IAS Examination is unique in many ways, ranging from the multi-level examination to long conception period, from intense competition to gigantic syllabi, and from testing intellect to commitment. It is in these regards that the preparation of IAS Examination should be done with enormous zeal, meticulous planning, staunch self-confidence, and devotion. Preparing for the IAS Examination hence, cannot be pursued like other competitive examinations. Rather, IAS Examination preparation should be undertaken on a strictly professional line.
The so called “The Best Way”
Strictly speaking, the chances of having ‘the best way’ to prepare for IAS Examination are not even a fraction of percent. The best way to prepare varies from individual to individual. The best way could be entirely different in different cases. In fact, it is the kind of competitive examination where stereotypes of having ‘the way’ do not exist. Every aspirant can devise her/his own customised way to prepare for this coveted examination. Somebody’s best way can prove to be a disaster for others. Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, habits, and so on, hence a readymade strategy cannot be generalised.
However, some of the standards and generally suitable strategies are accepted by majority of aspirants with few variations. Most of the successful candidates follow similar strategies to attain success. However, their style of implementation may be different, which ranges from hours of study and referring of books to group study and coaching institutes. On these similar lines, some of the components of standard way to prepare for the IAS Examination can be discussed in the following paragraphs.
An aspirant must begin with deciding one of the optional subjects among different subjects offered by UPSC. This decision should be as per the individual’s own intellect, comfort, understanding, and ease. The choice of optional must not be influenced by the number of candidates opting for the same, trend of marks, anticipation of so called experts, and availability of the coaching institutes’ manuals. The performance in the mains examination is highly influenced by the performance in the optional subject. The candidate must seriously study the optional as it will be awarded with the marks. ‘Butchering Up ’, favouritism, scaling etc. are just rumours or are areas in uncertainty, hence no energy should be wasted while choosing optional based on such criterion.
The duration of the preparation can be divided into phases or months in order to tackle long gestation period. Though, it again differs from individual to individual and choices can be personal, however, it is generally advisable to follow this pattern. The preparation should be mains oriented from the month of September to Feb-March, depending upon the comfort of optional subjects. A student must prepare the optional subject comprehensively and thoroughly as if he/she has to appear in the mains examination. This phase should also be accompanied with essay writing practices twice or thrice a month. However, at no stage newspaper reading, notes making, and general studies preparation should be interrupted during these months. It is during these times that the foundation of general studies has to be strengthened. Gear should be shifted after March to cater to preliminary paper, with more emphasis on CSAT and General Studies. From April to August, the efforts should be concentrated to tackle the first hurdle, i.e. preliminary examination. However, for the candidates who have already appeared in the mains examination, post December period should be utilised for filling up the lacuna in mains preparation and also the interview preparation. Remember, it is around the year preparation and one cannot and must not stop till he/she finds his/her name in the merit list.
IAS Prelims Exam
The standard way to prepare for the IAS exam must also delineate the different modes of preparation for different levels. Starting with the preliminary part, aspirant must focus on solving questions through multiple choices. Practice and revision are the two most important methods to go through this level. Conceptual clarity should form an important part of the preparation and retaining them as if the aspirant has instilled them is equally vital. This can be achieved by revision and grasping the concepts and facts. For any subject, more than a book should be avoided for the same concept and the prescribed material should be concise in form in order to go through the revision quickly.
Though the CSAT Paper has been made qualifying but still its importance is not diminished. For the CSAT part, the continuous practice is of the utmost important. CSAT doesn’t have concepts higher than secondary level; hence they do not need to be studied as the General Studies. Aspirants must be fluent with the type and style of the questions, for example cube problems, calendar problems, logical reasoning, Syllogisms and so on. Such acquaintances and fluency will be achieved through continuous practices. During the last month, the candidate should accommodate oneself to the timing of preliminary examination (9-11 AM and 2-4 PM) by practicing sample question papers during those times at their homes in exam like condition.
A very important part for this preliminary examination is selecting the most appropriate choice from among multiple choices. This can be achieved by eliminating absurd options and going with the most probable correct option. Many a times, questions can be solved looking at the options in easier manner than hitting the questions directly. Though the weightage of CSAT is only 50%, however, in securing marks, it turns out to be the deciding factor for selection. In the total score, the contribution of CSAT should be more than 60%. In recent years, the weaknesses in General Studies have been relieved by higher marks in CSAT. Strong General Studies is however icing on the cake.
IAS Main Exam
After clearing the elimination round comes the all-important selection round, i.e. the IAS mains examination. High marks in mains examination not only make a candidate eligible to appear in the interview round, but also at times doesn’t leave the candidate at the mercy of interviewer. The mains stage is considered to be the most crucial factor in the final selection of candidates. Mains examination can further be divided in three categories, i.e. Headings Essay, General Studies, and Optional Subject. Current Affairs are considered to be of paramount importance for General Studies and also for essays. Thorough analysis of newspaper holds the key to score in General Studies. Attaining efficient writing speed and completing questions within stipulated time is again vital for general studies. An ideal target of 60% marks in essay, 40% marks in General Studies, and 60% marks in the optional should be envisioned to achieve. An imperative part of the IAS mains examination preparation is the test series, wherein, the time management, ability to adapt as per generalised and analytical questions and physical effort to write for six hours can be practiced to cope up with similar situations in the UPSC’s mains examination.
