earlier attempts.
DCAT: How did you manage studies while working?
I was engaged in a job that was a mixture of office work and field visits. As a result, I couldn’t really have a fixed schedule. Quite frequently I had to stay at the field for entire night. So my strategy was simple. Just utilize whatever time you got. I had to curtail my involvement in sports, official and non-official parties and limit my phone conversations with friends. Left me with 4-5 hours of net study (not gross) every day on an average.
DCAT: We wish you all the best for your future.
Thanks a lot.