How to Prepare for UPSC Civil Services Exam?

What Kota, Rajasthan, is for IIT entrance preparation, New Delhi is for civil services examinations. If you have spent your student life in either of these places, you cannot miss the fervour with which students prepare for the respective examinations. And if you are not among the ones appearing for the exam, you feel left out of a national event. Having studied in New Delhi I have practically experienced this. Civil Services exam is a national event there, as if everyone is writing it. And when the results are declared, it’s like a festival! So, what’s all this about? What is the Civil Services examination? Why are so many after it as if their life depended on it? How does one crack it? Is it easy, after all? More on this as we move ahead…

The first thing to understand is, there is no thumb rule for preparation. To each his own method. But one thing is for certain. This is one examination where you must definitely work hard, not just for a couple of months but until you crack it. This could take a year for some or more for others. Yes, you heard it right! It is almost like doing penance with a single goal in mind—A better rank, a better position. Lakhs of students appear for this examination every year, so you can clearly understand the level of competition.

UPSC—What Is It And What Does It Do?

Union Public Service Commission or the UPSC as it is commonly referred to is India’s central recruiting agency. It holds the civil services examinations to recruit candidates for top government positions like Indian Administrative Services (IAS). India Police Service (IPS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and so on. This examination is held in three parts: 

  1. A  Preliminary paper which includes 2 objective type papers (General Studies 1 and 2)
  2. A main paper consisting of 9 chosen papers of essay type questions of which 2 papers are qualifying and only marks of 7 are counted. 
  3. Personal Interview.

Is There A Right Time To Start Preparing for the Civil Services Exams/IAS Exams? 

Well…There are those who start their preparation much early in life, even when in high school. And there are others that start cramming just months before the exams start. Actually both are two extremes and undesirable. The ideal time to start the preparations would be when you are doing your graduation. That’s because you can start appearing for the exam once you are a graduate.

How to Choose Your Optional Paper for the Civil Services Examination? 

The optional paper you choose is very critical. You have to choose one subject for the two optional papers in the Mains exam. The difficulty level of the paper is pretty high. Besides, it carries 250 marks for each paper and hence you have to choose it very carefully; a subject you are quite confident about. Either you can choose the subject that most interests you or the one that you have graduated in. You are given 27 subjects to choose from so there is no dearth of variety. Choose wisely…your future depends on this choice.

How to Prepare for the Civil Services Examination/IAS Exams? Tips and Tricks:

Many of the aspirants of the civil services exam are usually confused because of all the information that floats around. Besides, people give tips and techniques that may/may not really help the aspirant. Some tell you that this exam cannot be cleared without attending coaching classes though others vehemently deny this. So, though you have all the information, you don’t really understand how to start. 

You must first understand that it’s the pattern that makes this exam tough. Every year lakhs of students appear for this exam but it is only a few that clear it in the end. Once you have chosen your subject for the Mains, prepare a strategy. Be disciplined, meticulous and draw a time table. Follow the time table EVERY DAY, without an exception. There is no short cut to success and certainly not for the Civil Services exam, so stay focused each day. Here are some tips to prepare your daily routine/time table:

  1. Start early: If you wish to appear for the exam in June next year for instance, start preparing the previous year itself. While preparing for the Prelims paper, start your preparation for the Mains paper too, so that after the prelims you have time to revise.
  2. Be thorough with the syllabus: The first step according to the UPSC website is to know the syllabus well. Once you are thorough with the syllabus, you can plan your time table based on that.
  3. Set your time table: If you want to crack the civil services exam, you MUST prepare a time table and follow it. Time management is very crucial, especially during the early phase of preparation. You must allocate a specific number of hours for reading each day. Next, you have to fix a specific slot for making notes of what you have read. Perhaps 3 hours to read and 2 hours for preparing notes. Check progress to make changes to your time table. Gradually increase the time for reading. Every day, you need to revise what you studied. This is very important, otherwise all efforts will go waste. Once your exam date nears, your time table should include time for mock test too. 
  4. Read newspaper daily: Prelims consists of General Studies, worth 200 marks for 100 multiple choice questions. Paper 1 includes current affairs and hence a thorough reading of the daily newspaper is a must. Besides reading the newspaper, you must also watch news headlines to ensure that you haven’t missed out on any important news.
  5. Look up pervious years question papers:  Cracking the civil services exam involves tons of reading and hence you have to work smart. Look up previous years question papers to see which questions get repeated often. This will help when you are reading and making notes. You could concentrate on these topics more.
  6. Choose the right books and read thoroughly: A lot of books are available for study and this is what often makes the student confused. What to read and how to read so much? Hence it is important to understand that instead of getting your hands on possibly all the books on a particular topic, first make a note of the topic and refer to one standard book to get thorough information on it. Then you can supplement it from notes offered by coaching centers. But when you pick a book for reference, it has to be the best and you must make the choice very carefully. Prepare all the possible questions on a  given topic and make bullet points so that it’s easier to study and remember. It is advisable to refer to the Civil Services India website to get a list of NCERT books that you could use to read for various topics.
  7. Practice writing: Well, if you thought preparing for Civil Services exam is a cake walk, you are in for a surprise. It is not just consistent hard word  but all round hard work too. It is not just necessary to read, make notes and revise, but equally important is to practice writing your answers. Mains exam has essay type questions and the time limit is 3 hours. For the optional subjects and general studies the word limit is mentioned. Depending on the question, answer has to be given. Some say, you can write in paragraph format while others mention that it can be answered point wise. Whatever it is, one thing is clear. You must be absolutely sure what to write and how to write and for this writing practice is a must. Time for this should be factored in your time table.
  8. To test yourself, try a mock test: If you feel you are sufficiently ready and want to test how an actual exam feels to up your preparation, take a mock test. It gives you a good pointer of where you stand. Based on that you can you can make changes to your time table, study plan and strategies for preparation. Never sit for an actual exam without attempting a mock test first.
  9. Join a good coaching center: This is an additional tip, though not compulsory. There are people who have cracked the civil services exam on self-effort, but the importance of a coaching institute cannot be under estimated. They give you notes and study material, give mock tests and judge your preparation level. Especially when it comes to interview stage, coaching centers can help improve your body language which is an important component for selection. Interview round also tests your general knowledge and strength of mind and a coaching center can guide you on how to brace for it.
  10. Sleep well, keep stress at bay: Preparation for civil services can be extremely strenuous; it could give you sleepless nights especially when the exams are near. Don’t fret. Study well, take breaks, keep at it, and eat well. The rest will just happen.
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If civil services have been your goal and ambition since childhood, you can start preparing early. You can keep yourself updated with current affairs and follow a certain discipline for study. It is a tough nut to crack and no one can really tell you the exact strategy that definitely works. But yes, one thing that everyone who cracked this examination will tell you is:  You have to breathe IAS, think IAS, live IAS, dream IAS, talk IAS, until you actually become one!! So get ready for some really hard work!!

-Janaki Sreenivasan

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