How to prepare for UPSC By Anu Kumari, AIR– 2 UPSC Civil Services

Firstly, let me tell you one thing, I didn’t have an idea before I even started. Rather I used to be filled with insecurities, doubts and fears (with only 2 attempts to offer due to age factors and also the possibility of failure). Then, I picked bits and pieces from different people’s strategies and heard a lot of interviews. After browsing peoples’ strategies, I attempted to try to what I felt were genuine and honest suggestion by them and How to prepare for UPSC. To read about strategies from other toppers. Click Here

Further, different people have different backgrounds. Just to elaborate, I had working knowledge of Economics as I even have done MBA Finance, so perhaps I used to be comfortable with Economy without reading 11th and 12th NCERTs or Ramesh Singh. I only did Sri Ram printed Economics notes. So, design your strategy accordingly and make a plan of how to prepare for upsc.

First of all, I didn’t take any coaching for GS papers or for that matter my optional. But, I did join a test series for my optional Sociology which helped me tons and gave mock interviews at different institutes.

How to prepare for UPSC

List of Books I used to read to prepare for upsc

Syllabus for UPSC
Preliminary preparation

  • Standalone preparation for two months before the preliminary examination. Earlier, preparation was integrated for pre and mains together.
  • I did Current affairs from Hamari Naukari daily and didn’t make any notes from that rather revised from their monthly current affairs compilations. Daily, I read GK, English from this site. I followed the present affairs till upto 3-4 days before pre exam.
  • For GS PAPER II (Aptitude Test), No separate preparation, my English was already okay, Maths was already prepared as I had cleared CGL (SSC) exam wherein I had revised different Maths formulae.
  • Test Series- I did test series from Hamari Naukari. I revised the questions that I got wrong 3- 4 times. I started doing the test series in the last 2 months before pre and how to prepare for upsc.
  • I had prepared an excel where I had made separate sheets for various reports (like simple doing business report), another sheet for various world/regional bodies like UN, ASEAN etc, another sheet for tribes in India, another sheet for important statistics (eg our spend on education, health etc). I kept revising this excel for pre, mains and a few bits for interview too. It came especially handy for Pre.

Advice- Please pick anybody website, don’t get over excited by multitude of data available on different websites. Important thing is to revise, I made sure that I revised all standard books including NCERTs multiple times (4-5 times). Similarly, I revised current affairs and test series multiple times.

Mains strategy

  • To start mains answer writing, first cover all basic books then practice answer writing. I wrote 7-8 answers daily on register then compared them with other answers written on other websites. This, I had done before preliminary itself during the course of integrated preparation for Mains and pre and made a plan of how to prepare for upsc.
  • After pre, I prepared notes from current affairs (very short notes for quick revision) in soft copy paper-wise (like GS-1,2,3 and 4 separately). Revised standard books multiple times again what I had done during preliminary. I practiced answer writing for GS papers by writing 7-8 tests (at home only then compared them with model answers as given in various test series). I sometimes asked my friends to guage my copies.

Some tips to complement your answers in mains –

  • Substantiate with statistics and current affairs
  • Use names of expert committees to suggest solutions
  • Use diagrams to the extent possible
  • Answer on multiple dimensions (social, political, economic, cultural etc)
  • Use quotes (to the extent possible, even in GS 1,2,3 papers)
  • Do underline to spotlight important stuff
  • For GS 4 i.e Ethics, collected good quotes by Swami Vivekanand, Gandhi, Einstein, Mandela etc, made them my laptop wallpapaers. I put syllabus ahead of me and ensured that I even have understood n covered each and each topic, especially the definition of every and each word written there.

I reflected back on my entire life and made notes of the great things and therefore the bad things that I had wiped out life and tried to use real world examples in my answers. (eg- a true life example of ethical dilemma is when your friend is cheating in exams and copying from you- on the one hand, it helps my friend improve her marks, on the opposite hand, this is often morally wrong) This exercise was an honest self reflection exercise too that helped my understand myself better.

I consulted the book G Subbarao and did all concepts from the book and solved several case studies from that.

