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How to prepare for Civil Services Exam

How to prepare for Civil Services Exam
Highlights

You need to revise the entire syllabus at least three to four times before the exams. And one cannot go through the books again and again. When you...

Civil Services Exam (CSE) needs a lot of dedication and hard work. Well-planned daily routine and strategised preparation will help in cracking the exam.
Regularity
In daily routine there is not any ideal time to study because it has to be suited with the needs and requirement of the aspirant. But regularity must be there. Even if you are studying for 5-6 hours which is the bare minimum, then you have to be very regular till you are finally selected for the service. As there are long breaks between the stages of the selection process, viz., prelims, mains and interview - most of the students are very casual and they don't devote time to studies. The key is that one should be very regular in studies until one gets service of his choice.
Daily routine
The selection process being a long one and since at every stage the focus is different, the routine preparation varies. Generally, I am an early riser; I used to get up between 6 and 6.30 am. By 7 am I used to start studying. I had divided my day in three slots each of three hours. It was a bit flexible kind of routine. I used to take out three hours between seven and twelve and then twelve and six and then six and twelve. In these three hour slots, two hours were intensive. On an average, five to six hours study is a must. I used to allot two to three hours every day to optional and one subject of General studies. I would advise candidates to take out two to three hours twice a month to practice essays. The optional subject should be studied daily. History should not be left for too long. Tests are very important so one should take them every week. One should complete the syllabus five-six days ahead of the test. This will improve his capacity to recall things and he will feel at ease during the exam because during that time you cannot revise everything.
Objective of study
The core objective is not to get a degree in that subject but to clear and get a good rank in the UPSC exam. For that you will have to understand the nature of the question paper. What they are expecting and what will get you marks. The pattern of questions asked by UPSC has changed from what it was five years back.
Now they are very specific. They demand analysis of specific areas so you need to have a broad understanding of all the topics. But, in few areas that are given in the syllabus you need to have an in-depth knowledge of the subject. The clarity of concept is very important; your thinking and reasoning abilities need to be developed so that when a question is asked you are not confused on the topic and you can address what is being asked. You can't afford to be too vague and generalist while writing the answers. Because now they are asking a ten marks questions of 150-200 words. You have to be very specific in what the question is how well you understand it. You need to have a very clear understanding of the concept of what is asked. You have to breakdown various complex concepts into simple ones and correlate with various other factors. This will help you enrich the presentation of your answers.
Notes
You need to revise the entire syllabus at least three to four times before the exams. And one cannot go through the books again and again. When you are reading for the first or the second time you should make notes, in a simplified manner based on your understanding of the subject.
It should not be very superfluous or made in a ritualistic manner. And when you are covering the topic for the third time you should make mini notes. In this way, you might be able to revise the entire paper in a week. By November, you should have the notes of every subject specially the tougher ones, so that before exams in a very short period of time you are able to revise it. Note making should be a very personalised kind of thing based on your needs and requirements. Borrowed notes might not be helpful to you.
Writing pattern
Candidates often have doubts whether they should write answers in point form or in paragraph form. There is no fixed pattern because UPSC is not asking you to write in any of the forms. You should write in a manner in which you are most comfortable with. If you have enough facts then obviously you should write your answers in points. If the paper is very argumentative you have to develop arguments. The writing pattern depends on the demand of the question. Writing is the most important part of UPSC exams as out of 2025 mark 1750 marks are based on descriptive answers. It has to be supplemented with clarity of thought. Roughly, you get seven minutes to answer a question. The level of thinking should be such that within a minute the answer must be formed in mind and within next six minutes it should be penned down.
Essay
When one starts preparing for exams, his preparation for essays and interview also starts. You need to clear your thought process, make things simple, analyse them from different aspects. This will help you in writing essays. The structure and flow of an essay is very important. Flow in essay will only come when you have clarity in your mind and your concepts are clear. In a month one should practice at least two essays. UPSC looks for how comprehensive, concise, clear, innovative and original your essay is. Essays are not about facts and figures or flowery language; it's a myth and needs to be dismantled at the very initial stage. Simple and easy to read essays fetch you good marks.
Faith and confidence
Approaching pigeonhole principle is not good for this exam. Whatever you study at the initial stage it helps you in the later stages. The nature of the exam is subjective. People generally think of cracking the exam in one go and, if not, then of not taking it anymore. UPSC has given you six attempts. So the commission itself is not sure that they can select the deserving candidate in the first time. It is not an objective exam. So even if you are ready and confident, there are chances that you won't be given service of your choice or make it to the final list. So, in that case, don't get disheartened, don't question your abilities, and take the exam because they are giving you six attempts. Having faith and confidence in one's abilities plays a very important role in the exams.
Stress management
Feeling stress affects your creativity and restricts your thought process. Try to relax by developing some hobbies. I used to chat with friends on events, very constructively. A Stress Buster hobby also helps during the interviews.
Interview
Interview is the grand finale. So basic things that one should keep in mind while taking the interview is that you should be honest and sincere in answering questions, because the job that you are being considered for is one of the toughest jobs. Casual approach will not work. They look for sincerity and honesty. Don't bluff; rather present your real self. It is not merely a question and answer session. Try to display positive traits of your personality. It is not the test of knowledge; rather they see the verbal part of communication. They test your confidence while you speak. The check your grasping power, your understanding of the issue. The candidate gets prepared to take the interview while preparing for the earlier stages of the exam, only fine-tuning or polishing is required. Interview is just a way to check what your personality is. If you are asked vague questions it is just to check how you respond to them. Similarly they might be testing you under stress.

A K Mishra - The writer is Director, Chanakya IAS Academy

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