UPSC Civil Services: All you need to know if you want to appear in the exam

Jan 13, 2022 12:41 PM IST

Every Year lakhs of students appear at the Civil Services Exam, and only around 750 to 900 candidates are selected (depending on the vacancy) in the final merit list.

Union Public Service Commission is the constitutional body established under Article 315 of the Indian Constitution which conducts examinations for appointments to the services of the Union Government. Civil Services Examination (CSE) is one of the most reputed examinations of the country, that is conducted by the UPSC in addition to various other exams. 

Via CSE, UPSC recruits officers under three categories – All India Services, Group A Civil Services, and Group B Civil Services.

Ideally, the UPSC CSE syllabus needs 18 months for completion, including the preparation for Mains, which is subjective.(Pic for representation)
Ideally, the UPSC CSE syllabus needs 18 months for completion, including the preparation for Mains, which is subjective.(Pic for representation)

The number of posts depends on the vacancies in these services. (In the year 2020 there were 796 vacancies, in 2019 it was 896, in2018 it was 782, while in 2017 it was 980.)

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The CSE exam is conducted in three stages – Prelims, Mains, and Interview. Those who qualify for Prelims are allowed to appear in Mains, and similarly, those who qualify in Mains are allowed to appear in the Interview, which is the final stage of the exam. The final Merit list is released based on the marks obtained by the candidates in Mains and Interview.

Services Under UPSC CSE

The Civil Services exam is conducted to recruit officers under three categories - All India Services, Group A Civil Services, and Group B Civil Services. All India Services includes - Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS), and Indian Forest Service (IFoS).

Group A Civil Services includes - Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IAAS), Indian Civil Accounts Service (ICAS), Indian Corporate Law Service (ICLS), Indian Defence Accounts Service (IDAS), Indian Defence Estates Service (IDES), Indian Information Service (IIS), Indian Ordnance Factories Service (IOFS), Indian Communication Finance Services (ICFS), Indian Postal Service (IPoS), Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS), Indian Railway Personnel Service (IRPS), Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS), Indian Revenue Service (IRS), Indian Trade Service (ITS), and Railway Protection Force (RPF).

Group B Civil Services includes - Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service; Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Service (DANICS); Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Police Service (DANIPS), Pondicherry Civil Service; and Pondicherry Police Service.

The Right Time to Start UPSC Preparation

Every Year lakhs of students appear at the Civil Services Exam, and only around 750 to 900 candidates are selected (depending on the vacancy) in the final merit list. The selection rate dictates that the candidates need to be the best to qualify. It is thus advisable that candidates start preparing for the exam as early as possible.

Ideally, the UPSC CSE syllabus needs 18 months for completion, including the preparation for Mains, which is subjective. The Mains Paper requires candidates to write answers to some of the toughest questions – which include commentary on the most burning and challenging issues faced by society and administrators across the world.

The UPSC Preparation needs one to have a thorough knowledge, writing, and comprehensive skills. Even if one is not preparing directly for the UPSC and might in the school or university, focus on the development of these skills (including communication and speaking skills), it will go long way in helping students during the UPSC preparation.

A candidate should start preparing the basics and develop the habit of reading newspapers and being aware of diverse issues during their graduation. They should also participate in various co-curricular activities to develop various facets of their personality. Remember, UPSC CSE preparation is as much knowledge and as its creative and innovative application.

Does the background in graduation affect selection in UPSC?

The student's background in graduation might help you in preparing for UPSC CSE, however, most students have some advantages. Students from arts backgrounds might find some of the sections of the syllabus relatively easy to master, while students from science and other backgrounds might find some other sections familiar.

Further, the syllabus needs students to have a general overview of various disciplines namely history, geography, polity, science and tech, economics, society, international relations, public administration, and disaster management. It, therefore, ensures that students from any background will encounter some sections that are completely new to them.

How much time is required for UPSC preparation?

The UPSC Syllabus is vast and the paper pattern tests the aptitude, reasoning, reading, comprehension, and writing skills at various stages of the exam. Above all, it tests the suitability of candidates for public administration posts, and thus includes the test of their understanding of various disciplines, issues, and challenges faced by the country and world at large.

Any candidate will thus need to have a firm background to start the preparation. This can be achieved by mastering the basics from the NCERTs of class 6th to 12th. This itself will need around 3 months of study. The reading of the subject-specific advanced text should be then picked, which usually takes around 9 to 10 months to master.