Advice– Please don’t ignore this paper. With less preparation, it can offer you a foothold over others. Prepare samples of various situations beforehand like conflict of interest, moral dilemma etc in order that they will be quoted in exam. Learn names of important people with integrity like S Manjunath etc too

Essay Strategy:

  • I practiced writing 12-15 essays easily, learnt tons of quotes and tried building essay on temporal scale (ancient, medieval, modern etc) and/or covering multiple dimensions like social, political, economical etc.I Linked the topics with current affairs. didn’t use headings but always tried that the person reading the essay should find it like reading a story and used very simple language. I attempted to make sure linkage/continuity between successive paragraphs (eg: If i’m discussing social aspect of some issue after its economic aspect, i might write “Not only does ABC issue has economic implications but it also has social implications”).
  • I used many quotes. I also used Question answer format in my answers eg: I chose the essay “Realisation of recent woman may be a myth”. Here I kept asking Qs then wrote Ans to those Qs to create on my essay like “Who may be a modern woman?…………….” “ what’s it that she wants?………………….” “Why is it difficult to understand her?………………..”

Economic Survey and Budget

  • I am separately mentioning them because extremely important to read both these. I didn’t read the first volume of those but read the summary of GS Score. Initially, it took me 2-3 days to read the ES on the other hand i made short notes on every page of the summary of ES and trust me once I say this, in last stages, it took me only an hour to revise the entire ES booklet. To read economic survey. Click Here

Optional Sociology

  • Basic material that I mentioned was- Upendra Sir classroom Notes available in the market (covered both Paper 1 and Paper 2 end to finish from these except the thinkers of Paper 2). Mahaptra Sir classroom notes – I did Paper 2 Thinkers from this, which has been covered in minute detail. Harlambos Blue Book (the bigger one not the orange one)- I did selected topics from this book eg chapter 1, 14 etc.
  • I joined a test series for my optional Sociology at Nice IAS (Praveen Kishore sir) after preliminary examination which helped me tons in structuring my answers and understanding the concepts lucidly (coming from a science background and taking over a humanities subject, I found it difficult to organize on my very own , Test series helped in clearing the doubts). I will advise, if possible, seek guidance for this subject if you are doing not have sociology background (from friends, coaching institute or online).

For Paper 2, the test series helped me tons as Praveen sir explained several important concepts which I had missed from above sources eg waves of girls movements, social movements topic etc.

Personality Test

  • I took several mocks at various institutes. It helped me in collecting sort of Qs and also helped me analyse my reactions to Qs that I didn’t know answer to. One imp thing that helped me greatly was that I along side a colleague of mine (who is Rank 80 now), wont to take each other’s mock interview on phone, daily for 1-2 hours. We included a spread of Qs and tried to grill one another too. It helped both of us a lot  .
  • I started reading newspaper during this section of UPSC preparation (ie interview and not for pre or mains which I had covered online).

My interview experience- I even have got 187 marks.

  • I was very calm and smiling throughout the interview. I treated it as if i used to be lecture the elders in my family. i’m unsure of the duration of interview. But i feel it went on for 35-40 mins
  • I felt that my interview went well. I couldn’t answer 3 questions but I calmly managed, smilingly said sorry I don’t realize it .

My Qs and answers

Ms. Smita Nagaraj Board:

– Why UPSC 12 years after graduation?- lack of internal satisfaction in private sector, abundance of opportunities offered by Civil services which may help me lead a satisfying life. Earlier got busy with marriage and motherhood, now I had time, so started preparation and left the work

– U worked for 8 years in financial services sector, what was the motivation? What kept you going?- learning is on a much bigger scale once we start from scratch; that learning kept me motivated and therefore the incontrovertible fact that my work was instrumental in taking organisational decisions (since I was a part of Business Planning and Analysis department within the Finance function)

– There are tons of unethical practices in insurance sector, what they’re and why they’re happening? Is regulator sleeping? – Yes, there are unethical practices like misspelling by the agents; hidden charges, claims denial by quoting T&C which are generally difficult to know by a layman…..they are happening thanks to the shortage of awareness within the public and since the world is in its nascent stages…the regulator has taken several steps like cap on charges introduced in ULIP products, making persistency a key think about individual agents’ licensing etc

– Recent NHPS health insurance scheme, it’s getting to help private sector quite the citizens what should we do to prevent such malpractices? – private sector participation is required as infrastructure is weak in our country, so as to curb the malpractices we might got to take several steps like robust claims management, claims investigation, making cashless treatment mandatory in non emergency cases and defining the procedures and therefore the applicable rates

– There is going to be a change in orientation while u move from pvt sector to public sector..how will u manage?- There’ll be a change on following accounts- higher customer centricity is there privately sector, defined procedures and switch around times in pvt sector, performance appraisals are more pronounced here. i will be able to attempt to specialise in impriving transparency and accountability within the public sector also . Having said that, there’ll be several things which will be in continuation like skills of your time manegment, pressure management, stakeholder management etc.

