Money, power, social prestige or desire to contribute for society – which is the key factor attracting thousands of students towards civil services every year? Who is more competent for this toughest competitive exam – a fresh graduate or one with a good work experience? What are the advantages and disadvantages of new patterns of Prelims and Mains when compared with old formats and what should be right UPSC Civil Services Preparation Strategy? Where does CSAT fail to provide non-English medium students a level-playing field?


In this interview with Careers360, Ajay Kumar Singh, director at VisionIAS institute, shares UPSC Civil Services exam tips and also insights on different dimensions of a career in Civil Services. Besides offering expert tips on UPSC Civil Services exam, Singh opines that the job profile drives candidates as they get enabled to intervene towards bringing positive changes in lives of masses. Advocating demands for improvement in CSAT pattern by thousands of non-English medium students, he also feels it’s high time for UPSC to rethink on CSAT second paper and revise it to create a level-playing field for Hindi-medium students.

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Interview Excerpts:


Careers360: What is Major motivation factor driving thousands of students every year to Civil Services exams?

AK Singh: Major motivation factor driving students towards civil services is the social image and prestige attached to civil servants. It is not the money factor that attracts good number of aspirants but the power involved with the job, enabling them to intervene towards the lives of people at ground level. Other driving forces are job security and desire to contribute for society.

A civil servant also finds space for working towards social development and social justice. There is lots of scope of recognition and excelling for those officials who are serious with their work.

AK-Singh-new“CSAT pattern is definitely a biased decision. You can go through the data of last few years, depicting the falling number of successful candidates from non-English background in UPSC civil services exam. These figures are alarming.”

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

AK Singh: Candidates need to do a self-analysis before starting preparation for this exam and try to know if they are really interested in the job profile or are opting for that after getting induced by success stories or by social image of civil servants as reflected in movies. An academically strong background is a plus point for a civil service aspirant. Moreover, candidates should be diligent, disciplined and socially responsible, having good communication, analytical and presentation skills. Passion for preparation and patience are also required to qualify this exam.

Further, candidates can mentally prepare themselves by speaking to a few people already working in the similar profile. Previous year exam papers should also be scanned to get insights on the volume of preparation required for the exam.


Careers360: What could be the entry-level challenges and their solutions in the beginning of their preparation journey?

AK Singh: The entry-level challenges include the selection of right books, proper study material and guidance. The candidates may opt for a coaching centre based on their own criteria. This exam is basically opinion-based format. Therefore, candidates will have to know and understand their skill-sets and how can they utilize their strengths and improve their weaknesses. They need to know how many years they can put in preparation and how much family and financial support they have.


Careers360: What is the ideal time-frame to crack this competitive exam? Suggest separate strategies for Prelims and Mains level preparations?

AK Singh: Prelims is an elimination round comprising General Awareness and Aptitude Test. To prepare for Prelims level GS, candidates can take help of NCERT text books, newspapers, magazines, All India Radio, DD News and other TV news channels, also PIB and other government websites. In Aptitude Test, 15%-20% questions are asked from Mathematics, 25%-30% from Logical and Analytical Reasoning and 40%-45% from English Comprehension. Standard textbooks will help students attain the conceptual clarity. Speed and accuracy can be achieved only through regular practice.

For Mains exam, candidates should decide their priorities according to their strengths and weaknesses. As opinion-based questions are asked in this exam, clear concepts and time management are very important to secure a rank in the merit list. Candidates can study NCERT textbooks, IGNOU material, other key books, newspapers and magazines. They should regularly stay tuned to DD News, AIR and government websites.


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

AK Singh: There was a time, 3-4 years back, when candidates tend to choose optional subjects broadly from the set of these 6 subjects – Geography, History, Sociology, Public Administration, Psychology, and Philosophy.

Now, they have a wide range of 23 optional subjects. Students generally choose their optional subjects based on their core area of study or interest.  


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

AK Singh: Trend analysis is a very important part of UPSC Civil Services exam preparation. Students should study question papers of 3-4 years to understand which type of questions have been asked over the period and what was the difficulty level in various segments of exam. Besides this, priorities while preparation and while taking exam can be decided through this process. This will also help candidates making effective preparation strategy.


Careers360: What is your suggestions and advice to aspirants of UPSC Civil Services?

AK Singh: Candidates should opt for UPSC Civil Services as a career option only if they are really interested in it. Those who are dedicated to consistent preparation, take 2-3 years to qualify the competitive exam. Take it just as an exam and don’t think more about the result but always be positive about the selection. Your preparation is going to open new avenues in your personal and professional life as your knowledge-base become immensely strong with preparation.


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

AK Singh: Fresher students are academically at good stage because they are more close to the books. These candidates have more time to be dedicated in their preparation. However, disadvantage with freshers is that they often remain in comfort zone. On the other hand, those having some years of experience are more disciplined with their preparation strategy and time management. Professionals come with positive attitude and are more logical. But these candidates have the drawbacks of being far from books and also they have to manage their preparation time according to their official schedules.


Careers360: Your opinion on the new pattern of UPSC Civil Services?

AK Singh: Earlier, opting two optional subjects at Mains level was a burden for candidates. Now as per new pattern, there is only one optional subject. Optional paper is meant for mapping a candidate’s intellectual understanding and in-depth analysis of the subject. So, there is no need to include two optional papers to check the candidate’s analytical skill.

General Awareness paper in CSAT is also a positive sign. However, aptitude paper cannot be appreciated by candidates having Arts background. They are the ones among the losers in the procedure. There is scope of lots of improvement in CSAT pattern.


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?

AK Singh: CSAT pattern is definitely a biased decision. You can go through the data of last few years, depicting the falling number of successful candidates from non-English background in UPSC civil services exam. As per data, only 26 students make it to the merit list of successful candidates in 2014, 86 in 2013, around 150 in 2012, 250 in 2011 and 300 in 2010.

These figures are alarming. There must be some major problems in examination procedure, which needs to be improved by UPSC.


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?

AK Singh: Youth has always been an integral part of changing process in any society. In civil services, they find proper space and positive environment to implement change. These days we feel change at every level of bureaucracy due to transparency in system and positivity in the society. Nowadays, youth talks about change though it is a slow process. However, positive change is always visible and its youth that is changing the society and advancing development.


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