Hi all! I am Sachin Gupta from Sirsa, Haryana. I have secured Rank-3 in UPSC CSE 2017 in my third attempt. During the course of three years, I have gone to many places for guidance in different things, but one thing that I would like to highlight at the end of the days -it’s the hard work and self-study along with self-belief which helped me in clearing this examination.
The journey from Engineer to Civil Services Aspirant
I came from a Middle-class background with my father as farmer and mother as government school teacher, have seen the difference of schools in which I studied and in which my mother used to teach. Although at that time I was just a child, things changed when I accidentally went for teaching children from deprived sections of society, it changed everything. I started relating this experience to my childhood observations of difference. It changed the overall thought process from building a career in Engineering towards aspiring for bringing change in society. I always believe there is a supernatural power that somehow helps us out in every situation, we just need to be prudent enough to do the right things.
Tryst with UPSC-CSE
I had started preparation after my college while working in Corporate Sector, although at that time not many platforms like IASbaba or Insights were available, neither was I aware of any such. But at that point of time, Mrunal kept me going along with a small institute near my workplace to keep things in place for preparation.
Finally, I gave my first attempt in 2015 but missed Mains cut off by 10 marks and realised may be I am not that good in optional to score high marks, thereby I changed my optional and took help of VAID Sir. He contributed a lot in not only preparing the subject for Civil services but also gave the feeling of what Anthropology is all about. My score increased in optional from 175 to 311 in one year (Although i changed my optional as well). That lead me to clear Civil Services in my second attempt in 2016 with 575 Rank. But I found that I seriously need to improve my marks in General Studies and Essay, particularly in answer writing. I went to Bangalore just for that purpose. I followed Mains Test series at both IAS Baba and Insights together. I found both of them complementary to each other. Although i don’t know my marks this year in General Studies and Essay but I am very hopeful it will be good only. I sincerely express my gratitude to both IAS Baba and Insights for putting efforts in improving my answer writing that helped me in boosting my Rank from 575 to Rank 3!
I believe this is the most important stage in terms of scoring maximum marks as personality test may or may not go the way we want it to be. Lots of external factors came into the picture at that stage. But trust me if you work really hard especially at Mains Stage, one can score good marks. Here I would be sharing what I did and how I approached the Mains Examination, that comes out to be the game changer in my final year.
Before moving forward, I would like to highlight – try to chalk out your own strategy as each one of us is unique, try to see your own strengths and weaknesses, build your own study plan accordingly. Here, I would be sharing what worked with me and what I feel is important to do at Mains Stage.
This is the stage where you need both, to be persistent in your answer writing and also be smart to know how to study the particular topic in the syllabus that I have learnt after going to Bangalore last year. It changed my approach towards Mains tremendously.
Firstly we will talk about Art of Answer Writing
I believe everybody knows the importance of answer writing at Mains, at the end of a day, one would be evaluated not on how much he knows but on how good he/she wrote an answer and expressed himself/herself best in those 150-200 words.
This is the stage where hard work and to be persistent in answer writing matters. I know sometimes we get demotivated, don’t feel like writing answers or try to focus on reading more content. It happened with me also but here is what the role of a peer group or study environment came into the picture. I went to Bangalore for this purpose only, fortunately, at Insights I was able to get that environment which pushed me to write test in a disciplined manner. Slowly after 8-10 tests, one is able to find what to do and what not to do, how to write an answer. I used to interact with Vinay Sir a lot to understand this. But actual struggle after that was to internalise the answer writing pattern in your heart & soul and make it a natural way of answer writing. For that one should do intensive answer writing practice. Some of the key things that I learnt in Bangalore under the guidance of Insights and IASBaba:
- Importance of Reading the Question: Most of the time what happens we use to write whatever we know about 2-3 keywords written in question but try to read the question twice or thrice at least. Try to understand what actually examiner wants to know and write that only. I also used to write whatever I knew about the question in my first two attempts that probably was the reason behind low marks in GS. Here i would like to express my gratitude to Vinay Sir, who helped me a lot, I used to show him my copies and I must appreciate the kind of personal attention he gave me. It was tremendous and probably made me where I am today! ,
- Introduction: is one of the most crucial parts of answer writing and I believe it left the first impression on the examiner, try to write in a proper manner. I used to follow mainly 4-5 ways to write it :
- Definition: If I know the definition of the crux of an issue let’s say Food security I tried to introduce my answer with the definition of food security and interlink with the subparts being asked in the question. It will not only give a good flow to your answers but also structure your answer properly. This I have learnt from ForumIAS open video by Ayush Sir available on youtube as well. I would suggest everyone do go through it.
