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A Detailed Strategy For UPSC Civil Services Preparation – Akand Sitra


My Personal Strategy and How Insights was Instrumental in my Preparation

Honestly, in my opinion, I shouldn’t be writing this article at this stage. Who am I to tell you how to study? I haven’t cleared Mains yet, and have no authority to tell others how to strategize. But, I do believe in an egalitarian society and despise distorted competition. The whole concept of Insights is to help each other out(aam aadmi) and threaten these coaching centers. But, in this article, I shall not list out books, nor tell you what to study. There are enough posts in this website and in many others to discuss about them. This is more about strategies and addressing motivational needs.

I recently gave Mains, which was good, but cannot say anything till the results come. I may pass, I might not. That truly doesn’t matter now. I have always shared all my answers. I believe in a healthy equal competition without any hidden agenda. So, I thought it should be my moral responsibility to tell all co-aspirants some additional personal points which can be of use in their preparation. This might be against me for 2014, but aren’t we all here to learn from each other? I hope this article can help atleast one candidate to secure a good rank.

I shall write it in the form of a timeline. You might want to read my previous article “Why I want to Become an IAS Officer”, to get the right context. This can be considered as its sequel.

I shall start this article, from May 26th evening, after the Prelims exam. I was both happy and sad at that time. I knew I would pass prelims, but I also knew my Paper One was horrible. I checked some key and saw that I would get 60 marks only. 60 marks out of 200! That was shocking. I got a mere 30 questions right. And the whole Mains is based on Paper One. As an Engineer, paper two was easy for me, I was expecting around 180. So, I was just another engineer who had attempted this examination without studying.

Of Course, those 3 months prior studying did help me a bit, but I am sure anyone without studying would get 30 questions right out of 100. I was just an average student at college, and I proved to be below-average in Paper One. I was disappointed. The worse was yet to come.

My parents and relatives were angry with me. I am an OBC candidate. But, without telling anyone I applied for this exam under GEN category. I honestly believed that reservation should not be misused. I was educated, financially stable and my life was almost settled. Using quota for this examination also, did not appeal to me. I believed that reservation was meant to be used by the disadvantaged only. My parents later accepted it, but my relatives still are angry with me. Nobody gets the logic! I anyways had an ulterior motive, I did not want anyone to point out to me, 30 years later, that I got an IAS seat only because of my reservation. I wanted to prove everyone that I did not want any help.

Another worry was that my parents had asked me to take coaching. They wanted to send me to Delhi. I was averse to coaching. I did not want it under any circumstances. My relatives pressurized me to go to a coaching centre. They even offered to finance me for atleast two years. But, I was adamant saying I did not want to go for coaching. I did not want some money-minded person to tell me what to study and how to study.

So, after learning that I had low marks in Paper One. They became more worried but I did not care much. Ideals were more important than success. The next day, I wanted to test my writing practice. So, I took a random easy previous year paper question and tried to answer it. I was devastated. I knew the question, I knew the answer, but I could not formulate anything. I could not make coherent sentences and could not write more than a paragraph. I got frustrated that I couldnt even answer a single question. So next, I took an editorial page, and wanted to write till I got tired. I wrote for 45 mins, I think I wrote around 750 words, with extremely bad handwriting and my hand pained a lot. It pained for the rest of the day. After all, it was more than 4 years since I wrote anything. (Who writes in a college?!)

Pic 1 shows my previous handwriting, in May.

I was deeply worried now. I had a bad handwriting, I had no knowledge of anything, I couldnt write for more than an hour and did not even touch 1000 words. With this, I couldnt reach anywhere. And also, everyone in the family thought I was a show-off who didnt want coaching and dint use my caste certificate. They thought I was deluded and was acting idiotically. Even though I did not care much, there was an internal pressure to prove everyone wrong, and the way things were going, I was soon to be doomed.

But, I did not give up.

The next day, I brainstormed. I wanted to bring out the perfect strategy to tackle Mains. I came up with a list of points.

  1. Make a detailed timetable. I wanted to ensure that the next six months would be used perfectly, so I devised a day to day timetable. I assigned one week to each subject, and ensured that I could complete the whole syllabus. I had to restart everything. See Pic.

