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Civil services: Myths & Realities

 
Civil Services Aspirants are faced with many a dilemma. The tremendous prestige of the examination has created an aura about the examination and given rise to many half-baked truths, which heighten the sense of awe. In this article, an attempt is being made to dispel certain popular “myths” by confronting them with the corresponding “realities”.

Myth: The Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is the best service to which one can be selected through the Civil Service Examination (CSE). Hence, one should only aim for the IAS and no other service.
Reality: The IAS is undoubtedly among the best services. However, there are other services, which are equally important and satisfying. Hence, it is necessary to have some idea of career opportunities in other services.

Myth: There is too much political interference in the IAS and the IPS.
Reality: Both the IAS and the IPS are services in which one come in close contact with the people. Decisions taken directly or indirectly by IAS and IPS officers have considerable impact on the common man. Any position in which a lot of authority is vested is bound to have controls too. The more important the position the greater the control. This applies equally to private and public sectors. It is a fallacy to imagine that the private sector offers a great degree of independence. The top positions in the private sector are also subject to control or interference in some form or the other.

Myth: Only highly intelligent students with an excellent academic record are successful at the CSE.
Reality: How does one measure intelligence? Can we call someone highly intelligent just because he/she scores 100% in Mathematics or Physics at the 10th Class level? Or do we call a student who has consistently secured a first division intelligent? The fact is, the notion of intelligence is susceptible to varied definitions.
However that may be, a survey conducted a few years back indicated that most of the successful aspirants had secured only a second division in graduation. So while a high academic score is a definite asset, a second or a third division in no way hits your chances. You may yet prove yourself.

Myth: Certain optionals have better prospects at the Preliminary.
Reality: The UPSC offers 23 optionals at the Preliminary. All optionals offer equal chances of success. Usually the “proportionate method of representation” is followed. This method may be explained as follows:
Total no. candidates appearing at the examination with various optionals = 1,00,000
Total no. of candidates to be selected for the Main Examination = 10,000
Candidates taking History = 20,000
Minimum representation to be secured of candidates who have opted for History = 2,000.
Thus every optional is weighted proportionally.

Myth: A large number of candidates are opting for optional ‘X’. Hence it is better to take optional ‘Y’, which is chosen by very few candidates.
Reality: As explained, the number of candidates to be selected from a certain optional is directly proportional to the number of candidates who opt for it. If a large number of students opt for a particular discipline then the number of students taking it selected for the mains will be equally large. If a small number opt for a particular subject, the number selected will be correspondingly less.

Myth: Every optional has a ‘cut-off’ mark. Hence it is better to choose one with a low cut-off.
Reality: What do we mean by cut-off? Only 10,000 qualify at the preliminary. The marks scored by the last candidate mark the ‘cut-off’ Thus all candidates who score more than the cut-off will qualify and all those who don’t will not. You should remember that this is a competitive examination. There is no qualifying score. Whatever the marks, the first 10,000 candidates will qualify. Thus the cut-off point changes from year to year. If the questions are difficult the ‘cut-off’ mark automatically comes down.

Myth: The questions is optional ‘X’ are difficult and confusing. Hence it is better to opt for optional ‘Y’.
Reality: Once again, let us reiterate the obvious. This is a competitive examination. If the questions are difficult, every aspirant will score less and automatically the cut-off mark will be lower.

Myth: In previous years, the cut-off mark for optional ‘Y’ was low and hence it is better to opt for optional ‘Y’.
Reality: The UPSC does not declare any cut-off mark. Therefore, it is impossible to establish any cut-off in any year for any subject.

Myth: The General Studies paper accounts for only 150 marks whereas the optional paper amounts to 300. Therefore too much attention need not be given to General Studies.
Reality: While it is true that more attention has to be given to the optional, preparation for General Studies cannot be neglected. Remember, every mark counts and a single mark can make the difference between success and failure.

Myth: One need not choose the same subject for the Prelims and Mains.
Reality: While there is no stipulation that the same optional be chosen for the prelim and the mains, it is advisable to stick to one subject. To be able to answer the preliminary will, one has to do a through study of the subject-matter. This comes in handy if one opts for the same optional in the mains. If different optional are taken it would lead to a tragic waste of time.

Myth: When the same optional is chosen for the Prelim and the Mains one need not prepare separately for the Preliminary. Preparation for the Mains is sufficient.
Reality: At least 90% of the preliminary syllabus is included in the mains. However, there is a difference in approach. The Preliminary demands a micro approach requiring close acquaintance with details whereas the mains require a broad perspective. Hence different methods of preparation are called for.

