Didn’t clear prelims in first two attempts, scored 137 marks in third prelims
Ann Mary George
Rank 123, CSE-2016
My name is Ann Mary George. Born and brought up in Kochi, it was during my college days that the civil services dream took deep roots in my mind. But at that time, I did not know even a single person who was in the services or was seriously preparing for it. So, I used to read career guidance columns and interviews in magazines to get more details. Finally, after completing my graduation in Electronics Engineering from Cochin University, I decided to pursue my dream. So, I rejected a good placement offer and came to Old Rajinder Nagar in New Delhi.
I gave my first attempt in 2014, just two months after graduation and without any serious preparation. Today, when I look back I understand that it was a folly as the exam demands preparation with focus. Now, I make it a point to tell everyone that wasting your first attempt just to see what the exam is all about is a big mistake.
In my second attempt I missed the Prelims cut-off by 5 marks. It was disheartening that I couldn’t clear even the prelims in spite of having studied well. I sat down to analyse what went wrong. Then I realized that though I had studied a lot, I had not given sufficient time for revision and mock tests.
So, in my third attempt, I rectified this mistake and streamlined my preparation in the exam point of view. Many used to tell that prelims is all about luck but the fact that some people get in year after year proved that there is a knack of it that we need to master. Me and my friend decided that instead of aiming to just clear the cut-off, we should aim to score much above the cut off so that we are clearly in, even if the cut-off rises by 5-10 marks. This worked. I scored 137 in prelims while the cut-off was only 116.
I took a 6 day break to go meet my family and came back to prepare for the mains.
I had found insights secure questions very similar to mains pattern. Though I tried follow it in the beginning, I could not do it regularly. So after prelims I bought the secure compilations/synopsis of 12 months. Since time was very limited, I did those questions that were getting repeated. This proved immensely useful as similar questions appeared in the main exam.
As mains require writing practice, I joined for test series in optional, essay as well as GS. In addition to the evaluator’s comments, I did self-analysis and also sought suggestions from some of my friends. This helped in improved on my structuring, presentation, handwriting and most importantly speed.
Finally, for the interview, I was fortunate to have sufficient time for preparation. I started reading 3-4 newspapers regularly. During weekdays I would prepare myself and on weekends I gave mock interviews. I would record the mock interviews and get suggestions from my friends on how the answers could have been improved. In the final interview many questions were asked from my Detailed Application Form (DAF) and the mocks helped.
Insights helped me in multiple ways in my journey. I had taken insights tests series for prelims which filled the deficiency of test series in my initial attempts and also helped me to cover the syllabus and revise it in a time bound manner. In mains, I took help of secure compilation/synopsis and it helped a lot because it was very similar to the kind of questions that came in the actual exam. Above all, insights topper section helped me to stay motivated throughout. Last but not the least, it helped me and my friends to devise a good strategy by learning from the experiences of those who have walked before us.
Now, having cleared the exam, I feel grateful to my parents and friends who were supportive from the beginning and encouraged me to continue in spite of the initial failures. Discussions with my friends helped me to find my strengths and weaknesses and to mend the mistakes that could have cost me a lot.
From my experience in this exam journey, I understood that persistence and smart work is the key to success.
Persistence: You should love what you are studying-be curious and try to develop an interest in the subjects. Because it is a long drawn process and unless you find it interesting it is difficult to maintain the same amount of dedication towards preparation.
Smart work: The syllabus is vast and it is impossible to study everything under the sun. Analyze the previous year papers, discuss with seniors and find the best books. It is always better to study one book 10 times than to study 10 books once each. And once the ground work is done, do revision and give mock tests to hone your exam skills.
Here, I have jotted down some lessons that I learnt which I think might help you too. Most of it might be known to you. But I am mentioning everything so that none of these silly mistakes might stand between you and your dream.
- Stick to the basic books and revise them multiple times.
- If it is your first attempt, I’d say you should start exclusive prelims oriented studies 3 months before prelims.
- It is not possible to clear prelims by attempting only those questions which you are sure of. So, start making calculated guesses in mock tests so that you get a hang of it.
- It is better to attempt the paper in 2 rounds. In the first round, attempt those questions that you are sure of. Also, eliminate those questions which you know nothing about. Now you are in a position to determine how many questions you should take a guesses in the second round.
- While you are giving test series, identify your own pattern. There will be areas in which your guesses generally go right and areas in which they tend to go wrong. This realization can help you minimize the number of negative markings.
