Thursday, December 27, 2012

Preparation: Some Personal Reflections

Strategies apart there are times when studying and preparing for the civil services can really take a toll on you, emotional, physical and mental.  So I thought I would share some thoughts on what I went through during the preparation. I don’t know if this will be useful, but I just felt like writing. Partly to relieve the nostalgia of my days of struggle, partly to just write and hopefully to inspire.

 I began my preparation with all earnestness in October 2008, two months after I got my degree from the Chief Justice of India. I came to Delhi to attend coaching classes at Vajiram and Ravi for General Studies and for Public Administration from Synergy. I had decided that since I did not take up a job and wanted to do this full time, I may as well take up coaching. (However as a disclaimer considering this blog is read by aspirants I want to make it clear that coaching helps but is not a necessity, as there are many who without coaching get though the exam)

 Further, the fact that my father lived in Delhi helped plus the fact that my closest friends from Law School were in the same city.  So with all earnestness and a lot of luck I got admissions in Vajiram and Ravi (after standing in the queue for about two hours in a line that stretched to two blocks and after a friend called at 3 AM in the morning telling me to hurry and get to Old Rajinder Nagar because people had started standing in the queue from 12 AM). Nowadays the admission process is simpler, being online.

So I based myself out of ORN taking a house near Shankar Road.  My days in Old Rajinder Nagar in Delhi would begin typically by reading the newspapers the first thing in the morning. Tea and breakfast would accompany newspaper reading. I can still recall the fresh smell on print ink from the pages of The Hindu and The Indian Express. For me this was the best part of the day because unlike text books, the newspaper had always something interesting to say. Interspersed between the pages were ads for coaching classes, tiffin services both North Indian Food and South Indian. I read the newspaper hungrily trying to grasp whatever information I could get.  At first I would even take cuttings, based on what the syllabus prescribed and also on what I felt important. However after a point this got tedious and tiresome and I soon found out that I lot of time went in this laborious task. Studying economics for the GS paper and being reminded on the concept of marginal utility reinforced this point and so I stopped taking newspaper cuttings, instead maintaining a small notebook where I jotted important facts in brief. So about an hour of newspaper reading and then the mornings from about three hours I spent studying law, reading Shukla and Starke and the bare acts – the Contract Act.  My studying would involve reading the text books and then making my own notes after about two readings based on the previous years question papers. In my time, Prelims exam still had optional papers so I first covered those portions of the syllabus which was common to the Prelims and Mains syllabus.

After lunch, my classes would begin in Vajiram at 2:30 and then from there I would again rush to Karol Bagh after 4:30, to just make it to class at 5:00 PM at Synergy with Mohanty. Being late and considering the enormous size of the classes I would end up sitting in the backseat.  It was difficult at first to concentrate, but after a few days I began to love to last benches. It gave me a sense of anonymity I felt and also a bird’s eye view of the entire class. I could concentrate better, thinking to myself that the words uttered by the teacher took a longer time to reach me and hence digested better in my head. The fact that my friend H, also sat with me helped because we could chat or laugh to rid ourselves of the monotony sometimes.

Then I would be back in time for dinner, tired and exhausted. After dinner it was impossible to get down to books again but in my head I tried to recall and revise some of the things that were taught in class, going through the thick spiral notepads, which everyone in ORN seemed to possess. 
This went on for about six months with classes ending in March.  I was tired after the coaching was over, but this was only the groundwork and there was more to come. I kept telling myself the civil service exams was like a marathon and till now I had only done the ground work, the  warm up exercise which an athlete has to necessarily do. The first race was still two months away in May, the elimination round and I was happy that I still had two months to prepare.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Life in the Academy

Here is a link to the video shown on Doordarshan on life in the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Indian Constitution

My close friend Madhav Khosla, who was my classmate at National Law School, Bangalore and is currently a PhD candidate in political theory at Harvard University has authored a book - The Indian Constitution (Oxford University Press, 2012).

The book is part of the Oxford India Short Introductions and provides a lucid introduction to the Indian Constitution, dealing thematically with topics like Separation of Powers, Federalism, Rights and Amendments. The book will be very useful for civil service aspirants as it would provide a deeper understanding of the the Constitution. At present students studying polity for the GS paper use either PM Bakshi or DD Basu. This book would be a very good addition as it not only deals with issues in a thematic fashion but also provides an understanding of how the constitution has evolved. For those with Law as one of the optionals I would highly recommend the book.

