Cracking the highly competitive civil services exam is a daunting task. A structured and focussed approach will help you attain your goal.
The Civil Services Examination is conducted by Union Public Services Commission (UPSC) for recruitment to various Civil Services, including Indian Administrative Services (IAS), Indian Foreign Services (IFS), Indian Police Services (IPS), among others. The Indian Civil Servants serve as the backbone of the administration that runs the country. India is a country with the most diverse culture in the world, and the UPSC demands officers who understand this diversity and are sensitive to the various social needs.
It is a position that awards power and commands respect, but with it comes great responsibility. The examination process is structured in such a way that it handpicks those candidates who can apply their knowledge and understanding in carrying out these responsibilities in the most effective way.
Employing what is regarded as one of the toughest screening processes in the world, the UPSC selects the Civil Servants through a three stage process — the Preliminary examination, consisting of two objective-type papers (General Studies and Aptitude Test), and the Mains examination, consisting of nine papers of conventional (essay) type followed by the Personality Test (Interview).
The new pattern for Prelims was introduced in 2011 — a twin paper objective answer test on aptitude and awareness, which revolves around a vast array of topics. The new pattern is designed to understand a person’s analytical and reasoning skills rather than just testing his/her ability to memorise and replicate.
Prelims Paper I tests your General Awareness and how connected you are with the latest happenings around the world. Questions are usually related to:
History of India and Indian National Movement; Current events of National and international importance; Indian and World Geography - Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World; Economic and Social Development — Sustainable development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives; General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change; Indian Polity and Governance — Constitution, Political system, Panchayati raj, Public policy, Rights issues and General Science.
It is natural for a student to be overwhelmed by the syllabus of General Studies paper-I. But, it has to be noted that the UPSC is moving away from checking the rote capability of the students and instead has started checking the analytical skills of the student. For example: 2011 saw a wave of protests with many following Gandhian ideologies of Satyagraha. The 2012 Civil Services paper tried to test the candidates’ understanding of this issue and their opinion on the same by posing the quesiton: “How are Gandhian Ideals like Satyagraha, Swadhinata and Swaraj relevant to contemporary Indian Democracy?”
Prelims Paper II designed to test your skills in comprehension, interpersonal skills, communication, logical reasoning, analytical ability, decision making, problem solving, basic numeracy & data interpretation. Broadly, around half the questions in the last two years, were from Reading Comprehension and Verbal Ability. A good percentage of the remaining questions test Logical Reasoning, Basic Calculation, Quantitative Aptitude and Decision Making. Remember that an aptitude paper always tests your inherent common sense. Thus, performing well in this section is not contingent on the number of arcane formulae a student memorises, but on the application of the logic underlying each concept.
Once you have cleared the Prelims, you become eligible for the ‘Mains’, which is a true test of your in-depth knowledge and writing skills. It consists of nine papers, two qualifying and seven ranking in nature. Out of the seven ranking papers, four papers are from two optional subjects that have to be selected from a pack of 26 subjects. There are proposals to do away with these two optional subjects but it has not been confirmed yet.
Candidates who pass the qualifying papers are screened according to marks and selected candidates are called for an interview. The Interview for the Civil Services is aimed at assessing whether a candidate is suitable to be a competent administrator or not. It is not an assessment of the specialised or general knowledge that has already been tested in the Prelims and Mains, but the mental ability of the candidate which is judged by the clarity of expression, appreciation of different points of view, balance of judgment and leadership qualities.
The general tip passed on through civil service success stories revolves around in-depth knowledge. Though there has been some paradigm shift in terms of scoring in Prelims, thanks to the aptitude section, the trend still continues with a traditional preparation for the general studies in Prelims done hand in hand with the Mains along with its optional. It therefore becomes easier to focus on the wide array of topics ranging from History to Geography to Economic and Social Development, Polity and Governance with current events and general science. This wide array clubbed with the comprehension, reasoning, mental ability for numeracy and the English language makes for a daunting task.
The exam has never been about remembering all topics but understanding concepts, and this has to be done smartly and swiftly.
The writer is the founder of Byju’s Classes, and has been training Civil Services aspirants across the country.