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10 Mistakes to be avoided by CSE Aspirants

Following the herd mentality 

Given the degree of competition and the ensuing unpredictability in the civil service examination conducted by UPSC, the decision of entering into this arena is a big decision by all measures. Since the preparation for Civil Services Examination is going to be like a marathon race, one should always have the right and sustainable reasons for starting the preparation and keep going in it and not having the superficial and unsustainable reasons like peer pressure, parental expectations, power, prestige, money or other associated perks. Decide after a thorough analysis of the various job profiles, your preferences of service to get clarity of purpose for which you are going to work hard in the coming years. Also try to have awareness about the role of bureaucracy in India’s administrative structure, work culture, degree of discretion and ensuing ability to bring changes at multiple levels. Do not have a utopian image of being the only change agent in a multi-layered and diverse Indian Society.

If possible, interact with serving or retired bureaucrats to get the first-hand account about the challenges and opportunities associated with these jobs and do introspection and start the preparation once you are convinced, as only the internal motivation coming out of these reasons will be sustainable in long term.

Creating Social Hype about your CSE preparation

Civil servants (especially IAS/IPS) in India enjoy enviable social status (being an indicator of our developing society where still a huge majority of the population is dependent on the state for getting their day to day concerns addressed). Just the news about your CSE preparation is bound to create a lot of hype around you and arouse expectations and scepticism of a very high degree. This will increase the pressure on you which may become unmanageable and affect your performance which must be avoided given that the examination preparation itself is highly demanding. So, keep the decision of starting and ongoing preparation as closely guarded secret as possible, more so for working aspirants.

Not having an understanding of the syllabus, demand of the examination and criteria for selecting optional

Once decided to prepare for this examination, an aspirant should give due time to have a clear understanding of the pattern, syllabus and demand of the examination (not subscribing to the myth like reading everything under the sun). 

Optional marks play a huge role in the given scheme of things, thus its selection deserves due deliberation based on various parameters like your graduation subject (select if you are good at it and feel confident by looking at previous year questions), interest in the subject (for getting a feel of various subjects one can read the basic books on that subject), availability of study material and guidance. Take a reasonable time in deciding your optional, but once selected one should have unwavering faith in that optional and that is bound to pay off.

Underestimating the importance of NCERTs and daily newspaper reading

NCERTs of relevant subjects are the base of preparation for CSE. Multiple reasons are there: direct question in examination (Preliminary as well as Main), the authenticity of the content and simple language. Given the importance of NCERT books, one should not look for the shortcuts here and thoroughly read the NCERT books along with their multiple revisions.

Similarly, daily reading of newspapers is a must due to multiple reasons: repeated and threadbare analysis of important issues makes one read them multiple times and revise them without doing this separately, developing multidimensional perspective, lots of real examples to quote in all papers of Main Exam, enriched vocabulary which is specific and meaning loaded enabling aspirant to mention more points in main exam using less words, thus saving time and space while fetching those crucial extra marks. The monthly current affairs modules (as making daily notes from the newspaper may not be possible for all aspirants) may only organize or consolidate your current affairs knowledge, as one would have already read them in the newspaper. This will make one’s knowledge base more diverse and consolidated.


Not optimizing the study material and sources to refer (especially online sources)

In the present context, any new aspirant is bound to be bogged down by the enormity of study material available online as well offline and will not even realize how her/his precious time is wasted in running after material. So, aspirants should optimize the reference sources (for example – for GS papers - NCERTs as basic book and one reference book) with credible guidance and religiously stick to that.

Delayed and improper approach towards mock test practice (Preliminary exam) as well as main answer writing practice 

While reading and revising the basic and reference books, one should refer to the previous year's question to have clarity on the type and level of questions asked from those topics. After this one should start practicing mock tests. Generally, aspirants think that they will practice once they feel confident about the syllabus being completed, but what actually happens is that either that day never comes or comes too late to be effective. The purpose of rigorous mock test practice is to have mental practice enabling to eliminate options in multiple-choice questions using the accumulated knowledge base; not that you will get direct questions from the mock test in the official examination. After the mock test, aspirants should thoroughly read the explanation of all questions including questions for which one has correctly identified the answer and make very short notes of the topics from where repeated mistakes are happening and revise them before the official examination.

Similarly, for the main examination, answer writing should not be delayed until the last moment (though its timing may vary, but it must be started after writing the preliminary examination). This ensures that the candidate is able to finish the paper on time in a structured way maintaining proper priority sequence of various points being written in the answer.

Obsession with the topper/coaching tips/notes to get the best possible strategy

Though there are some basics for CSE preparation, which everyone does (like Basic Books – NCERTs and some very standard sources like M Laxmikant for Indian Polity, mock tests, answer writing), way of doing the same may vary with individuals and there cannot be only one ideal way of clearing this examination. So, after doing the basics right, one should focus more on practice and revision and take every suggestion (including by toppers) with a pinch of salt (statements like reading 18 hours/day) and should tweak it as per individual’s strength and weaknesses.

Participating in debates on various issues (cut-offs, syllabus change, age/attempt reduction) on online platforms and watching random videos for sake of motivation and knowledge enhancement 

New aspirants may be tempted to be involved in such debates on various platforms, which gradually eat away their precious time as well as energy while adding nothing productive to their preparation. One should consider UPSC notification as the only authentic source of information on matters related to the examination.


Waiting for Preliminary examination result for starting full-on preparation for Main Examination

One among the most common mistakes is to get involved in post preliminary examination debate on performance and ensuing cut-off and keep anxiously waiting for preliminary examination results to start full-on mode preparation for the Main examination. This may prove to be fatal given the yearly decrease in the duration between preliminary exam result declaration and commencement of the Main examination. Keeping this very short duration, one should immediately start preparing for the Main examination (at max 1-week break can be taken to recharge oneself) and this increases the chances of success in the Main examination.

Mismanaging the preparation for Personality Test

After the Main examination also, aspirants should at least continue reading newspapers to remain connected to current events. A thorough analysis of every detail in the Detailed Application form (DAF – which must be filled with utmost honesty) and all possible questions from them should be done. After getting a call for the personality test, one should not get involved in speculation about the range of marks awarded by different boards of UPSC and fret over difficult questions being asked (as mentioned in random videos on YouTube and other social media platforms). The personality test is more about preparedness rather than preparation. One should accept the fact that one will be nervous, but that should remain manageable and be laced with excitement for the big day to give your best. It is aptly said: “go inside like an officer, you will come out as an officer”.


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