Get set to crack the revamped CSE

Get set to crack the revamped CSE

Preparing for the Civil Services Examination (CSE) is a long-term process that should begin in a student’s sophomore year (the term ‘sophomore’ is valid in US setting only, and means the second year of college). That is the period when students start looking at their career-dreams, capability-expectations and resource-possibilities, all in one plane. Allow me to begin this article by comparing the new scheme of Civil Services Examinations (CSE) with the earlier one. Since the change is only in the preliminary round for this year, i.e., Civil Services Preliminary Examinations (CSPE), let us analyse, how the sophomore Indian student is looking at and could proceed towards the CSE.

Earlier, most students opted away because of either: (i) CSE’s path-to-success looked long, tiresome, intricate and unachievable to them; (ii) opportunities otherwise, such as a corporate life, profession oriented stability, and early potential to good earnings, etc., lured them away.

With no optional subject at the preliminary examination of CSE now, I expect lakhs of new applicants to look at CSE with a realistic chance. With the newly conceived aptitude test (i.e., CSAT Paper-II), aspirants who opted out earlier, can now keep CSE in their scheme of things.

This will increase the competition both quantitatively and qualitatively in the CSE. There could be 7-8 lakh applicants beyond CSE 2013. By CSE 2015 the overall traffic is likely to stabilise at 5 lakh+ applications.

How to plan for the CSE

There is no readymade formulae for success for CSE aspirants. However, they need to devise a strategy suitable for them, depending on their situational and societal aspects, inherent or acquired capabilities, and available or possible resources.
Some students may need more ‘information’ and others more ‘wisdom’. Some others may say that ‘multitasking’ is important, and some may feel that ‘control of their attention or concentration’ is the most important of their challenges. Therefore, students may feel a one-size-fits-all plan ineffective. That is why CSE aspirants should plan out strategies on their own.

But, that does not mean that they depend fully on their untested strategies and expect results. They should run their strategies past their teachers or mentors, and tweak them if necessary.

First, try to formulate what will be the ideal time for you to begin preparation, how to prepare (self-study or at an institute), what subjects to opt for, what knowledge resources to latch on to, and what milestones to reach during different points of time during this journey. Simple decisions, like what coaching institute to join will require much thinking because of geographical, financial, time-specific, social and language specific constraints, etc. Only aspirants themselves can work out how to deal with such constraints.

So, formulate a plan, which is calendarized, and has clearly marked milestones and check-points. There has to be scope for alternative plans (Plan-Bs) attached to the big plan. Get expert advice on your plan. Understand how you can incorporate suggestions and move on your journey in a disciplined mode. Get the environment around you, especially people, understand your priorities and show them that you are putting in serious efforts to implement your strategies. Keep interacting with serious students – understand what they are doing better and what their strategies result in.

Preliminary Test

Understand the format of the exam.

There are two papers, Paper-I (General Studies) and Paper-II (General Aptitude). The duration of each paper is two hours and there will be 100 questions in each paper. Both the question papers will be of objective type (multiple choice questions). The question papers will be set both in Hindi and English. However, questions relating to English Language Comprehension skills of Class X level will be tested through passages from English language only without providing Hindi translation thereof in the question paper. Each paper will be of two hours duration.

Understand the syllabus of the exam

General Studies (Paper–I) Current events of national and international importance; History of India and Indian National Movement; Indian and World Geography - Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World; Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.;
Economic and Social Development – Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc; General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialisation;  General Science
General Aptitude (Paper - II) Comprehension; Interpersonal skills including communication skills; Logical reasoning and analytical ability ; Decision-making and problem solving; General mental ability; Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude, etc.) (Class X level); Data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. - Class X level); English Language Comprehension skills (Class X level)


Understand the scoring pattern of the exam

The examination will have two compulsory papers of 200 marks each. There will be penalty (negative marking) for wrong answers marked by a candidate in the objective type question papers except some of the questions where the negative marking will be inbuilt in the form of different marks being awarded to most appropriate and not so appropriate answer for such questions. There are four alternatives for the answers to every question. For every wrong answer one third (0.33) of the marks assigned to that question will be deducted as penalty. If a candidate gives more than one answer, it will be treated as a wrong answer even if one of the given answers happens to be correct and there will be the same penalty as above for that question. If a question is left blank there will be no penalty for that question.

Look around for the best knowledge resources for Paper – I and II. As of now it seems as if Paper-I could be more knowledge intensive, and Paper-II more practice intensive. This means, you may need different strategies for both the papers. For instance, one may need to read and remember more information on various components of general studies. The challenge would be the resources for the new topics introduced in this paper. For General Aptitude, one may require more practice on the different types of questions. There are still many new topics for which there is a dearth of conceptual and practice material. 

Plan strategically, as per your capabilities and interest. It is advisable to slice-up the syllabus and follow a time-bound learning pattern.

A disciplined approach will fetch you the best results. So, plan your daily and weekly routines, and adhere to the calendarized milestones. Avoid stiff targets if you cannot manage them as it may result in floats that you will not be able to cover.  Also, loose stuffing of the weekly plan will leave you with too much to cover at the end. So, plan judiciously and adhere to it.

Manage your time well

How much one manages time depends upon where one is in one’s life cycle, which today has a wider variation than ever, say, ten years ago. Therefore, the availability of preparation time, research and tutorial time, and so on depends on the management of life style or say, goal prioritisation. As each day is spent more efficiently, more can be achieved in the short run, as well as greater long-range work and goals that are more personal can be accomplished. That will add up to a more fulfilling life and of course, a planned and smooth path towards scoring high in the exam.

Discuss with teachers and other students the results of various strategies/resources they are using. As the micro-analysis of syllabus and format is not possible, it is advisable to discuss what others are doing. Read and listen to experts and other candidates.

However, it is advisable to analyse expert advice and reaction on these, before accepting or trashing them. A dynamic approach at continuously toning up your strategy will help you stay ahead of the competition.

 (The writer is an expert on competitive examinations in India and has authored the book CSAT Manual 2011)

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