Civil Services Chronicle: Heartiest congratulations to you from Civil Services Chronicle for your success. How are you feeling post this achievement? What was your inspiration for becoming an IAS officer?Whom would you give credit for your Success?What was the role of family and others (teachers, friends) in your preparation and success?
Minal Karanwal: I am surely feeling very elated. You obsess over a dream for so long and finally you achieve it.
My inspiration for becoming an IAS officer was the job profile that would help me contribute my 2 cents towards nation building and also secure for myself such a good career opportunity.
Credit for my success goes to my entire family and ForumIAS Academy. That has handheld me through the entire process. Family provided the much needed moral and financial support, and my teachers at ForumIAS provided me the much needed guidance and mentorship.
CSC: What strategy one should follow for preparing Civil Services Examination especially in General Studies Prelims and Mains papers, Essay and Paper IV. Please explain this with your Subject- wise Preparation Strategy.
Minal: (a) For prelims: Making sure that I was conceptually thorough with every subject. Even for an intense subject like ‘Art and culture’, I had read Nitin Singhania, and had made many side notes in the book and separate topic wise notes for topics like types of dances, music etc.
(b) I had solved the last year question papers with a mind for reverse engineering, figuring out how the questions are asked by UPSC and what portions I should focus on. For ex: in geography the emphasis over the years has been questions on location of resources, location of cities etc. Hence, then my orientation while reading the text book was developed accordingly. In fact, I had even revised the last year papers, given that there is a chance of repetition.
(c) Faster completion of course- I was once advised at ForumIAS that since ‘work expands to fill time’, we should not get stuck on one subject and finish the course as fast as possible. Hence, I finished the first reading of the prelims course by January itself, even though I was still giving some time to my optional.
(d) 1000 revisions: metaphoric, but a lot of revision of my short notes and re reading of text books. This trained my sub conscious to even work under stress and anxiety.
(e) Practicing mocks: Practising and adapting yourself to solving regular tests will help you understand the exam pattern better and also help you figure out how you’ll go about solving it.
(f) Revision of some tests I hadn’t performed well in.
A. History: As far as Modern India is concerned, a thorough reading of Spectrum and solving of last year papers will suffice, because there are too many repetitions. Practice writing answers here as well.
- For ‘Art and Culture’, I find Nitin Singhania a compulsory read here along with the NCERT and the last year papers. There is heavy mugging up of facts required and this can only be achieved by thorough practice and numerous revisions.
- Post-independence: Bipin Chandra
- World History: Norman Lowe+NCERTs+ ForumIAS Comprehensive Program (CGP) Handouts and Class notes
- Focus was on making topic wise notes of everything.
- Reading the 11th and 12th class NCERTs is the most important. I preferred making short notes out of them so that revision is fact focussed. Most diagrams given in these books are also extremely handy.
- For the topics of ‘Distribution of resources’ and ‘location of industries’, I referred a CGP book on it. In my opinion, it is brilliantly compiled, pontified , such that no separate notes are required.
- Reading of NCERTs of class 11th and 12th plus adding the knowledge of current to it. The question in GS1 this time on contrasting Western and Indian secularism was sourced directly from these books and exact references came handy for me.
D. Polity and Governance:
- I had Public Administration as my optional and hence I did not have to devote separate time for this portion. Also I used my PUB Ad notes for its preparation.
- For ‘polity portion’, focus should be solving last year papers and test series papers. Open endedly reading Laxmikant will not suffice here.
- For governance portion, it is important to read the ARC reports. Focus while reading them should be that of ‘differential study’: focus only on the specific problems highlighted and the corresponding solutions. I had made many notes from the ARC in a tabular ‘problem-solution’ approach. For example: in the 6th report of Local Governance the problem of 3Fs of Local bodies is pretty detailed and the solutions are also very specifically given. Ignoring them in the name of them being lengthy will be like putting a nail in your own coffin. You can get hold of either summaries or if you can read them fast and focussed, it would be better. ARCs that are a must:
- oARC 1ST Report
- oARC 4TH Report
- oARC 5TH Report
- oARC 6TH Report
- oARC 10TH Report
- oARC 12TH Report
- oARC 14TH Report
E. Social Issues and IR: Dipin Sir’s Current Affairs Classes at Foum IAS sufficed.
F. Indian Economy:
- Sri Ram’s economy book or any other standard Economy Book should be thoroughly read to gain a conceptual clarity.
