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A small note for IAS aspirants - Civil Services Examination

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Wanted Praja to host an often requested note on civil services examination. Hope it is okay to host this one-off small note for IAS aspirants.

This is a small note attempting to answer certain questions that arise in the minds of IAS/IPS aspirants in their starting of their preparation for the Examination. At the outset, I must thank Amlan A. Biswas,  Vipul Kumar, and Randeep; my colleagues in the IAS/IPS in the Karnataka cadre, for their valuable inputs.

If you have decided to take the Civil Services Examinations (CSE), popularly known as IAS exam, conducted by the UPSC, then, accept my congratulations in taking this bold decision. It is bold, because, you will be competing with more than 3 lakh applications. This examination is quoted to be the toughest in the world. But, it is possible to clear this examination with zeal, confidence and Planning. You need not be a genius to clear this examination.

In this notes, I have attempted to answer certain queries that many of the IAS/IPS colleagues and I keep getting, from many aspirants. I have tried to make it very informal and to the point. I have avoided duplicating such information which is available in the internet/public domain.  So, this is not a comprehensive note. This will give you what you don’t get on the internet! For rest, either Google or Bing! (Aspirants are expected to have that much of interest and knowledge in getting maximum info from the internet!) 

The basics:

Civil services examinations (CSE) is conducted by the Union Public service commission of India (UPSC/website: every year. It selects the candidates thru the CSE, and recommends to the Government of India to appoint to the posts of civil service. The details of services are found in websites.  IAS is the most preferred service, followed by IPS, IFS etc. The other group A and Group B services details can be seen in internet.

The examination has 3 stages, Prelims, Mains and Interview. Each of these stages requires different style of preparation. Prelims require vast reading and alertness, while Mains requires intensive study. Interview may require little coaching to communicate your personality to the Interview board correctly and confidently. The UPSC appears to look for a person concerned about the world he lives in, apply a fair sense and logic in his observation to arrive at conclusions and then implement them amidst the constraints.

The common queries at the starting of the preparations are:

  1. I want to do IAS. When should I start preparations? How many years are required to clear the exam from the date of my starting of preparations?  How many hours I should work per day? (Duration of preparation).

You can dream of taking IAS examination even from 10 years of age. But, preparation duration counts from the date you finalise for prelims. From this day onwards, IAS must be your 1st priority, whether you are studying or working. It normally takes 2 years of study from that day till you clear the examination. But, it is very much possible to clear it in the first attempt itself.

Mind you, you may be working or studying.  In such cases, unless you bring IAS as priority number 1, well above your work or studies, you can’t be said to be preparing for IAS. You are at the best tinkering with IAS exam!

In these 2 years, normally you sit twice for the CSE. In the first attempt you learn the tricks of the exam, and become confident and hone your skills. The second attempt you clear the exam, unless you have made any avoidable error somewhere. But, there are quite a good number of persons who have cleared it the 1st attempt itself.

The number of hours you put on preparation, during this 2 years needs to be ATLEAST 6 hours.  This 6 hrs is in addition to attending coaching classes, combined study etc. This 6 hrs is your undisturbed time, alone, where only you and your IAS are there.  

  1. Can I do IAS along with my work? What are the chances of me getting thru? I am from poor background. How can I clear the exam? If not what options I have?

Whether you are rich or poor does not matter much. If you have the qualities that will make you clear CSE, then the same qualities will easily help you in surmounting problems regarding finances. I have seen poor brilliant students able to get scholarship and study abroad. Managing money is not an issue. In the worst case, if you have cleared the prelims and need money to proceed further, contact me. I know of philanthropists who can help you out.

You can be working/studying, and still prepare for IAS, as long as work/studies are not your priority and IAS is!  You may require 3 months leave before the mains. Work or studies are just manageable distractions for a person who has kept IAS as priority.

Even after all preparations, if you don’t get IAS, don’t get dejected. Atleast you are satisfied that you gave your best. You won’t repent later! And life goes on. In India, more 99% of successful people in life are not IAS officers! 

  1. What subjects should I choose? What are scoring subjects? Does literature assure you selection? Which language I should write the exam? (Subject details)

Subjects are like cars. Don’t buy a car or select a subject because it worked well for somebody. Will anybody buy a car just because somebody recommended? Nobody buys a car without liking it! Same way, never choose a subject unless you like it!

Because, only if you like it, you will think about it so much that you will come up with new/original thoughts. And UPSC exactly wants that!

If you don’t like it, you can’t think new ideas in that, and so, do not take it. If you like many subjects or don’t like any subject, then you can do the following.

Take the list of subjects from the list.

