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
Myth: Certain optionals have better prospects at the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
More Resources on Civil