MOTIVATION & STRATEGY
An Inspirational Story of Patience and Perseverance
Gopal Krishna B – Rank 265 CSE-2017
Let me start this story of mine by telling you a horrific event of sorts that happened to me 3 years ago. On 13th July 2015, when UPSC released the mark sheets of Mains examination, I got one of the biggest shocks of my life. Though I knew, I had not qualified for the interview, I never thought even in my worst nightmares that it would be because I failed in compulsory English language paper. I felt utterly shattered and incomprehensibly broken. This whole UPSC thing felt like a farce to me. I couldn’t believe what had happened. So I tried all possible means to get a copy of answer sheet. I applied RTI, sent letters to concerned UPSC authorities, State and Central ministers, even posted requests on my Facebook and Twitter page. I tried all possible avenues but it was of little or no avail. After 40 days, the RTI reply came stating “your answer booklets have been weeded out already”. I went into a state of depression and could not even come out of my room for a few days. Candidates who prepare for a whole year with hard work and dedication only to fail in a language paper can surely empathize with me.
I spent most of my time staring at walls with tears filling my eyes not knowing what to do next. My mother seeing this state of mine, tried to pacify me with her favourite saying ‘God tests people whom he likes the most’. Knowing that my friends and family are with me during this time, helped me regain my composure. I still remember the inspirational Whatsapp forward sent to me by my close friend Dr. Akash about Sylvester Stallone’s initial struggle and rise to fame story. I also met Vinay Sir during this time. His words of encouragement reassured confidence in me and I went back to preparation mode, what with prelims being just around the corner.
Now let’s fast forward. On 27th April 2018, on a rainy day while walking down the streets of Shimla with my friends, I got my UPSC results. I hurriedly checked in my phone a couple of times after which I emphatically threw my umbrella in the air with a huge cheer. The day which I was waiting for, the day when all my hard work paid off finally had arrived. Though I was happy, at that moment I felt a sense of accomplishment more than happiness, believe me you would too. The party that night dragged on unto the late hours and I was completely occupied by the innumerous phone calls that I got from my family, friends, relatives, well wishers, the media and a lot of unknown people! This I must admit made me feel kind of famous. Now that my tryst with UPSC was finally over and I no longer had the compulsion of reading the Hindu and current affairs magazines, I have started to feel that I am missing something in my life. The UPSC bug which was nagging at the back of my mind for last four and half years is no more. I feel ease albeit a little weird.
There are much more ups and downs in my last four and half years of journey of which I have a lot to share. First let me introduce myself.
Hello everyone. I am Dr. Gopal Krishna. B from Bengaluru. I completed my graduation in the year 2013 from Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute. I worked as a Medical Officer for 2 years and as a Tutor in ESI for an year. I was allotted IA&AS (Indian Audit and Accounts Services) last year(Rank 787 UPSC 2016). This was my fourth Attempt, I got Rank 265 and I am expecting to be allotted to IAS.
In this article, I would like to outline my strategy and share my experience of gruelling but exciting journey of Civil Services preparation.
I was always comfortable with prelims. Though I would not call myself a prelims expert, I felt it was a more enjoyable and fun stage of civil services exam. I am sure there are many who would disagree. I cleared prelims in all 4 attempts. . I attribute this to strong foundation i.e the initial six to eight months of my preparation where I had thoroughly read NCERTs, Standard text books, Newspaper and Magazines which made basic concepts clear and fundamentals very strong. I consider NCERTs are absolute GOLD when it comes to prelims preparations. I loved the style of presentation and the illustrations they have used to make learning an enriching experience. I must have read each of them at least 15 times by now and every time I read them I learn more and appreciate new things. This is the reason why mentors keep on emphasizing to read between the lines. The lucid language used in NCERTs will also build your comprehension skills which will help you a great deal while writing mains also. Regarding the books to refer, most of the toppers would have shared their booklist and it more or less remains the same. Choose a book that suits you and comfortable to follow.
