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TIPS on Civil Services Preparation

In the early eighties, there were three (Delhi, Allahabad and Patna) major centres of UPSC related activities, while Hyderabad was coming up fast. There used to be 40 to 60 thousand contenders for the coveted posts. Today, while the number of aspirants has risen by over 200 percent, many new centres have come up in almost every state capital and many other major cities. In those days professionals did not see any merit in contention for these jobs, but recent years have witnessed a flood of such aspirants, at times sweeping the top positions in the merit list. In those days History, Sociology, Political Science etc. used to be the most popular optional subjects while today, many hitherto less known subjects have taken over. Besides, many states have changed their pattern of PCS examination in line with UPSC examination.

This change in the scenario, resultant of a number of factors, demands that the serious contenders to the job must adopt a more rational, more systematic strategy and approach, right from the moment they think of preparing for the civil services examination.

Selecting the Optional

On the first thought of appearing in the Civil Services Examination (CSE), the first issue is the selection of optional. In a way, selection of right optional is the most crucial step. Post-graduates in any discipline, generally prefer taking up their parent subject as optional. But, some of the social sciences (e.g. History, Sociology, Geography and Public Administration) opted by quite a significant majority can, however, be a much safer bet, particularly for those (ordinary science graduates) who do not have any specific parent subject or for those who are not able to develop confidence in their parental subject. In either case, the formal preparation must start from the basic fundamentals, even if a person is already a post-graduate in that subject.

Preparing for Prelims

General Studies (GS) has to be prepared on quite a different plane because the content of this paper is too spread out and because any issue, major or minor, can be asked objectively. Traditionally, 10 + 2 level books of NCERT or any state education board had been covering a major part of the content but, these days, the items in news during the last one year or so, are being asked quite frequently. Problems are generally faced in everyday science (by the candidates with social sciences background) or in mental ability or in the fundamentals of economics. The most important aspect for the preparation of GS Prelims, therefore, is to identify the loop-holes and plug them urgently.

Many of you prepare a subject in terms of "reading" (once, twice, thrice etc.) with or without underlining the important facts. It results not only in longer time of preparation, but also many important points may skip. Also, even if you underline the highlighting points, most of you have the tendency to read the text in full while going for the subsequent readings. It is, therefore, advisable that texts must be read once and all-important points (likely to be forgotten) recorded separately so that you need not study voluminous texts again. This would save on your time and should result in greater efficiency.

The Mains - GS:

For right approach, the preparation of Mains should start before or at least concurrent with Prelims. Just because you have to prepare for Essay, GS and the optional, you never get enough time (to prepare for all these) after the declaration of Prelims' results. Further, while Prelims is only a screening test, it is on the basis of your performance in Mains, on which depends the final outcome of your efforts. Strategically, therefore, the preparation for the examination should start about one year in advance and you should think about appearing in the Prelims only when you have had a strong grip over the Mains' subject matter.

Many of you, particularly those with a professional degree in science, tend to ignore the preparation of GS and concentrate mainly on their optional subject. This attitude is more like a bad gamble because you are not aware about the level of preparation of other aspirants. Economy (for the science background aspirants), Science & Technology (for the social science background aspirants) and are the areas that can pose problems in scoring.

One-year regular reading of a good national daily, India Yearbook (Publication Division) relevant NCERT books and a good magazine for the purpose are the basic necessities that you must go through. Scoring in GS is mathematical and any additional score gained through serious preparations should be welcome.

Essay Paper

Essay paper is to test the language skill and wider knowledge. Those of you with a natural flair for writing developed during school or college days, should be definitely at an advantage. Writing an essay is an art arid if you are not naturally inclined to write that way, you will have to spend at least some time in practicing; more so because many of the issues asked in the form of essay are the ones that you generally prepare for your GS where you limit your preparation up to about 250 words. Stretching this content to form an essay is really an uphill task. That too in the current pattern where two essays need to be written on two different topics. Candidates are, therefore, advised to keep a thorough eye on all the happenings (in terms of broad areas) of the last one year with critical evaluation of those which could be asked in the form of an essay.

Compulsory Papers

Regarding the compulsory language papers which are of qualifying nature only, I should just say that if you are apprehensive about the language papers too, better forget about the civil services.

The Optional Subject

The Optional paper has become the most crucial factor in the current scheme of things. It forms a major part of your score. Thus, it has to be decided judiciously. Candidates living in the major centres of Civil Services related activities, generally do not face much problem in finalising their optional but others, living in smaller towns or where there is no such environment, do falter. For such candidates, take proper advice, analyse your strengths and choose your subject.

While selecting an optional care for the following:

The Syllabus: Whether it looks comprehensible at the first glance.

Content: Find out whether the relevant books/study-material are easily available.

Interest: After going through some of the literature, find out whether it has been able to generate interest in you.

Expertise: Whether any specialist of the subject is available or approachable, the one that You can solve your problems and satisfy your queries.

Success rate: What has been the scoring pattern and the success-rate of the subject—this  you can know from any coaching institute of repute or from some of the magazines too.

Friends' advise: Particularly of those who have not made into the list of successful aspirants of the previous years. The steps need not be followed in this sequence.