Motivation & Topper’s strategy
Rank 90 – UPSC CSE-2019, Insights Prelims Student
Whenever I felt dejected seeing the syllabus to be covered, newspapers to be read, test papers to be solved, I always found solace in reading the insights toppers section. The habit has possessed me such that still in my free time (which now I have in plenty) I come here to read the articles which I have read umpteen number of times. Though these articles are not written by likes of Shiv Khera, Sandeep Maheshwari etc., reading them always filled me with inspiration, motivation and felt like I am just few steps away from cracking this exam. I myself went to the extent that I took people saying, “If I can crack this exam, surely you can do it too” literally :P. And guess what, me writing this article here is the testimony to the fact that they all were absolutely correct. So having benefited from such articles, I consider it to be my moral responsibility to write one such piece.
I am Rajat Pant. I have secured AIR 90 in CSE 2018. This was my second attempt. I have done my schooling from St. Jude’s School, Dehradun. I have completed my Btech from GBPUAT Pantnagar (Uttarakhand) in Electrical Engineering.
Dreams can be real if you live by them day and night. The dream of becoming an IAS officer was planted in me by my father when I was just a 3-4 year old kid. Coming from a middle class Indian family, I have come to realize that what Michael Sandel said (Although I love Rawls) is quite correct (Sandel being Rawls’critic)—‘We see the world through the lens of our family, culture and society. Our dreams are shaped not just by our personal preferences but are also influenced by our family/community’s perspective.’(Here my Political Science friends would understand me better).
Since childhood whenever I was asked about my ambition, without knowing much about what it means, I used to boldly proclaim that I want to be an IAS officer. But this doesn’t mean that I had started studying for the exam or even researched how to go about the exam. Though till 12th standard I used to be an average student, but in the Btech I used my plan to prepare for IAS as an excuse to not study for Electrical Engineering. So in the process I ended up scoring a very low CGPA (only my college friends would know how I passed those exams :P) and also did not learn anything related to UPSC CSE.
After completing my graduation in 2016, I did not sit for placements and, thus, headed straight to Delhi to get enrolled in Vajiram and Ravi. Thus, plunged into the pool of UPSC preparation. Though now I have come to realise that this exam can definitely be cracked without coaching but I personally benefited from it, as back then I was not aware of online platforms like InsightsonIndia. The coaching in Delhi helped me to the extent that honestly speaking I didn’t touch any NCERT (except 2 for Geography) or Laxmikanth (Polity) or Shankar IAS Environment book which are considered to be the Bible for the UPSC preparation. But instead I referred to online sources like gktoday, pmfias and many others. I constantly used to update my coaching notes, learning from the mistakes I used to commit in vision prelims test series in my 1st attempt and both vision and insights test series in my 2nd attempt.
Sources Referred for Prelims
1) Vajiram class notes for Polity, Ancient History, Geography, Economics and Environment.
2) Spectrum for Modern History
3) Tamilnadu Board 11th class book- for Ancient and Medieval History (For learning timeline of Kings, Art and Architecture).
4) Nitin Singhania for various aspects of Art and Architecture, UNESCO Heritages etc.
5) Orient Black Swan Atlas for physical features, States (longitude and latitude for important cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai etc.), major ports in India, ocean currents.
6) Google maps and Wikipedia for thorough study of each of the 27 Ramsar wetlands, 18 Biosphere reserves, 50 Tiger Reserves, 104 National Parks. (You just have to note important points like rivers passing through them, mountain ranges, any special flora and fauna, states, old names etc.).
7) Vision Monthly Current Affairs (July to March only) for current affairs.
8) RSTV– Big Picture, India’s World, Vishesh, In Depth. I did not watch them daily but only once in a while.
9) Mygov youtube channel (‘Transfroming India’ playlist has some government schemes explained in short).
I could only score a meagre 91.34 marks in Prelims (when the cut off was 105.34). The major mistakes I think that I committed were–
1) Attempted a very less number of questions (only 72).
2) Did not make short handy notes of all mistakes committed in test series.
