By Kajal Jawla Rank 28 CSE 2018
My name is Kajal Jawla and I have secured AIR 28 in Civil Services Examination 2018. This was my fifth attempt overall (I gave my first attempt in 2012) and my first attempt at Mains. I have been a fellow traveler for a very long time now and saying that this journey was difficult would be saying a little too less. Was it testing? Yes – in more ways than one. Was it exhausting? So much so that rest and relaxation became luxuries I could no longer afford. Was it rewarding? Absolutely – never before did I learn so much in life and I am not talking about the syllabus here. ?
How it all began?
My first attempt was in 2012 followed by two more attempts in 2014 and 2016 each. I did not clear the Prelims in any of these attempts and well, I was not supposed to. I had over-assessed my capabilities, underestimated the amount of hard work that this exam demands, and had not done the groundwork at all. I was hoping to pass the Prelims without putting the required amount of effort. My judgement was so clouded by my false hope and wishful thinking that I could not muster enough sense to just sit myself down and analyse the pattern of my failure. But this baggage of self-inflicted failure was changing something inside me – I was becoming more realistic with every failed attempt. I had learnt to make peace with and live with failure. Some of the key lessons that these failures rewarded me with are listed below.
- No one is too intelligent for UPSC CSE examination. Some people may counter this with a few examples but believe you me – there may be such very rare exceptions but the exception is not the norm. You’ll HAVE TO work hard for clearing this exam – there is no other alternative.
- To lead a happy life, you must drop unnecessary baggage. Past is something that you have no control over. Make your peace and MOVE ON!
- You may be stuck doing something in life that you wanted lesser than some other thing. The regret of what you could do or what you could become, for an average person like me, will keep growing with passing years. Do something about it. Only two possibilities exist – either you’ll get what you want or you won’t. Either way, you will at least get a fair assessment of your capabilities and this closure will help you lead a more peaceful life.
And I tried again…but failed
It was in August 2016, soon after the 2016 Prelims, that I started full-fledged preparation. However, I failed miserably at the 2017 Prelims as well. It was heart-breaking indeed and I did a good amount of crying but over the next couple weeks, I prepared myself to try harder. What else could I do? The lessons I learnt after the 2017 Prelims results stood me in good stead in 2018 and are listed below:
Know thyself – You may not have aptitude or interest or both in some subjects/ topics. Know your weaknesses and plan to limit them or work around them. Know your strengths too and build on them because these are the subjects/ topics that will gain you more marks with lesser effort. Plus, this is the key to choosing an optional subject that will work for you.
I was good at and liked Polity, Modern History, Current Affairs, S&T, Ecology, CSAT; average at Ancient History, Medieval History, and Geography; and found Art & Culture, Economics, and World history really difficult. Moreover, I had limited time at hand. I, therefore, took the decision to not read certain portions like Art & Culture, World history, etc.
Know thy syllabus – Read the syllabus multiple times and understand the demand of the topics. Go through previous years’ papers and try to get the pulse of the exam (easier said than done). Especially for optional subject, stick to the limits prescribed by the syllabus.
I followed the syllabus for all papers but more religiously for Zoology (my optional subject) and for Ethics.
Limit the sources of your preparation – Make a list of all the sources you will read from over the course of the year. Do not fall prey to the lure of reading multiple sources for the same topics – you’ll end up reading a lot of unnecessary information for a minuscule fraction of the syllabus and this is a poor use of time.
Here is the list I made in my journal and kept ticking them off as I read and revised from them – Preparation Sources
Revise what you learn – You will read a lot of things but recalling them during the exam and reproducing what you know in your answers is what will fetch you marks. The memory will never come to your aid. So, revise all you read, multiple times.
I revised monthly current affairs the first weekend of the next month. At the end of three months, I revised all current affairs again and this continued over the years. For mains, I revised my mains current affairs notes 8-9 times. You can take a look at my Current Affairs notes for Mains and Interview here:
Read the newspaper – Choose one and stick to it. Along with being indispensable for Prelims preparation, newspaper reading will give you a perspective that will help you immensely in Mains and Interview. Language and sentence formation skills needed to write an essay/ mains answer will automatically sharpen.
