Whenever I interact with youngsters who aspire to be civil servants, a lot of them worry whether someone who has not got top ranks in school and college can make it to the civil service. Many students admit that they are not academically brilliant but aspire to pursue civil service. Since one need to study and write an examination to become a civil servant, these questions are relevant. So, how much importance is given to academic brilliance in civil service examination?
To begin with, let us examine the eligibility criteria to write civil service examination. The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) mentions graduation from a recognised university as the qualification. So, if you have a bachelor degree in any subjects from Arts to Technology, you can write this exam provided you are within the prescribed age limit. Similarly, the UPSC does not discriminate between a rank holder with over 90 per cent marks and someone who just cleared the exam with 40-45 per cent. As the marking systems of universities are so different, it will be difficult to compare different streams of graduation. That is why the UPSC is not considering the existing academic credentials but sticking to their own methods to check the merit. That means one need not worry about the marks in school and college while appearing for civil service exams.
The examinations in schools and colleges in India are mainly based on fixed syllabus and text books. The questions are often repeated and the success is mostly relied on rote memory. Many students burn the midnight oil in a fortnight and manage to come up with a decent percentage. The examinations in humanities subjects sometimes reward more marks to people who write more pages. People buy guides and mug up expected points. In short, the whole scenario more or less depends on the tried and tested methods.
A different ball game
The civil service examination is different from this pattern. First of all, the syllabus is just indicative rather than specific. It tells about the larger areas to be covered. There is basic information to be studied like the Indian Constitution and freedom movement. At the same time, one needs to be up-to-date with the current welfare schemes of the government. The dynamic nature of the syllabus confuses people who are accustomed to a fixed pattern of study. One can check previous questions to get an idea about important areas. But there is no guarantee that questions will be coming from only these parts.
Another frustrating situation for many studious candidates is that there are no prescribed text books for civil service examination. One can come up with a list of important books to be covered based on the advice of seniors but it is not mandatory that one has to read them all. Nowadays, people use online resources and videos also to study. This fluidity also will be difficult to manage for people who are used to mugging up important points from guides and notes. Another point to be noted is that the word limit for answers in the civil service examination is fixed, so one has to write precise answers rather than filling up pages after pages. So, a person who is successful in a university examination does not get much edge here.
But there are certain habits which one could have developed in school and college which would be useful for civil service examination. The ability to work a few hours daily for a minimum period of two years is necessary here as the syllabus is big and the exam process takes more than a year. People who are academically inclined find it easy to pick up this habit. The last-minute muggers get tired easily with this pattern of examination. People who are exposed to competition, be it entrance examinations or sports, also do well as they are used to comparison and improving themselves.
Ultimately, it is all about adaptation to a new pattern of examination. I have seen many rank holders losing it out and many average students clearing this examination with their sheer perseverance. Understanding the pattern and working steady will do the trick rather than past records. So, do not worry if you are not a school/college topper!
(The author is a former IPS officer and a trainer for civil service aspirants)