IAS TOPPER’S STRATEGY
Dr Naveen Bhat
Rank 37, CSE-2016
I’m Dr Naveen Bhat Y, from Mangalore, graduated from Bangalore Medical College (BMC) in 2015, and got CSE rank 37 in second attempt .
The feeling of getting out of this ‘vicious’ cycle of UPSC (prelims-mains-interview-next prelims—), it can’t be expressed in mere words the relaxation and contentedness it provides!
The path less taken:1-
My initial schooling took place in multiple places as my father was in a govt job. My parents admitted me to Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva residential institution for high school and Pre University college and this was a game changer in my life. This institution moulded my personality and it aided me in achieving my first academic achievement. I secured 1st rank (engineering) in Karnataka CET (K-CET) in 2009. And 26th in medical.
Though the natural interest was engineering, the chance to interact and heal people on a day to day basis, to act as an instrument to improve the People’s lives made me take the road less taken, shift from choice of engineering to MBBS.
Now that I think back, I wouldn’t have come into civil services had this decision not been taken then.!
Tryst with ias –
Dakshina Kannada, a education hub, is famous for doctors and engineers blossoming every year. But the awareness of civil services is conspicuously absent in the district. Naturally, I was not inclined to Civil Services as a career opportunity till I was in MBBS. In MBBS at Bangalore Medical College and internship at Victoria hospital (one of the largest hospital in India), it exposed me to multiple factors which made me ponder about shifting the road again. The interaction with patients made me realise some common problems of society causing the health issues and how tackling societal Problems might automatically reduce the incidence of health problems.
Also I had a group of nearly 10 like minded friends who were in same boat as I’m and after careful consideration and talks with our parents, we shifted en masse to pursue ias as the higher calling in our internship period.
Thus it became the path less chosen-2.!! Whenever I was unsure of my choice of shifting lanes, seeing these friends in the same boat comforted me and they’ve been a great pillar in my preparation throughout.
At this moment, I have to say that this success of mine would not have been possible without Dr Nimishamba, (CSE rank 386,2016) my batchmate, who was a member of the above group. Since she had started her studies earlier, at the initial days she was almost like my mentor telling which books to focus and how to read Hindu etc. After internship, we studied together most of the preparation. She was good at memory and offline aids and I was good at analysis and exploring online aids for preparation. We complemented in studies, exchanged notes on topics and discussed most of the issues. We made a checklist of what we needed to cover periodically, this gave us an idea of where we stood on the preparation and if we needed to speed up in the game. We were ruthless critic of each other in correcting each other’s papers and this aided enormously in improving each other in mains, especially essay and ethics. During the time of interview prep, we took 10 mins of mock interview daily of each other and recorded the session in mobile. This helped in developing the right attitude needed for interview.
Along with a group, team of 2/3 will aid in more disciplined preparation.
If you’re lucky to find a fellow aspirant with similar seriousness to study, it is bound to give good results.
Infancy stage of preparation –
Now that I shifted to pursue UPSC, I started off with daily Hindu paper, Laxmikanth and some NCERT during the internship. Soon after graduation,vwe started to decide what’s next.
We gave 2015 prelims just to gauge ourselves how good we were in this race.
I missed it by 8 marks ( only1 in our group cleared it!! ). Though it showed us the toughness of UPSC exam I was happy that I was in the right track and felt I could clear prelims with revision and test series which I couldn’t do for the first attempt.
So We agreed to play safe, go with the majority of aspirants and decided to join coaching. The weather factor and a friendlier faculty attracted us to Chennai for Shankar IAS Academy. Since we had brief knowledge studied in the past year, we were full of doubts and we used the classes mostly to clear the doubts and strengthen the foundation. We were benefited by the coaching though I don’t suggests it’s completely necessary if you were to get guidance elsewhere.
Fast forward to December 2015, Chennai experienced one of the worst flood of the recent times. Wading through knee deep waters , we made the decision to shift to Bangalore as soon as coaching is over. A friend of mine shifted 1 month early.
