A majority of UPSC aspirants attempt the examination to secure a rank good enough to get an IAS posting. The Better India caught up with Dr Aditya Prakash Bhardwaj, an Indian Revenue Service officer, who cleared the examination in his very first attempt with an All-India Rank of 250, without attending any coaching classes. And he studied for just around nine months!
Here is some advice he has for other aspirants.
1. Eliminate all hype
“The UPSC examination is one among many. Over the years, people have created so much hype about it, that one feels almost fearful while preparing for it,” says Dr Bhardwaj.
Growing up in a village, it was difficult for him to fit into an English-medium school when he made the shift. Sheer perseverance helped him study medicine and become the first doctor in his family.
“One of my early lessons was that I was my own competition. With every mock test, the intent was to be slightly better than the previous attempt,” he says.
2. Make your hardships your strength
“After clearing the medical entrance examination and becoming a doctor, my family was shocked when I decided to appear for the UPSC. It was a decision that did not go down very well,” explains Dr Bhardwaj.
He recalls asking his father to grant him one chance to take the examination. “It was a very tough decision — knowing that my family was dependent on my income, I still went ahead and took a chance,” he says.
When he started preparing for the UPSC, he had nine months for the examination. “I shut everything and everyone out. My only objective was to work hard and clear the examination. I am glad that the chance I took on myself paid off so well,” he says.
3. Eliminate approaches that don’t fit into your schedule
Dr Bhardwaj did not make any notes or scatter his focus across many sources. If an aspirant has started preparing well ahead of time, making notes will help. However, given that Dr Bhardwaj did not have the luxury of time, he did not make any notes. “I only studied from the absolute basic (NCERT) textbooks. And instead of studying from ten books, I studied one book thoroughly,” he says.
4. Resources for preparation
“I relied on The Hindu for topics related to society, its changes and issues about human rights, tribal rights etc.,” he says. The editorial in The Hindu gave him a good understanding of the events in the world. It also helped in forming strong opinions.
For Polity, he relied on Lakshmikanth, the online portal Mrunal.org for Economics, NCERT books alone for Geography, and NCERT and Spectrum for History.
In addition, he pored over question papers from the last years. “I found patterns in the questions asked and prepared accordingly. Some topics like education, women rights, health etc. remained static, only the context changed.”
5. Be creative in your answers
“Be creative and original in the way you answer the questions,” he says. With examiners having to read hundreds of answers each day, some amount of originality in the answers will impress the examiners. “Write in such a way that when you re-read it, you enjoy what you have penned,” he says. Do not make your answers preachy or very heavy on statistics and numbers, he says.
“The answers,” says Dr Bhardwaj, “need not always be text-heavy. Also rely on pie charts, diagrams etc. to make the answers read better.”
6. In it to win it
“Look at the preparation for the UPSC as a marathon. The key to success in this examination is to stay focused and consistent,” says Dr Bhardwaj. An aspirant cannot decide to study for five days a week and relax on the weekends. The only thing that matters is sticking to your plan with discipline. It needs to be an on-going effort.
Dr Bhradwaj shares, “During my nine months in Delhi, I did not visit my hometown even once, whether for any festival or to meet my family. Consistency in preparation is important, and the result was beneficial to me.”
A question he is often asked is why he did not attempt the examination again to get a better rank. His answer is very philosophical: “I have come a long way from where I started. The fact that I am part of the services is an achievement in itself. My stream is inconsequential to the work I wish to do for society.”
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)