MOTIVATION: Myths and Mistakes to Avoid, by Kumar Ashirwad, Rank – 35, Insights Offline Student

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Hello friends,

I am sorry for the huge delay in posting this article. Had to visit my village where electricity is a luxury and internet connection a futuristic notion.

Let me introduce myself. I am Kumar Ashirwad. I have done my schooling from Darjeeling and Jamshedpur. I did my graduation from IIT Kharagpur in Civil Engineering. I passed out in 2011 and then went to Mukherjee Nagar on 12th June 2011 to start my civil service preparation. It took me four attempts and five years to clear the exam. If on that day someone had told me that success would elude me for 5 years, I am not sure whether I would have continued my preparation. Thank God for our inability to know the future.

During these 5 years I have committed every MISTAKE that a candidate can make in their Civil services preparation. And hence I humbly put forth that I have a lot of suggestions that I genuinely feel will help you to avoid the same mistakes that I made. This will be the first in a series of articles I will be posting on insightsonindia, that I personally feel will be helpful in your preparation.

Let’s begin.

I will first list the MYTHS of UPSC exam. These myths wasted a lot of my time and effort, and it is imperative you avoid these :

1). You have to study a lot for this exam.

WRONG! ABSOLUTELY WRONG! NOT ONLY USELESS, BUT HARMFUL. This approach wasted a lot of my time. You need a broad COMMON SENSE understanding of a wide variety of issues. Not a deep understanding of any issue (here I am talking of GS, not Optionals). I have seen candidates study much less than me and crack the exam in 2 attempts. Why? BECAUSE THEY FOCUSSED ON DEVELOPING A BROAD UNDERSTANDING RATHER A DEEP UNDERSTANDING.  And most importantly because they studied INTELLIGENTLY. Let me demonstrate. Take the XAXA report on tribals for example. Person A reads the entire report (takes 5-6 days) and feels immensely satisfied (Between, person A is me). Person B types “salient points of XAXA report” on the net and reads only that and bookmarks it for revision.

This has 3 advantages. First, the time saved. More importantly but less obviously, there is a second advantage. An average answer is of around 175-200 words. YOU DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH TIME OR SPACE ON THE ANSWER SHEET TO WRITE ALL THE THINGS THAT YOU HAVE READ IN THE REPORT. Only two or three points of the report that are relevant to the question asked and that you REMEMBER, which is the third advantage. REMEMBERING STUFF IN THE EXAM HALL. Person A has read too much –  too many reports, too many “bahut zyaada achha articles” in The Hindu, too many books. But because of this he/she cannot REMEMBER 99 percent of what he/she has studied. Person B has read important points of XAXA report, uses those few points in the answer because he/she  REMEMBERS them as he/she has read COMPARATIVELY LESS.

2). Choosing an OPTIONAL.

The parameters for choosing an optional  are sometimes not rooted in reality. For instance do not make “interest in the optional” the only criteria. Yes, you should not hate the optional subject. But the interest holds only the first time you read the subject. Revisions are never interesting. So while choosing an optional please also take into consideration the recent performance of the subject (many deserving candidates with Geography could not make it to the list, because of UPSC’s  genocidal policy towards Geography), the length of the syllabus, the objectivity/subjectivity of the optional etc. While studying an optional for the first time go through the previous years question papers frequently and see whether you can answer the questions. You will, for instance, find that while Anthropology questions can be answered as soon as you read the topic, Public Administration questions cannot. So choose an optional that in your opinion will fetch you THE HIGHEST MARKS PER HOUR SPENT STUDYING THAT OPTIONAL.

3). Read THE HINDU/INDIAN EXPRESS  etc daily.

This is another VERY HARMFUL MYTH. You should read newspapers for a maximum of one and a half years since you began preparation. The aim is to develop a broad understanding of important issues. That’s it. The Hindu is not published as a GS material for UPSC candidates. So after 1 to 1.5 years, STOP READING NEWSPAPERS IN DETAIL. SIMPLY GOING THROUGH THE HEADLINES WILL DO. YOU CAN ALSO COMPLETELY STOP READING IT (I have not read it since 2 years, it’s my personal opinion and was my option!).

BUT, WHY? Isn’t The Hindu, The Bible of UPSC? (religious pun unintended). NO. Let me demonstrate. A question is asked on The Whistleblower Protection Act or the ease of doing business. Person A has read 5-6 “bahut zyaada achha ” articles in The Hindu but scattered over a period of 3-4 months. Hence he does not have a coherent “in-one place” memory of all that he/she has read about the Act.  Moreover he/she has read around 1000-1500 articles of The Hindu (2-3 articles per day). So against he cannot remember the points related to the question asked. Person B has stopped reading The Hindu. But he/she has read the monthly news compilation of Vision Ias or insightsonindia. He/she remembers more points in a more systematic manner because he/she has read them in one place as opposed to reading them in a scattered manner in The Hindu. And obviously Person B also saves much more time and effort. This point is also in agreement with my 1st point of not studying too much.