  1. Buy the last 10 years question paper for all those papers. Yes do that for ALL subjects.
  2. Go thru the questions patiently. You will get an idea about what is asked in each subject. Now you are ready to select the subject.
  3. Now, take the subject list in your hand. Strike out of 50% the subjects which you do not like/no interest.
  4. You are left with 50% balance. In that strike out half of the subjects which you feel are too tough for you to understand. You are left with fewer subjects now.
  5. Now, again reduce by half, by removing those subjects which do not give room for creative answers, or those which you are not comfortable.
  6. Repeat this till you end up with just 2 subjects.

Thus the selection of subjects is not actually the selection, but elimination of subjects which you are not comfortable with till you reach the left out subjects, which are best suited for you!

If you think that you do not have liking for any subject, then you should think of joining a good job somewhere else, and forget IAS! IAS expects that you will have interest in things around you, and master in certain subjects, and have basic knowledge about all subjects!

Do not worry about ‘scoring subjects”, ‘literature’ ‘writing the exam in Hindi, Kannada’ etc. Because, nobody has been able to establish the connection between these issues and success in IAS, till now!  

  1. Is coaching necessary? How long one should get coaching? Which is best? Delhi? Hyd’bad? B’lore? (Details of coaching)

Coaching helps, provided that you have read the subject already well once. Thus, coaching is like polishing a diamond. If you polish the normal stone, it won’t shine like diamond! Nor any polisher can make diamond out of stone! So understand both the limitations and advantages of coaching. Coaching is not a substitute for working hard and reading yourself.

Get coached at a place where serious applicants are many. That helps you to benchmark where you stand and boosts your confidence. For that reason only Delhi is better. But, if you are not able to go to Delhi, do not worry. There are many persons who have cleared IAS without going to Delhi! 

  1. Any advice to aspirants?

Before deciding see if you have a strong cause to go for IAS. Else you may not get the required stamina to struggle hard for 2 years without an assurance. Secondly, believe that you can make it. You will. Thirdly, work out a strategy. 

You can’t complete the syllabus however intelligent you are. It is like an ocean. So better you divide the syllabus into 3 categories, as A, B, C. 

A: those portion of the syllabus from which questions may come this year. C: portion from which questions may not come this year, as it has come last/recent years. B: in-between A and C. 

Yes, you will realise that, the ABC category varies year to year depending on the previous year question paper. This way of forecasting the question is seen as a smarter way of studying.  Please note that, when we all tend to prepare those portions we are comfortable with, and neglect that portion which we are not comfortable. But, the question paper doesn’t respect our choices and feelings! So better we prepare based on what questions are likely to come. 

A word of caution here: Please do not think that with shallow knowledge one can pass the CSE. The classification of ABC category was only to relatively differentiate the intensity. It’s important to be truthful to oneself to clear the CSE.  

Secondly, try to meet IAS/IPS officers. Meeting them will give you an idea about what they are doing. It will also motivate you strongly. You can contact them and tell them that you want to meet them for the sake of motivation. They will be normally glad to meet you. In case the nearest IAS/IPS officer is not ready to meet you, then in that case, I am available to meet you without prior appointment on every Monday and Saturday, 3.30pm to 5pm, if I am in the office. You can call my office at: 080-2225 3856 (Mr. Babu) to check if I am available in the office or not. At times you may have to wait as there may be many visitors.

That’s all at this stage. Other details like; what books to read, which coaching class etc., are very subjective and hence no point in answering them. What worked for me may not work for you. You may get help from the internet on such things. There is so much guidance available from professional agencies in the internet.

If anybody has specific questions that are not covered on the internet, or not present in this note, you may email such questions to me. But, kindly avoid questions on selecting the coaching centre or details of books. Also do not ask questions about interview or about nature of job of IAS/IPS. I will answer questions once you clear the prelims.

Please keep in mind that if you don’t get a reply within 7 days, then either your question’s answer is in the internet or the question is irrelevant at this stage. In that case do not resend same questions.

Thanks and best wishes! 

P. Manivannan


Naveen's picture

Thanks Mr Manivannan

147 users have liked.

This is a useful guide for those wishing to pursue IAS /IPS /IFS, etc. Many thanks Mr Manivannan for posting this.

murali772's picture

any comments, Sir?

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Do you want to comment on this comment excerpted from here, Sir?

Granted that IAS/ IPS officers are selected from amongst the brainiest in the country. But, however brainy a person, I expect it will take a bit of time to come to grips with the intricacies of a totaly new portfolio. And, by the time you get to understand 'pcu', it's time to move on to BWSSB to figure out 'tmcft/ hr', or to BESCOM to figure out the difference between 'kvarh' and 'kwhr'. And, if you don't have an engineering background, it's that much more difficult.

Not surprising therefore that Mr Narayana Murthy was forced to make the observation recently that “In areas where public governance is involved, we have hardly made any progress”.  And, amongst his cures is to abolish the system of generalised administrators under the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and replace it with specialists under a new ‘Indian Management Service’.

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