Sunday, December 4, 2011
Failure will come but it should not deter us
Failure will come but it should not deter us
S Nagarajan, UPSC 2007 Batch Rank 1
To be an IAS was his childhood dream... single-minded devotion and intelligent hard-work helped him. His success in the Civil Services and rise to the top cannot but inspire. Meet S Nagarajan in a heart-to-heart talk with Jojo Mathews, Editor, Competition Wizard
To whom would you like to attribute your success?
I attribute my success to the members of my family and friends. In this attempt, especially friends were very supportive. Besides, my single-minded devotion, intelligent hard work, determination and dedication played an important role in lifting me to this position.
What prompted you to prepare for Civil Services?
I was brought up in a district-town. It is a very old town, more than two hundred years old. In a district-town, the career option as a district collector is seen prestigious. Moreover, the challenging nature of the job and the opportunities to feel for the sufferings of people and to solve their problems to a possible extent motivated me to prepare for civil services.
Why do you want to join Indian Administrative Service?
The first and foremost thing is that it offers the spirit of full-time public service. Even in private sector one can do public service by offering a portion of salary to charity after making good money. But here a full-time involvement in public service is missing. Second thing is that as a gentleman’s career, I think, IAS is even better than a good corporate job.
What did you do after your graduation in electrical engineering?
I completed my graduation in 2000. I had taken the Prelim in the same year, cleared the Main but failed to get through the exam finally.
What was your score in the first-attempt?
Electrical Engineering 294
General Studies 354
I found out that my marks in physics were very low even in the old syllabus. Moreover, the syllabus of physics changed in 2001. So, I decided to drop physics because the new syllabus was much more complex, and I opted for Geography.
Why did you choose Geography?
I put forward my problems to an expert in this field. He suggested me to go for either Geography or Psychology. According to him engineers can opt for either Geography or Psychology. But I was not confident of taking any social science subject. Psychology was a new subject and I didn’t feel comfortable with its syllabus. In Geography at least some science is involved. It is only an extension of what we studied in the school. So it was purely a strategic decision without much options.
Why did you decide to join ‘Interactions’ for Geography?
There were two institutes that I had short-listed. I consulted with my seniors and friends; they suggested me to join Interactions because at Interaction guidance is very authentic, meticulously planned and to the point.
What were your experiences of learning Geography?
I understood that in Geography by studying around 50% syllabus I can aim for around 400 marks. In the first attempt itself I secured 396 and in the second attempt 336.
Geography has a very compact and comfortable syllabus. There are around 20 chapters in the syllabus. What I felt that we needed to study only 10 chapters in both the Papers. The ten chapters are also delimited into Part A and Part B of both the Papers. Before the exam one can decide which two questions one has to attempt from Part A or Part B. That is how the syllabus becomes more compact. By good analysis of the previous years’ question papers, one can reduce even ten topics to seven. In both the Papers one can score good marks by using maps and illustrations.
What was your result in the second attempt?
Electrical Engineering 242
General Studies 348
I secured 137th rank and was allocated to the Railway Traffic Services. I found that though I prepared the best for electrical engineering but I could secure only 242 marks. I used to clear objective type questions of the electrical engineering in Civil Services as well as other competitive exams without much preparation. In the Main, I found that the syllabus was getting unmanageable and the questions were getting beyond any reasonable standard. So, I decided to drop electrical engineering and opted for Sociology.
Why did you choose Sociology?
One of my friends, Mr Deepak Choudhary suggested me to opt for Sociology. He felt that I had an aptitude for Sociology rather than Psychology.
Considering the fact that the time at your disposal was limited, how did you manage Sociology?
In a sense, Sociology needs much deeper understanding than Geography. In Geography, one could skillfully put a map and explain to the examiner that he knows the subject. I was more comfortable in Geography because I had a very good understanding of Indian Geography. But in Sociology, I got around 150 in Paper I and around 130 in Paper II. My preparation was inadequate. I didn’t have the grasp of the subject itself. This I could set right in the final attempt after a gap of one year. I utilized the time to read some good authors so that I could get some understanding of the subject. The subject became more clear when I read Gidden’s Sociology. I also prepared the syllabus very seriously.
Why did you take a gap of one year?
This gap was due to the training. Moreover, I had no option other than joining training. Frankly speaking, I was expecting to clear that year itself.
What was your score in the third attempt?
General Studies 330
How did you manage time in the final attempt?
