Strategy:Ojasvi Alankar, AIR 284 (CSE 2019)

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Greetings mate!

This is where you can find concise answers to everything you could ask me about Civil Services Examination. I am sharing my journey, its planning & strategy for your reference to understand how to go about through one of your own. Always remember, nothing works for everyone! Get an A4 sheet, think about what you have just read and write your takeaways from my journey. I strongly recommend you making this journey, one of your own. So, here we begin!

About Me!

Ojasvi Alankar, Fall 2016, France
  • I am 22 years old, hailing from Haryana.
  • I graduated in 2018 from IIT Delhi with B.Tech in Electrical Engineering. Apart from Electrical Engineering, I have ventured in fields of Data Science, Machine Learning, Policy Making too.
  • I have no work experience except from my college time internships at Wipro Chennai, AIIMS Delhi and Latim INSERM, Brest, France.
  • I started preparing for the Civil Services while back in the final year of my college where I enrolled for my optional coaching- Mathematics but couldn't really attend coaching or complete my optional syllabus anyway.
  • I missed out on placement and thus started full time preparation in Aug 2018 onwards. I didn't enroll for any coaching for General Studies.
  • CSE-2019 was my first attempt. I secured AIR 284 by God's grace. :)
  • I have been allocated Indian Administrative Service (IAS). So excited to be part of this wonderful journey!

My Timeline

My Booklist

Before venturing onto seeking the desired booklist, I highly recommend you to internalize the syllabus of the exam. You may find it here. Once you are well versed with the syllabi, half the job is already done.

GS Paper I
Ancient & Medieval History
  • Tamilnadu Class XI History Textbook (Old)
  • Previous Year UPSC, Test Series Questions (VISION, FORUM)
Art & Culture
  • NCERT Class XI Fine Arts Textbook
  • Indian Art & Culture by Nitin Singhania
  • Art & Culture Mapped- Personal Notes
  • Previous Year UPSC, Test Series Questions (VISION, FORUM)
Modern Indian History & Freedom Struggle
  • TMH Modern Indian History by Sonali Bansal & Snehil Tripathi
Post-Independence History
  • Pradhanmantri Series on Youtube (watched twice)
  • NCERT Class XII Political Science Textbook: Politics in India since Independence
World History
  • History of the World by Arjun Dev, Orient BlackSwan
  • Tanmay Vashisht Sharma's notes on World History
Indian Society Women Issues
  • VISION IAS Value Added Material
  • Platform for Action 10 y later, Indian Country Report by MHRD
  • Issues in news covered through CA sources

Communalism, Regionalism et. al.

  • VISION IAS Value Added Material
  • Kanishak Kataria Sir's notes

Other issues, basics

  • NCERT Class XII Sociology Textbook: Social Change & Development in India- Chapters 6 & 8
  • NCERT Class XII Sociology Textbook: Indian Society
  • 2nd ARC: Social Capital, notes by Amarkesh Sir
Geography Physical Geography
  • NCERT Class XI Geography Textbook: Fundamentals of Physical Geography
  • Mrunal Rajtanil Mam's Geography lectures on Youtube

Human Geography

  • NCERT Class XII Geography Textbook: Fundamentals of Human Geography
  • NCERT Class XII Geography Textbook: India- People & Economy, Unit I & II
  • PMF IAS notes on Geography

World Geography

  • G.C. Leong ICSE Geography Textbook for World Geography

Indian Geography

  • NCERT Class XI Geography Textbook: India- Physical Environment
  • PMF IAS notes on Geography

Economic Geography

  • NCERT Class XII Geography Textbook: India- People & Economy, Unit III onwards
  • Kanishak Kataria's Notes- Maps etc.
GS Paper II
Governance
  • NCERT Class XI Textbook: Political Theory
  • 2nd ARC Reports- Summary by @Razkr
    • Chapter 2- Organisational Structure of Govt.
    • Chapter 5- Public Order
    • Chapter 8- e Governance
    • Chapter 9- Local Governance
    • Chapter 10- Citizen Centric Governance
Constitution & Polity
  • NCERT Class XI Political Science Textbook: Indian Constitution at Work
  • Indian Polity by M. Laxmikanth, TMH 5th edition

Transparency & Accountability

  • 2nd ARC Report: Chapter 1- RTI

Government Policies, RPA

  • Vision IAS Mains 365, Forum IAS CA notes
  • PRS India for tracking Bills & Schemes
  • PIB for accurate information about govt. pronouncements
Social Justice Welfare Schemes
  • VISION IAS Monthly Current Affairs Magazine or Mains 365
  • Economic Survey, Volume I Summary by VISION IAS
  • Budget Summary by PIB

Development Process & Industry

  • 2nd ARC Report: Social Capital

Human Resource- Health & Education

  • Vision IAS Mains 365
  • Vision IAS Value Added Material
International Relations
  • NCERT Class XII Political Science Textbook: Contemporary World Politics
  • Bilateral Relations- MEA website
  • International Policies, Politics & Institutions- VISION Mains 365
  • Articles by C. Raja Mohan in The Indian Express, Suhasini Haider in The Hindu, ORF etc.
GS Paper III
Economic Development
  • NCERT Class XI Economics Textbook- Indian Economic Development
  • NCERT Class XII Economics Textbook- Introductory Macroeconomics
  • Mrunal Economy Course on Youtube (now available on Unacademy)
  • Sriram IAS Economy Notes- Indian Economy 2018 edition
  • Budget Summary by PIB
  • Economic Survey Summary by VISION IAS
    • ES Volume 1 deals with conceptual and analytical issues
    • ES Volume 2 deals with the state of the economy and sectors of the economy in some detail with more focus on immediate issues & statistics
  • Vikaspedia, Arthpedia for schemes/policies
  • VISION IAS Monthly Current Affairs Magazine or Mains 365
Environment
  • Shankar IAS Book on Environment
  • VISION IAS Monthly Current Affairs Magazine or Mains 365
Security
  • Vajiram Yellow Book on Security
  • VISION IAS Monthly Current Affairs Magazine or Mains 365
  • IDSA Website for reference purposes
Disaster Management
  • 2nd ARC Report on Crisis Management
  • NDMA Guidelines (Google search)
  • Forum IAS material on Disaster Management
Science & Technology
  • VISION IAS Monthly Current Affairs Magazine or Mains 365
  • The Hindu S&T column
GS Paper IV
Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude Book by G. Subba Rao
Abhishek Surana Sir's notes (Evernote)

