I am a Mechanical Engineer from NITK Surathkal and I worked with ITC Limited for three years before getting into Civil Services preparation. I, fortunately, found a place in the “holy PDF” this year, twice. I secured All India Rank 1 in IFS (Indian Forest Service) and All India Rank 98 in Civil Services 2017.
I write to you because last year someone else’s words (Mittali ma’am) gave strength and succour to a nervous, under-confident me; and I realized the power of words.
Our lives are very different, yet, there are some common strands in stories of all us aspirants. I had previously written Prelims thrice and could never clear. All my failures and the one final success has some clues and hacks about what worked and didn’t for me, which I would like to share with you.
Friends, managing your time, temperament and attitude is very important for you in the next three days. Below are a few pointers which, I think, could be helpful for you –
- Discipline & focus in the last two days plus quick planned revision
Do not lose steam now. You are almost there. Surprise yourself and work super hard now. What we revise in the last one or two days stays the freshest in our memory.
If a lot is left to revise, take a judgment call, prioritise the portions you will revise in the time left and stick to it.
Take up small portions of each subject and revise them in a time bound manner. The more factual topics could be done just one day before, the conceptual ones today.
Fix time slots for yourself and push yourself to revise the portions within them no matter what. Move on to the next topic if you are unable to complete and come back if time permits. I truly believe we can cover the same portions in 8 hours, 4 hours, 2 hours or half an hour. It matters the urgency and the sense of purpose.
Also, don’t get fixated on covering a subject in entirety now. Right now, try to increase the breadth of your revision, rather than depth. For example, revise only Spectrum for Modern India and cover another subject/topic instead of revising Bipan Chandra too.
- The nerve game – Before the exam
So, last year three days before the prelims I decided that I am not going to write the exam. I thought I will leave home for the centre and come back without writing and not waste an attempt. I felt very ill-prepared. I had not completed a single test series. I had done IASBaba’s 60 days plan and not revised. Vision’s PT 365 I had only read once and only partially revised. Besides, I had gone through a good deal of personal turmoil and was distraught, depressed and in pain.
I spoke to my best friend, Nikhil and that conversation somehow gave me solace and peace. I gathered all the courage I could muster, kept preparing and wrote the exam. I ended up clearing cut-off for IFS too.
Besides our knowledge, this exam tests our mental strength. How much we can keep moving forward against the toughest situation.
If you are going through this, please know you must keep moving forward. The best way out of this is through this.
Speak to the ones you love, crib your heart out and get back in the game.
Just hang in there, keep faith in all you have done and know that things will change for good. And they will.
At the same time, if you fall in any of the below categories, it might not be a great idea to write it after all –
- You want to give the exam a “try”, and haven’t studied at all (My first attempt while working)
- You have just recently started preparation and haven’t even covered the basic books once and are hoping for a miracle in the exam (my second attempt, two months into preparation)
The baggage of failed attempts is insurmountable. Please don’t put yourself through it.
- Nature of the exam – Analytical paper and not a mere test of knowledge
Over the last 2-3 years, especially the last year, prelims has become a completely analytical paper which needs to be ‘solved’.
You cannot go with the mindset of marking only those questions that you absolutely know for sure, unless there are 70 plus such questions (which is very very rare, even the ones who score the highest marks are not 100% sure of more than 50-55 questions).
Herein comes the role of various strategies like intelligent guessing and elimination. You must solve the rest of the paper, the ones that you know something about. This is also to factor in the silly mistakes that you will inadvertently make. Everybody does.
Start with answering the questions which you are completely sure of. Then start solving the rest of the questions. Start with elimination and then move to intelligent guessing.
You can follow a few pointers about solving the paper taking 2017 paper as the reference –
Using Elimination method extensively.
If you can narrow down to two options always mark that question. There will be numerous such questions and you stand to overall gain, even if some of such answers turn out to be wrong.
For example, this question –
Now you can tell, the statement 1 here is incorrect. So, you narrow down to (b) & (c). Then think of all that you have read and try to solve the question.
Where you have eliminated only one option, your risks outweigh the gains. It is advisable to leave such questions.
Use your existing knowledge to solve unrelated questions. For example –
Let us take a step back and understand the basic mandate of each of these organizations & recollect what we know about them –
- ASEAN – Economic & trade grouping of South East Asian nations. Never heard of any “global” initiative on their part
- OECD – Grouping of rich countries of the world. Rarely involved in development initiatives
- UNCTAD – UN Conference on Trade & Development. Principal organ of the United Nations General Assembly dealing with trade, investment, and development issues. Highly unlikely to be involved in such an infrastructure project.
Now, World Bank is actually associated with development & infrastructure projects across the world, especially in developing countries where it is most needed. So, this seems to be the most logical choice.
Consider another example –
We know, of the various global groupings mentioned in the options, only EU is a Single Market. Hence, seems to be the most appropriate choice.
Another example –
We know that breaking down of heavy metals, which are essential elements is not possible by microorganisms. Hence, Statement 2 can be ruled out. Now, statement 3 could be correct. We keep hearing of microorganisms developed by Genetic Engineering for various bio-remediation purposes, example treating oil spill. Hence, (c) is the correct choice.
