Kruthika, Rank 100 CSE-2018
Insights Core Student, Optional – Public Administration
I secured rank in my fifth attempt. This year, I have got 443 marks in general studies. My optional was public administration. In this article I will share my journey, the mistakes I made and my strategy for general studies.
I have divided this article into following parts:
- My Preparation journey and lessons learnt
- How I kept myself motivated
- Role of insights
- My GS strategy
- Important tips for answer writing
- Tips for making notes
- Tips for revision.
My preparation journey and lessons learnt
My journey for civil services started on 25th June 2012. I picked up the Hindu newspaper and made notes after reading it. The first note I made was about Mahi. She was a 5 year old girl, who had fallen into an open manhole and her parents were claiming compensation. The parents, the municipality and police all had different stories to tell. I made a note of all these statements in direct speech.!!!!! This one news alone took 2 pages for me and it was all completely irrelevant for the exam. But this fact I discovered only 1 year later when I actually learnt to read newspaper the way it has to be read. I read newspaper for one whole year and made notes every single day, but all went waste.
But I learnt from my mistake. By then one attempt was over. I started again afresh. But like this, I made many more mistakes, new mistakes in every other attempt. It was only in my third prelims I got to know that there are MCQs which aspirants solve for practice before prelims. This i learnt less than 2 months to prelims. So I subscribed for insightsonindia prelims test series.
In my second attempt and first mains, I wrote 16/20 questions and I was expecting an interview call. I didn’t know completing the paper was the single most important thing. I came to know about importance of ARC reports for my optional public administration only in my fourth attempt.
Thus by the time I made all these mistakes and rectified them, four attempts were over and I could finally crack in my fifth attempt.
Lessons from this long journey
- Don’t hesitate to talk to people. I was under the impression that this exam requires you to be in a cave, completely isolated from rest of the world. But if you don’t talk, how will you know what to study, how to study, what to leave etc ? So please seek help. There is absolutely nothing wrong in it.
- Learn from others’ mistakes. Smart people learn from mistakes of others and don’t commit them themselves. For this, again, you have to talk to people- be it seniors, mentors or anybody.
- Perseverance – things will not work out as we plan many times. So be ready to persevere and keep your aim intact.
- Complete the paper, no matter what.
How I kept myself motivated in this long journey:
Most of the times, I am a motivated being. Almost always I am also emotionally stable. When I was in class 10, my sanskrit sir used to tell that we must all be like lord sri ram. He never sulked in sorrow when he was sent to vanavaas nor did he jump out of joy when he was declared maharaj. I tried to practice this.
Also, I used to derive a great deal of internal satisfaction whenever I could do something for others. So I used to make sure that everyday I do things for others even though it will eventually help me. For sometime I wrote synopsis for secure on insighsonindia platform.
I had a study partner. I made sure every day there is something that I have to do for my friend. I used to feel that it’s my responsibility to study so that I can teach something or at least motivate by being sincere. I like to thank my study partner for always being there for me, even during my failures. In 2017, the year in which I got selected first time, there was only 15 days between final results and next prelims. I could not have cracked it without his support.
Needless to say my family was a constant support for me, especially my mother. There was a time when I had doubts about my capabilities but she never did. Her life, the way she brought me up was itself a huge source of motivation for me.
How Insights has been helpful
- I followed insights into daily current events, insights into editorials, secure for mains and quiz for prelims.
- I also used to read the revision modules for prelims.
- I subscribed for insightsonindia online prelims test series.
- I prepared secure synopsis for few months so I learnt a lot by reading others answers. Even after I stopped preparing synopsis, I religiously followed secure initiative. I used to tell Vinay sir that if I don’t do secure, I feel very insecure.
- I was part of core batch in 2015. I understood the importance of writing practice. Vinay Sir gave inputs on how to make the answers stand out yet simple.
General studies strategy
I will try to elaborate it topic wise and paper wise
History: Bipan chandra, spectrum. In spectrum, the structuring aspect is very good. That structure can be used in answer writing. I also read NCERTs. I focused more on the pictures in these textbooks and the description of these pictures. Rest of the content will remain the same. But these description of pictures can give us very good examples to quote. I also browsed through practice papers of many coaching institutes to identify questions which I should prepare. Also keep a tab on current affairs and prepare static portion of that’s. For eg: Kabir was in news, Rabindranath Tagore was in news. So prepare all these topics.
Culture: I read Nitin Singhania, old NCERT class 11 and 12 to understand the socio-economic political context in which cultural developments took place. I also read NCERT fine arts book. I took test series questions from various coaching institutes and found answers for those questions.
