Saketa cracked IAS with his first attempt, with an All India Rank of 14. An alumnus from NLSIU Bangalore, he hails from Hyderabad and took Law as his optional. He shared his journey towards the Civil Services with ForumIAS and here are the takeaways from his success story.
Why Civil Services?
On a personal level I have always been inspired by my parents who are both civil servants. I was amazed by their motivation levels after thirty years of serving as opposed to my motivation levels to work as a lawyer which was waning ever since I graduated in 2011.
From a professional point of view apart from obvious reasons such as public service, prestige and responsibility that comes with the civil services, I also realized that as a lawyer my ability to make an impact was limited to a particular case and by and large post-facto. As a civil servant, I would be able to make a meaningful impact at an early age and would likely to help a much larger number of people.
I followed the advice of friends who had already cleared and they were immensely helpful in streamlining my entire GS preparation. I was convinced that studying for GS Mains and Prelims together makes the most sense from an efficiency point of view. So I did both at the same time.
My preparation was on two levels : Topic wise and issue wise. One should be careful not to rely solely on a single source but a base always helps – for instance it is important to know the basic facts on pressure group-advocacy, lobbying, electioneering etc from these materials but the rest is mostly from newspapers and trying to connect the dots. It is important to connect the aforesaid topic with the Hindu editorial on activist groups and pressure groups.
For current affairs, I more or less followed the usual path of reading Hindu as base and supplementing it with Indian express editorials where necessary. I quickly realized that it is useless to track a developing story so no point of taking cuttings. What I did was to copy paste the most important paragraphs of the day’s newspaper in an MS-Word document which would be around 2 pages each day. End of the week I would sit and re-read the 14 pages of the entire week and condense it into one page which would then become part of my revision notes.
So, towards the end just before the mains I had around 100 pages long notes for each subject GS 1-2-3-4 and revised them in the last week.
Law was my Optional. Here’s what I did
Paper 1 of Law deals with Constitutional law and International law. This paper requires a good level of depth in terms of your understanding so it is important not to try shortcuts. I read M.P.Jain and Starke and again connected the major issues of the day such as NJAC, federalism etc to the static part.
Paper 2 is simply too vast to be done comprehensively so I read Dukkis for almost all subjects and used Google for the rest. Nishith Desai is a great research based law firm that prepares amazing 100 pagers on topics like: Arbitration; IP law in India and so on.
Past year questions tend to get repeated, so solving them is absolutely a must. One must be sure in the last few weeks before the exam that they can answer all the questions that have already been asked.
Again for law also, I prepared revised notes of 100 pages for Paper 1 and 2 respectively which I read right before Mains.
I always took Saturdays off throughout my preparation months. Sunday was always a test day. It would be a mixture of Prelims one weekend, GS the other, sometimes Optional and so on.
Test series for Prelims are useless if you think similar questions will come in the UPSC. But they are seriously useful if you want to know where you stand.
Try and do two mains test series the day after the Prelims. Most people waste weeks doing two things: chilling after a particular stage or wasting time speculating before the expected result date. This should be avoided.
Specifics about the Prelims
Books/notes for General Studies Prelims
Exactly what ForumIAS recommends. ?
Strategy for CSAT
I did one test every single Sunday from February onwards except a few weekends. Practice makes perfect.
On whether attempting more questions is the key to success in Prelims
Attempting aggressively is definitely important, and even more so after this year’s changes. If you are not sure just try eliminating options and then go with your gut. Forget about the last question the moment you move on to the next because if you keep thinking whether it was the other option you will screw up the following questions. Be calm and confident.
Specifics about the Mains
As mentioned earlier, I already had 100-page revised notes for the GS papers and also my optional. Went through them and wrote tests in preparation for Mains.
How far is coaching necessary in the preparation?
Not necessary for those who are confident of their basics. Those who have no clue or are not confident about certain subjects should go for it. Do a self diagnostic test of where you are strong and where you are weak.
About the Interview
The interview experience
Faced a lot of factual questions from the Chairman. Other members asked opinion-based questions. It was around 30 minutes long. I kept my cool throughout the interview. Said “I do not know” to questions I did not know the answer to.
Qualities you think that are being tested or being looked for
A lot of people are of the view that it is not a test of your knowledge. I would like to differ here. I think it is a test of your knowledge, personality and most importantly your reasoning. They see how you deal with questions to which you may not know the direct answer but can analyse and arrive at an answer. Only if you don’t have a clue should you consider “I do not know, Sir”.
For instance one of the members asked me tell about the Malacca Dilemma. So I said while I have not heard of the exact term sir I would want to make an educated guess. And he said “Of course!” and went on to like my final answer.
° Be confident and calm.
° I had been told I come across as arrogant sometimes, so I tried my best to not lean back in my chair; I tried to look eager, smile and acknowledge the member’s knowledge of a certain topic.
° Prepare hard: For me interview was just a continuation of the Mains preparation. I continued reading two papers and re-read weekly and condensed it to create an interview revision note of 200 pages. I also went through my GS 1-2-3-4 revision notes and optional notes. Kept a special tab on contemporary events.
° Never faff: If you have no idea then acknowledge it.
° Don’t spend too much time answering your first question – allow the members to keep asking you questions and keep giving concise answers. You are marked most highly on supplementary questions not the first one so try to answer as many as you can.
° Talk too fast and they’ll talk faster and you’ll freak out.
° Avoid the temptation to jump into an answer – always take 2-3 seconds to formulate your thoughts.
Magazines and newspapers for Current Affairs
Hindu. Yojana. Indian Express editorials.
On whether marks in school or college can impact one’s score in the Interview
No impact unless there is a huge drop or they are abnormally low.
Impact of the Internet
Use of the internet in your preparation
Crucial. Every time I wanted the status of a topic I would google and search within the past year results to get the most updated information..
It can sometimes lead to a waste of time, though. Many coaching centres have done the hard work for you of creating great 20 page booklets – might as well take advantage and then supplement these materials from the internet.
Whether a member of ForumIAS: Yes (Username: aspirant255)
Did ForumIAS actually help?
It was useful. I used to follow the discussions and the suggested booklist also got me going.
To sum up
Any message for IAS aspirants who look up to you
In addition to the above, I can just give you the following tips, but please do take them with a pinch of salt:
• Always have a back up! Carefully analyse the pros and cons of giving repeated attempts and make sure you never put your life on hold for this one exam.
• Do not make this exam an ego thing and take it personally. There are hundreds of toppers/smart people giving this exam who do not make it for reasons beyond their control.
• Hard work is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. You need to be lucky as well. I am being completely honest when I say that there hardly any difference in caliber between rank 14 or rank 400. It was just someone’s day and it wasn’t for someone else.