It may be ultimate sense of social recognition or spirit of public welfare which drives thousands of students to Civil Services every year. However amid the cut-throat competition, according to experts suggest aspirants to evaluate their suitability and be mentally prepared for a career in Civil Services before getting into preparation mode and make an effective UPSC Civil Services Preparation Strategy. 


In this special series of interview with experts, P S Ravindran, Director, Vajiram & Ravi institute, provides UPSC Civil Services exam tips and says an average student can qualify in this exam only with strong determination, hard work, passion and patience. Ravindran, who has a rich experience of 20 years in guiding Civil Services aspirants, shares his insights on preparation strategy, time management and offers expert tips on UPSC Civil Services exam.

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Interview Excerpts:


Careers360: What is it that drives thousands of students every year to apply for Civil Services exams, especially when the private sector jobs are also well-paid in today’s liberalized economy?

P S Ravindran: There are multiple reasons. The first and the most important reason is the growing role of Civil Services in the country’s administration and welfare. Second reason is that Civil Services provide instant social recognition, which even a degree from IIT or IIM cannot offer. The secured job nature of this field is the third reason, given the fact that there is no job security in private sector.

Besides all the above stated reasons, there are also a few other reasons, which propels students overlook lucrative jobs from private sector In Civil Services, one can choose the level of duties one can perform. You cannot find this opportunity in private sector. Women candidates find it easy to balance professional and personal life. Many candidates not only want to make a career but also want a platform to reach people and participate in their development. This service provides an opportunity to put smile on the faces of people. If somebody has a sense of public sprit, he/she gets lot of job satisfaction and excels in this field.

Ravindran“More than talent what this exam tests is the kind of skill a candidate has developed with persistent hard work, determination passion and patience. Academically a third grader can qualify in this exam provided he/she is a strong-willed and highly-determined to qualify in this exam.”

Careers360: How should candidates evaluate their suitability and be mentally prepared for Civil Services?

P S Ravindran: First of all, an aspirant should consult with people, who have already appeared in this exam. This will help them evaluate that upto which extent they have to work hard to qualify the exam. This examination doesn’t test the high level of excellence in a candidate but it tests the consistent effort a candidate puts to increase his/her knowledge-base. More than talent what this exam tests is the kind of skill a candidate has developed with persistent hard work, determination passion and patience. Academically a third grader can qualify in this exam provided he/she is a strong-willed and highly-determined to qualify in this exam.


Careers360: Please brief on entry-level challenges and their solutions in the beginning of preparation journey?

P S Ravindran: First challenge is selection of the optional subject. A candidate should choose a subject which he/she likes very much and has inherent interest in it because the exam requires them to study a subject everyday for 2-3 years. The second challenge is to find out suitable books and effective study material. A candidate should know what to study and what not to study. He/she has to decide what is important, what is less important and what is least important. They have to show very good decision making ability. If a candidate writes all he/she knows about a topic, it is merely exhibiting the extent of their knowledge but they have to exhibit the extent of their understanding on the subject.


Careers360: What is the ideal time-frame to crack this competitive exam? What preparation strategy will you suggest for Prelims and Mains level?

P S Ravindran: Ideally it takes around 3-4 years for an average candidate to qualify the exam. Candidates should divide their preparation in two stages – formal and informal. Candidates should start formal preparation one and half year before the Main exam. Once they pass out of college, they can start their formal preparation in July to appear in the Main exam of December next year. Their informal preparation begins during Graduation days.

Regarding preparation strategy, I will advise aspirants to develop newspaper reading habit in their college days as part of their informal preparation. I suggest them to study newspaper rather than reading it. They should read weekly or monthly magazine. Listening to spotlight news broadcasted on All India Radio every day is also very helpful.

Lok Sabha TV and Rajya Sabha TV are very informative news channels. Staying tune to the two channels can immensely help aspirants in enhancing their knowledge-base. From 8th standard to 12th standard, there are at least 25 NCERT books which can be referred for the preparation.


Careers360: What are the broad qualities that UPSC Civil Services interview board looks into a candidate?

