To get started with IAS preparation you should first have some idea about the service itself. This will ensure your IAS preparation efforts are channelized in the right direction. The Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is a career nonpareil – one that cannot be compared to other jobs or services. True, it doesn’t offer the best salary; still the salary of an IAS officer is nothing to laugh at.
But people aspire to IAS for reasons much more than just remuneration. For instance, the IAS is a means to perform noble deeds like serving the nation and humanity at large. Now how many jobs or careers provide this opportunity? Along the way, there are attractive privileges, perks and career goals that you can achieve. In fact, the IAS is the perfect harmony of social and personal good, an opportunity, that only few can careers can provide. Be inspired.
But to aspire for this golden service you need to prepare for IAS smartly, persistently, and patiently. The 3 golden tips for IAS preparation. You may have heard a thousand and one times from friends, IAS exam veterans, mentors and assorted coaching institutes that you require smart hard work to crack the IAS. But what exactly is smart hard work?
IAS Preparation Tip #1 – Work Smart Not Just Hard
Most of us are used to working hard. Our education system is such that unless we cram tens of books each year, whether or not we understand what’s inside the book is immaterial, we cannot progress to the higher level. So most of us are accustomed to working hard which in the context of IAS preparation refers to studying 10 hours or more, every day. So much for hard work.
Now comes the smart part. Smartness could mean different things to different readers. It could mean reading selectively but reading well, reading many books selectively, mixing books and notes, making micro notes, proper time management, taking mock tests and so on.
Smart work is all this and more. In fact smartness is the approach you adopt in a particular situation. To prepare for IAS smartly requires you to be flexible as opposed to rigid, to experiment as opposed to sticking with the familiar, to plan ahead as opposed to the short term only.
Let’s say you plan to appear for the 2018 Prelims. The right approach would be to start preparing for the IAS prelims at least 10 months in advance. 10 months’ time is just right to crack the prelims. Neither too much nor too less. With too much time in hand, just like other things in excess, we tend to waste it. In fact, we should always have a little less time in hand to feel some sense of urgency to get things done. Most people tend to work best under reasonable pressure. Neither too much nor too less.
The next step when starting your IAS preparation is to get familiar with the Prelims syllabus. Doing this you will know exactly what you need to cover within this time frame to crack the prelims. The good part about the new CSAT syllabus is that optional subjects have been done away with. So you can just concentrate on General Studies. And if you’re like me then studying GS is like listening to music; there’s no hard work involved. Just pure fun. Preparing for IAS need not necessarily mean monotony. The more you enjoy preparing GS the easier the Prelims goal will become. That’s smart.
Once you know the syllabus get started with the actual preparation. Obviously everyone can’t prepare for 10 hours, particularly working people. But even working people can crack the IAS. The exact time is not important here. Some can achieve in 6 hours what others can in 10 hours. It depends on you. If you’re just starting out I’d suggest you start with 4-5 hours and scale up gradually.
As you know that Paper 2 (CSAT) is now only qualifying in scope (as clarified by UPSC in 2015) and you require just 33% or 66 marks to qualify this paper. The marks obtained in this paper are not counted for preparing the merit of candidates who will qualify the Prelims and write the Mains exam.
So your workload is considerably reduced, especially if you’re from a non-Science and non-Engineering background. You can now mostly focus on preparing the Paper 1 topics.
And you just need to prepare Comprehension, Data Interpretation, Interpersonal Skills and Decision Making well in Paper 2 to obtain 66 marks. These four topics are considerably easier to prepare and attempt as compared to mental ability and logical reasoning topics.
Also remember that there is no negative penalty for questions on Decision Making. At least 5 questions on Decision Making will be asked in Paper 2 so you can and should attempt these questions without any fear.
Also if you analyze the previous 3-4 year papers, you will know that at least 5 Comprehension passages are asked in every Prelims and these are easiest to score off in Paper 2. So you can easily score 50 marks from just Comprehension passages! Rest of the marks can be obtained from Data Interpretation, Decision Making and Interpersonal Skills questions.
IAS Preparation Tip #2 – Try Single-tasking it’s more efficient than Multi-tasking
Yes I know you need to prepare history, geography, current affairs, mental ability etc. Only thing is don’t prepare all at once. Chunk it down. Pick one subject, let’s say Polity and combine it with current affairs which you should cover for some time everyday. Current affairs preparation consists of reading the newspaper, a good current events magazine and a year book.
