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Frequently asked problems – common problems faced by all aspirants!

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Frequently asked problems - common problems faced by all aspirants!

Hello Everyone, Since I have gotten extremely busy with work I am unable to find time to respond to people individually and help out with their problems. Below are the questions that most aspirants ask me and my responses to them. I thought this way at least people will not be stuck with just the basic issues. Hope this helps.

Hello Everyone,Since I have gotten extremely busy with work I am unable to find time to respond to people individually and help out with their problems. Below are the questions that most aspirants ask me and my responses to them. I thought this way at least people will not be stuck with just the basic issues. Hope this helps.


1. How to start the preparation? Where to start, when to start etc.Ans The first step is to check out the syllabus properly. Read the notification properly and a repeat a few times. Do it yourself and do not go with what others say. Decide how much and what you have to study for each topic. You can use the internet for this research. I have mentioned all the books I studied for each topic and a lot of other people have also done the same. Check those lists out. See what seems relevant. Start with NCERTs. And then move onto more specialized books. You can use internet to study each topic properly and in detail. Best of luck!

2. How do I make my time-table/plan my schedule? How did you study? How many hours should I study in a day?Ans Just check out the syllabus properly. Decide how much and what you have to study for each topic. Divide the course into subjects and then divide the subjects into small bits. The current syllabus is very topic wise. Decide the relevant books/material you will study for each topic. Then plan the number of days you will finish each topic in. Now divide the material for each topic into days, as in what will you finish on what day. Make daily targets of course and finish those! Make an easy schedule. Do not burden yourself too much. Also, keep a loose schedule so that if you are not able to finish any topic properly, then you have an extra day to run through it. Also keep enough time for revision. Best of luck!My answer on Quora for this – I would recommend that you fix daily targets of course that you would cover. For example, say that you will finish 10 chapters of Polity today. So then try and finish that. When making the plan check out all the topics/books/ reading material you have to cover. Then divide them into number of days. Say you have to cover History, Geography and International relations. And you have 15 days. So you decide how many days for each subject – 3 days IR, 6 days Geography and the rest History. Then you decide how much part of that subject on any particular day that you will finish. So say you are dividing history then say 2 days for modern India and 3 days for World and 1 day extension. Then divide that I will finish 15 chapters of Modern India book on first day. And then do that. Instead of making hour-wise time table, make a syllabus wise time-table. After all, what matters is finishing the course and not showing the examiner how many hours you study!! Do not worry about the hours. Focus on finishing the syllabus of the day , no matter it takes you 3 hours, 7 hours or 12 hours!When we make hourly time-table you tend to just waste time in staring at the same page and not really being productive. The point is to finish the course and not spend a certain number of hours looking at the book. Usually with hourly time-tables we waste a lot of time and not really manage to learn anything. At the end we say I spent so many hours studying but we don’t really learn so many hour worth of the subject!It doesn’t matter how many hours you spend studying as long as you finish the course and know it well. The target is to know the subject so focus on that. And the best part is when you make a course-based time-table you won’t worry that you doing other activities in your free time and you can take a break whenever you want!You won’t force yourself to keep studying even when your brain is not working because you said you would study that many hours! In this time-table you are free to study when you want and do all the other things in life! Like I would decide that I would take a break after 3 chapters so then I would quickly finish them and take my break and do something else. If you have a break in 2 hours, then you would worry about the break for 2 hours and not finish anything! Which is just a sheer waste of time!Also please remember to make a very spacious time-table so that you actually follow it and it doesn’t become a burden. Often we make such a rigid schedule that we get tired just thinking about it! Do not try to do so much in one day that it becomes impossible for it to happen. And like someone else said, make sure to do all your other activities too! It is important to be a well-rounded person and enjoy your studies . If you cut yourself off then studies will become a burden! Good luck!

