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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wanna be an IFS/IAS/IPS ?

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Author : M Shiva

Civil Services: Only hard work will help crack civils

Civil Service exams in India are always considered to be mother of all exams. Lakhs of graduates from across the country dream of cracking civil services and in the process attain the exalted social status of IAS and IPS officers in our society. Thanks to the recession that caused the financial markets to melt and jobs in IT and banking sector to vanish, this year observers maintain that competition for civil services will be huge. There are reports from various quarters that large number of IT and MBA graduates have applied for the upcoming civil prelims of 2010.

Traditionally, mastering the civil service exams is considered to be a challenge because the exam has been designed to test the overall capabilities of the candidates. And understandably so because successful candidates will be responsible for running and administering the whole country. Hence, Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has brought out an exhaustive syllabus to test the overall skills of the candidates.

Traditionally, South India has done well in the civil services, although there is a general  perception among public that UPSC selection process is tilted favourably towards North Indians. Till January 2009, the country has produced 4,572 IAS officers of which the four South Indian states (Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala) account for 950, which is nearly 21% of the total seats. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have 1,190 IAS officers with 26%.

Top IAS officers from the State point out that the latest trend indicates that South India, compared to Northern states, is surging ahead in civil services. In the last five years, roughly 470 IAS officers were selected of which 120 are from South Indian states while rest 111 are from UP and Bihar. With such bright prospects for South Indian aspirants, students from Andhra Pradesh, aiming for civil services 2010 should be positive about it. Every year, nearly three lakh aspirants from various parts of the country appear for civil services.


There are several myths attached to civil service examinations in our country. There is a huge misconception that girl candidates are not selected in the civil services. In fact, several top IAS officers point out that large number of girl students have tasted success in the last few years. For instance, in the last five years, about 470 IAS officers were selected of which roughly 105 were women IAS officers, which is about 23%. Many civil service exam specialists believe that girls, this year too, are likely to perform well.

Another common misconception is about the age in civil service. From childhood, parents try to drive home the point that one has to prepare from a young age for civil services. But, believe it or not, several commissioned IAS officers point out the fact that average age of a successful IAS candidate is 28 years. So, candidates, those who are in the late 20s, should not be disheartened thinking that they do not stand a chance of making it in the civil services.

For any top level entrance examination, preparation is a must. And for an examination, having a reputation of being toughest and most exhaustive in the country, candidates must make special preparations for civil services. Scores of candidates prepare for the competitive exam but a couple of hundreds manage to make it. Of the roughly three lakh candidates who appear for the prelims, about 10,000 qualify for the next stage, which is the main stage. In the main stage, which has writing and interview testing skills, the number is filtered down to roughly 1500 candidates for interview round. By the end of the interviews round, the number is reduced to just 500, which reflects the huge amount of competition one has to face before becoming an IAS officer.

There are however, reports from various sources that this year, the UPSC has decided to increase the number of seats to 960 from the existing 565. “There were about 580 vacancies last year, but this year they have gone up to 965. This surely seems to have an effect on the applicants. Also, due to the delay in Group-1 and Group-2 examinations, more students seem to be opting for civils,” says Ganesh of RC Reddy Study Circle. There are also unconfirmed reports that to attract more talent the UPSC is seriously thinking of easing the syllabus for this year. “This has raised hopes among many”. Thanks to the uncertain political situation in Andhra Pradesh, this year the number of candidates appearing for the test has gone up, “ many in Hyderabad believe.


Experts in civil service examinations believe that the aspirants should be mentally tough and they should take an early decision on whether they would like to write this exam or not. If they decide to appear for the exam, then they should stick to it and pursue it with determination. It is not necessary that only intelligent students would make it to civil services. Many teachers point out that aspirants should be clear about their aim in life. At under-graduation level alone, students should be able to decide whether they have got in them to appear for the civil service examinations. This is because, according to experts, civil services can be cracked only if the students are willing to work hard for at least 15 to 16 hours per day to succeed in the mains.


