From a genuine media source I found that;
More than 4.5 lakh candidates appeared at the preliminary, 2014 examination. A total of 9, 44, 926 candidates had applied for the examination but only 6, 80,455 downloaded the admit cards. Out of almost seven lakh candidates, 4.5 lakh came for the test held at 2,137 centers in 59 cities. In the year 2013, the UPSC civil services preliminary saw 3, 24,101 candidates.
In the year 2015, this figure of appeared candidate is expected to be about 4.7 lacs. But as there is no official declaration there might be a possibility that even more number of candidates sat in the exam as the candidates who appeared in 2011 (2.5 lacs) had been given another chance in the year 2015.
Thus, let us consider an average of 5 lacs student who compete for around first 15000 ranks. The rest are not eligible to write the mains exams. This section is dedicated to all those aspirants who could not make it to the mains. I have tried to delineate the reasons for failure, the immediate strategy after the result and the corrections which shall benefit the aspirant in the long run.
1. Unpredictable CSAT
CSAT, 2014 again reinforced our belief in the unpredictability of UPSC question setting trends! It was notified through the gazette that the marks of those comprehensions for which here was no Hindi translation were not to be considered in merit for the purpose of selection in CSAT. But surprises were far from being over.
The CSAT paper II again tricked many. It remains to be the prime cause of woes for several aspirants. The twist in this paper was the deletion of decision making questions. But that was not realized by many aspirants till the time they searched for the decision making questions and were terrified not to find it in the question booklet. Why worried if there was no decision making? Because that is a section which can be traversed in a matter of few minutes and also, there is no negative marking. Thus, it is that section which boosts the score by 10-15 marks. Now it was not there.
In CSAT 2015, this paper 2 was made qualifying. People cheered, especially those who had been agitating for the scrapping of this paper entirely. A sort of compromise was reached and there has been no protests since then. But even after that, three of my acquaintances, who had good know-how of GS, couldn’t secure more than 33% in paper 2. May be because they became so complacent after the notification that no effort was put into this paper at all.
2. Missing the instructions
The suspicion should have been aroused in the minds of the aspirants upon reading the instructions at the first hand. Nowhere was it mentioned that there shall be some questions with no negative marking – both in the year 2014 as well as 2015. That should have been enough to attract attention of the aspirants directly to the decision making questions. He/she should have known within two minutes after receiving the question paper that there are no decision making questions. The consequential thought then must have been “The paper is going to be lengthier.” With this thought in the mind, an aspirant should have proceeded with the paper. However, many candidates approached me after the paper with the grievance that they realized only after one hour into the exam that there was no decision making section.
3. Two reasons for failure in CSAT
There can only be two reasons for negative result in CSAT; a) Lack of subject knowledge and b) Lack of exam time temperament. The former can be managed by taking a deeper plunge into the studies, while the latter is indeed a cause for worry.
The irony is that most of the students had sufficient subject knowledge required for this year’s CSAT, but it was the temperament in the exam and time management that mattered the most in this preliminary exam, which was not cultivated by many aspirants. Hence the dismal results for them. The important thing is to realize that this temperament of handling pressure is not innate; it has to be nurtured, learned and practiced.
One aspirant who was rendered hopeless after CSAT paper II vomited bluntly, “I just don’t have the talent to crack CSAT. It’s just not inside me.” He burst into tears. At that time I didn’t find it appropriate to convince him of the gross error he had made while labeling the paper solving talents as something innate in a human being. Nevertheless, through this book I must convey to all the aspirants that questions solving techniques, time management tricks and the related qualities can be learned and have to be cultivated if we are to succeed in CSAT in the present times.
4. Immediate course of action after failure
After writing the CSAT paper, a reasonable step would be to check your answers with those of coaching institutes. You will definitely get an idea of your score. Insecurity arises for those aspirants who are on the borderline of the expected cut offs. They would usually check their answers with that of various coaching institutes in the hopes of getting one or two more questions correct. Planning the study for mains is a difficult course of action for such aspirants due to the insecurity of selection in preliminary.
