Sunday, May 30, 2010

Claim of Coaching Institutes!!

Some friends enquired whether I had actually joined the institutes that are publishing my photos in Hindu Newspaper & elsewhere on hoardings. So I decided to clarify through this blog.

1. I took only one free mock interview at Jain’s IAS

2. Took one free mock interview at Vision India.

3. The owner of Kaizer Academy is an acquaintance (Actually he is a friend’s friend). My friend actually asked me to give my photo to him as a personal favor. I did not join Kaizer Academy for anything at all.

Infact I’ve already mentioned elsewhere that I’ve not joined any coaching institute for classroom coaching (The reason being I was working with Kotak Life Insurance & had no time for it). I just joined institutes for test series & mock interviews…J

Friday, May 28, 2010

Geopsychological Quagmire

Approach & tips for Geography (Mains Examination)

Now with CSAT coming into picture from 2011 & optionals being phased out, its irrelevant to delve upon strategy followed in Geography during prelims. Straight away getting to orientation for Mains exam

· I referred the following material for Geography (Did not take any coaching; just got the Xerox material from Xerox shop whose address I’ve already mentioned elsewhere)

1. Direction’s (Neetu Singh’s) Class Notes for Geography Mains

2. Alok Ranjan’s Class Notes for Geography.

3. Physical Geography – Savindra Singh

4. Geographical Thought – Majid Hussain

5. Comprehensive Geography of India by Khullar

6. Geographical Map Entries – Majid Hussain


8. Oxford Atlas (You could also buy Orient or TTK, I followed Oxford)

· Only the above mentioned material was referred. I found it more than sufficient. Infact the three books mentioned were used mostly for reference & actual coverage was done from the class notes.

· I used to compare the coverage of a topic from both Direction’s & Alok Ranjan’s Notes & used to cover it from the source where I found it more satisfactory. For e.g. If plate tectonics was better covered in Alok Ranjan than in Direction’s notes then I would cover it from Alok Ranjan or vice versa. Sometimes if used to find a diagram or paragraph better in NCERT or any other source I used to get it Xeroxed & paste it at the place from where I was covering that particular topic (Do this exercise in time so that you don’t waste time when Mains exam is a month away or so; consolidate your material well in advance).

· Draw lots of diagrams. Diagrams fetch you marks. For e.g. in 2009 Mains exam Paper I, I drew 4-5 world maps (E.g. in Food production regions; Cultural regions etc…whereas many don’t do it) & in Paper II around 10-12 Maps of India. Diagrams should be drawn even if it is tangential to the topic. I used to draw the diagram with black pen instead of pencil as it looks more prominent (But one has to master the diagrams as one can’t erase it).

· Map entries are critical in getting edge. Every coming year the entries are getting obscure & sometimes makes an aspirant wonder if he/she has seen an atlas at all in his/her life!!!!. But don’t loose heart. Practice with a focused approach pays. I’ve identified the following areas where exhaustive coverage should be done.

Focus Areas



Butcher Island, Pirotan Island (Try covering all possible islands you can find)

Places in News

Lavasa, Baltel

New Oil Field/Mining Town

Mangala, Kalakot, Kulti



Logical Guesses

Kuala Terengganu (City in Malaysia….linked to Kuala Lumpur), Vana Tivu (Link to Katchativu…..I bluffed this & got it right)


Ken, Rangit (Try covering rivers in greater detail)


Kutralam Falls (Try covering all waterfalls which you come across in Atlas)

Longitude Idea

For Time Zone in World Map (For the first time this was asked in 2009 paper…..A good approach could be using a ruler to measure distance from the prime meridian on each side & thereby making calculations)

· Source of Map Entries:

1. Direction’s material has previous map entries solved from 1970 till date; also try to cover their Class practice maps (Twenty sheets in all).

2. Try making your maps on other important entries

3. Good Atlas (Oxford, Orient Blackswan or TTK).

4. Geographical Map Entries by Majid Hussain

5. Try to secure material on map entries from as many different institutes as possible.

6. Its not possible to cover explanation for all map entries whose location one covers (Logical guesses come to one’s rescue).

7. For e.g. in 2008 attempt there was a map entry called Mount Harriet. I just knew that it was located in Andaman & Nicobar island group. But I used other logical inferences like the region receives more than 200 cm of rainfall, moist evergreen type of vegetation (also mentioned some tree types from this type of forest). Annual range of temperature is low. Climate has monsoon affectivities. Now its always better to know & write exact pertinent details about the map entry asked but many times aspirants are short of facts. In such cases providing some logical information is better than writing nothing.