- Shankar Ganesh can be read exclusively for prelims perspective.
- Reading newspaper and any CA booklet is very essential, as a current perspective is important while writing answers.
G. Government Budgeting: ARC 14TH Report has beautifully explained budgeting kinds and procedures. It must be read.
- I relied on Dipin Sir’s notes of ForumIAS and I bought the past year papers questions from the market and made notes out of them topic wise: regarding procurement, MSP issues, Food processing etc.
- Land reforms was covered as part of Post Independence and the analysis of LARR, 2013 in the Classroom
I. Infrastructure, S&T: No separate preparation, only Dipin Sir’s notes of ForumIAS.
J. Investment Models: Sourced from my public administration notes. Emphasis should be on understanding various models like BOT, BOOT, EPC, HAM. And also what is the solution to make them more effective. Kelkar committee recommendations can be read.
- Focus was on reading Dipin Sir’s notes and Mains 365 selective reading
- However, I also revised Shankar IAS’s book from mains perspective because of which I was able to solve the Biological Diversity Act question in GS 3, with utmost exactness.
- Read the Tata McGraw Hill book selectively to cover static portions like Naxalism, communalism.
- However, more reliance was on Dipin Sir’s class notes ForumIAS printed material.
M. Disaster Management:
- Read the NDMA plan and made disaster wise notes in the form of pre-during-post disaster response
- Read portions of Sendai framework and hence could solve question of Disaster risk reduction in GS paper 3.
- Had also read portions of January 2017 Yojana.
- Section A: Read Lexicon and CGP notes. Use of internet is very important to explore many concepts.
- I had also collected many case studies while reading the newspapers to use as examples. Like: Case study for swachha bharat: pimprichinchwad
- Section B: CGP had made us practice some standard case studies and practice of many case studies is crucial to get a hang on what stand to take in different case studies.
O. Essay: Content was derived from My GS knowledge itself. However, while writing essay, emphasis was on interpreting the topic rightly and exploring many dimensions relevant to the topic, like: SPECLIH [Social, Political, Economic, Cultural, Linguistic, International, Humanistic]
- Sentences should be kept short and language simple.
- I always started my essays with either an anecdote or a quote. This helped me give a different touch to the essay.
CSC: Which Books, Magazines, News Papers and Online Sources were used by you during your preparation? How much time did you devote for this exam for various stages namely Prelims, Mains, Optional and Interview?
Minal: I had relied on standard books that have been mentioned in my strategy above. Read ‘the Hindu’ newspaper throughout, except 2 months before Prelims and Mains both. I used to extensively search online on topics in GS4.
I used to study 8 hours minimum daily. Days that I didn’t study at all, I used to compensate by studying double the next day.
Read my optional till February 2018. After that devoted time exclusively to Prelims.
CSC: How did you manage your time in both Prelims and Mains examination?Did you integrate your Prelims and Mains preparation or was it separate?
Minal: In prelims, I managed to read my entire paper thrice. I used to mark sure shot questions in the 1st reading. In the 2nd reading, marked those that I knew 75% about. In the 3rd, I marked those that I knew 50% about.
I had practiced full length tests for mains exam and had strictly trained myself to not to give more than 8 minutes for either a 10 or a 15 marker. Hence I was able to finish all my mains papers within time limit.
I integrated my preparation to a large extent. The difference comes in the approach: prelims has to be facts oriented study and mains has to be concept oriented study. For example: What happened in Champaran Satyagrah is knowledge, important for both prelims and mains but ‘why Satyagraha was a tool used by Gandhi and how effective it was’ is the analysis required for mains perspective.
