As the success stories of this year's civil service exam winners are still appearing in detail in the media, one is exposed to a lot of information regarding the planning and strategies to clear the test. In addition to this, there are videos and blogs of the winners available and most of the toppers are active on social media too. All these are useful for future aspirants, but one needs to be careful while following the tips.
A common confusion which can happen is regarding the selection of optional subject. This year’s first ranker got record mark for his optional subject - mathematics. It is after quite a long gap that someone with mathematics as optional subject is getting the top rank. This will obviously create a demand for mathematics this year as people may believe it's a sure-shot to success.
Last month, we came across a lady who came to enquire about coaching for her daughter. As the girl was a medicine graduate, the mother told us that medical science would be her optional. Since there are lot of medicine graduates from Kerala getting into civil service, the lady assumed that all of them are taking medical science as optional. In fact, the two IAS officers of Kerala whom she mentioned had optional subjects other than medicine. When we pointed this out, she wanted to know which was the safest optional subject. As selection of optional subject depends on aptitude as well as availability of guidance, we talked about the criteria. But she was least satisfied as we did not provide her a winning tip. There are coaching institutes where the candidates are forced or induced to take the available subjects. In Kerala, a girl was being ridiculed a couple of years ago for taking English Literature but she managed to get a very good rank with high marks in that subject. Since the optional subjects of the toppers are different every year, one should not blindly follow the trend.
There are people who are vulnerable enough to follow anything which is said by a civil servant. We had an aspirant who painted his study room blue as suggested by an officer in order to get good marks! I know another person who even tried to copy the eating habits of successful seniors! Both of them never made it for obvious reasons.
Another common mistake which people commit is asking for examination related tips to very senior officers. The exam pattern underwent a dynamic change since 2013 and the methods of preparation has been revolutionised with the availability of information technology. But many officers still talk about reading certain books which may not be relevant as per present syllabus. I generally suggest the students to ask about the salient features of the service to the senior officers. The exam related queries can be better answered by people who have cleared it recently.
The model answers of winning candidates are in high demand and many toppers are more than happy to share the same. This also should be done with a bit of discretion as it will be very difficult to change one’s style of writing completely. But trying to incorporate some finer points is always helpful. Even the list of books to be read suggested by each will be different. One has to use discretion here.
Last but not the least, never memorise the answers given by toppers in personality test as the answers expected from each person is according to their background. In addition to that, every question in the personality test is context specific which may not get repeated. So, one can read about interview questions and answers just to get a broader idea.
Never expect the winners to share every strategy with you. The family background, educational institutions, friends etc. contribute directly and indirectly to a person’s victory which will be difficult to imitate. In short, one should get inspiration and guidelines from the winners, but imitating them totally could be counterproductive.
(The author is a former IPS officer and a trainer for civil service aspirants)