· Answer Writing Style: I used to give a brief introduction (not more than once paragraph of 4-5 lines) & then switch directly to the question at hand. Answer the question asked & don’t beat about the bush. Come straight to the point. Conclusion also used to be of one paragraph in the end (on a constructive note if the question demanded deliberation on any problem). I’ll try to upload the scanned copy of the two mock test I wrote last year.

· I would suggest aspirants to write two full length mocks sometime in September on Paper I & Paper II & get detailed feedback from the teacher/professor. The best way to improve your answer writing style is to take the Xerox of the topper’s (Topper in the mock test) copy & analyze what areas require improvement. This really helps. Just two mocks, one for each paper are sufficient in case of optionals. If you feel less confident then take full battery of mocks (But I would recommend that in case of General studies……Still the aspirant is the best judge).

· The latest trend shows that selective coverage can get you in trap (For e.g. in 2009 Paper I the first question had three sub-questions (20 x 3) & there was no choice. Moreover it touched less asked areas like rejuvenation (second cycle of erosion) & L. C. King’s cycle. Many aspirants couldn’t deal with this question satisfactorily as they did not cover the syllabus exhaustively. I don’t recommend 100 % coverage but around 80% coverage is a must now….especially after seeing 2009 paper.

Approach & Tips for Psychology

Psychology as an optional has remained abstruse to many. Even I share some of the sentiments. In my first attempt when I was grossly under-prepared I secured 323 marks in Mains. OTOH in second attempt despite better coverage, my score dropped to 296. Anyways, I relied on the material mentioned below as I didn’t take any classroom coaching.

1. Mukul Pathak’s Class Notes (Just got the material Xeroxed)

2. Mukul Pathak’s Support Material (Or Printed Material)

3. NCERT XI & XII Textbooks

4. Morgan & King, Baron’s Introduction to Psychology (Used for reference only).

· Mukul Pathak’s Class notes are more than sufficient. When I scored 323 in first attempt I had not even looked at NCERT or any other book (including Morgan King, Baron). Only in my 3rd attempt I integrated diagrams & research studies from NCERT in the class notes of Mukul Pathak.

· I used lots of illustrations & diagrams (I remember reproducing diagram from NCERT in actual paper, cover diagrams from other books if they can be reproduced easily in exams).

· The trend in Psychology is getting increasingly difficult to decipher. Questions are being asked from obscure areas (Sperling test, Bernoulli blah blah blah). One should cover around 90 % syllabus to be able to answer five questions out of eight.

· Most of the questions ask for relevant research studies & experimental evidences to support one’s answer. So try to cover as many as possible from standard books.

· Not many institutes conduct test series in this. Try taking the mock taken by Mukul Pathak Sir himself sometime in August-September. The downside is that he doesn’t cover all chapters but then there are not many good options available here. (If you approach Shoubhik Sen, he will ask you to deposit 8-10 thousand & join his some sort of a crash course……Not needed at all in my opinion. Still if you have money to splurge, please be my guest).

· Most of the long questions have 3-4 parts. One should be careful lest one misses any particular sub-part & loose marks Read the question very carefully. The extra time spent in re-reading a question is worth the extra time spent. I’ve seen many missing a particular sub question & regretting later for not having read the question properly.

Will share other details once the Final Marksheet for interviewed candidates is out.....Good Luck.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gyan Continued....

Civils Exam Strategy Part II

A few areas remained untouched in my earlier post, which I am covering here.

I. Which Subject to choose?

This is the most common query I receive & off course there are no easy answers. The average marks for all candidates who did not qualify in Mains 2009 is given below.


