Suharsha Bhagat finally secured the coveted Indian Administrative Service in his fifth attempt. Having done his primary schooling from R K Mission and then Delhi Public School R K Puram, he went to attend college at IIT Bombay.
His story is as unique as it is an inspiring story. Suharsha has been securing a name in the final list almost every single year – he quit Indian Audit Accounts service and left the comfort of the Training Institute to get back to Rajinder Nagar, join a Library and fight for IAS one more time.
Sounds a lot like most aspirants.
He did join the IRS, Income Tax in his penultimate attempt, but he did not relent in his Civil Services Preparation. I met him in the library in the Summer of 2013. He was later to join the Indian Revenue Service. He sat right behind me, and sometimes next to me, when I chose a place close to the AC. He had already quit his service – Indian Audit Accounts Service back then, grown a beard, and would melt away in the crowd. We spoke rarely in the library, and perhaps once in te Rajinder Nagar park right before the Interview call.
In his preference list, he would only fill up the top 3 services. That was logical for him since he already has Audit Accounts Service.
We met again, last week. He was clean shaven, and I could only recognise him because I had seen his photos in Newspapers and Magazines. After all he is the Topper amongst men this year.
I asked him if he expected it, and he said he had stopped expecting much. After IIT, life and things had not been predictable enough.
I share his journey in his own words.
About his UPSC Journey
This is my fifth attempt in civil services and I have qualified in the final list four times earlier. I did my graduation from IIT Bombay and gave my attempt in 2010 just after graduation. I made it to the final list got Indian Accounts and Audit services which I resigned during training and started preparing for my next year in which I qualified but I was not allotted any service as I gave preference only for IAS, IPS and IFS . Next year too I had qualified in the reserve list but did not take up any service. I got IRS income tax in my last attempt CSE 2013 and I was preparing for CSE 2014 side by side.
Not a Bed of Roses:
According to me the civil Service Examination is a very different and challenging test of your personality. The whole process is itself very long and requires SMART and intelligent preparation, emotional stability, Psychological support, situational awareness and a lot of other social factors also plays an important role.
My journey personally has been a tumultuous one with extreme lows and highs. The dynamic nature of subjects, marking criteria and subjectivity creates room for lot of vagueness and uncertainty during the whole exam process.
Pigeon Hole Principle is not Good. All the three stages of examination are integrated. While Prelims test your alertness and memory the Mains examination test your analytical skills.
This exams tests patience and perseverance along with resilience and it is needed as the real-time Job experience is much more challenging than this whole exam process
Strategy for Preparation
Keep It Simple. Understand yourself to understand the Exam
I would say that there is NO ONE BEST WAY APPROACH. Sync between your attitude and what UPSC wants from you is utmost necessary for this exam. In the course of time preparation becomes a Major Part of your life and It is important that you enjoy it.
Understanding yourself in necessary as that will maximise your strength and help you work on your weaknesses. Keeping it simple is the Key. Complication creates pressure during exam cycle but Simplicity will eventually Pay Off
Balancing Work and Preparation:
My first attempt was given without any coaching guidance and relied wholly on self-study for about 100-110 days. The Exam process has become more regressive and requires syllabus completion and Answer writing practice.
For candidates who have already given prelims and have some basic knowledge about the subjects I would recommend them to focus more on tests and a brief holiday during exam time for revision.
Also give your test after one week of preparation , this gap will help you realise how well are you in recollection. Though it may not be scoring but will definitely pay off at the end. This will keep you exam ready any time.
On the Go Preparation – with lots of apps for civils preparation and Smart education facilities time can be effectively utilised.But According to me more than the knowledge base , tests play an important role.
Coaching Institutes- Let them do the dirty work for you
Though I haven’t attended coaching for my preparation I have used the resources and materials provided by them. Basically making current affair notes on your own requires lot of effort which you can save by opting for coaching materials.
They also have online tests which can save your time travelling to institutes.Know what you want and make your choices regarding coaching.
How to Write Answers in Mains
Read- Think- Analyse & Write Mantra
Completion of Paper and maximising your marks in the paper as a whole is more important than maximising your marks in individual questions. This can be done through continuous Test Practise which in turn requires intense mental exercise .
Mental exercise helps you streamline your thought process and in gaining conceptual clarity.The specificity in questions asked recently ,requires a bulls eye view of the subject and understanding which will help you in formulating the structure and flow of your answer.
This is how you do it
- Once you have finished a topic start attempting the previous year question paper.
- Choose simple questions at the beginning , frame your answer structure and discuss it with your friends , this will give you the different perspectives of a topic.
- Now take your time in writing the answer and get feedback from peers and mentors.
- This might be very time consuming at start but in the course of time start increasing the number of questions and limiting your time.
- Your goal should be 7 mins per question where two minutes in dedicated for framing.
- For those tough concepts – Break it down and this will help you interlink the subjects and give a multidisciplinary approach to your preparation.
- Deconstruct – Understand- Reconstruct
This exercise Increases your analytical skills and avoids mental blockage. This applies to essay and optional too.
Word limit is another important factor. Do not attempt to fill in the space allotted for the question try and stick to the allotted words. I have a very small handwriting and I cannot fill up the pages no matter how hard I try, so I don’t think filling pages, at least in the new pattern will fetch any marks.
Write Answers every day till you get your desired Service that is the amount of commitment expected from you.
Geography as an Optional
Geography has very wide syllabus and huge load of information. It involves a lot of memorising and answer writing. Paper 2 is comparatively easier than Paper 1.
Prepare Map Questions well as they are very scoring. Human Geography is also another such Chapter.