A review of the book can which appeared recently in Frontline be found here and it is available for order on flikpkart.

This is is what appears in the front and back covers of the book:

Giving identity to over a billion people, the Indian Constitution is one of the world's great political texts. Drafted over six decades ago, its endurance and operation have fascinated and surprised many. In this short introduction, Madhav Khosla brings to light its many features, aspirations, and controversies. How does the Constitution separate power between different political actors? What form of citizenship does it embrace? And how can it change? In answering questions such as these, Khosla unravels the document's remarkable and challenging journey, inviting readers to reflect upon the theory and practice of constitutionalism in the world's largest democracy.

"Written in clear, jargon-free prose, this critical study will be a marvellous resource for lawyers and non-lawyers alike." - Justice Ruma Pal, Former Judge, Supreme Court of India

"A wonderful introduction to an exciting subject. Khosla presents an analytical and deeply insightful account of one of the landmark constitutions of our time." - Justice Aharon Barak, Former Chief Justice of Israel

"The Indian Constitution anchors India's political identity and has shaped the country's destiny-though not always in ways the founders anticipated. Yet, for all its formal centrality and its easy invocation by disparate political projects, the ambiguities of its commitments and the vicissitudes of its history remain little understood. In this remarkable book ... Madhav Khosla compels us to think seriously both about the fitful evolution of constitutional interpretation and about the place acquired by the Constitution in our democratic life. Khosla's outstanding book is far and away the most stimulating introduction to the life of our Constitution: and it signals the arrival of an important new voice in our intellectual life." - Sunil Khilnani, author of The Idea of India

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Writing an Essay

How to prepare for the essay, is one question that many of us have been asked several times. Many of us did not prepare for it at all and relied on our general readings for writing the essay. It is very difficult to prepare for the essay paper since, one has no clue as to the kind of topics that might be asked. The best way to prepare for it is: to read newspapers and magazines regularly and to keep oneself fully abreast with the current affairs.

You may keep following points in mind while writing the essay:

1. Choosing the right topic is extremely important. You should choose the topic you are familiar with. It does not matter if the entire world is writing on the same topic. Never ever fall for exotic topics unless you have the necessary confidence and intellect to write well on that particular topic. There are no marks for brave attempt. Please remember that the marks in the essay fluctuate wildly (20 to 170-180). I wrote on SEZ and IS INDIA A SOFT STATE? for the main 2008 and 2009 respectively and got reasonably good marks.

2. Always stick to the topic. Do not let your creative imagination run wild. Try to Write simple and gramatically correct English. Do not write a long essay just for the heck of it. I wrote 8-9 pages (both sides included) both the times. Lenght of the essay is not important, content is.

3. Spend 30-40 minutes thinking over the topic and preparing the rough draft of the same in the point form. Note down all the relevant points and arrange them in the correct order. This would ensure that your essay is not only structured but also fairly comprehensive.

4. Write a good introduction. Give a brief outline of the essay in your introduction. A good introduction would set the tone of the essay and would get the reader interested. Write a balanced conclusion. Always end on an optimistic note and try and come out with solutions to the issues that you have adressed in your essay. Do not take a radical stand even on a contentious topic. Middle path is the best path. While constructive criticism is fine, do not overdo it and blame state for all the ills.

5. Cite contemporary instances and examples to make your essay more interesting and relevant. For instance, for the essay "Is India a Soft State?", I mentioned in brief the abduction of a Poilce Inspector in West Bengal by the Maoists and the debate about the nature of the Indian state that followed. (The newspapers had carried reports and editorials on the issue a day before the essay paper.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Passing on the buck

By Tanvi

The day I went to my alma mater, BIT Mesra I was asked alot of questions on whether to take Science/Engineering optionals , and about other Humanities my humble opinion no one person can guide you with regard to all the optionals and since my batchmates have put in an effort to explain their strategy via blogging...I would ask you to also refer to their blogs :

For Science/ Engineering optionals please refer to:


He is Rank 2 , a true techie, aimed for a 100% in his optionals MATHEMATICS and ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING and got it too :)


He is rank 24 and has given a comprehensive listing of books that he referred to in PHYSICS and CHEMISTRY

A question was asked by a BITian that, the common perception is once you take up science/engg optionals you face competition from answer would be- So what??

The point here is whether you are comfortable and super confident with your optionals,your concepts are clear,and are willing to work very very hard...

