Mains Over – How should one Proceed for the Personality Test?

“Sir, My problem is that I have cleared Mains. I was not expecting it.” he said.

“But those are good problems to have”, I said. “Imagine having the not-clearing-the-Mains-problem.”

What is the worst thing that can happen to you when you finally get an Interview call with the Union Public Service Commission for the Civil Services Examination?

I mean not the really worst thing – like being hit by a car or something, or getting Covid.

I mean the second worst thing.

Having a newspaper backlog before the Interview.

The Personality Test is the final leg of the Civil Services Examination conducted by UPSC, and often the make or break part which determined the service you will get, the cadre that will be allocated to you – which in turn means the state you will be living in – and this in turn decides – in most cases – the person you will marry. ( Or the person who will marry you! )

There are ‘n’ number of problems you could have when you finally get the Interview call, but there are some problems we can avoid.

And with the benefit of hindsight, of my own experience, and the vicarious experience I have had with a few hundred students in the past decade, in not thousand, working for the Interview preparation, I can tell you that a stitch in time saves nine.

Getting an interview call is no mean deal. Even if you have been getting a call every year, you must have met all the below four conditions

  • Written good answers
  • Been very lucky
  • Not messed up essay and ethics paper
  • Done well in at least one optional paper

Most people who get interview calls every year ( and there are hundreds of them ) may not realize the preciousness of the situation, or the self. But ask a first timer, and you shall know.

So its January. You are still relaxing from having written Mains ( which is now only a week’s affair post 2013).

And Mains results are far way. Interview is still further away.

You are in absolutely no mood to study, read the newspaper or do any of the 22 things you did before Mains.

And you have appeared for the Interview last year too, so you are chilling.

But this mistake can be costly.

The Civil Services Interview requires preparation. Almost. You will be competing against some of the best as well as some of the luckiest people for the coveted IAS position when you prepare for the Interview. Not getting IAS in itself is a pain for two reasons:

  • well, you did not get IAS for one.
  • you have to appear for the exam again, which is a big torture in itself.

Why you need to prepare for this god-dam interview?

I asked Apala is she did any preparation for her Interview. She scored 215 marks – the highest in CSE 2020 Personality Test ( from what I know, and from the hate comments I sometimes read on the Internet )

So when I asked her, she said without mincing any words – It was my first ever Interview, and indeed I was a little scared about the Interview. I prepared very thoroughly for it – I prepared for it even more than I prepared for the Prelims.

The last part says something about the kind of effort that was put into something, which from outside – most people would like to imagine as just being lucky.

No matter how good communication skills you have, the Civil Services Interview will require some preparation

  • First, because this is no ordinary exam. And the job is no ordinary job
  • Second, you will be interviewed by , mostly bureaucrats, who have lived their lives judging people – into good or bad. If they like you, are in. Else out. And they do not like too many people.
  • Third, some boards are known to give very high and very low marks. Some boards are very opinionated.
  • Fifth, almost every question they ask can be prepared in advance. And you co-aspirant would have a very fine suited answer ready for ever possible question. If you plan to go impromptu and unprepared and unless you are a truly pleasing personality, you may miss out on getting a good score. True Story.

The six things you need to do in January

If its January, sleeping till 11 AM, because its cold in Delhi , may not be the best preparation strategy. We could tell you the second best strategy.

Act #1 Read the Newspaper. Daily.

If you managed to do well in Mains because you did 365 or DD’s handouts, the same wont happen in the Interview. You will need to have to be a “well read”  and “generally aware” person. Interviews do get very current affairs oriented sometimes.

Especially, if you have not supplied good fodder with hobbies & extra-curricular activities in your DAF – prepare current affairs well.

The good news.

You don’t have to do Current Affairs The Hindu style. Indian Express will do. Nor do you have to do hidden stuff that you so minutely prepared for Mains.

But Why cant I do current Affairs later like in Mains at the end?

Firstly, because in Mains, each question has equal weight-age. If you get a question wrong , you just loose ten marks. But in the interview, if you get a very common question wrong, you cannot predict  how much it will cost you, especially if the question was asked by the Chairman.