2016, the magical year-
Since the failure of the previous attempt, we kept nearly 4.5 months for exclusive prelims preparation. Reading Hindu, revising basic books, current affairs magazines and test series, these were part of the routine. I solved Insights prelims test series, shankar ias prelims test series, vision prelims test series. This over emphasis on the prelims bore good results as I got 146 in paper 1, and most of my friends were getting a comfortable score of 130+.
This score boosted the confidence and led path to a serious mains preparation without fear of prelims result.
Also this helped ingrain the knowledge of basic books in mind and helped me focus more on optional and Mains subjects after prelims.
Starting with mains, I focused on optionals first.
I had finished anthropology once before prelims. I had referred multiple sources – brain tree material (though I didn’t like it), notes of Rahul Venkat (CSE 380s rank, 2014) available online, sapiens notes on anthropology and standard books on anthropology by Indian authors- Nadeem Hasnain and P Nath.
I made a compilation of all notes available syllabus wise and this became one final source. This phase was largely completed before prelims.
I attended test series for the same at iasbaba and gagan sir there provided great guidance and finishing touch wrt optionals.
Similarly we had joined vision ias for GS test series, wrote nearly 12 full length GS test papers. We also wrote Insights mains tests. This improved speed and on the D day(or in this situation, D days), I was able to attempt all questions with writing content of 2 pages minimum on all questions.
Fast forwarding to February 21, 6pm,
The mains result bore my number and that delight is equally huge as seeing my name in final List. Clearing mains for the first time told me that I was in right track with my mains preparation and 3 of us friends had been selected for interview.
Now the final lap started and anxiety and euphoria became constant visitors to the mind.
Last lap – Role of InsightsonIndia
Here Insights provided a game changing platform for us to discuss, improve on our strengths, strengthen our weakness.
Almost everyday we gathered at Insights campus and discussed topics of interview relevance.
We formed multiple groups on basis of graduation, optionals, hobbies, etc. and developed our own set of questions and discussed on it.
Vinay sir provided some valuable practical tips on the last few days which I believe played a role in getting a decent score.
With respect to mocks, I started off with Kerala Samajam mock interview the weekend when the results were announced. I went completely unprepared and the feedback gave a reality check to my euphoria and made me serious w.r.t interview preparation.
Then I gave some mocks at shankar ias Academy and ended in Bangalore with Insights.
The mock interview with Vinay sir, a 45 min session where he touches upon all important issues and gave a realistic feedback . He suggested me to not get unnerved when faced with a question which is unexpected. That helped in real interview. This also prepares our mind to sit without getting brain fatigue.
Special thanks to him.
I suggest everyone who’s contemplating to enter this exam or not, to jump wholeheartedly to their preparation of this exam because the journey of preparation itself is a wonderful experience. I was lucky it was a short one.
Brief of my strategy:
I’d like to add that one need not read Yojana, Kurukshetra, India 2016/India 2017 etc.
As Bruce Lee told, I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
Keep the number of books minimal as per the UPSC syllabus and revise them again and again, that’ll bear a positive result.
For prelims –
When you are in starting phase of the prep, make your foundation strong.
Read the NCERT and other basic books with complete understanding (don’t resort to mugging facts, they have very short lifespan in the grey matter) and evaluate yourself with timely tests (I did this with website called www.Examrobot.com).
Current affairs – I followed Hindu paper for initial 3 months and made notes of it religiously. But I felt the daily current affairs notes of insightsonindia and other magazines are better and more comprehensive than my handwritten notes. Later I kept Hindu as morning dose of current affairs(without making notes) , insights as evening revision and monthly magazine as 2nd Round revision.
This helped a lot and gave confidence for prelims and worked well for me and my friends.
Nevertheless I suggest everyone to keep reading paper and do their notes in the initial phase so that their preparation gets a solid start.
Less conventional methods of preparation – specially for remembering stuff like critically endangered and endangered species, esp in art and culture, the paintings and folk dance, important heritage sites can be better studied in this manner.
