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"Dare to Know! Dare to Learn! Dare to Touch the Sky"
Haulianlal Guite, Rank 33rd, Year 2010
Q To whom and to what do you credit your success?
A To God, for blessing me with the mind and heart I need for this achievement; to my parents for their pervasive presence throughout my preparation, both physically and mentally; and to siblings and relatives, and other well-wishers, each for playing their part in their own ways that I might focus my duty when it mattered. But, I must dedicate this success to my late grandparents for seeding in me the idea of Civil Services while they were yet alive.
Q Why did you choose Civil Services as a career?
A It was my father who, somewhere in January, 2007, convinced me on the importance of Civil Services. Admittedly it was never my desire to be a civil servant in the administrative sense; instead, I wanted to be a philosopher who contributes something worthy to mankind and posterity. But my parents and fate had other plans. Also, once I was familiar with the things an administrative servant does, it fired my passion to know that herein is an opportunity to implement in practice things I had theoretically learnt.
Q How should one assess oneself before deciding to opt for Civil Services as a career?
A Whether CS has the teeth to kill the prey you want. In other words, to see if a life of service in terms of hard decision-making and problem-solving and all the troubles and privileges associated with it, is what you will yourself to become. And once you are decided, not to look back, no second thoughts.
Q When did you consciously start your preparation for this examination?
A Since I failed my 1st attempt in 2009.
Q When should one ideally start the preparation process?
A Conscious preparation may begin late – but at least a year before you give your Prelims is essential. There is however another type of preparation which begins when you were yet a teenager. Being consistently an extensive reader and inquisitive knowledge-seeker from childhood goes a long way in finishing off half the preparations by the time your conscious preparation starts.
Q It is said that the Civil Services examination requires constant and sustained hard work. How did you keep yourself constantly motivated? What was your source of inspiration?
A Inspiration? Reminding oneself again and yet again that there is no other way apart from becoming an administrator to fulfill your dreams; plus, parents’ constant pressure and the ability to channel such pressure for the better rather than worst, helped a good deal. It is indeed one of the toughest exams; but I kept telling myself that if others can do it, so can I. And the Lord agreed.
Q In your opinion how crucial is the selection of Optionals for success in the examination?
A It is inconsequential. What matters is not the optionals you choose, but your mastery over them no matter what the optional may be. Any subject is good when you command them well.
Q What should be the criteria for selecting them and how should one go about it? Should one opt for the subjects studied at college or go for new ones?
A Interest and fascination for the subject and understanding i.e. the ability to grasp its concepts and ideas, imbibe them and interpret them in your own way.
Q How should one prepare for Prelim, Main and Interview?
A Prelim: Go for extensive study, but 70% of your time, concentrate on the core subjects – Geography (including Ecology and Environment), Indian Economy, Polity, History and Science and Technology. Do not try to memorize the facts – you will forget most of them once you read too much (something which will inevitably happen).
Be familiarized with them, so that when the four options are present in a question, you can detect which is the most probable answer.
Practicing with question banks which have elaborate explanations, also help. And keep updating your knowledge.
Main: Go for intensive study, selecting out in each of your options the core ideas, and then mastering them. Write a lot – as much as you can, and from varied perspective on the same topics (descriptive, analytical, critical).
At both Prelim and Main level, I find it helpful to take Test Series. I recommend ALS Test Series for the simple reason that they were educating.
Interview – Take mock interview tests. For example, with your family members and friends (which I did); and from coaching institutes too. There is not much you can prepare except minimize common mistakes of etiquette and behaviour and polishing your language for the formal occasion.
I never read past interviews of others.
Q How can one score well in Essay, GS and Interview?
A Depends, among other things, on how well you know, how commanding your answers are, and your own personality.
I scored 125 in Essay, which was lower than my expectation, because I felt my answer was extraordinary! There are those who score over 300 in GS; I did not, and yet I still scored more than I expected. In Interview, I scored 240 – I presume that would be among the highest (while I was more than satisfied with the way it went, it goes without a saying I did not anticipate so much marks from interview!)
