I work from 9-5 in the office. I want to be financially independent. I also have to support my family. I am too old to do IAS EXAM preparation full day at home. But so many people are preparing for IAS full time at home. Can I match their efforts? Am I even into the competition or just wasting my limited time and efforts here? I don’t think it will be possible for me to even do this. – Aspirant A
I work from 9-5 in the office. I keep meeting new people having different qualities and skills. I learn something new every day. I am financially independent so less to worry about livelihood and financial issues. Being a working professional I understand the value of time. I am more disciplined and efficient in life. I am old, so I comprehend and understand the perspective in a much mature and diverse way. I know people are preparing for IAS full time but I have my own strengths so will focus on that only, will put my sincere efforts and then see what happens. – Aspirant B
You can observe the difference in the thought process of two aspirants who are working professionals and are willing to have a go at Civil Services Examination. Now you can decide for yourselves, whether you want to be aspirant A or aspirant B. It is very important to approach the preparation with the right attitude whether you are working or not. Well begun is half done. It’s always the first few steps which make a major difference in any journey. One should not be preoccupied with irrelevant matters as it does no good and only reduces efficiency and productivity. SoToegin the preparation with on an optimistic note and positive attitude. This will make the task much easier.
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Stop Comparing yourselves with others
Believe me, it does not help at all in life. Every individual is unique having different abilities and limitations. Similarly, every civil services aspirant has different strategies for preparation. It’s almost impossible to have the same schedule and approach to preparation. So one should focus on their own strengths without worrying about others. Working professionals have a habit of comparison since they have less time for preparation compared to others. But it makes less difference if you know the art of preparation, can make the best use of the time available. Hence smart study and efficient utilization of resources is imperative for working professionals.
Time is not a luxury
No one can better appreciate the value of time than an IAS aspirant who happens to work 9-5 on a regular basis. full time working professionals must invest 8 hours in work daily, add 2-3 hours for traveling to and back from the office. 11 hours gone, add average 6 hours of sleep, makes it 17 hours. Add 1 more hour for morning exercises or evening games. So after all these activities, not more than 6 hours are left for the preparation. This is just for weekdays; weekends are all yours to use.
So the question arises, is 6 hours’ daily preparation enough to crack Civil Services Exam where aspirants tend to devote up to 14-16 hours daily? Yes, it is. I believe that 6 hours if managed smartly and efficiently with consistency and discipline can fetch you good results. It all depends on not just how you use those 6 hours but also the rest of time. Since you are fully aware that, you don’t have time to waste so try to develop the habit of using every minute of your time. I will be sharing the strategy here for working professionals considering 6 hours of daily preparation.
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The Six golden hours
Take my words, these 6 hours will decide your fate in this journey. Your quality of study in these hours can make or break your preparation. Every second in these hours are like gold dust. So efforts should be to give your best. Just sitting on chairs is of no use, if could not do justice to topics chosen to be studied. It’s important to stick to the study schedule to the best possible. Don’t try to devise a perfect strategy for preparation, since there is none. You grow as you learn, focus on improving each day with your preparation efficiency. So here we go.
The newspaper is the backbone of IAS Exam preparation; you can dare to ignore it at your own peril. I have myself scored good scores in GS mains, with a religious following of newspapers without having to rely much on any other source for current affairs. Make it a habit of reading the newspaper daily. It may take 1.5-2 hours in beginning but slowly you can bring it down to 1 hour.
Devote at least 1 hour for it out of 6 hours available. I don’t insist on making comprehensive notes of newspaper due to the paucity of time as you can later rely on monthly compiled current notes of coaching institutes who put a lot of efforts to bring out quality stuff in the market. But try to note down some important points, preferably keywords to keep track of the issue. Try to find out at least 4-5 points for pros and cons of an ongoing issue such as Simultaneous elections, Article 35’A’, Lateral entry to civil services etc.
Now you have just 5 hours remaining for preparation. And you know it very well that GS and Optional bring to mains table 1000 and 500 marks. Given the marks division, you might be tempted to devote study time accordingly. But hold on, that is not the right thing to do. Nowadays Optional subject has become crucial in getting a good rank so its significance is even higher than GS given that GS scores reach a saturation level early compared to the optional subject.
If you have just begun the preparation then devote your time equally for both GS and Optional, 2.5 hours each. On Weekends, you can put as many efforts as you like, may be up to 10-12 hours. But it’s the consistency in study schedule which will take you far in this journey. When I started the preparation, I usually gave 3-4 hours daily to the optional subject and it took me almost 4 months to finish the syllabus.
So I assume that with 2.5 hours daily, you may finish it off by 6-7 months. Working professional’s preparation may go on to be a bit longer if started fresh but there is nothing to worry about as far as you go on the right track.
In those 2.5 hours of subject preparation, make your own schedule as per the syllabus. You must read the study materials for every topic, must make notes as well and then learn the art of answer writing. So don’t rush into preparation with intention of finishing syllabus as early as possible. That don’t help anyway. It’s always the quality of preparation rather quantity which will fetch you good scores.
Even if moving slowly, but be steady and through with whatever read so far. Also on weekends, apart from reading new materials, take out time for revision purpose. That is equally important to get command over the subject. The more you revise, the more you can connect the several topics which become important especially in humanities subjects. Keep in mind that, the optional subject is going to be the strong pillar of your preparation.
