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My Mistakes

I have been sitting for the UPSC Civil Services Exam since the year 2003. In May 2005 I sat for my third Prelims. I have cleared the previous two (in 2003 and 2004), and I just might scrape through the 2005 Prelims as well. I have always believed the Prelims chapter of the IAS Exams to be very difficult - needlessly so. They do not test the knowledge or proficiency as much as they test the luck of the candidates. I would like to believe that there are not many who can answer more than 50% with conviction. As difficulty goes up, so does the luck factor and the chances of undeserving candidates getting called for the Mains. The corollary is that many deserving candidates, who might do rather well at the Mains stage, get chucked out at the Prelims itself, giving a great blow to their confidence. At times I tend to believe that the Prelims papers are made by people who could not clear the Prelims during their younger days, and are now bent upon taking sweet revenge upon others!

However, since I cleared the Prelims on both occasions, and flunked at the Mains on both occasions, I would like to believe that it is the Mains which need improved preparations. I now believe that I have made a few mistakes, which if rectified, I might expect better results next time. So what are the mistakes I made:

  • I read too much. Please don't raise your eyebrows. Civil services Exam pattern is such that there is only so much that you can write (except in the Essay paper) - and there is not much detail that you can give. Especially in the GS papers you are even circumscribed by word limitations. Does it pay to read a whole lot on a topic where you have to write at best 250 words? Is it not waste of time and precious brain energy (okay, I made up that term)? When you read more, the word constrain is a handicap, and you don't know how to rein in your knowledge - which part to write and which not to write. Balanced and nuanced reading - only that much as is requisite - make for best preparation.

  • Bad answers. With a literature background, I used bullets and points only very reluctantly, and wrote in long paragraphs. That is very bad for Civils. In Civils, on must give as many points as possible, put proper headings where required and write legible, structured and succinct answers. Long winding sentences and paragraphs are a strict no no.
    A further mistake I made was that my answers were not structured properly. Because, to many questions I knew far to much than was good for my health, I started writing long answers, until I realised that I needed to write short. But it was too late by then. I tried to mend the answer, putting in all points in short, but the damage to the structure is already done.

  • Bad reading. Sometimes I gave too little thought to my answers, and started writing even before the question sunk in. So, many a times I wrote the wrong answer until I realised it too late. Thus, I started writing on 1919 reforms when I was asked to write about 1909 reforms!

  • All this mainly stemmed from no written practice. Written practice is must for Civils. Theoretical knowledge is not good enough - you need application. The only writing I did was in the exam hall - literally. My writing suffered. I was slow, ham-handed and clumsy, and my answers were unstructured, un-bulletted and plain bad.

Take heed while there is still time and don't commit these follies. One lifetime is too short to make all the mistakes yourself and then learn from them.

Best of luck.

May 2005



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