The chapter of Geographical thinkers plays a key role in the preparation as it is an exclusive forte of this optional.
When an answer in this chapter is well written the examiner gets a good impression about you.I prefer diagrams in every page of Geography paper and prefer writing in points whenever possible
Majid Hussain, Savindra Singh and Coaching Material for Soil Chapter are some good sources for this optional.
Role of NCERT
NCERTs are necessary but not sufficient. It is an Efficient kick-start in the initial preparation stage which in the course of time requires a lot of value addition.
Is making Notes essential?
That depends on what and from where you are studying and also how you want to study. For e.g the Infrastructure chapter might require notes from 12th five year plan or economic survey in that case you can always go for note making. I personally prefer to mark the important things in the book itself.
Ethics – How did you prepare?
It comprises Philosophy related, Psychology related, Public administration related topics and Case studies.
The questions are theoretical and practical where real life examples and articulation skills play an important role.
The approach needs to be dynamic and vocabulary based.
The case studies should be answered using approaches like rights based, justice based, virtue based etc. You can follow the below strategy for Case studies like questions.
- Identify Stakeholders
- Highlight the dilemmas
- Create responses and alternatives
- Analyse how the response will affect the stakeholders mentioned
- Conclude by mentioning how the case has been a learning experience
The Ritual of reading Government Reports
Your aim while reading the government reports should be to fulfil the below points
- How will it help you in the exam?
- Is it a necessary value addition?
- How much can you retain and how fast you can recall it?
Basically I stuck to the summary of the reports rather than wasting time in reading voluminous pages. I believe that whatever you do ,you have to assimilate it, retain it and recollect it when needed and finally practice the same religiously.
At the Exam Hall: Prelims
This is a test of your knowledge. It is usually a mix of easy, difficult and teaser questions. Teaser questions are those that appear to be easy but gets difficult when you solve them.
You need to attempt at least 60 and above questions right to be on the safer side .My technique is to mark all the questions that I know surely in the first glance. Then I cross that questions that I do not know so that I avoid attempting the questions and wasting time.
This whole process gets over in about 1 to 1 and half hour. In the remaining time I attempt the teaser questions using intelligent guesses and elimination of options strategy so that I am reaching the safe 60 + questions limit.
At Exam Hall: Mains
Previous pattern of UPSC had little to do with time management as most of the questions were 30 and 20 marks. Now the pattern tests your clarity of thought, ability to express and the quickness in response time thus the Mains in itself is a Personality Test.
So you are basically selling yourself by what you write in those three hours.This was essentially a strategy of UPSC to discourage Coaching institutions. This constraint in time reflects your spontaneity and originality in answering because limited response time makes your answer flow from your subconscious.
Thus mugging up coaching ready-made answers and reproducing them in paper will not work.
As I said earlier focus on maximising the marks in entire paper. For eg the highest mark a candidate can get for an answer is 5 to 5.5 marks. A score of 100 is considered to be a Good score.
If you are giving too much importance to say 15 questions and then end up rushing the remaining questions you’ll end up scoring 75- 80 marks provided you got the maximum score for all 15 questions that you attempted which in turn is not likely to happen.
In case you do not know some questions then how you can follow this approach which I tried this year and it proved useful. Give the first two hours for all the questions that you knew very well. Say you give those extra one to two minutes each question maximum. Rest of the questions you can grade the time limit according to your comfortability in answering.
Like sometimes you might not have any clue about questions in Science and technology or art and culture. So in those cases you can write what you know and leave those questions.
Also paper checking is a tiresome process so you have to make answer reading effortless which will come only if you have clarity in what you know.
Presentation also plays a role. Underlining, diagrammatic and schematic representations add value to your answers. Using flow charts and infographics as and when needed is a good approach.
There is no hard and fast rule to answer only in points also it’s not feasible. Innovate in your own way, do what the answer requires as there is no best way. Basically how you attempt your question reflects your value system so evolve a unique approach.
Does the vocabulary of the Question Matters?
I prefer you to see the dictionary and understand the meaning of words like Comment, Illustrate, elucidate ,analyse etc. This will make you understand the Question frame and answer better. Let us see the Difference between analyse and critically analyse
Lets consider the example of a Govt scheme that need to be analysed and Critically analysed
- How this program will overcome the shortcomings of the previous ones.
- Its Special Features
- Roadblocks and obstacles
- Ending in a positive note
Analyse– Give much weightage for 1st and 2nd points . Let the 3rd and 4th be your conclusion.
Critically Analyse– Briefly do the 1st and 2nd points and elaborate on the 3rd and 4th.
Also make judicious use of jargon and key words.
How to approach Essay
In all my five attempts there is an element of randomness in my essay score. So don’t be over confident when you score well and don’t question your ability when you score less. This applies to those of you who have written a few attempts before.
Keeping it simple and refraining you from Hi-Fi jargons and squeezing quotes unnecessarily is considered better.
Newspapers often provide good source and inspiration for essays. Good Planning, Natural flow and Coherence make the difference.
Give equal time to all essays. The beauty with interview and essays is that you prepare without knowing that you are preparing. Same Read, Think and Write mantra helps here to avoid mental blockage.
My Approach for the Interview
Interview is a very random process. Your frame of mind and confidence will decide your fate. The newspaper of that day and Current affairs awareness play a crucial role. Above all your DAF (Detailed application Form) is of utmost importance.
The DAF is filled after your prelims qualification before appearing for mains and it cannot be changed later. It plays the role of resume during interview and contains other details like cadre and service preference. It is required that you consult seniors and mentors before filling in the details.
The Hobby and Extra-Curricular Activities mentioned in your DAF needs thorough preparation as they are self-declared.