Preparing for the Civil Services Examination in times of Covid 19; A Detailed Overview by Mrs. Shubhra Ranjan

Mrs. Shubhra Ranjan, Director of Shubhra Ranjan IAS Study Pvt. Ltd.  

The Corona crisis has disrupted almost every sector in unprecedented manner. The impact is visible on the education sector and most importantly, the students preparing for competitive examinations such as the civil services. Students in this field were dependent on the coaching industry and the classroom format for studying. Let us get to know the challenges faced by this sector and what they plan to do to combat them from one of the pioneers of the industry, Mrs. Shubhra Ranjan. Mrs. Ranjan is the director of Shubhra Ranjan IAS Study Pvt. Ltd. She’s helping a number of students  to study and get their names in the coveted final selection list of the top 10 ranking students.

Why is Civil Services Entrance Exam considered most prestigious examination in India? Can you shed some light on the nature and structure of the exam?

The Civil Services Examination is one of the toughest yet the most prestigious examinations in India today owing to its intrinsic structure of the examination and given the large number of aspirants attempting the same. Each year, an approximate 1 million students appear for the examination which is conducted in 3 parts; the prelims, the mains and the interview stage. Every successive stage filters out candidates and finally around 800 students make it to the final list. Keeping the high level of filtration in mind, it is important to understand that the examination is highly competitive and one needs to understand its requirements completely while preparing for the same.

What is the right time to start preparation for Civil Services Examination? What is the best medium for preparation?

If one is completely clear about their life goals and career choices, then they can start preparing for the examination from 12 grade itself. Ideally though, students start seriously preparing for the examination after completing their graduation which is also mandatory requirement to appear for the civil services examination. Hence, a student preparing for the exams after completing his final year or even a year later, it is not said to be late.

Conventionally speaking, the classroom format of education is considered to be better, since students can interact better with the faculty members and other students, and can thus gauge themselves better. An offline environment on the other hand can make students feel the heat of the examinations and they may have to deal with it all by themselves.

However, at times it may not be practical for aspiring students to leave the comfort of their city and coming to the study hubs such as Delhi for preparation. Moreover, nowadays, there is plenty of material videos and online guidance available on the internet. Also, navigating through the huge amount of information overload online can be a daunting task. Today, it is important to know what practices should not be followed more than what is to be done. This is where our online courses come into the picture.

What are the common mistakes aspirants commit when they start preparing for the exam? Why it is often said that preparation for this exam take 2-3 years or more?

This may sound surprising but the biggest mistake that students makes is taking the examination too seriously. I do not deny that this examination does need a certain level of seriousness and hard work. But overdoing the same will cost far too much in the long run. Students need to understand that this examination is actually one of rejection and not that of selecting the best. Those who commit lesser mistakes in relation to others are in the list.

For instance, if for a particular subject, you decided to check the reference list of previous candidates who have given the examination and also checked all their sources, remember that all of them will not work for you. Practically, it is not possible for you to study everything from all the different sources for just one subject, when there are others to study as well. At this stage, you need the right guidance as to what you should study and what can be avoided. Also, students need to realize this; someone getting an average accuracy percentage of 20%, 50%, 60% and 80% across four subjects has lesser chances of making it to the list as compared to another student who is scoring 45-50% across all subjects. This means that you need to know something about all the subjects and not just master one of them.

What can be done to minimize the gestation time to prepare for the exam?

Having a certain level of clarity about the examination is a must. Go through the previous years’ papers and understand the demands of the UPSC examinations. Know what you will be dealing with and then jump into the preparations. Also, my approach to the previous years’ papers is different. I feel students need to first understand the syllabi, sources and the subjects. Without understanding them, going through the papers will not prove very helpful or insightful.

Initially, a subtle reading of the papers will be enough. Once that’s done, students should finalize the source of their studies and begin preparations. They can always refer to the question papers again whenever they feel the need to. This will also help them understand which section of the paper carries more weightage and what questions are asked more. In the 2nd reading of the same source, try to clarify each and every concept as thoroughly as you can and understand the importance of the different sections. Finally, in the 3rd reading, make notes of all important aspects and of the facts that you feel you will forget easily.  This will complete your study cycle.