3a. At what age do I start the preparation? I am still in school and I want to be an officer, what should I start studying now?  Please forget about UPSC for now! Getting a good professional graduation degree before that is more important. Please concentrate on that. Without a good graduation you cannot get a good rank in UPSC. There is a huge time to go before UPSC. You might think that there are people who have started from 10th-12th and have gotten through, but please realise they are very rare exceptions. Most of such people fail. So please get a professional graduation first. And only then start thinking of UPSC. You do not need so many years to get through that you have to start now. In the meantime, it is always a good idea to keep up with the daily news. But please first do your graduation from a good college and with a good professional degree. Best of luck
3b. I am in my first/second year of Graduation. Should I start the prep?Q on quora – Is it good to prepare for a civil services examination during graduation?A- Well if you flunk out of your graduation, it won’t be of much use, right? Also, if you do badly in graduation and then by some stroke of chance, you don’t clear CSE, then where would you be? Finding a job would become very very tough in this case. So you can start prep as long as you can balance things and not lose out on your graduation. But be very clear on balancing! I am not saying you need to ace your grad exams but you need to do decently so you don’t mess up your future. I remember cases when I was in school, of students who prepared for IIT entrance, got through with great ranks, but failed class 12th so had to let go of their IIT seat and also have to give school exams the next year! So plan in such a way that you become employable after graduation in case you don’t clear UPSC. Please do not be over confident and stupid and assume that you will definitely get through! There are no guarantees in life. Do not give life a chance to mess you up. Take the smart route and plan for every possibility. Hence make sure you can get a good job after graduation AND THEN START YOUR UPSC PREP. 


3c. What graduation should I chose to become an IAS officer?
Ans- It does not matter what is your graduation subject for IAS exam. But your graduation will matter if you have to become employable. A professional graduation is always a good idea. That way you have all the options open. If you clear UPSC, then great, else you can always go become a professional of whatever stream your graduation is in. But if you do not take a professional graduation, then you have closed a lot of your own options. In this case if you by chance do not make it through to government exams, then you will be stuck!! So make your base first. Get a good alternate career option and only then start thinking about UPSC. I did the same thing and I am very very glad I did so! Please remember, life does not always work out the way you want. So it is upto you to make smart choices. 


3d. Should I do some other job first after graduation or directly prepare for UPSC?
Ans – I personally feel it is better to first get some other job in hand. That helps in multiple ways. Firstly, it gives you confidence while preparing that you have something to fall back on. You have a ready alternate career in case things do not work out. Also you figure out that you are worth something and hence you feel better about your chances of getting through. Secondly, you get a financial source for all the books you have to buy for this exam. You do not have to depend on anyone else. And you do not curse the system and the government and the coaching centers and the rental house owners for the expense saying why are there no scholarships or free books or free accommodation etc. Thirdly, working makes you more refined and hence able to write better answers in exam. It definitely helps having a work ex in terms of the way you express yourself in the GS papers and the Interview.  Please do not be in a hurry in life. You should build enough bases for yourself so that you are able to handle whatever life throw at you!

3e. I want to do Post-graduation and then start preparing for UPSC. But will it not be too late to give the exam? 
Ans – I myself started the prep after post graduation and 2 years of work-ex. I wanted to get a strong back-up in case things did not work out with UPSC. Also I wanted to bring my best to the job so I wanted to get some experience before I became responsible for so many lives. I think my country and its citizens deserve the best I have to give and so I wanted to make sure of that. And what does being too late mean? Why are you coming into this job? To make a difference and improve the world around you or something else? And if this is your aim, then how can it ever be too late to do that? How can being in your late 20s or even early 30s make you less capable of improving the lives around you? Please be clear in your motives. What exactly is your aim? If it is to serve your nation and to make a difference in the lives around you, then no age is late for it.