Role of Optional Subject
Though the examination has three levels, however, barring optional subjects, the subject matters of the rest remain more or less the same. General Studies has vital role to play at all the three levels. During preliminary phase it constitutes half of the weightage, in the mains it has more than 50 % weightage whereas during the interview it is open ended. In fact, General Studies is considered to be the pivot around which the preparation of IAS examination revolves. An aspirant must start with strong foundation based on concrete conceptual clarity of all the General Studies subjects. For these, basic text books encompassing prescribed NECRT text books must be adhered to. These must be blended with careful and concentrated newspaper readings. Moreover, for all these an aspirant should keep on preparing summarised notes in order to revise them at later stages. Newspaper reading too should be accompanied with related net browsing and background understanding, thereby summarising them in revisable format. One should strictly avoid borrowing notes from others as it is not only the note revision but also note preparation which stockpiles plethora of knowledge and concepts in an aspirant’s mind. Gradually, one should practice solving MCQs based on General Studies for preparing preliminary phase. Student should also make attempts to write and practice subjective questions based on mains pattern within stipulated time. Writing practice leading to better writing skill helps students handle question papers in a better manner during mains examination.
Next important part is preparing the optional subjects, which generally prove to be the deciding factor in clearing mains examination. Each optional subject has fixed set of prescribed standard books. Coaching institutes are not the solitary option, in fact, optional subject can very well be prepared by candidates on their own, especially humanities. A candidate must have in background previous years’ question papers while preparing the optional subjects. There are important chapters and less important chapters in almost every optional subject’s syllabus which can be prepared according to their proportion in UPSC’s question paper appearance. A candidate should strictly keep in mind that he/she is studying the optional subject to fetch maximum marks and hence should avoid doing ‘PhD’ over their optional. There are some of the basic tenets associated with every optional subject. For example, in Geography, answers should contain maps and diagrams; in literature, the answers should contain few poems or author’s statements quoting their relevance etc.
Essay checks the clarity of expression, clarity of thinking, persona as reflected in the writing, writing skill, and addressing the core theme of the question. The art of hitting the core of the question can go a long way in fetching healthy marks in essay along with the general studies. Aspirants should try practice writing essays on all types of topics along with time limit. While writing essays, there are many styles to begin with, i.e. analogies, quotations, amalgamation of both, Socratic question etc. A candidate should prepare the notes and materials accordingly. For example, a bunch of quotations can be memorised to use in essay or in GS-IV at appropriate lines. Every paragraph of the essay should appear to be in continuous flow and the format should apparently depict three parts, i.e. introduction, body, and conclusion. Any statement or claims must be substantiated by quoting examples to make the essay appear more pragmatic and realistic. Even in the examination hall, choice of essay should be guided by comfort and acquaintance with the topic. One should avoid choosing a topic based on its uniqueness, abstractness, and any other such stereotypes.
Through this article, an attempt to codify the planning of studies can also be mentioned. Since, IAS Examination is a marathon study one must be clear about the various plans, i.e. immediate, short terms, mid-terms, long-terms, and so on. Such fixation of specific target setting will not only bring discipline to the studies targets, but also will parameterise the quality of study. Such deadlines can be lucidly illustrated with the following examples. One can have an immediate target of 2 hours to finish “The Revolt of 1857”, short term target of a day to understand “The Monsoon of India”, mid-term target of a week to finish “Physical India”, and a month’s target to prepare whole “Environment Science”. However, this illustration must be conceived strictly as only an example. The idea is to keep setting the goals and accomplishing them, thereby pacing the wheel of preparation. Haphazard and random study may not be a good idea and should be discouraged.
Interview preparation should be done by keeping in mind that it’s actually a personality test as UPSC has termed. An aspirant must analyse his/her Detailed Application Form (DAF) thoroughly by relating each single word and sentence to all possible questions. However, there is no guarantee what fraction of the interview will be based upon the candidate’s DAF, ranging from zero to 100 %. A candidate may appear in a couple of mock interviews to gain confidence and to practice and ascertain weaknesses.
It is the hybrid and amalgamated form which takes a candidate near to success. The ways discussed in above paragraphs are not the panacea but an attempt to codify the standard way which most of the successful candidates follow. This should be kept in mind that there are no best ways, shortest ways, or easy ways out. Only way is the candidate’s ability to show persistence, devotion, zeal, commitment, and self-belief.
Remember, “If you want to glow like Sun, you have to burn like Sun”!