After the failure in 1st attempt, I went back to Delhi (as I had given pre exam from Dehradun). I started doing Insights Secure- monthly compilation. But owing to poor living conditions in Delhi I got infected with typhoid and chikungunya. Thus, I had to make a tough decision to leave Delhi and prepare from my father’s place in a small hilly town of Lohaghat in Uttarakhand. After a bed rest of about 1.5 months, I got back to studies. This time I decided to follow 2 newspapers (The Indian Express and The Hindu) rigorously. As in the UPSC world it is widely believed that pre requires 3 months dedicated preparation for people who have not cleared it before. But for me, once bitten by failure, I decided to dedicate 5 months to pre examination.
What I did for pre?
I followed 2 test series– insights and vision. In addition to these I used to write open online tests of Forum IAS, GS Score. I also did Insights Revision Tests released by Insights during the last 1-2 months. Made short notes of all the questions which I did wrong or had less information about. For current affairs I referred to Vision IAS monthly magazine (not PT365). The trick to go about monthly magazine is that you only need to read the ‘Why in news’, the info in blocks, provisions of the bill, the About section, features of the scheme/initiative/technology etc. There is no need to read arguments ‘for’, ‘against’, ‘reasons’, ‘recommendations’, ‘way forward’ for the pre exam. At the end one can follow insights/vision revision modules/PT365 just related to International Relations and Government Schemes, if one is following the monthly magazine (instead of Revision modules/PT365). I also solved Insights Daily Current Affairs Quiz. Frankly speaking I am a sort of person who cannot study in a routine. If you are like me you can also solve monthly compilation of daily quiz which I did in last 2 months before pre for the last 1 year.
How to attempt the paper?
While attempting mocks at home one can make use of OMR sheets and practice as if you are giving the final exam. As many advise, I also used to do questions in 3 iterations. At 1st, the questions I was sure about. In 2nd, the question in which I could eliminate 2 options. And in the 3rd iteration the question in which I could eliminate only 1 option. In total I used to try to attempt more than 85 questions. In my opinion to make your chances better one need to attempt the maximum questions so as to leave room for reaping the benefits of the questions done via calculative guess making. Based on this strategy in the 2018 prelims I could just answer 34-35 questions in my 1st iteration. But at last I was able to complete 89 questions and thus scored 122 marks.
In my little experience and hearing other toppers talk/write, I have realized that one is never totally certain that he/she would be able to crack this exam. So respecting the unpredictable nature of the examination, one needs to leave everything which is beyond control on God’s grace or nature’s inherent chaos/conspiracy (luck). Having faith in the divine will of almighty may help you tackle things which are never in your control. As Lord Krishna beautifully describes in Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 11.34) “Do thou arise and acquire fame. You are just an apparent cause, I have already done it for you”. Thus the God has already made you an IAS/IPS/IFS etc officer. Now the least you can do is work hard and enjoy the glory of it. If not in this attempt you will surely get through in the next attempt.
In course of your preparation there is no need to cut yourself off from the good things in life which make you feel better. In my last attempt I tried to avoid youtube, movies, cricket matches, listening songs, gathering with friends, family and talking on phone to friends. I missed on things that help bring poise in one’s preparation life. I ended up failing in prelims. But this year I indulged myself in all the fancies of life except social media (which I gave up itself during my college days). I am a sort of person who studies for 10 mins and ends up taking a 15 minute break on youtube. I saw most of the web series on TVF, Timeliners, Viu, etc. Followed my fav food vloggers. I even watched many movies which I had missed during my so called ‘sincere student attitude’, the last year. Read 4 books which I wanted to read since ages. Watched all Indian cricket tours. Kept track of tennis and saw my fav Djokovic win 3 consecutive grand slams. I also played badminton daily for an hour to keep myself mentally and physically refreshed.
At the end I would just say what has already been said by sages since ages that leave everything on God and try to develop the feeling of equanimity in oneself. Just pray to God to give you strength to tackle failure without getting disheartened and also the humbleness to remain grounded if you clear this exam or achieve something big in life.
I would like to sincerely thank everyone who has directly/indirectly, knowingly/unknowingly or in any way helped me in my life till now or during the course of the examination. I owe this success to them.
I will share my mains strategy on notes making and my notes in the coming article.
P.S. (I have attached my prelims notes at the bottom)