The civil services of India have long been an attractive and challenging career option for ambitious and zealous individuals who have a will to serve the nation. It not only offers attractive remuneration and prestige but also lets one be part of the nation’s success story. Invariably, many of the administrators are instrumental in implementing key government policies and social welfare schemes. As such they can be said to decide the future of the nation.
The civil services involve a diverse range of responsibilities, from maintenance of law and order to development work, disaster management, and uplift and empowerment of the marginalised and weaker sections of society. Such wide-ranging social responsibilities make it imperative that candidates aspiring to join the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Police Service or the Indian Foreign Service and a range of other services exhibit meticulous decision-making skills, ability to surmount challenges, and sound judgement besides having integrity.
The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) conducts the Civil Services Examination to test a candidate’s knowledge, her/his analytical understanding of polity, economics and social sciences and ability to articulate them, and also to assess his/her overall social trait. The candidates undergo a rigorous process of selection, from a preliminary examination comprising objective questions on current affairs, followed by a main examination and an interview. The preliminary examination, consisting of General Studies Paper I and Paper II, assesses the candidate’s general aptitude and basic administrative traits. Paper I has questions on current events, history of India and the Indian national movement, Indian and world geography, Indian polity, the panchayati raj system and governance, economic and social development, environmental ecology, biodiversity, climate change and general science, and art and culture. Paper II tests the candidate for interpersonal skills, communication, logical reasoning, analytical ability, decision-making, problem-solving, data interpretation, English language comprehension skills and mental ability. The candidate needs to obtain only a pass percentage of 33 per cent in Paper II; the qualification to the main examination round is on the basis of one’s performance in Paper I.
The main examination consists of nine papers, two qualifying and seven ranking in nature. These test the candidate’s in-depth knowledge in different subjects, ability to discern things in perspective, and thinking capacity, through comprehensive essays. The interview, usually conducted by a panel of five or six members headed by a chairperson, tests the overall personality of the candidate and her/his alertness of mind and ability to work under pressure. While preparing for the interview, a candidate should learn to demonstrate her or his individual opinion on current issues and policy matters. The idea is to test the candidate’s interpretation and ability to critique rather than just display knowledge of the subject under discussion.
Newspaper reading is essential for any student who strives to crack the UPSC examination. A persistent trend of the UPSC is its preference for questions based on current issues—regional, national and international. Besides, most of the topics mentioned in the UPSC main examination syllabus are evolving in nature and hence, need constant monitoring of the latest developments and updating oneself with the reports pertaining to that particular topic. This again makes it mandatory for an aspirant to keep herself/himself abreast of the latest news.
Newspaper reading should follow a particular discipline. Candidates are advised to remember their syllabus accurately and while reading newspapers; the first exercise should be to mark the news relating to the topics covered under the UPSC examinations. The next process should involve a detailed reading of those news items and taking notes. This is a dynamic process to be followed religiously until the last day of the examination and the interview. For the main examination, particularly the essays section, which is a test of the candidate’s insight of social, political and economic awareness, experts suggest the reading of editorials.
Professional coaching will stand in good stead for those who want to crack the coveted examination. This is because the syllabus of the UPSC examination is vast and there should be a mentor to guide one as to what is relevant. One also needs guidance on the method of study. Given the paucity of time and the vastness of the course to be completed, it is advisable for a candidate to have a guide who keeps a watch on the changes in the latest syllabus, provides a bank of previous years’ questions, conducts mock tests, points out the flaws in the answers, and lists out areas for improvement.
Enrolling in a coaching centre will also help the candidate come out of her/his shell and engage with competitive minds and exchange ideas. The UPSC examination is ultimately a test of one’s confidence, leadership qualities and ease in public speaking, all of which evolve in a competitive, insightful environment where there is freewheeling exchange of views and ideas. The whole process of preparing for the civil services examinations needs one to follow a strict routine without fail. Only a few students have the inbuilt self-discipline to stick to a gruelling schedule. At a coaching centre a candidate gets the advantage of constant monitoring of his or her labour and the progress made.
In these columns we have compiled some of the most trusted coaching centres for UPSC examinations, ones that follow a comprehensive strategy to help aspirants and have an enviable record of success. Some of the best minds from the industry have shared their valued feedback on the importance of the civil services, the opportunities they offer in terms of contributing to the country’s administration and governance, and on how to develop the skill sets required for the job.