I know the wordings are blurry, but the maps like this will lead to have long term memory, for eg: 2017 prelims question on gharial habitat zone could have been answered from the above map
Test series – quintessential for prelims. Do a test, correct it, solve the solutions. Discuss the solutions with friends. Keep 4 to 5 hrs for each test. This will give you
- Value addition points not found in standard books.
- Time management.
- Developing the art of risk taking in attempting questions. This will develop over time.
I did 30 to 40 tests of Insights prelims tests in last 2.5 months before prelims. Solving tests from the beginning will help in better revision later.
Try to solve test series of more than 1 Institute. This will help face the unpredictability of UPSC. I say this because, in some questions involving option ‘D-all of the above’, some Institute would be almost always having D as the answer and some Institute paper would almost always have that as wrong.
Note making –
I shifted to online note making as I felt offline notes not feasible.
I’m attaching links of Evernote which I used to make notes of various test series and insights daily current affairs which might aid your prep.
Its 30% studies, 70%writing practice.
50% content and 50% presentation.
Give equal importance to GS, essay+ethics and optionals as getting screwed in any section will cost 1 year.
- write few essays so that you can develop the skill to finish a decent essay within time. I had written 10 essay during the 3 month time.
- read toppers essay and try to emulate points which you find noteworthy.
- maintain a book for quotes, analogy, small stories on topics like education, women, poverty, innovation, etc.
General studies – knowledge level will be the same in most of the aspirants and writing practice and presentation will make you stand apart.
The catchy intro of 2 lines, the spacing between paragraphs/bullet points, diagrams wherever possible, underlining, etc. This ll be ingrained only after repeated writing practice. And I stress to focus on these as they Will add 5 marks in each paper with some effort.
After writing for the questions, I was exchanging the booklets with my friends (group of 5) and then reading out answers. This made us see other’s papers from examiners point of view. This not only enriches our content on a particular topic but also improve the presentation part.
Even here, read answers of the toppers which will give an insight as to why they stood out and got ranks.
Deciding with optionals is a tricky thing and I chose anthropology and not medical science because –
- Medical science has huge syllabus and revision is extremely difficult. Also choosing medical science ll have the pull factor to go back to pg in medical field in case of initial failures. So to strengthen my determination in upsc, I gave up on it.
- Anthropology had few overlaps with biology and this eased into getting comfortable with the subject. The small syllabus helped in making repeated revisions. Also heard it was scoring as per recent year trends.
I didn’t have the luxury of time and awarwness to choose entirely newer optional though suggestions of Kannada, sociology and few other subjects came about.
Interview – the last phase, the last crucial one.
I maintained a note book for almost all points on my DAF so as to have a list of expected questions. This helped a lot with respect to preparation and boosted confidence which is very much necessary for interview.
I’ll write another article on interview in detail since its very crucial and has high chances of ruining dreams than making aspirants realise it.
Preparation is one part but motivation is a huge factor which Is required in this exam. The scale of competition, the length of exam(1 whole year!!) is what places this exam away from others. So maintaining motivation throughout the year round is quintessential. So the solution? It’s this.. Treat it as any other exam. Enjoy the things you like, watching movies, TV series, going to an occasional trip, go to treats wit friends and enjoy life. Keep time for it in your life as well and don’t make the mistake Of treating UPSC = life. And don’t be afraid of failures in this exam. In mains, my initial scores were at 60s in mock papers. In prelims, they were around 70s in mock tests.
Learn that in this exam, there are no failures, there are just feedbacks got; There are just lessons learnt. Adapt yourself to the demand of the exam. Evaluate your performance in mock tests, discuss the changes needed in your preparation, presentation and implement it from Next mock test itself. The sooner you learn this attitude of adapting to the situation, the sooner you’ll break free from upsc.
Wishing everyone all the best, signing off.
Dr Naveen Bhat Y,MBBS, IAS.