This should be followed by extensive practice of both objective-type questions for Prelims and answer writing for Mains. Depending on a student's habits and abilities, it takes aspirants between 12 months to 18 months of dedicated study to master the complete syllabus, to crack the exam.

Is UPSC Exam for You?

Cracking the UPSC CSE exam is just the start and initiation into the public service. The road ahead will need you to be more able to handle various complex issues of the society and country at large.

No civil servant would be able to perform well and give his/her best if not motivated and propelled by the mission to bring about change in society or implement better public policy and administration.

It would also be wrong to suggest that all aspirants have the same motivation to start with. However, the awareness of various issues during the preparation sets the background for many.

Many aspirants find their motivation and purpose to enter the civil services during their preparation journey. A general interest in the public issue and governance can however be considered as the sign to enter or start your UPSC preparation.

Remember, sometimes the purpose comes to you while you start walking the path, it’s not always the other way round.

The Right Technique for Preparation

As UPSC tests you on various parameters and the exam requires you to master various skills, the preparation strategy is essentially individual. If you are good at writing, you might need less time to master answer writing, and might need more time to prepare for Prelims. It’s the reason why some candidates find Prelims to be tough, while others find Mains or Interview to be a hurdle.

However, there are some things which a student needs to do as hygiene. First, before starting the preparation, he/she must go through the NCERTs or school books of any other board, to prepare the foundation and brush up on basics to start the preparation. Second, he/she must revise the syllabus multiple times and practice answer writing and tests regularly to ensure that you get the concepts right and can attempt the question in exam hall well in time.

Third, you need to be an avid reader and should remain up to date with the happenings and issues in the country and around the globe. The UPSC is searching for Public Administrators and therefore you must your own opinion on various aspects of the social, national, and international issues.

However, combining all these are important and that is where you need personalized guidance and mentorship to be able to effectively complete your preparation and be exam ready. The know-how to crack the exam is as important as the knowledge acquired during preparation.

Apart from these the daily habits and routines need to be accommodated into your plan. Your UPSC plan should be inclusive of your life, and you should allocate and plan for the proper time to sleep and rejuvenate yourself. Prepare yourself for the long haul. UPSC requires the last bit of your patience and dedication. Prepare accordingly.

The Trick is to Enjoy the Process

The dedication and toiling needed for the UPSC preparation might seem draining. But if propelled by a sense of mission and dedication, it might as well be fun and personal development.

The aspirants who are driven by such zeal are found to enjoy the process, be more consistent and crack the exam easily compared to others who lack it. The trick is to find the key areas in the syllabus that interest you dedicate some time to them daily.

It will both rejuvenate you and will help you enjoy the process. The selection of the optional subject for mains as per one’s interest is therefore recommended. It is also suggested to have some hobby and pursue it once in a while during your preparation journey. It will also help you in Mains, as interviewing board loves to ask aspirants about their hobbies and how they pursue them.

How to gain the upper hand?

When lakhs of aspirants are preparing it is obvious to ask how to gain extra marks in the exam or have the upper hand in the interview? The trick is simple to do what others are not doing. You should be more proactive in seeking more and understanding the core of the issues in news and the topics in the syllabus.

When you find a new issue or happening – ask and know what, how, when, where, and what next. Using the technology will dig a bit more into the issues and understand the core of happenings. It is the general interest in the issues and happenings, that will give you the upper hand compared to others.

What if you didn’t make it?

Let’s address the elephant in the room for once and all. Lakhs of aspirants prepare for the exam, and so all cannot make it. What if happen to be one among them? This question troubles many of the aspirants and they fear to address it. Then we have suggestions like – ‘if you have a plan B, you have no plan at all’ crop up.

Know that even if you don’t make it to the final list, it's not the end of the world. Know that after the preparation you will not be the same. The UPSC preparation is in a way reward in itself.

After the preparation, you will know a lot more than anyone who never prepared for UPSC. You will be knowing the world history, politics, geography, economy, ethical principles, various philosophers, and revolutionists. Also, you will be a master of your optional subject. In a way, you will be a better citizen, better equipped to address the issues of the society and course to get a job in some other field or related field.

Aspirants can either explore jobs in other fields once they are out of their attempts or even while they are preparing. There have been numerous examples of aspirants who quit their jobs to prepare, or who qualified while working or went ahead to make a great career after they were not able to qualify.

Maintaining a positive outlook of life, and having clarity of purpose will always propel you to have a good life. Remember, it is never late to start, may it be any field you want to venture into.

(Author Chandrahas Panigrahi is co founder of Edukemy. Views expressed here are personal.)

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