- Choose the topics in which you have content. Do a quick brainstorming about the topic and form a rough structure of the essay before you begin.
- Divide the time equally between both the essays. This is a mistake even experienced people do. Practice enough so that the time division comes almost naturally.
- Introduction can be with a story or a quote which can hold the attention of the reader. After that give a brief idea of what all are being dealt in the essay.
- Keep your paragraphs small so that each para has one dominant theme.
- Keep your sentences also short. Don’t use complicated words or jargons. Keep it simple.
- Give subheadings if required because that will make the structure of the essay visible.
- Give some analytical/comparative observations just before conclusion. This adds depth to the essay.
- Conclude optimistically. You can end with a quote or by linking it to the introductory story.
- Practice different types of essays- Philosophical, society related, India and world, technological etc.
- Writing practice is the most important thing in mains.
- Develop the required speed to ensure you complete the paper. On an average you get 7-8 minutes for a question.
Practice finishing the paper 5 minutes before the allotted time because in the actual exam centre there is some time wasted for marking attendance, question paper distribution etc.
At half time, check the number of questions you have attempted and increase pace if required.
- Structure your answer with an introduction, body and conclusion.
- In introduction include definition of the keywords in the question or context/relevance of the question or appropriate stats. If nothing is possible, rewrite the question in simple terms.
- In body, make sure you attempt all parts of the question.
I would encourage you to write in points so that no point skips the eyes of the evaluator.
Answer ‘to the question’ by paying attention to the question word.
Write in a crisp fashion using keywords.
Include examples, maps and diagrams wherever possible.
Give comparison to other countries/international best practices wherever relevant.
- In conclusion, give an optimistic end. Try and include constitutional values relevant to the question. Connect it to the larger picture. For example, if there’s a question on Indian Railway, you can mention the spill over effects on the Indian economy in the conclusion. Similarly, monsoon can be linked to food security. This fits the question in the larger scheme of things.
- Underline the key points in your answer.
- It is perfectly alright to write less than the word limit. Otherwise you run the risk of time crunch also.
- A good handwriting is always a bonus but a legible handwriting is a must.
- No need to worry about grammar mistakes.
- Cover all topics in the syllabus and understand the terms in simple words.
- Jargons and names of philosophers should be avoided.
- Ethics paper is generally the longest hence, beware of time. I used to attempt section A first and then section B because case studies would take me longer. But if I am running out of time, I would write the same case study in less time. So, develop your own strategy by observing your strengths and weaknesses while giving mock tests.
- In case studies, there is a format of writing answers-ethical issues/ethical dilemma, stakeholders and facts. Followed by each sub-question.
In each option, list the merits and demerits and then conclude whether the merits outweigh the demerits or the other way round. If you are going to say that merits outweigh demerits then provide, 5 merits and 3 demerits instead of giving 4 each.
- Divide solutions into long term and short term.
- Mention all the values relevant to the question.
- DAF is the foundation on which your interview is built. Prepare each word in the DAF thoroughly. Give them interesting hooks in the DAF to ask upon. Otherwise they will ask random questions which cannot be prepared for. But do not write anything false because if they catch it, that’s the end of the game.
- Be abreast of all recent events. Listen to AIR news at 9pm and read at least 2 newspapers and develop a rational and balanced point of view on these topics.
- Pay special attention to international events or nations being visited by PM.
- Record all the mocks that you give and come home and listen to your own answers. You will be able to identify mistakes yourself. Go for at least one mock in which they give you video feedback. You get to see our own facial expressions and body language that we are not aware of.
During the Interview
- Enter with a smile. You can ask the staff outside the room if there is a lady member in the panel and in which side she is sitting. So, you can be prepared to greet the board in the right order.
- Let them complete the question. Pause and then reply. It shows that you have appreciated the question well.
- Give reasons for your views. This can display your rational thought process.
- Take permission before guessing.
- Accept the fact that you may not be able to answer all questions in an interview. Here, Sanjeev Kabeer sir’s analogy of interview to a cricket match is worth mentioning. There will be some balls in which u have to just defend the wicket, some in which you can hit a six and even others which you can get a run or two. It is all about understanding the nature of the question and answering accordingly.
- So, it doesn’t matter how many “I don’t know” you say but it’s important that you say it in the right spirit and don’t get disheartened.
Wish you all the best.