Total Students



































































































































I’ve seen similar trend in the last 3-4 years. So I’ll not give ambiguous answers. If you are good in any regional literature like (Punjabi, Kannada, Urdu etc) you should take it up. Literature of regional language comes first in my recommendation list. Second is subjects like Public Administration & Sociology. Pub Ad + Sociology combination is the best bet if you ask me (I know I am highly generalizing but If were to appear again in Civils exam for the first time then I would take up this combination though I am a Delhi University Gold medalist in Geography honours). Pub Ad has been consistently producing better average than geography for the last 2-3 years despite the sample size being almost same (In final result of 2008, the gap of average was more than 30 marks…..It made me think whether there is a scaling process in place at all or not?). Third comes semi scientific subjects like geography & psychology. If you want to really fight against odds then take up physics, Maths, electrical engineering etc. But science subjects like agriculture, Veterinary science, Medical science typically produce good results & can be taken up. Hence my take on optionals is in following order (descending order of priority)

  1. Literature of regional language (Its your best bet if you can take up one)
  2. Subjects like Public Administration & Socio (Medical Science, Vet, Agriculture, Law also come in this bracket)
  3. Semi Scientific subjects like Geography & Psychology
  4. Physics, Maths, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering (the worse of the lot).

Again I would like to emphasize that this is a personal opinion. If you are exceptional then you can do wonders with any optional. Also many engineering students raise this query “Whether they can manage humanities subjects”. The answer is offcourse “Yes”. I have seen many engineers taking up humanities subjects & making it to IAS (Many of them had taken up physics or maths as one of their optionals in first attempt, only to be dropped later). A friend of mine named Amit Khatri (AIR-269 this year) had Chemistry as optional in his first attempt & scored badly; he changed it to Pub Ad & has cleared it this year.

Also If I’ve not covered the ranking order (or preference order) of any subject please refer the average list mentioned above & take your call.

II. How to secure material?

Many outstation students face the problem of securing study material as they cannot take coaching due to personal reasons. I referred the following Xerox notes

  • Vajiram’s Class Notes for General Studies (All Subjects).
  • Mukul Pathak’s Notes for Psychology
  • Direction’s (Neetu Singh) material & Alok Ranjan’s Material for Geography.

The Xerox of all of them is available at following locations in Delhi

  1. Xerox Shop opposite Aggarwal Sweets in Old Rajinder Nagar, Delhi.
  2. Kumar Book Shop at Patel Chest, North Delhi. (Near Khalsa College).
  3. Jawahar Book Depot, Ber Sarai, South Delhi.
  4. Will also be available at various Xerox shops in Mukherjee Nagar, Delhi.

III. Issue of Studying while working

Many queries are related to this issue. Let me tell you that it is possible but difficult. I was working with Kotak Life Insurance & resigned after getting selected into Indian Revenue Service in 2008 attempt. Took the exam again with full time & energy & got into IAS in 2009. I got two months leave during 2008 attempt mains.

Now If you can afford leaving job, I would recommend that you do. Job definitely is a drag on your preparation. Leave it if you have other means to support yourself & can take up the risk. If you are working in Government entities like BSNL, CDOT etc where liberal leave is granted for long durations (I’ve heard 8 months leave in a year!!!) then you can continue your job & manage.

Still if can’t leave job coz of any reason then try studying 4-5 hours daily after job & make sure you get atleast 2 months leave during mains from your employer. Also one would need another 1-2 weeks leave during prelims. Take your call.

IV. The raging issue of CSAT?

CSAT is giving tough time to all. First it is something new & second there is no clarity on the subject. If I would be taking exam for the first time in 2011 then I would do the following.

1. Study for General Studies Paper till December (Till now many candidates used to clear Prelims exam because of strong optionals but now it will no longer be the same. General Studies will become very important). Next year there would be cut throat competition in General Studies, so focus on it till December 2010 & complete the syllabus. By then the notification for Prelims 2011 will come out & clarity would emerge.

2. Regarding CSAT, my limited understanding is that the reasoning & quantitative questions being asked presently in the General Studies paper will be moved to this paper (& the number of questions would be increased too). Apart from that moral or ethical reasoning questions would be added (they are currently asked in Delhi University Law Faculty entrance exam). But largely clarity will come in notification (or Earlier if coaching institute get some insider information before the notification).

Overall the take is to focus on General Studies & master it before the notification is out.

