Pradeep Singh was left confused when a phone call from a friend put a question mark on the rank he had secured in the Union Public Service Commission’s (UPSC) Civil Service Examination (CSE) in 2019. “I remember getting a call from a friend who informed me of the results and said that there were two Pradeep Singhs on the list. So he asked me to cross-check my rank,” Pradeep tells The Better India.
But after he ascertained that he had indeed bagged the first rank in the exam, he was pleasantly surprised.
While it’s a feat in itself to secure a good rank in the UPSC CSE, Pradeep who bagged the All India Rank (AIR) 1 in his fourth attempt, shares tips and strategies to ace the examination.
Pradeep started his preparation journey in 2016 and appeared for the CSE for the first time that same year. Subsequently in 2017 he appeared again and says that he was unable to clear the prelims in both these attempts. Then in 2018 he bagged an AIR 260 and was allotted the Indian Revenue Service (Customs and Excise). But wanting to better his rank, he appeared for the exam again in 2019.
He says, “Preparing for UPSC is a rather comprehensive process. Aspirants need to focus on every phase – prelims, mains, and the personality test. Each one needs to be given adequate attention in order to successfully clear the CSE.” Prelims is a test of factual and objective questions, which requires aspirants to build up their temperament to answer Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ). For the mains, aspirants must focus on attempting writing answers, voicing your opinion and also structuring your answer well. The personality test on the other hand is a blank canvas with no specified syllabus or content that might be tested.
Here are a few more tips for aspiring UPSC candidates:
Remain in sync with the news
With Public Administration as the optional paper choice for Pradeep, he says that devoting more time to reading newspapers was an absolute must. He would read The Hindu and The Indian Express. He says, “While the newspaper was almost always sufficient for current affairs, I also referred to Yojana and some YouTube channels for topics which were not very widely covered in general.”
Pradeep says that aspirants should try to connect the UPSC CSE syllabus to the various current affair topics that they come across. Furthermore, try to develop a habit of forming opinions on various topics — both national and international relevance. This, he says, will help aspirants when they write essay answers in their main papers.
Learn from your mistakes
Given that Pradeep was able to clear the prelims exam only in his third attempt, he says, “It is important that aspirants learn from the mistakes they make. These help in every subsequent attempt that one gives.” The cumulative journey that one spends in preparation also brings about a sea-change in one’s personality. He also urges aspirants to always want to achieve more and better.
Effective method of picking your optional paper
“Always pick a subject that you feel will keep you motivated to study and can hold your attention over a long period of time,” says Pradeep. Sometimes seemingly easy topics turn out to be difficult in terms of finding enough content to attempt the paper. Before you pick the topic, shortlist a few topics, and go through one or two chapters of the ones you have shortlisted.
Aspirants can make an informed decision after getting an idea of what the topic entails. You could also look at previous year’s question papers and make a decision thereafter. Be well-informed when you decide on the topic for your optional paper.
Utilising every hour of the day
Pradeep was a working professional who was simultaneously preparing for the UPSC CSE. He shares, “One needs to make use of any and all time available to them.” For aspirants pursuing a full-time job, preparing a daily schedule and sticking to it might not work. There will be days when one has five hours to spare and on other days only two. Pradeep therefore divided the syllabus into different modules.
“For example if I was studying polity, I further divided it and allotted it a fixed time period. This helped balance the syllabus and I was able to devote more or less the same time each day, depending upon my work schedule,” he says. Stay determined to finish the topic within the time frame you set out. Also find ways to effectively use your lunch breaks and commute time to either watch informational videos or catch up on revising.
Emphasise on revision
“Revision or self-assessment is key to succeed in this competitive examination,” says Pradeep. Given how vast the syllabus is, an aspirant cannot be prepared well-enough if they have not given adequate time for revision. It is also possible for aspirants to forget everything that has been studied if there is no revision. “Appearing for as many mock tests as possible before the exams is a good way to revise. This will also point to your weak areas,” he says.
Consistent revision will also hold you in good stead during the examination and will prevent you from making small and silly errors. Pradeep also urges aspirants to attempt many essays and get the same checked by either mentors or even your peers. “Do remember that self-assessment is what will bring about improvement in you,” he says.
Pick a language you are comfortable with
Despite aspirants having the option of appearing for the CSE in any one of the 22 different regional languages, Pradeep says that the general misconception is that one can score well only if they choose English. He says, “Aspirants should pick a language that they feel most comfortable with. The medium you choose is not what determines how you do in the exam. Just ensure that whatever medium you choose, there is enough resource material for you to prepare.”
Focus only on determination, consistency, and perseverance. Pradeep has also shared this link where you can access notes that he made for the examination.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)