Coaching industry exploits the fear psychosis of the aspirants. The contention of the institutes is that they aid and assist in the preparation of an aspirant. Right from familiarizing to what civil services is, its basic tenets, the pattern of examination and the recent changes, the coaching industry grills the aspirant via its classroom programs, test series and mock interviews so that they become fit to join civil services in the eyes of UPSC.
It cannot be denied that coaching is more required for the less self-motivated candidates. It tends to create regularity in studies by the push factor of the speedily advancing course and the pull factor of the fellow batch mates. Every aspirant faces paucity of time in this preparation where the course is enormous. Here, the concise notes and the study material given by the coaching institutes may also help the candidate, if used wisely.
However, the other side to this story is far from being innocuous; in fact, dismal is the word that I should use. Most of the big names in this industry are playing with the dreams of the aspirants. They are using pure marketing techniques to attract the students from every segment and from every corner of the country. And friends, these fraudulent techniques are not unknown to us. In 2012, I was in search of a coaching program suitable to my needs. I ventured to some big coaching institutes and found that each of them claimed at least 500 selections of their own among the total of 1100 or so! How? Because each of these coaching institutes conducted the mock interview sessions of successful candidates in mains examination. Most of the aspirants register for appearing in the mock interviews at two or even three different coaching institutes. The result is the high overlapping of the names of successful candidates in various institutes.
When I became suspicious of these replicating results of coaching institutes, I tried to discern some other ways of selecting the one which was ‘perfect’ and which could sail me through this civil services preparation. I got hold of The Hindu newspaper and started reading it for a few days. On one fine day I found an open invitation for attending a seminar by one ‘success guru’. That advertisement repeated itself continuously for three or four days. I finally registered myself for that miraculous seminar. During the seminar the ‘success guru’ gave us an insight to civil services, various benefits of his institute and he also introduced some of the toppers of that year. Those selected candidates spoke so high of the institute that I was impressed and decided to join that institute by submitting a fee of around Rs. 40,000/-.
After attending the coaching on weekends for 3 weeks I could perceive the hollowness of the education that the institute was providing. The teachers were incompetent, least concerned of the welfare of students and the learning mechanism was absolutely focused on rote learning. I was fortunate enough to have perceived the system and left it with least damage done to my concepts and vision; otherwise I would not have been selected and written this book. Only a financial damage was done to my pocket after I was denied a refund by the ‘glamorous’ institute! There would have been numerous such aspirants who had shared the same fate and parted away with their hard earned money for the elaborate yet hollow coaching programs.
The nuisance is not limited to the replication of results only. It stretches in various dimensions from there on and the impact on the aspirants is significant if he/she is not aware of the full facts regarding these institutes. Look at the offerings of various coaching institutes. Some of these are vying for candidates just after the schooling! They have started three years’ program for those aspirants who are in the first year of their graduation. It is my sincere advice to our younger generation that they must not fell prey to the greed of these institutes. The dividends reaped will be much higher if a college going student focuses on his/her graduation courses rather than studying for civil services during the college days.
Another flaw in these study schedules is a deliberate one. The industry has thrown an unchallenged assumption that more the number of teaching hours, the better it is for the student and hence, the popularity of the institute increases! It seems to me that studying in a coaching has become something like going to an office – the difference is that here you have to pay a hefty charge for occupying a seat in that ‘office’. The classes run upto 6 or 8 hours for 6 days or may be 7 days in a week! And why should the big players not be delighted for giving such programs to the aspirants? After all they have to charge upto 1.5 lac from a student; so he/she must be engaged for a good period of time throughout the course. The corollary of this engagement is that the faculties taking such extended study courses are left with no other option but to provide very detailed descriptions of the subject matter, which, apart from being redundant, creates unnecessary burden on the aspirant. Many, thus, quit during the coaching and some even drop the idea of preparations.
I believed teaching to be a noble profession. But my practical experience of coaching industry both as a faculty of physics to teach students preparing for IIT JEE as well as an aspirant for civil services forces me to change my belief system. Yet, there are some people in this industry that sees the profession not solemnly as a profit making venture but also as a social responsibility. Samkalp academy is one among those few. The entire machinery of the institute along with the prominent teachers associated with it are working with a mission to deliver the best guidance to those aspirants who can’t afford the expenses of preparations on market rates. My association with Samkalp was one of a short duration, that is, for interview only. During this period, I was very well versed with the method of functioning of the institution. One peculiar aspect that struck me was the discipline of the aspirants which is required for inculcating among them the character and the ethos of civil servants. However, Samkalp is limited in its capacity and such endeavors are few to serve such a large number of aspirants throughout the country. Another highly effective program is of the essay in the mains paper floated by the RIAS academy. A small academy, with not so marvelous infrastructure, is able to deliver the best quality service at a very reasonable price. What is commendable is the approach of the teacher, Dr. B. Ramaswamy, whose solemn belief is to remain always approachable to the aspirant as opposed to that of a ‘celebrity faculty’ who would vanish after taking the class of 200 plus students! The GS test series of the institute was highly exhaustive consisting of more than 30 papers. These papers are to be written in a time-bound manner and in a fixed space scenario. Proper evaluation of the answer by Dr. B. Ramaswamy and suggestions there upon were appreciable. Yet such academies are few and I expect that these would expand their infrastructure. I also hope that certain other such initiatives will find the light of the day.