4. Can you recommend books for Hindi/non-English medium?
Ans – I am sorry I don’t know anything about Hindi Medium. Please check with students who have passed in Hindi. Best of luck.Q on Quora – What is the reason most successful students in upsc exam from English medium not Hindi medium exam?A- There are multiple dimensions to this issue. Firstly, there are statistically more people giving the paper in English that Hindi, so obviously more would clear with English. This is also due to the fact that most of the higher education in the country is in English, hence that is the language most people attempting this exam have studied in. Secondly, most of the good material available is in English (because the larger number of people are giving in English, so easier to print it in that) so that becomes a disadvantage for Hindi Medium students. Since most of the material currently is available online, and it is all in English, that is a further disadvantage. A lot of documents themselves come out just in English or it is too tough to find proper Hindi sources for them. Thirdly, we use a lot of English words in our colloquial Hindi, but we don’t vice-versa in English so finding proper Hindi words for technical terms is also tougher. Hence the language skills themselves become tougher in Hindi than in English. A lot of the scientific terms become much more complicated when translated to Hindi. All this leads to a lower number of people passing with Hindi. But this is the case with ALL REGIONAL LANGUAGES. So it is not just Hindi. It is all other than English languages. If we add the numbers of all students who cleared with all regional languages, this is actually not as bad.

5.  How do I prepare notes from books/newspapers etc.? Is it necessary to make notes? Ans – Personally, I never prepared notes. I studied directly from the books every time. When you make notes, you only take the perspective you got when you studied it that time. But the next time you read it, you will get something new. Summaries and notes are not the best idea. You waste a lot of time writing down stuff and that stuff is never complete. It is just one perspective and only very restricted ideas. Books give you a new perspective every time. Instead of making notes, I, personally, underline the important points in the books itself. And I write in the margins anything that comes to my mind and seems important to me. If the space is less, I would write the thing on a separate sheet and put it in the place in the book itself. That way I had everything ready for the next reading. Since I read multiple books for the same topic, I did revise all the books again and again. And I tried to mention the points of one book in other books also sometimes, but that did not mean I did not read all of them again.Notes from newspapers make no sense to me. I instead rely on current affairs material available in a bunch in the market and read the news websites. You can cut out certain articles from the paper if you feel like you need to read them again. But wasting 2-3 hours making notes from newspapers is just wastage of time and energy. Read the paper 2 times instead of doing that. Also all relevant news is repeated over 3-4 days so if you read the paper 2-3 times for 3-4 days, you really won’t need the notes!

6. How do I choose an Optional Paper for the exam?Ans  In choosing an optional the only rule is to take the subject you can love the most. You have to study it again and again …almost do a PhD in it. So the only thing that matters is that you can study it that much! People clear with every subject. And fail with every subject. No subject has a 100% record. What matters is that you can handle the subject. So take the one that interests you the most. You have to pass that subject means, you need to be good at it! Not what everyone else is good at! How can you be good at something that other people like? Or that they are good at? Please understand that you are an individual yourself and that you have your own brain. You can only perform well in a subject if you like it. Because you need to be able to think in it and generate new ideas. So take a subject that interests you and not what other people have done well in.Ans on Quora – You have to study that subject again and again and have to do a very in-depth coverage of all its topics! So it should be a subject that you enjoy studying. If you don’t enjoy it then you won’t be able to do justice to it and hence not perform your best. Every year people clear with all sorts of subjects, so it is not right to say any particular subject gives best results! The subject which gives best result is which was loved most by the people studying it! So choose what seems most easily readable to you and go with that! 

7. Is coaching necessary? Can I do it without coaching?Ans  Coaching is not necessary. Most of what you have to prepare is from the internet and from books. Coachings are just about helping you make a routine. Also if you are completely unable to understand where to start and where to go, then they help in giving you a primary direction. If they were necessary, then only people who went to coaching would clear the exam and all the students of coachings would pass. That is not the case. Only those students pass who have prepared well on their own. Sometimes it does not matter if you took coaching or not. Coaching can be of help to some and not to others. It is very individual and about how much of a background you have and how much help you need. It is NOT necessary. Do not take coaching just because others are doing it! Something that suits me will not suit you and vice versa. To pass this exam, you need to learn to think for yourself. What sort of officer do you think you will make if you just do everything that other people do? You are not the same as others so don’t make choices based on them. If you need hand-holding and daily help, then take it otherwise don’t!
Q on Quora – What should I do if I have 10 months for IAS preparation? Should I join a coaching centre or self preparation?A- Depends on how confident you feel about preparing yourself. Self-prep is possible as everything, not covered by the books, is available online these days and you can get coaching material for the rest of the stuff. And even after joining, it will be your self-prep that will decide whether you clear or not. But if you are not disciplined, have no idea what any of the topics of the course actually signify, feel under-confident and need someone to hold your hand and give you the initial push, then you can join the coaching. 10 months is more than enough for both.