CSC: Did you prepare notes? How helpful are notes in this exam? What is your advice on notes-making?
Minal: Yes, I prepared notes for almost every topic I read. I believe that note making helps you learn better and also makes revision easier. They turned out to be the core of my preparation.
Students have less idea on how to make helpful notes. I have seen them writing summaries in running sentences. These are not notes. Notes should be concise, keyword oriented and if possible confined to one side of an A4 page, no matter how big the topic is. DO NOT include running sentences in your notes, they would be very difficult to revise and would be least effective.
For CA, I advise, that the notes should be concept oriented and strictly confined to one page. For ex: on Judiciary, everything ranging from the stats, problems, solutions etc. should be confined to one page. This works magic when the exam approaches and is very easy to recall.
CSC: What was your Strategy for preparing for Ethics Paper-IV andwhich books did you refer to?
Minal: GS4 is a paper, which if approached mechanically, will fetch you very average marks. I was advised at ForumIAS to keep it as organic as possible. Hence, keep the language very simple and the content very simplistic. Here, internet plays a very crucial role. I sourced many definitions and differences from the internet. I also believe that some case studies as examples add to the quality of your answer. These can be picked up from internet or while you are reading the newspaper. For ex: Haritha Keralam was a people’s movement to bring in cleanliness.
I had read Lexicon as my base and had read the ARC 4th report on Ethics and Governance, but was still scoring average marks. Hence I enrolled in a GS IV Test Series that helped me a lot to reorient both Section A and case studies. The emphasis in section A has to be on exploring as many dimensions as possible, keeping in mind major schools like Utilitarianism, Gandhian Ethics, Virtue ethics etc.
In section B, my attempt was to first contrast as many values, like how objectivity is in conflict with nepotism or integrity is in conflict with personal financial benefit. I used to 1st highlight these conflicts point wise. Then, I used to pragmatically trace solutions from the least favourable to the most favourable. Each solution was accompanied with its merits and demerits.
CSC: Tell us something about your preparation approach for essay paper.
Minal: Essay requires you to be Crisp, Concise and Relevant.
Even though my content was mostly driven from GS, I had collected a sample of quotes and anecdotes from previous year toppers notes and internet and had revised them thoroughly. Using them in your essay will definitely give you an edge over other students.
While practicing tests, I made it a point to be relevant to the topic and not deviate. And this happened because of the extensive rough work I did, before attempting the essay. In this rough work I traced the tiniest details of the essay, such that the entire narrative was ready before hand. This helped me not to deviate from the topic while I was writing. And trust me this is a big booster for anyone who is reading the essay.
Keep the sentences short and the language simple.
Explore all the SPECLIH dimensions even to a philosophical topic. Example: in my second essay on how a society advantages its privileges over principles, I adopted an example based approach, where I used the SPECLIH approach. The nature’s resources are being incessantly exploited than conserved, hence, the level of destruction around the globe.
CSC: What was your style of writing in the exam? How was it distinct from the general writing style? How did you develop this writing style?
Minal: I am from a humanities course, and hence I was trained to write long sentences. This backfired in my mock as I wasn’t able to confine myself to word limits and neither did the answers look comprehensible.
Hence the style that I adopted was:
- Write in short sentences
- Write in a very simple language
- Use paragraphs and bullet points
- Use as many sub headings as possible. Example: when the problems of judiciary is asked, prefer dividing it into procedural, infrastructural, operational, appointment related, etc
- Use of diagrams and flowcharts, wherever possible, for example: if the question is on challenges of CPEC, draw a small map of the Indian subcontinent and show where the CPEC lies, with Gwadar and Xinjiang as its two ends
- A very concrete conclusion: I never wrote a rhetorical conclusion as it will not fetch marks. I wrote a sub heading ‘Way Forward’ and wrote futuristic solutions in points. This mostly involved relevant committee recommendations.
