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Civil Services Examination- Action points for Young aspirants

Dr.B.Ashok IAS

Civil Services constitute all non-military departments of the Government machinery, which run State Administration. The Central and the State Civil Servants ensure that the constitutional guarantees and entitlements are brought within the reach of every citizen. The power and social status along with job security that a civil servant enjoys is unimaginable anywhere else. Besides the power to create positive change in society and perks the service provides enough scope for a dynamic person with zeal and desire to bring qualitative changes in the functioning of the government and even opportunities which could ameliorate the livelihood of millions of Indians.

The Civil Services Examination is a highly competitive test conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) through which selects candidates for various central services, including for the most coveted cadres of Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and Indian Foreign Service (IFS). IAS and IPS are All India Services created under article 312 of the constitution. The creation of such services provides safeguards for national unity and ensures uniformity of the administrative system throughout the country to maintain the minimum common administrative standards. But the success rate for the exam lies below 0.5%.

Recently, Arshad Mohammed, a teenager won the prestigious ‘Natgeo’ talent hunt, conducted amongst 300,000 Indian children. He will anchor a show for National Geographic. When asked what he would like to become when he grows up, he gave the unexpected ambition of joining public service in the IAS. I was happy for his conviction and the inspiration IAS still holds for this young bright boy. After all, if Arshad’s mind has been captivated it is by the good work many IAS officers deliver. The brand stands for leadership in public affairs in India.
If a young talented boy did not see the prospect of opportunity, to serve meaningfully he would not have chosen it. There would be millions of talented young kids like Arshad in the country who nurse this ambition. Here, I consider specifically what they should do in their teens to prepare for the exam when they turn 21. There are many things to do, but I choose the most critical ten here.

1. Maintain steady reading: Current affairs (3-5 daily newspapers: The Hindu, Times of India, Hindu, Business line, Economic times etc) Magazines: Time or Newsweek, Frontline, Economic and Political weekly (may be when you are in college) and Competition Success Review.
Read classics in English literature—A touch of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Dickens. Contemporary Indian writing in English—Naipaul, UpamanyuChatterjee, Raja Rao, Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy and SashiDeshpande.

2. Continue to attend Quizzes, elocution, essay writing, debating and just a minute (JAM) contests. Start if you have not done so this far. Do not worry whether you are winning or losing. Come out, participate. Expression is one thing which improves all the time. The more you express, the better you are. Helps you overcome shyness and lack of confidence. Exposes you to people with talent who can guide you. A talented teacher in English can be of great help to correct pronunciation problems etc.

3. Do not watch too much Television.
Please do not rely on the idiot box to get your language. Most anchors in the news rooms speak heavily Americanized Gibberish. You adopt their style, grammar and phonetics at your own peril. Their mannerisms and courtesies are best avoided. Try and learn from written material. While channels like ‘History’ or ‘Nat Geo’, BBC or CNN may give a global perspective, most Indian news channels except the best two ( may be NDTV and Times Now) are junk. Do not waste time with this medium.

4. Use the internet most effectively.
The internet has grown to be an anytime anywhere resource giving valuable information on many critical areas. But refer authentic sites only. Many times search engines lead you to misinformed and misleading sites put up by ill intentioned individuals. Most reputed news channels and newspapers have internet editions now. Be sure your sources are authentic.

5. Write a daily journal.

Write a page daily. Do not stick to what you did. ‘What I learnt today’ can be the theme of your journal. If deeply contemplated and thought of, this will both improve your thinking, analysis and writing skills. Remember, the fiercest arguments are the one’s which are made with oneself. The hottest debates are often done with one’s own conscience. Have a space to do that constantly. If you are the lucky creative one to write prose or poetry –publish a blog of your own.

6. Play a game.
The human mind is a very elastic zone. The more you exercise it; it expands and contains your thought more. But jamming it too much intellectually by studying and exercising has its own toll. I have found that the mind needs to shut down for a while as well. Apart from sleep which gives the brain well deserved exercise, the body needs an activity that does not need the brain to think. A good sweating game in the evening is the best way to freshen the brain. Play it, whether it is volleyball, Badminton, foot ball, tennis or squash. Please do not play cricket for exercise. Play ball games or contact games for at least an hour and a half before you start studying again. The advantage of these sports is that they improve fitness as you go along. When played intensely they give you ‘mindlessness’. Body improves in ability and hand-eye coordination builds up. A person with ability and hand-eye coordination walks with better gait, poise and his actions are in full control. Muscles must grow with your brain. Or else you will become a couch potato with a disproportionate intellect.

7. Travel.
This career is about India. The method and syllabus of exam might change, but the constant theme in the exam will be India’s past, present and future. At no point this exam is going to dissociate much from this theme. It is not good enough if we ‘time travel’ through books alone. Books offer one way of imprinting. Moving around and seeing for oneself is another potent way of learning. School and College offer good opportunities to move around and witness by oneself. A visit to the state capital and national capital with all the inlaid history understood and explained cannot be avoided. Try and join such study trips to visit since being there and seeing it for oneself cannot be under estimated.

8. Study a subject you like.
Your university subject or subjects need careful choice. If you are studying a subject which does not interest you, you will not be able to do your very best. Therefore, you need to intensely like your subject. It does not matter, whether it is History or Atomic Physics. The point is the more you read, the more you must desire to read. The subject should not tire you out. If you have made a wrong choice, as many students do under parental pressure etc., do not be afraid to change your choice. Being caught in a subject that fails to interest you can destroy your prospects. Take good advice while changing subjects and take people who have interest in you into confidence while doing so.

9. Do not worry too much ‘If I do not make it’.

To an extent the IAS exam is a game of chance too. 300,000 candidates aspire every year. You need to be within rank 100 to make the grade. Most of the first 30-40 ranks have the identical marks. It takes only one wrong answer or poor response to be out. However please remember that the exam offers 3-4 chances on the average. Attempting a paper three times all over is fair chance, to make the grade. It is advisable to also appear for general competitive exams like Bank officer, MBA etc. along with IAS. Many of these exams share core principles especially with prelims and personality test. I was picked by NABARD the same year I was selected for IAS. A second competitive option must always be at hand considering the fact that luck is a factor, but not the only one governing success in the exam. You are only building a safety net. It is your fall back option. If you are academically inclined, join teaching or research, since these careers also offer steady association with knowledge.

10. Act and leave it to the Almighty...
Believe that your efforts will be rewarded. Trust the Supreme to be fair to your efforts. He sees all and rewards on true merit. I have not come across a candidate with true merit losing consistently. True effort always yields, sooner or later. God tests, so be patient and try again. Success will be yours, and your dreams of serving the country with honour will be fructified.

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