My upsc preparation began right after my graduation in 2015. As a beginner, I was clueless like any other aspirant. I googled and found the standard book list and started referring them.I had no right guidance. Also, I was not very fond of joining any coaching institution.I did put in efforts but I failed to clear 2016 prelims. Cut off was 117 while I got around 96 according to Shankar’s answer key. This is when I realized that direction of preparation is more important than the hours we put in. Most of the serious aspirants fail by 10-20 marks margin. My mistakes were – not solving test series, in depth focus and too much time on specific subjects, not taking advice from successful candidates.
In my second attempt, again I did not join any coaching. However, I took a lot of help from those who had cleared the exam. Number of hours I put in did not change, only my strategy changed.
1. Polity – Laxmikanth
2. History – NCERTs and Bipin Chandra.
I would advice against reading Bipin Chandra as it has a very bad return on investment. Stick to Spectrum and NCERTs.
Art and Culture – NCERTs and first few chapters of Nitin Singhania notes.
3. Geography – G C Leong to understand the concepts.
Read NCERTs, especially 11th and 12th grades thoroughly.
4. Economy – Mrunal videos on youtube.
I feel Ramesh Singh is outdated.
5. Environment – Shankar’s
6. Current affairs – The Hindu newspaper ( Indian Express will also do)
Followed gktoday website. Made notes
a) Focus on test series. I solved test series from insights and vision ias. Evaluate them yourself, write down your scores and make sure your graph goes up. Focus both on facts and concepts.
b) Don’t take CSAT lightly. It’s particularly difficult for those from arts background. In 2016, I got around 165 marks while it went down to around 100 marks in 2017. Although it is only a qualifying paper, difficulty level is increasing and many many fail to clear this.
I was totally lost about mains preparation. All I did was look at insights secure materials and start writing. Initially, I would write a 1000 word answer for half an hour. It’s practice which teaches us how to assess the word limit and time. My answers improved with each writing practice. In the actual exam, I attempted all the questions pretty well.
a) My newspaper notes helped me immensely. You can make 1-page notes on hot topics from insights mindmaps.
b) Write time bound test series. I followed Insights online mains series and Vision ias mains series. I feel this is what ensured me a decent rank.
c) For essay and ethics, practice is the only key. Quotes of famous personalities can be added in your answers. Get your answers evaluated and work on the feedback.
OPTIONAL – Sociology
a) Made my own notes from different sources – BA IGNOU, NIOS, Haralambos (orange one will do), Tusharanshu’s notes (available for free download online).
b) Paper 2 is extremely dynamic. Lots of practice and current affairs help here.
It is my opinion that there is no one set of readymade material for this optional. I would strongly suggest one to make notes.
a) Read about each and every word in your DAF.
b) RS TV debates give you different perspectives on an issue.
Mocks are required to help you get over nervousness. I gave mocks at Insights, Rajkumar Academy and Shankar’s in Bangalore and Samkalp, Chanakya, KSG in Delhi. In retrospect, I would suggest fewer mocks. 4-5 totally should be good.
I was interviewed by Manoj Soni board. All the questions were opinion based. My DAF notes did not come to use in the actual interview, however it gave me confidence to face any type of questions.
It is my belief that each individual is different. Some made notes, some didn’t, some studied on tab, some studied from hard copies. They all succeeded. Do what works for you.
The same applies for coaching as well. We have all sorts of people top this exam. Yes, guidance is needed. It need not necessarily be in the form of top, expensive coaching institutions in Delhi.
I would like to thank many people who have helped me succeed. Insights is one of them.
Thank you Vinay Sir for giving me your time and advice.