This writing style develops after a lot of practice. Time individual answers and full papers. Only then you can subconsciously implement this writing style.
CSC: What was your optional? What was the basis of selecting this optional?
Minal: My optional was Public Administration. I selected it because the syllabus was very concise, manageable, extremely overlapping with GS2, 3, 4. Also, a couple of seniors who had already cleared the exam with this optional had advised me to consider it.
CSC: How did you prepare for interview? Which types of questions were asked in the interview? Did you answer all the questions? Was there any specific area they emphasised upon?
Minal: 3 important points for interview preparation:
- Prepare for every word in your DAF. For ex: my address involves the word ‘Bengali’. In one mock I was asked on the minority status of Bengalis in Uttarakhand.
- Prepare your opinions on important national and international happenings. Make sure that no opinion of yours is extreme and is not in severe opposition to the government’s position. You can constructively criticise the government’s policy, only if you have concrete solutions as alternatives. For ex: should education be a minimum qualification to contest panchayat elections? Yes, because it will help in bringing quality candidates into the political fold, but only once it is universalised by the efforts of the government.
- Give an adequate number of mocks. If you stay in Delhi, then visit some institutes. Even if you don’t stay in Delhi, use the facility of e-mocks available these days. Mocks help you analyse the way you respond to a question extempore. You should also watch these mocks afterwards to assess your own performance.
CSC: What is your opinion on importance of coaching institutes for the preparation of this exam?
Minal: I believe that if there is genuine mentorship available in the coaching institutes, it should definitely be leveraged. Hard work and self-study are sure necessary for this exam. But without proper guidance, direction and mentorship, you’ll end up being part of a desolate crowd that blames its failures on its own capabilities. For me, ForumIAS was a place that I’ve gotten tiniest guidances ranging from how to make notes to how to write answers, without which I wouldn’t have made it to Rank 35.
These days help is available both online and offline. If you can, you should leverage it. If you cannot, know that every year there are many toppers who clear the exam with minimal help from the coaching industry as well. Find your feet and go all out in the preparation.
CSC: What are your suggestions to the freshers opting for Civil Services Examination and those who have failed in their previous attempts?
Minal: The only thing I would like to suggest to freshers is that if you can clear this exam in the very first attempt, nothing like it. The more time you spend in the process, the more your competency and confidence dips. Do not make any mistakes in the choice of your study material, how you read it. Make notes for every subject, in an effective manner. Write relevant test series and clear the exam as soon as possible.
For those who have failed previous attempts, know what your problems were. It cannot be possible that you did everything right, and you still didn’t clear the exam. This is not possible, and I can say that with conviction. Identify your problems and solve them as soon as possible.
CSC: What is the role of Civil Services Chronicle in your success?
Minal: Civil Services Chronicle provides a very comprehensive coverage of Current Affairs issues for both Prelims and Mains. It is helpful for candidates preparing for CSE across the country.
Your Suggested Book List for CSE Preparation
- Polity: Laxmikant for prelims and mains both. However, paper 2 requires you to read some ARCs, Ii have already elaborated it in my strategy.
- Modern India: Spectrum for both Prelims and Mains. For GS paper1, practice of last year questions, with a focus on Spectrum as the basis of the content will be sufficient.
- Ancient India: R.S. Sharma for prelims and mains. I also read Tamil Nadu History book and class 6 NCERT and Themes in India part 1. For mains perspective, in addition to this, I used Nitin Singhania.
- .Medieval India: class 7 NCERT and Themes in India part 2
- Art and culture: class 11 NCERT and Nitin Singhania.
- Geography: Old and New NCERTs from class 6-12 for both prelims and mains.G.C.Leong and Atlas. I also used ForumIAS CGP supplementary book for the topic of ‘location of industries of GS1’
- Society: NCERT of class 11 and 12 and used CA for this portion.
- Environment: Shankar IAS book and CA
- Security: Tata McGraw Hill for static. Rest CA.
- Ethics: Lexicon and test series papers from the market