8. Which are the best coachings in Delhi/Elsewhere?
Ans – I am sorry I don’t know anything about coaching institutes. Please check on online forums regarding this.

9. I got low marks in test series and now I am extremely nervous and can’t concentrate. What do I do?Ans It is ok. Everyone gets nervous. That is natural. Don’t worry about getting wrong answers in tests. Just revise those topics more thoroughly. It is better to get wrong answers now than in the exam. And these tests don’t matter. What matters is the final exam. Don’t get demotivated. The point of giving the tests is to become better. If these tests are instead making you nervous then please do not give them! Personally, I have never given any practise tests. In fact, when I first joined coaching, I submitted an answer just as part of the class session. The examiner gave me very low marks and actually told me “Improve your English”!! And this was a person who could not speak one sentence correctly himself. So I realised the low quality of teachers who examine your tests and never submitted another answer for correction again nor gave any test. Most of the people who check your answers are aspirants themselves! So don’t worry about getting low marks there! Forget what you scored there! Keep trying till the last moment. You never know what will happen! Good luck!

10. I get demotivated very fast. How I keep myself motivated?AnsWhy are you demotivated? What do you think is wrong? Do you think you cannot pass this exam? If you think you cannot pass, then leave it! Do something else! Who is forcing you to give this exam? Why are you wasting your time and energy with something you think you cannot pass? Instead spend your time doing something which you can. And if you think you can, then stop this negative thinking. Either you can pass it or you cannot. If you can pass it then what is the problem? and if you cannot pass it, then go do something else! Why live in misery! And if you really think you can pass it, then why are you wasting your time thinking of the negative! There is no one forcing you to give this exam. You decided to do it for yourself. So then decide. Can you really do it? If yes, then great go study. Else leave. It is a very simple logic 🙂
10b. Everyone around me tells me that I cannot do it and that I am nothing. Should I believe them?AnsEveryone around you does not know you. They have not lived in your shoes, they do have the same capacity as you and they do not have the same drive as you. No one else can decide who you should be. Only you can do that. How can someone else tell you what to be? Only you can decide that! Do not let others define you. At the same time, do not be over confident and learn to let go. Sometimes some things may not be meant for you. In that case you should learn to move on. But do not get scared or leave something because of others. Other people have their own perspective. It cannot necessarily be correct. So go with what you think of you and aim accordingly. No one else on this planet knows you best. So no one else can define your goals better than you. 

11. Please recommend some books for Prelims and for CSAT.Ans – I never prepared for Prelims. I directly only prepared for Mains. You can do the prelims course mostly by just that. You don’t have to top prelims, just pass it. So if you do mains course properly, you can generally pass prelims. Marks matter only in Mains and not in prelims. These days Prelims has become very current affairs base so you must obviously do that but you cannot ignore the static portion. In fact it is best to finish your Mains prep once completely before Prelims exam.For CSAT exam, since I come from an MBA background, I didn’t prepare at all. But the books that helped me during MBA entrances are Quantitative Aptitude by R.S. Agarwal. I believe he has also come out with a separate book on Logical Reasoning. You should also try to solve CAT exam papers and past year CSAT papers. Best of luck!

