Determination and consistent hard-work are perhaps the secret ingredients that many working professionals aspiring to crack the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC)’s Civil Service Examination (CSE) employ.
Kajal Jawla bagged the All India Rank of 28 in the 2018 exams while working a full-time job that kept her busy for a good 9 to 10 hours each day. Having cleared the CSE premins and subsequently the interview stage in her fifth attempt, Kajal is very forthcoming about some of the mistakes she made and urges others to learn from them.
She appeared for the CSE for the first time in 2012 and mentions that she did so without having a full understanding of the services. Many of her peers were appearing for the examination and she followed suit. Speaking to The Better India, she says, “Appearing for that exam helped me understand the magnitude of the role and the services itself. Since 2016, I started preparing wholeheartedly for the services.”
She shares tips and strategies that helped her clear the examination.
Work with the time you have
Kajal urges aspirants to have a clear understanding of the time on hand. “I would travel from Delhi to Gurgaon for work every day, and would always ensure that I had chalked out the syllabus I wanted to complete in any given week. This helped me plan my days better and at the end of the week left me with a sense of accomplishment as well,” she says.
Become like a horse with blinkers
Explaining this, she says, “Having given the first exam in 2012, I was able to clear the prelims only in my fourth attempt in 2018. The wait was long but I kept my focus on the path ahead.” Surround yourself with only those who will support you unconditionally and whenever the need arises ask for help as well.
Invest in only good Return on Investment (ROI) topics
“If like me, an aspirant has less time to prepare and revise, it is important to analyse the ROI that each topic under the syllabus will give you,” says Kajal. Studying the syllabus is as important as preparing for the examination itself. Aspirants must have a clear understanding of the topics and the weightage that each portion is given. To do this, aspirants could compare the syllabus with previous year question papers.
Be smart in picking topics
The portion from which only one odd question was asked in the previous year papers, Kajal says that she did not devote time to such topics. “For example, world history, which is a vast topic, is one that I did not prepare. I studied the previous year papers and found that very few questions were asked from the topic. I ensured that I had a basic understanding of the topic and nothing more,” she says.
Look out for patterns
When one spends enough time analysing the previous year’s question papers, Kajal says that a pattern will start to emerge. “I found that for my optional paper (zoology), every alternate year, there were topics that were repeated. I therefore focused on such topics while giving lesser attention to the other topics,” she says. Aspirants will be able to find such patterns when they spend enough time on previous year question papers.
Revision is the key
When aspirants choose to study a part of the syllabus, revision becomes key to their success. “Even if you have been able to complete only 60 per cent of the portion, ensure that you revise that part thoroughly and score as much as possible with that portion itself,” says Kajal. Along with revision, keep working on mock tests. Analyse the results in the mock tests and work on your weak areas accordingly.
Set reminders and alarms
Making use of technology, Kajal says that she would set an alarm or reminder for everything that needed to be done. “From waking up at a scheduled time to having my morning coffee – everything worked on schedule,” she says. She also used the time she spent commuting efficiently. She would read the newspaper and current affairs compilation by Insights during her travel each day. With each small milestone, Kajal felt more confident to continue working with a set schedule.
Focus on smart work
Aspirants, especially those who are preparing along with handling a full-time job, must be smart when it comes to preparing. “Do not fall into the trap of reading everything under the sun. You do not have the luxury of time, so be smart in choosing what you study. Focus on limited content from limited resources,” she says. Use the time you have to revise ‘n’ number of times, rather than picking up newer material.
Learn from mistakes
Having appeared for the CSE five times already, Kajal admits to making several mistakes. “The UPSC CSE is physically and mentally draining and aspirants must be prepared for the same. Plan for it and do not just jump into it because of peer pressure or any other reason,” she says. She also says aspirants must take calculated risks while deciding to prepare for the exams.
Believe in positive affirmations
Keep feeding yourself with positive thoughts and re-affirmations. Citing a personal experience, Kajal says, “I would often practice my success speech that I would give aspirants next year. I pictured my photograph at the wall of the academy, and these small things help me visualise the success that lay ahead of me.” Kajal used positive visualisation to keep herself motivated all through her journey.
In conclusion, she says, “Remember that just working on the preparation for CSE will build your confidence levels. Stay sane during the preparation period and refrain from comparing your progress with others around you. With this preparation with you, remember that you will be amongst the smartest people in a room full of people.”