Ashish Kumar cleared the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC)’s Civil Service Examination (CSE) in 2019 and secured an All India Rank (AIR) of 53. This was his second attempt. Having spent his early years in Kurseong, Darjeeling, Ashish was always clear that he wanted to attempt the UPSC examination.
In 2017, Ashish graduated in Economics and post that in 2018 he decided on appearing for the CSE. Speaking to The Better India he says, “Since I was clear about wanting to appear for the CSE I chose not to take up any job or assignment post my graduation. However, the first attempt in 2018 did not end well for me. I did not make it past the prelims stage. Not clearing the examination, in hindsight, was good because it allowed me to focus more on my preparation.”
The cut-off mark for the 2018 CSE was 98 and Ashish says that he missed it by just a few points. He scored 97.67 that year.
“While I was sad I knew my preparation for the mains in 2018 was not up to the mark and therefore I welcomed the result and planned my time to prepare for my second attempt.”
In his second attempt in 2019, Ashish cleared the exam and tells us about what changed and how others can do the same.
1. Give your preparation a clear direction:
“In my first attempt, I did not have a clear direction. I would pick up various resource materials and start studying from it. I failed to refer to the syllabus while preparing and that was a huge mistake I made,” he says. Ashish urges aspirants to study from a limited source of materials and says that wherever possible stick to the tried and tested textbooks alone. As and when one is studying they must cross-check with the syllabus to ensure that they are covering everything in it.
2. Adopt previous years’ toppers’ strategies:
While each aspirant finds their own method of preparation it would be beneficial to talk to peers and see what strategy they have chosen to study, says Ashish, “Do not try and adopt the same strategy since that might not work for you. However, you can use certain elements from their study pattern that might be helpful. Speaking to your peers might also help in clearing some of your doubts.” Closely understanding the strategy, he says, adopted by previous years’ toppers will also help strengthen your own study pattern.
3. Make notes that work for you:
Yet another mistake that Ashish made the first time was not making notes. He says this proved to be a costly mistake and he learnt from it for the second attempt. “I made notes for the GS paper as well as my optional paper the second time. Aspirants must have a ready reckoner they can keep going back to. During the revision stages, it would be prudent to only go through the notes and not go back to the source materials,” he says. Having to recall points from different sources while attempting the paper is not advisable and having all the notes collated in one place is always helpful in answer writing.
4. Rote learning is not the key to success in UPSC CSE:
“Do not go down the path of mugging up everything that is written in the resource material. Use reference points to create mind maps that will help you recollect everything you need from an exam point of view,” says Ashish. Doing this will help you visualise where you need to start thinking from – ensure that you have a mental framework for all major portions covered in the syllabus. Remembering your notes by-heart is not what is expected of you.
5. Attempt as many mock tests as possible:
Ashish says that during his first attempt he only solved a few mock tests, which in hindsight was a mistake. He says, “Try to solve questions which you don’t know or which you aren’t completely certain about. This will also help you develop the knack of elimination during the exam. Do not approach the examination with a fixed mind-set, be open to connecting various topics while attempting the paper. The more mocks you attempt the more confident you will become.”
6. Approach the examination with a clear mind:
Ashish shares that he approached the examination with a very clear mind and says that he had given himself three attempts and was sure that if he did not clear the UPSC CSE within these attempts, he would opt to find a job. “Focus on the exam on hand and do not think of ‘what if’ scenarios. The examination requires you to be completely invested in the preparation and not have a wavering mind,” he adds.
In conclusion he says, “Calm your nerves while attempting the prelims. Remember, if a question is difficult for you, it is probably difficult for everyone else attempting the paper as well.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)