Firstly, let me tell you. I did not have a plan when I started out. Rather I was full of insecurities, doubts and fears (only 2 attempts to give owing to age factors and the possibility of failure). Then, I picked bits and pieces from different people’s strategies. After going through peoples’ startegies, I tried to do what I felt were genuine and honest suggestion by them.
Further, different people have different backgrounds. Just to elaborate, I had working knowledge of Economics as I have done MBA Finance, so perhaps I was comfortable with Economy without reading 11th and 12th NCERTs or Ramesh Singh. I only did Sri Ram printed Economics notes . So, design your strategy accordingly.
First of all, I did not take any coaching for GS papers or for that matter my optional. But, I did join a test series for my optional Sociology at Nice IAS which helped me a lot and gave mock interviews at diff institutes.
Standalone preparation for 2 months prior to the preliminary exam. Earlier, preparation was integrated for pre and mains together.
I did Current affairs from insightsonindia.com daily and did not make any notes from that rather revised from their monthly current affairs compilations. Daily, I solved MCQs from this site. I followed the current affairs till upto 3-4 days prior to pre exam.
For GS PAPER II (Aptitude Test), No separate preparation, my English was already okay, Maths was already prepared as I had cleared CGL (SSC) exam wherein I had revised different Maths formulae.
I had prepared an excel wherein I had made separate sheets for various reports (like ease of doing business report), another sheet for various world/regional bodies like UN, ASEAN etc, another sheet for tribes in India, another sheet for important statistics (eg our spend on education, health etc). I kept revising this excel for pre, mains and some bits for interview too. It came especially handy for Pre.
Advice- Please pick any one website, don’t get carried away by multitude of information available on different websites. Important thing is to revise, I made sure that I revised all standard books including NCERTs multiple times (4-5 times). Similarly, I revised current affairs and test series multiple times.
To start mains answer writing, first cover all basic books and then practice answer writing. I had attempted Secure initiative on insightsonindia.com for 4-5 months at a stretch (from Aug 16 to Jan 17), wrote 7-8 answers daily on register and then compared them with other answers written on insightsonindia.com. This, I had done before preliminary itself during the course of integrated preparation for Mains and pre.
After pre, I prepared notes from current affairs (very short notes for quick revision) in soft copy paper-wise (like GS-1,2,3 and 4 separately). Revised standard books multiple times again what I had done during preliminary. I practised answer writing for GS papers by writing 7-8 tests (at home only and then compared them with model answers as given in various test series). I sometimes asked my friends to evaluate my copies.
Some tips to enrich your answers in mains –
- Substantiate with statistics and current affairs
- Use names of expert committees to suggest solutions
- Use diagrams to the extent possible
- Answer on multiple dimensions (social, political, economic, cultural etc)
- Use quotes (to the extent possible, even in GS 1,2,3 papers)
- Do underline to highlight important stuff
For GS 4 ie Ethics, collected good quotes by Swami Vivekanand, Gandhi, Einstein, Mandela etc, made them my laptop wallpapaers. I put syllabus in front of me and ensured that I have understood n covered each and every topic, especially the definition of each and every word written there.
I reflected back on my entire life and made notes of the good things and the bad things that I had done in life and tried to use real life examples in my answers. (eg- a real life example of moral dilemma is when your friend is cheating in exams and copying from you- on the one hand, it helps my friend improve her marks, on the other hand, this is morally wrong) This exercise was a good self reflection exercise too that helped my understand myself better.
I consulted the book G Subbarao and did all concepts from the book and solved several case studies from that.
Advice– Please do not ignore this paper. With less preparation, it can give you an edge over others. Prepare examples of various situations in advance like conflict of interest, moral dilemma etc so that they can be quoted in exam. Learn names of important people with integrity like S Manjunath etc too
I practised writing 12-15 essays easily, learnt a lot of quotes and tried building essay on temporal scale (ancient, medieval, modern etc) and/or covering multiple dimensions like social, political, economical etc.I Linked the topics with current affairs. Did not use headings but always tried that the person reading the essay should find it like reading a story and used very simple language. I tried to ensure linkage/continuity between successive paragraphs (eg: If I am discussing social aspect of some issue after its economic aspect, I would write “Not only does ABC issue has economic implications but it also has social implications”).