  1. Quit using a mobile phone. I was staying at home, and most of my friends would chat online. And I was addicted to my phone. So, I promised myself that I would not touch my phone again. When I joined office, I quickly became famous as the guy who doesnt use a phone. 😛 But, I did not tell many friends of mine that I was preparing for this exam. So, I lost many friends when they misunderstood me when I said I dint use a phone and couldnt give them a number. But, I hope they would realize soon that I couldnt help it. Anyways, quitting a mobile phone is not that important, but immensely helpful if done. My new friends in Office couldnt contact me, so I was not obliged to go out with them and socialize. They thought I was weird but it wasnt their fault because I did not tell anyone that I was preparing for Civil Services.

  1. Your study environment should continuously motivate you. Have a bright tubelight and a good clean surrounding. I stuck these on my wall, so that I could look at it and get motivated. You can get the emblem pic from the India 2013 Book.

  2. Now I shall delve upon, micro-strategies. These go into the extreme details, which usually nobody cares or thinks about.

a) December Chill – I knew that december would be cold and your fingers would become very stiff due to the immense cold, and writing would be affected drastically. Many people write in Delhi and they would suffer. I wrote in Bangalore, which was chilly too. So, I used to wake up at 5am everyday, dip my hands in cold water, dry it off and tried to write around 1000 words every morning. I did this for two months before the exams, and it helped me immensely. When everyone else was shivering, I could easily write the 5000 words. This is very important. How much ever you read, if you are not able to answer a question in those 7 mins, it is not of use in any way.

b) Pens – In May, I bought ten different kinds of ball pens. I wrote around 3 pages with every kind. Then, I shortlisted the best one with which I could feel comfortable, would not sweat, gave a good handwriting and would satisfy me. Then, I bought around 5 packs of this kind of   chosen pen, so that I can get immensely used to and can perform better in the exam. I used the same pen for the next 6 months. You develop a bond with it. 😛 This might help at the max, to give 5 extra marks. But hey!, that is 35 marks extra if all papers were included!

c) Paper – Everyone requires rough papers. I thought instead of buying books or using waste paper, why not just use the original answer sheets? I bought a sample booklet, measured them and got 2000 sheets printed. This cost me just Rs. 500. Much cheaper than the books that I had to buy. No, I dont have a printer at home, Im not that rich. I went to a regular printing press (The one which is used to print newspapers). Moreover, I got them customized according to my preferences. (I put my name on top, you all know that, whoever has read my answer sheets :P) This proved to be extremely useful. It motivated me all times seeing my name there, and also writing in the same answer sheet for 3 months, ensured I would write the exam more efficiently. It might have added 5 extra marks, but hey, every mark counts!

  1. Stick a large India and a world map on the wall. Whenever you read about some place, try to find it on the map, itll help you get a better understanding, as it will be a holistic learning.

I was all set now. I just had to implement this, which would be a much tougher part.

My office would start from July 15th. I had to join it, I could not take any risks. And it was May 28th. So, the next 45 days would be the most crucial aspects of my preparation, as after that I would not get much time. So, I studied. I was sticking to my timetable and was gathering knowledge. There was no writing practice, no taking notes. I was just reading how much ever I could. One must first have knowledge, only then all these strategies and writing would count. So, I studied immensely. But, later I also forgot a lot of stuff that I studied. Till today, I cannot remember historical dates or article numbers. I was bad at remembering names too. I was just good at understanding concepts. That is why, most of the answers that I write in Insights, do not have much factual data. All are too general and colloquial. I had a bad memory power. I just hoped that UPSC wouldnt ask any factual questions and would involve only conceptual and analytical questions, in which I was good at.

UPSC is such an examination, whose syllabus increases everyday by one newspaper. So, it is a very dynamic process and one must be updated on everything every time. I realized this soon and followed another strategy. I understood that news and current affairs are the single most important part of my preparation. If there are no direct questions on CA, I can always use them as a part of my various answers in various papers.

  1. All Hindu headlines, PIB articles, IDSA articles etc come directly to my Google Reader(Now I use Feedly), so everyday I used to read the news which comes first on PIB, then read it again as a Hindu headline online.

  2. Then read the newspaper and editorials. (This is a third iteration)

  3. Then read GKToday CA(Fourth)

  4. After this, watch “Insight” program on LSTV which would have a debate on the CA issue. (Fifth)

So, every important news item would have been read 5 times, all its pros and cons discussed and will be etched in your mind forever.

I used to read the Feedly RSS feed at 5 in the morning. The screen light would make my sleep go away and also ensured I knew what news would come in that day’s paper. This helped me in waking up at 5 and studying too.