Q What are the areas in GS Paper I and II in the Main examination in which the candidate can score marks easily?
A I have no idea. But I reckon it largely depends on the areas you are best in. Hit the nail in those areas – marks will come naturally.
Q Did you commit any mistake during your preparations?
A No mistakes, but unforeseen unfortunate developments. A month before Main I suffered from dengue, which kept me bedridden for a fortnight, thus precluding me from revising the Science and Tech portion.
In my 2nd Optionals (Geography), Paper II Section A, when I wrote the paper, I made the mistake of overlooking a 60-marker question. I thought I attempted all the questions already, and rested in the last 30 mins, waiting for the bell. When I finally realized the blunder 5 mins before the bell rang, it was already too late – I couldn’t even hold my pen still.
Till I gave my interview, I thought this capital mistake would bring down my ranking so low I’d be at the bottom even if I cleared…yet God worked a little miracle when my expertise failed, granting me more than I wished for.
Q How many hours should one devote for the preparations regularly?
A I can’t say for others, but I exclusively studied for 4/5 hours a day. Apart from that, I do parallel readings of Evolutionary Biology, Economic Theory and Cosmology – the 3 subjects (apart from Philosophy) which fascinate me most.
Q Could you please give the aspirants a list of references for essay/GS/Optional I/Optional II and Interview?
A The Wizard issues, particularly those special issues concentrating on specific disciplines, are most helpful for GS at both Prelim and Main level.
For Philosophy, I did not consult any specific text, but relied largely on my undergraduate knowledge, and 3 online encyclopaedias (Stanford Ency. of Philosophy, Internet Ency. of Philosophy, and Wikipedia). Y Masih’s “A History of Western Philosophy” also helped.
For Geography, apart from the Wizard issues, I find Savinder Singh’s Physical Geography to be most helpful. Also add Spectrum Publications and Pratiyogita Darpan Publications. I did not read anything for Essay or for Interview.
I always write a lot, so preparing for essay is not much of an issue. However, since I never faced a proper interview before, I went for mock tests – which I found to be indispensable.
Q Besides text books what newspapers, magazines, novels and books of general interest should one read?
A For Prelim, I read TOI more than The Hindu; for Main, it was the reverse.
I love reading classics, particularly Greek and Enlightenment Philosophical Classics.
Richard Dawkins is presently my favorite author, but my all-time favorites are probably Will Durant and Bertrand Russell.
Q How one should read newspaper?
A The best way to remember a newspiece is by analyzing it. Taking out the main points in any article and critiquing them in your own way. I do that a lot with editorials.
Also, it often does not matter if you couldn’t know all the important things published in one issue. If the topic is really important, the papers are sure to publish again and again in successive issues, and in greater details, all the important, burning stories of the season.
Q How did the Competition Wizard help you in the preparation of the Civil Services examination?
A I find the writings to be simple and easy to understand. The articles are precise and to the point. As for the news pages, they are as good as any can be, and the special little columns which outline the points, make them easy to remember and revise.
Q What is more important for this exam, intelligence or hard work?
A If you are a man with great intelligence, capitalize on it; if you are of average intelligence, make up for it with hard work. It goes without saying both are important in their own ways – but I trust nobody is so intelligent that he does not need to work, and nobody is so dumb that his hard work will cover up for idiocy.
Q Do candidates with a technical background have an advantage over general students?
A I do not think so. Even those toppers whose background is in engineering or medicine or other specialized subject, opt for general subjects like Public Administration (the pearled optional these days) when they give Civil Services Exam. But perhaps in analysis they have an edge over others – for the simple reason they generally wrack their brains more often in this area.
Q Where did you prepare for the examination (at what place)? Does the place of preparation matter?
A In the calm of our house at Dwarka, where it is serene, secluded and quiet. Place matters little so long as you have access to the required books, the right mentors and the internet.
Q In the course of preparation one is faced with many problems, queries and difficulties. Where should one go for help, especially the students staying in remote areas?
