While the decision to appear for the UPSC Civil Services Exam may be easy, what follows afterwards is an overwhelming as well as humbling experience. For a beginner the initial months are spent just in understanding what this exam is about and figuring the right path to follow to reach their goal. I can say this with confidence because this is not just my story but every aspirant’s. When it comes to the IAS Exams, the MEANS you adopt will ultimately decide whether you reach the END!
Here I share a few tips that will guide you through the labyrinth of UPSC preparation:
One of the main reasons that students wander far and deep while studying for UPSC is that they do not pay heed to the syllabus. You neither need too vast a knowledge nor too profound. The UPSC needs people who know something about everything and not specialists. If you stick to the syllabus and understand exactly what they want, you will be able to limit you’re your preparation to things that matter.
Also, each subject has dynamic elements, some more than others, so being clear about the syllabus will also help you pick out the right news and put a cap on your current affairs preparation as well. On its own current affairs can be very extensive, but once you integrate it with the syllabus and the previous year’s questions, you will not have any trouble in selecting the news you need to read.
As an IAS officer, planning should be your forte. Put that skill to test right away by designing a strategy to follow for the remaining one year. Do not rely on coaching institutes for this task, remember, you know yourself best. Plan your studies in a way that helps you optimize your output. This should be easy once you understand the syllabus and structure of the exam. You can take inspiration from other toppers but alter their strategy to your personality.
There are tons of books and heaps of reading material for this coveted exam. As a result, finding the source that is most reliable, authentic and comprehensive becomes quite a task. My suggestion here would be to do a cursory reading of the books suggested by others and then pick the ones you feel are best suited. Do not buy books online until you have physically gone through them and feel they will be helpful in your prep. No matter which supplementary books you refer to, there is no alternative to NCERTs. Always start your prep from them and then move on.
Do not begin making notes the moment you start a certain subject. Consult atleast 1-2 sources besides the NCERT, highlight the important points as you read and then compile them into notes. I made the mistake of making my history notes by just reading the old NCERT and the reference books by R.S Sharma, Bipin Chandra etc., and later discovered the Tamil Nadu NCERTs which had lots of relevant information. As a result I had to make my notes all over again.
Devote the maximum time to making notes as this is what you will be referring to in the last few months of your prep. You will not have the time to go through all the books at this stage, therefore put everything that is important in your notes.
Also, make a separate section for the trivia at the end of your notes. Once you are done making notes, refer the NCERT of all classes from 6th to 12th and jot down minor things or the things in special boxes in a bullet form for quick revision.
When you begin studying, you will realize that even the simplest of topics has the widest of information available. As you read more, you tend to forget the old. Therefore make it a point to first revise the previous days notes before gathering new information on a topic. Revising everyday will take you less time than finishing an entire topic and then reading it again. For example, I made notes from PIB and Hindu everyday as part of my current affairs. The next day, before writing the new information, I would revise yesterday’s notes as well as give a cursory reading to all the notes before that. This helped me retain more information.
When you begin your prep, there will be lots of times when you would wish that you had paid more attention in school! For those who did, the prep becomes easier because they just have to build further on it and not start from scratch. There were a lot of topics I encountered for which I just had to study the advanced bits. But don’t lose heart if your concepts are not clear. There is ample time to read the NCERTs and understand them. At this age, your level of comprehension has increased and you will easily grasp the concepts from the junior class NCERTs. Do not attempt to study the advanced topics before you clear your basics. This approach will only dishearten you and make the otherwise easy topic appear difficult.
Subscribe to The Hindu/Indian Express as well as get the PIB app, the day you decide to appear for this exam. You may reserve different days for different subjects, but the newspaper is and should be a daily staple till the interview stage. Reading the news and staying up-to-date with current affairs is not only crucial as per the new trend of questions, it also helps in shaping your personality. Being well-read and having knowledge on a certain matter gives you an inherent confidence that reflects in your demeanor. Don’t just read the news, find the background, analyse it and then critique it too. This habit will also help you write better answers in the Mains, regardless of the subject as well as perform well in the interview.
The Civil Services exam is not called the mother of all exams for no reason! Preparing for it requires not just hard work and perseverance, but also altering your lifestyle. An important change to make would be to limit the use of social media as well as your social interactions with the world. You will have to get your priorities straight for the one year of your prelims prep and the six months of Mains afterwards. I initially thought I could balance the two, but soon realized my folly! It is difficult to keep tab of time once you are on social media and you end up missing your deadlines. You may keep some time for these things but remember to stick to that time limit.
Setting personal goals for the day as well as months is an excellent way to finish the syllabus in time and get the maximum out of your day. I found it extremely useful and beneficial in my prep. By setting deadlines and a time limit for everything, I was able to optimize my time. It helped me focus on my studies and flush out other redundant activities. Design a time-table for yourself and you will see the difference in both the quantity as well as quality of your studies.
The preparation for UPSC tends to tire you and there will be times when you feel like giving up. I too had such days during my preparation. But rather than giving up I tried to find ways to keep going. One thing that really helped me was listening to the topper’s interviews. Hearing about their journey, identifying with their challenges and realizing that they are as human as me, was a satisfying experience. It kept me on track and infused new motivation.
If like me, you too are doing self-prep, there will be times when you are unable to understand a concept or are bored of reading. To overcome this, I watched online videos for a lot of topics. Not only did they help me grasp a topic better, they also saved me time. For example, if reading and comprehending a topic took me an hour on my own, I could do the same by just watching a 15 minute video! Also, some people retain such information better than reading from books.
Hope you find these tips useful in your preparation.
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