I used many quotes. I also used Question answer format in my answers eg: I chose the essay “Realisation of Modern woman is a myth”. Here I kept asking Qs and then wrote Ans to these Qs to build on my essay like “Who is a modern woman?…………….” “ What is it that she wants?………………….” “Why is it difficult to realise her?………………..”
Economic Survey and Budget
I am separately mentioning them because extremely important to cover both these. I did not read the original volume of these but read the summary of GS Score. Initially, it took me 2-3 days to cover the ES but then i made short notes on every page of the summary of ES and trust me when I say this, in last stages, it took me only an hour to revise the whole ES booklet.
Basic material that I referred to was- Upendra Sir classroom Notes available in the market (covered both Paper 1 and Paper 2 end to end from these except the thinkers of Paper 2). Mahaptra Sir classroom notes – I did Paper 2 Thinkers from this, which has been covered in minute detail. Harlambos Blue Book (the bigger one not the orange one)- I did selected topics from this book eg chapter 1, 14 etc.
I joined a test series for my optional Sociology at Nice IAS (Praveen Kishore sir) after preliminary exam which helped me a lot in structuring my answers and understanding the concepts lucidly (coming from a science background and taking up a humanities subject, I found it difficult to prepare on my own, Test series helped in clearing the doubts). I would advise, if possible, seek guidance for this subject if you do not have sociology background (from friends, coaching institute or online).
For Paper 2, the test series helped me a lot as Praveen sir explained several important concepts which I had missed from above sources eg waves of women movements, social movements topic etc.
I took several mocks at various institutes. It helped me in collecting variety of Qs and also helped me analyse my reactions to Qs that I did not know answer to. One imp thing that helped me greatly was that I along with a friend of mine (who is Rank 80 now), used to take each other’s mock interview on phone, daily for 1-2 hours. We included a variety of Qs and tried to grill each other too. It helped both of us a lot.
I started reading newspaper during this section of UPSC preparation (ie interview and not for pre or mains which I had covered online).
My interview experience- I have got 187 marks.
I was very calm and smiling throughout the interview. I treated it as if I was talking to the elders in my family. I am not sure of the duration of interview. But i think it went on for 35-40 mins
I felt that my interview went well. I could not answer 3 questions but I calmly managed, smilingly said sorry I do not know it.
My Qs and answers
Ms. Smita Nagaraj Board:
– Why UPSC 12 years after graduation?- lack of internal satisfaction in the private sector, abundanceof opportunities offered by Civil services which can help me lead a fulfilling life. Earlier got busy with marriage and motherhood, now I had time, so started preparation and left the job
– U worked for 8 years in financial services sector, what was the motivation? What kept you going?- learning is on a bigger scale when we start from scratch; that learning kept me motivated and the fact that my work was instrumental in taking organisational decisions (since I was a part of Business Planning and Analysis department in the Finance function)
– There are a lot of unethical practices in insurance sector, what they are and why they are happening? Is regulator sleeping?- Yes, there are unethical practices like misselling by the agents; hidden charges, claims denial by quoting T&C which are generally difficult to understand by a layman…..they are happening due to the lack of awareness in the public and because the sector is in its nascnet stages…the regulator has taken several steps like cap on charges introduced in ULIP products, making persistency a key factor in individual agents’ licesnsing etc
– Recent NHPS helath insurance scheme, it is going to help private sector more than the citizens what should we do to stop such malpractices?- private sector participation is needed as infrastructure is weak in our country, in order to curb the malpractices we would need to take several steps such as ribust claims management, claims investigation, making cashless treatment mandatory in non emergency cases and defining the procedures and the applicable rates
– Thr will be a change in orientation while u move from pvt sector to public sector..how will u manage?- there will be a change on following accounts- higher customer centricity is there in private sector, defined procedures and turn around times in pvt sector, performance appraisals are more pronounced here. I will try to focus on impriving transparency and accountability in the public sector as well. Having said that, there will be several things that will be in continuation such as skills of time manegment, pressure management, stakeholder management etc.
– How technology has impacted these services sectors?- technology has brought about improvements in the way customers interact with the service providers eg online sales, sale through apps, customer service through IVR/SMS/email/Apps etc. it has brought in more transparency into the system, clarity to customers and brought customers closer to the service provider firms.