A If you truly aspire to become a civil servant, you will go wherever you can get help from. Old achievers from our hometown did exactly just that when the resources and other means were lacking. That is, they went to coaching institutes as well.
One must also be realistic, and realize that although UPSC may ask anything under the sun, an aspirant cannot know everything under the sun. So there will always be problems and doubts and queries; and after all attempts you cannot clear them all, it is important not to lose heart. Because your friends are probably in the same pool as you are.
However, if you live close by coaching institutes, you must know a substantial portion of them have tuned their talents to train aspirants, which means they can act as mentors. Which means, coaching centres can really, and do really, help.
Q Do coaching institutes help? If yes, how should one select, when there are so many of them?
A I have a hunch most coaching institutes are the same and they are equally good. But it depends on how well we use the mentors available. When I went for ALS, I wasn’t disappointed at all – to say the least. On the whole, coaching institutes do the work they are supposed to. If there is anyone who can help you out with, it is these specialized institutes who hone their skills for this very specific end.
Q In which stage should one ideally opt for coaching?
A As soon as you realize you want to become a civil servant and really, really to crack the exam.
Q Why did you choose ALS in the first place?
A Because of its reputation.
Q What is so special about ALS?
A It makes achievers out of us.
Q Do you think that with increasing levels of competition, the preparation for Civil Services is getting too expensive?
A Preparation for anything – not just CS – has gotten expensive, both because competition in every field of endeavour has toughened, and because other jobs with prestige as unprecedented as IAS, has gotten rare.
Q Could you suggest some ways of cutting down on expenses?
A Availing internet facility; using not more than one coaching institutes’ notes and reading only 2 magazines, 2 newspapers and nothing else.
Plus, residing near the coaching institutes to reduce transport cost, and borrowing the notes of those who already qualified or those who had given up, will cut down the cost.
Q Seeing the stiffness of the competition, is this exam meant for everyone who takes it?
A It is not meant for everyone – but neither is it meant for anyone in particular. It is meant only for those who believe they have the bones to crack it.
Q Is UPSC really unpredictable?
A It is; but not in everything.
Unpredictability – while I was preparing for Geography, judging from past papers I reckoned there were always two map-questions asked (at Mains level, in the 2nd paper): one for India, the other for the world. I decided to prepare for a map based on the world rather than India – and I got screwed, because for the first time in recent memory, UPSC did not ask any world map question, only on India map. Otherwise, if you read the core topics in any subject, you are sure to nail the bullet, because there are questions which, one way or another, always get asked. Thus you can discover a certain pattern on the basis of past question papers; and if you can’t, coaching centres are there to do the hard work for you.
Q What all do you think is needed to make it to the top?
A Determination, self-confidence, family support, good mentorship, intelligence, hardwork and most of all, the hand of Providence.
Q How would you rate luck as far as success in Civil Services is concerned?
A If God equals luck, from a scale of 1 to 10, I rate it at 11. If luck equals coincidence, I rate it at 3.
Q How was the atmosphere during your Interview?
A It was lively, friendly, and vivid.
Q What do you think is the right way to face interview board confidently?
A Not to lose self-confidence and to remember they are meant to know better than you do.
Q What is the most important thing, one should keep in mind, while facing the Interview Board?
A That you are being interviewed, and not you interviewing the board. Otherwise you may end up giving a lecture, or haggle or worst, confront them needlessly.
Q During the Interview, did the board member(s) ask you any tricky question(s)?
A Not that I know of; but there are questions that can turn confrontational.
Q How do you foresee your future as an administrator?
A Not anything in particular apart from my dream: it is my dream to be an administrator noteworthy for excellent service, with a reputation for being corruption-free and impartial, doing all that is expected of a civil servant to do, in the end, to be remembered for making better and happier as many lives as possible.
Q Would you have a final word for the student community?
A Dare to know! Dare to learn! Dare to touch the sky, and when you reach the stars, remember it is God who carries you all along the way.