Toppers' Copies of GS IV

'Justice' online course by Michael Sandel
Orient IAS Ethics notes for Famous Personalities

Exam Resources

Following are the links to my personal notes which have been curated from myriad sources- Newspapers, Toppers' answer sheets, Current Affair Booklets, Toppers' Notes etc. Please feel free to refer to them and copy-paste the static content only. Warning- Please refrain from wholly adopting the current affairs based content due to its dynamic nature.

There is absolutely no shame in adopting somebody else's work. In fact, I'm myself a votary of it as it can save much time. For Notes making is not an end but rather a means to an end i.e. clearing the exam. Thus, as and when you adopt somebody else's notes, make sure that you imbibe them comprehensively so that they become as your own.

Prelims & Mains

Note: It has been reported that some of the OneDrive/OneNote links are not functional. I will fix them as soon as possible. Kindly refrain from mailing me for the same. Thanks!

Resources for Prelims & Mains
General Studies I General Studies II General Studies III General Studies IV
History


Geography


Society

Governance

International Relations


Polity

Disaster Management

Economy

Environment

Science & Technology

Security


2nd ARC: Ethics in Governance

2nd ARC: Personal

Optional - Mathematics

While I tried making consolidated notes topicwise, I found out how Kanishak Kataria (AIR 1 CSE 2018) Sir's Notes were the best and more than sufficient when one is well versed with the concepts. Thus, I took a printout of his notes and highlighted important formulaes, added pointers onto them only. You may find his notes here.

Previous Year Solutions
Paper I Paper II

Essay

Thematic Content Fillers

Interview

Consolidated Final Answers for variety of themes can be found here. This note reflects consensus of the discussion between me & Nupur Goyal (AIR 11) wrt interview preparation.

Other links have been shared below which contain my work for Personality Test preparation from various sources.

Personality Test
General Studies Home Background Electrical Engineering Mathematics Hobbies Miscellaneous
Music

Mains Answer Scripts

These scripts are among the ones which I attempted towards the completion of Mains Preparation. So you would get a fair idea as to how I used to write 20 days before the actual exam. I am adding both checked and unchecked copies for your reference.


General Studies (GS) I

General Studies (GS) II

General Studies (GS) III

General Studies (GS) IV

Essay

Ten Commandments of Success

While you may get overwhelmed by reading myriad strategies by selected candidates, there are some ingredients which are common to each one of them unique recipes. Let me try to throw some light over these commandments for you. Try to ingrain them in whatever plan you make for yourself.

Understanding the plot

This is the first step before venturing onto any initiative. Putting in context, it implies looking for answers to questions like What is the examination about? What is being tested in the examination? What are the opportunities post clearing the exam and what are beyond it? Are there are resources or guidance available? and many more questions like that. Once you have gone through these questions, you are sure to make an informed decision and will be better prepared for the things to come in the future on course of this journey. Don't leave any surprises for yourself.

Know the depth of the ocean

Believe it or not, CSE is just like any other competitive examination where there are limited seats and almost unlimited applicants for them. Thus, it's always good to know the turf first. The moment you become aware of the competition around you, that should motivate you to work even harder and have an idea about the level to which you would have to push your game up. It is often advised not to compare yourself with others. This should be understood as not to follow others' plan/strategy/ideas blindly but only to get inspired and feel a sense of fraternity. At the end of the day, the only competition is the one you have with yourself

Handling Why me vs Why not me?

As we have just talked about knowing the turf, two natural reactions to such exercise could be

  • Why me? You may get bogged down by examination pressure and start questioning yourself as to why would you get selected when such talented people around you are not.
  • Why not me? It could be the case that you may get motivated by seeing your peers clearing the exam and contemplating why would you not get selected.

The whole game is about attitude only. Having the right attitude would help you stay tight during the journey for you would face these two questions everyday. The moment you let the former overpowering the latter is the moment you would start losing the momentum. Thus, surround yourself with positive people and always carry a conviction that you will be clearing the examination no matter what. After all, luck favors the brave only.

Work like it's your last night in the world.

This is where we talk about the actual Behind the Scenes of the success people celebrate post the examination. Consistency, Patience, Perseverance with a monomaniac attitude are the keys to success. Everyday, you should aim to learn something which would help you get closer to your ultimate goal. You wouldn't realize the fruits of this consistent effort in the short term though. However, it is still important that you meet your everyday goals and not procrastinate. Otherwise, mark my words, no person in history has ever been able to overcome the backlogs without compromising his/her schedule. For e.g. You left newspaper reading for a week? You will never get time to compensate for it except through other unnatural means like reading CA material from some coaching. Thus, always work like you have the test tomorrow. Having a schedule which matches your capabilities is of great help. You are going to become an Executive for the government, so at least let's become sound with the execution part at least?

