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Friday, February 8, 2008

Toppers talk to you

Dateline Mussoorie. The campus of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration was bustling with activity. The new batch of IAS probationers had just arrived at the academy, a couple of weeks before on September 8. It was an altogether different life for them after years of preparation and a gruelling competitive examination. A picturesque hill station, an academy with excellent infrastructure, hostel rooms with a PC with the Internet to surf on, activities ranging from physical training to horse riding and a whole lot of cultural associations they are busy right from 5.30 in the morning till 9.30 in the night!

Please come after 9.30 pm, whoever I met during the day pleaded. I had to comply.

At night, the Mall was empty. There were no rickshaw pullers, no taxis and no tourists, owing to an off season which has robbed the hill station of its liveliness. I had to scale about three kilometres from the Mall to the LBSNAA, that too for the second time in the same day.

Expecting sleepy hostels after a day full of activities it was a surprise to see the probationers still on their feet some watching the Sahara Cup, some busy with a mess meeting, an orchestra was playing on in one of the hostel rooms and some were cooling their heels after their first riding session.

RITA SINGH

Rita could be aptly described as exceptional, in the true sense of the word. Born and brought up in Canada she did her graduation from Delhi and moved on to IIT-Kanpur where later she worked for a couple of years on a research project.

I didnt know what to do. Life was little disturbed by the yet-to-be-decided renunciation of my citizenship (she was a Canadian citizen). I had already applied for an MBA in American universities. Till 1992 I wanted to go back. I was in two minds regarding my citizenship go back to Canada or stay in India.

Then I changed my mind. I decided to stay in India. See, you are a second class citizen in Canada. Thats what I didnt want to become again. Though I have been here for quite a long time, I still dont feel totally accepted here too. The upkeep of social values are still considered important here. It was at this point I thought about the Civil Services. Others do it for blunt reasons social prestige, respect, power, monetary benefits etc etc. For me, the Civil Services was a passport into social acceptability. Then you have an aura of respectability about you. People accept your labour rather than you. Of course, that may be a secondhand way to get incorporated into the social system, but it is enough for me, sighs Rita.

At one point she was on the verge of being disowned by the country where she was born and brought up and discarded by the country where her roots lie. Having won a major part of the battle, shes quite happy and content that here at LBSNAA people have stopped listening to my accent, the way I live, I dress and whatever is associated with me.

With the identity crisis looming large how did she manage to prepare for the Civil Services?

I started in a very haphazard way, without consulting anyone or anything.

For Rita victory came a little late, for she had many battles to be fought and won. For my first and second attempts I hadnt really made up my mind. I was semi-serious. By the third attempt I was very sure that I wanted the Civil Services and I got 238th rank that time and was allotted a post in the Indian Information Service. This was my fourth and last chance and I was ranked 6th. That too with a distinction she was the topper among girls.

I was curious about her optional subjects. She was a Maths graduate and then she was at IIT and later she was also interested in joining an MBA course in America.

Psychology and English Literature.

It was a surprise. She was a Maths graduate and Maths was widely considered as a high-scoring subject.

It was just out of inclination, nothing else, she smiles.

See, I told you that there was no one to guide me. My parents didnt know a thing about the exam. I should have been told that English Literature is not a scoring subject. And I definitely want to warn prospective candidates against this subject. Scoring 50 per cent in English Literature is an uphill task, it is almost impossible.

Then how did she manage?

I dont know. Somehow, it seems, I have broken some records.

But Psychology is a scoring subject, she adds.

She took coaching from Vajiram & Rao for Psychology, for her third attempt. It was pretty good, she recalls while talking about the coaching classes. They were very down to earth. My problem was that being from a research background I was too research oriented. I tend to delve deep into books and journals. Thats not the way. You have to be very professional about it.

The Mains exam is an applied one. You must know the requirements of the exam. It is a process of bringing out how to apply what you know about academic subjects in real work, specially in the Indian context.

Both my subjects were totally new to me which made me to start right from the fundamentals. In the process of mugging up everything, I ended up reading a lot on these subjects. You have to get the right books, they hold the key.

What she has to say is precise. Understand the subject. Orient yourself towards the Indian context and how to apply it.

For example, in Psychology there is topic called social deprivation the underprivileged classes, what psychological consequences they suffer. You can quote a lot from western studies, since in the west the topic has been widely written about. But you are not supposed to do that. You have to talk about the underprivileged in India, in this specific socio-cultural system. This you have to study and present in an original and constructive way giving solutions.