Myth: In order to be successful at the Civil Services Examination an aspirant has to work for at least 16 hours a day.
Reality: While people claim long hours of study, yet it is doubtful whether 16 hours of intensive study is humanly possible. Remember, “it is not the number of hours that is important but the work that you put in those hours that is important”. Each one of us has a ”span of attention” and the preparation should be tailored accordingly. There is no need to obsessed with the number of hours.

Myth: The preliminary examination is a ‘gamble’. Whatever the level of preparation, one can never be sure of successful till the results are announced. Hence, it is better to commence preparation for the Mains, only after the Prelims.
Reality: Every competitive examination has a ‘chance’ factor. The Civil Services examination is no different. While, there is an element of chance it can be reduced to a large extent by well-directed effort. A student, who has prepared in the right direction, has 90% percent of chance of being successful. Moreover, the Mains exam is conducted 90 days after the declaration of the preliminary result. 90 days is ‘just not’ sufficient to prepare for two optionals, a General Studies paper and an Essay.

Myth: The provisions of reservation are not applied at the preliminary Examination
Reality: The provisions of reservations are applied at each stage of the examination, Otherwise; a proportional representation to the next stage is not possible.

Myth: Some optionals are paying at the Preliminary examination and are not paying at the Main examinination. Therefore, it is better to change optionals at the Main examination.
Reality: As mentioned in our previous article there is nothing like a ‘paying ’ and a ‘non paying ’ optional. This myth has been in circulation as some students who have done well at the Prelims with an option have failed to score high marks at the Main examination. This can be attributed to two reasons,
(a).Having thoroughly prepared for the optionals at the Preliminary level, the aspirant becomes complacent as he feels he knows the subject only ‘too well’ and can tackle the Mains with ease.
(b).The aspirant lacks the required writing skills. The Preliminary examination being a multiple-choice type, required a thorough familiarity with the subject. Language skills are not required at this stage. The Mains examinations, especially in the social sciences is dependent upon the adequate writing skills (which are based on one’s command over the language) along with knowledge of the subject. If an aspirant does not have the writing skills he will obviously not score well.

Myth: An aspirant has to have a deep insight into the optional in which he is appearing at.
Reality: Experience of successfull candidates has disproved this largely accepted fact. Aspirants who have not had adequate time to grasp the nuances of the subject have also scored high. Perhaps this is because of good writing skills and a proper approach to the subject. The trend of scores in the previous examinations indicates that the UPSC expects a general level of knowledge in any optional rather than a scholarly attitude.

Myth: The general essay paper does not require any special prepartion.
Reality: This was the case till a few years back. Candidates with a Social Science background especially those with Sociology or Public Administration had a distinct advantage at the essay paper. Out of the 8 topics mentioned in the question paper at least two topics had a significant overlap with Public Administration or Sociology. The 1998 paper was different. All the topics were of a general nature and no candidate had an advantage. If the same trend continues, preparation is imperative.

Myth: The general essay paper has been introduced to the disadvantage of a student with a 'pure' science background.
Reality: The general essay paper has been introduced to check the competence of the student in drafting skills. The marks scored by the aspirants, in the previous examinations clearly indicates that it is not necessary to have flowery or bombastic language to score high. The general essay is GENERAL as the name indicates. Good command over the language and good writing skills are definitely assets, but need not be regarded as necessities. Clear and Cogent expression is rewarded and even a student of pure sciences can score high. Hence none has an unfair advantage.

Myth: The compulsory language papers are only qualifying and do not require any preparation.
Reality: The compulsory papers viz., a modern Indian language and English are only qualifying i.e., an aspirant has to score the minimum pass marks in these subjects. However one cannot take it for granted. For example, a student appearing at the examination from Andhra Pradesh tends to choose his mother tongue i.e., Telugu as his modern Indian language. Usually, a student has been educated in English medium looses touch with writing skills in Telugu after his Xth standard and while we could be very fluent in speaking the language, writing is an entirely different skill.
Instances are not lacking where aspirants who were categorised as the 'most probable' have failed to qualify in the language papers. Moreover, the questions are becoming tougher year by year. Thus, it is safe to prepare for qualifying paper. The qualifying paper in English need not be prepared for if one has been educated in English medium.

-Braintree
 

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