How to initiate the preparation?
Initiating the preparation is perhaps the most confusing phase in the UPSC journey. I myself was shrouded in too many doubts and was looking at blogs and calling previous year rank holders to get an idea. When you are starting, the syllabus looks like an ocean and you don’t know which corner to pick to start from. Therefore, few pointers I would like to make for the aspirants starting the UPSC journey:
1. Decide the amount of syllabus to be covered: First decide how much you would be able to cover before prelims. If you have around a year’s gap in between your starting date and prelims date, then you should ideally aim to cover your optional and some part of mains along with your prelims preparation. However, if you just start three or four months before prelims, then please exclusively focus on prelims. Once you clear prelims, then you can burn the midnight oil (which you will have to burn irrespective of the amount of mains preparation done before prelims 😛 ) after you are sure of clearing prelims.
2. Book list: You can refer to Mrunal’s topper interviews for selecting a book list for your prelims and mains subjects. It is an excellent initiative which can help you get an insight into the preparation.
3. Keep it minimum: The most important point. I myself did this mistake and had to pay its cost in form of one attempt when I tried to unnecessarily complicate my strategy by going behind too many sources and books. Try to stick to one or two books per subject, keep on doing the cost benefit analysis in terms of time invested and output reaped in terms of weightage and focus more on revision. One of the previous year’s rank holder had said that only pick a book/ source which you are confident of revising at least thrice.
4. Newspaper and current affairs: Two questions generally arise: what to read and how to read?
I read the The Hindu newspaper daily. Also, when you will start reading the newspaper initially, it might take more than one hour and you might not be able to understand all news items. However do not worry about it. You will realise that after few months your time spent on reading the paper would decrease and your understanding would improve. Also watching good TV and radio debates is strongly recommended. I without fail watched RSTV’s Big Picture and AIR spotlight analysis daily. Both of these are available online on Youtube and Vision IAS website respectively. If you regularly watch them, you would automatically start identifying and understanding important news items and develop a balanced opinion regarding various issues.
5. Coaching- discussed in the next part
Coaching or no coaching?
Firstly I would share my experience with the coaching. I did join coaching for the purpose of attaining some familiarity with the preparation. I was feeling pretty confused initially and I thought joining a coaching institute would help me to initiate the preparation. Therefore I joined Vajiram and Ravi for GS preparation and Rankers classes for my optional. However I started attending fewer classes at Vajiram once I started feeling comfortable about the preparation and thought that I can manage it through self-study.
Therefore, I would like to say that joining or not joining a coaching institute is entirely an individual’s decision which should be taken as per your comfort level. Both kinds of people – those who have taken coaching and those who haven’t have cleared this exam. Also, I think most of us would agree that this exam is about self-study. No serious coaching institute would guarantee that they will make you succeed in this exams. Also the aspirants not joining any coaching can make use of online sources which are doing brilliant work such as Mrunal, Insightsonindia, Vision topper talks.
Notemaking: importance and style.
Though everybody has a different style of preparation, I can answer for myself that how note making benefitted me. Firstly UPSC requires multiple revisions and the scarcest commodity in the entire journey is time. Therefore a consolidated version of your personal notes can be easily revised before the exam than doing it directly from the big fat book.
Since I have been asked multiple times about my note making strategy, I will share few of the techniques I used:
For books like Shankar environment, Vision Mains 365:
In this category of books, per page I was only able to find 5- 6 lines worth putting in my long term memory. So I used to take a small paper (a big sticky note can also be used), write crisp points on it and staple on that same page of the book itself. Also there might be few lines on that page which are important and need to be learnt as it is. So just underline those lines with a sketch pen to avoid rewriting them and later, just go through them when you are revising.
Since optional is the most important part of the preparation, I tried to do around 5-6 revisions for the same and with each revision, kept on consolidating my notes. After attempting few mocks, I realised that despite reading 500 plus pages, after a couple of days, I am only able to remember a few. So hence with every revision, I tried to extract only the keywords from each page and write it again. By this strategy, I was able to reduce 500-600 pages notes to just 50-60. This immensely benefitted me during last moment revisions.
