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How I Secured One of the Highest Marks in UPSC CSE’s Essay Paper: IAS Officer

UPSC CSE: IAS officer T Prateek Rao scored one of the highest marks in the Essay paper of UPSC Mains. Here’s his strategy.

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Clearing the Union Public Service Commission’s (UPSC) Civil Service Examination (CSE) was both a personal and professional victory for T Prateek Rao. A graduate of NIT Surathkal and Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta, Prateek attempted the examination four times and cleared two of the four times.

Speaking to The Better India, Prateek says, “Attempting the UPSC CSE and thereafter being a part of the administrative services is one that requires an aspirant to put a lot of thought into it. Before one embarks on this journey, having a very clear-cut reason for wanting to be a part of the services will help keep the motivation levels high.”

He continues, “This examination tests your strategy, not necessarily only your knowledge.”

Standing in the academy flanked by post-its. Essay high scorer.
Prateek Rao at the academy.

For Prateek, his role model was his father, who was also part of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). “To follow in his footsteps was a dream that I nurtured for a very long time. Unfortunately, when I was just 21, I lost both my parents in an accident and life as I knew it had changed. What remained was my determination to succeed in the UPSC CSE and make my parents proud.”

Prateek attempted the CSE four times, beginning in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. In CSE 2019 he got a rank of 724 and got allotted to Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS) and in CSE 2020 he secured a rank of 459 with a high score of 147 in the essay paper.

Prateek’s tips to approach the essay:

1. Do not be overconfident in your method:

“Most aspirants have an average to above-average hold on their essay writing skills. However, no matter how good you think you are, it is only repeated practice and regular third-party evaluation that will help you get better,” says Prateek. He reiterates the importance of getting an external person to evaluate and give you feedback on your essay. He also asks aspirants to steer clear of self-evaluation and go to friends to check the essay.

2. Showcase your personality in your writing:

“Remember that the essay question is the same for everyone and the distinction you can bring about in your essay is how you showcase your personality in it. For example, I had written a poem about women and if I had the opportunity I would incorporate the poem in my essay. Embellishing the essay with relevant quotes that you have read will also help in ensuring your essay gets more marks,” says Prateek.

3. Test of flow not of knowledge:

“Ensure that you grab the attention of the examiner right at the beginning. Your arguments must be put forward succinctly. Also, keep in mind that the examiner is reading multiple essays throughout the day and therefore to impress the examiner you must have a great flow to the essay. Give them a ‘wow’ moment just as they start reading your essay,” he says.

4. Make the essay relatable:

“As much as possible include anecdotes and real-life incidents in your essay. Making the essay relatable to the examiner is sure to fetch additional marks. Adding such anecdotes acts as a hook to keep the examiner interested in your essay,” adds Prateek. Adding to this he says that after a few paragraphs, the examiner must be used to the aspirant’s style of writing and that will make it stand apart.

5. Manage your time:

IAS officers outside the LBSNAA academy in Mussorie.
A picture of Prateek’s late parents in LBSNAA.

It is easy for an aspirant to lose track of time while attempting the essay and it is important to keep a close eye on that. In the three hours you have, Prateek says that spending between 5 to 10 minutes on choosing both topics you wish to attempt is the first step. He says, “Once you have chosen the topics, spend between 20 to 25 minutes brainstorming and making rough notes that you can use.” He says keeping aside an hour to attempt the essay is good.

He continues,” Go on to brainstorm for the second essay only after you have attempted the first one. The sense of completion after the first essay is done is a great motivator.”

6. Be creative:

The essay paper is the only one that allows aspirants to show their creative side. “Showcasing your creative side is also a sure-shot way of breaking the monotony and boredom that the examiner might be going through reading so many essays,” he says. Having said that, he also urges aspirants to stay away from using flowcharts and diagrams in the essay. “If you feel compelled to use it do not add more than one flowchart/diagram in your essay,” he adds.

7. Work on presentation skills:

“Work on ensuring that the essay is presentable – this means having a proper structure, adding sub-heads as and when needed and also a strong conclusion. You can also be as creative as possible in your writing the sub-heads. Your conclusion can also be solution-oriented and futuristic,” he says. Make sure it is easy for the examiner to read your essay, which will play a major role in determining the marks allotted to it.

8. Read to write better:

“To be able to write well, one must read. That is the first step in ensuring that your writing keeps getting better,” says Prateek. He urges aspirants to pick up Yojana and read the first article in the magazine to get a sense of how governmental essays are written. “Use plain and easy-to-understand language in such a way that it encompasses all the points. Reading of any nature will be beneficial in writing the essay. Keep compiling these points to be used later,” he says.

In conclusion, he says, “Most people know what to do, but fail to do it. So while all aspirants know what to read and how to make notes, only a handful do it diligently and those aspirants manage to clear the UPSC CSE. With respect to this examination, cut the clutter and you’ll see how well it works for you.”

Click here to access the blog that Prateek maintains on preparation strategy and tips.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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