Even in English Literature, you have to be India-specific, though it seems impossible. Suppose you are studying TS Eliots Waste Land, you can talk about spiritual aridity, but you are supposed to connect it to the Indian context too.

For general studies, limit your scope of study. Dont spread yourself too much you are not supposed to do research in various topics, not start studying science & technology. Just pick up one or two good books and go through them in order to gain an insight into the topic. Thats more than enough.

She concentrated on reading a daily newspaper and a financial newspaper everyday to keep up-to-date on current affairs. I dont suggest reading magazines for the written exam. They are for interviews.

For the essay paper, it is advisable not to do any extra preparation. You ought to be spontaneous and fresh. Here you have to write on a subject you cannot possibly prepare for. The topic I chose was Truth is lived not taught, leaving all the heavy topics like the United Nations and Education in India today. I got 143 marks out of 200. In the previous attempt I got 160, which was pretty exceptional.

How about her studying hours?

I dont think you should study more than 6-9 hours. Because people get stuck. Going beyond 6-9 hours means you are inviting more stress, you need to refresh yourself after long hours of study.

I studied perfectly alone, except for the classes at Vajiram & Rao. If you think a group will help, go ahead. But personally I feel it is a waste of time. You tend to talk too much, you get divergent opinions and views, your concentration scatters. What you need is to know what the exam is about. Then get in touch with good people who know about the exam and could guide you. But studying in groups on a consistent basis is not good for the preparation.

Manish Singh

Manish, who hails from Madhya Pradesh, was an engineering student at BITS-Pilani. He had valid reasons for coming to Delhi. Delhi is the place you get all the information, coaching centres and lot of dedicated students taking the Civil Services exam. I had friends who were taking this exam and staying in Delhi.

So its rather obvious that he applied in Delhi University and joined the law classes.

He cleared his third attempt ranking 8th, the first and second attempts taking him only till the interview and Mains levels respectively.

There is something interesting about his second optional. He took Geography for the Prelims, leaving behind Instrumentation (the subject he had at BITS) and Maths Maths because he was fed up with it. He had planned to take Electrical Engineering as his second optional but couldnt because someone with whom he was supposed to prepare for the subject had left Delhi. So he had to settle for Anthro, that too after giving the Prelims!

Basically what helped me was the preparation during my first attempt. That time I had put in lot of hard work and that helped in all my following attempts.

For the general studies paper (it has three parts) the best material which he found was IGNOUs Modern India booklets. They dont cover the whole syllabus, but are enough to take care of major areas. For the remaining topics I relied on guides and coaching materials.

Reading newspapers and magazines regularly is considered as a necessity among the candidates. Manish was no exception. Regular reading will surely pay, he recalls. In the end you have your own list of topics from which questions are likely to be asked. You can also refer to the shortlist provided by various coaching institutes. Since they are in this business for long years they know better; they give you an idea as to what are the major areas where you should focus on.

The law classes at DU had helped him while preparing for the polity part in the general studies paper. Manish has taken his coaching classes seriously and relied a lot upon the material prepared by them. He had access to many of such materials through his friends all from the Jubilee Hall, which is considered as the mecca of competitive examinations.

According to Manish newspapers which are less spicy and more informative will help while preparing for the essay paper. Take a story, read it and then try to write it yourself. You can also identify areas from where topics are expected, and finally concentrate on two-three areas.

Moving on to his optional subjects he says that there is no consolidated material where you get everything for the Geography paper I which is a theory-based one. Depending on topics you have to rely on different books. Dont read the whole book. But focus on the areas which are mentioned in the syllabus.

Geography paper II requires a wide reading. Other than standard books, Yojana and relevant materials in newspapers/ magazines will make good reading. For paper II you have to be slightly inventive. Here you have to supplement your answers with maps, diagrams and dates etc and try to make it more up-to-date.

Try to be more geographical in your presentation. Tackle the problems region-wise. I believe that will get you good marks. For the Anthro papers he entirely relied on coaching materials. I didnt go through any books other than the notes provided by Interactions.

NEELESH KUMAR

Neelesh Kumar is a civil servant in the making with a difference despite being ranked at the 7th position in the Civil Services examination he opted for IPS. Many would have considered leaving the comfortable and high-profile job of an IAS officer a foolish act, but Neelesh is least concerned because he loves challenges.

