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“Civil Services are undoubtedly the most prestigious vocational opportunity available in the country but it brings along with it a great deal of responsibility too”, says Tavishi Behal, now an IFS officer, who completed her graduation from NSIT in 2010. Here, she shares with us her experience about how she made it into Indian Foreign Services.
Q1. What prompted you to pursue civil services after completing your bachelor’s degree in technical field?*
Well, for me it was the other way round. Looking into the unpredictability of Civil Services Examination, I always believed that it would be best if I have a technical degree so that I am in a comfortable niche and can focus on the preparation, eliminating avoidable sources of anxiety.
Q2. How did you prepare for C.S.E.? Did you join any coaching institute?*
Coaching institutes aren’t a compulsion for everyone. One should first go through the basic concepts of the subject he/she is opting for. The decision must be based on the individual’s discretion and comfort level achieved with basic concepts and then based on the judgement of one’s own capabilities; he/she may or may not take the support of coaching institutes. But taking test series for the Mains examination is highly recommended because it is not only the knowledge but also how one presents it makes one stand apart from the crowd.
Q3. Which subjects did you opt for? Keeping into mind that the syllabus is pretty vast, what was your strategy to balance out time for each subject?*
The foremost priority is to choose a subject which fetches marks. Though every subject can be scoring, the input required varies, thus one must keep an eye on maximizing the output to input ratio. Not lagging behind is the liking and interest in the subject one has chosen must be given equal consideration. Based on these facts, I opted for geography nad psychology.
Regarding the fact as to how to balance the semester examination pressure as well as a dedicated preparation for CSE, this examination requires three to four hours of studying every day religiously for about a year which can easily be covered even if one is working or studying. What one requires is determination and proper prioritization and weekends can be seen as Bonus Days.
Q4. In your opinion what is the ideal time to start the preparation for C.S.E. and strategy to balance time?
As a first step you should divide the entire syllabus into two heads
a) Dynamic, which can include all the things, related to current affairs, some portions of economics, India year book, economic survey, Manorama besides other things.
b) Static, which remains same unless and until there is a major proof finding say for instance History and your optional
Now if you want to take the exam in May or as per recent developments August 2015. Then in my opinion one should start the preparation of all the dynamic aspects from October 2014 i.e. around the time when mains exam starts. And begin with the optional from June 2014. During June 2014 to October 2014, one should be thorough with not only the optional but also the static portions of General Studies. I think even with college or job, with proper time management you can achieve this with ease. That’s the broad outline one may follow.
Q5. Were there any extra-curricular activities that you were involved in NSIT that helped you in interview and selection process? How important were academics in helping you get selected?
There is no writing on the wall when it comes to correlation between academics and extra-curricular activities and UPSC exam, especially in the scenario where one does not opt for engineering subject as the optional. But I would just suggest that there is no need to be a geek and stop living college life at least till say 6th semester. For your own experience and fun you should participate in all the activities and enrich yourself. And needless to say, at least 70% looks good on your college percentage.
Q6. Kindly give us a brief description about the selection procedure and different rounds for the same.
This is one of the most relevant questions. Though details could be easily goggled… rather than mechanically providing the same I would like to include what kind of preparation and strategy is needed at every step. (Caution: This includes only my perception of things, there may be better ideas floating around. Select the ingredients that are best for you)
Stage 1 The preliminary exam: With the recent changes in the pattern. The optional syllabus is no longer included. I think introduction of the CSAT, may allow the engineers some more time for preparation of General Studies that is always welcome. The second thing is the psychological comfort because engineering and being good in mathematics goes hand in hand; at least the belief is so. And nothing works better in UPSC than the ‘belief’ that I am at ease in the domain of the exam. The key point in preparation of Prelims is revising and analyzing. No matter what we say, we need facts to formulate opinions and analyze.
Key strategy: Revision
Stage 2 Mains Examination: This is I believe the most demanding stage of this exam. It involves mastering not only the optionals, now just a option but also developing an understanding into events of the world. I believe that with the reduction of one of the optionals from the syllabus would make room for general studies. But those appearing for the first time, even the engineers, I don’t think it is appropriate to think of it is a leverage. The key element in this stage besides revision and enriching your answers by borrowing few points from internet is writing. Pick up previous years papers and write answers. Practicing answer writing helps one streamline the thought process. I think all of the serious aspirants have equal amount of information with them but how you put it down on the paper comes with practice.
Key Strategy: Practice answer writing
Stage 3 Interview: I believe that this stage is the most unpredictable one, people and the coaching institutes have guidelines for it. I am not sure till how far one should follow it. So even I would not like to give in detail suggestions. Believe in yourself. No need to fake if you honestly believe that government functions more than it mal functions. Be truthful, but that doesn’t mean be blunt. Don’t enter into unnecessary arguments. You should try to put across your viewpoint without offending the other person.
Key strategy: be yourself if you are not anti-government.
Q7. What was the mantra you followed to crack the herculean task of interview? What was the toughest question you were asked?
Interview is strictly not a knowledge-testing platform. UPSC has checked that you are knowledgeable and intelligent in previous two rounds. You can easily say in the interview that you don’t have an answer to a particular question. Please don’t say that you don’t know about a very important historical significance of your birthplace (or things like this), rest everything else you can say NO.
Q8. Many of the students start preparing for the Civil Services Examination, but end up feeling demotivated during the course of preparation. What were the things that kept you going?
The only thing that kept me motivated was that I wanted to clear this exam. I understand it takes a lot of sacrifices like not attending your own farewell party, not being part of Moksha in 4th year. Yes, it does. But then you just ask one question to yourself, what is more precious to you. Your dreams that are like indelible ink on paper retained for ages or some moments that are like camphor, which burns bright at a particular time and then evaporates leaving behind emptiness. I am not saying which choice is better, but always choose which brings you closer to what makes you happy. So if you have set a goal for clearing this exam and it makes you happy then choice you have to make, even though it may be difficult for a 21 year old to make, would have to be the former one.
Q9. Will you like to share with us the ecstatic moment when the final results were declared?
You know how a child would feel when it sees a batman or a superman in reality or it accidently stumbles into the wonderland of Alice or meet a mermaid. I felt the same way. These are stories with which a child lives, I lived with this dream. At first I was numb, then somewhat happy and then I wanted to explore my new life.
Q10. Please throw some light on your life as a civil servant. How has the experience been till now?
Unparalleled. No words to describe it. I still believe that they are the most coveted jobs available, earlier I used to say in the country but now I say all over the globe. The experience you gain while serving as a civil servant makes you a completely different person altering your worldview, metamorphosing your personality and making you so rich with knowledge. It has been a good experience till now and I hope I even say better things in times to come.