Civil Service is the career choice for millions of youth of our country. Every year more than a million young candidates compete for some 1000 to 1200 seats in various civil services under the union . There is a single entrance examination conducted for more than 24 services . Responsibility to conduct this examination has been vested with Union Public Service commission. So many of the times, this exam is also called UPSC exam or Civil Services Examination(CSE). Since 1979 this examination has been conducted in three stages, prelims, mains, and personality test. Prelims is just a screening examination and mains examination and personality test determines one’s final ranking in CSE as well as choice of service.
Prelims is one of the most competitive examinations of the world. Every year some 5 to 6 lakhs aspirants appear and only 15000- 18000 qualify to second stage i.e. Mains. Marks obtained in the Prelims do not count towards final rank. Failing in prelims de motivates the candidate and wastes one attempt, but success in Prelims only ensures entry into the mains examination .Therefore it should be prepared very carefully.
As per the notification of CSE 2017, which will be conducted on 18th June at different centres all over the country and whose forms can be filled online by 17 th March 2017, Prelims examination consists of two papers of 200 marks each called GS paper 1 and GS paper 2 and comprises of multiple choice questions (MCQ) . GS Paper 2 is colloquially called CSAT and of qualifying nature. Therefore success in prelims means success in paper 1 . GS Paper 1 comprises of 100 MCQs from six broad areas of General Studies (Current affairs, History & Culture, Geography, Polity, General Science , Environment and Economy) and marks obtained in this determines whether one qualifies to mains. For every correct answer 2 marks are awarded and wrong answers are penalised by 1/3rd negative marking. Cut off marks in prelims varies from year to year and ranges from 110 to 130. Cut off for CSE (Prelims ) 2016 was 116 out of 200.
These days Civil Services mains examination comprise of four papers of General Studies (Each paper of 250 marks) one paper of essay (250 marks) and two papers of 250 marks each of an optional subject from a list of subjects including almost all academic disciplines . Apart from these 7 papers , there are two compulsory language papers, an English and other vernacular language which are also of qualifying nature. Standard of these language papers is that of 10th class , so every aspirant is expected to clear them without much effort. But one should always check the standard of questions from the past year question papers. Caution is required in this regard because many of the times even some good candidates are seen to have flunked in this exam due to failure in language papers. Thus total marks on whose basis aspirant’ s success and final rank is determined are 2025, including 275 marks of Personality test .
What should be preparation strategy?
Many of the times, candidates come to me asking duration of preparation ,time frame to cover whole length and breadth of syllabus , role of optional subjects and necessity of coaching to qualify CSE .
My answer to all these questions has been, that CSE tests you holistic personality .Various stages of this exams are designed to test desirable personality traits and if one possesses all these traits then it may be qualified in 1800 hours of sustained hard work, which I call tapasya/ sadhna . This translates to one year of self preparation @ 5 hours per day. Although, there is no fit-all formula, but I consider it good enough time to qualify into CSE. And this competition can be very well qualified by self efforts . With the advent of technology all resources being available on line , coaching is not necessary .
G.S and Essay account for nearly 70% and Optionals account for about 30% of total marks of the mains examination. Although optionals account for just 30% of the weight of CSE but they play a crucial role in determining final rank. Reason being marks obtained in GS are in a very narrow range and range of marks obtained in optional is wide . This varies from 200 to 340 marks out of 500 in optional subjects while in GS most of the successful candidates score between 350 to 425 marks. Therefore optional subjects must be chosen with due care and confidence to displace more than 90% peers and not due to suggestion of friends or coaching institutes. Normally it should be the subject studied during graduation or post graduation . Over the years , it has been observed that many Science/ engineering background candidates opt for subjects very different from their temperament and wastes their energy and when they realize their mistake it is too late . To them , my advice is opt for those subjects ,which are near to your heart . If you are good in Physics ,or Chemistry or Electrical Engineering go for it , it will be scoring to you . Do not go by the rumours, use your intrinsic strength in deciding optionals. Every year , I meet lot of IIT /NIT graduates returning to Science optionals after wasting their precious attempts in subjects , which has not been their forte.
Test of holistic personality
This is most comprehensive examination conducted to test one’s overall personality. Personality is sum total of many desirable traits like sound body, sound mind, ability to see beyond the lines, ability to put one’s view point in a balanced and cogent manner without fear or favour, maintaining cool and calm demeanour in trying situations apart from alert and vibrant mind. I call it test of smartness and real knowledge. Real knowledge, not only dispels the clouds of darkness, but also sublimes ego and transforms one into a nobler, ethical person. That is what, Indian culture teaches us . When we say “vidya dadati vinayam”, knowledge brings humbleness. Many of the times most of us are not able to comprehend true meaning of knowledge . Ishvasyaupnishad says Avidyam mratyum tirtva Vidyamamritumshnate i.e. materialistic knowledge may pave the way for one’s material success but immortality is achieved by means of real knowledge which is called Vidya. And Vidya is all material knowledge minus ego. So I call CSE , a test of vidya (real knowledge) .
Appearing in CSE itself is a transformative and therapeutic experience for most of the aspirants. I consider it as one of the most precious opportunity available to our youth .Every eligible youth should plan to take it at least once , because it makes one knowledgeable and better human being and as a career choice provides a platform to realize one ‘s dreams .
(Writer is Chief Mentor ,Delhi Institute for Administrative Services ( DIAS ), country ‘s leading institute for civil services aspirants and Chair person DIAS INDIA edutech pvt ltd. )