Secondly, if you may miss the magnitude of an issue or event if you don’t do it from newspaper. A big issue will resurface multiple times in the newspaper, ( or the 9 PM Brief ) but will feature only once in a magazine or coaching notes.

Thirdly, once the mains results are out you will be wasting two days ( and upto 4-5 days for women ) deciding what to wear. Some people do. If you are some people, you would not want to have the newspaper backlog to clear once you get an Interview call.

I recommend three things here.

One, read two newspaper, at least one of which could be the Times of India/ HT. Read a newspaper that has a wider coverage, good reporting, and is read by the people outside UPSC preparation – such a bureaucrats who will be taking your Interview.

Two, focus on the front page news – the National Headlines before delving into the Editorials. For your Interview, remember that the front page news is more important than the editorials which we like to read for Mains.

Three, go back and read up on the Newspaper of December month if possible. December is the last month of Gregorian Calendar and a lot of stuff that was supposed to happen in the year, could not happen because of ‘n’ reasons, is attempted to be finished off in December by World Leaders before they leave for the Christmas vacations.

Act #2 Get your hobbies together

You did mention some hobbies in your DAF, didnt you? There are two things you need to know here:-

  • Panelists, do ask deep questions with respect to your hobby
  • Some aspirants will prepare well and answer those deep questions.

You will only believe the above two statements when it will face such a panel, and meet such a candidate who has faced deep questions, and realize you are under-prepared. Don’t make those mistakes. Learn from the mistakes of others.

So if you haven’t yet done so. Make your to do list of how you are going to prepare for the interview.

Act #3 Get some data on you home state

If your home state is not Delhi, start collecting some data on your city & state. If you have spent college days in, say, Manipal, do basic research on Udupi as well. If you come from a state with a grand history like Bihar, do the history of your state very well. For states like Bihar, with a grand history and no-so-grand-present, the same questions have often been asked by different panels, year after year. This indicates two things:

  • One, there is something called preparing standard questions
  • Second, people can prepare better standard answers. Hence “preparation” for Interview is a reality

Act #4 Go through your college days. Literally.

If you are a civil engineer, or electrical engineer, do some basics on those subjects. There is usually an IES guy  Sir in the panel, who may ask you questions like

  • What happens when you add more cement ( or steel reinforcements  ) to a building . The correct answer is something on these lines – like concrete works best under compression but buckle under tension while steel reinforcements perform well under tension, but can’t take compression – I am not a Civils engineer and this may not be the exact answer , but this questions has been asked to more than one friend of mine
  • Doctors should also have basic questions like – What will be you diagnosis if you see a man with swollen legs ( The answer is not Filariasis )

Act #5 Form Study Groups

You need probably no study groups for Prelims. For Mains, study groups may help. But group studied does definitely help for Interview preparation. Try forming your close study groups – of at least 2 members, but nor more than 4-5 members based on:

  • Your common optional
  • Your home state
  • Your hobby

You can form multiple groups based on above criteria. The goal of the study groups should be to generate as many questions as possible. And as many answers as possible. A group of three people is ideal.

Act #6 Get fit

Though your belly isn’t a criterion for the marks you will be awarded, it is still a good idea to get fit before the Interview call.

Being fit is a slope – its either uphill or downhill. From now till the date of your interview, you will either get fitter, or fatter. You wont usually stay the same. Try being on the better side of the slope. This isn’t a must-do, but a should-do.

You don’t want to be caught in a situation where fitting in your pants, or buttoning your shirt without breaking it is your biggest headache that day.

Don’t believe me? Try wearing formal pants today.

Until Next Time,



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By Neyawn

Neyawn is an anonymous member the founder of ForumIAS. He is a coder Mentor & Teacher by profession, and often writes for ForumIAS. You can buy him coffee , if you really really like his work. He has built ForumIAS - the community - twice. You can say Hi to him or ask him a question on ForumIAS, or follow him on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn . You can also write to him at RxAxVxI@FOxRUMxIAS.COM ( remove the small "x" from the email ).