[Written by Rohit Kumar – IRS officer 2016 Batch. Alumnus: IIT, Delhi (B.Tech)]
This is one of the most pertinent questions when it comes to IAS Exam Preparation what is considered to be the mother of all examinations. It is for a reason that aspirants find it difficult to chalk out a strategy which leads them to desired success. The very vastness of the IAS Exam Syllabus has led it to frighten the young minds when it comes to preparation. There are all sorts of discussions in the preparation circle. Some are realistic, but mostly based on the perceived fear and perceptions.
I have keenly observed that aspirants are mostly misguided which have resulted in approaching the IAS preparation with a sense of skepticism and negativity. Such imbalances in the early stages of preparation does no good to them and later may be caught in the trap of failure. Often, I have seen aspirants raising this question to successful candidates whenever they get a chance to interact with, Sir/Madam, “How many hours of study is required to prepare for IAS examination”?
Even the expert of best IAS coaching in Delhi can’t answer it in toto. And believe me, this has been quite a difficult question to answer, no less than answering to the most difficult question of mains examination. Because there lies no straightforward answer to this. Selected candidates are caught in a dilemma by the aspirants with this question. Whether to tell them any specified number of hours or give no numbers at all is the dilemma faced.
This is really one of the toughest practical problem faced in this journey of preparation. Because there have always been some notions of fear attached to this examination which forces the aspirants to raise this question. Once having decided to start the Civil Services Exam Preparation, the next phase hangs around the duration of preparation.
It’s natural to think about our goals and how to go about it. How do we approach it? How much efforts are required to succeed? Will I be able to crack it with this much number of hours being put on daily basis? Oh wait, I am in college, I cannot put more than 5-6 hours unlike 10-15 hours being put by candidates involved with full time preparation. I am at disadvantage compared to others.
How will I compete then in an examination known for neck to neck competition? Then there are people working so cannot afford to take out more than 6-7 hours on a daily basis. They too have their own fear due to less duration of preparation. I mean that there are all sorts of aspirants giving a fight to this examination.
This is one of the rare exam where people from any background are allowed to appear. That makes this exam diverse and heavily competitive. This makes it indispensable to prepare a right strategy for success. The very foundation of success depends on the quality of efforts being put. This does not depend on number of hours. Let me put it very bluntly, quantity and quality are two quite different things. The question raised above must be answered with the aspects of quality.
Numbers don’t matter
Success in life does not depend on the number of hours being put into any activity but the quality of efforts being put with sincerity and dedication. Number of hours or days or for that matter months is not quite a tool to measure the quality of efforts. It is more individualistic in nature. It varies from person to person. There cannot be a standard criteria to define any quantity of time to succeed in any particular activity. There are students who study few hours a day for few months and they eventually taste success in civil services examination. And there are many who despite having put untiring efforts for years fall short of the target. I have seen several aspirants in my preparation circle putting beyond 12-14 hours but still could not cross the line.
So, based on my experience in this journey, I want to say that success in this examination should be delinked from the number of hours of study. Strictly speaking, hours don’t matter. Quality of study in those hours matter. How serious you are with your preparation will decide your fate in this journey. One may be sitting at study table for long time but having not made the best use would slowly start realising themselves that hours does not matter at all. We all experience this in life sooner or later.
Change of time
Gone are the days when preparation for UPSC exam used to be seen as a five-year plan strategy. Those were different times, when level of competition expected quite deeper knowledge and given the vastness of syllabus though required a lengthier duration for a good attempt. But now we have the luxury of change of time.
The entire examination process have undergone a tectonic shift in terms of patterns, UPSC syllabus and nature of competition in just last few years. The three levels of examination expects different skills at each level. Prelims tests your awareness and coverage of syllabus in detail along with the grip over factual contents and ability to memorise things.
Mains being the real hurdle poses tremendous challenges for any aspirant to test knowledge, writing skills, speed, creativity and perseverance to say the least. Personality test to go by the name analyses your suitability for the challenge called civil services. It’s not everyone cup of tea to master all this skills in a short period of time. It takes time but with the right strategy, the duration from preparation to success can definitely be minimised.
Again, it does not matter how long you study unless you know how to study and what to study along with knowing well what not to study. Once we know what all are expected of us, the next big issue to address is how to accomplish the target efficiently and effectively. Eventually, it all comes down to time management of which efficiency is an important aspect.
Put quality into hours rather just hours into preparation
At the outset, it needs to be clarified that hours are important in any act of life. But what we do in those hours define our fate in life. Civil services preparation is no different. The prevalent misconception in the market that it requires more than 12-15 hours of preparation needs to be denounced. Once an aspirant jumps into preparation, he gets plenty of free advices from people around not having deep insights of the examination per se.