I will explain my approach towards prelims with the help of a analogy. The way we should tackle prelims is similar to the way Rahul Dravid played cricket. Terms like ‘Technically sound’ and ‘Godly temperament’ defined his batting. Prelims is a test of knowledge as well as mental calibre. Cool head has an advantage in competitive exams.
There are 100 questions in prelims. 40-50 / 50-60 questions will be familiar to at least 90% of the people who have studied with utmost sincerity. These questions are like loose deliveries that Dravid punishes with ease. Over confidence or momentary lapse of concentration will lead you to commit a few silly mistakes which will reduce your chances to progress.
The next category of questions which are equivalent to good length balls which are 20-30 in number. They should be tactfully dealt with because these questions form the crux of the prelims. Here you have to improve your accuracy by giving mock tests, from which you can avoid negatives and develop the knack to mark correct answer, the way Dravid sweat it out in the nets before the actual match.
The remaining 10-20 questions are difficult ( unplayable deliveries ) which only 10% of the aspirants will know the answer to. Depending upon your gut feeling with respect to first two rounds of questions, take calculated risk and mark them if u can eliminate at least two options or else leave them gracefully the way Dravid does.
CSAT(Paper 2) which has been made a qualifying paper has costed one year for many serious candidates. Do not take it for granted. Solve at least last five year question papers to know the pattern and your level of ease in tackling them.
Now after the Prelims is done, I would like to advice all the candidates to not to get carried away . Take a break for a week to rejuvenate yourselves and relax before you start your mains preparation and answer writing. Prelims is a ticket to for the ride. Mains as the name indicates is the main stage of the examination.
Though it is not advisable, I am of the opinion that it is always better to fail in prelims rather than going till interview and not making to the final list. You will be left with less than a month left for the next prelims. On top of that, depression will eat away 2-3 weeks. Failing in the early stage is a ‘Blessing in disguise’. You get time to address your deficiencies, strengthen your command on optional/ change optional, complete reading standard text books etc. This is the time positive self talk can have a great impact on future.
It ain’t about how hard you’re hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!
People who are good in answer writing and whose who are completing the whole paper with decent quality answers have a higher chance of clearing mains.
First of all, I would like to stress on the importance of handwriting which can literally make or break your career. I have come across many people whose answers have very good content but due to their bad handwriting they are unable to clear the exams. While on the other hand, those with basic content and good handwriting are called for interviews. I would like to substantiate my claim by saying that the UPSC toppers in the last 5 years all have a very good handwriting and this is no coincidence. Try putting yourself into the shoes of the examiner and imagine while correcting hundreds of papers, would you prefer to read answers that are legible or not. To me, a good hand writing , an interesting introduction , body with decent content accompanied with key words (underline), flowcharts / diagrams, graphical representations will help you a great deal. You should make the examiner read your answers. The more he reads, higher the chances of getting more marks. Secondly for General Studies, stick to the syllabus and follow single source. Mains syllabus is vast it will be difficult for our grey matter to remember so many stuff till the day of exams. STOP READING THE SAME CONTENT FROM MULTIPLE SOURCES.
Remember what Bruce lee said “I fear not the man who has practiced 10000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10000 times”. What ultimately matters is how much you can recall and reproduce on the answer sheets, so if u have read and revised from single source trust me your eyes and brain will not betray you.
Most of the aspirants who clear prelims and come to mains are equally good. But when we delve deeper why some people clear and some don’t, even though the content they read is similar is, the reason is the difference in the presentation skills. One of my friend, puts this in a simple way where he says Mains is
30% studies , 70% writing practice
50% content and 50% presentation
Content can be read, mugged up and written in the exam but the presentation can only be developed by practicing answer writing. At the back drop of these I would like to comment, today for UPSC exam COACHING is optional ( Depends upon the Individual ) , but Test Series is compulsory, where you will get the reality check of the nature of mains , supplemented by appropriate feedbacks from mentors. The biggest advantage is you get to see answers of fellow aspirants, be it their style, content , usage of flow charts , diagrams etc. Interpolation of ideas, sharing of content and discussing your answers with peer groups enrich your writing skills and enhance your marks. This is the only method I followed for Ethics after understanding the definition of ethical terms from lexicon.