– 39 Indians got killed in Iraq, Do you think Govt handled the situation well?- Govt should be appreciated for the efforts that it took to find the Indians stranded in Iraq and bring them back safely but at the same time, Govt should have been more sensitive. Families of the emigrants should have been personally informed instead of the families coming to know of such a sad news through parliamentary proceedings – Facebook data leak issue- do you think these social media firms are taking users for a ride?
– yes, they deliberately try to keep T&C difficult to understand and the users are forced to tick on “I accept the T&C” or provide access to data in the phones before they can use any app. Soultion is that we need to have a comprehensive law on protection of user privacy and stringent action should be taken against offender firms. – Social media was created to unite (socialise) but it is dividing the society, Ur take?
– it depends on the use that we put social media to. If used for spreading fake rumours, to incite violence etc then it will divide society but if used rightly, it has immense potential to revolutionise our lives. So, we should make optimal and judicious use of social media
– Some misinterpretation of one of my answers by a member to which he asked me that I was earning pretty well already, still why I need more money , why? (Smita ma’am interrupted and corrected him)
– I only smiled – Marketing lessons to be learnt from entrepreneur turned Baba Ramdev marketing strategiesinvoking a feeling of nationalism to boost sales and capitalising on people’s preference for chemical free and herbal products
– You are from Hindu college, Which minister from Hindu college is there in the ministry today?- Sorry Sir, I dont know – Pink pyjamas are flying over Red Fort today, what do u understand by this?
– (smilingly ), its a very interesting question but sorry, I dont know the answer. Then sir explained the concept to me, I nodded and said yes sir, I thought so
– Narcotic problem in India today, how will u handle them in a district? What are the drugs consumed by the ppl?
– Root of the problem lies in porous borders which facilitates drug trade between golden triangle and golden crescent regions via India. At district level, my focus would be on sound implementation of the laws, effective rehabilitation of drug users, enhancing employment opportunities for the youth and promoting better integration into the family life so that families act as a support system and prevent one from falling into the drug trap
– Children are committing suicide, why ? what should be done?
– Causes are- Excessive expectations by the parents, very intense competition in our country, problems with the education system which emphasises on rote learning and not on critical thinking or a holistic personality development. To curb this, we should revamp our education system and we must teach our students how to live a fulfilling life (and not just focus on enabling them to make money). A cost effective and yet efficient solution is having counselling facilities in schools and encouraging the students to seek help when in trouble. Parents should also be sensitised to not put excessive pressure on students
– Today’s girls (bahus) don’t want to live in a joint family, do u agree?- to an extent yes, with the rise of individualism in society, egoism is rising. Another factor is burden of excessive expectations from the bahu who is expected to do a double shift (in office as well as home)
– Are joint families good for women empowerment?
– of course they are, coz when others in the family help the woman with her familial responsiblities (say child care), she can focus on her career.
– You are a sportswoman, what do you think are the corruption related problems in sportsbodies in India (I have played throwball in college and some games during schooltime)
– problems are unfair selection, age related fudging, use of drugs and corruption in sports bodies like in BCCI. Some positive developments that are taking place in this field are
– recently Niti Aayog proposed ranking of sports bodies and linking the fuund devolution to the performance in ranking
– What are the groundlevel differences that you have experienced travelling in metro in Gurgaon and in Delhi- One is a PPP (public pvt partnership), other is Govt owned. (I said I have nt travelled in Gurgaon metro) He asked, others would have travelled n shared their experiences.. (I have been working in Gurgaon, commuting from Delhi)
– Sorry, I have not travelled in Gurgaon metro, so can’t compare. Sir persisted that some friend might have shared his/her experience. I replied sorry sir, I don’t know that
– What are the problems of PPP? Why is India not able to successfully execute them?
– Problems are- Opaque calculation of user charges, ineffective arbitration mechanism, lack of funds, delay in approvals etc…. we have seen execution problems in the past but now we are moving towards better models such hybrid annuity model
– I have lost money in Mutual Funds, convince me that I should still invest in MFs.
– Sir, investment in MFs should be made according to the age ,risk profile and needs of the customer. Secondly, these investments are long term in nature. So we should not expect high returns in the short term. Further, I would still advise you to invest in mutual funds keeping in mind your risk appetite and needs. There are debt, equity as well as liquid mutual funds.
