I hope you all are doing well. I am writing in brief about my journey of UPSC until Prelims 2018. I have tried to add most of the basics as well as some specifics which helped get a good score in Prelims in the first attempt itself. Hope it helps. 🙂
Let us start with a little introduction.
Myself, Shreyans Kumat. I come from a small town, Kishangarh near Ajmer in Rajasthan. (You might know it from the Kishangarh school of art / Bani Thani). Most of my schooling happened in Kishangarh itself. I did my graduation from IIT Bombay and worked with Ernst & Young for around two years as a Management Consultant. Thereafter, I took the plunge, left my job and started preparing for CSE.
This decision wasn’t overnight. It took me almost a year. During the second year of my job, I started contemplating about Civil Services as my next career option. I explored the depth of my new found motivation for Civil Services by attending a Good Governance Yatra (Winter 2016) and a Vipassana Meditation Course. To check whether I would be able to sustain the books again, I did a dipstick (test study) by giving a read through basic books like Laxmikanth and Bipan Chandra NCERT. Then finally, I decided to leave my job.
With high opportunity cost and limited savings, I planned to be as much prepared as possible in the limited time before taking an attempt. As I was jumping into something in which I had no background, I needed some good guidance. Very few people in IIT Bombay used to be interested in this field during my stay there. After a few Facebook searches, I could find a couple of seniors for initial groundwork. Thereafter, to further get my basics right and to meet a few fellow motivated aspirants, I decided to move to Delhi.
Choosing optional was an uphill task as well as a turning point. I compared Mechanical Engineering and different Humanities optionals. Looked at syllabus length, the time required to cover, my strengths and weaknesses and past year performance of different optionals. It culminated into me taking the calculated risk of choosing Anthropology.
Now the preparation begins!!!
Start of this preparation needs two things to act as a solid foundation — an overarching plan and a booklist/source list.
Overarching Plan: It is primarily designed on one’s own strengths and weaknesses and the time at hand. The key here is to understand oneself. For example, I was not so good at memorizing, therefore I knew I would need many revisions from different perspectives. Also going through Previous Year Question Papers initially also helped in getting a rough idea about the expanse of the syllabus. I had started my preparation in June 2017, so I planned to finish my first reading of Optional as well as General Studies standard books by December 2017. Thereafter, a revision along with the consolidation of coaching notes by February-March 2018. I had planned to start dedicated Mock-Prelims from March 2018 till one week before the final exam.
Source List: After discussion with many seniors and going through many topper talks the crux that I understood was: Limit your sources which cover most of the syllabus and revise as much as possible.
Geography: NCERT (XI, XII) + Vajiram Class Notes + pmfias.com and Mrunal videos to fill gaps
Modern History: NCERT (Bipan Chandra) + Vajiram Class Notes + Vajiram Yellow Book + Spectrum Tables
Ancient & Medieval History + Art & Culture: TN XI NCERT + Fine Arts XI NCERT + Vajiram Class Notes + GkToday selective notes for culture + ExamRobot for previous exam questions
Polity: Laxmikanth + Vajiram Class Notes + Constitution Book
Economy: Vajiram Class Notes + Mrunal Videos + Macro-economics NCERT + Budget and Economic Survey
Environment: Shankar IAS Notes + Vajiram Class Notes
Science and Technology: Vajiram Class Notes
Analysis of Previous Year Question Papers (PYQP) — Last 5 years
Newspaper: The Hindu, Summary by InsightonIndia next day
Magazine as Textbooks: Vision IAS monthly compilation, IAS Parliament for Schemes, Indices & International Organisations
Others (to fill gaps): Yearly compilation of InsightsonIndia (Environment) and Shankar IAS (Science & Technology), 4-5-month revision booklet by Vajiram and Ravi, Random surfing of the web curiously (Wikipedia, StudyIQ, RSTV) in leisure time.
After my first revision, I got skeptical. I asked one of my seniors, “if so many people are studying the same thing over and over for so many months, would I ever be in a position to compete with them ?”
He replied, “Yes, they would be better placed in terms of the memory of the subject. You can achieve that by ensuring good coverage of syllabus and multiple revisions like you have planned. But most important aspect after that would be to practice tests and prepare yourself for the D-Day which is almost similar for everyone.”