Here again I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to Vinay Sir for providing the right platform at INSIGHTS and giving the feedbacks. He is too good when it comes to Essay and Ethics.
Essay plays a very crucial role in mains. Based on the weightage of marks given in essay you can equate essay paper = 1.5 * 1GS paper. I have witnessed people getting extremes of scores when it comes to essay. One of my friends who had got 45 in 2015 exam got 158 in 2016 exam and is in service now. It is true that essay do not require separate preparation with respect to matter but writing at least ten essays and getting it corrected from friends , mentors etc is necessary for improvements. Feedbacks is what makes your essay multi-dimensional. To make my essay comprehensive I followed the structure of GS syllabus which encompasses almost everything. For example, Let us take last year’s essay topic “If development is not Engendered, it is Endangered”. I started this essay with a story, after that I began with the plight of women in historical times, social issues with respect to women and ended with ethical perspective. I just followed the syllabus sections. The same technique can be applied to any essay which will give it a holistic approach and fetch decent marks. You can reorder the sections, based on the topic asked like along the order of importance like, for philosophical essays start with ethical aspect. Make a separate diary to note down interesting quotes, anecdotes, stories for introduction, catchy lines, keywords, linkers and statistics that might help you spice up your essays. Revise them often and use them in test series. This exercise will ensure a score, not less than 140.
There is a lot of confusion and scout among students regarding what sources to follow for ethics. I referred to lexicon for basic understanding of the terminologies. If you write bookish answers it appears very artificial. You will be expecting good marks but get disappointed after seeing the score. The very purpose for introducing this paper is to know the personality behind the person. If you ask any candidate which is the lengthiest paper, they will all say Ethics. Within those three hours the real YOU will be reflected in your answers, because you will not be in a position to think and manipulate your answers. Best way is to draw your own life examples , observe things around you and try to make a note of these which will come handy the day before exams. Always start with case studies because the weightage of marks for each question is comparatively more. Many people leave 1-2 case studies which cost them 35-40 marks. In the first part try to come up with your own definitions in a simple language along with suitable examples. I always wrote one from my personal life and one familiar example.
Optional – Medical Science
Optional was always kind of my Achilles heel and Medical Science is a vast and volatile subject. It consumed most of my preparation time. I got average scores 209 in 2015, 273 in 2016 and 270 in 2017. I would like to say that, there is certainty and consistency at the cost of high scores. There are always exceptions though.
Here below is a link of the video where I have shared my 2 cents of advice.
I got nearly 143 in my first interview, The moment I came out of the interview hall, I had a gut feeling that I dint perform up to my potential and I dint express myself. I was feeling nervous, not at all confident and stuttered few times while answering. I had taken 8-9 mock interviews in Bangalore and Chennai. I was desperate to make it into the final list but I missed the bus by 4 marks.
By the time I gave my second interview, I had got married, was working full time at ESI hospital. I remember, I was more relaxed mentally as expectations were low this time, but prepared really well though, through discussions and mocks. My interview went smoothly and I was feeling really good, when I came out of the interview hall. I was expecting more than 180 in that interview and even got a victory pic in front of UPSC to kind of commemorate my achievement. But my interviewer was not so generous and I ended up getting a respectable 165. I got allotted into the most elite and upright IA&AS service. Believe me it’s an awesome service.
This year my interview was on 4th day whereas the previous 2 times it was at the fag end. I got P K Joshi Sir board. When I came out of the interview hall, I felt I might have to write the exams again next time and that for any candidate who finished his/her interview is the scariest feeling because he/ she has to start everything again from the scratch. I came across a discussion group on the forum IAS with the heading “Victims of P K Joshi” and most of my friends had got less than 160 last year . I tried to forget about the interview and spent next two months in NAAA, Shimla. Results came and I had got 187, which pushed my rank higher.