Once the result is out we have only two cases; those who are through and those who have failed. The unsuccessful aspirants are bound to undergo a little torture in myriad forms. They would be anguished by the advices of different sections of society. Their friends who passed the preliminary would try to point the mistakes they had made and share their experience. This might prove to be a good exercise provided that the guiding friend does not pursue such advices with a humiliating intent. Another flawed methodology adopted is the formation of a consequential group of unsuccessful aspirants that gets created to share the burdens of defeat.
Parents and other family members may turn a little skeptical and start doubting upon the aspirant’s capabilities. They won’t say it directly but through words directed in such regard. That indeed is painful. One of my good friends who missed preliminary by less than 10 marks was bestowed with suggestions of meditation by her father. “My father said meditation and yog can take me out of grief in the times of failure. He also advised me to read motivational books.” My dear friends, the failure in CSAT is not to be projected as a ‘grief’ in our lives! Life is too long, dynamic and versatile that an unsuccessful examination result can’t and should not be labeled as an invincible grief in our lives. Taking the above view into account I present below a broad strategy to counter the failure in CSAT;
- Take a break – There may develop immense pressure, both from internal expectations and external comments, that an aspirant may take to study on the day he/she witness the negative result in CSAT. This pressure study is not going to help. What is required at that moment is profound introspection into what went wrong. Delineating the cause of failure is must for each and every aspirant. Take a break means to give a breather from studies. It does not necessarily mean that you have to go to Himalayas for a vacation. What it implies is that you may speak less and introspect more.
Is it the lack of drive within you that resulted in fewer efforts which resulted in a failure? If yes, then you may search for your reasons of doing civil services preparations, which will help you find that vigour in your studies. Or is it the exam time pressure which you could not handle while writing the paper? These questions and more needs to be answered before you proceed to studies again. It may take you 15 or 20 days to rejuvenate your energies and have more clarity in your mind regarding the reasons of preparations and your weaknesses in CSAT. But this is must – do not think that these 20 days were wasted. In fact, introspection after a failure leads to more profound planning to attain the target. This indeed will take time but would go a long way!
- Isolate negativities - Try to discern the intent of the friends around you while you are engulfed by the failure in CSAT. There will be those who would approach you with a smile on their face, humbleness and calmness in their voice. They may criticise you to correct you. However, they will not mock at you and amplify your pain of failure.
While others, far greater in number generally, would be those who try to humiliate you by their comments. It is far more beneficial to leave the company of such creatures for the moment rather than losing your precious energies to counter their arguments. They would never give up their reasons and contentions as it is just not their purpose to come to a conclusive talk. Distinguish and isolate these mundane creatures!
- How to mitigate two or more consecutive failures - UPSC civil services preparations is a bloody vicious circle. There is an easy entry into this circle but exit is quite difficult to create. Just recall the working of a stock trader or a mutual fund. There are two well-known instruments – hedging the risk and stop loss function. Use both these instruments in your civil services preparations so as to minimize the losses, if any. Hedge the risk, that is, play safe. Keep on filling the forms of such examinations that are closely relate to the civil services course content.
Secondly, put an upper limit to the number of unsuccessful attempts of CSAT. I personally feel that 2 consecutive failed attempts at CSAT is a signal that something is terribly wrong with your strategy, in which lack of knowledge is most probably not the reason. Moreover, a third failed attempt of CSAT calls for quitting the preparations. That is indeed a difficult thing to write in this book and even more painful to realize. But it is a pragmatic thought that life must not be brought to a standstill. At some point of time, we have to make the life move on. This is further elaborated in myths and FAQs.
5. Long-term course of action after failure
While planning the strategy of preliminary for the next year one must closely analyze the CSAT paper and try to discern the intent of UPSC. The examination focusses more on managing your time rather than testing your in-depth knowledge. Aspirants with tremendous knowledge of GS didn’t gain much in paper I as much as they lost in paper II, if they were slow, lethargic or inefficient in their time management strategies.