I was very fortunate that I was granted leave for preparing Main examination. For this, I should thank my chief operations manager Mr R Sharma.
Was there any change in strategy in the last attempt?
In the last attempt, I stuck to the syllabus. For example, by the end of preparation in Sociology, I could write at least 200 words on every sub-topic in the syllabus. 200 words means writing 10 to 20 points depending upon the writing style. This type of preparation I had done for the 90 per cent of the syllabus. If you are confident on two hundred words it can easily be expanded to 600 words. The same thing I did for geography.
While reading magazine if I found anything relevant to the syllabus I used to add that page to my study materials. For example, whenever I saw a good map in any magazine, I entered that map into the pertaining page of my study materials.
Generally, students are a bit confused whether to make notes or only points or study directly from the textbooks. What was your style of preparation?
I studied from the book directly. But, it varies from person to person. I was never dependent on notes to revise. At one point of time I was able to revise the entire syllabus in a single day. But that is difficult, so it is better to make notes.
In which revision you reached that stage where you could revise entire syllabus in a single day?
Third revision. Fourth revision should be the day before the exam.
Do you suggest that at least four or five revisions should be there?
Five revisions will be difficult. Three to four revisions are required. At least second revision is a must. It should not be like that one study the subject and take the exam directly. October onwards it should be only revisions. One should not continue learning anything new.
Did you prepare notes other than reading books?
I did not make notes condensing the books. I made notes heading wise, purely to write a 200 word answer. My notes were skeletons of the answers.
There is a lot of confusion regarding reading books. Some say that read only a few books, others suggest to go for an extensive reading. What is your opinion about it?
I read very less number of books. For Geography, I read both NCERT (Old and New) books. For entire Physical Geography, I read only one book. For human Geography, I read only 2-3 books. Other than these, I read a few general books like Survey of Hindu on Environment and Industries.
What is the role of coaching in one’s preparation? When one should go for it?
In my personal case, it is a trade off. I decided my second optional very late, only after receiving the mark-sheet of the first attempt. It was mid-June. So, I did not have any other alternative other than joining a coaching institute.
You went to the coaching classes without any knowledge about the subjects. How did you manage it?
I knew that I could make maximum use of coaching. I was a fairly keen student in college also. Sitting in a class with competitive students and a good coach is an easy way of learning. I was making a trade-off between my time and the coaching time. If I had more time I would have prepared it by myself.
How did you utilise the coaching institute? Should one go to a coaching institute?
There is no clear-cut answer to this question. It depends on persons, resources, coaching institutes etc. If somebody is confident that he will not waste time and will utilize the coaching institute well one should go for it. But the most important thing is that coaching institutes should be very reliable and dependable.
How one should choose an institute?
I relied on my friends. Students must consult their seniors who know about different institutes in Delhi. Moreover, your seniors should be your well-wishers.
You scored consistently in GS in the first three attempts and this year it may be more than that. But majority of candidates are unable to score consistently in GS especially in Paper II. How one should prepare for GS? How one can do well in two marks questions?
Let me explain it subject wise.
History: Go to the basic books like NCERT, Freedom struggle by Bipin Chandra and Spectrum’s history. In 2001, they asked questions directly from NCERT. For a non-social science student it will do.
Polity: I relied upon NCERT books and the class-notes. Moreover, I answered the questions of last 15 years. Questions are heavily repeated. Answering the previous years’ questions help in thinking faster in the exam.
Geography: I didn’t go for any separate preparation.
Current Affairs: I relied upon the crash course notes. I think, it is better to rely upon crash course notes or something similar from any civil service magazines like Competition Wizard rather than reading newspaper.
Science and Technology: From the beginning I was strong in Science and Technology. I was also in touch with my friends who work in different science streams. I kept abreast of the relevant happenings. My sources were more varied. Spectrum’s Science and Technology is good.
Economy: Uma Kapila’s ‘Understanding problems of Indian Economy’ is quite useful. Some of the questions were directly related to the headings of its chapters. For kick starting, we can rely upon some good coaching institute’s notes. Economy has two types of questions – one is current-oriented and the other is from traditional core section of economy.
International Relations: I relied upon coaching institute’s notes and other study material.
What was your strategy for 30 marks questions of 250 words? Did you stick to the word limit? Did you write introduction, conclusion etc?