There are many to misguide one, rarely one to show the light of the day. In the very beginning, the perception about success in this examination reduced to the number of hours sinks deep in the mind of aspirants. This is the disaster waiting to happen which needs prior management.
The bottom line is that you get to know the things irrespective of how long it takes. If you can finish Laxmikant polity book within a month starting fresh, then well and good. If not, then also it is not a matter of concern. If it takes two months for you, it still does not matter. What matters is how well have you grasped the content. Have you got the real feel of Indian constitution? Have you understood the very need for a constitution, it’s evolution, different features, basic structure?
Does it feel like being an aware citizen when someone talks about rights and duties? Have you started appreciating the different pillars of Indian democracy and federal structure? Does legislative process, it’s structure, functioning, the conduct of business, powers and privileges, and it’s complexities if any whatsoever makes sense in reality? Can you relate government policies framed with different provisions of the constitution? Can you apply the learning of the constitution in a day to day life in ways possible?
If you are well versed with all these, then you have learned and understood the concepts and it’s applications. This is what is required in civil services. Just mugging up facts would lead you nowhere. At maximum, it may help one get some marks in prelims but mains would turn out to be a mountain too high to climb with such approach to preparation.
Now you decide yourself, how many hours is required to grasp the content with analysis, learn its application and internalise the essence of the subject. I am sure no one else can fix any numbers of hours for you. Everyone has a different level of aptitude and that would only decide their number of hours. Give yourself some time. You will discover yourself and accordingly build your unique strategy for success.
Read More: Eligibility for UPSC Civil Services Exam
A balanced preparation
One thing that I have found common among all toppers is their emphasis on the importance of a balanced Civil Services Exam Preparation. One should realise that study should be one of the many things to do in life. Preparing for IAS should not lead one to alienate and isolate themselves from the rest of the world. This is a mistake most common.
It is a misconception to cut off all contacts, to go for austerity, and start meditation for a piece of mind. One should keep living life on same lines, expect the fact that IAS preparation brings more of seriousness and consistency in life. One has to be more disciplined than before, for the preparation demand untiring efforts put consistently.
But it does not mean one should stop playing games, stop pursuing hobbies/interests, stop having fun and entertainment in life. We all are human, cannot train the mind to do the same thing consistently for hours, weeks, days and months. By continuously studying, the mind will not adhere to the same understanding capability throughout the day and it really becomes cumbersome to keep on concentrating with the same efficiency.
It has also resulted in excessive monotonicity leading to premature quitting of preparation. One should try to add leisure and recreational activities to the process of study so as to refreshen body and mind which goes a long way strengthening the concentrative sitting of a student.
It is always advisable to study in phases. A single sitting should not go beyond 1.5-2 hours and then a break of 20-30 minutes. Break may be used for some constructive purposes such as watching news, listening to any debate etc. Don’t engage in something which leads to complete change in focus. Such distraction if avoided enhances our efficiency and would ensure less hours required in preparation. The break revitalises the zeal and energy required to go unrelenting with the preparation. One should listen to his inner self.
At times, one don’t feel like studying at all. It’s okay to have such feeling. Don’t be too harsh with yourself. Take a break, watch some movie, play a game, do whatever revitalises and makes you feel relaxed. Then get back to business with a sense of freshness and killer instincts again. One needs to keep recharging the batteries to go far in this journey.
The ideal study duration
Ideally speaking, taking all factors into consideration 8-10 hours of preparation with seriousness and consistency is enough to get through IAS examination. But one must plan well to make the best use of these hours. We are as good as our plans and their executions. Try making daily targets and monthly targets to keep track of coverage of syllabus. It will also push one to keep getting better everyday.
Though no one can execute all plans with perfection. If you miss some day, add it to the next day, put some extra efforts to get back control of your IAS Exam Preparation. Try to cover up for the losses. Don’t think too much about the duration of the study. Enjoy the study process, it will only get easier from there.
The article may be concluded by reiterating the importance of quality study hours and the need for efficient preparation. Discipline and consistency are key to efficiency, one must chase improvement everyday rather perfection in preparation for IAS exam. One should not look too much into a number of hours, the focus should be on making the best use of every minute while studying. When sitting on the study table, put all strains to rest and just concentrate on study.
One must approach preparation with a sense of Interest, confidence, and passion. Be relaxed, sincere and consistent with IAS preparation. Have that appetite for learning and be open to knowledge. Eventually, would like to sum it up in words of Steve Jobs, “Stay Hungry Stay Foolish”. Just believe in action and be patient, the result will speak for themselves.
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