Perform better in mains which in turn will boost your confidence to prepare well for personality test.
Maintain calm and be humble. It is an half an hour conversation between you, the senior bureaucrats and the distinguished faculties from various fields.
Think and answer. Answer the question and don’t worry about the person who is asking.
Don’t be cynical and judgemental about boards. Answer with conviction.
Maintain the tempo throughout. Don’t give up till the battle is over. Fight till the end.
Update your current affairs, thoroughly prepare keeping your DAF as the focus. Know yourself better.
Take 3-4 quality mocks to assess yourself and to get accustomed to final interview. Here if there is common suggestion coming from panelists in all the mocks. Then that is the thing to be addressed.
If you are working, try to take leave for couple of days and condition your mind.
Forget all insecurities, enter the UPSC hall with a clear mind, express yourself and enjoy the proudest moments of your life.
WORK+MARRAIGE+UPSC – A roller coaster ride
I got married on Nov 2016(3 weeks before mains). Since it was a love cum arranged marriage there was lot of work to be done to make this happen and only people who have experienced this kind of situation can understand the kind of involvement the process demands. Along with this, I was working full time as Forensic Medicine Tutor in ESI Medical College and also I taught science and technology at one of the coaching institutes. There were so many things to carry but I must confess life was so lively and eventful. Even in graduation, I gave more time to extra-curricular activities than I gave to my studies and it was a real ME. In fact multitasking brought me out of my desperation. Working professionals have some advantages in the fact that, you are financially independent that provides a sense of security during times of failure.
When I started working after my first Mains, I somehow felt a sense of liberation. Exposure to work opened my eyes. I realised UPSC is not life. Life offers more than UPSC.
Work and studies should be in a symbiotic relationship for this to work. Work gives you a kind of break from your studies ,which in turn will help you enjoy and actively do your work. Adopt a piecemeal approach , whenever and were ever you find time try to utilize it optimally by being conscious of your goal. Watch videos(possibly at 2x speed) while travelling to work, read newspaper during lunch and tea breaks. Think of many such ways in your routine.
Today, UPSC related websites are customized to such an extent that from start to finish everything is available and they have simplified the content and made preparation easier.
I always dreamt of being an IAS officer and if you ask any of my friends they will agree. I was the only person in my batch who didn’t give NEET exam even once. I never had a plan B.
Till now I have worked in more than 10 places. Thanks to my MEDICINE degree, wherever I went, in my mind they were always temporary jobs to help my financial needs, though anyone could have been a permanent job, had I chosen to do so . They were means to reach my target.
With every attempt, experience and knowledge will increase but the intensity and enthusiasm will come down. In order to avoid this I was always in touch with my juniors and their preparation. Sometimes, I attended test series just to answer 2 or 3 questions and meet up with them to discuss answers and know what was going through their mind. Some of them are my seniors in service now. Every aspirant should have ‘killer instinct’ and a strong intent within them. UPSC embraces such aspirants with both hands.
I was very much inspired by SRI KEMPAHONNAIAH IAS and Dr. MITTALI SETHI ma’am by their perseverance to pursue their passion while working.
Kudos to your courage for taking up one of the toughest examination in the world.
First, understand the demand of the examination. It is necessary to ask opinions/tips/strategies etc. from seniors but don’t overdo it. After few months you get to know what is required to crack the exams. Nobody knows you better than yourself. Look in the mirror and talk to yourself daily for 5-10 minutes and address deficiencies in the preparation.
Remember: Take opinions from people but ultimately choice should be yours.
Whatever I am writing here is my story and my method to clear the exams. Take cue from here, avoid mistakes and customize things according to your style. There is no single best method. Most of my friends of my friends are of the opinion that notes making helps to recall things. Though I am against notes making. I felt it was unnecessary and moreover I was working and had no time to prepare notes. Thanks to Websites and Coaching institutes they are making notes on almost all topics required for the exam. Read them, revise them and by additional reading if you can make any value addition write it on the the print outs taken of these materials. Having said that, it is not a hard and fast rule and completely a personal choice.