I supplemented my current affairs preparation with Insights Daily Current Affairs and made notes in MS Word. Here is a sample of my notes : Prelims CA Sample
Be organized with your time – You must have a more or less fixed daily schedule in order to build and preserve momentum. Small and manageable weekly/ fortnightly targets keep you on track and once achieved, boost your confidence.
Take a look at my weekly targets here – Weekly Interview Targets
Start practicing early enough – Practicing test series gives you a better assessment of your level of preparation than just ticking off items in the syllabus. You must overcome the inertia and just take the first step – take that weekly prelims test, write that first answer, give that first mock. The sooner the better. You will only improve with time.
I attempted 2-3 daily quizzes for Prelims every day and was a part of test series on Insights. I attempted only 4-5 tests and have barely managed to pass Prelims 2018 too. I was a part of ForumIAS MGP and began writing the 3rd test onward.
Limit your circle – Preparation for Prelims and Mains can very well be completed in isolation. The interview is a different ball game and needs intelligent and informed discussions/ conversations. Don’t flip this on its head. Everyone has a different story and you don’t want others controlling/ writing yours on behalf of you.
I had no peer group and I believe this helped me focus on myself than looking at what others were doing or saying. Only my family and close friends knew that I was preparing for the exam and this very well shielded me from undue criticism and negativity. Everyone needs only a few people believing in their dreams. I got all of it from my husband, family and friends.
Believe that you will make it – You must believe in your own dreams and believe so with firm conviction. The sacrifices that you make during the course of the preparation are enough to make you believe that you deserve what you want. Use positive affirmations to boost your confidence. If you are bogged by negativity or knocked down by a low score, get up anyway. Just do your bit and everything will fall into place.
Every single day, just before going to bed, I used to look at the Facebook page of LBSNAA and I told myself I will soon be there. This thought brought a smile on my face and happy tears in my eyes – every single day.
Do what you are supposed to do – You cannot control some things and you must not fret over the uncontrollable. That occasional fever, that not-so-surprising failure at a test, that bout of anxiety, those words of unwanted advice and not-so-subtle criticism from someone who doesn’t appreciate your toil – these are inevitable. You must not try to control these – filter out this background noise. Know that only perseverance and hard work will get you through.
I have not touched on the book list, answer writing, notes making, and interview preparation because I know that many brilliant people have shared their strategies already and these surely will help you clear the exam quicker than I myself could. But for your benefit and perusal, here Complete Strategy is my booklist and strategy for all three phases of the exam.
Refer to my Zoology notes here:
Animal behaviour and biostats | Animal Kingdom-Annelida Mollusca | Animal Kingdom-Arthropoda and Protozoa | Animal Kingdom-Echinodermata onwars | Ecology residual | Economic zoology | Genetics and evolution1 | Genetics and evolution2 | Instrumentation methods | PaperII rem notes | Systematics | Zoology notes – Cell Bio | Zoology notes – Non-chordates
Vote of Thanks
I would like to thank ForumIAS for creating this wonderful platform ( and now the very helpful Academy ) which had made it easier for aspirants to know more about the exam. Being a working candidate, I got very less time to prepare for this exam, which is why I could never give so much time to Prelims. However, in my prelims in this attempt, I gave it as much attention, time and effort I could, and the support I received at ForumIAS helped me reach here.
What this exam is all about?
I just want to re-emphasise something most of you already know – that there is more to this exam than reading books. To borrow from a recent web series (and taking artistic liberty) – “You can take a person out of UPSC but you cannot take UPSC out of a person.” All the pain and toil is going to change you forever. At the end of the journey, we all will be stronger, wiser, and smarter. There is more to life too than this exam and as you move on further in your life journey, you will be able to take on bigger challenges with much more ease.
I got through the exam this year and I am at peace with myself now. However, the crucial life lessons this 8 years long on-again-off-again journey gave me are the ones that turned me into a more positive and stronger person. I got more than what I had asked for at the end of this journey. As life rolls into yet another much-awaited phase, I look back at my old self and no longer do I repent on what I could do or become. I wish that at the end of your journey, better learnings and bigger rewards await you.
Wish you all the best!
AIR 28, CSE 2018