And later, on July 15th I joined my company. It takes around half an hour to reach there from my house. So, I used to read one half of the newspaper(Only imp headlines and one editorial page) while going and the other half while coming back in the bus journey. The first three months were awesome. Since, we were fresh out of college, we didn’t have much work. The training also was for around 3 hours everyday. But, we had to stay back in the office from 10 to 4 30. So, the rest of the time, I was reading PDF files or was googling for various topics. This helped me a lot in my preparation, in two ways –

a) I never had a continuous motivation. I don’t think anyone is continuously motivated to study all the time. I could never study for days together. I was sure I would not sit in the same room, studying everyday for 6 months. I knew I needed a change in the environment every now and then. So, this office going and studying made me study much more. I could study with the same concentration in office, and the same conc. at home, for a longer time. If I stayed only at home, I would just surf the internet or watch TV. I am thankful that I did the right thing by taking up a job.

b) It increases tension that you are not able to finish the syllabus because you are handling two lives. This increased my efficiency. I was scared that I had to study a lot, so I did more study both at the office and at home. Saturday and Sunday were holidays anyways.

But, by October, I realized that the workload was becoming too much, and my first priority should be Civil Services and I had a lot of writing practice to do. My handwriting was still bad, so I decided to quit my job on October 23rd. I knew studying one month at home wouldn’t bore me. I knew I had taken a right decision. From Oct 23rd till Nov 30th, I dedicated myself to Insights, which proved instrumental in my preparation. I’ll tell exactly how in a moment, but now I have to digress.

After I passed prelims, my relatives were happy and they started coming to the house, with advice and books. My uncle gave all his book collection, he was studying in his days it seems. He also went to Delhi and got me a bag full of books.

I was never a book-guy. I can stare at the computer screen all day, but couldn’t read a book for more than an hour without losing track, unless it was a novel. I was deeply saddened now, because I had a mountain of books in front of me, I had to atleast give one reading of it. And I had less than 3 months to Mains. See Pic, with all books kept on table and it is two rows, not one. It was very scary.

Till today, I don’t think I have completed even 40% of all those books.

Then, mid-September, after my birthday, I met Insights. I was doing some random googling studying and I by mistake, stumbled upon Insights. After seeing his archives page with all the “Daily Answer Writing Challenge” answers, I realized I got a goldmine.

Till now, I had done some amount of decent studying. But, still I was not able to think and formulate a good answer. My handwriting was still bad and I couldnt write for a long time on paper. I did not give any answer writing practice and was still working at office. I started taking leaves, I knew I had to quit at some point. I did ask them for a three-month loss-of-pay leave, but they had rejected. I again asked HR for one month leave, they said No. So, I had to quit. But, before quitting I did try to use up all the leaves and other benefits I could get. 😛

I had worked for exactly 100 days, July 15th to Oct 23rd. I had made enough cash to help me survive for another 4 months. I did not want to rely on anyone, even though I was staying at home. I had to ensure I had some backup ready.

After quitting the office, I had no turning back. From Oct 23rd evening, I started answering all questions that Insights used to post. I used to take a lot of time, formulating the answer. I used to type it out first, because I wanted to ensure my thought-flow was fast enough. Writing would slow down the thought process, so I instead typed. And later wrote.

Anyways, I have to tell about the different concentric categories of people who pass the exams first, before I continue further :-

Type 1 – All those who passed Prelims. There are serious players who are true studs, there are serious players who are just good enough, there are okayish students, there are lucky engineers who got through due to paper two(like me), and there are just lucky ones. They constitute 15000 people.

Type 2 – These people have studied everything. They have taken coaching, they are genuinely interested and have read all kinds of books and magazines. They are about 7000 people. But, they haven’t worked hard enough. They just have subject knowledge.

Type 3 – These people have the subject knowledge. They have done enough writing practice. They have given mock tests, and gave a good emphasis on writing. But they take time to think and formulate answers. There are about 3000 such people.

Type 4 – Have knowledge, have good writing practice. They are able to formulate answers precisely and are able to write them well too. They are around 1500. These people will pass Mains. (The other 500 who pass Mains will come from the third type)

Type 5 – Same as type 4. But, these people, due to immense answer writing practice, have the ability to “Write answers for any type of question that they face, even if they have no knowledge on it. They are still able to write the answers impressively.”They have consistency, they write nice answers for all the 9 papers without discriminating any paper. There are around 750 such people in the whole country.

Type 6 – Knowledgeable, able to write 5000 words in 3 hours impressively. They are empathetic towards the society, have sympathy towards others’ grievances and are true Indians. There are about 150 such people.

