9 Common Mistakes by UPSC IAS Aspirants

I started Civil Services preparation in 2012, and committed many mistakes which resulted into my failure in 2012 Prelims and 2013 Mains Examination. But, I realized my mistakes at right time and sorted it out to get success in 2014 examination.

Hereby, I have tried to compile my mistakes, so that other aspirants don’t commit similar mistakes. As the price of each and every mistake you commit during preparation is precious one as it does not only result into wastage of more than one and half year of your precious life but also pain and agony to yourself and your family.

The first and foremost mistakeChoosing a wrong Optional Subject – 90% of unsuccessful candidates complain about choosing wrong optional subject for mains examination.


I had committed the same mistake in 2013, where my optional subject was based on other’s view. And I landed into a situation, where I scored descent marks in general studies, but could not clear exam because of marks in optional subjects.

Now-a-days, General Studies paper is becoming more and more general in nature, where most of the serious aspirants are scoring descent marks. So, real difference is created by two papers -Essay and Optional Subject.

Commom mistake committed while choosing an optional:
We tend to choose an optional, which is most popular. (Seedhi seedhi bhed chal hai, sab le rahe hai toh me bhi lunga)
I had selected Geography as an optional in 2013, why I had selected Geography – don’t ask me that. It was simply that maximum number of students are appearing with Geography, so I should also take the same optional. I am not speaking against the optional Geography. IAS topper of 2014, Ira Singhal had an optional of Geography.  I just want to convey that there should be some reason for choosing an optional, and it should not be like following the footprints of others.

2. We tend to choose an optional, which was taken by toppers of previous year examination. (Aisa lagta hai ki topper ne uss subject se highest marks achieve kiye hai, toh next topper hum hi honge – it seems that choosing that particular optional alone will make us a topper).

And we don’t try to find out the background of that topper, that why he/she was able to score highest marks in particular subject. And we fall into trap of that optional.

3. Greatest Myth – We tend to choose an optional, which has overlapping syllabus with General Studies. This is the greatest myth about the choosing an optional subject. When we observe the questions of general studies, they are not specific in nature. These topics are very common and easy to understand. And, actual challenge lies in the core areas of the optional subjects. All optional subjects have something for General Studies.

Second Mistake: Not checking the syllabusThis mistake is committed by us due to ignorance. We keep on studying everything, even topics which are not part of syllabus. Whereas syllabus should be kept as bible. If possible, it should be pasted on the wall of the room, so as it can work as reminder. And it can guide us to the areas to be focused for examination.

E.g. – Some candidates study Micro Economics in ignorance, without noticing that UPSC focuses on Macro Economy only. And, usually they do not ask questions related to Micro Economics.

Third Mistake: Not checking previous year papers – This mistake is again due to ignorance. And, we try to remember as much things as possible for examination. Observation of previous year paper provides pulse of examination pattern. It helps to find the recent trends in paper pattern of civil services examination.

e.g. – We can notice that UPSC focuses on recent schemes and plans only, but we try to remember all the schemes and plans of India since Independence. Only major schemes of earlier years need to be remembered.

Earlier I used to make the same mistake, where I used to memorise even outdated schemes, which do not serve any purpose.

Fourth Mistake: Purchasing too many books and making library at homeAs an young enthusiastic aspirant, I used to purchase all the books. For economy only, I had NCERT, Ramesh Singh, Mishra &Puri, and Sriram IAS notes. Apart from it, I had notes of other coaching institutes. It resulted into blockade in my economy knowledge. And whenever I tried to study another Economy book, knowledge of earlier book was getting away.

Moral of the story – Read same book 10 times, instead of reading 10 books at a time.

Fifth Mistake: Lack of Constructive Group Study – Constructive Group study simply means helping each other in studies and carrying out fruitful discussions. Biggest challenge of group study lies when group is formed of few non-serious candidates. In that case, constructive and fruitful discussion is replaced by non-productive bakar.

Advantages of Constructive Group Study:
1. By fruitful discussion, things get settled into permanent memory and it does not get evaporated immediately.
2. Group members can work as complimentary to each other. Where, topics can be divided among members to provide an overview on that topic.
3. Group study helps to provide a constructive competition among members. And, it results into enhanced performance of each member.
4. Time-bound test preparation in a group helps to gauze the preparation standard.

Sixth Mistake: Non-interaction with seniorsIt is always better to find 4-5 seniors who have passed the exam or at least passed the preliminary and mains examination. Have them as your guide, friend and philosopher. This would always help to get the correct guidance.

We always feel shy initially to interact with seniors, and we feel that we would only interact when we would have sufficient knowledge. By, the time we attain that level, (itni der ho jati hai ki hum dusro ko guidance dene lag jate hai – it becomes so late that we start providing guidance to others :D)

Seventh Mistake: Reading the complete newspaperIn news-paper, there are hardly 5-6 important news on daily basis which are relevant for Civil Services aspirant but we try to read even non-relevant news as well. Now-a-days, UPSC has shifted its orientation from static portion to dynamic in which current affairs plays major role. Direct questions from newspapers are part of prelims as well as mains. Most significant role of newspaper is evident in GS2 and GS3 of mains examination.

Few important points related to news-paper reading –

1. News related to crimes, functions of political parties are irrelevant from civil services point of view.
2. News related to Environment, Govt. Schemes, Economy, International Relations, Science and Technology are very important from civil services point of view.
3. Editorial of news-paper helps to build the view on recent affairs which is mandatory for civil services aspirant.

Therefore, I would recommend to prepare notes from newspaper while studying it, so that it can be revised at the time of examination.

Eight Mistake: Lack of Revision – This is the mistake committed by those civil service aspirants, who keep on reading new things without revision and it results into –
1. Poor recall or no recall at the time of examination. (Aisa lagta hai ki kuch toh padha tha, par kya padha tha ye yaad nahi hai).
2. Situation where either (sab suna suna lagta hai ya fir sab soona soona lagta hai :D)

Therefore, revision is the key to success. It is immaterial, how many books you have read. What is more important that how much you can recall at the time of examination).

Ninth and Final Mistake: Non-Evaluation by regular tests– This is the major mistake committed by aspirants, where they don’t try to evaluate their preparation in time-bound manner. Importance of test series has increased manifold due to change in pattern of UPSC mains examination.

New pattern has made it an exam of speed and skill where one question needed to be answered within 9 minutes. In 9 minutes itself, framework of structure to be prepared. So, it has made it a game of speed which can only be achieved by test series. Therefore, test series is a must for mains examination.

Other advantages of joining a test series:
1) It helps in performing under pressure.
2) It helps to perform in time-bound manner.
3) It helps in identification of strong and weak zones of aspirant.
4) Relative performance in mock tests help to gauze the standings compared to other aspirant.

Hereby, I have tried to compile list of mistakes, which is commonly made by civil services aspirants including me. I hope that this article would help others so that they do not commit the same mistakes as committed by me in preparation.

This article is contributed by Surbendu Thakur (Allied Services) 2014 CSE. 


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