I have attached my HRM and IR notes in the Commerce page.
This is somewhere I wasted a lot of time in my first attempt. In the initial few months of my preparation, I used to spend hours on maintaining notes from diverse sources. Later, I found this activity entirely useless as before the exam, I was not even able to revise those hefty notes. Therefore, in my second attempt, I read newspaper regularly and I relied on Vision monthly compilations for current affairs. I also jotted down few important points in a register while watching RSTV’s Big Picture and AIR Spotlight Analysis. So if it suits you, you can decide to not maintain notes on a daily basis and rely on the compilations.
Ethics and Essay:
I preferred Evernote as I constantly did many additions to my notes whenever I found something nice.
As an ending note, please just ensure whichever notes you are preparing, you at least have time later to revise them thrice.
How to keep yourself motivated and inspired during the preparation?
Like every other aspirant, even I had moments of doubt and frustration. However the only way out is to fight such feelings and keep going.
I am attaching a beautiful piece written by Mittali Seth from 2017 batch here: link
My favourite part of the article is:
“Now, metaphorically, let us assume that if you have to walk the road up to LBSNAA, it is a journey of 50,00,000 steps. Maybe it is less or more for you depending on where you are starting from. All you have to do, each day, is to get up and walk 50 steps. And remember that every time you think of the entire long journey, you lose focus of what is in sight and you will end up walking only 10. That isn’t what we want, right? Have the discipline – no matter what happens, you walk 50 steps. Listen to me, my dear. You cannot question your effort, your decisions, your central beliefs every day and every moment. You made a choice, now lock it, put it in a tiny little corner of your mind, and throw the key away. Once you do that, you forget the destination and the distance – you remember only the hard work that you need to do each day. Get up in the morning – work – sleep. Repeat each day until you finish the 50,00,000 steps”
So this is something which helped me! To win a battle every day and not thinking much about the war. The importance of everyday discipline.
Then, in moments of fear, I used to watch this video- link
Please watch the entire video to know her story and the message she gives at 12.10 is something which gave me maximum strength during the journey.
I will like to share few other techniques which helped me during the journey:
1. Make a timetable: Make daily, weekly and monthly targets and ensure that you have time left for revision. Try to achieve your target everyday so that things do not get piled up in the end. A good revision before the exam can really boost your scores.
2. Pomodoro technique: I read about this technique in one of the previous year’s rank holder’s quora answer- link
So, I downloaded an app named Tide and this helped me to stay disciplined and maintain my hours devoted to studies
3. Take a break: Though the exam preparation is known for its long studying hours but trust me, a consistent preparation of 8- 10 hours and gradually increasing it as you inch closer to the exam, is sufficient. Please do try to engage in a hobby or interest of your choice for at least some time in the day to refresh yourself. Even I used to commit the mistake of not taking breaks but believe me, it would just add to the frustration and monotony and affect your morale. So take out some time in a day to keep your mind away from the exam preparation and reinvigorate yourself. You can try to engage in a sport of your choice. It had helped me immensely.
4. Surround yourself with positivity: Put good quotes around you and make a playlist of motivational videos which you can give you a boost when you are in a downward spiral. Be around and talk to the people who tell you, “yes you can!”.
How to make timetable?
Working as per a timetable has multiple benefits. Firstly, it ensures that you remain disciplined and gives you a target for each day. Secondly, if you follow it religiously, you will be able to complete the syllabus timely and have some time for revision. Thirdly, it also helps to calm your nerves especially between prelims and mains. It gives a psychological support that even though the task seems gigantic, you have your work cut out in small pieces and can be achieved if you take small steps every day.
I used Microsoft excel for making a timetable as it helps in quick modification. Day wise, allot the topics which you would target to cover. Also keep few buffer days and most importantly, allot time for revision.