 Typically, it takes one full year of hard work and dedication by the aspirants, irrespective of whether the student is intelligent or average, to come good in the IAS exam. Ideally, teachers point out that preparations for civil services mains, which are generally held in the later half of the year, should start along with preliminary exams. “There are only five months between the prelims and mains. There are a lot of common subjects that have to be covered between the mains and prelims. Students should be prepared for the long haul and have to put in an effort of at least nine to 12 months,” teachers suggest. Prelims is fully objective type of examination and hence students should have the ability to choose what is right or wrong. Many suggest that it is mandatory for students to solve large number of previous years and model questions papers.


One of the most important aspect in the civil service exams is the choice of optional subjects. “Students must plan ahead of time with eyes on the main examination and choose subjects which they have to appear for the mains. The preparations done during the prelims will be useful in getting good hold of the subject in the mains. Moreover, the effort put in by the student in prelims will not be wasted,” says N. Srinath Reddy, who is already selected in the groups.

Experts point out that candidates doing well in the optional paper are also doing well in the civil services. Faculty members of various study circles generally accept to the trend that science and engineering students take up subjects like history, sociology, anthropology, geography, political science, psychology and public administration because there is a huge amount of study material available, which covers the entire syllabus. “The student should have access to a vast array of books for reference and reading. He should be a member of a library if possible or else collect the books from any study centre,” experts suggest.

Desh Deepak of, arguably the best civil services education portal in the country, in his numerous chats with students points out that the choice of optional subject should depend on the student’s knowledge and previous study experience. For example if the student chose geography but his or her previous study and knowledge about geography is limited, then the student will end up spending more time preparing for it. This time could have been used more effectively for preparing other portions of the exam,” he adds.


Without planning, it is next to impossible to succeed in civil services. “In civil services a lot of analysis is required because the questions do not just ask for information. They ask the students to analyse everything. So, students should be able to put their thoughts onto paper without any inhibitions. For that to happen, they need to plan their study,” experts opine.

A planned method of studying is the only way out. There is a famous belief among scores of civil service aspirants in the country. It goes something like this: “A civil service aspirant has to read and should be capable of writing on every subject on this earth”. So, teachers point out that students have to plan their reading. Judicious planning and proper utilisation of the study time are essential. “A lot of candidates make the mistake of dividing their time equally for all subjects,” experts suggest. A time-bound study plan has to be in place, which will help improvement of writing skills of the civil service aspirants. The study should be done strictly according to the syllabus and in the same chronological order of the syllabus.


Half the battle is won, if students manage to master general studies because this subject features throughout the civil service examinations till the interviews. While there are over 40 subjects to prepare from for any civil service aspirants, general studies, according to many, will be the most important subjects of all. In prelims, general studies have 150 marks allotted to it and they play decisive role in the competition. Usually, general studies or paper-I in prelims decide the top honours. The message from IAS study circles in the twin cities is clear: “If anyone spoils the general studies paper, then he or she can’t have any chance of qualifying for the examination”.

Aspiring students should have special interest on current affairs and general knowledge. Detailed reading of a reputed national newspapers like The Hindu, The Times of India, a competition magazine and a book on general knowledge is mandatory. Young students, who dream of appearing for civil service exams, when they become eligible, should make it a habit to go through the above said magazines and newspapers.

Some of the other general knowledge books which are universally recommended include “General Knowledge Refresher” by O.P. Khanna, Competition Success Review and The Competition Master. Basic books on Indian Constitution, latest plan document and economic survey, basic books like NCERT books on Indian History and National Movement, World and Indian Geography and General Science are certain other books which can fruitfully supplement the efforts. Referring to any single book to enhance general knowledge is not enough. Students must make it a habit to refer and study everything under the sun.

Reading needed for General Studies:

For prelims:

History: NCERT books of Class XI and XII, Freedom Struggle (published by National Book Trust)
Geography: Class XII books of Geography (NCERT), a good atlas.
Indian Polity: Introduction to the Indian Constitution.
Indian Economy: NCERT and other books on Evolution of the Indian Economy.
General Science: NCERT books on science, a science magazine or newspaper supplements on science.
Current Events: A national newspaper, The Competition Master, newsmagazines.
General Mental Ability: Do the Quantitative Aptitude published in The Competition Master, past test papers.

