Union Public Service Commission is the constitutional body established under Article 315 of the Constitution of India that conducts examinations for appointments to the services of the Government of the Union. Civil Services Examination (CSE) is one of the most reputed exams in the country, administered by the UPSC among several others.
Through CSE, UPSC recruits officers in three categories: All India Services, Group A Civil Services and Group B Civil Services.
The number of posts depends on the vacancies in these services. (In 2020 there were 796 vacancies, in 2019 there were 896, in 2018 there were 782 and in 2017 there were 980.)
The CSE exam is conducted in three stages: Prelims, Mains and Interview. Those who qualify for Prelims may appear in Mains, and similarly, those who qualify in Mains may appear in the Interview, which is the final stage of the exam. The final merit list will be released based on the marks obtained by the candidates in Mains and Interview.
Services under UPSC CSE
The Civil Services exam is conducted to recruit officers in three categories: All India Services, Group A Civil Services and Group B Civil Services. All India Services includes – Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and Indian Forest Service (IFoS).
Group A Civil Services includes – Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IAAS), Indian Civil Accounts Service (ICAS), Indian Corporate Law Service (ICLS), Indian Defense Accounts Service (IDAS), Indian Defense Estates Service (IDES), Indian Information Service (IIS), Indian Ordnance Factories Service (IOFS), Indian Communication Finance Services (ICFS), Indian Postal Service (IPoS), Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS), Indian Railway Personnel Service (IRPS), Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS), Indian Revenue Service (IRS), Indian Trade Service (ITS) and Railway Protection Force (RPF).
Group B Civil Services includes – Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service; Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Civil Service (DANICS); Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Police Service (DANIPS), Pondicherry Civil Service; and the Pondicherry Police Department.
The right time to start UPSC preparation
Every year, lakhs of students appear on the Civil Services exam and only about 750 to 900 candidates (depending on the vacancy) are selected on the final merit list. The selection rate determines that the candidates must be the best to be eligible. It is therefore recommended that candidates start preparing for the exam as early as possible.
Ideally, the UPSC CSE syllabus will take 18 months to complete including preparation for Mains which is subjective. The Mains Paper requires candidates to write answers to some of the most difficult questions, including commentary on the most burning and challenging issues facing society and administrators around the world.
The UPSC preparation requires in-depth knowledge, writing skills and extensive skills. Even if one does not prepare directly for UPSC and could focus in school or university on developing these skills (including communication and speaking skills), it will go a long way towards helping students during UPSC preparation.
A candidate should start by preparing the basics and develop the habit of reading newspapers during graduation and being aware of various issues. They also have to participate in various co-curricular activities to develop different facets of their personality. Remember that the preparation of UPSC CSE is as much knowledge as its creative and innovative application.
Does graduation background influence selection in UPSC?
The student’s graduate background can help you prepare for UPSC CSE, but most students have some advantages. Students with art backgrounds will be able to master some sections of the syllabus with relative ease, while students with science and other backgrounds may find some of the other sections familiar.
Furthermore, the syllabus requires students to have a general overview of various disciplines, namely, history, geography, polity, science and technology, economics, society, international relations, public administration, and disaster management. It therefore ensures that students from all backgrounds will encounter some sections that are completely new to them.
How much time is needed to prepare UPSC?
The UPSC syllabus is vast and the paper pattern tests aptitude, reasoning, reading, comprehension and writing skills at various stages of the exam. It mainly tests the suitability of candidates for public administration positions, thus includes the test of their understanding of various disciplines, issues and challenges facing the country and the world at large.
Every candidate must therefore have a solid background to start the preparation. This can be achieved by mastering the basics of the NCERTs from grades 6th to 12th. This itself will require about 3 months of study. Reading the subject-specific advanced text should then be chosen, which usually takes about 9 to 10 months to master.
This should be followed by extensive practice of both objective questions for Prelims and answer writing for Mains. Depending on a student’s habits and abilities, it takes between 12 and 18 months of dedicated study to master the entire syllabus and crack the exam.
Is the UPSC exam for you?
Cracking the UPSC CSE exam is just the beginning and the initiation into the public service. The road ahead requires you to be better able to tackle various complex issues of society and the country as a whole.
