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Patience and Persistence are the Keys to Clear Civil Service Exams, says the third topper of CSE 2015

Amit Tyagi

Delhi boy Jasmeet Singh Sandhu bagged the third rank in the UPSC’S Civil Services Examination 2015. He is already an IRS officer and has been preparing for the Civil Services since 2010. He claims that he never followed a fixed routine for IAS exam preparation. He took coaching for the exam for a month, and then chose to study for the exam himself.

We met the 28-year old and asked him about the secret of his success. Here is what he told the Employment News:

What inspired you to join the Civil Services?

As an IRS (Indian Revenue Services) officer, I am involved with finding new ways related to collection and allocation of funds. However, I would like to be more involved with implementation of the government policies, which is crucial to the development and betterment of our country. As an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer, I will be able to see the outcome of schemes and interventions I implement. One can directly see the output of an IAS officer, and that accountability fascinates me.

What would be your key focus areas as a Civil Servant?

There is no dearth of good social welfare schemes. What we lack is swift implementation and timely completion of the schemes. As a Civil Servant, I would focus on the quick and smooth implementation of schemes to benefit the masses.

Describe your educational background in brief.

I scored 89.6% in Class 10, 86.2% in Class 12, and 85.22% in B.Tech in Paper Engineering, which I did from IIT Roorkee. I graduated as an engineer in 2010.

I reached the ‘Interview’ stage of the UPSC exam in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, I achieved #6 rank in the Punjab PSC exam and #322 rank in the UPSC. I chose to join as the IRS officer at the time.

The 2015 UPSC exam was my fourth attempt and I finally managed to nab All India Rank No3.

What strategies did you adopt for your exam preparation?

The Civil Services Exam (CSE) is not merely an intelligence test but the eligibility test for an administrative officer. So, when you write answers for the exam, it’s not enough to show off how much you know about the problem. It is equally important to offer solutions for the given problem.

To cover the vast syllabus of the exam, I used to divide a topic into sub-topics and prepare point-wise notes on each of them. Then, I used to make summary for each topic and kept revising it again and again. I used an integrated approach for Prelims or Mains preparation.

For Prelims, I finished my studies within time and then, took mock papers of various coaching institutes. I solved all the mock papers for Prelims available in the market, jotted down what I didn’t know, and then, revised those specific portions once again. In all my attempts, I have been able to solve 90% questions in the GS paper as I read and prepared for a wide variety of topics. I did not leave any answers, even if I didn’t know the exact answers. I made educated guesses in such cases. I always aimed for 110+ marks in the GS (Paper 1).

You can only practice for the Aptitude Test. Since you only have to qualify this test, you can do it cursorily.

For Mains, you must study each and every topic in extreme detail. If you are studying about ‘Pollution’, you must know about direct causes, indirect causes, air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution – and what can be the probable measures to check it and reduce its effects. There is an easy method to explore a topic in all its facets.

It is to be noted that in the UPSC syllabus, history, geography, politics, economics, society, science & technology, administration and ethics are the major subjects. You can offer subject-wise analysis to each topic (pollution in this case).

In this case, you can offer historical, geographical, political, social, ethical, technical, judicial, administrative, and economic perspectives about ‘pollution’. You can outline the problems from all these angles and then, offer solutions to them. This will help you offer richer answers in the exam.

This was my fourth attempt. Getting daunted by the vast syllabus and limited time will do you no good. Just focus on your studies and don’t worry about the syllabus you are not able to cover in the end.

What resources did you use to prepare for General Studies (GS) paper?

I used to read newspapers like The Hindu and The Indian Express daily, and access websites like Insights on India, IASbaba, IASscore.in and Mrunal.org to prepare for Current Affairs.

Reading all the NCERT books and other books mentioned everywhere is counter-productive.

Here is my topic-by-topic breakup of my preferred sources for GS paper:

*I read NCERTs for Ancient and Medieval History. For Prelims, I focused on Art & Culture and made notes, keeping in mind the questions that have been asked in previous years’ papers. I also bought Nitin Singhania’s notes for Art & Culture. They are easily available in the market.

*For Modern History, I stuck to Spectrum. I did revise it several times though.

*Old NCERT books and Norman Lower are great for World History. I made short summary of all the major themes in it, and revised the notes again and again. Relating World History with International Relations is easy and quite useful.

*I referred to the notes of Vision IAS for post-Independence section. I did make short revision note myself.

*Geography topics are quite straightforward. If you understand the concepts and know diagrams that can be drawn easily, you should be able to do well in it. I also focused on major crops and their cropping patterns in this section. I prepared for it through Class 10 book of ICSE board and NCERT books for Class 11 and 12. Mrunal’s videos on YouTube are a great way to learn more about Geography.

*I only read about Government Schemes from newspapers, Economic Survey, and India Year Book for the Society part.

