Essay 45 to 158 – Rising from Shock
Nikhil B, Rank 107
Hello fellow aspirants. I am Nikhil B. I have secured 107th rank in my 2nd attempt. I have seen both the lows and highs of UPSC, I will get to that in a while, here is my 2 cents about the “Journey” of a Kid who wanted to realise his parents dream, through his.
Firstly I would like to congratulate all of you for stepping into the civil service “battle field”. You have acknowledged to sacrifice the prime of your life to not only achieving your dreams, but also to serve the people. This shows character which will mould your personality in the coming years. Fasten your seatbelt ladies and gentlemen, you’re in for a bumpy yet enriching ride of your life.
My father is a government servant. So naturally like any middle class kid, I also wanted to be like him. Apart from this my mother was inspired by Smt Jija Hari Singh who served in our hometown of Chitradurga as a Superintendent of Police. She had to forego her dream of becoming a Sub inspector as she wanted to devote herself to raising me. This was another reason why I wanted to take up civil services. Adding to this an incident at the Tehasildar’s office, where I saw the officials mistreating an old lady day in and day out, motivated me further. I am what I am today because of the unconditional support of my parents. When I turned down multiple offers during campus placements, they didn’t once question me. My uncles have also played a pivotal role in shaping my Civil Services dream.
The journey started on 28th of June 2014 when I left for Delhi. I decided to take up Kannada literature as my optional thanks to my friend Ashuthosh. He explained it benefits and also gave me a book by Mr Devanuru Mahadev, which remains very close to my heart even to this day. For Kannada literature I joined Shivakumar Sir’s class in Delhi. His classes and notes are excellent. He understands the mindset of non arts students and tries to simplify Kannada to people like us. Apart from this, his notes are also comprehensive to understand the basics. Although I was happy with the optional coaching, I wasn’t happy with the general studies coaching, hence I came back to Bangalore on 19th March 2015. My stay in Delhi helped me realise the competition I had to deal with if I was to be successful. Also I learned the importance of self study which in my opinion is the only way to crack this exam.
I came across the website Insightsonindia only in 2014. This provided with an innovative approach to the preparation which suited my style of studying. I religiously followed the Secure initiative for 6 months which helped me understand the dynamics of answer writing. The website also came out with the Revision plan for the prelims which ensured that I gave a comprehensive revision of all the topics just 60 days before the exam. The daily targets, though unrealistic, helped me push myself.
As soon as I gave my first prelims, I was in two minds, whether to stay in Bangalore or go to Delhi. The minute I spoke to Vinay sir, I knew I didn’t have to go anywhere but insights. The Mains test series was comprehensive and ensured that we touched on all topics. Since we were accustomed to write 10 answers in one hour, in the main exam I was able to finish the paper well in time. I was confident of clearing my mains as all my papers had gone well. But when the mains results came out, I was shocked to not find I roll number. I thought I hadn’t done well in my optional subject It was here when Vinay sir constantly encouraged me to keep working harder. I took a week off to recuperate. After this I was in constant touch with Vinay sir. He asked me to forget about the previous attempt and concentrate on the next attempt. When the final marks came out I was hit by another bolt, I had scored only 45/250 in my essay paper! Yes you read it right, I am pretty sure mine must have been one of the lowest essay scorers in the 2015 examination. I have been a good English student throughout my life. In the couple of mock essays that I had written I had not scored below 120, so this came to me as a shocker. I never blamed UPSC. I accepted it was my mistake somewhere and moved on immediately. But the bright side to this was that I had scored 405 in my General studies which was a sigh of relief.
For prelims I once again followed the Insights revision programme which did wonders. I also tried to solve as many insights prelims papers as possible in their offline test centre. The solutions that they provide is one of the best that I have personally come across especially for the prelims. I would highly recommend everyone to go go through them at least a couple of times before prelims. They cover both static and the current affairs part which ensures that nothing is left out. For CSAT paper I didn’t specifically prepare. I solved 2 papers the week before the exam, this was enough. But considering the rising difficulty of the paper, I would request all of you to please concentrate on it at least 2 months before the prelims.
After finishing the prelims I requested Vinay sir to take me into core group of the offline test series. There is a misunderstanding that the core group gets special attention. I would like to clarify here that there is no such thing. Vinay sir is equally helping to all of the students who approach him. The only benefit that I can think of, is finding a group to discuss the answers after writing the test. This can also be done if you’re not a part of the core group. You just need a few committed friends. Another misconception is that Vinay sir corrects the papers of only the core group aspirants. This is again not true. He corrects only one answer that to right In front of you and explains your mistakes to you. After this it is up to us to build on the feedback. As he time and again stresses, he acts only as a mentor giving you the right guidance. He is only the torch, we have to use his guidance to find our path to Dholpur House.
All of you might be wondering what I did differently this time than last year. Here I would like to credit Vinay sir and my good friend Shiva Kumar for their able guidance. Also I would like to thank Shri Balaji D K IAS and Shri Pavan Kumar G G IAS for not only providing me with valuable feedback, but also constantly motivating me during my down times. If not for them I would be swimming in a whirlpool even in this attempt.