Know When to Stop- Have I made it large?

While the subjects asked in the Civil Services Examination are truly intriguing and you may find your calling among them, however it is of utmost importance that you realize that is just an examination which requires that examination temperament only. Know the limits to which you are supposed to know things otherwise you may end up compromising some particular aspects you don't like much for the ones you end up liking. You are supposed to be a true generalist and having a diversified knowledge across the subjects is always a better insurance as far as exam is concerned. You don't have to become a research scholar, just see what is required and do that minimum. Who likes to work a lot anyway? Why do 10 books when a single book suffices. Why not read the same a few times and develop that competency? Remember, not quantity but quality!

Rising from the Ashes!

You are going to be in this journey for a long time. It's natural to have highs & lows over the course and actually more lows than highs. You may just woken up late and screwed up with your schedule. You might have performed bad in a test or tests together! You might have had bad health over the week. You might be feeling home-sick, alone or emotionally vacant. There are just too many ways you could be feeling lows everyday. Then it's natural to look for motivation. But the truth is- Discipline is the key, Motivation is an illusion. Take a break. Think where you have come from, reinforce your beliefs in yourself, talk to dear ones maybe and get back to work again. You have to rise from the ashes everyday. Remember this is where 90% aspirants fail. Thus no pain, no gain!

Having sense of finality- The Big Picture

Since there is virtually no limit to the syllabus of the CSE Examination, one reads a lot many books for the same naturally. But time is the only constant here, thus it's important to understand that whatever you read, you should have a sense of finality. In other words, first you know exactly where to fit whatever that you might be reading and secondly you have understood the concept well enough that you could write it in a concise manner. Towards the end of this journey, you should be having precise and concise notes such that you don't have to refer again the dozen standard books that you might have read initially. There should be a sense of completeness in whatever you read or write and shouldn't leave yourself hanging that you are still not done. Focus on application of concepts more.

All day work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

Pretty much self-explanatory though. Sparing an hour a day will keep your boredom away. It will help you recharge to get back to your studies with full energy. Besides it will ensure that while the preparation might change you as a person over the course but a part of you will always remain there and you will never feel lost. Also the concern is often not much about finding time for oneself but also to not overdo it. While it might be soothing talking to your near ones or playing your fav sports, one must consistently remind oneself that the recreation time is part of the bigger plan which must be stuck to everyday. So, don't get carried away by giving yourself much leeway about your leisure time.

The Roads not Taken, everyday!

While you could have the perfect schedule, each day is nevertheless new in the sense that it would bring about new situations for which you haven't really planned for before. Thus, your everyday decision making will play a crucial role in your preparation. New tasks would arise- attending parties, meeting your old friends, watching a new movie, getting health checkups, filling in supplies etc. and truckload of other things not planned in your schedule. So how to go about it? Always put your goal in perspective and see whether the task before you somewhere lands you towards that goal. There could be some essentials like paying your rent, tending to your health etc. but maybe you could delay a few parties and hangouts if your schedule doesn't allow it. If so ever, you decide to go about them, always provision some compensation for that time by adjusting those study hours in your future schedule. Thus, there will be so many roads not taken everyday but they would all be worth when you reach your final destination.

Being Jack of all trades, Master in Some.

Always keep in mind that to clear an examination of a generalist, you would have to read, write and act like a generalist. It implies considering all portions of syllabus as equally important. Some of the topics mayn't have much visibility in your preparation circles, however UPSC would always be there to surprise you. Thus, like having a sense of finality, one should also have a sense of completion while preparing. Further, when you are above this threshold, you would make your chances to land in the list stronger, however at the same time, your particular mastery in your Optional subject or your articulation in the Essay paper will help you secure your dream position. Thus, be jack of all trades and also master in some.

Cracking Prelims

Often touted as among the most diciest and trickiest of all stages of the UPSC journey, it is still among the most democratic stages of the exam. Why? It brings such a level playing field for all. It doesn't matter whether you are at your 1st attempt or 6th attempt, you both could pass/fail at your own merits. It is the first stage of the exam but only a qualifying one. Thus, it's important to know how to balance prelims preparation with others. Here are my two cents.

Minimizing the booklist, Maximising the revision.

The Prelims Exam not only tests your general awareness but also your core concepts of your static syllabus. Thus, one needs a fine balance between your width and the depth of your knowledge. While by depth, I imply the clarity of concepts of whatever that is mentioned in the syllabus, the width implies general awareness comprising current affiars, general knowledge etc.

  • How much focus on Current Affairs? There is a limit to which you extend your width. Don't overdo it as the probability of hitting the same question is exam is close to zero. Thus, resist the temptation of reading multiple magazines or newspapers. Your preparation should be guided by the issues/events that you need to cover, not about the number of magazines you have to read. Further, understand that current affairs don't make the core edifice of your score, it is the static part of syllabus.
  • How much to read Static content? It's more reliable to stick to static part since it's more predictable and relatively easily doable. There are some basic minimum facts that UPSC will test in Prelims, make sure you are able to crack them all. Otherwise, clearing prelims without having sound understanding of core concepts is next to impossible.

Once you are done with finalizing your sources and having gone through them for once, the key remains to revise the same umpteen times till you know exactly what is written where. A typical revision schedule could be targeting 3 revisions during 100 days before Prelims. You may read about how to make a schedule in this section.

Diversification of Risks

In the pursuit of trimming our sources, we often resort to reading current affairs from one source like Vision IAS Monthly Booklets or PT365 instead of doing topicwise coverage. While we might have internalized whatever XYZ coaching institute might have published, UPSC honestly doesn't care. Thus, it becomes important to diversify our risks by at least attempting test series of some other institute except the one where we have followed all the content from. For e.g. why not do 20+ Full Tests from a variety of institutes and then analyze your performances across the tests? If you are consistently scoring good across the tests, it implies you have mastered the art of dealing with new questions in a responsible manner. So, diversify your risks for maximum returns like one does in share markets!