These are just some of the ways, for every single question this can be customized.
It is wise to leave the questions of which you have zero idea. Do not go by an inner voice to which an option “looks or seems correct”.
For example, this question –
Now, this is something very specific. And I had never heard of before. So, it is wise to not touch this one at all. The answer could practically be anything for all I know!
Try to use these hacks as much as possible and maximize your attempt. But please steer clear of wild guessing.
How much anxiety is good anxiety?
Friends, clearing this exam depends on two things – how you have prepared till now and how you are going to attempt the exam. The latter is more important really.
Please know that in your entire life this is just one event. And you can do well only if you are at ease and composed. Please don’t let excessive nervousness and anxiety play spoilsport to your efforts.
Try to be excited about the exam. Think of this as a challenge which UPSC is posing. It will be interesting to anticipate what UPSC will ask amongst the topics you have studied. To solve the paper thinking logically through each question and each option will be an interesting exercise which you will enjoy.
This is the last leg of the first stage of this exam for you. Please keep faith in all that you have done so far. Your preparation is never going to be perfect. And this holds true for everyone – the guy who got the Rank 1 and the guy who unfortunately couldn’t make it. But your current level of preparation will get you past the cut off if you keep it together in the exam hall and just do your best.
You might have made mistakes or have had a flawless preparation. Nevertheless, you took the plunge and chose to follow your heart, which is itself a victory over your fears and I have all the respect for you.
Just a little more courage, just a little more while. And so I leave you with these words of Shri Dushyant Kumar
“मंजिल मिलेगी भटक कर ही सही,
गुमराह तो वो हैं जो घर से निकले ही नहीं”
PS – You may reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are in trouble with exam preparation.
IASbaba’s Words of Motivation
India is a cricket crazy nation. Cricket runs in India’s DNA. The probability is really high that you are also a cricket fan. But does that even matter? If you are in India, you know about the game and its stars even if you are an avid football fan! Now, try to imagine the scenes from the final match between India and Australia from the World Cup, 2003. It hurts, isn’t it? Despite having played so well throughout the tournament, our team floundered badly in the final. Not only did we lose but we lost without a fight. Why? Can you think of a reason? We had defeated teams like England, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka etc quite convincingly and yet couldn’t stand the onslaught of a rampaging Australian team. Were we not prepared or did we lack the talent? The answer is an obvious NO. With the likes of Sachin, Ganguly, Sehwag, Dravid, Zaheer and Harbhajan in the team, we could have defeated any opposition on our day.
You know most of the newspapers editorials and news channels ascribed this defeat to the fact that India got overwhelmed by the stakes of a World Cup Final. Indian players couldn’t come into terms with the immense pride that was involved with playing a World Cup Final. Isn’t it funny? There are things in our life that we strive to achieve and put our mind, body and soul into it and yet when the time arrives, we just FAIL. We fail not because we lack any skill or are incompetent. We failed because we couldn’t sustain the pressure. In that final, players bore the expectations of millions, in our lives we bear the expectations of our family, friends and most importantly ours own. These expectations coupled with the effort one has put into a goal makes even the most mundane events challenging.
Isn’t the same happening to you right now? You know that you have prepared well but then you think what if there are really few questions from Polity that you have a strong grip over? What if there are too many questions from culture that you have hardly even touched yet? What if you are unable to clear the cut-off? What if you fail in Paper II? What if another attempt is lost? What if your life ends up being an epitome of failure? If these ‘what ifs’ are bothering you, then you have let your control over your senses loosen a bit. The stakes involved in the preliminary examination has made you feel insecure.
But are you alone? Not exactly. There are about half a million aspirants whose state of mind resonates with that of yours. They are equally insecure about their attempt. This examination is a level playing field not only because it throws the same questions but also because it churns the same emotional and psychological juices from all the aspirants. When you give your everything to a goal, such sentimentalities are really common. Don’t worry about it. If you have given your best during your preparation, you need not worry about the outcome. If you are in competition and feeling the pressure, so are others and in equal magnitude or scale.
Now, we want you to remember the Indian team facing the mighty Australians in the quarterfinal of World Cup, 2011. We won that match and ultimately the World Cup. What changed in those 8 years? In terms of skills and strengths, this team was similar to the 2003 World Cup squad. Just like in 2003, Australia was on a winning streak. How could we defeat Australia then? The answer lies in the fact that the players had learnt the art of overcoming the anxiety that comes with big occasions.
In a day, you are going to face one such huge occasion of your life. You need to soothe your senses a little bit and tell yourself these five things:
- I am well prepared and ready to face this challenge.
- I am not scared of failures as I am not so weak that an examination can decide my fate.
- My family and friends love me for who I am and not because they feel that one day I will qualify UPSC.
- Of the many challenges that life will throw at me, this is only one of them.
- I will give my best and won’t bother about the results.
So go there and have some fun guys! You will surely come out with flying colours.
All the Best