A non IITian who topped the CSE is a good example to draw from:

Muthyala Raju Revu(AIR 1, CSE 2007)

Thanks to Anay (rank 5) I got to know that Maitrey Kulkarni(rank 103) from our batch has MECHANICAL ENGINEERING though I have no blog details...maybe he could be contacted through the social networking sites facebook and orkut.

Some Engineers who took up humanities optionals:


AIR 5, He has exceptional marks in PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION and has discussed on his very well organised blog not only strategy for pub adm and PSYCHOLOGY but also sample notes,his mock test answer papers and inter alia the manner in which a newspaper reading should be done ....very detailed ....he has saved all of us alot of effort !! :D


AIR 13, She scored extremely well in HISTORY and PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION and has discussed respective booklists in her blog.

3.Tanvi Sundriyal...I have decent marks in Sociology (esp paper one,trying very hard to be modest here :D) so you can refer to the booklist and strategy I followed in this very blog.

Though for Paper II I would recommend another Engineer's blog


Rajiv Ranjan Singh(AIR 191) chose SOCIOLOGY and PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION and has given a detailed write up on the notes and books that he referred to in Paper II- Sociology

Also he is the only person that I know of who prepared and got through alongwith a job (in TATA STEEL) so he would be the best person to tell you how to prepare alongwith a job.

AIR 1 in CSE 2008 ,her blog was referred to by some of my friends esp for PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION...though now she doesnt write on CSE prep , older posts on her blog might be helpful.

A doctor (AIR 8)who took up SOCIOLOGY and PSYCHOLOGY has shared her personal experience,strategy,booklist , and stuff on answer writing and time management on

A MBA (rank 25) has shared notes and tips on Zoology(by a friend),Geography, Essay etc

Law graduates from NLS Bangalore Ashutosh Salil and Cyril have discussed LAW preparation on this very blog...

Hopefully my strategy of " Passing on the buck" has worked well for all of us!!! :)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

History by Aniket (IFS probationer)

It gives me great pleasure to introduce my batchmate Aniket Govind Mandavgane (IFS 2009) as a guest blogger here. Aniket is an engineering graduate and, as the post will reveal, a self confessed ‘history lover.’ He cracked the civils in his first attempt and got AIR 29. His post today is on the right approach to History as an optional in the Civil Services.
- Abu

My affair with History started when I was really young. I simply fell in love with history, so you may call it, ‘my first love’. But then, probably due to the hierarchy that we have created in our minds regarding the choice of courses after 12th std., I went for Mechanical Engineering and did not opt for History as a full-time subject for graduation. Still, I continued reading a lot of history. So, for me, History was a natural choice for the UPSC. Actually, studying history was one of the many things that kept me motivated during the examination process.

History is a subject that we have actually lived, through many generations and still continue to live everyday. It is full of plots and counter plots, desires and detachments, wars and peace, giant triumphs and utter failures, like a methodical chaos created by actions of different people, at different locations, at different points in time. Studying history is like ‘moving faster than the speed of light’ (Einstein says that if we move faster than light, then we can actually travel back and forth in time). It’s like being in a time machine. But all this is true only if you have a ‘real’ interest in the subject. Otherwise it can be an extremely dry subject, with enormous amount of facts to mug up and a huge syllabus spanning the entire known history of human existence on earth (although, somewhat limited)

History is such a subject on which umpteen books are available on each topic in the market. As the view of the past constantly changes, even the same facts can be interpreted differently. A candidate is not expected to conduct research on the subject but to master the various viewpoints and substantiate the viewpoint that one believe strongly in. E.H.Carr, while defining ‘what is history’, has noted that history is a ‘continuous dialogue’ between the past and the present. So, it is not just the past events that shape our present and our future, but also the present that changes the way we interpret history. This is especially reflected in the Nationalist school of historians as well as in the leftist or Marxist school of historians. So, according to me, having the ability to forge your opinion and sieve through different layers of history is also a necessary art to master the subject. The study of history reveals that there is no clear cut answer for anything. Since understanding history is based on individual--and therefore subjective--interpretation, you must decide for yourself what kind of meaning you will attach to the topic. Go into history with an open mind. Don't expect the answer to be presented to you as if written in stone. It's not.