– What is colonial hangover?
– Good or bad? Give Egs… Colonial hangover means those things that are a relic from colonial times even if not relevant to modern times. Egs are culture of red beacon, our obsession with fairness, education system, judicial system, democracy, constitution, police system etc some of these things are good and some are bad
Last question by Smita Ma’am
– You had said that Govt should have been more humane in handling killing of Indians in Mosul issue, but then also appreciated the Govt for their extra efforts to trace the Indians and bring them back. Is this your approach to all the things- saying this is correct but this is also correct, will you be able to take decisions based on this? What is going to be your approach as an administrator?
– Yes, ma’am this is how I take decisions in life after considering both- the good as well the bad aspects of any issue. I having said that, it does not mean that I vacillate in decision making. I consider both aspects and then arrive at a firm decision. Ma’am asked give some eg from ur life
– i replied that when I would appraise my team members in office I would tell them that these are the areas where you have worked well but these are the areas where you need to improve and based on both the aspects, I would arrive at a rating for them.
Advice– You may collaborate with like minded and serious candidates for interview preparation. Discuss with others to get a holistic view on important issues. Do prepare important topics like AFSPA, J&K issue, Reservation etc. Prepare your DAF really well- each and every word of it. Talk to your friends and coaching institutes who can help you with framing possible Qs from your DAF. Prepare your hobby, home state, your graduation subject really well.
Advice for students who are at present in 10th or 12th
Firstly, please do not take much load. Enjoy your student life and diligently study your academic curriculum itself (I am saying this because one cannot prepare at a high pitch for a very long period of time, it should not happen that burnout happens even before you reach the crucial stage of preparation which is graduation end). At max, you can start reading newspaper to develop an active interest in the happenings around you. Your serious preparation for the Civils should specifically begin during final year of graduation. Till this time, you can cover your graduation subjects diligently so that your optional gets prepared simultaneously.
Many people are asking me whether to opt for Art (and not Science) in school and graduation if the ultimate aim is Civils only. Well, as far as syllabus of UPSC is concerned, it overlaps a lot with Art subjects like History, Geography, Polity etc and you may choose such subject to be your optional as well. But please bear in mind that taking up Art also means that Engineering and Medical options get curtailed when you do so. Some people first do B Tech or MBBS and then sit for UPSC, so that’s also a strategy.
Finally, it’s completely upto you which path you want to take
Advice for married women and/or mothers
Well, honestly, it’s tougher to prepare post marriage. So, seek maximum support from all possible corners- friends, family, relatives etc. Try taking time off from job, if possible as this paper demands high dedication and long hours of study. For mothers, I would say, try joining some library where you can study away from the child; Get support from baby sitter or close family members for the child care; Or worst – try living away from the child if nothing else works (quite a difficult choice though) but still suggesting this coz I know there are so many distractions with a child- sickness, daily care, studies, playtime etc).
Having said that, I strongly feel that you CAN crack this exam, have faith in yourself and give it your best shot.
Advice for all on how to tackle phases of demotivation
There will be times when you might feel that you can’t do it, That you are not the topper material etc etc. My advice is –cry if feel like crying during such phase (to give vent to your pent up feelings), talk to your well wishers (family especially..coz they have super faith in you) to get motivation, think of those good times when you had achieved something in your life in the past.
Finally, get over such phase and think that the only improvement you can do in such a situation is realising your flaws/weaknesses and them improve over them. Think that you will try your best and then leave it to the God, this would mean that you won’t have any regrets coz you TRIED and you TRIED your best.
When you feel that there are a lot of problems in your life, just try to think of the person who is facing even more difficulties than you (My father always says- apne se neeche walon ke dekh ke mushkilon se upar utho aur apne se upar walon ko dekh ke jeevan ke lakshay banao). Also, ponder over the thought “This too shall pass”- good time or bad time, it will surely pass. The only option you have is to make the best out of it.
Advice for rural and remote students
Please have hope, it’s possible today to prepare from remote corners. I did so, hence I think its doable. Make good use of technology- use online resources to cover current affairs and even to cover static portion through online tutorials.
Finally, All the very best to all you people!!