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Avoid Common Mistakes to Ensure Success in UPSC Civil Services Exam, Blog by Jagdishwar Reddy , IPS

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  • Published
    18th May, 2020

Before starting the preparation of IAS Exam, it is important for every aspirant to read and understand the syllabus and exam pattern of civil services examination. One needs to understand the pattern thoroughly and internalize the preparation of UPSC Civil Services Examination. Once this is done, the students should start the journey by adopting two habits.

  • Start reading books for couple of hours every day. This will prepare you for the grind, the aspirant is getting into. The book could be on any subject. But try to read it completely.
  • Start reading two newspapers one national newspaper and one local paper. At this stage, do not bother about the topics and syllabus.

These two things are to ensure that you get into the habit of reading books and newspapers for UPSC Exam, which is a mandatory component of the examination.

Once you are done with it, you are ready for actual preparation. At this phase, you should start reading NCERT books for stronger and more conceptual clarity. Since you have already been through the UPSC CSE syllabus, you know what books to read. But one should concentrate more on Polity, History, Economics, Geography, Society and General Science textbooks from sixth to twelfth standard. Reading these books is very crucial to enhance conceptual clarity which will further help you to better understand the current events that you will read in newspapers and magazines. Otherwise, it will be difficult to understand the concepts. Another important thing is to keep the atlas with you when you are reading the newspaper and magazines and refer to the atlas when you come across a specific location, mountain range or national park and so on. This, if done continuously for four to six months, will ensure that your understanding of geography and general studies will be much better compared to your peers.

For an aspirant with a science/medical/ engineering background, the analysis, looking at positives and negatives of an issue might seem new at the beginning. So, it is advisable that they follow some debates of RSTV, to get a sense of this type of analysis.

If you are already used to reading newspapers and some books then you may club both of the above phases and start your preparation. This leads us into the next step of the preparation.

Common Mistakes that need to be avoided by aspirants in Civil Services Exam Preparation

i. Reading too many books: Bruce Lee once said " I don't fear a man who has practiced thousand kicks, but I fear the one who has practiced one kick thousand times." It holds true as it is for CSE. There is so much information and so many books in the market and internet that we want to read to become perfect. However, in the process you can’t understand even one book completely. This hurts the aspirant in the examination hall. So choose couple of books and stick to them. Read and revise the same books as many times as possible. It’s better to be through with the books rather than reading too much without being clear about them. Keep one thing in mind you need not to know everything under the Sun. This is a competitive exam and your performance needs to be better compared to others. And what is applicable to you is applicable to other aspirants as well. So, even they will not be able to read and become perfect in everything. So trust the sources that you are reading and stick to them.

ii. Consistency:
The next most important thing is consistency. We can draw a parallel between CSE and test match cricket. You need to be consistent over five days to win a test match. Similarly, you need to be consistent in your CSE preparation for two years to clear it. So plan accordingly. Consistently reading 5-6 hours a day for one year is better than reading 10-12 hours a day for 2-3 months. Consistency always wins CSE race. This is sacrosanct. So plan your preparation accordingly. Give your time and consistent effort to it.

iii. Selection of Optional: This is crucial because optional has 500 marks weight age in Mains. Do not choose an optional because your friend chose it or an institute faculty told you so or because there is a craze for certain optional. My suggestion is to choose you're optional based on interest, guidance available, interaction with previous achievers with that optional and availability of peer group for that optional. There is a general notion that engineering optionals are difficult in CSE. But I remember a candidate with civil engineering optional scoring 213/250 in Optional Paper-1. This could be an outlier. But this does illustrate the fact that if you have knowledge and are confident about an optional, you can score well in that subject irrespective what people are saying.

iv. Choosing guidance/coaching for your preparation: This is very sensitive and crucial issue. An aspirant spends huge amount for CSE preparation. So, you need to choose it carefully. There are two aspects to CSE.

  • Knowledge of subjects tested in exam
  • the exam orientation of coaching

We shall discuss this in little detail. Consider Environment and Ecology part of Prelims syllabus. There are many options available in the market. Be it books or classes. Some may be very good in knowledge but fare poorly in exam orientation or vice versa. We need to realize that having vast knowledge itself is insufficient unless it can be applied in exam scenario. So look for an institute or book that caters to this demand rather than simply listing all parks, Ramsar sites etc..

Another case in point is CSAT. Many institutes are focusing on vedic maths, speed maths techniques or calculation-intensive problems. Aspirants being unaware of the demands of the exam and later feel that they did not prepare well. Take past 10 years CSAT papers and check how many of the concepts are being taught in classes are relevant for CSAT. This is exam orientation. What is the utility of the shortcut/logic that I am learning in the class as far as CSAT is concerned? Remember you cannot walk into a tennis court with a cricket bat. The demand of tennis is completely different. I guess there is no need to emphasize more.

v. Studying individually without discussion: All of us must have experienced that when we read a topic and discuss with friends there are some nuances that you missed out and some your friends have missed. But with discussion, you became better in that topic. Given that CSE is an analytical exam, understanding others' point of view and looking at diverse approaches will surely enrich your knowledge. So form a group and discuss topics periodically. This will also relieve the stress levels that you might have.

vi. Giving attempt every year: You need not to attempt the exam every year unless there is age constraint. So plan your attempt two years after you start your preparation. This will make sure that you are completely prepared for the exam. otherwise, you will be caught in the cycle and will not have time to look at the areas of improvement. Besides, it will be very taxing on your mental and physical fitness as well. So relax and plan your attempts properly.

Having discussed the mistakes that need to be avoided the next is


The first and foremost thing you need to be sure is "whether you are reading as per CSE syllabus or not" everything comes after that. This is what we call exam orientation. There can be no compromises on that.

Once you are sure about the above, then you need to look at outcomes from prelims perspective and mains perspective separately.

Prelims: Read the topic and try to recollect the important points in it. Solve MCQs that are from that topic/chapter. Later you may move to solve previous year's questions. This should be done without any time limit in the beginning. Try solving MCQs from a subject continuously. After sufficient practice, you can start solving question with time limit as per the exam criteria. Once you are done with chapter wise test then mock tests may be attempted. At last comprehensive tests should be done. During all this you need to monitor the progress of study. See the scores you are getting and rectify the loose ends. Writing the mock tests in groups and then discussing among the friends will help you compare your learning level with your peers besides indicating the areas of improvement.

Mains: After reading a topic, try to recollect the important concepts/points in it. Then check whether you can remember pros and cons of it. This analytical approach is very important for CSE. If you can remember more than half of the topic then you are well on track. If not, you need to put in more effort. In the next stage you need to start practicing answer writing. This should be done without time limit at first and then with time limit as you get enough practice. Evaluate your answers yourself first. See if you have missed any points that you wanted to write but could not. Whether time was a constraint in your performance. Accordingly, improve your problem areas. After this you can join test series and look at your performance vis a vis others. At this stage you should try to get your answers evaluated by your friends as well besides the institute. This done under time pressure and peer feedback will be a good indicator of where you stand. Based on the feedback try to improve. Constant improvement is what you should be focusing upon.

Remember that for both Prelims and Mains, the test series is only an approximate indicator of level of preparation and not the final judge. Take the peer feedback and institute's feedback with a pinch of salt. Ultimately your true effort and hard work will pay dividends.

We shall discuss book list and other preparation issues in the next article. I hope that you get benefited out of this article and plan your preparation wisely. Wish you all the very best. Good luck!!!!!

 Jagdishwar Reddy , IPS-2016

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