Do not try to achieve perfection in the first reading and start making notes there itself. This may not help much and can be demotivating as well. Ideally, try to make a time table for studying daily. Also, set achievable targets as that can be a big motivator to study more. For instance, you can have an initial study schedule of 3 hours and then increase it to 4-5 hours daily and go further from there. Keep in mind here that once you increase the study hours, do not go back. Consistency is key for this examination.

Break the mammoth syllabus into easily doable fractions and give it your best. Lastly, remember that some of you may take more time compared to others but keep giving your best every day. The rest will automatically fall into place.

Given that selection of optional subjects is often considered vital for cracking the exam, what criteria must be kept in mind while choosing optional subject?

True, it is very vital to choose a good optional subject. The optional subjects you select will give you added points and thus, help you achieve your desired rank. Look into all the permissible subjects and then apply the following filters:

  1. Your interest in the subject and also your subjects during graduation
  2. Availability of good faculty for the optional subjects.
  3. Availability and scope of the sources available to study for the optional subjects.
  4. The overlapping of the subjects with the general studies papers.

If all of the above is available then you are certain to get an edge over other aspirants.

Ma’am, given your 18 years of vast experience of guiding future civil servants in India, what teaching methodology/pedagogy do you adopt that has created so many success stories?


The reason for our consistent track record of producing toppers is a team effort. Each teacher at Shubhra Ranjan IAS has a deep understanding of what the examination demands and the changing trends. We look at integration of knowledge from diverse fields, follow the best available and the latest resources rather than just conventional ones and incorporate them in our class notes. To check the progress of students we have mentors in addition to faculties who guide students in answer writing, completing the targets so that student experience is enhanced. Before the examination, our quality enrichment programs help the students revise vast syllabus and update the current events.

Given that Covid-19 crisis has fundamentally disrupted the education sector which has shifted learning to online medium, how well are you prepared to deal with these challenges?


I believe disruptions are the biggest source of opportunities. Mankind has faced disruptions constantly since time immemorial and has always risen to the challenge. We at Shubra Ranjan IAS consider ourselves lucky to have this opportunity in these tough times. We are constantly working towards shifting our modes of education from offline to online from the last few years itself. As such, online education is not something new for us. And given our vast experience, we have been able to remove many of the obstacles that students may face when it comes to learning remotely. While classrooms do have a certain advantage in the form of peer-to-peer knowledge sharing & doubt clarification, an inherent discipline and a dedicated environment for studying, the same is also slowly being adopted online. We are trying to bring each of these experiences to the online space. For instance, after every online class we have a doubt clearing session and a face to face interaction time with faculties.

Our classes follow a structured pattern and we also have mock tests online at regular intervals. This compels students to follow the online sessions religiously even while studying from home. We regularly share performance analysis with the students to let them know how they are faring. This will also help them take responsibility of their own preparations and strive to work better.

In addition to the above, we take responsibility of all stages in a comprehensive manner by integrating our Prelims and Mains preparation with objective and subjective test series. A unique feature is the availability of our faculties for one to one and group discussion with students. And in order to maintain the quality of those discussions, we have restricted number of students in our courses.

There has been a proliferation of online educational platforms. What differentiates Shubhra Ranjan IAS from these platforms?

Our online platform that you see today is a result of five years of rigorous exercise along with a lot of research and development. We have incorporated the suggestions from all sources including our faculties and students. Doubt clearance sessions, individual face to face conversation with faculties and group discussions can all be done on our platform itself. Also, we offer objective and subjective test series on our online platform itself. Then there are faculty dashboards, guidance blogs, performance analysis matrix and many other such tools. This helps students have a streamlined approach to their exam preparation.

And in order for all these tools to work best we ensure that our faculties are available for student interaction. This is where limiting the students for our online classes has helped. Unlike many others out there, we are not looking to merely increasing our subscriber base on our online platform, we believe in offering quality and hence limit the numbers.

Also, we have adopted the approach of establishing regional centers at many prominent locations across the country where students can prepare for the competitive examinations. Currently, we have centers in Pune, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad, along with our main center in Delhi. Further, we are in talks with prospective partners to establish regional centers in other parts of the country as well.

What is your message for the students?

Successful people don’t do different things but do things differently. Smart work will always triumph over dull, directionless hard work. So though this examination is  the toughest in India, student with proper guidance, perseverance, motivation and diligence will always find their names in the coveted list.

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