No public servant would be able to perform well and give his/her best if he/she were not motivated and propelled by the mission of bringing about change in society or implementing better public policies and administration.
It would also be wrong to suggest that all aspirants have the same motivation in the beginning. However, the realization of various matters during the preparation is the background for many.
Many aspirants find their motivation and purpose to enlist during their preparation journey. However, a public interest in the public issue and governance can be seen as the sign to enter or start your UPSC preparation.
Remember, sometimes the goal comes to you as you start walking the path, it’s not always the other way around.
The right technique for preparation
Since UPSC tests you on several parameters and the exam requires you to master several skills, the preparation strategy is essentially individual. If you are good at writing, you may need less time to master answer writing and more time to prepare for Prelims. This is why some candidates find Prelims difficult, while others find Mains or Interview a hurdle.
However, there are some things a student should do like hygiene. Before starting preparation, he/she should first go through another board’s NCERTs or textbooks to prepare the foundation and brush up on the basics to begin preparation. Second, he/she should review the syllabus several times and practice writing answers and tests regularly to make sure you understand the concepts well and try the question in the exam room well in time.
Third, you must be an avid reader and keep abreast of the happenings and issues in the country and around the world. The UPSC is looking for Directors and therefore you need to have your own opinion on different aspects of the social, national and international issues.
However, combining all of these is important and that is where you need personal guidance and mentorship to effectively complete your preparation and be ready for the exam. The know-how to crack the exam is just as important as the knowledge gained during the preparation.
Apart from this, the daily habits and routines should be included in your plan. Your UPSC plan should cover your life, and you should allocate and plan the right time to sleep and rejuvenate yourself. Prepare for the long term. UPSC requires the last bit of your patience and dedication. Prepare accordingly.
The trick is to enjoy the process
The dedication and toil required to prepare for the UPSC may seem exhausting. But if propelled by a sense of mission and dedication, it might as well be fun and personal development.
The aspirants who are driven by such zeal are found to enjoy the process, to be more consistent and to pass the exam with ease compared to others who do not have it. The trick is to find the key areas in the syllabus that interest you and dedicate some time to them on a daily basis.
It will both rejuvenate you and help you enjoy the process. The choice of the elective course for main courses is therefore recommended. It is also recommended that you have a hobby and pursue it once in a while during your preparation journey. It will also help you in Mains as the hiring committee likes to ask aspirants about their hobbies and how they pursue them.
How to get the upper hand?
When aspirants lakhs are preparing, it is obvious to ask how to get extra marks on the exam or get the upper hand in the interview? The trick is simple to do what others don’t do. You need to be more proactive in seeking out more and understanding the root of the issues in the news and topics in the syllabus.
When you discover a new problem or event, ask and know what, how, when, where and what the next step is. Using the technology will dig a little more into the trouble and understand the gist of events. It is the general interest in the problems and events that gives you the upper hand over others.
What if you don’t make it?
Let’s address the elephant in the room once and for all. Aspirants’ Lakhs are preparing for the exam, and thus not all of them can pass. What if there is one of them? This question worries many of the aspirants and they are afraid to address it. Then we have suggestions like – ‘if you have a plan B, you have no plan at all’ crop up.
Know that even if you don’t make it to the final list, it’s not the end of the world. Know that after the preparation you will not be the same again. The preparation of the UPSC is in a sense a reward in itself.
After the preparation, you will know much more than anyone who has never prepared for UPSC. You will get to know world history, politics, geography, economics, ethical principles, various philosophers and revolutionaries. You are also a master in your elective subject. In a sense you will be a better citizen, better equipped to deal with the problems of society and of course to get a job in another field or related field.
Aspirants can explore jobs in other fields once they run out of attempts or even while they are preparing. There are countless examples of aspirants who quit their jobs to prepare, or who qualified while on the job or went on to have great careers after failing to qualify.
By maintaining a positive outlook on life and having a clear goal, you will always live a good life. Remember, it’s never too late to get started, whether it’s an area you want to venture into.
(Author Chandrahas Panigrahi is co-founder of Edukemy. The opinions expressed here are personal.)