Thorough subject knowledge and physical fitness is key to entering the Indian Forest Service.

The rapid economic growth has had a telling effect on the natural resources of the country. Conservation of forests and the wildlife are some of the foremost challenges before the nation now. But these very challenges have opened up a gamut of opportunities for people who are passionate about nature and the need to preserve it.

Though not as fashionable as the IAS and the IPS, the Indian Forest Service (IFS) has been gaining popularity over the last few years. According to Nihar Ranjan, a 2000 batch IFS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre, 60,000 - 70,000 candidates now apply for just about 60 to 80 posts every year.

This increase in number of applications not only indicates the increase in popularity of the examination, but also shows that its competitiveness has grown manifold.

The examination for the IFS, conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), has two parts to it. The first is the written examination which comprehensively tests the knowledge of the candidate in a number of subjects including General Studies. Each subject has two papers. All questions are essay types and require a fair bit of time management skills.

S. Balaji, a 1981 batch IFS officer and Chief Conservator of Forest, Tamil Nadu, says the standard of questions asked at the examination is just above the graduate level. The candidates should be crisp and precise in their writing and are expected to possess considerable knowledge in the given subject. The students are also expected to choose two optional papers of their choice from a list of 14.

These officers say that vigorous preparation for at least a year is necessary if one expects to crack the IFS examination; though success in the first attempt is not very easy. “One should be ready for multiple attempts at the paper, given the difficulty levels and the competition. Perseverance is a key virtue for those aspiring for the IFS,” says Mr. Ranjan.

Attending special coaching classes could be of great help as the examination requires a specific style of writing. These officers say that coaching helps grasp the pattern and the type of questions asked at the examination.

Vikas Chawla, who took the examination last year, says the examiners never ask direct questions in the paper and the most important challenge is to interpret what is being asked correctly.

“You must know the difference between words like ‘comment', ‘criticize', ‘elaborate' and so on. When they ask you to elaborate on something, you must do just that and not comment. This is the most challenging part of the exam.”

Once the candidate clears the examination, he or she has to undergo a personality test. This usually checks the alertness of the mind and leadership qualities as the job of a forest officer requires quick decision-making. “The candidates are required to be rational and sensitive to a host of issues connected to forest and environment,” says Mr. Balaji.

The candidate is also expected to have thorough knowledge in the area of his interest and should not be found wanting in his answers connected to the subject. After the candidate completes the personality test, his or her physical fitness is examined. This usually involves a 25-km walk for men and 14-km walk for women at the Delhi Zoo to be completed within four hours. IFS officers say that along with the preparation for the examination, the candidates should also get ready for the walk as it is mandatory to complete this test.

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