*Laxmikant is a good book for Constitution and Polity. I learnt the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs) by heart and used them in most of my GS answers to analyse the constitutional position of a given problem.

*Basic portion and definition of all the concepts covered under ‘Ethics’ are quite important. GS Score is also good for the subject.

*GK Today is great to prepare theory on Science and Technology for the Prelims. For Mains, you need to focus on current events in the sphere and I found Insights on India a good website for it.

*I read through the 2ndAdministrative Reform Commission (ARC) report for the Disaster Management and prepared a short summary in my own words.

*Mrunal’s videos and website articles are a great resources for Economics.

*Shankar IAS offers a great section on the Environment.

*The Hindu and the Indian Express are enough for researching about International Relations. Books like World Focus might only end up confusing you.

*Use a lot of examples and data from newspapers for topics like Civil Society etc.

*Vision IAS and GS Score keep you updated on latest topics in news, such as Public Distribution System (PDS), subsidies, Internal Security etc.

How did you handle Case Studies?

There is no special way to handle case studies. However, here are a few tips from me:

*In the first two lines, quickly touch upon the actors involved in the study and their ethical dilemmas.

*Then, you can go on analysing all the alternatives suggested in the paper.

*I prefer to present the related pros and cons of each option side-by-side to clearly state its benefits and drawbacks.Two pros and two cons for each option should be enough. Mentioning the Constitution Articles, SC judgments, teachings of great people like Gandhi, Nehru, and Ambedkar that support your point can help you enrich your answers and get more marks.

*In the conclusion part, it is not advisable to choose just one option as the only solution. It is a good idea to start off by saying that there is no perfect solution in such cases. Then, you can choose the mildest option as the first phase of solving the problem. You can then state that if the solution does not work, we can try a stronger option. Keep escalating the intensity of options as required, using the problem solving approach. However, there are cases in which you do have to adopt a simpler approach and take an ethical stand.

What should aspirants keep in mind while choosing their subjects?

The subject should be scoring and you should be well-versed in it. I chose ‘Punjabi Literature’ as my subject. Most of the literature in Punjabi language is in the ‘poetic’ form. I made it a practice to listen to it for two hours in the morning every day. It sounded like ‘Bhajans’ or ‘religious hymns’and made me feel very peaceful.

Many students choose subjects like Public Administration and Psychology but they are not scoring anymore. So, choose a subject which won’t let you down. A high-scoring subject boosts up your morale too.

What role can family play during one’s preparation for the IAS exam?

Family support is imperative to preparation for any exam, including the Civil Services Exam. I am fortunate to have parents who are extremely supportive and caring. I think providing proper resources for the exam, and a quiet place to study (for 10-12 hours a day) is a big support in itself.

How can soft skills and technical knowledge add to one’s preparation for the CSE exam?

Soft skills are extremely important for administrative officers. As an IAS officer (or aspirant), you need to choose your words carefully and think well about the impact they can have on your image as well as the image of your post, your department, and the government.

You also need to learn to communicate hard decisions or decisions that you know are not going to be popular – in a manner that they get accepted easily.

Similarly, technical skills are crucial for IAS officers today as our government is moving towards e-governance, and coming up with new Digital India initiatives.

What should one focus on while preparing for the ‘Interview’ stage of the Civil Services Exam?

Interview is just not a personality test in the IAS exam. It is an assessment of your problem-solving skills as well as your willingness to find solutions.If you are not able to express the solutions you have in mind during the ‘interview’, you might find it difficult to dig your way through it.

Soft skills are extremely important in the ‘Interview’ stage. If you don’t know an answer to the questions asked to you, simply stating that you don’t know the answer is not going to work in your favour. Instead, you should try to use whatever you know about the topic to throw some light on it and then, perhaps say that you read about it but you are not being able to recall about it at the moment.

Accepting that you don’t know answers in a straight forward manner may be taken as your ignorance and you might fail to make the ‘passing’ grade.

What are your hobbies and interests? In what way did they contribute to your preparation?

You need to spend a lot of time to prepare for the IAS exam. Hence, it becomes very important to make sure that you do not fall ill or contact lifestyle diseases. Fortunately for me, I am an exercise and fitness freak and I love to play football.

It is important to remember that most of the social media channels are not very social. You keep reading and sharing irrelevant posts, and get into unnecessary arguments – and waste your time for no reason. However, it is a good strategy to keep an eye on sites like Quora where you can actually indulge in meaningful talk and get high-quality information easily.

What legacy are you going to leave behind as a Civil Servant?

There are many IAS officers who are doing quite well in their fields but we never get to hear about them. I would like it if we could use the available media to highlight their good work.

When I retire from my position, I would like to hear that I was humble throughout my career and was responsive to everybody.                         ***