Game of Intelligent Guess

If you have analyzed the papers of 2018 & 2019, you might already be aware as to how guesswork is paramount to clearing this examination. Let us analyze how much of this guesswork is actually needed by having a look at the previous year prelims cutoffs.

Prelims Category-wise Cut-offs
2019 2018 2017
GEN 98 98 105
OBC 95.34 96.66 102.66
SC 82 84 88.66
ST 77.34 83.34 88.66

You can see that the minimum score that one needs to get for assured mains call is 105+. However, it is a fact that in spite of any level of your preparation, there would be at max 40-45 questions that you could confidently attempt. That would mean that your score would hover around 90-95 on average. This score while is good, is not easy to achieve anyway without days of hardwork and toil. But even then one would fail to clear the cutoff. So, how does one reach there? This is where the guess work comes in. While UPSC may be throwing random questions at you, if you play this game purely mathematically, you are bound to succeed. So, let's put a target of scoring 120+ in any of the mocks you appear. A 120+ score throughout would be really empowering and assuring for anybody.

Guesswork estimates for Prelims
Questions Attempted Correct Incorrect Guessed Questions Total
Scene 1 100 70 30 55-60 120
Scene 2 95 70 25 55-60 123.33
Scene 3 95 65+ 30- 50-55 110+
Scene 4 90 65 25 50-55 113.33
Scene 5 85+ 60+ 25- 50+ 103.33
Scene 6 - 65+ - - 106.67+
Scene 7 - 70 - - 120+

You could clearly see as to how depending on the questions attempted and number of questions with assured answers (assumed to be 40 questions on average), one's score varies. But anyway if one targets to correct 70+ in any scenario, despite the number of questions attempted, one is bound to clear this stage by a really comfortable margin. Further, even if someone manages to answer 65+ questions correctly, given the level of difficulty of prelims examination nowadays, one would manage to clear prelims. Thus, pull your guessing game up. It comes with practice and constantly experimenting in mock tests. Here are some tips to start with this guesswork. I am mentioning general rules for your quick reference. You may read extensively at Mrunal's website as well.

  • Extreme Statements are often wrong i.e. only, completely, always etc.
  • Dates, Years & Figures tend to be wrong in statements
  • Parent Organization or Department is often wrongly mentioned
  • Scientific hypotheses are seldom incorrect

How to improve your score through guesswork?

As we have just seen that one should be aiming to correctly answer at least 65+ questions. Assuming one knows correctly 40-45 questions, it means that in the worst case, you will need to at least correctly answer 25 questions through guesswork. But such guesswork comes at a cost aka the negative marking of 1/3rd the score i.e. 0.67. So we have about 60 questions with us, out of which we have to correctly answer about 25. There will be 3 different types of questions left now.

  • Type 1: where two options can be eliminated due to back-end knowledge
  • Type 2: where only one option can be eliminated
  • Type 3: no clue at all, no option eliminated

Let us analyze these scenarios mathematically to see what fits best. (Assumptions: 40 correct answers known for sure.)

Analysis of guesswork: Number of questions to be attempted
Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 Net Gain Total Score
Scene 1 30 20 10 24.35 104.35
Scene 2 25` 30 5 23.23 103.23
Scene 3` 30 30 0 26.55 106.55
Scene 4 25+ 35- - 24.32+ 104.32+
Scene 5 25+ 30- 5+ 23.22+ 103.22+

You can clearly see that if one attempts 50+ questions through intelligent guesswork, one is sure to score above 100. Given the level of difficulty of prelims examination, this should be a good score. Further, despite all this analysis, one must acknowledge that we are talking about 'intelligent' guesswork and not blind one. These probablistic analysis hold when the trials tend to infinity. Thus, it is important to be well versed with basic concepts and their applications & derivatives to succeed with such hacks.

Course Correction- Peer Review

Now that we have understood how guesswork is the trick to go for to clear Prelims, let us understand how do we improve on this critical skill. This is where your peers come in. One person as an individual would have obvious limitations about one's width and depth of knowledge, however knowledge of 2-3 people combined can do wonders. Thus, form a small peer group of like minded people and take tests together. Discuss them at the end when you compute your scores and try to analyze why you did a particular question wrong and why was a question done correct by your peer. Try to understand his logic, line of thought so that you gain a working knowledge of the areas you are not comfortable with. Working with peers would also help kill boredom and can act as great stress buster too.

Managing CSAT

This paper tests candidates' aptitude and reasoning abilities. While there isn't much to prepare for this exam per se, it shouldn't be taken lightly, seeing the kind of paper 2019 had. It does depend on your background. Somebody from engineering background mayn't feel worth preparing for it and might get away by attempting a couple of previous papers but then there are some who really need to work on their reasoning skills to clear this exam. So, self-awareness is the key. Work on your weaker areas, have a look at the previous year questions to know what is asked. CSAT is only a qualifying exam, so don't worry too much, just try to clear a basic threshold so that you become confident for the exam.

Time management

The Prelims Exam comprises two papers of 2 hours each. Considering the Paper I i.e. General Studies, we have about 100 questions for which we have roughly 120 minutes. So each question gets more than 1+ minute which include marking its bubble on the OMR sheet. To maximize your scores while executing guesswork strategies, it is important to balance marking OMRs and revisiting the doubtful questions. Here is a brief strategy for the same.