The first mistake that I avoided was to practice more essays. I had written 5 essays in my first attempt, for my second attempt I wrote 25 essays. Yes I know this sounds like an overkill, which it probably is, but I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. There are 2 benefits to writing more essays, firstly, your structure automatically improves. My fried Shivu compared my first and last essay and told me he could see a marked improvement in the structure. Vinay sir also one day before the essay test asked me to write an essay. When he skimmed through it, he told me I would not get less than 140. This acted as a confidence booster.
The second change was in my language. I used a lot of metaphors, idioms and flowery language in my first attempt. Vinay sir stripped me down of this. He constantly urged me to use simple language as it would reflect a better clarity of thought in the essay. I used to do this in the General studies papers which had fetched me higher marks. I tried to use the language used in the NCERTs this time. It took me a while, but I did come around it by the time of the final exam.
Thirdly, both the officers Balaji sir and Pavan sir asked me to look at any topic from a multitude of angles. It was also important to not just state the issue but provide a innovative solution to it. Getting the papers evaluated by either seniors or people who are in service will be of huge help as they would have first hand written them themselves. Also I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to both Balaji sir and Pavan sir for constantly nagging them to correct my essay papers. I will be ever indebted to them.
Fourthly, my friend Shivu spent endless hours talking to me on the phone, explaining different aspects of the essay topic. He pointed out that my introduction was too lengthy and that I concentrated more on international aspects of the problem which I tried to avoid.
Finally Vinay sir asked me to believe in myself. He didn’t once refuse to correct my essays. His confidence in me only made my will stronger to get my essay right this time. I was able to score 158 because of the right guidance by these wonderful people.
I would not like to talk about interview preparation as I have got below average marks in it (149). But I would suggest one thing to the aspirants, the interview phase is an exciting time because you get to interact with so many wonderful people. Make sure you realise the value of the experience. The time I spent at Karnataka Bhavan was the first time I experienced hostel life. I made friends for life. Vivek, Dhyan, Shruthi, Aditya, Jagganna, Kavya, Anand, Keerthi sir, Meghashree, Pritha (all of them Insights offline students) and many others made preparation a breeze. I have been reading the toppers Interview’s in magazines right from my school days, I always wondered how it would be to enter the UPSC building. On the 15th of May when I entered the UPSC gate there was a sense of Satisfaction, it didn’t matter if I would clear the exam or not. I could not help but smile from ear to ear on that day. Many of the aspirants who had the interview with me asked me why I was smiling so much. I still don’t know why I was smiling, but that moment when I entered the UPSC gate, will always be a special moment in my life. I would suggest all of you also to just enjoy the moment and forget the rest.
I have always liked subjective papers to objective papers, so mains was always fun for me. I relied on the NCERTS heavily to build a strong foundation. I started writing answers regularly only after my prelims results. I would not suggest you to do the same mistake. Please write at least 5 answers from insights secure initiative or any similar ones everyday. This will develop your language as well as content. Remember to adhere to the time and word limit when while answering these questions.
For GS 2 and GS 3 I didn’t make static notes. The dynamic nature of these papers makes it easier to make notes on the go. I used Evernote to make digital notes. I would continually update them as the issues came up. Revising these notes at least once a week will help you retain the topic and also help you look at it from different angles.
For GS 4 I didn’t read any book. I only wrote what I knew was the right and the most practical thing to do. I would advice you to read any one book as UPSC has started asking static questions again. Quoting examples either from real life or from anecdotes of stalwarts will enrich your answers. This paper is a mere reflection of your personality, so don’t try to hide it.
Getting your answers corrected by peers is an excellent way to exchange ideas and refine your structure. The prime mantra to success in mains is completing the paper. There is no need to completely fill the space given. Just stick to the word limit. This will both ensure you don’t deviate from the topic and also save time in the examination hall.
One piece of advice
If you’re a beginner reading this article I would suggest you to first read all the NCERTs. These are the most underrated books which are readily available on the internet for free. There is a reason why these books drill a concept into our head, their language and structure is extremely lucid ensuring that even a layman will be able to understand the concept. I made it a point to inculcate the language and structure used in these books in my answer writing. This has provided dividends. And also there is need to regularly follow newspaper which is a must. Yes you might get monthly magazines, but reading the newspaper will help even in practicing comprehension for CSAT. And the smell of the newspaper along with coffee in the morning is one of the best feeling in the world 🙂
We are born for a purpose. The quest for finding our purpose in life is what drives us. Civil Services is only one part which which help us look for our purpose. It shouldn’t become an end in it self. Treat this as an exam and nothing more. If you clear this exam, good. If you don’t clear this exam, remember there is another purpose awaiting for you. Don’t be disheartened at your failure. There is no better failure than UPSC, as it teaches you much more in its failure than in its success. It is a test of your character and how you learn from this failure, will help you continue looking for the purpose.
I would like to thank Vinay sir for his support and words of encouragement. Every time I doubted myself, he drove those fears away. His positive attitude is infectious. I guarantee this to you, after talking to him, you will feel like you will definitely clear this exam. He always tells me, that the mentors are like sugarcane, the more we squeeze them, the more we benefit. I completely agree with him on this.
I would also like to thank my friends and family for continually believing in me and supporting me through this journey. Believe in your self and remember that there is always a greater purpose.
Wishing all of you the best in not only the Civil services endeavour, but also in your prosperous life.