The above types might be fully wrong, but this is what I had believed in November. It might not be true, but it did motivate me and made me want to become a Type-6 person. But, one has to undergo through each phase and cannot skip any phase. I started doing it and Insights website had helped me in reaching each phase.

Insights gives around 3 GS questions, 3 SnT questions(Thanks to Tauseef), 1 case study and 3 Pub Ad questions(Thanks to Aditya Jha). So, everyday there are around 10 questions to solve. Assuming each question is for 200 words, one needs to write 2000 words everyday. That much answer writing practice is more than enough. I never solved the “Secure 2014” initiative, but adding another 10 questions from there would make me write 4000 words every single day. This improved my handwriting drastically and also improved the writing speed. I used to put a timer and write down the answer. If I do that timer-writing practice for each question for 30 days also, it’ll help me a lot in evading “panic” in the exam when one doesnt know the answer to write. Moreover, you also learn to write in a better way. See pic. My new handwriting.

Also, since I practiced in those rough answer sheets, it indirectly told me how much space exactly a 200 word answer would take to write. For me, it takes two pages, with around 125 words on each side. This also helped me a lot, because UPSC had given three pages to write a 10 mark answer. If an untrained mind, even by mistake, tried to fill the full space, because he had more points, even in one paper, he would suffer. That is what happened in GS-I. It suddenly blew everyone’s minds. 25 questions in 3 hours with 5000 words. And each question had “three” pages. And many would atleast try to solve the first question by writing fully. They would later realize their blunder. Many in my centre, left almost 80 marks itseems.

But, Insights writing practice helped me to evade that situation. The immense answer formulation(10 every day) helped me to plan, structure and formulate an answer very fast. So, I took 7 mins as prescribed for each answer. I knew when to stop writing, as I knew how much page I needed to fill up. UPSC couldnt lure me to write the extra sheets. So, it helped me in the first paper, I wrote decently for 235 marks. I did not know answers for 2 questions, and I had run out of time. The next paper, I wrote for 240 marks(I dint know what was Gujral’s doctrine, I told you, I was bad at remembering names), and GS-III, GS-IV, PA-I and PA-II, I wrote for all 250 marks.

So, time management, with good handwriting and a nice answer was possible only because I had wrote almost all answers that Insights had posted in this website. Moreover, many questions came directly and indirectly from the archives, which was immensely beneficial, as I also read everyone else’s answers and did learn many new points.

Not just writing practice, but even concept building was also due to Insights. The ten questions which came up everyday were new, relevant and tough to solve. They were extremely conceptual thus would increase one’s knowledge and understanding.

On top of concept building and writing practice, Insights also helped in one more thing. It is a hidden benefit which people might not recognize easily. After writing so many answers on my own, I got a new ability. An ability where I could write something for every type of question. Even if I knew nothing about a question, I could answer by writing something relevant to the subject. Along with this, when you answer questions, you get immense satisfaction and a huge boost in confidence. This self-satisfaction and a confidence to clear the examination helps in building a healthy attitude coupled with knowledge building and writing practice would make a killer combo to pass this draconian examination.

UPSC Civil Services is about writing something about everything and not about writing everything about something. The instructions saying “A well educated person can answer the questions. An overall outlook is necessary and not in-depth studying” is perfect, and UPSC adheres to it. All questions can be answered by a trained layman and Newspaper reading becomes sacrosanct.

Insights’ daily CA analysis, its monthly magazines, secure 2014, everyday questions, weekly debates and essays. All are mandatory and will help you in ways you would never even comprehend. Insights alone can make any dedicated average person like most of us, clear this examination with flying colours.

Not just the material, but the guidance and motivation which Vinay Sir and his team gives has a high personal touch to it, which makes all the readers get emotionally attached to it and sometimes get addicted to the website too.

If I clear this examination, I can honestly and selflessly say that it was only due to Insights. I shall forever will be indebted to him, because the website transformed me from a below-average demotivated student to the one who could crack this examination.(If I do so)

So, with that note, I shall sign off. I hope all doubts, clarifications can be asked in the comments. Since, I am absolutely free now, I shall answer each one of them. Also, anyone can contact me on I am in touch with many co-aspirants and I would love to help more people. I am not giving my phone number, as I have a personal life too. 😛 😛

Anyways, all the very best for all of us for 2014. We shall all prepare together and more importantly, trust Insights immensely and hope that at least 600 ranks in the rank-list should be from this website’s readers.

May God Bless us all.

Note from Insights:

And he cleared Mains!!

All the best for the Interview.