  • 1st Iteration: Reserved for the first 50 minutes, try to attempt all the sure-shot questions and go through all 100 questions once. Mark the ones which you are totally clueless, maybe cross them altogether. Eliminate options for other questions and encircle them for you to visit them again in 2nd iteration. Having done this exercise, mark the bubbles in your OMR sheet carefully.
  • 2nd Iteration: Focus on the questions for which you could at least eliminate one option. Try to mark as many questions as you could do out of these contentious questions in next 20-25 minutes. Mark the bubbles accordingly in the next 5 minutes. Further, don't forget to eliminate more options for the questions you could eliminate only one option. Remember, you should attempt the questions in which you could eliminate two options in all cases.
  • 3rd Iteration: In the last 30 minutes, try to work on the questions thus left i.e. both with only one option eliminate and also totally clueless ones. Beware of attempting the totally clueless ones blindly. Try to focus only on the questions where at least one option has been eliminated. Wrap up your exam this way by marking the bubbles and chill.

These time management techniques will get imbibed only through practice. Get a watch and see how you perform. Keep calibrating your strategy accordingly.

Last Minute Tips for Acing Prelims Exam

Before the day of the exam

  • Stick to revision only- There is no point attempting mock tests anymore at the last moment, it will be your consolidated knowledge that is going to help you sail through this diciest stage of CSE. Remember, don't clock too many hours, just chill and do as much as your mood allows.
  • De-stress yourself- Take a walk, talk to your near & dear ones, listen to music and whatever really brings down the stress for you. Clear out your head with any backlogs about your preparation that you might have had. The time to worry about them was long back. Now is the time to stay cool!
  • Collect necessary documents & stationery- To avoid last moment hassles, it's better to invest some time in getting your Roll No./Admit Card printed, get your IDs handy, collecting stationery i.e. Blue/Black Ball Point Pen etc. Don't leave anything for the exam day morning.
  • Maintain your sleep schedule- Instead of clocking more and more study hours, work on your sleep schedule. It should match preferably to what the exam demands i.e. one should have at least 7-8 hours of sound sleep before the exam. And this doesn't come in a day, one needs to try fitting in the schedule for at least a week to reach there. To be honest, you mayn't really get what wonders can a sound sleep do! But trust me, it works if you have worked enough before.
  • Capture Low-hanging fruits- There are some areas which are hot topics wrt Prelims exam and require instant memorization. This includes Reports & Indices, Climate Change Organizations, Government Schemes, Geography Maps etc. This is the time you should be revising these things as rest of the topics would have been stored in your permanent memory already. You can make short notes like this for last moment revision.
  • Sort out Logistics- Ensure that your journey from the comfort of your home to your exam center be a well-planned and a comfortable one. You wouldn't want to be a candidate who would carry baggage of extra stress due to logistic issues. Do carry lunch or at least sort out your food options before hand. If possible, try to visit your center a day before to understand the situation better.
  • Carry necessary gear for Covid 19- You are going to be exposed to a lot of unknown people. Ensure that you carry enough face masks, sanitizers etc. to your exam center to be prepared for any contingency there. Do study the examination guidelines well. After all, Prevention is better than cure!

On the day of the exam

  • Have a healthy breakfast- Never, I repeat, Never go to any examination empty stomach. Your brain needs energy to think and take up all the exam stress. Thus, try to eat light, easily digestible and healthy food like Fruits, Poha, Oat Meal, Dry Fruits, Instant Glucose drinks, Chocolates etc. Try to avoid milk & milk products and heavy breakfast. Also, try to avoid alcohol at least a week before the exam.
  • Focus on Comfort- The exam needs only one thing primarily- your presence of mind. Thus, don't spend much time or energy dressing up for it really. Just try to wear anything that you feel comfortable and confident in according to the weather of your exam center. Honestly, mere shorts+tees work just fine in summers.

During & In-between the exam

  • Stay optimistic & Confident- CSE is a long journey and perhaps you have been in the boat for long. These last days won't have any major impact on your preparation. So stay confident about the work you have put in, all the hours that you have clocked. Half the game is of confidence, you carry a positive attitude, you will perform better!
  • Stay Hydrated- While in the exam, ensure that you stay hydrated. This helps improve cognition and thus help your brains out perform its best. You may consider eating chocolates before entering the exam hall to have that extra dopamine rush.
  • Keep a watch- Don't lose the track of time out of sheer stress you might face during the exam. Keep the watch handy. Every minute is important and you have literally paid for every minute for last some years. Respect it.

Remember, you got what it takes to clear this exam. Whatever stage of preparation you might have had, it doesn't matter, give your best nevertheless. Afterall, prelims is not about knowledge only, it's about the attempt!

The Art of Making a Schedule

Having a schedule always helps! Following it is another story though. Thus, a schedule is a very personal thing, adjusted to one's comfort, engagements and capacity. I have always believed that the depth of anybody's preparation can be judged from one's schedule itself. So how do we make a good enough schedule?

This section isn't about telling you an ideal schedule to be followed. I will share mine for your reference though. However, the idea is to enable you to make one of your own, for your own.