The question is why so much stress on efficient time management? Why is UPSC not setting paper-I with difficult theoretical questions from the subject matter, that is, from history, polity etc? Because the bureaucrats in the contemporary times have to be quick in taking decisions. With so much accessibility to information at the hands of everyone, its analysis and inferences based on that analysis occupies the prime position rather than just knowing or learning the information. Further, in the complex world we live in, multi-tasking is bound to increase with the proliferation of information and its accessibility. A civil servant has to be versatile. In this regard, a civil servant may be equated with the senior managerial position in the corporate sector; the only difference being that the former works for the government machinery, which itself is huge and linked intimately with the civil society, media, household, international domain and so on.
Thus, in this complex world, apart from land, labor and capital, time has become an equally important resource in managing the functions of not only the corporates but also the government sector. And thus, the same is reflected in the question papers for the selection of the backbone of the government machinery, the civil services. Therefore, my dear friends, it is better to acknowledge the demands of present times rather than criticizing skewed question setting trend as perceived by many aspirants. It is better to accept the lack of efficient time management skills and to work upon it rather than continuing your preparations in an obsolete fashion. The following broad guidelines are presented in this regard;
- Reading v/s scanning - When sitting at the comfort of our homes we read newspaper, NCERTs or any other study material we rarely calculate our reading speed. Why? Because to grasp the concept is more important rather than just completing the chapter, article or essay within a time limit. Indeed justified. But the same habit plays a negative role while answering the comprehension section in the CSAT paper II. If you had tried to solve the comprehension part of paper 2 of CSAT, you will realize that the speed for a single reading would not be less than 100 words per minute. And believe me dear aspirants, this paper specifically intended that candidates must not read the passage twice for answering questions. This requires not reading skills but scanning through the content.
Read fast enough so that the basic idea is imprinted into the mind before you move on to the questions related to the passage. The imprint should be strong enough that you minimize the need to look back at the passage again. Now this skill need not be innate. But it can be cultivated. Each day read just one article of any newspaper very fast, that is, within a time limit such that you must read 100 words per minute. After reading, the aspirant must write down the summary of that passage in not more than one-third of the original number of words. This practice is not related to the study of GS part. Please demarcate one passage or article for this solemn task daily. Further, those articles demarcated must cover different areas, such as from ecology, science, politics, and international affairs and so on so that you are conversant with the topics of various areas. Do this for at least a month and then start taking the CSAT mock papers of any coaching institutes.
- Work under pressure - In the year 2008, my college junior had no hope for himself as far as career was concerned. He suffered from extreme lethargy and was made to resign forcefully from a construction firm in the year 2010. He roamed around for one year doing odd jobs. In the year 2011, he gave CAT and somehow managed to secure 99.99 percentile and landed up in IIM Ahmedabad. That guy met me in 2013, just after my CSE mains in December, and I was shocked to find the innate indolent character being replaced by aggression, astute mind-set and diplomatic approach.
“It seems you have undergone a mental surgical transformation. What did they do to you in IIM?” I posed a natural question upon witnessing this amazing event. “They make us work under pressure. Tremendous pressure. In IIMs they made us used to handle pressure and find the delicate balance between competing pursuits.” He answered honestly.
I could very well relate to what pressure he was talking about. Dear aspirants, UPSC civil services is an exam of tremendous pressure. Right from CSAT to the mains and till the interview you would be grilled in different pressure situations and still be expected to remain calm and composed and moreover, take decisions.
Thus, before actually facing such stressful exam you must get in daily practice of stretching your limits – both mental and physical. You must set yourself a task which would press upon your limits. In this regard, the section dealing with calculating the number of hours of study and the role of calendar discussed in the last chapter is important. Test series both for preliminary as well as mains is also an important tool to simulate exam-like conditions, if taken seriously.