For the main examination:

History: India’s Struggle for Independence, IGNOU publications on Modern India.
Indian Culture: Art and culture portions of history books, India Yearbook (culture chapter), Encyclopaedia on Indian Culture, Gazetteer of India, books on culture published by Publications Division and National Book Trust.
Current Affairs: A national newspaper, The Competition Master, current affairs programmes on Doordarshan, newsmagazines.
Statistics: Class XI NCERT book on Statistics.
Indian Polity: Introduction to the Constitution, Parliament.
Indian Geography: NCERT books on Indian Geography.
Indian Economy: NCERT and other books on Indian Economy, financial newspapers, The Competition Master carries regular analysis of the Indian Economy.
Science: A science magazine, supplements in newspapers.

 COACHING: To join or not to join?

Every candidate has this question in mind. Whether the aspirant should go for coaching or not? The issue has also become a hot topic of debate because of the way the question papers are being framed. Till recently, there was predictability about the question papers of civil service exams. However, these days the questions are being set in such a way that nobody can risk predicting. The general studies question paper of 2009 posed questions that tested wide reading capabilities, general reading, thinking and opinions of candidates. “Students don’t need special coaching to answer such questions. Had they read widely on a host of issues, then they could have solved them on their own,” points out Srinath Reddy.

However, a few years back, noted newspaper ‘The Hindu’, published an informative article about civil service exams in which it argued about the importance of following the ‘THREE R’ concept. Right coaching centre, Right master and Right company to crack civil service exams. In the report, several top educationists argued that “Selection of a good institute is essential, as that is the place where students are moulded. It is good to join an institute where the faculty is good, experienced, study material is excellent and has the required facilities. It is always better to do a bit of research on such institutes before joining any of them”. Highlighting the need to have good company, the article said “Many successful candidates suggest that it is always better to be in the company of dedicated aspirants and preferably with the ones with similar optional choice. The exchange of ideas, topics and mock interviews play a crucial role in the run-up”.

However, several top managements of IAS Study Circle in the twin cities make it clear that aspirants will have to work a lot independently while preparing for optional subjects like general studies. “It is tough for any coaching centre to do justice and cover every aspect of such optional subjects, make it clear.”


Between prelims and mains, civil service aspirants have just eight to nine months to study the huge syllabus. So, time is of essence and proper planning is the need of the hour. The limited time must be at any cost utilised intelligently and students should give more time to important subjects, which have more marks against them, compared to less fetching subjects. Teachers maintain that the student has to draw a time-table so that he or she follows a strict regimen religiously.

Basic time management skills like setting goals, which have to be achieved within a stipulated period of time have to be figured out individually by the aspirants. “We waste so much time by taking up coffee breaks, drink breaks, movies etc. Aspirants should closely analyse this and chalk out their study timings accordingly. With so little time left between prelims and mains, aspirants must have to work really hard to manage their time efficiently,” points out B.K. Ravi Teja of Brain Tree.


There have been instances in the past when successful aspirants, who have managed to clear prelims and mains, have failed bitterly in front of the interviewers. The only way out, according to the IAS study circles, is to start preparing for the interview from the outset along with the prelims and mains. Aspirants should be very good in communicating and airing their opinions without inhibitions in the English language. For that to happen, faculty teachers point out that it is vital for civil service aspirants to practice debating and group discussions among one another.  any industry observers point out that students should carefully watch top level speakers, who frequent television debates and learn from them the art of speaking coherently without any breaks. Watching experts speak will help students form an opinion and also help them learn how top thinkers organise their thoughts and deliver it into a coherent speech.

“During interviews nobody is going to ask the aspirant any technical question. The interview is to gauge the candidate’s personality, his thinking, opinions and his or her mental abilities,” experts maintain. Many point out that the aspirant, during the interview, should give a well-rounded impression. The objective of the interview is to assess the aspirants suitability for a career in public service. And hence, some of the qualities like mental ability, logical thinking, depth, interests, leadership qualities, soft skills etc will be tested.

