Rohit, a student of NIT Bhopal, asked me advice on how to start preparation for civil services examination.
I have answered this, a number of times. But this time, I thought I would put it on the blogs itself, so that all of you could take a peek at my viewpoint. What I am going to describe need not necessarily be the best way to attempt the Civils exam. But it worked for me. I have seen it work for quite a few others. So I have belief in it.
Preparation varies from candidate to candidate. I would dare say that not all people are born equal. Some are born with the ability to grasp quickly some things, while some others are born to grasp some others things which the first set cannot possibly be good at. Again, some are born to find ease in ‘method’ and some are born with the ability to find ease in ‘madness’. Thus, while it all depends on your innate character and strengths, there are some things which I call common denominators, which enable anybody to take a shot at the exam in a reasonable way. It is for you to decide where you stand in this pecking order. Don't be over confident; don't be a frightened chicken. An exam is after all an exam. Life doesn't start or end with an exam. You may be surprised to know that quite a few of those who succeeded in the exam were miserable failures on the job. Those that didn't make it to the exam subsequently turned out be quite successful in life and have achieved far greater heights than the ones that did.
Preparation varies for first timers and repeaters. For repeaters my advice is -- look at where you made the grade. Look at where you failed to make the grade. Try to compute the kind of extra marks that you can get from working on both these. Which of them is easier to work with – is it working on your strength, or is working on your weakness? Take a call and work on that which will fetch you more marks. Don’t waste precious time on things that will not give you any mileage even when you put in extra effort.
For first timers my advice is start at least 18 months before the Mains exam. You should assume that you are clearing the Prelims. So, from the 18th month before the Mains, which is usually around April/May of the previous year, start with your Mains preparation with the optionals. Cover them at least once in about 6 months. Then about 12 months before the Mains exam, start with the GS preparation (both for Mains and Prelims), the General Essay paper and Prelims optional preparation. Continue this up to 6 months before the Prelims. At 6 months before the Prelims go slow on your GS for Mains and General Essay paper and continue with the GS Prelims and Optional Prelims preparation. Write the Prelims. And continue with your Mains preparation in full swing for GS, General Essay and Optionals. Whatever might be the Prelims result, keep preparing this way till the Mains time. And the cycle continues.
When you clear the Mains, interview preparation calls for an equally grueling schedule. Don’t underestimate it. For interview you should concentrate mainly on GS and OLQ (Officer Like Qualities). I strongly recommend reading as many published interviews of successful candidates as possible. There are a number of places where you can get them. Stay in touch with the latest happenings and preferably the most controversial of them. It can give you a chance to steer the interview your way. It is a tough job; but I saw it happen to quite a few people. Even if you don’t perform well in the interview, don’t lose heart. It is not your performance here that matters; what matters is your total score thus far. Though I have not heard of cases which failed miserably in interview and yet succeeded in the selection, it is not altogether an impossible thing to occur. Technically it is possible. For anybody who has performed well in the Prelims and Mains, it is very tough to foul it up. Put your best foot forward and win.