It is sensible to start with manual for civil services (preliminary) history optional. Manuals by Krishna Reddy, Agnihotri as well as Pearson Manual are very good. Refer any one of these manuals according to your own choice. Apart from this, the most important books are the 11th and 12th std. NCERT books for Ancient India, Medieval India and Modern India. These books are a treasure-trove of information and insights into the subject and are to be read, not once or twice but as many times as time permits. Believe me, it won’t go waste. IGNOU Booklets are also an extremely good source to study history. The approach that I followed was to read the manual first, then read the books on the subject and finally read the manual again. Also constantly keep on solving multiple choice questions on the subject. They help a lot when you have to finish the syllabus in a short time and effectively.

I won’t spend any time on discussing the syllabus here. Just keep in mind that one must fine the central issue, tendency or idea in each period of history. It helps in analyzing the period and also in establishing the cause-effect relationships between different events. Eg. During the Mauryan Age, the most important tendency was that of centralization of power despite a huge bureaucracy. When we understand this tendency, it suddenly opens new avenues to analyze Ashoka’s policy of consolidation of the empire after the victory at Kalinga, by the use of Dhamma. Immediately, we start viewing the decision of Ashoka to turn towards Buddhism not as an emotional decision but as a political one. This is just one example. And again, my interpretation may be wrong. That’s why the emphasis on understanding the subject and developing your own opinion.

There is no unique strategy to study this subject. Primarily, this depends on your individual style of study. It is advisable to make notes, so that you can refer to them for prelims as well as mains. But I never had the habit of making notes throughout my student life and hence did not do so for UPSC too. I merely underlined important facts and issues in the book and wrote the gist of the entire paragraph in one or two words in the margin. This helps in making sure that you’ve actually understood the point as well as during revision time. Just keep it in mind, solve as many questions as you can. It helps.

In the Mains exam, there is a Map-marking question for 60 marks in Paper-1, which can help you in coming out with flying colours. To solve this question, keep on referring to the Atlas whenever you come across some site while reading the books and note down the importance of the site. Specially for this question I referred “History through Maps” by Ensemble. It’s a fairly good book, but ultimately nothing can beat your own maps (done while studying the subject).

Another important thing to bear in your mind is that History is an inter-connected subject, where the events occurring in one part of the world can have implications on events taking place in another. Don’t form water-tight compartments in your mind regarding the division of history as Indian History and World History, or Ancient, Medieval and Modern India. There is an invisible web of interconnections that runs though all this and we need to identify that web, which will become the USP of your answers. Eg. If you are asked to write about the Reasons behind the Charter Act of 1813, which substantially abolished the monopoly of East India Company over trade with India and China, everybody will know the events that occurred in India that made this move necessary. Also, most candidates will be aware of the happenings in British Parliament that necessitated this move. But only the person who has deciphered the web of interconnections will know that a main reason for the Charter Act of 1813 was the Continental Policy of Napoleon. Now, if you say that this is a part of world history, you’ll lose the USP of your answer to this question. So, use your knowledge to make the answer as unique as possible and find out the connections and causality.

Another thing about studying history for the UPSC is that we have to get rid of the notion that this is a subject about great kings, emperors, their grand empires and even grander victories or failures. It is actually all of this and much more. There is a saying in Sanskrit, “Yuddhasya katha ramya”, which means ‘we like to hear the stories of war’. They give us some kind of pleasure and arouse a lot of interest. But a major part of history is about society, the most downtrodden man and his life during the period, the condition of women, economy, advancements in culture, science, literature, arts etc. So, undoubtedly, there is a need to develop a ‘subaltern view’ of history. So choose the subject only if you feel interested by all of this.

Finally, all this is for those immortal souls who would like to understand the subject and enjoy mastering it. Keep this in your mind, ‘Master the subject, and marks will follow you’. But is there any other way of just clearing the exam without mastering the subject? Can you clear the exam with history as an optional without having the proper attitude or ever loving the subject? Of course you can. But why make life miserable for ourselves? Why not make the effort. Rather than go through the motions, make history a part of your life. After all, that's exactly what history is--it is your life.