– How technology has impacted these services sectors?- technology has caused improvements within the way customers interact with the service providers eg online sales, sale through apps, customer service through IVR/SMS/email/Apps etc. it’s brought in additional transparency into the system, clarity to customers and brought customers closer to the service provider firms.

Other members

– 39 Indians got killed in Iraq, does one think Govt handled things well?- Govt should be appreciated for the efforts that it took to seek out the Indians stranded in Iraq and convey them back safely but at an equivalent time, Govt should are more sensitive. Families of the emigrants should are personally informed rather than the families coming to understand of such a tragic news through parliamentary proceedings – Facebook data leak issue- does one think these social media firms are taking users for a ride?

– yes, they deliberately attempt to keep T&C difficult to know and therefore the users are forced to tick on “I accept the T&C” or provide access to data within the phones before they will use any app. Soultion is that we’d like to possess a comprehensive law on protection of user privacy and stringent action should be taken against offender firms. – Social media was created to unite (socialise) but it’s dividing the society, Ur take?

– it depends on the utilization that we put social media to. If used for spreading fake rumours, to incite violence etc then it’ll divide society but if used rightly, it’s immense potential to revolutionise our lives. So, we should always make optimal and judicious use of social media

– Some misinterpretation of 1 of my answers by a member to which he asked me that i used to be earning pretty much already, still why I want extra money , why? (Smita ma’am interrupted and corrected him)

– I only smiled – Marketing lessons to be learnt from entrepreneur turned Baba Ramdev marketing strategies invoking a sense of nationalism to spice up sales and capitalising on people’s preference for chemical free and herbal products

– you’re from Hindu college, Which minister from Hindu college is there within the ministry today?- Sorry Sir, I don’t know – Pink pyjamas are flying over Red Fort today, what do u understand by this?

– (smilingly ), its a really interesting question but sorry, I don’t know the solution . Then sir explained the concept to me, I nodded and said yes sir, i assumed so

– Narcotic problem in India today, how will u handle them during a district? What are the drugs consumed by the ppl?

– Root of the matter lies in porous borders which facilitates drug trade between golden triangle and golden crescent regions via India. At district level, my focus would get on sound implementation of the laws, effective rehabilitation of drug users, enhancing employment opportunities for the youth and promoting better integration into the family life in order that families act as a network and stop one from falling into the drug trap

– Children are committing suicide, why? What should be done?

– Causes are- Excessive expectations by the old people, very intense competition in our country, problems with the education system which emphasises on rote and not on critical thinking or a holistic personality development. To curb this, we should always revamp our education system and that we must teach our students the way to live a satisfying life (and not just specialise in enabling them to form money). a price effective and yet efficient solution has counselling facilities in schools and inspiring the scholars to hunt help when in trouble. Parents should even be sensitised to not put excessive pressure on students

– Today’s girls (bahus) don’t want to measure during a joint family, do u agree? – to an extent yes, with the increase of individualism in society, egoism is rising. Another factor is burden of excessive expectations from the bahu who is predicted to try to a double shift (in office also as home)

– Are joint families good for ladies empowerment?

– in fact they’re , coz when others within the family help the lady together with her familial responsibilities (say child care), she will specialise in her career.

– you’re a sportswoman, what does one think are the corruption related problems in sports bodies in India (I have played throw ball in college and a few games during school time)

– problems are unfair selection, age related fudging, use of medicine and corruption in sports bodies like in BCCI. Some positive developments that are happening during this field are

– Recently Niti Aayog proposed ranking of sports bodies and linking the fund devolution to the performance in ranking

– What are the ground level differences that you simply have experienced travelling in metro in Gurgaon and in Delhi- One may be a PPP (public pvt partnership), other is Govt owned. (I said I even have nt travelled in Gurgaon metro) He asked, others would have travelled n shared their experiences.. (We working in Gurgaon, commuting from Delhi)

– Sorry, I even have not travelled in Gurgaon metro, so can’t compare. Sir persisted that some friend may need shared his/her experience. I replied sorry sir, I don’t know that

– What are the issues of PPP? Why is India unable to successfully execute them?

– Problems are- Opaque calculation of user charges, ineffective arbitration mechanism, lack of funds, delay in approvals etc…. we’ve seen execution problems within the past but now we are moving towards better models such hybrid annuity model

– I even have lost money in Mutual Funds, convince me that I should still invest in MFs.