12. Can you tell me something about the interview?AnsInterviews are generally about 3 topics – 1. Your educational background/your job if that is what you are doing. 2. Your personals and how you will handle situations 3. Current Affairs. Personals includes everything written on your DAF and other stuff like hobbies etc. which you wish to discuss. For situations they will give you 3-4 situations and ask you how you will handle them. Could be crisis management or corruption management etc. For Current Affairs you should prepare just like you prepared for Mains and make sure you read 2-3 newspapers in the week before the interview. Good Luck

13. Other people have told me this is how the exam is, but you are saying different. Who do I believe?Ans You should stop listening to just anyone! Sometimes people just say stuff to pull you down. Also it is always a good idea to listen to people who have done something successfully themselves rather than those in the same boat as you. You need to learn to decipher the motives of things people are saying and try to find out the facts for yourself. Don’t go around believing or disbelieving everyone! And in the end always do what feels right to you.

14. How do I improve my English?AnsTo improve your english, you should read English Novels, Newspapers and Magazines. Watch English News and English movies with Subtitles. Try having conversation in English with friends who know the language and ask them to correct you. Also practice English grammar from grammar books and websites. Best of luck.

15. Which novels or magazine is best for UPSC?Ans – I doubt there is any single novel which relates to UPSC Prep!!! Whatever gave you that idea? As for magazines, no single magazine is best. A multitude of them would make a better choice. I can’t personally recommend any, sorry.

16. Can you recommend books for optionals other than Geography?AnsI am sorry, I never explored any other optional. I did take Public Administration in my first 2 attempts but that was very long ago and what I studied is not relevant anymore. Besides I didn’t like it too much so I don’t even remember the books for it. Hence, I cannot help with any other optionals at all! You should check with people who have cleared with the optional that you have taken and ask them for help instead. Good luck!

17. What strategy to study should I follow? How many times do I revise?AnsThere is no fixed strategy for this exam! What works for me will not work for you! Everyone is different. I may need to revise history more and you may instead need polity! So do not go by what others do! Make your own plan and targets. Also with revision, there is no rule. The aim is to know the course properly. So revise as much as it takes to do that. Some people need 1 revision, some people need 3 and some people need 10! It does not matter how much time it takes you. All that matters is that on the day of the exam, you have learnt what you needed. So don’t ask other people to make your strategy. Make your own strategy. Check out past year question papers. See what sort of knowledge is needed and study accordingly.

18. How does one go about retaining the maximum from a bulky book, say, Lakshmikanth during the UPSC preparations?Ans Multiple readings. That’s the only way unfortunately. And go back and keep referring to things if you forget them! Like if you are doing HC judges, then go back and see the differences with SC judges, etc.! SLA with Parliament and all! Gov with Pres and all!



19. Are NCERTs compulsory? Can I skip them?
Ans – I feel NCERTs are the most important books. Even at my 4th attempt I still read them twice! Without NCERT you will never have the basics. Everything else comes after that. Also if you are too lazy to read NCERTs, then will you ever be able to read the rest of the course? NCERTs also are the only truly reliable source. Sometimes there would be conflicting knowledge in different books. At that time, whatever is written in NCERT is the most correct. Also they tell you what topics are important and what topics you need to learn in detail. A lot of the times, questions comes directly from NCERT. I recommend both old and new ones. Old for me is the ones before 2004/6 I think. 


20. Does handwriting matter in the IAS exam?
Ans – Handwriting would matter to the extent that the examiner must be able to at least read your answer!! If you write so terribly that all your words seem one, then you can’t expect them to give you marks can you? Think of attempting the paper from the point of view of the examiner….if you were given an answer-sheet to check….who would you give higher marks to? That is what I did in my final attempt…prior to that I used to write in a way that was convenient to me…but then I started writing in a way that would be easy to read for the examiner! Your aim is to get your point across, so as long as you can do that, how pretty your handwriting is, won’t matter (something I have personally done in previous attempts…specially in Pub Ad paper of 2011…beautiful handwriting but since I didn’t know enough about the question, just wrote the same idea in 15 different ways)! If there is no content and you keep beating about the bush then no matter how beautiful your hand-writing is, you won’t get marks. On the other hand, with brilliant content, an average legible hand should get you a good score. Best of luck!

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