Rest I am preparing tips on Psychology & Geography which I shall update in the coming week. Drop your comments & queries & I'll try to get back which posts like this again. Also drop our email id if you have not done earlier as I'll be sending out emails on two markers & some sample notes, I am not able to post download links here. Good Luck.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Just Another Gyan

Approach towards Civils Exam

Before the syllabus of UPSC becomes alien to me & the jargons of psychology & geography start to baffle, I decided to pen down my preparation strategy. Hope future aspirants find it useful. Overall I feel that many unsuccessful aspirants are more competent than the selected ones but the strategy & approach makes the difference. I had my own share of pitfalls but I tried to tweak my strategy in every successive attempt & finally secured AIR-25 in my 3rd attempt in 2009 (Had secured AIR-277 earlier in 2008 attempt & did not clear mains (score was 930) in first attempt taken in 2006). I did not take any coaching for Prelims or Mains examination. Not that I was opposed to it but I was working with Kotak Life Insurance from 2006 to 2009 & resigned from it only after getting IRS (IT) in 2008 attempt. But I joined test series & mock interviews at various places. As I didn’t join any classroom coaching, I got Xeroxed the following material

  • Vajiram’s Class Notes for General Studies (All Subjects).
  • Mukul Pathak’s Notes for Psychology
  • Direction’s (Neetu Singh) material & Alok Ranjan’s Material for Geography.

Someone once said “If I am given twenty hours to chop down a tree, I’ll spend first eighteen hours sharpening the axe”. Personally I feel that to a large extent this is very much true for civil services examination. Not clearing civils is not a failure of memory or intellectual competence but probably the efforts don’t get channelized in the right direction (This is purely a personal opinion).

General Studies for Prelims (The Do’s)

  • Focus should be on current affairs as it is the area which gives you the highest return per minute spent.
  • Try making your own notes especially for information that can be categorized (E.g. Awards, Committees, PM/President, Persons in news etc can easily be tabulated). Those who have cleared prelims in their previous attempts can avoid this & rely directly on source material (mentioned below).
  • Source Material which I referred for GS prelims was News & Events Magazine, Civil Services Chronicle Magazine (Used to make personal notes from these two sources & it does not take more than 2 weeks to cover them all, provided you give 8-10 hrs daily). Also I used to go through magazines brought out by Vajiram & Ravi (but only after brushing up my personal notes; in fact once it was done there was only 10-20 % extra to be found in Vajiram magazines. Moreover the organization of information in Vajiram magazines leaves a lot to be desired).
  • History for Prelims: Focus should be on modern India as it is in trend (though sometimes medieval India & ancient India are also asked). Spectrum’s publishers “A brief history of Modern India” is a good source. I referred it both for prelims as well as mains exam (& spectrum was the only source I referred for covering history for Mains examination apart from two markers).
  • Geography for Prelims: I didn’t focus on it as geography was my first optional. But NCERT XI & XII textbooks are a good source. Focus should be on Geography of India. Also refer a good atlas – Oxford, TTK, Orient Black swan. I largely relied on Oxford.
  • Polity for Prelims: Used to skim through Vajiram Class notes on Polity. The same source was used for Mains examination.
  • Economy for Prelims: No special preparation. Just went through Vajiram Class notes. Mostly questions in prelims related to economy are current affairs oriented & covered under current affairs.
  • Science for Prelims: This section troubles many. Focus should be on Biology & especially selected areas like Genetics, Blood groups, Hormones, Vitamins etc. Just go through previous year question papers (esp. the one categorized by subject) & figure out trends. Good source for it is Lucent’s General Knowledge (cheap & good book for ready reference).

General Studies for Prelims (The Don’ts)

  • Don’t study from too many sources. I’ve seen a lot of aspirants getting in love with all sorts of books. They will study NCERT books from 6th to 12th standard, Bipin Chandra, Mishra & Puri for economics, Savindra Singh for geography (that too for GS!!!!), DD Basu & Subhash Kashyap for Polity…..n the list is endless. There is no problem in reading all this provided one is able to remember which usually not the case is. I’ve seen many aspirants taking up extensive studies (good enough to do PhD on that subject), but when prelims is one month away, they panic & get bogged down by the information that is to be remembered. I just referred NCERT of XI & XII (More specifically for Modern India in History & Geography of India only). Please study less but study effective.
  • Many aspirants cover India Year Book from cover to cover. I never did it. Infact I never read it for Prelims but selectively referred it for Mains exam only. Selective for me meant I finished it in one day, skimming some possible two markers.
  • Economic Survey should also be skimmed. Don’t get into minor details. Just get a feel. That too for Mains exam. I never referred Eco Survey for Prelims.