Key Pointers to be followed while making a day schedule

  1. Spare enough time for sleep: 7-8 hours should be ideal considering the effort you are going to put during the whole day
  2. Recreation Time: 1 hour should be your time for escaping out of your daily routine. It will not only help pursue your fav hobby- Music, Sports etc. but also help you refresh, come back stronger for your studies.
  3. Time for daily essentials: eating+bathing+phone calls etc. 2-3 hours should be sufficient to cover all of them.
  4. Study Time: Having figured out time for other activities, about 12-13 hours are left for studies at a whole. Now, the ball is in your court about how much effective study time you would be able to dedicate out of thses 12-13 hours

Tips for following a schedule

  1. Keep a watch: Always helps to keep a watch, be it your phone, wrist watch or wall clock. Have a watch around. Some of my friends have greatly benefited from stopwatches too- noting down their effective study time as a reference for effort to be put on the next day.
  2. Be flexible: Feedback is important, and thus your schedule be ideally like our constitution- rigid normally but flexible when needed. Listen to yourself, see if you are able to meet your daily goals and adjust sparingly.
  3. Compensatory Approach: One must pay for one's sin. No kidding. Be rigid enough to follow your schedule in a monomaniac mode. But also, be flexible enough to count on the hours you have missed out of the schedule and compensate it with your future scheduled hours like buffer hours or cutting down sometime on recreation.
  4. Maintaining a spreadsheet: Be accountable to yourself. In the initial phase, it did help following the set schedule. You will automatically know when to stop updating it. Please find the specimen here.

How to micro-plan study schedule?

  • First, Introspect and see the kind of person you are. For e.g. You might be someone who could clock 2 hours straight or someone who needs a rest every 30 min. You could be someone who could do one subject the whole day or someone who does 3 of them. Thus, it's important to know about oneself to plan and execute better since no size fits all.
  • Ensure that you take Breaks in reasonable period of time. For me personally, I used to take 10 min break after 50 min. of study. It would be stretched across from 55th minute of every hour to 5th minute of next like 3:55 PM -4:05 PM. In this break time, I would usually hydrate myself, take a small walk or do any physical activity that would cheer me up.
  • Try to do Multiple Subjects in a day. For e.g. two subjects from General Studies and your Optional subject. This would not only break monotony in your daily schedule but would also help satisfy you at the end of the day that you really have achieved something today. For e.g. You can plan 3 academic slots for them and plan accordingly.
  • If you have a Technical Optional like Mathematics or Engineering, try to do it in the first half of the day. You are most energetic during the early hours, thus you can put more brains into preparing more demanding parts of your syllabus.
  • You can avoid reading Newspaper, Current Affairs at the start of the day. These are always fun to read, why not leave them for the end of the day when you will be exhausted or bored already? You may do current affairs in the evening, newspaper in the night!
  • Post your meals, when everyone has a slow start, you can do stuff which is less demanding. For e.g. reading newspaper and then pull up your pace.

Perspective of a timeline for whole preparation

  • Plan Backwards always! There is only one certain thing in this journey, that is the date of examination. Thus, take that date into perspective and think what would you like to do in the week preceding it, the month preceding it? In this way, when you arrive at the current date, you would know exactly the time you have in your hands for each stage of your preparation.
  • For e.g. my prelims exam was on June 2nd. I had allocated 100 days exclusively for Prelims. Thus, I was left with Feb 22-23 for everything else. Then, I planned Jan 1- Feb 22 for Mains related preparation and thus similarly planned backwards. And so I knew how much time I had with myself for each stage of my prep.

My Schedule

TASK SLOT
Wake Up 8:00 AM
Breakfast + Daily Chores 8:00 - 9:00 AM
Newspaper 9:00 - 10:00 AM
Academic Slot I (Mathematics) 10:00 AM - 01:00 PM
Lunch 01:00 - 02:00 PM
Academic Slot II (General Studies) 02:00 - 05:00 PM
Current Affairs Slot II (Daily CAs + Editorials) 05:00 - 06:00 PM
Recreation Time (Music) 06:00 - 07:00 PM
Answer Writing 07:00 - 08:00 PM
Dinner 08:00 - 09:00 PM
Academic Slot III (General Studies) 09:00 - 12:00 Mid
Buffer Time (DNA etc.) 12:00 - 12:30 AM
Sleep 12:30 - 8:00 AM

The Art of Notes Making

The Civil Services Examination is certainly a test of your knowledge and aptitude. Thus, the role of information management can't be more emphasized. You would have loads of resources to read and learn, however it is humanly impossible to remember them all. This is where notes-making barge in. Depending on the need of particular stage of the exam i.e. Prelims, Mains or Interview, the notes-making take different forms. Let us learn how to make exam oriented notes.

Dilemma of Online vs Offline notes

Honestly, it hardly matters. The issue is that of your convenience. However, as I understand

  • Online Notes
    • More suited for Current Affairs which require regular and on-the-go updates e.g. DNS, Newspaper etc.
    • Much useful in Interview Preparation where your answers need to be regularly amended with facts & refined opinions
  • Offline Notes
    • More suited for static part of the syllabus e.g. Constitutional and Non-Constitutional Bodies
    • Extremely useful for making concise notes for Mains Examination at later stages e.g. Flash Cards for GS4 Terms

Thus, a fine balance harnessing pros of both forms of note making is advised for maximum gains and convenience.

Digital Media for Notes Making

The world has already moved onto using tech for ease of notes making. You should also stay abreast of latest developments. In my journey, I extensively used digital media for notes making and thankfully, it helped me a lot in information management in a seamless manner. In this section, let me discuss a few platforms you could use for notes making.

ONLINE NOTES MAKING
PLATFORM USP POTENTIAL USE
Evernote Superb support for typing notes extensively online and their arrangement into notebooks Use it to make notes for Current Affairs for both Prelims & Mains Examinations
Microsoft OneNote Excellent support for making hand-written notes and Map markings Prelims Exam: Tabulated data like IUCN Red Book Data, Important Conservation Bodies; Map markings etc.

Mains Exam: Extensive Notes on Geography which require myriad diagrams and markings on maps.