With the role of coaching industry far from being minuscule in the present scenario, there has to be considerable reforms in this particular segment dealing with civil services. Think about it my dear friends and future aspirants. What you require are not elaborate, extensive and exhaustive coaching programs but short guidance techniques and interactions at a personal level with the faculties. These interactions will serve purpose once you have read the basic texts for the subject matter, which you will find explicitly written in the coming chapters on preliminary and mains. Such a demand from the market will force the coaching institutes to restructure their courses, make it more interactive rather than promoting rote learning. And consequentially, the fee structure would then have to be relaxed to a considerable extent as the number of hours will reduce drastically, if instead of full-fledged classroom programs we find the acceptability of short and sweet guidance modules.
I don’t know how and when this gross error of the institutes will be realized by the aspirants. The sooner it happens the better it becomes. Nevertheless, at present we must dwell into divergent analyses of the myths and FAQs related to the coaching sector so as to arrive at some general loopholes and benefits of the same.
MYTHS AND FAQs
A) Without coaching you cannot clear CSE.
I haven’t seen a single candidate whether successful or unsuccessful who has not been associated with a coaching institute in some manner or the other. You may take the full package of GS, coaching for the optional or may go for subject specific coaching; you may take only the test series or the interview guidance, in any case you are associated with the coaching and howsoever miniscule but the contribution of a coaching institute does exist in your success or may be in your failure!
But the irony is that very few candidates clear CSE in the same year as that of the coaching. And why is this so? Because it is a challenge to balance the time between coaching and self-study. Coaching becomes treacherous the moment you attend only the coaching and study less in your room. It becomes your enemy when the maximum time of your entire day is consumed in the institute and at the night you are too tired and fatigued to study alone at your room.
If you decide to join a coaching then enroll in the month of june/july/august so that the course may be completed by the month of march/april the next year which will give you at least 2 or 3 months of self-study before preliminary exam. If you have missed September, it is advisable that you study on your own. Read the preliminary and the mains section of this handbook and you will find all the aid required for a starter to take off the studies from scratch.
Further, it is advisable that coaching should not be more than 3 hours a day and that too for not more than 3 or max. 4 days a week. Trust me, you need two or three days in a week to consolidate what you have studied in coaching. I must narrate you the story of a girl who had joined a very reputed coaching targeting CSE 2014. I had written preliminary in 2013 when she had just joined the coaching. After an year, I got selected and by that time she had decided to quit her preparations. When I asked why, here is what she had to say, “Continuously for three months I attended the coaching without any break, not even on Sundays, from 9 am to 5 pm. The course piled up and registers of class notes had to be kept on a separate bed. I then realized that I can’t target CSE 2014 and I may not even try for 2015 also!”
So, my dear friends, coaching should ease your preparation, a teacher must guide you as a philosopher and friend and in the end your decision to join coaching must help you come out with flying color. Thus, one must be careful in choosing such a program that suits to your requirement rather than just going for the brand and crowd!
B) I am financially weak and want to join coaching but can’t afford.
There exists huge difference in the fee structure of coaching institutes. Some may charge in lacs and others may charge around 40000/- for the same program. But you must understand that fee is not a reflection of quality, dedication and commitment the faculty may offer to its students. It is an evident fact that these coaching institutes have become unaffordable for EWS of the society. This is an area to work upon. We are also evaluating the possibility of some guidance program as opposed to the stereo-typed spoon feeding costly coaching classes for civil services. Evidently there shall be a huge difference of fee so that it may give a breather to the economically disadvantaged students.
C) Is subject specific coaching better than taking for whole GS?
Subject specific coaching is undoubtedly better. It offers a wider flexibility in terms of timing and content and is much better priced as compared to the complete GS course. Also, there are good faculties offering their expertize in a particular subjects. Yet, the faculties of these individual subjects must transform their teaching pattern from unidirectional information flow system to interactive sessions advocating dialectical methods of learning. I have absolutely no hope from the big players in this industry that they may constitute batches of around 50 students or less and try to treat an aspirant in a more humane manner rather than just as ‘another customer in our shop’.
