Monday, 25 June 2018

Preparing for the UPSC Civil Services Examination - Prelims by Satyakam Dutta - Part 1


To be a civil servant is a childhood dream of many. In our younger years, when we see a vast disparity in our country between the haves and the havenots, we desperately want to change the scenario, and to do this one needs to become a part of the Government and implement policies beneficial to the poor. Many of us in school essays, write that we would like to be an IAS officer when we grow up, not only because becoming so, we know, we can help the needy and the destitute, but also would command a lot of respect in the society. As I wrote in an earlier article, the preparation for the Civil Services Examination can start from the childhood days, if one picks up the habit of reading newspapers and magazines and make it one’s hobby.
                
After graduation, one becomes eligible for appearing in the Civil Services Examination, through which one can not only get into the IAS, IPS and IFS, but also to other Central Services like IRS, IA&AS etc. This is one of the most rigorous and coveted examinations in the world, not only because of the scale involved but also because of the grueling procedure it exerts. The three stages of the examination are the Preliminary (colloquially called “Prelims”), the Mains and the Interview. We shall start with the initial preparations today.
                
On should set the target of appearing in the examination very early, and preferably not later than while doing graduation. After the 12th standard is over and one is admitted to the degree course, there is more available time with one, than during the 11-12th standards. One should try to utilize such free time in reading newspapers and magazine in addition to getting acquainted with the examination procedure, which can be easily found in the UPSC website.
                
Even though I started preparation for the examination a bit late, I already had a good newspaper and magazine reading habit. The Preliminary examination was in June 2011 and I started preparing from February 2011, but when I started I felt that I already had done a robust preparation by reading newspapers regularly for a long time. On a cold evening in January 2011 in Shillong, where I was working for PricewaterhouseCoopers, I met three IAS officers who were there during their probation, Shri Biswajit Pegu, Ms. Varnali Deka and Shri Javvadi Subramanyam. Shri Biswajit Pegu was a dear school senior from SFS School, Dhemaji and Ms. Varnali Deka was a college senior from SJMSoM, IIT Bombay. Shri Javvadi Subramanyam, like me, was also on a full time job when he cleared the examination. He had travelled from an on-site assignment in the US to Delhi and went back, just to appear in the Interview. I was very inspired. I was also having a 9-6 job and had only 4-5 hours a day to prepare. They all said that focused study for a short period also is very helpful and asked me not to give up. This meeting changed the course of my life and I started preparing seriously.
                
The first thing I did was to take a printout of the Syllabuses of the Preliminary and Mains examination and pasted it in front of my reading desk. Then I tried to collect as many question papers of earlier examinations. Question papers for several years are available in the UPSC website. For older question papers I bought a compendium of question from a publication called UPSC Portal. In that book, questions asked from around 1970s were arranged chapter and topic wise, and this helped to understand which topics are more important in the sense that more questions were being asked from them.
                
Another important thing which I did at the start was to read topics from the syllabus directly from the Internet. I used to search for the topic, let’s say “Sustainable Development”, in Google, and then used to skim through the results upto several pages and then fix on a particular resource to study deep. I am not sure if this is the right strategy but for me, since I was working full time and had less time for preparation, it paid me good dividends.
                
The syllabuses for Prelims and Mains phases of the examination have several common topics. One needs to find out the commonalities in the syllabus. I did the same and firstly studied those portions which seemed to me to be common. According to me there are more than 80% commonalities and I feel that one need not do preparations for Prelims and Mains stages separately.
                
The Preliminary stage has two papers – Paper I (General Studies) and Paper II (CSAT). The syllabus for the Preliminary Exams for Paper-I:
·         Current events of national and international importance.
·         History of India and Indian National Movement.
·         Indian and World Geography - Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.
·         Indian Polity and Governance - Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
·         Economic and Social Development - Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc.
·         General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change
·         General Science

The syllabus for the Preliminary Exams for Paper-II:

  • Comprehension
  • Interpersonal skills including communication skills;
  • Logical reasoning and analytical ability
  • Decision-making and problem solving
  • General mental ability
  • Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude, etc.) (Class X level), Data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. - Class X level)

In the next article in this series, I shall try to cover a few insights into a few topics of the Paper-I. 

To conclude this article, I want to assert that seniors who have cleared the UPSC examination earlier have been very helpful to me, specially Shri Biswajit Pegu, IAS and Shri Narayan Konwar, IAS, who guided me upto the Interview stages. One the day of my Interview Biswajit da pepped me up over a call and boosted my confidence. Aspirant should not fear approaching the seniors, as rarely I have found someone who did not respond to my queries when I was preparing.

Salient points in this article:

1.       Keep the syllabus always alongside
2.       Gather as many old question papers as possible
3.       Start early, preferably which being an undergraduate
4.       Use Internet to the fullest
5.       Preparation for Preliminary and Mains can be common
6.       Seniors are always approachable



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