Microsoft Excel Excellent support for tabulating data Prelims Exam: Excellent for tabulating data for objective questions e.g. Terms & Conditions for CVC, CBI, Lokpal etc.
Google Docs Excellent support for online collaboration between different participants Interview Preparation: where common questions could be answered to reach some consensus. You may see an example.
Apple Notes
Microsoft Sticky Notes
PDF Viewer

HOTS of Note-Making

Don'ts of Notes Making

  • Don't jump too early into the habit of notes making i.e. in first instance of reading anything and wait till you comprehensively understand any topic
  • Don't waste time by making notes of standard books e.g. NCERTs, Spectrum or Laxmikanth
  • Avoid using pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions in your notes e.g. He, She, On, Above etc.

Acing Mains

Becoming Officer Material: Decoding the interview

My Personality Test Experience

Personality Test Details
Details
Date 23rd July 2020
Time Forenoon Session, 12:50 PM
Turn 6th, last to go
Duration around 20 minutes
Board PK Joshi Sir
Location Committee Room
Board Composition 5 members including 1 lady member
Hobbies Sheet Music, Playing Guitar, Travelling
Terms in DAF France, KVPY, INSPIRE, Hackathon, Charpak Scholar, NSS, Conference Paper
Overall evaluation Mostly factual, remotely related to DAF, No COVID related ques., Too many questions for

I said 'IDK' myriad times, can be called a stress interview.

Interview Transcript
Questions Remarks
CP: You completed your B.Tech in 2018, what have you been doing since then?

CP: Why are you not interested in Electrical Engineering and coming towards Civil Services?

CP: (Situational) Okay, suppose in a village, there are kids not able to attend school, what would you do?

CP: (Follow Up) Are there any institutions made by the govt. to ensure the same? (getting kids to school)

CP: What about NCERT? Tell me its full form. CP: What does NCERT do?

CP: Okay, how would you improve taxation in the country? i.e. increase coverage etc.

CP: What is the difference between Tax Evasion & Tax Avoidance?

The Chairperson was cordial but was expressionless throughout. He never acknowledged my answers.

He even went away for sometime in between when other member was interviewing.

M1: When so talented people like you are leaving engineering jobs, brain drain happening?

why people come to civil services? How do we stop them doing so?

M1: What is Sheet Music?

M1: How is President elected?

M1: Has relevance of PSEs withered away? Why was they made in the first place?

Member 1 was cordial and was patiently listening to my answers while acknowledging the same.

He was reading the questions from some diary he had made.

M2: Tell me 4 fundamental contributions that Indian mathematicians made to the world.

M2: (Follow up) What about Ramanujan? Tell me about Ramanujan Number, it's importance.

M2: In India, we have number of ministries which are fragmented while in countries like US, there are only a few. What are your thoughts about it? Don't you think there are coordination issues?

M2: What is the threshold limit of High-Speed Trains?

M2: What is the speed limit for Hyperloop?

M2: (follow up) What is Hyperloop? Any project that you are aware that is going on? Which company pursuing the same?

M2: Have you heard of Shakuntala Devi?

M2: (follow up) So her mathematical genius is something she was born with or developed later? Did she have anything fundamentally different like mathematical model?

Member 2 was polite and tried to guage my general knowledge about my optional subject.

He didn't encourage any guesses and appreciated precise answers.

M3: What is ease of living index? Tell me about parameters of Ease of Living Index.

M3: Antarctica is often in news. Can you tell the context?

M3: What are Ozone Depleting Substances? Name a few.

M3: What is Zero Based Budgeting in the corporate sector?

M3: Any area which you are comfortable with? I said- IR/Security

M3: Why was Vladivostok in news?

M3: Why Haryana doing well in sports? Why not UP, Punjab?

This is where the stress beings. He was always giving an expression that he wasn't satisfied.

Factual qs, said- IDK on the trot, he asked if I was comfortable with any area? One que. he asked from IR and I was blank as well.

M4: What is TFR?

M4: What is India's TFR?

M4: There has been a recent report about the same in newspaper. Tell me about it. (said not aware)

M4: Okay, I will give you the context. Some states have TFRs lower than national average. Tell me why? What do you think?

M4: (Counter Qs) How would family planning programs of 80s help today?

M4: (Counter Qs) You mentioned they are running even today, tell me what are the programs?

M4: (Counter Qs) How would literacy programs like BBBP help in TFR? They are for young girls only.

M4 (lady member): most intimidating, always seeking a chance to pounce upon me. Really put me in a stressful situation.

Often made comments like-

  1. you don't read the newspaper, why an intelligent person like you not able to think?
  2. Even a normal person knows about it, what will you read about it?
CP: Thank you. Your interview is over. Don't remember many questions due to which that stress vibe actually built up. I will add as and when I remember.

Truth or Dare: Coming Clean on Coachings

This section is aimed to resolve the ever-lasting dilemma about the role of coachings in clearing Civil Service Examinations.