Word limit is basically a time limit. I have a sense of time limit and time limit, in a sense, is page limit. When you see the question paper you can say that you are going to write this concept in this much space. 250 words will be about two and a half page. If I know that I want to talk about a concept in a quarter of page and if it exceeds that limit, then in the next concept I need to write less. Inside the examination hall, after every half an hour I used to check whether I completed 50 marks or not. I didn’t have time problem in any of my attempts.
In GS, there is no scope for introduction. 250 words is fairly less for a good students.
In Sociology, I explained the questions and its components in introduction. In Geography, I had better introduction. I used some direct phrases from the NCERT. I also used pre-planned introduction in some topics. I quoted some paragraphs from NCERT in Essay too.
When one should start preparing for Civil Services?
Ideally, the preparation process should start during graduation, but even late comers should make it, starting 7-8 months before the Prelim.
Did you have any plan for Civil Services during graduation?
During my graduation, I had a plan. But in our college, we didn’t have many people who were preparing for it.
When did you finally decide?
I finally decided in the fourth year of B.E.
What was your strategy for the Prelim?
A subject-wise analysis of last 10 years’ question paper is required. The classification itself will give a feeling of what is being asked in the exam. I had a matrix of last ten years’ paper of the General Studies as well as the optional. Those areas in which I was not competent, I studied in detail.
Did you practise answer-writing?
I wrote only a few answers, may be less than ten in each paper. But I planned skeletons for entire last 10 years’ papers including all 200 words questions. By writing 10 answers I got to know my speed; my thinking power; whether I am able to give proper introduction or not and whether I am exceeding word limit or time limit.
What was your strategy for Essay?
I did some brainstorming for some topics. But in the exam I never wrote the topics, which I was prepared for. I wrote approximately 1000-1200 words.
What is the most crucial thing in the essay writing to fetch maximum marks?
A coherent essay may fetch around 115-120 marks. One should stick to the basic points. Beating around the bush will mar the purpose. Good introduction, one concept in one paragraph and smooth transition from one paragraph to other are the basic rules.
How did you prepare for Personality Test this time?
In the previous attempts my preparations were haphazard. I was rushing through coaching classes. More thinking about personality and Bio-data are required rather than trying to know more about current-affairs. This time, I asked myself why I wanted to join civil services? Why did I leave a good engineering career and joined Railways? Why do I want to leave Railways and go to IAS loosing three years of service? Then I worked on my Bio-data and tried to generate as far away questions as possible. Almost the entire interview was what I thought of.
What was your personal experience of Interview Board?
The interview depends upon with what frame of mind one appears before the Interview Board. This year I was very confident of my selection. I performed very well as a Railway officer. Second thing is that interview itself is a purposeful conversation rather than a strict question-answer session. Keeping it in mind I conversed confidently with the Board members. Had I kept answering tersely to the question they would have not even got a chance to find whether I was worth enough to the service.
What do you think about Competition Wizard?
Special issues on Prelim and Main are very good and concise. It helped me a lot in the course of my preparation. Simplicity, brevity, accuracy and quality consciousness are the other things that impressed me much about Competition Wizard.
What is your impression about Interactions?
Fact speaks for itself. A person who has no background in Geography had studied three months at Interactions and secured 396 in the first attempt. On 15th June, I had decided to change one Optional subject and chose Geography. On 17th October were the Main Papers and I secured 396.
What is your hobby?
Reading and watching movies. In the interview, they asked me what especially I read. I read both Tamil and English. A member of the Board asked me whether I had read any works of the Jnanpith award winner Jayakanth. I told them that I had read a number of his short stories. Then I could tell a short story in the Interview. I felt that they were quite impressed with my narration.
As regards watching movies, they asked me about my favourite English actor and movies. I had never thought about my favourite English actors. So, the answer came spontaneously in an unstructured fashion. Had I planned about these questions earlier, I would have been able to answer it in a more coherent manner.
What is your advice to new comers?
Preparation should be structured, methodical, scientific, meticulous and detailed. A good revision is needed. Don’t plunge into Prelim and waste attempts before having a clear-cut idea about the nature of the exams and a good command over the subjects. Failure will come but it should not deter us.
How many hours did you study daily?
At least six hours a day, morning and evening three hours each. But I did not do any other activity. To keep the momentum it is better to have teamwork.
What is the role of luck in Civil Services?
Bad luck will put people out and without preparation no luck will put anybody in.
Where do you see yourself when you are at sixty?
At sixty, I will be starting a new career.
Courtesy: Competition Wizard