General Studies for Mains Examination

  • I would recommend aspirants to join atleast one test series. Joining test series in optionals is not that important but in case of General Studies it is pretty useful (again a personal opinion). The contribution of test series in improving performance is less because of improvement in knowledge & more because of better time management. Many & yes many (including myself in my first attempt) are not able to complete GS paper because they mismanage time. Joining test series will help one time his/her performance & also help one to write the answers around the word limit range.
  • I took test series at Shriram’s IAS in 2008 attempt & at Expert Brains (Ajit Sinha) in 2009 attempt. Both are good. The model answers of Shriram are better as they are crisp. The downside of Shriram’s test series was that it covers usually only one subject at a time & full length mocks in the end, so one might loose touch with the subject. Ajit Sinha on the other hand, covers multiple subjects (history, polity, social issues etc) in a single mock. But I liked the model answers of Shriram’s IAS more. Take your call but would recommend you join one. It’s almost a must for those writing Mains examination for the first time.
  • Focus on Two markers because usually you know or don’t know them. Write 3-4 points in two markers (offcourse if you know it). You can separate the information bits by semicolons to pack information.
  • Write answers pointwise. One can provide more information by writing the answers pointwise with an introduction & conclusion of 1-2 lines. Not all answers can be attempted pointwise though (For e.g. in 2009 attempt G.S. paper I, the questions from history were based on quotations & one has to answer them paragraph wise).
  • Reading Newspaper regularly has become a must with the changing trend (In 2009 attempt I could answer questions like “Whereabouts” clause of WADA, Extra Vehicular Activity, Plural Society etc just because I remembered information from Newspaper). Hindu Newspaper is your best bet followed by Times of India. I read both.
  • Try to give multi-dimensional perspective.
  • History for Mains Exam: Spectrum Publisher’s “A brief history of modern India”. Referred Bipin Chandra for 2-3 topics (the rise of the left wing, Indian capitalists & the national movement, long term strategy of the national movement…chapters which I couldn’t find in Spectrum). Even if you don’t read Bipin Chandra it will do. Spectrum is a good source.
  • Polity for Mains Exam: Vajiram’s Class notes
  • Geography for Mains Exam: It was my optional so I didn’t focus. NCERT of XI, XII should suffice. Don’t know whether Vajiram’s Class notes are good in this area or not. Please check yourself.
  • National & Social Issues: Vajiram’s Class Notes
  • Science & Technology: Vajiram’s Class Notes. Focus on “Emerging Technologies” like Graphene etc. Also make sure you cover areas which got Nobel Prize (E.g. Spintronics & question on Green Fluorescent Proteins in the last two years were asked as Nobel was awarded in that field). Track technology in News (E.g. Hubble Telescope was asked as 5th mission went for it in 2009).
  • Economy for Mains Exam: Vajiram’s Class Notes. Try tracking some major indices like Global competitive Index etc as sometime direct question is asked.
  • Current & International Issues: Current Affairs Classroom notes of Vajiram (conducted in September every year).
  • Statistics: Spectrum’s Book on Statistics. If you have Vajiram’s Yellow book on Statistics (That will also do). But practice a lot as time management is very important.

Some More Pointers for General Studies in Mains Examination:

  • Don’t Bluff. If you don’t have any clue to any two markers or long question, just leave it. If you answer it, you are just satisfying yourself. The examiner will most probably give you a zero & it also spoils impression. Moreover you might not have time for later questions which you could have answered properly.
  • In Paper II especially don’t bluff at all. Last year I left two 10 markers completely & saved time for Stats. I actually saved 45 minutes for stats & managed to attempt for 31 out of 35 marks. Moreover if you complete stats & still have time, you can always revisit the question you left in the first go.
  • In statistics, attempt the numerical question first & the graphical questions later as it saves time (Provided you are equally comfortable with both).
  • Events that have completed silver, golden, platinum jubilee are important (E.g. Television completed fifty years & was asked in 2009 attempt. In 2010 mains possible questions could be on RBI as it celebrates Platinum Jubilee etc & many more). While studying for prelims mark out such topics for studying later during mains.
  • Yojana Magazine is a must. Last year I could answer the question on “Integrated Energy Policy” as it was as it is mentioned in Yojana.
  • Refer Important National & International Award winners (E.g. Deep Joshi & Satya Vrat Shastri were asked in 2009 attempt).
  • I covered two markers from many different sources. Will post my personally typed two markers soon.

Will be posting details on Geography & Psychology soon…….Will also post some two markers later. If I am not able to post the link of two markers & other materials then I'll email it to you. Please drop your email id in the comments section. I’ll mail the material to you. Thanks for bearing me till this point. Godspeed.