P S Ravindran: The interview board is more interested in analyzing overall personality development of the candidate than knowledge base of a candidate. Therefore, a candidate should also develop a hobby in which he/she is genuinely interested.  Bookish knowledge doesn’t impress the interview board.

The board is interested in candidate’s replies on the topics such as- an understanding of the problems of women, Parliament functioning mechanism, what are the political aspects of the country, how the polity functions, SC/ST problems, child labor issue, interest in various Government policies, participation in NCC, NSS, Scouts, National Service Scheme and social service. A sign of empathy and a genuine interest in the above listed topics is very essential.


Careers360: What parameters should aspirants look into while choosing an optional subject? What are the best options for aspirants who have varied educational background?

P S Ravindran: Major parameter is an inherent interest in a particular subject, which is to be taken into consideration to decide as optional subject. Other parameters may be performance of the subject in the civil services exam in the recent times, availability of study material and its utility in preparation of general studies paper.


Careers360: How important is the trend analysis of question papers of previous years? How this analysis should reflect in the preparation strategy of aspirants?

P S Ravindran: Trend analysis is very important because syllabus does not offer clear information on important topics. So, aspirants are clueless on what kind of preparation strategy to follow and how rigorous should be the strategy.

It is the question papers which redefine the syllabus. The relative importance of various topics in the syllabus can be understood only from the question papers. It helps to save lot of time by making an understanding about what to take and what to leave from the newspapers and from the textbooks. Question papers should be always on the study desk of candidates, who should constantly refer to them in order to make a map of questions in their mind.

Trend analysis helps candidates to do a well organized preparation. For example, in trend analysis of CSAT in the past three years you find out that non-mathematical portion carry 130 marks, Mathematics carries 50 marks and Decision Making carries 50 marks out of 200 marks. This insight can be achieved only by trend analysis.


Careers360: Your suggestions and advice to aspirants of UPSC Civil Services?

P S Ravindran: First and foremost suggestion is to select an optional subject on basis of aspirant’s interest in a subject. Divide your preparation into two stages – formal and informal. Don’t launch your preparation very early when you are in college.

I will advise aspirants to interact with those who have already appeared in the exam and don’t get isolated during your preparation. Take test series for practice. A lot of practice with a right direction is the only help.


Careers360: Please share your insights on competence level of freshers and those with some years of work experience?

P S Ravindran: It doesn’t matter whether a candidate is fresher or experienced. Qualifying this exam depends on how intelligent, committed, sincere and hardworking an individual is and not what is his/her experience level. Their success depends on the quality of the effort they put into and not the previous job experience and previous academic record. Post college efforts are important to qualify in this exam.


Careers360: Your opinion on the new pattern of UPSC Civil Services exams – Prilims and Mains?

P S Ravindran: New pattern is more relevant to the Civil Services job. They need to test the basic aptitude of the candidate. How much he/she can apply mind is very important. This all seems to have been taken into consideration before introduction of CSAT, which aims at evaluating candidate’s aptitude. It helps elimination process and better selection of the candidates.


Careers360: A new controversy has erupted over language of questions where many candidates are alleging that question papers are biased in favour of English medium students. What is your take on that?

P S Ravindran: I don’t think that a particular medium of language poses an added advantage for a specific group of test takers. You don’t require great command on a language. Also, graduate level English language is evaluated in UPSC Civil Services exams test. To clear the exam, it is substance that is more important rather than expression.

On the contrary, non-Hindi medium candidates feel that Hindi medium candidates get better understanding of questions by going through papers in both Hindi and English languages.


Careers360: There have been several cases of corruption in bureaucracy in recent years. Do you see today’s generation making any difference after making a place into the system?

P S Ravindran: Individuals cannot make much difference in the Civil Services or change the system. Great leaders can do it. What best a Civil Servant can do is to be clean, honest, straight forward with dealings in spite of the corrupt system. Present generation is more conscious to the spirit of the Civil Services, especially those who join the field with public spirit. In an era, when people are becoming more conscious, bureaucracy as a whole is changing.


Also read:

UPSC Civil Services Admit Card

UPSC Civil Services Result

UPSC Civil Services Important Dates


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