World history: I read wizard publication small book on world history. Then read vision notes. Also read old NCERT of class 9 and 10.
Geography: I read NCERT of class 9, 10, 11. I followed videos of Rajtanil mam on Mrunal’s website. I made notes from those videos. I also took help from my friend who had geography optional. He had compiled 100 pages of all important diagrams. I also read Mrunal’s articles on location factors etc
Society: only newspaper, other current affairs sources
Climate change: from newspaper – collected data about climate change, reports to quote.
Polity: Laxmikant. Didn’t read much as my optional was public administration.
GS 2, most of the preparation I did fron secure initiative, insights into editorials, newspaper reading, civilsdaily app I referred to know the summary of important editorials from other newspapers. I also intermittently referred to forum IAS for filling gaps in current affairs.
I read summary of economic survey from 2 sources. Rest I covered from secure, editorials of newspaper, test series papers of different coaching institutes.
For topics like security, environment I relied on newspaper and other current affairs sources.
For infrastructure, I had made notes for each type is roadways, railways, waterways etc – with relevant data for current status, potential, problems faced, and futuristic solution and government initiatives.
Similar notes I also prepared for economics of animal rearing.
In science and technology, I prepared some broad fields like nanotech, biotech, information tech, space tech. I focused more on information tech like artificial intelligence, big data etc which were more in news.
I also read NITI 3 year action agenda and made notes from the same- which gave good inputs for infrastructure, social sectors.
I got 121 in ethics paper which is probably the second highest with highest being 125. So I ll elaborate my approach.
I did not read any book for this. I followed Balaji sir’s strategy written on insightsonindia. I thought about my own life and wrote down instances where I have displayed various ethical attributes.
I collected thoughts of some thinkers to be used in answers. Here again I read only the thinkers who had influenced me personally – like APJ Abdul kalam ji, Gandhiji, swami Vivekananda etc. I collected important anecdotes from their lives which I could use in answers.
For eg- Gandhiji didn’t copy in a dictation test and wrote a wrong spelling. He didn’t mind to be a disgrace but didn’t want to be dishonest.
Similarly APJ abdul Kalam sir denied using glass pieces on compound walls of DRDO for security purpose, saying that birds would perch on compound walls and glass pieces would hurt them.
I collected a lot of such examples. I used to read about them out of my own interest, and not very particularly for the exam.
I also used to listen to TED talks that inspire me. I quoted even those inspiring talks in answers.
I also made a word file where I wrote all the important key words. I collected examples for each of these words and put them under the respective words.
I used several personal examples in answers. Eg- on how our value system is shaped – I wrote the role played by my school – we used to sing a song which goes- mandir masjid girijaghar me baant diya bhagwan ko, dharti baanti, sagar baanta, mat baanto insaan ko.
Like this I quoted several examples from my own life. But for this to come in the exam hall, we have to spend time with ourselves, write down our own life experiences.
Also there is no one good format in which questions have to be approached. There is a widespread feeling that ethics answers have to be in paragraphs to give it that organic flow. I personally wrote most of the answers in tabular format. I went through some toppers copies. I incorporated SWOT diagrams in ethics paper also.
In the introduction, in some case studies, I used the format of fact premises and value premises.
Never keep the approach for all the case studies same. Structure every case study differently so that there is no monotony.
As far as part A is concerned, here again I made use of examples from personal life. I had made a list of quotes area wise which can be used for both ethics and essay . I had recorded this in my voice which I used to listen when I didn’t feel like studying anything. This i used in many answers.
Important things to keep in mind to score more:
Answer writing tips:
- Always ask yourself why a particular question has been asked. Answer to this will form a very good introduction.
- Provide side headings by structuring your answer and do underline them.
- Use maps for international relations questions.
- Use timelines in your answers wherever there is a scope. For eg: if analysis of LSG (Local self governance) is asked, make a timeline including pre and post independence.
- Use SWOT, SPOT analysis diagrams where relevant. For eg- any question on analysing any sector of economy, any industry, even agriculture, any policy of government.
- If in any question, difference or comparative analysis is asked, try to make tabular columns for comparison.
- Use case studies in answers where there is a scope. I collected some good case studies for Major topic or syllabus from the NITI AAYOG document on best practices of states.