- Cultivate some passion, skill or talent – The perception that civil servant is one who is into the books all the times, one who is a nerd or geek, and can only talk about concepts and theories is now obsolete and highly unfitting. The bureaucrats are smart people equalling, if not exceeding, the ‘smartness quotient’ in the corporate sector. In the training I realized that the civil servants recruited from diverse regions and different sections also come equipped with myriad interests and talents. These people can sing, dance and act. Some of them are professionally into sports and had won past accolades. I was astonished to find diverse talents emanating from amongst the selected candidates of CSE. Some of my batch mates can play guitar and harmonium. One amongst us is an excellent shayar and I am particularly impressed by his works in Hindi and Urdu both. Another fellow beat me in chess three times within 20 minutes, even though I do play chess well, but indeed he was much better and played professionally.
These skills, talents or passions, apart from your mainstream duty, which apparently is studying for UPSC, makes you a little more versatile. Look at what I am doing – writing. I had always wanted to be a writer. During the tenure of my preparations also I had been working on a novel which is yet to release. That remains my passion and now I am nurturing it so that my works can see the light of the day.
These kinds of additional skills will help you along during your preparations. These will provide you the necessary breaks. Further, these may serve as points of discussions in the interview as well. Interests and passions could be very diverse. Some may be fond of movies while others may like to sing or listen to songs. Take it to a level ahead – be connoisseur of movies or songs – know in and out of what invokes your interest.
Some aspirant may put forth a valid argument that CSE preparations drain away a chunk of energy that none is left to find or dwell one’s interests or passions. True. Possessing additional skills is only an added advantage in certain situations but never a necessary condition for selection. Although one must keep in mind that it is better to discover your interests and nurture them rather than wasting too much time for unproductive gossiping with friends.
Myths and FAQs
- The probability of success in CSAT increases with the subsequent attempts.
An indeed frivolous perception prevalent among some aspirants. As the role of subject in-depth knowledge reduces and that of managing your time during the examination increases, it does not matter whether it is your first attempt or second attempt and so on. What matters the most is that, whatever attempt may it be, you must practice how to adjust and synchronise your effort in line with the current requirement of UPSC reflected from its question setting trends.
- I could not solve a question during the practice test but somehow I will manage it in the actual exam.
Take a scenario when an aspirant doing a test paper is not able to do a maths question within a time-bound condition. No worries. Try it after you are through with the paper. Still, if the aspirant is not able to do, then he/she should immediately revert to the solution and understand the underlying concept. Because there will not be any miracle in the actual exam that you shall be able to do a similar question under the pressure situation.
In this regard, I will take up my own example. I find myself better in mathematics than in reading comprehension. But there seemed to be a problem when I used to do work and time questions. I was generally rendered frustrated by these questions whenever I encountered them in the practice tests of CSAT taken under a time-bound scenario. With the result that I had to leave them unattended. However, during the analysis of the paper, I was able to do such questions when there was no time constraint. I didn’t take it lightly. I once got hold of around 50 such questions and solved them during one single sitting. The purpose was to build up speed and to chalk out my approach for these kinds of questions.
It would have been a grave error to think that I would somehow miraculously do such questions under extreme pressure of the actual CSAT exam, inspite of the fact that these were a definite logjam in practice papers.
- I couldn’t clear CSAT 2014 because of paper 2 and just missed the cut off in paper 1 of CSAT 2015. Thus, I am thinking to drop the attempt of CSAT 2016 and give in 2017 so that I can have sufficient time of increasing my subject knowledge.
This is the worst you can do to your career. Try to understand the scenario. A candidate who has given preliminary 2014 must have been studying for at least one year. Unfortunately, he/she couldn’t get through preliminary for two consecutive times. Now the assertion is that if the person take the exam in 2017 after a break in 2016 he/she will be rendered with ‘sufficient’ time for building the subject knowledge. That means for the attempt of 2017 he/she will have at least 4 years of time to build up that threshold level of knowledge. Think rationally, does the preparation requires 4 years of study? What can’t be done in 3 years of study won’t be accomplished in 4th year.
It is not the lack of time the candidate is suffering from. Thus, dropping the attempt of 2016 in the pursuit of 2017 attempt is a sheer waste of time and bad planning.