4). Simply joining a test series takes care of the Answer Writing.

WRONG AND FALSELY REASSURING. Why? First the objective of the test series should be to improve the quantity and quality of your answers. Test series in Delhi can take care of the first (to some extent), but not the second. Because they enroll too many students and hence the quality of checking suffers. Personal guidance is obviously impossible. They do not have enough time to write meaningful comments that will actually help in improving your answers.

In this matter, I was extremely lucky to have the guidance of Vinay Sir in insightsonindia offline test series in Bengaluru. However this will not be possible for the vast majority of the students. You will have to ANALYZE the answers yourself. Read your own answers yourself after a few days of the test. Get it checked by your friends. Find someone who has gotten good marks in UPSC and mail them a few answers. Follow answers posted on insightsonindia website that you feel are better than yours.  Most importantly note down the flaws at the back of each answer sheet. Read them for at least half an hour before the next test. Resolve in your mind that you will not repeat the mistakes this time around. Take up 2-3 random questions and imagine how you will write the answer so as not to repeat your mistakes.

Do these things immediately before each and every test. Approaching any test series in a perfunctory, non analytical manner is a waste of time. In a nutshell, EXTRACT AS MUCH IMPROVEMENT AS YOU CAN FROM EVERY TEST. WRITE. RE READ. ANALYZE. RESOLVE TO IMPROVE. VISUALIZE THE DESIRED IMPROVEMENT. WRITE THE NEXT TEST INCORPORATING THE DESIRED IMPROVEMENTS. REPEAT THE CYCLE. AND DO NOT GET DISHEARTENED IF RESULTS DO NOT FOLLOW IMMEDIATELY. The flaws in your answer writing are akin to an ingrained bad habit and like any bad habit will take time to be weeded out.

5). UPSC requires 14-15 hours daily.

WRONG AGAIN. MISLEADING. You must have read many interviews of toppers who say they studied for so many hours daily. Most probably they are exaggerating or followed a tougher than necessary route to success. 9-10 hours daily is enough. But most importantly BE CONSISTENT. Give up the habit of studying for 14 hours a day, four days continuously, and then feeling so pleased with yourself(actually myself)  that you give yourself a break for 2-3 days. Why? Because firstly, this approach will result in lesser number of hours studied on an average per day. But more importantly, you will forget a lot of what you have studied in those four days. You will have to study it again leading to an entirely avoidable duplication of effort and wastage of time. Take a day off every 9-10 days. But the rest of the days stick to your routine of 9-10 hours daily religiously. BE CONSISTENT. A steady beam of energy results in light. Rapid, short-lived bursts of energy lead to shock. Pardon the scientific inaccuracy of the above statement, if any.

6). The unending quest for TIPS and more tips.

We all love to gather all the tips, all the current wisdom available with successful candidates, coaching classes and other UPSC war veterans. I have, in the past, been guilty of this myself. It inherently feels satisfying to gather as many tips as we can. There are two dangers here. First, no two people are alike. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. The same goes for women. # Gender Equality. The point is the person giving you tips has a different approach, a different intelligence level and a different perspective of things. Do not blindly follow all tips. Use the filter of reason or logic and follow only those which seem suitable to YOU. You are unique and know yourself better than anyone else. So feel free to accept, reject or modify any tips including mine. I have wasted at least two years due to blindly following wrong (for me) advice from well-meaning people. Do not repeat this mistake. Secondly, too many tips lead to too many tips not being implemented. Take a few tips which you feel are logical and the most important ones and then IMPLEMENT THEM IN YOUR PREPARATION. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT HERE. TRANSLATING THOSE TIPS INTO ACTION.

                                                                                   I realize that it is already a long article. But I feel it is very important to know what NOT to do before knowing what to do. I think Chanakya said that. Even if he did not it still holds. In my next article (will be posted shortly), I will dwell upon WHAT TO DO. We will cover Prelims, Mains, Essay and Answer writing in detail. I will also try to upload some of my answer sheets from insightsonindia test series. Hope this article was of some help to you.

Thank you & Best wishes,

Kumar Ashirwad

Rank-35, CSE – 2015

My Marks

Essay – 136,

GS – 1 – 95

GS – 2 – 91

GS – 3 – 87

GS- 4 – 102

Anthropology – 1 – 119

Anthropology – 2 – 133

Interview – 193