When Pooja Yadav, a 2018-batch IPS (Indian Police Service) officer was in Class 3, she told her teacher that one day, she will grow up to be a police officer. While today she has fulfilled her dream as the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) in Gujarat, her journey has not been an easy one.
In a conversation with The Better India, she recalls, “I had my family’s unflinching support, which has been the biggest factor in getting me where I am. Personally, my motivation has been to find ways to strengthen the bond and establish trust between the police force and the public.”
Pooja’s father, who worked as a clerk in the Ministry of Urban Development, would often speak about the officers he came across in his line of work with great reverence. “I grew up seeing that fascination in my father. He would always say that officers could do so much good for the public if they chose to. That thought always stuck with me,” she says.
After Pooja, who hails from Sonipat in Haryana, completed her Class 12 examination, she enrolled at Kurukshetra University to pursue Bachelors in Biotechnology. She went on to do a Masters in Food Technology and Management from the National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management (NIFTEM) in Delhi.
The dream she nurtured in Class 3 came back to her when she was pursuing her master’s degree. “Being in Delhi, with so many coaching institutes and centres perhaps rekindled the interest,” she says. So she decided to appear for the Union Public Service Commission’s (UPSC) Civil Service Examination (CSE).
Not wanting to put too much of a financial strain on her family, Pooja took up odd jobs to support herself. One of these was to help around at the reception during the weekends at NIFTEM.
In 2015, when Pooja was in her final year, she attempted the Civil Service Examination (CSE) for the first time. “However, I was also studying full time at college and wasn’t able to dedicate much time to the CSE preparation. So I didn’t clear that attempt,” she says. But she notes that many aspirants have managed to clear the CSE even as they were pursuing a degree or holding full-time jobs. “It is just a matter of how well you utilise the time,” she says.
Following this attempt, Pooja says she took a conscious decision to completely cut herself off social media networks and even went one step further and changed her phone number. “I did not want any sort of distraction while preparing for the CSE. I did not want to see pictures of other classmates doing well and feel less worthy,” she says. In hindsight, she says she might have cleared even without such a step, but at that time, it seemed like the most sensible thing to do.
In 2016, while she managed to clear both the prelims and the mains examination in her second attempt, she couldn’t clear the interview stage.
“In 2016, just before the mains, my mother met with an accident that required her to undergo surgery. Most of my time went in caring for her. Sometimes, I’d sit with my books at the hospital to study alongside. Once she was home, I had to help around the house and that left little to no time to prepare for the interview,” she says. Despite this, Pooja says she has no regrets as each attempt turned out to be a learning experience.
When asked about what mistakes she made in the first two attempts, she says, “The paucity of time was the biggest factor in the first attempt. I could not finish the entire syllabus as well as I would have liked to, and that showed in the marks I obtained,” she recalls.
In 2017, in her third attempt, Pooja cleared all three stages and was allotted the police service. She shares some strategies on what worked for her the third time.
Strategy for making notes and tips to clear prelims
Pooja says that aspirants must make note of all the mistakes they make and ensure they tackle those well in the next attempt. “If there are large portions of the syllabus which are problematic for you, make a concerted effort to get them right,” she adds.
She says she would make notes for topics that did not need her to look into a textbook to revise. She would put down the main topic and have all the important points pertaining to that around it, almost like a mind map. “This sheet would contain an introduction, pros and cons related to the topic, important statistics, and points to remember. In some cases, I’d write down my own individual thoughts on the topic,” she says.
An additional sheet beside this would be left blank, and as and when current affair points related to the topic came up, she would note down the details. This helped immensely when Pooja was tackling the current affairs section of the paper. “For current affairs especially, making notes from the beginning of your preparation journey is beneficial. When using prescribed books like NCERT or others, taking extensive notes might not be needed, since the entire book is important from the exam point of view,” he says.
With just about three months for the 2021 UPSC prelims, Pooja says that aspirants should only focus on the material they have already studied. She advises against picking up any new material or books at this point in time. “It will only leave you confused and is not at all advisable,” she adds. Aspirants must have a great understanding of all the current affair topics that have taken place in the last one year. This is a non-negotiable aspect, she says.
“Use this period to practise as many multiple-choice questions (MCQ’s) as possible. Doing so will hold you in good stead before the prelims,” she says. Along with this, also solve as many question papers from the previous year as you can. “This will help in further strengthening your grasp on concepts,” she says.
Meanwhile, within a very short span of time since her posting, Pooja has been able to make a mark for herself. Whether it was conducting raids on places selling spurious alcohol or coming down hard on the sale of illegal substances in the state, Pooja has been fearless in following the law to the ‘T’. “This is what I signed up for, and am happy I am getting to do it,” she says.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)