This exam is not tough because of its vast syllabus or the number of new subjects that you will have to learn. It is tough because of the sheer level of competition you will have to face. It is literally a rat race where you have to be better than others to come out on top. You may be a topper in your school or college but here you are competing with the creamy layer of our country. Shed the mentality of cramming just a few days before exams to clear it . UPSC demands consistency more than anything else.
Time Management is the key. Make daily plans and weekly plans and make sure that you execute them. I strongly recommend you to maintain a diary to write down these plans and strategies and how you are following them. This diary will also help in doing self assessments at regular intervals.
Divide the topics and juggle them whenever you get bored or stagnant with a topic. Pace yourself. Take quality breaks in between studies for relaxation. I usually took Sunday evening off for such rejuvenation so that I can start afresh from Monday morning.
Be careful in choosing which book to read and which sources to follow or else you will be lost in the vast sea of information from a multitude of study materials.
Religiously reading newspaper daily is compulsory at least during the initial 5-6 months to get oriented and acquainted with all the current affairs. It has lot of additional benefits like improving your vocabulary, help to write answers in mains, essay writing and answer comprehension questions in prelims.
Most of you are in the age group of 22-28 years, which are the most productive years in one’s life , some of you have left remunerative, profitable jobs to fulfil this dream and to serve the people. Above all, most of us come from lower middle class and middle class background, parents will be having lot of expectations. So my sincere advice to you guys is, give your 100% or else you will be fooling yourself and your parents. At the end of one year, even if you don’t clear this exam, don’t get disheartened . There is a room for improvement in next attempt but half-hearted attempts will lead you nowhere. You will be judging your own capabilities and dilemma ‘To continue or to drop the preparation’ will slowly start to engulf you . That is worst. Never doubt yourself.
There are few things which I saw, experienced and learnt in the last 4 years which I would like to share with fellow aspirants.
Never complain about anything. There are people who have cleared this exam amidst much more difficulties than some of us have. Come out of your comfort zones. Turn your weakness into strengths. Your impediments can be your motivation.
Learn from your mistakes and from other’s mistakes quickly. Be honest to yourself and sincere in your efforts. Dream, Believe and Just do it.
Don’t give heed to rumours like removal of an optional, introduction of new subjects, scaling of optional score, bias in interview etc. It will unnecessarily hamper your preparation.
Stay positive and approach UPSC like any other exam. Believe me you will enjoy the journey if you consider it as a learning experience. There should be no room for negativity, it breeds frustration and bogs you down.
Yes, UPSC exams are quite unpredictable, sometimes cruel, there is lot of uncertainty and considering the level of competition, small margin of error, stroke of luck it is quite difficult to crack these exams in the very first attempt, but rather than pondering over these things, channelize your preparation, give your best and leave the rest to almighty.
Remember “Success is neither a miracle nor a mystery. It is the natural outcome of consistently applying certain principles on an ongoing basis”. It is just a matter of time if your intentions are noble and you have done your homework by putting heart and soul, everything will fall in its place.
life is larger than UPSC. Clearing civil services exam is not an end in itself. There are unhappy souls, who have made it to the final list, who are in IAS and even home cadre. Failing in UPSC is not the end of the world. There is nothing that time cannot heal. A new adventure is awaiting you.
I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to people who guided, helped and believed in me.
My dearest Amma, my Dad, my Brother and my Wife. They are the pillars of my strength. This success is the fruit of their sacrifices, hardships and unconditional support.
My support system my friends Akash, Dheeraj, Thejaswi, Vinayaka, Nikhilesh. My roommates Ravindra and Sashikiran. Dhyan and Kripal for infusing dynamism. They rejoiced for my results more than me. Dr. Narasimhamurthy Sir for his everlasting encouragement and Hemanth. N for constantly inspiring me.
Insights for providing conducive atmosphere and Vinay GB Sir, for being friend, philosopher and guide.
If you guys have anything to ask, be it booklist, about optional(Medical Science) or any other queries, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the best. God bless.