Aishwarya Sheoran, who cracked the prestigious Civil Services examination 2019 in her first attempt, shares her journey and what exactly she did to crack the exam.
– Written by Aishwarya Sheoran
Over the past few days, a lot has been written and said about my UPSC journey. I know how it feels to be on the other side when you are preparing or deciding to start. For all those inspired by my success, here’s a heartfelt and honest description of what I did and feel in the past two years.
Initial Phase: From May 1-15, I just spent time understanding the exam pattern, watching Mrunal videos on how to read the newspaper. Also, read geography NCERT for an entire day to figure out how much time can I actually study without getting zoned out. Came out with the 10+8+6 formula – that is 10 hours study, 8 hours sleep, six hours everything else.
- From May 16-June 30, I finished relevant NCERTs, and gave a read to Laxmikanth and history. By this time, I started to make notes from newspapers but still could not answer any questions from the books I had completed.
Phase 2: Revision
I started reading new subjects including geography, society etc during the first half of the day. The second half was devoted completely to the revision of at least three books which I had read in the previous phase and two for current affairs. I changed the way I made current affairs notes. Now, I first made them from Insight current affairs, then go on Indian Express app to see any essay punchlines from editorials and finally go through The Hindu to see if there’s anything left – all in 40 minutes. By the end of July, I started gaining some confidence in the polity, government schemes, history, and culture but geography was still pretty bad.
Phase 3: Optional Subject
This phase was dedicated to optional subject – Economics. From August to October, my main focus shifted to optional and I did no new GS topics. Only revised the ones already read along with current affairs. I also started doing one chapter each of polity, history, geography etc along with government schemes.
Phase 4: Back to GS
In November and December, my focus was back on GS as optional first reading and concept clarity was over. Revision went on as usual but with a greater focus on current affairs-revised them on that day itself and then again every Saturday. The new year was bringing new hopes and I finally felt ready for answer writing.
Phase 5- Answer writing
I joined the Vision IAS test series for GS and found that my papers were getting completed in 4.10 hours. Along with these, I would also practice one or two questions from Insights secure and scribble the rest to check the answers. Despite best efforts, I could not reduce my time beyond 3.40 hours till March.
PHASE 6: Prelims
April was all about prelims — learning specific facts, map exercises for geography, and compilations of Vision IAS, however, I was still in touch with my optional subject for at least 30 minutes each day to do an overview of one chapter from each book. The prelims was held on June 2 and I had practiced about 25 test papers available free online by each within 1.30 hours. My plan was a simple-practice test in the morning, revise the answers in the evening and again on Saturday. On Saturdays, I also used to focus on current affairs. No new current affairs were added in April.
Phase 7 – Prelims-Mains interface
After the prelims was over, I took a break of three days to recoup and was back in the game again. Answer writing, time management, keywords, and presentation is of paramount importance in this phase. I joined the Bliss point test series for economics along with my Vision Ias Essay and GS online mocks.
For essay and ethics, I took out half-an-hour to practice rough outline and brainstorming. This, and a 20-minute audio recording of quotations on various topics in my own voice which I used to play every morning during the workout. This made it fun and easy to tackle. I filtered out all the trivial prelims current affairs and made a handy list of facts on education, health, etc which I could use in answers.
My slow handwriting was the elephant in the room. About 15 days before my mains, I realised that I would have to find another way to finish my papers. This realisation took me to the world of flowcharts, diagrams, arrows, points, and one-line intro and conclusions. For different topics, my answer writing differed. Science was just facts in points, ethics was little paras, security was map diagrams, and so on. Seven minutes for 10 marks questions and about 10 minutes for 15 marks questions was the ideal goal for me.
PHASE 8 – Post Main
Just like prelims, I was back after a three-day break. Full of optimism, I started devoting an hour to interview prep even before the results came out. When the list came in January and the detailed application form was filled up, I made a register for the interview writing every word on a separate page and the endless research began.
I attended one mock in February in the Shah IAS institute to get a brief idea about the whimsical UPSC interview. The feedback that I got was to stay the way I am and not look rehearsed, and so I was back to preparing on my own. Every evening, I pestered everyone in the family to sit as panel members for a mock. Turns out, this was more nerve-wracking than the official interview in UPSC.
Phase 9 – Interview
Going to Delhi alone was a conscious decision to avoid extra pressure and also not to make my parents wait outside for so long. I knew this was a test I had to face alone no matter how nervous I was.
I was the second to face the interview. I sat and the 30-minute interview began. Once inside, a sense of comfort and familiarity bestowed upon me. Questions on US-India trade deal, education policy, infrastructure were mostly due to my economics background. The chairman noticed my birth state Haryana and threw in a khap panchayat question.
The only peculiar question was about the saree a lady member was wearing which I obviously could not identify but nevertheless praised her as it was indeed a beautiful pink saree. When I came out, relief and smile were the two expressions on my face along with the inner satisfaction of giving it all.
Phase 10 – Waiting for the results
I was trapped inside because of the pandemic. But thanks to my brother, I have not missed out on a single worth watching movie or web series. Right from Breaking Bad to Better Call Saul to Sherlock to Prison break, I have seen it all. Studies went on as usual following the 10+8+6 approach. When the result was finally announced, I received it in the most non glamorous style – I sweeping the floor when I got the result. A little bit of luck and two years of leaving no stone unturned final paid off.