Its a matter of choice. There are many people who go into IPS because they did not get IAS. I was not interested in IAS. It is largely desk work. IPS was my right choice since I had the temperament.

Isnt it risky?

Well, it has the fun. Zindagi jeeni hai to mauth se kya darna?

Neelesh was working with the railways as an assistant mechanical engineer a Class I employee at Bangalore before he was bitten by the IAS bug. He couldnt clear the exam at the first attempt. I wasnt serious enough. Though I wrote the Mains in the first attempt, I didnt get through, he says.

Maths and Anthropology were my optionals Maths because it was the only subject I understood and Anthro because I had to choose one more subject for the Mains, came the cheeky answer when asked about the optionals.

Neelesh, energetic in his appearance and emphatic about what he says, had some advice for the aspirants regarding his favourite subject, Maths. If somebody knows Maths, he should take Maths. Its a make or break subject. Thats a warning, I guess. If you are comfortable with Maths you should take it, but if you are not it is better to leave it.

According to him the Mains is a slogging exam. The more you slog, the higher your marks. Its not an exam to test your intelligence. It is more analysis-based and fact- based, he adds.

I took two months leave and prepared day and night. I slept at 2 am and got up at 7 in the morning. I needed tea at midnight. I used to wake up my mother and say I am hungry. She too slogged as much as I did. A lot of credit for my success goes to my mother for the support she gave me. My father too helped me a lot he advised me about what to do and what not to and gave me mental support, which is important. He is a doctor- he couldnt help me out in the actual preparation for the optionals. For the personality test, he used to conduct mock interviews for me.

Neelesh was lucky enough to have relatives who were in related professions. His cousin is in the IAS. She too had Anthro as one of her optionals. Another relative is an anthropologist. The guidance they provided were of immense help, he remembers.

He attended coaching classes for his first attempt when he was in Delhi. For the general studies paper he went to Vajiram & Rao and for Anthro he attended Vaids. I didnt go for coaching classes for my second attempt. Once you get the coaching it is enough, you get the notes, you get to know how to study. Nobody can teach you. They can just guide you. You got to study for yourself.

Getting hold of standard books plays an important role in the preparation. There are books available on each and every topic, for example, Vidyarthis Tribal India, Majumdars Social Anthropology etc.

Prospective candidates, particularly in big cities, come together for their preparation, in what they call peer groups. It helps a lot in sorting out ones problems, sharing notes and view points, and tackling the exam in a strategic and planned way. But Neelesh was a loner. I was slightly different from my friends. They studied together. I was comfortably posted and had a world of my own. I was alone for whatever I did for the sake of the exam.

He was at his eloquent best when he recollected Paper II of the Maths examination. It was really good. If you start writing 15 questions (each paper has 15 questions) that itself will take three hours. The moment you are going to attempt the problem, you should know what it is. I was quite happy that I completed the exam half-an-hour before the stipulated time. I got good marks for the paper 268 out of 300.

Maths Paper-I was okay. I could attempt only 11 or 12 questions out of 15.

Anthro too was an okay paper. I was an engineering student. Anthro being a theory paper my writing skills had to be honed. Keeping this in mind I used to take mock exams in this subject. I used to take a particular topic, say family, and sit down and write short notes and essays on it. By this method you can easily structure your answer if you get a question on the same topic.

It seems that the UPSC is very consistent on being inconsistent in the syllabus of some subjects, particularly Anthro. Agrees Neelesh, The syllabus has almost doubled in recent years. I believe it is to discourage students since too many of them opt for Anthro.

The coaching he took for the general studies paper for the first attempt came handy for the second attempt also. Other than general magazines, competitive magazines too helped him to be up-to-date in current affairs. While he read competitive magazines for the sake of gaining knowledge, reading general news magazines were out of sheer interest. You cant go on reading text books for the whole day and night. You have to relax also. I used to take time out to read magazines like India Today and Frontline. It was my way of relaxing. It was definitely informative also.

Presence of mind and writing skills are what counts while attempting the essay paper. Mock written exams for the Anthro paper had helped to develop his writing skills, Neelesh recalls.


 

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1 comment:

RiNi NeHrA said...

I am a M.Tech(CSE), 3rd sem student.I am thinking of leaving the degree and to start preparation for RAS with full dedication. But i am confused that the leaving the degree is a good or not. Please reply me asp..

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