CSC: What were the basic mantras of your success?
Jagdish: The basic mantra was to remind myself throughout the journey, of the motivation behind preparing for this examination. A motivation that lies beyond oneself. I wish to better the lives of people, through the responsibility endowed on me by civil services and I believe that voluntary contributions can never be a substitute to institutional mechanism.
CSC: When did you start preparation for the IAS Examination? When should one ideally begin thinking about preparing for this exam?
Jagdish: I had started seeping through the content of the syllabi for the examination in 2013, but I effectively started preparation in Dec 2015, after experiencing a failed attempt. The intensity increased manifold over the last one year.
There is no ideal timeline to this examination. But, if one has the right guidance, it is possible to qualify within one year of preparation.
CSC: Which is the most difficult part of IAS examination and why? What was your strategy to tackle this difficult part?
Jagdish: The most difficult part is the wait of results after each stage. After that, it is the preparation for Preliminary examination. Its scope covers many things under the sun. Also, it is the very stage where the success ratio is the least, i.e. maximum aspirants are ousted from the exam cycle.
The key strategy was to remember that it is not about how much you read but more of how much you retain. Thus, I relied on management of time, and coverage and revision of current affairs and static portions. Alongside, regular mock tests for Prelims were a key factor to cement and learn further.
Also, I would suggest, that someone planning to give it next year should get into the Prelims mode four months prior to the examination.
CSC: How did you manage your time in both Prelims and Mains examinations?
Jagdish: Time management was a key to success. I divided my day in terms of hours of study, and relaxation. Also, I pinned down daily targets with a review of them in the evening. I also utilised the time of lunch and dinner by listening or watching a video for both Prelims and Mains. I limited my sources but went for a comprehensive study. Also, I started with the static portions in first half of the Mains and covered current portion after they saturated significantly for a holistic coverage.
CSC: Did you integrate your Prelims and Mains preparations or were these separate?
Jagdish: Though often suggested, I did not. I took all the three stages by themselves, owing to the difference in scope of study and nature of questions asked. I relied on memory for Prelims and presentation for Mains primarily.
CSC: Tell us something about preparation of ‘Essay’ paper.
Jagdish: I had no strategy for Essay at first and it developed over time while preparing for Mains examination. I experimented in the Mock tests with respect to the different kinds of introductions, of use of quotes and without it, etc.
One thing that I learnt was that it is better to draw a rough outline of the essay on the back of the paper and deliberate on the organs of the body of essay in the starting 15-20min before writing an essay. This lets us go back for reference and enables a wider coverage of content. Most importantly, it should be lucid enough for a 10th class student to understand, without compromising on the depth of the material.
CSC: Did you prepare notes? How helpful are the notes? What is your advice on notes-making?
Jagdish: Notes were another important factor. I primarily made short notes on both theory and application of concepts for my optional subject and Ethics paper and static portion of Mains examination. For the other papers, the notes were issue based, banking on current issues. For essay paper, I collated the quotes from different non-controversial leaders – Buddha, Gandhiji, Ambedkar, Lincoln, Amartya Sen, etc. Also, I noted down quotes from important speeches of Prime Minister and President.
CSC: Did you attend any coaching institute? How helpful are the coaching institutes? What is your overall opinion about the coaching institutes?
Jagdish: Yes. I joined INSIGHT IAS ACADEMY of Shri S. BALIYAN sir at Delhi. Coaching classes were of great help especially considering that I was coming from an engineering background. The optional classes were helpful in giving me a deep insight into the subject and the Test series was helpful to push me towards completion of portion and improve my presentation skills.
CSC: What are your suggestions for freshers who want to join coaching institutes for preparation?
Jagdish: Personally, I believe coaching institutes are a good way of streamlining preparation and testing oneself by way of mock tests and guidance. However, with that said, I believe coaching institutes can function only as a way of guidance and cannot substitute the self-study. The questions asked are often dynamic in nature and requires quick thinking and good presentation in Mains. Thus, it should be significantly substantiated with efforts from an aspirant.
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?
Jagdish: There was nothing significantly different in my style than others. All I focussed was on meeting the demands of the questions and generating continuity with good content in my answers.
This came after seeping through the toppers test copies and giving test series myself, which helped me to understand the question thoroughly, breaking it into sub-parts and answering the question accordingly and importantly completing the paper within 3 hours.
CSC: How helpful is one’s background in his/her success?
