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“I am a product of government schools,” begins IAS Shashank Mani Tripathi, who secured an All India Rank of 73 in CSE 2015.
“Where I come from, the UPSC exam is a huge deal, and it was no different for my parents. And while I was a good student, I wouldn’t have picked this stream if I was left to my own devices. My parents pushed me towards it,” he confesses.
What Shashank was especially good at was quizzing, and he recollects participating in various competitions, even in the district level. “That helped when I was preparing for the CSE,” he says.
Shashank went on to study engineering, and after passing out of college, he took up a job with a telecom giant based in Gurugram, where he worked for almost four years.
But the idea of clearing the UPSC exam hovered in his mind, and a few years into his corporate career, Shashank decided to start preparing for the CSE, and in 2013 he attempted the examination for the first time. While he did not clear it in his first attempt, he attempted it again in 2014 and managed to secure AIR 73.
Shashank helps us understand what strategy worked for him while making notes for the examination.
1. Making notes does not mean you write another book
Since Shashank was working full time, while also preparing for the exam, he says that he did not have too much time on hand and therefore did everything to maximise it.
“It is important to make notes that you can easily refer to during the stage of revision. You are not writing a book, so make sure that the notes are not very elaborate, or as bulky as the subject book itself,” he begins.
However, he does acknowledge that no one rule fits all in this area, and aspirants must make notes that work the best for them. “While good notes can be handy, especially for revisions, I believe it depends upon the individual, and his/her style of preparation,” he says.
2. Be selective in making notes
Shashank did not make any notes for general studies since he says that his preparation for the same was heavily based on internet research. “Making notes is an exercise of skill and requires a lot of patience and time, and since I was working, I had to use my time efficiently.”
Shashank made notes for subjects where the material was not readily available and was somewhat abstract.
“I used my time to make notes for my optional paper, which was political science and the ethics paper in the general studies category. Subjects like history and geography are objective streams; if you read enough material and are decent at writing your answers, it will be possible to do well.”
3. Read first and make notes later
“While preparing from a particular textbook, I would read it thoroughly at least twice. In the second reading, I would underline the parts I would want to revise later on or make notes for. I would also ensure that I sat with the syllabus and went over the topic mentioned in that with a fine-toothed comb,” he says.
It is essential for the first reading to be done without any prejudice towards the subject or the topic being read. “Read without assigning any importance to a particular topic. Think of it like reading a novel, he says. Every time you read it, something new pops up. Don’t skim the contents and rush to make notes,” he explains.
One crucial point to always remember while making notes is that it must be such that if you were to pick it up for revision a day before the examinations, you should be able to comprehend and go through it without any doubt.
With respect to reading newspapers, Shashank mentions that he read most of the editions online “I primarily used Feedly for reading news and Evernote for sorting and storing information that I found online.”
4. Do not pile up on study material
Many aspirants are often tempted to keep piling up study material and therefore end up making very elaborate notes as well. Stick to the necessary materials required and make notes accordingly.
Shashank also says that even while making notes, it is important to be clear about what topics require notes and what do not. “For example, what good would it be to make a completely new note on an editorial already written?” asks Shashank. He urges aspirants to try to reflect on whatever they read and then note down their own understanding of the matter.
5. Make notes with a focus to clear exams
“The notes you make specifically for the CSE examination is for just that. Do not aim to make them very scholarly or master the subject. That will completely defeat the purpose,” says Shashank.
Citing himself as an example, he says, “There will always be a subject that one finds fascinating while preparing. For me, it was political science, my optional subject. But one has to be mindful of how much time one spends in reading material pertinent to it. One must not get swayed by interest.”
While this is the strategy that worked for Shashank, a few other IAS officers have shared what worked for them. You can click here to read what Namrata Jain, CSE 2018 AIR 12 has to say and click here to access the interview with Athar Aamir-ul-Shafi Khan, CSE 2016 AIR 2.
If you are an aspirant preparing for the CSE, do write in to us and tell us about what strategy worked for you.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)