D) Most of the coaching institutes are in Delhi. So I have to stay in Delhi during the coaching and untill I get through CSE.
I don’t perceive the logic of staying in Delhi after the coaching is over, just for the purpose of study. My known friends who are mostly from outside Delhi assert that there is no atmosphere to study at home. May be! But I personally find no better place to study than my home. I understand that it is difficult to get a cozy environment to study in a joint family but the same can’t be held true for a nuclear family. In fact, home will offer you many other conveniences such as hygienic food, timely sleep as per biological clock of the body and emotional connect with immediate family may comfort and help you get over failures, if any.
Another argument I come across is that once you leave Delhi for your hometown the touch with what is happening in the current affairs is lost. “You must know what people are studying, what is the latest study material of reputed coaching institutes in the market.” One of my close friends from Lucknow, who had been staying in Delhi for 4 years, told me when I asked him of the reasons for his affinity to Delhi. However, I felt the reason too naïve to hold water. You can have friends in Delhi who may update you of any new material of importance, or may be call the coaching institute directly or visit its website for new information.
Let me have the privilege to request at least those aspirants who belong to areas adjoining Delhi to return to their home after the coaching is over and preliminary examination taken. You may enroll in some weekend test series and collect whatsoever material you may require for your mains preparations.
E) Which is better – printed study material or the class notes? Or should I study the standard textbooks?
Indeed the standard textbooks of NCERT and those referred to during graduation are the best. However, material becomes so exhaustive and segregated that due to the paucity of time it is difficult to read, filter and assemble the required content separately. It is this need that the coaching institutes satisfy through their printed notes and the class notes.
Now, whether to study the standard text or the coaching material would depend on the timing of the question and the course that is required to be studied. For example, it is written that Indian culture is in syllabus and not the Indian ancient or medieval history. But the Indian culture comprising of art, architecture, literature, dance, drama and music developed during this time. So an aspirant has to study the ancient and medieval history of India with special focus on alienating and connecting the developments in Indian culture.
Thus, if someone asks in the month of June as to how to study Indian culture I would recommend NCERT books of history from class 6th to 8th. Yet if the same question is asked in the month of October then my blunt reply would be to study the notes of a coaching institute. The second question is which notes – class notes or printed notes? This depends on the convenience of an aspirant. I personally feel that printed notes would be better – no handwriting issues and no variations due to subjective interpretation of the writer.
F) Should I take the test series?
A full affirmative reply to that question from my side. You should have net practice before the final match, mock drills before fighting at the front. Test series is required both for prelims as well as mains. At the final stage mock interview practice session - may be two or three - is required.
But there is a catch. That is of an escapist tendency. Some aspirants do not join the test series as they believe that their preparations are not upto the mark, while others who join the test series leave it without completion. Dear aspirant, you must accept the fact that one may never feel that his /her preparation is optimum to crack civil services. How can one tell what is the level of preparation without writing tests? Moreover, the course of CSE is endless and to get a strong hold in each and every topic is not possible and not required also.
One of my friends in his third attempt after the preliminary in 2013 refused my proposal to join the test series of mains examination in the following words, “I will not join any test series till I remember every article of our constitution, most of the cities of the globe, report of every recent committee along with challenges in every sector of India and also India’s relation with every other member country of UN.”
I didn’t know many things he said. But I joined the test series and wrote all my tests seriously in a time bound manner. Dear aspirant, you improve with every test you write provided you are doing justice at your writings and taking pains of what went wrong during the test papers.
G) Is coaching required for optional subject?
It depends whether the optional is entirely new for you or you have studied it in graduation and that too how seriously. An engineer would definitely require a little assistance in history as an optional subject. A science student who has been sincere throughout the college days may not require any external assistance in that subject, if taken as an optional for CSE. On contrary, those who are backbenchers in their graduation days may require assistance in their own subjects if taken as an optional. Thus, after deciding the optional subject, an aspirant must assess his/her previous level of knowledge in it and then accordingly take the decision whether the coaching is required or not.
H) What basic checks must be done if you decide to join a coaching?
In this era of transparency, when the political parties & candidates are also expected to disclose some basic information to the public, should not the coaching industry follow these basic mandatory disclosures? The educational background of the faculties must be disclosed by the coaching institutes. Go to the website of the institute and check for this. Many coachings stress more on listing the fee structure for various modules rather than highlighting the profiles of the teachers.
Another strange phenomenon is that the optional subject may be taught by the people with no educational background of that particular optional. Any optional subject requires specialist knowledge, in-depth study and good experience on the part of teachers. It is not a cake walk that one fine day a person may take a pledge that from now on he/she shall teach an optional subject and start teaching it! Public administration and sociology have been majorly plundered by ‘quack teachers’. Thus, an aspirant must not fell prey to such prevalent misconduct.