Jagdish: It doesn’t really matter greatly until the Interview stage. And even at that, it depends upon how well you can defend questions from the field if asked.
The most significant part my background from an IIT played for me, was getting a good peer group. If one has that, the background ceases to be an important determinant.
CSC: Does this exam provide a level playing field for the rural or economically poor background candidates?
Jagdish: I believe it doesn’t entirely. Even though the syllabi and stages of examination are set keeping in mind all the aspirants, the selection ratio would stand to tell otherwise. The pattern of examination requires, good study material at the Preliminary stage, a good writing style at the Mains stage and a good personality at the interview stage.
This, I believe, puts people from rural background or economically weaker backgrounds at disadvantage, who can often not afford to prepare for an entire year for Civil Services Examination. However, there are significant number of examples of people who have beaten the odds.
CSC: How did you prepare for interview?
Jagdish: I focussed on my Detailed Application Form(DAF) and the permutations the questions can be asked from, at first, along-with issues of current relevance. I went for some mock-interviews and analysed my performance by sharing it with my friends, getting their feedback on areas that may require improvement. Alongside, I tried to watch some toppers mock-interviews on Youtube.
I engaged in discussion with my friends on issues. By the last week, I tried to expand the scope of my study and cement it by reading 4 newspapers, including one economic daily.
CSC: Which type of questions were asked in interview? Did you answer all?
Jagdish: The questions ranged from a wide variety of subjects – International relations, Biotechnology, Medieval history, Terrorism and its funding, Education, and Ethics. There were situational questions as well. I was unable to answer all the questions.
CSC: Was there any specific area the interview board emphasized upon?
Jagdish: No, it was a mixed bag of questions, drawing from my DAF, current issues and personality based.
CSC: Before getting down to actual preparation, what kind of reading should one do to improve one’s suitability for this exam? What is the outside reading one should do?
Jagdish: One should start and be thorough with NCERTs (6th – 12th). They are a gem of study material, and are interesting and grasping. They will help one to understand the scope of study for the examination.
Also, it is important that one starts reading a newspaper daily and focussing on important issues for the examination. This should set the tone.
CSC: Whom would you credit your success?
Jagdish: I would credit this success to my family, which didn’t question my decision to prepare for IAS examination and held me with the psychological support needed at every stage, my teacher Shri S. Baliyan Sir whose guidance helped in cracking this exam, my friends Siddharth and Minha, who were instrumental in my preparation, guiding me and helping me through, giving me their emotional support and company in times of anxiety, and the almighty.
CSC: What is your advice to the freshers who are going to appear in this exam?
Jagdish: Freshers who are entering the preparation cycle this year, please remember that the most important factor is perseverance. If you can toil your way even through failures during your preparation, with a positive attitude, then you are perfectly fit for this examination.
And, always remind yourself, why you wanted to pursue a career in civil services. If your purpose is bigger than you, then it will provide you humility and a zeal to work for the welfare of others.
CSC: What is your advice to the candidates who have failed in this exam?
Jagdish: I understand the state that failure brings to you. More than being happy of selection, I was relieved that I did not fail. Failures become a burden when we attach ourselves to expectations, and beliefs of others and when we make CSE as a basis for path our life would take.
I would sincerely suggest, remember this is just a job. No matter, it is the most prestigious, but still it is just a job. Your purpose should be above you, but this examination should not hold your life hostage. Prepare for its own sake, without attachments. Failure is a part of preparation. It’ll make you stronger and calmer. Embrace it.
I know, it may seem fairly easy to say on my part in the present moment, but remember, life is well beyond this examination and has a lot to offer.
CSC: Do you think Civil Services exam is a true test of a candidate’s merit?
Jagdish: I believe it is. It tests us on multiple levels, with each level presenting a different challenge. It tests our memory, our reasoning skills, our presentation and our personality and our psychological strength. There is no other exam which tests individuals on such a wide array.
However, at the end of the day, it’s been a journey towards self-discovery for me, part of a larger context of life. It is important to realise, that it’s an examination for exclusion, rather than selection. It may not be able to reflect the best an individual has to offer, but it comes closest.
CSC: Since when did you begin reading Civil Service Chronicle magazine? What are your suggestions to make it more useful for civil service aspirants?
Jagdish: I started reading Civil Service Chronicle magazine during my days of IAS preparation. It is a comprehensive magazine and covers issues very well. It helped me in covering current issues comprehensively.