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Coaching or No Coaching: IAS RANK 86 – Narendra Kumar Shah

The following article is published by Narendra Kumar Shah who has secured Rank 86 in Civil Services examination, 2015.

Narendra has been associated with forumias.com since the last four years. His ForumIAS id is GreyMatterRules. He has been an active member throughout and has helped many with his timely advices, comments and now, with his success.

Narendra has cleared the Exam earlier and was allotted Indian Information Service.

ForumIAS congratulates Narendra for his spectacular success and we wish him all the best for his life as an officer.

Coaching or No Coaching?

I am perplexed by this recurrent question since the last few days, ‘where did you take coaching from?’ It seems literally everyone thinks that it is just impossible to crack this exam without taking some classes, especially from New Delhi. It is equally funny to see the expressions when I tell in reply that I took classes only for my optional subject.

Disclaimer: I had taken coaching classes for Sociology from a reputed institute in New Delhi. Further, I had also joined few test series for preliminary exam, mains and mock interview sessions for personality test. I had used online sources like Mrunal, forumias and e-commerce store flavido. In addition, I had taken few discreet classes here and there. So, my views may not be entirely impartial here. But I will try to be as objective as possible

Leaving aside ideological and philosophical stands on coaching institutions, I would analyse them for their practical utility in preparation which is what matters the most to the aspirants. And spoiler alert first: There is no clear verdict. It varies from person to person and situation to situation. Coaching classes are beneficial in some ways, of not much utility in some other ways and in fact, are harmful in yet other ways. So, let’s analyse them step by step:

What are the benefits of Coaching?

  • Like coaching classes for any other exam, they help the aspirants with material, notes and guidance for preparation.
  • Additionally, since the syllabus of Civil Services Exam is practically everything under the sun, they help to earmark the extent to which one prepares a topic
  • Coaching institutes also provide an informal group where you can discuss the topics among yourselves and group study does help in this exam. I myself used to stay with two of my friends in Delhi. We studied many topics together and discussions with them helped me getting a stronghold on the topic.
  • Also, many candidates take a totally unfamiliar subject like Sociology, Public administration, etc as their optional. These institutes can help prepare these subjects in a short period of time

Coachings may not be very beneficial

  • Let’s accept this fact that the subjects of this exam are not rocket science and most could be understood without much guidance
  • The candidate would anyway be required to read a set of basic standard books like NCERTs, Economic Survey, etc in addition to the material provided by these institutes
  • Unlike other exams, there are really no shortcuts for this exam which can be provided by the coaching institute to save time. At the end of the day self-study is a must as many facts to be learned.
  • Alternate sources: Vast online sources are available today that can easily provide free help. Today there are many innovative sources like forums, daily news summaries, daily answer writing, etc, which could prove more beneficial than coaching institutes. For example, I ordered interview transcripts from Flavido for personality test which were certainly not available in coaching institute and helped me a lot.

What could be the possible harms of Joining Coaching Classes?

It may come as a surprise but there are many adverse impacts of joining a coaching.

  • Time: Most of you may not be aware that coaching leads to a lot of wastage of time. Remember, time is your most valuable resource. Spend it wisely. Consider again:
    1. Time for attending the classes. Most of the time, the teachers teach at a very slow pace in order that everyone in the class understands completely
    2. Time for traveling to and from the institute which in Delhi, can be large. Some of the online classes can be looked into for this (though I have not tried anyone personally)
    3. Time to get the ‘best’ seat. I have seen people waiting for 30-40 mins everyday for this. Such a waste. And if you are having two coaching classes, each for optional and general studies everyday, consider the amount of time left for self study!
  • Money: Most the coaching classes charge a hefty amount as fees which is not an easy cup of tea for everyone to afford.
  • Syllabus: Almost all the coaching institutes that I have heard of, do not complete the syllabus. And it is not their fault, the syllabus is so extensive that it is impossible to complete it in a 4-5 months classroom program.
  • Piling up material: Since, one has to read the material provided by the coaching institute in addition to the basic standard sources, it becomes difficult for many to cope up with increased stuff to read. In fact, many of my friends stopped attending classes after some days wasting the money that they had paid and time that they had already spent
  • Changing times: Civil Services Exam is a dynamic exam and most of the classes have not quite adapted to the new Mains pattern. In addition, the mains questions papers are becoming more analytical than fact based which reduces the ‘coaching advantage.’
  • Quality of learning: As per my experience, the understanding gained through coaching classes is often short term and superficial as compared to that learnt through self-study.

Finally, My Advice would be ..

  • Coaching institute can be beneficial for an optional, if the candidate does not have a background in the same. For general studies, self study is the mantra
  • If there is time crunch, one should join some class. As it takes around 4-8 months to find the right technique of self study suited to a particular person. But if a person is going to give his/her first attempt after 1 or more years, there is no need to join because once found, the right technique of self study gives more dividends than somebody else teaching the subject.
  • If the aspirant is completely unaware of any aspect of this exam and does not have anyone to guide, one should join some coaching institute
  • If someone does not have a study group, for example lives at home, with family or with relatives, then a coaching institute can provide continuity and help to keep up with the current happenings

How to make the most of the coaching classes

  • Join ‘module wise’ classes rather than complete ‘package’ so that it does not become too costly an affair to quit it. In this way, you can choose a class for a particular topic which you feel is your weak area and in a coaching institute with better teacher.
  • You can also explore online classes which are coming up. One advantage of them is you can join them even without going to New Delhi. You can always take free trial classes before joining them.
  • Do not run after the ‘best seats’. It is hardly beneficial to waste 30-40 mins waiting outside the class for them. I have always been the back bencher in my Sociology classes. And it does not make any difference whether you sit in the front or the back.
  • You can stop some activities like daily answer writing, etc in order to cope up with the extra time and material of the classes. Remember, this exam is a long process, do not burn yourself out too soon. This leads to de-motivation.
  • And if you find that things are getting unmanageable, you can also think about quitting the coaching classes. Do consult your friends and seniors before such decision. Also, don’t attend intermittently. It is more harmful than leaving out-rightly.

Friends, I have tried to address the common issues related to coaching classes that an aspirant encounters. I have tried to be objective. Still, if you have any other query, you are welcome to comment. Do give feedback related to the blog. All the best.:)

And do remember:

“Be patient, some things take time”

This article was first published here

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