- Note down interesting examples from newspapers which can be used in answers. For eg- The Hindu covered story of a farmer who was managing his stubble efficiently and profitably without burning it. This can be quoted based on demand of the question
- Use some success stories- national and international wherever relevant. For eg- groundwater banking of California. Similarly successful HealthCare models, successful education models etc can be quoted based on demand of the question
- Try to incorporate some prominent names in your answers. For eg- a question on agriculture can include MS Swaminathan, question on economics can include Thomas Piketty etc .
- Think from stakeholders perspective. Given any question, map in your mind the stakeholders involved in the question being posed or issue being raised. This will make sure that multiple perspectives are not missed. For eg- analysis of any policy of government Should include its impact on people, economy, international community, and so on
- Try to make small differences to your answers. For eg- if any question is given on education, most of us will quote only ASER report. But economic survey also pointed out about learning poverty gap (I don’t remember the term exactly now). Similarly women. Mostly we quote from WB. We can quote from survey about agency, access problem of women.
- In the conclusion, always give a futuristic solution. This is a place where you can quote some national or international example which is doing well and write your own unique solutions.
- Try to use different forms of presentation:
For eg- a pie chart to show our energy basket – how much energy generated from which source
A bar graph to show changing sex ratio
A map to show areas undergoing urbanization
A flow chart to show a sequence of events. For eg- events leading to the setting up of cripps mission, how insolvency proceedings are conducted. It can be used widely
- Use important key words in your answers and underline them.
- Mention important report names before writing some recommendations. For eg- NITI 3 year action agenda, ARC reports etc. If you write the recommendation without mentioning the report name, it will add very less value
- I also tried to use general observations, movies etc in essays. For instance, if there is an essay on youth issues, then we can use udta Punjab. The scene of the movie where drug packets are tossed across the border as discs can be used to build an introduction. This will make essay more interesting for the reader as he or she will be interested to know how the story unfolds. Like this I made a list of movies which can be used as opening stories in essays
Tips for notes making and revision
- For purpose of revision, make 3 pages – one for names of reports, one for names of various committees and one for important judgements for each topic. Revise them and do write them in your answers.
- Try to learn some definitions. For instance, biotechnology is a term given in the syllabus. But when asked, we think before writing what it is. This can be prepared beforehand and revised so that fundamental question of “what” is never a problem.
- One more thing that I did was I recorded my notes in my own voice, by reading my notes aloud. This i used to listen while walking in the evenings, traveling etc. I remember better what I hear more than what I read. So this helped me a lot.
- Do make revision friendly notes. First I used to copy important things from whatever source I read online. Then I used to revise them multiple times. Each time I revised, I wrote down in short the important things. After multiple revisions, my notes reduced to only few keywords. This was very concise and this helped in quick revision
- My friend also made tables for quick revision. You can see a sample on my blog (link is given below). We made such tables even for important data.
- I used to make notes online – keeping all information related to a particular topic together.
Other important things I followed:
- This year, I also joined forum IAS current affairs class. Though I listened to the videos only towards the end, they provided a very good value addition.
- Also do read answer copies of toppers who have scored well in a particular paper. Vision, forum IAS, toppers own blogs can be referred for this. I read answer copies of many toppers and analysed the commonality between all of them. I found that all their answers were very simple, easily understandable, no deviation from the question asked, understanding the demand of the question properly and addressing all parts of the question – these were some common characteristics I observed in their copies. When you read yourself, you will discover where and how to make modifications and corrections.
- I also browsed through vision mains 365 documents and Lukmaan IAS documents to see if any important topic analysis has been missed.
- I also heard RSTV big pictures, made notes and revised them. Selectively I also watched India’s world, security scan, RSTV Vishesh. This I did when I felt like, when I didn’t feel like reading anything else or during evenings.
I have tried to write a blog to share with you some samples of what I have described above. This is the link to my blog: (click the links in red)
I have also uploaded some answer copies of test series I wrote for your reference.
If you have any query, or anything that I can do to be of some help, write to me on my blog. I will reply to the best of my abilities.
In the end, what I have understood after 5 attempts to secure a rank is that this journey is a transformative one. Whether if clear the exam or not, we emerge as very different, matured, confident and transformed individuals. When I failed after my first interview, I went to meet vinay sir. He told me “your success is only delayed, not denied”. This is very true. Not all of us are at the same starting point. Some may already know the demand of the exam and may crack in a single attempt, while others may take a while. But not being at the same starting point can never stop us from achieving what we dream of. Some of us may have to push more harder, struggle more longer, face more failures and setbacks. But, that’s okay, we will not stop, we will never stop. For everything we lose, we gain something and for everything we gain, we lose something. It is our outlook towards our lives, we either regret or we rejoice.
All the very best !