Role of Coaching Classes

There is no one answer to it. Neither coachings are bad nor they can get you to clear UPSC CSE. One has to understand the role of coaching. Few points which can be kept in mind while deciding on the question:

  • Self-Awarness- Depending on person-to-person, the efficacy of coaching varies. There are Rank 1s who attended coachings and then there are people who clear the exam without any. It's about how much you gain from the environment around. Do you like attending classrooms or would you rather read the book yourself? Do you get inspired by your peers around or are you someone who likes to study alone? Thus, depending on one's personality, coachings deliver on their roles.
  • Understanding their role- See one needs to acknowledge that the time for spoon-feeding is over. CSE demands people who know how to make their own decisions and work on their own. Thus coachings should just serve as a measure of direction or guidance to understand the nuances of the exam. They might help you create that driving stress that gets you going everyday. Or they could help you build that schedule and make you follow it daily. So be clear about what coachings are supposed to do for you. You are the one who will decide what you want out of them.
  • Analyzing your preparation stage- Depending on your level of awareness and understanding about the exam, coachings may or mayn't help you. For a rookie, they might act as the first stepping stone for him/her to get in the groove, for somebody who's been into preparation, it could be mostly a waste of time. So, analyze what stage of preparation are you in, Coachings are not magic wands which can change things overnight.
  • Optional- While the syllabus of General Studies is such that it doesn't really require any special classes as such, the Optional subject is where people advise others to go for coachings. Thus, depending on your optional, talk to seniors around and understand the game whether coaching is desirable or not for that particular subject.

Pit-falls of joining Coaching Classes

While reading the above paragraph, you might be seeing a rosy picture as to how coachings could become the bridge between you and CSE, let us understand some of the darker areas about coaching classes to ensure that you make an informed decision.

  • UPSC Targets Coachings- It is commonly observed from the trends in the CSE Prelims Paper, that UPSC is trying to target coachings to break their markets. So over-dependence on Coachings and their materials is certainly not a habit you would like to cultivate during your preparation.
  • Poor Efficiency- Due to the constraints of differential intellect of students, coachings are generally slow paced and mayn't really match your learning pace. So you may get this feeling of having your time wasted in the classrooms. Why not self-study and do more?
  • Peer Groups- All sorts of people come to coaching classes. Thus your company would play a great role in your everyday mood. If you slip into company of people who pull each other down, you ain't going anywhere yourself.
  • Enjoying the course of coaching- This is just an observation that people tend to enjoy their lives out at ORN/Karol Bagh etc. So they get swayed away by the discussion they have on tea-stalls or random strolls for food hunt. Some people are on dating hunts on the expense of their preparation. (Refrain from going for selection before your selection really) Remember, you are not there to enjoy your life per se, but enjoy the growth that you see in yourself everyday as you learn new things. Both concepts are different- One requires you to be active in the areas that would be tested in the exam- the mission one is there for and the other is entirely a matter of personal concern.


Thus, contrary to popular opinion, and despite not having attended any coachings, I am still not saying a BIG NO to coachings. Honestly, it depends on a lot of things what you gain out of them.

Alternatives to Coaching Classes

  • Active Peer Group- This is a very efficient way of going about your preparation. If you have active buddies around who have similar goals like you have, you are all set. Decide your goals together, teach each other, set testing timelines and keep pulling yourself each other emotionally.
  • Online Telegram Channels- Very effective way of procuring free content for CSE Preparation. There are multiple discussion groups, esp. for various optionals. Then there are channels which post daily analysis, quizzes, tests and what not! You may join the groups and explore for yourself.
  • Youtube- There is so much of free content available nowadays that one doesn't really need any experts (read coachings) to understand concepts which UPSC demands. Explore and find few channels that you could regularly follow. E.g. RSTV Big Picture
  • Websites- Another great source for free content. You are already reading this on such a project only. Then there is demystifycse.in and other blogs which have strategy related content too. Exploit them as much as you can.
  • Self-Study- There is literally no better option that to take things in your own hands. Honestly, the happiness and the confidence that gets cultivated when you comprehend something on your own, it is totally unparalleled. Everyday you would grow and become like what is really expected out of a civil servant.

My Association with Coachings

Mains Preparation
S.No. Coaching Institution Role Verdict Remarks
1 IMS Delhi Optional Coaching Not effective I only enrolled and left it within a month of enrollment. I used to go there to collect notes which were good.

Too slow-paced and the instructor never encouraged any doubts.


This is not to say that the behaviour of instructors or the staff was any bad. They were very welcoming.

2 IMS Delhi Test-Series

(Optional)

Not effective Included in the coaching module, I appeared for it in 2018- only 4 tests when I had just started my preparation.

I never enrolled for it again, when I actually needed it in 2019.


The question paper is good enough. At least, one can stay in practice while attempting the same.

The paper checking is mostly arbitrary and don't make any sense. There are no constructive comments anywhere.

3 ForumIAS Test-Series

(General Studies)

Effective They were very prompt in checking the answer scripts and very professional with same.

The mentor guidance program was good as far as gathering motivation is concerned

Mentors also help you by sharing good content for Answer Writing, Toppers' copies etc.

Overall good experience.

However, like every test-series, one's personal marginal improvement decreases with time.

4 Triumph IAS Test-Series

(Essay)

Not Effective Not recommended.

No constructive feedback and the topics for essays were mostly standard and not thought-provoking at all.

The checking takes ages and the staff support was bad too.

Interview Preparation
S.No. Coaching Institution Role Verdict Remarks
1 Officers' IAS DAF Not Recommended
2 NEXT IAS Optional Classes Moderately Effective
Mock Interview Moderately Effective
3 Vajiram & Ravi Current Affairs Classes Effective
4 Vajirao & Reddy Mock Interview Less Effective
5 Samkalp Haryana State Class Effective
Current Affairs Classes Moderately Effective
Mock Interviews Effective
6 Rau's IAS Mock Interview Effective
7 UPSC Gurukul Mock Interview Effective
8 UPSC Lounge Mock Interview Moderately Effective
9 Classic IAS Academy Mock Interview Less Effective
10 BYJUs Mock Interview Not Recommended


Reach out to me

While you can post all your queries on the discussion page, if you still feel like reaching out to me, kindly use the following media:

E-mail alankar.ojasvi@gmail.com
Instagram @oh,just.witty
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