Civil Services Chronicle: Heartiest congratulations to you from Civil Services Chronicle on your success. How are you feeling post this achievement? What was your inspiration for becoming an IAS officer? Whom would you give credit to for your success? What was the role of family and others (teachers, friends) in your preparation and success?
Vaishali Singh:Thank you. It is a feeling of both relief and excitement. I feel relieved that I am out of this process and excited as I have achieved what I wanted to achieve.I will be able to move forward in life now. My inspiration came from my experiences during my law course at National Law University, Delhi. I was a part of a number of field research projects where I worked at the grassroots level which I found missing in my corporate law firm. Therefore, I got attracted towards Civil Services. I think there are a number of people who have been a part of my journey. Personally, my parents and my brother have been with me through all the ups and downs. Apart from that, I would like to give credit to my mentor, Mr. R.K. Gupta Sir who has been a very important part of this process. He guided me throughout the last one year of preparation.
CSC: What strategy should one follow for preparing for Civil Services Examination especially in General Studies Prelims as well as Mains papers? Please explain this with your subject-wise preparation strategy. How did you manage your time in both Prelims and Mains examination? Did you integrate your Prelims and Mains preparation or was it separate?
Vaishali: I believe that for both Prelims and Mains, the content is same. So, my strategy was to study in an integrated manner for both Prelims and Mains and apply that knowledge differently for Prelims and Mains. It is my suggestion that one must prepare for both Prelims and Mains together, so that one can cover the entire syllabus holistically. Until February end, I studied for both Prelims and Mains together. Towards the end, during March to May, I focused solely on Prelims. I did one mock test every day. This is how I divided my time between Mains and Prelims.
CSC: Did you prepare any notes? How helpful are notes in this examination? What is your advice for making notes?
Vaishali: I did not make any notes for core subjects because I prefer to study from the book itself. However, I did make notes for current affairs and certain other topics. I would say that making notes is extremely crucial for current affairs so that you don’t get lost in the plethora of materials that are available for current affairs. Therefore, making notes is important.
CSC: What was your strategy for preparing for Ethics paper and which books did you refer to?
Vaishali: Ethics (Paper-IV), in my opinion, is one of the most important papers because of the wide range of variations in marks associated with it. So, we must focus on Ethics. After Prelims, I joined a test series for Ethics. When I attempted the tests, I realised the demands of the Ethics paper and then I studied accordingly. I studied from multiple sources and made my own notes. Some of the sources were the Lexicon, model answers of certain papers, few examples from newspapers and sometimes online sources.
CSC: Tell us something about your approach for Essay paper.
Vaishali: Essay is one paper where I focused the most because after Prelims, I had less time left for my General Studies preparation and my optional was lengthy and I could not complete it earlier. So, I decided to focus a lot on Essay as it offers a lot of difference in marks. I first read the past year’s toppers’ copies to see what the constituents of a good essay are. Once I understood that we need a good introduction, body and conclusion, I started collecting material for certain important topics that I thought could be asked in the Essay paper. For examples, trade war and globalisation, gender equality and liberty, inequality and poverty, etc. Once I had identified the topics, I started collecting information, quotations, and examples and joined a test series to attempt more essays and I improved during the process.
CSC: What was your style of writing in the examination and how did you develop this writing style?
Vaishali: I come from a legal background. So, I had to write a lot. I made sure that I found certain words and sentences which could sum up a large paragraph. We all have different writing styles and we should not change it too much, otherwise we cease to be our natural selves. My natural writing style is mostly in the form of bullets which has developed since my school days. Other than that, I used to write certain paragraphs and essays on some important topics. I also wrote on some field research projects during my Law course. These improved my critical analysis and the ability to understand a given topic. That is how I built up my answer writing skills.
CSC: What was your optional? What was the basis of selecting the optional?
Vaishali: As I am a lawyer, I opted for Law optional as a natural choice. I was comfortable in the subject, having studied it for five years. Even though Law is not considered a high scoring subject, but still I opted for it because I was in a better position to understand and answer any off-guard question in the paper. I devoted about 4-5 months for optional. It is my suggestion that one must try to complete the optional before Prelims so that one does not have to worry about it after Prelims.
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 that they emphasised upon?
Vaishali: My Interview preparation was based on a lot of mock interviews as mock practices are very important for all three stages of the examination. First, I prepared my DAF in great detail. Second, I focused on my graduation subject which was Law. Third, I focused on current affairs. This was my order of priority for Interview preparation. Thereafter, I went for mock interviews, learnt a lot from my mistakes and eventually I did well in my interview. 80-85% of questions in my interview pertained to Law, out of which, 90% questions were from Criminal Law. There were one or two questions which I could not answer. I smiled and honestly told the interview panel that I was unaware of the same.
CSC: What is your opinion on importance of coaching institutes for the preparation of this examination?
Vaishali: I believe that this examination is as much about knowledge as it is about strategy. Along with strategy, we need guidance which can come from multiple sources like online sources, coaching institutes, etc. So, if one feels that one does not have sufficient guidance around; one can go for coaching institutes. But if you have sufficient guidance from people around you and you think that the online sources would suffice, then it is not necessary to go for any specific coaching.
CSC: What are your suggestions for the freshers opting for Civil Services Examination and for those who have failed in their previous attempts?
Vaishali: We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. While we keep focusing on our strengths, we fail to improve upon our weaknesses. There are certain areas that one would find difficult to tackle. One should go for those areas first. One must identify where one is going wrong, so that the same mistakes are not repeated in different stages. I did that and it helped me immensely.
CSC: Which books, magazines, newspapers and online sources did you use during your preparation?
Vaishali: I followed the basic books that every topper used to talk about. I limited my sources. For all the core subjects, I followed NCERTs, Laxmikant, Spectrum, etc. For current affairs, I focused on a number of sources. I used to read two newspapers everyday, namely The Hindu and Livemint. From Livemint, I used to read only the last four pages. I used to refer to certain magazines and online sources for some good content on current affairs topics.
CSC: What is the role of Civil Services Chronicle in your success?
Vaishali: Civil Services Chronicle is one magazine that I used for my current affairs preparation. Here, you find a lot of good content on current affairs. This was one of my sources for current affairs preparation.