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Now, 2.5 hours remain for GS syllabus. Believe me, it’s going to be a challenge to prepare 4 papers of GS with just 2.5 hours of preparation. But it can be done as have been proved repeatedly by working professionals getting good ranks, as good as in top 10 ranks consistently. You must have a vision for your preparation. You may start with GS paper 1 as it is highly factual in nature so should be finished early as it requires more revision as well. Go through basic reading books for history, geography, society, art & culture one by one for topics mentioned in the UPSC Exam syllabus.
Thereafter you may come to paper 2 & 3 which are more dynamic in nature and less factual. Paper 2 demands factual knowledge of the constitution so going through constitution & polity part will set the tone for paper 2 preparation. The regular following of newspapers would make things much easier for these 2 papers. Once having done through the entire syllabus, come to paper 4 which takes the least time among 4 papers for preparation. So you must plan your preparation within the limited time available. No one else can do it for you since you must develop your own unique strategy for success in this examination.
Does study timing matters?
I have seen all sorts of strategies followed by working professionals. Working professionals used to study at nights after coming from work. Many prefer getting up early and thus study in the morning before going to work. This is an individual choice to make. When you feel comfortable is all you must decide. If you can get up early, then nothing better than that as you will be entirely fresh and can really do wonders with those few hours for preparation. But there are nocturnal species who prefer being awake at night as they can reach their potential then only. See, timing does not matter as far as you are efficient and disciplined, and are not counting hours but putting enough quality into preparation. Nature of efforts matters rather the duration. Always have the tendency to be efficient and smart with your IAS Exam preparation.
Widen your net rather diving deep
Strictly speaking, I don’t suggest aspirants go for shortcuts with preparation. But as a working professional not having the luxury of time, you must take shortcuts wherever possible. Work will not allow you to read newspapers daily, follow your schedule properly. There would be many interruptions for sure. You may be required to travel for work purposes and so on. Work requires some commitments as well. Don’t be bogged down with that. You should do justice to your profession. Don’t sacrifice your work for preparation, you can do well at both places. If unable to make current affairs notes, go through coaching monthly compilations.
Don’t read Norman Lowe history book for a single question. society part in paper 1 may be skipped as you are already aware of Indian society and social issues. Similarly, be selective with your preparation strategy. Always emphasize on covering the syllabus rather going into the depth of any topic. 200 words for an answer requires no research on the topic but just an overview and familiarity with the issue. So try to use the resources efficiently, Study smartly and focus on spreading a wider net than diving deep.
Starve distractions and feed your focus
I need not say this but you must be glued to your dreams always. Civil services preparation is no cakewalk; you realize as you go longer in preparation. Just having the talent is no assurance to clear this exam if one fails to stay focused. And having distractions in life is as easy as it gets. The most prevalent nowadays is social media such as Facebook, Instagram etc. The social life has forced people to live a comparative life and in the process has led to anxiety, stress, unhappiness, and individual losing his own self.
Had better avoid social media for time being. It is said that if you are fat, don’t believe yourself that you will not eat a packet of chips – instead, don’t buy one. It is the same here. If you should be in these things for your job or any other practical reasons, then set strict timings. And please don’t keep commenting needlessly in forum discussions. Already, the preparation may be compromised due to your job or family, don’t introduce one more distraction. Delayed gratifications, in your own interest, please.
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Striking the balance in life
Handling the family is an important issue here, especially for the married persons, who live with families or are in a joint family or are on the higher side of the age. We are aware that many times, the not so immediate relatives become more interested in our preparation due to obvious reasons. Don’t let your mind be preoccupied with their concerns as they are not of any importance at all.
Avoid them as far as possible, don’t let your peace of mind be disturbed at all. This exam requires patience and perseverance so avoid reacting at every small thing which doesn’t go your way on this journey. You instead talk to your loved ones, who care about you and inspires you to do well. They are the ones, who will keep you grounded if flying too high, and pull you up if you fail.
A special note to the women, here. Preparing for civil services for a female bring a unique set of challenges in current Indian society. And if you are married or working- it is a double challenge. There may be an additional pressure of having a child, if not already. homemakers are quite anxious and insecure about taking the exam due to various family reasons.
But please don’t let anyone around you tell that you cannot do well in this examination. Read Anu Kumari (Rank 2 Civil services 2017, 31 years, mother of 4-year-old) inspiring story for some motivation. Nothing else will make you believe that it is all in the mind. You can do it as anyone else.
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To sum it up, you must know your strengths and I cannot stress this enough. You are in a job; it is your strength- you have a backup. Use that to calm your mind. Once having decided to plunge into this preparation, don’t allow any stereotype to influence your sharpness in preparation. Don’t believe that there is any difference between you and anyone else preparing for this examination without a job. All that is required is the basic knowledge and the wider perspective of the issues around you. Try to make the best use of every micro opportunity available in the day to learn something related to exam. Compensate for weekdays losses through working hard on weekends. Don’t be complacent with preparation since you have some attempts left.
Approach every single attempt as the last one. Give your best, don’t give up. This journey will test your endurance to the core, you must persist. Never ever lose the enthusiasm, don’t be in the mode of expectations from exam but instead focus on efforts. Focus on making the journey better and productive, the goal will take care of itself. Your purpose should be to keep learning and improving every day, don’t let UPSC defeat you for your goal is too large to be defeated. The nation is counting on your service.
While you listen to anyone – including me, don’t forget the uniqueness of your own journey. And have faith in that uniqueness.
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