The moment Balamurugan – a founder of ‘Civil Service Guru’ – told me about a connection between their initiative and Rajnikanth, I knew this was a unique story that I must pursue!
“It all started as an informal ‘Rajni fan group’ on Whatsapp, amongst a bunch of us officers,” says Balamurugan, an IRS from the 1997 batch.
“The intent was to spend some time together outside the office setting in a relaxed manner. It was our very own stress buster. In the course of the conversations, we gathered that each one of us wanted to help aspirants realise their dreams. And thus from that ‘Rajni fan group’ was born ‘Civil Service Guru’,” he narrates.
In this conversation, Balamurugan, along with other members of ‘Civil Service Guru’, speak about their coaching platform, some useful tips for aspiring civil servants and their shared love for ‘Thalaivar‘.
From Rajnikanth Fan Club to Civil Service Guru
Civil Service Guru came into being some eight years ago. The group was formed by Anwaruddin (IFS 1994), Balamurugan (IRS 1997), Balasubramanian (IFS 1998), Manivannan (IAS 1998), Ravichander (IRTS 2001), Sudharsan (IRTS 2003), Alex Paul Menon (IAS 2006), and Salma Fahim (2006).
Interestingly, the officers made the group work despite being stationed in different parts of the country.
“To get over the logistical issues we decided to make it virtual. But there was another issue – virtual classes had, most of the time, one-way communication. There was rarely anything online that allowed two-way communication in real-time.” Balamurugan informs.
So the group decided to conduct their ‘classes’ over Whatsapp, and later moved to Telegram, another messenger service, so allow two-way real-time communication between them and students.
“Now, all that a student needs is a laptop or a mobile phone with an internet connection. They can ask us any questions, get connected to others who are preparing for the exam, and get mentoring from those who have cleared the exam already,” explains P Manivannan.
How is Telegram Used?
Telegram is a cloud-based instant messaging service and explaining how the group uses this service, Ravichander says, “It is mandatory for all aspirants who enroll to have a Telegram account. A group in Telegram is created in which all the Mentors and selected aspirants are present. All the daily classes are conducted by Mentors in chat-mode or/and voice-mode.”
Specific mentor-wise groups also exist to monitor and track the activities of each selected aspirant. The classes are conducted as per a predetermined schedule which is designed to cover the entire syllabus at least three months before the prelims.
When asked if the mentors cover all the subjects, Balamurugan says, “Yes. All subjects are taught. With respect to the optional paper, depending on the requirement, specific mentors who had taken up that particular optional subject are invited to guide aspirants.”
All communication is conducted via English language only.
The class activity is usually limited to two slots per day, one hour in the morning (6 am to 7 am) and one-and-a-half-hour in the evening (9.30 pm to 11 pm). Classes are conducted from Monday to Saturday. Manivannan adds, “On Sundays too, at times, there are special classes.”
Explaining how the classes are divided, he says, “Morning slot is kept for discussions among aspirants. It is also the time for aspirants to post things related to the preparation. The evening slot is the one where the interactive session with mentors take place. The session is most fruitful if the aspirants register their doubts (in google sheets designed for the same) and the mentor clears the doubts one by one in the session. We don’t believe in a regular teaching type of class but can conduct special sessions if the aspirants feel the need for one.”
Assignments are given and these need to be done within the time prescribed. There is also a counselling session, which is conducted in smaller teams, where 15 to 20 students are clubbed with 1 or 2 mentors.
How are Aspirants Selected?
The advertisement for enrolment is released via social media and around 1000-1200 aspirants enroll for the mentorship programme. A screening process is conducted to select the most dedicated and sincere aspirants among the enrolled lot. The number of aspirants selected is restricted to around 300 to ensure proper hand holding and personal guidance.
“The screening process is the mechanism through which desired aspirants are selected who can sustain this rigorous mentoring program and excel. Many aspirants who enroll are either employed or unable to attend any regular coaching. Screening process tests the requirements to ensure whether they can align the strict schedule with their other obligations,” shares Ravichander.
During the screening process, all aspirants are given daily assignments which are to be submitted within a given time. Mentors evaluate the assignments based on the on-time submission, quality, etc. and then decide on the aspirants who can continue with the programme.
In the batch last year, out of 250 aspirants who were trained, Balamurugan says that seven managed to clear the UPSC examination and become officers.
Study pattern that works
With the experience of having tutored many aspirants over the years, Ravichander says, “An aspirant who is serious about cracking the examination needs two years on average.”
Explaining that further, he says, “One year to read the syllabus and understand the contours and the second year to power study.”
Ravichander encourages aspirants to use the RAG (Red, Amber, Green) method of studying. “Here, the syllabus is divided into three portions, depending on how important that is for the particular year, with ‘Red’ being the most important.”
While candidates must study the syllabus under Red with maximum intensity, Amber and Green syllabus are studied in a shared manner with the rest of the group, thus reducing the time taken overall.
Tips for Aspiring Students
This team of bureaucrats has mentored more than 300 students over eight years. There are many things they have also learnt as mentors, which may help students preparing for the Civil Services.
Balamurugan shares with us certain tips that he feels will help students.
1. Treat any and all competitive examinations like you would a battle. He says, “Every battle in this world is won twice, first in the mind.” Gear yourself up for the task and ensure that you give it your all.
2. Enter into preparation mode with utmost confidence. “Unless you are confident of winning the battle, you can’t win this exam.”
3. To be confident, aspirants need to put in that much effort while preparing. Manivannan, another founder member, says, “Confidence comes from good preparation. Good preparation is when you ace the model papers consistently,” says Manivannan.
4. It is also very important for students aspirants to strategise. Explaining how they train aspirants, Ravichander says, “Our strategy has three components – Knowing the syllabus well, making intelligent choices and reading smartly (RAG method), and practicing tests till one attains the confidence.”
5. Find an anchor or mentor who will help you through this phase. Someone who is much senior and experienced will help you tide through this period by providing support and encouragement as and when needed.
Personal take away from coaching aspirants
“Satisfaction,” Balamurugan says. “During the time we were preparing the one thing that we missed the most was mentors.”
In fact most of the mentors who now part of the team are from small towns who themselves got no guidance when they were preparing.
“So this is our way to give back to society, and especially to the students who can’t afford coaching, but who deserve it. This mentoring that we are trying to provide could well be the distance between the students and the civil services,” smiles Manivannan.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)