To succeed in the interview, candidates should take an intelligent interest not only in areas of their subjects, but also in what is happening around them, both within and outside the country. They should be aware of modern theories and new discoveries. It is vital for aspirants to read magazines, newspapers, watch television programmes on current affairs and discuss issues with friends or parents on a regular basis.


The examination consists of two parts: The Preliminary Examination (objective type), which is a qualifying examination, and a Main examination consisting of written examination and interview. The marks obtained in the Preliminary Exam are not counted in the Main Exam and it is only a screening exam. Prelims is objective type test and one can appear in the mains only after passing the prelims. The UPSC holds prelims in May/June and mains in October/November. The notification for prelims is published in December. The number of vacancies are 600-700 every year and reservation is available for SC, ST and OBC students.
Age: The candidate must be between 21 and 30 years of age as on August 1 every year for the exam. The date of birth acceptable is the one entered in the Matriculation or School Leaving Certificate.

Educational Qualifications: Aspirants must have a degree from any of the Universities incorporated by an act of legislature in India or educational institutions established by an Act of Parliament. A degree from deemed universities under Section 3 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956 is also eligible. Candidates having professionals and technical qualifications recognised by the government are also eligible.

Attempts: A candidate is permitted 4 attempts at the examination and there are no restriction on the number of attempts for scheduled caste candidates. OBC students have seven attempts.

Fee: The fee for the exam is Rs 50, to be paid through Central Recruitment Fee stamps available at post offices. Candidates belonging to the Scheduled Castes and physically handicapped persons are not required to pay any fee.

How to Apply: Application forms are available at all leading post offices. They have to be filled-in and sent to: Under Secretary (CSP), Union Public Service Commission, Dholpur House, New Delhi-110 011. A registration number is given as a token of receipt of the application.

Plan of the Preliminary Examination: The Preliminary Exam consists of two papers of objective type having maximum marks of 450, as follows:

Paper I General Studies 150 marks
Paper II One subject to be selected from below 300 marks
Total 450 marks
Subjects for Paper II (one subject to be selected): Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science, Botany, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Commerce, Economics, Electrical Engineering, Geography, Geology, Indian History, Law, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Medical Science, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science, Psychology, Public Administration, Sociology, Statistics, Zoology.
The question papers are in Hindi and English and each paper is of two hours duration. The course content of the syllabi is of degree level. Each paper is of two hours duration. Blind candidates are allowed an extra time of 20 minutes for each paper.

Plan of the Main Examination:

The Main Exam consists of a written exam and an interview test. The written exam has 9 papers of conventional essay type. Marks obtained in the Main Exam will determine whether a candidate is called for the interview. The interview carries 300 marks and the number of candidates called is about twice the number of vacancies. Interview calls are sent on the basis of minimum marks fixed by the UPSC at its discretion. Marks obtained in the Main Exam plus interview determines the final ranking. Candidates are allotted various services keeping in view their ranks in the examination and preferences expressed by them. The written examination consists of the following papers:

Paper I One of the languages to be selected from the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution – 300 marks
Paper II English 300 marks
Paper III Essay 200 marks
Paper IV & V General Studies 300 marks each
Paper VI-IX Any two subjects from list of
optional subjects. 300 marks
Each subject has two papers.
Interview 300 marks
Optional subjects: Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science, Botany, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Commerce and Accountancy, Economics, Electrical Engineering, Geography, Geology, History, Law, Management, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering,20Medical Science, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science and International Relations, Psychology, Public Administration, Sociology, Statistics, Zoology. Each paper is of 3 hours duration.

The following combinations not allowed are:

• Political Science & International Relations and Public Administration
• Commerce and Management
• Anthropology and Sociology
• Maths and Statistics
• Agriculture and Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science
• Management and Public Administration
• Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science and Medical Science
• Any two branches of engineering.
• Literature of any of the following languages: Arabic, Assamese, Bengali, Chinese, English, French, German, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Marathi, Malayalam, Manipuri, Nepali, Oriya, Pali, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.

Source : The Career Guide
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