The UPSC challenge

Several myths surround the UPSC examination, but here is what you need to do to succeed.

Updated - September 23, 2016 02:50 am IST

Published - January 24, 2016 05:00 pm IST

Sufficient practice, taking mock tests and a dose of good luck are needed to scale the exam. Photo: M.A.Sriram

Sufficient practice, taking mock tests and a dose of good luck are needed to scale the exam. Photo: M.A.Sriram

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) is the central authority that conducts various examinations to recruit candidates for various government services such as civil services, engineering services, defence services and so on. The civil services, however, have always had an added allure. Hence, the selection process is much more competitive.

Let us first try to understand the importance of civil services in a democracy such as India. For effective administration, it is vital that our political leaders are given non-partisan advice. Effective co-ordination is required between the various institutions of governance. Policy-making must be effective and regulated and able leaders are required at every level of administration. In addition to this, civil services executives must offer free, frank and unbiased advice to the government (irrespective of who is in power) to fulfil their responsibility to the public who elected the government.

Different options

Given the significance of the role played by civil service executives, it is only fair that recruitment to these services is done in a conservative manner. As of today, there are nearly 25 different services in the government that recruit their workforce based on the civil services exam conducted by the UPSC. This includes Indian Administrative Services (IAS), Indian Police Services (IPS), Indian Foreign Services (IFS), Indian Revenue Services (IRS), Indian Postal Services, Indian Railway Services, Indian Trade Services, among others.

More often than not, we hear about how difficult it is to crack the civil services exams. Is it for the highly intelligent only? Or for those with excellent academic records? Do people from engineering or medical background find it easier? Does one have to choose their graduation subject carefully to gain an upper hand? Does one need to study 16 hours a day every day for a year? Does one need to relocate to Delhi to find good coaching classes? The answer to all the above questions is a big NO.

In reality, clearing the civil services exam (CSE) has no shortcuts and there are no magic tricks. Students have to plan their study and work accordingly. Previous-year toppers have all come from various backgrounds and some of them hadn’t even scored a second class in their degrees prior to CSE. All toppers have had access to the same books that lakhs of other students did. The only thing they did differently was that they practised writing, took mock tests, were confident, and, of course, had a dash of good luck as well!

Anyone with a valid undergraduate degree and between 21 and 32 years of age (as of August 1 every year) is eligible to appear for the civil services exam. The upper limit for age is relaxed for people from certain categories (SC/ST, OBC, Disabled etc). General category candidates are allowed, maximum of six attempts at the exam while special category students are given more leniency.

There are several challenges before the UPSC aspirants — fear of exam, fear of unemployment, fear of failure, lack of information, lack of proper guidance and right resources to prepare for the exam. But one of the biggest challenges faced by students is the choice that they have to make — whether to move to Delhi and study there, or do self-study at home. This is a big decision and one that is often made without proper research. These days, there are several options available at home or online for UPSC coaching. Students, however, fear the new ways and tend to adhere to the tested ways, even if they are not convenient or fruitful.


Clearing the interview is the final hurdle in the civil services exams. The following guidelines are generally believed to be useful for tackling it:


Be polite and greet all five members on the interview board confidently.

Do not take a seat untill you’re asked to do so.

Maintain eye contact with your interviewer(s)

Before answering a question, take a few seconds to think through your answer and keep it short and to the point.

If you do not know the answer to a particular answer, it is better to admit it openly.

It is quite possible that interviewers may not agree with your opinions. Do not get very defensive.


Avoid fidgeting. Maintain a dignified posture and keep your hands and head steady.

Never resort to wild guesses or speculation.

While answering questions, do not give away your lack of confidence through your expressions or body gestures.

You should not come across as being arrogant or overconfident. That is a big minus.

Avoid unnecessary humour. Do not try to get overly friendly with the interviewers.

Do not leave the interview hall unless you’re asked to do so.

In summary, to become a civil service executive is a matter of great prestige. In order to be successful, one needs to be methodical and systematic about their study plan. It is extremely important to turn a deaf ear to myths and focus on what is real. Practice is of course vital.

The writer is head of UPSC classes,

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