Preparing for the D-Day!!!
The most important aspect in the preparation of Prelims is simulating it over and over before the final day. Learning from the mistakes and improving week by week.
Test Series: Vajiram and Ravi (got along with coaching), Vision IAS from the market, 1–2 random full test from Insights on India, ForumIAS for a change.
Apart from the test series, I had put extreme emphasis on the analysis of Past 5-years UPSC papers manually. I made it a point to refer to the answer keys released by UPSC. Many insights came out from the analysis. Also, specific topics on which UPSC has repeatedly asked got reinforced in my mind. This also triggered my subconscious mind to be more alert which revising or web-surfing those topics.
Test Series and PYQP analysis also helped in becoming better at smart guessing which made me confident of scoring above average even though the competition was with people who were much more experienced than me in terms of CSE Prelims.
Structuring the process of mock-Prelims played a crucial role for me. I used to take time-bound tests in the morning (timings similar to UPSC). It helped in setting the bio-clock and achieve maximum concentration during tests. While taking the test, I used to mark the questions into three different categories:
- A tick would mean an easy question — this I will mark right away after taking a pause to see whether there was a trap by the examiner forcing me towards a silly mistake
- A circle would mean a moderate to a difficult question — this I will mark in the second round or third round after eliminating one or two options.
- A cross would mean a very difficult question — this I would not attempt.
I used this structure-based-mock for analysis of my performance and course correction: If I was not doing good in ‘the Ticks’ — would imply my concentration was not up to the mark and I was committing silly mistakes. If I was doing bad in ‘the circles’ — would imply I need more revisions and some concepts might not be clear. Also, I might have attempted question which I should have crossed.
The continued analysis helped me improve for the D-Day. Also, discussion of analysis with my friend regularly helped me in understanding other approaches. This improved my guessing skills.
When I had started taking tests, I used to score around 50, slowly it improve to 80, then 100 and near Prelims I was able to hit 120s. I kept my attempts around ~85–95 questions in search of a comfortable score. Finally, in Prelims 2018, I attempted 91 questions.
Along with tests, parallel repeated revision of the notes and current affairs helped in gaining confidence. Proper mindset before the final exam helped me remain calm and composed before and during the examination.
I hope my experiences would help you in some way or the other in your preparation for your D-Day.
Points to remember just before Prelims:
- Be a little curious while doing revisions (not much that it leads to wastage of time) For Example: In one of the questions, BHIM App was asked. Everybody knew that BHIM App has been launched by the government but only those who would have used it was able to mark it correctly in the last prelims.
- Do not take CSAT lightly (even if you are an engineer/science student). Practice 2–3 last year papers in the time limit to be sure about crossing the cutoff.
- Be ready with the checklist for the last day before Prelims — admit card, black ballpoint pen, snickers, lunch, etc. If possible, visit the center beforehand to break out of anxiety on the D-Day morning.
- Focused preparation that we have done matters but what also matters is the experiences you have had till date. While attempting any particular question, keep an open mind to form linkages and eliminate options. For Example — Last year a question regarding the religion of Sthanakwasi sect was asked. One of my friends remembered Jain Sthanak from the center of the market in his city and marked it correctly. The bottom line is — any experience of your life till date can come in handy to eliminate an option or mark an answer correctly. So, keep an open mind while attempting each and every question during those 4 hours.
About Anxiety during the preparation time:
Anxiety is normal. Each and every aspirant, irrespective of attempts, would face it. If you aren’t anxious, maybe you aren’t serious about the attempt. A small amount of anxiety is healthy. Don’t get demotivated by it. All we have to aim for is giving our best on the final day.
A beautiful children’s poem by Barbara Vance puts it as:
If you always try your best,
Then you’ll never have to wonder
About what you could have done
If you’d summoned all your thunder.
And if your best
was not as good
As you had hoped it would be,
You could still say,
“I gave today
All that I had in me”
Keep your hopes high and have a receptive mind during these crucial months. Surround yourself with positivity. Meditate every day and sleep well every night. Treat every day as a new day and try to give your best every day.
Best wishes and loads of luck from my side.
P.S.: You can join me on my Telegram Channel: t.me/shreyansupsc for some sample notes and strategy.