You can read a good newspaper like The Hindu, magazine like Civil Services Chronicle or Pratyogita Darpan and the Manorama Year Book. Schedule a particular time for newspaper reading, but in any case, don’t read the newspaper for more than an hour. It’s not required.
Next, you can continue with the year book or start off with Indian polity. Whichever topic you choose get the right books only. Don’t refer more books than are absolutely essential. You don’t want a PhD in General Studies, just need to clear it.
But before you start with the topic get the past 5 year’s solved question papers and combine it with the syllabus as the question papers and syllabus are your best guide for IAS preparation.
Once you have started with polity or any other topic see it through completion. Don’t try to multi-task. Mixing polity with history and geography will lead to loss of concentration and lower your output. Besides it will make your progress lower. On other other once you’ve covered a topic in full you will gain confidence as you’ve pocketed x number of marks beforehand.
IAS Preparation Tip #3 – Adopt the Just in Time Approach
The JiT (Just in Time) Approach says we should seek information only when required at that moment. In this hyper-connected world there is an overdose of information and if you seek to acquire all information and knowledge before starting a task, you can never get started as you will lose yourself in the information maze.
Applied to IAS preparation what this implies is don’t try to cover all the books referred by your friends on a given topic, say GK. Since GK is so vast and constantly expanding you can never hope to “master” it. Rather, refer a good book like Manorama Year Book and a magazine along with the daily newspaper to build up your knowledge base.
If, while referring the past Prelims papers, you come across a new topic you can quickly refer the reference books at hand or head over to the library or internet and find out more. This way you retain the information for a much longer time rather than by trying to read everything at one go.
Smart IAS Preparation Tip #4 – Test Yourself Constantly
Taking the above JiT approach further let’s apply this to evaluating yourself. Instead of waiting till the last few days to take mock tests you should evaluate yourself right after completing a particular section in a topic. For instance refer the previous year’s question papers before starting Quit India Movement in Modern Indian History and after completing it. I’ve already written about the benefits of this approach so I need not repeat it here.
Adopting this JiT approach you know exactly where you stand, which topics have been covered well and which require more consideration. But more importantly it removes the uncertainty and anxiety to a certain level, if not completely. Before entering the examination hall you know what kind of questions to expect and this will boost your confidence and calm your nerves so you perform better than expected.
But going through the previous years papers is just the first step, I recommend you enroll for a good test series to know the latest trend of questions and also to prepare yourself for the forthcoming Prelims in a better way by attempting mock tests that cover the entire Prelims syllabus.
IAS Preparation Tip #5 – Make Micro Notes
Notes help us to revise quickly before the Prelims; the last 15 days that can determine whether or not you will appear for the mains that year. These micro notes can be on current affairs, GK, as well as other GS and optional topics. In fact I’ve already shown how to make notes for IAS exam preparation. Learn from it and profit.
IAS Preparation Tip #6 – Shoot then Aim
Most IAS aspirants prefer to wait till the end moment to take mock tests or prepare for 2-3 years before making their first attempt waiting for the perfect preparation level. Unfortunately your preparation can never be perfect no matter how hard you try. The latest syllabus is such that questions will always be unpredictable. Gone are the days when you could rely on certain number of questions from a particular topic.
So instead of preparing for 2-3 years during which time the pattern (not the syllabus) could change so many times prepare for a year and jump into the fray. You can improvise along the way.
This also holds true for taking practice tests. I suggested constantly evaluating yourself after going through every topic rather than waiting till the end hoping to finish the entire syllabus before going through the question papers.
Guess what, we are never able to finish the syllabus completely. There’s always something left in the end, some topics that we wish we should have prepared differently. So shoot first then aim.
Smart IAS Preparation Tip #7 – Read Only What’s Absolutely Essential
Your friend tells you to refer THM GS manual because that’s the best one around, another refers Unique, while a third one suggests XYZ classes notes. And you unwittingly jump from book to book hoping to cover every source that’s considered important for that subject. Stop taking this information overload that you will never be able to process within the limited time at your disposal.
Refer the standard books and supplement the missing information from other book for notes. Instead of reading three books for polity stick to one for detailed explanation and one for the bare acts. Similarly, I suggest just NCERTs for Ancient and Medival Indian History. No need for epic titles.
Whether it’s books for prelims, or public administration, sociology, political science or geography books stick to the above strategy.
You’ll discover you can extract so much more by re-reading limited number of books than running after the next shiny book just launched.
Resources for IAS Preparation
No guide for IAS preparation can be complete unless you know important sources for finding information online.
These are some of the many resources for IAS exam:
Get all NCERT text books