– Sir, investment in MFs should be made consistent with the age ,risk profile and wishes of the customer. Secondly, these investments are future in nature. So we should always not expect high returns within the short term. Further, i might still advise you to take a position in mutual funds keeping in mind your risk appetite and wishes . There are debt, equity also as liquid mutual funds.

– what’s colonial hangover?

– Good or bad? Give Eg… Colonial hangover means those things that are a relic from colonial times albeit not relevant to times . Eg are culture of red beacon, our obsession with fairness, education system, judiciary , democracy, constitution, police system etc a number of this stuff are good and a few are bad

Last question by Smita Ma’am

– You had said that Govt should are more humane in handling killing of Indians in Mosul issue, on the other hand also appreciated the govt. for his or her extra efforts to trace the Indians and convey them back. is that this your approach to all or any the things- saying this is often often correct but this is also correct, will you be ready to take decisions supported this? what’s getting to be your approach as an administrator?

– Yes, ma’am this is often how I take decisions in life after considering both- the great also the bad aspects of any issue. I having said that, it doesn’t mean that I vacillate in deciding . I consider both aspects then reach a firm decision. Ma’am asked give some eg from ur life

– i replied that once I would appraise my team members in office i might tell them that these are the areas where you’ve got worked well but these are the areas where you would like to enhance and supported both the aspects, i might reach a rating for them.

Advice– you’ll collaborate with compatible and high candidates for interview preparation. ask others to urge a holistic view on important issues. Do prepare important topics like AFSPA, J&K issue, Reservation etc. Prepare your DAF really well- each and each word of it. ask your friends and training institutes who can assist you with framing possible Qs from your DAF. Prepare your hobby, home state, your graduation subject rather well .

Advice for college kids who are at the present in 10th or 12th

  • Firstly, please don’t take much load. Enjoy your student life and diligently study your academic curriculum itself (I am saying this because one cannot prepare at a high frequency for a really long period of your time , it shouldn’t happen that burnout happens even before you reach the crucial stage of preparation which is graduation end). At max, you’ll start reading newspaper to develop a lively interest within the happenings around you. Your serious preparation for the Civils should specifically begin during final year of graduation. Till this point , you’ll cover your graduation subjects diligently in order that your optional gets prepared simultaneously.
  • Many people are asking me whether to choose Art (and not Science) in class and graduation if the last word aim is Civils only. Well, as far as syllabus of UPSC cares , it overlaps tons with Art subjects like History, Geography, Polity etc and you’ll choose such subject to be your optional also . But please bear in mind that taking over Art also means Engineering and Medical options get curtailed once you do so. Some people first do B Tech or MBBS then sit for UPSC, so that’s also a technique .
  • Finally, it’s completely upto you which of them path you would like to require

Advice for married women and/or mothers

  • Well, honestly, it’s tougher to organize post marriage. So, seek maximum support from all possible corners- friends, family, relatives etc. Try taking day off from job, if possible as this paper demands high dedication and long hours of study. For mothers, i might say, try joining some library where you’ll study faraway from the kid ; Get support from baby sitter or close relations for the kid care; Or worst – try living faraway from the child if nothing else works (quite a difficult choice though) but still suggesting this coz i do know there are numerous distractions with a child- sickness, daily care, studies, playtime etc).
  • Having said that, I strongly feel that you simply CAN crack this exam, have faith in yourself and provides it your best shot.

Advice for all on the way to tackle phases of demotivation

  • There will be times once you might feel that you simply can’t roll in the hay , that you simply aren’t the topper material etc etc. My advice is –cry if desire crying during such phase (to vent to your pent up feelings), ask your well wishers (family especially..coz they need super faith in you) to urge motivation, consider those good times once you had achieved something in your life within the past.
  • Finally, recover from such phase and think that the sole improvement you’ll neutralize such a situation is realising your flaws/weaknesses and them improve over them. Think that you simply will try your best then leave it to the God, this is able to mean that you simply won’t have any regrets coz you TRIED and you TRIED your best.
  • When you feel that there are tons of problems in your life, just attempt to consider the one that is facing even more difficulties than you (My father always says- apne se neeche walon ke dekh ke mushkilon se upar utho aur apne se upar walon ko dekh ke jeevan ke lakshay banao). Also, ponder over the thought “This too shall pass”- blast or bad time, it’ll surely pass. the sole option you’ve got is to form the simplest out of it.

Advice for rural and remote students

Please have hope, it’s possible today to organize from remote corners. I did so, hence i feel its doable. observe use of technology- use online resources to hide current affairs and even to hide static portion through online tutorials.

Finally, All the absolute best to all or any you people!!