- Recent Events: Let’s say the question was asked in the simultaneous election. Then one can start with Prime Minister or President’s Speech where they have supported the idea. Then immediately try to connect with the issue being asked in the question
- Facts/Figures: Third way was to start a question with some important fact or figure. Let’s say the question is about underemployment in India, one can give the reference of Niti Aayog’s Three Year Action plan and quote some facts or figures.
- Location: It is generally helpful while answering history and geography questions. For example, the question asked on the decline of Indus Valley civilisation, one can start with the location of IVC and its timeline , then straight-forward go to answering what is asked in the question.
- Interlinking: Fourth way could be to interlink all the subparts asked in a question and write about the crux of your answer in one line and straight forward jump to subtopics
Break the Question into subparts: Generally, UPSC asks 2-3 questions in one question itself try to break it and address it properly.
Visibility: After breaking the question into subparts asked in the question, try to highlight it while writing. So that examiner will easily find out where and how you addressed different parts of the questions. It helps in two ways, first one would be answering all the subparts asked and ensure flow in the answers.
Point Format: Try to write most of the answers in point format especially in GS 1,2,3 and while answering any subparts, make subheading in front of every question, so that it’s easy to make out what one is going to write. And after writing, argument/ statement try to substantiate your statement, let’s say one gave an argument in favour of strengthening of the federal structure in recent past, then substantiate with financial independence ensured by 14th Finance Commission and so on!
Smart Answering: While answering a question, just try to think of where this question would have been asked, then answer it accordingly. In 2016 Mains, a similar question was asked on Urban floods in GS1 and GS3, but try to think under which topic it would have been asked. In GS1 it relates more to problems of Urbanization, impact on various sections of societies and so on. While in GS 3, it could be from infrastructure or disaster management topic. Just try to include points accordingly. I have previously done the mistake of not thinking where the question was asked, and I don’t know if this is the right way or not but I believe that questions are made out of syllabus and we should address it accordingly.
Importance of making flowchart/ Diagram / Map: While writing answers just try to make the flowchart in two or three questions, somewhere make diagrams or make a map if required (especially in geography and location factors of industries).
Conclusion: While writing the conclusion, be very clear what you want to communicate and answering all the subparts in 1-2 lines. One may give solutions just before concluding the answer but it depends upon the nature of the question asked. One can also link DPSPs if writing an answer of GS 2. But be very clear in your conclusion. I know the paucity of time in the actual exam but try to conclude the question at the end. It gives an edge over others.
Here I would also like to caution you, I have seen many copies where sometimes aspirants try to make these things in every question. Please don’t over do it. It makes the answers too mechanical. Try to stick to the basics that is addressing the question properly and convincing examiner you know the things and your opinions are based on facts.
I must thanks Insights again as well as my peer group that we formed there to discuss the question that built a conducive environment and especially to Vinay Sir whose constant feedback improved my answer writing tremendously.
How to Study Particular Topic
- UPSC Syllabus: First and foremost have the UPSC syllabus with you always and this should be the ultimate source around which our preparation should revolve. Read it as many as times you can, it helps you in internalize it and connect with topics while reading the newspaper or current affair magazines
- Strategy to prepare particular topic something that I learnt from Yeshwanth Sir from IASBABA:
- Definitions: Make a separate copy of each paper and find out important keywords like for GS 2: Constitution, Governance, Poverty, Hunger, Accountability, Citizen Charter and so on. And write a good definition of each of it. Cram it by heart and understand the crux of each of it. Generally, the question revolves around it only. For instance, a question on Poverty was asked again and again in the previous year so was on Secularism. Have clear idea and definition which will help you while writing answers
- Mindmaps/Charts: Try to make mind map or charts on each of the topics and cover particularly various dimensions, important facts, figures, case studies in a concise manner. It will help you a lot at the last moment for revision as well as gives you confidence after doing it.
- Collect important Facts and Figures: It’s really important while reading a particular topic and make a note of it in a notebook or in a mind map so that you will be able to revise it and remember it exam
- Notes of Important Historic Personalities: Helps you in covering history portions UPSC in recent past tend to ask comparison between personalities.
- Important Judgments: Collect important judgements it will help you in writing GS 2 answers a lot, like on Privacy, Misuse of Ordinance Power, Centre-State Relations, Basic Structure Doctrine, Environmental Justice, Electoral Reforms and so on.
Here again, I would like to say again, don’t overburden yourself. The purpose this article was not just to share my strategy but express the things that I feel are important for preparation in Mains. Before going through this understand your strengths and weakness, I did all these things because I felt my weakness in this part. ANd this journey has told me the recipe of any success story lies in knowing thyself and working over one’s weakness & capitalizing the strengths.
It has been a very long article, although many things are still left like Essay & Ethics Strategy, Optional Subject Strategy and Personality test, I will try to cover that also very soon!
Till then,, GoodBye, Wish all of you Good Luck!