Booklist :-

Ancient India
NCERT- Ancient India- R.S.Sharma
An Introduction to the study of Indian History - D.D.Kosambi
Early India - Romila Thapar
IGNOU Booklets on Ancient India
The Wonder that was India - A.L.Basham
The National Book Trust book on Ancient India

Medieval India
NCERT - Medieval India- Satish Chandra
Satish Chandra - Volume 1 & 2
J.L.Mehta- Volume 3
The Wonder that was India - Part 2 - S.H.Rizvi

Modern India
NCERT - Modern India - Bipin Chandra
India’s Struggle for Independence - Bipin Chandra
India After Independence - Bipin Chandra
A new look at Modern Indian History - Grover

Modern World
L.Mukhejee - Volume 1,2,3 on World history (Basically European history)
World History - Jain and Mathur

For Map question
History through Maps - Ensemble

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sociology Mains Preparation

Sorry guys for the delay in writing this post and though I would try my best to answer the various questions put forward by cse aspirants regarding sociology remember, I am only human....I did not make notes on every topic...nor did I cover every sub-topic in great detail...but what I made sure was that:

1.Before reading any notes or chaalu copy paste books I should be thorough with the original books (mentioned later)

2.Thinkers and Theories(say Theories of social change,of power etc.) should be done in great detail with elaborate notes,rest of the topics can be done via a single book(you could pull out/photocopy relevant chapters and put them alongwith your notes so that everything is in one place when you revise) or mere pointers can do (say for topics like Child Labour).

Warning:No notes should be made before a third reading of the chapter/book/source material especially for those who were, till they decided to plunge into cse preparation completely alien to the subject and its nuances.

3.These notes/pointers were to be made in the format of:
First Page-The Syllabus with the newly added topics (info for the newbeeies, the syllabus changed from 2008 Mains) highlighted (you can expect increased importance to be allotted to the newer topics in the exam)and sources referred to for the various sub-topics written alongwith a mention of whether you have written notes on it or not.

This will help you in cross referring the source books when you feel that there is something missing in your notes when you revise after a long time,or to ask doubts/search for new material 'cos you would know what you don't know ...very important since this would guide you in selecting which questions to answer in the final exam hour ( no one is allowed to there a choice in the question paper or even will it guide one in question selection!)

Second Page-All old questions including the 1980's ones(according to syllabus of course!)...if you notice some of the really old questions pertain to the newly added topics...bringing the changes made to a full circle! :)

Also, its important to know which sub topic can be interlinked with which other sub topic , which sub-topic requires more elaborate reading and note-making and which topics you cant afford to miss(some questions have been repeatedly asked indirectly or directly...)

All of this can only be gathered by a thorough analysis of the questions asked (preferably on your own) in the previous years so pay attention to the second page too !

Third Page- Now your note making starts...the elaborate notes and even pointers should follow this format :

a.Theory/Concept-Who said,What was said and in Which context was it said
b.Criticism-Every theoretician/perspective has a critique which points out the lacunae in the same and at the same time takes it should be very clear with this aspect.

In paper 1: Emphasise on case studies usa,uk('cos many studies are available from there!) or any other foreign country if you have a relevant case study ...but , at the same time do not forget to connect it to Indian examples.
In paper 2 : Emphasis should be placed on Indian Sociologists and application to Indian context, though here too works of important sociologists(from paper 1) can be applied .
Hence, studying , note making and then answer writing (in the same chronological order for very obvious reasons!) should be done keeping in mind that paper 1 and paper 2 are not exclusive of each other but are in fact interlinked and at times even draw sustenance from each other.
4.The notes would be made preferably in the same format as the answer sheets given in the upsc mains exam ie A4 blank sheets with space left at both sides(instead of wasting time making margins with scale and pencil just fold the paper on both sides to give the impression of a margin) and punched to be put into well organised folders.

5.This organisation of notes may sound like a very very childlike suggestion but it has great bearing on your revision...remember you are not writing notes to publish them for the benefit of mankind (which is not a bad idea but not your primary goal!) but to apply them in the examination, so please revise revise revise(this is not a typo error :) bad joke...still)

6.I would share resources like advice/coaching material/your own notes with another serious student...its a personal belief that petty competitiveness pulls you down as well.

7.Internet resources (some books have a few pages put out for reading online) and library(D School,Arts Faculty-Delhi University) resources (through a student) would be used appropriately.

Note :If you get hold of an amazing book for a very small sub-topic and don't have time to go through it just read the usually encapsulates the whole argument

This was the "how to read" bit... now lets come down now to the "what to read" part :

The "How to start" dilemna plagues most of the cse aspirants esp those who did not have a humanities background....The solution is simple-

Start with NCERT XI and XII (old and new editions both)

Then for :

Paper 1- Refer (in accordance with the syllabus...if time permits you could read the whole book as well...if nothing else it may help you in the essay or later on in the interview stage):
Anthony Giddens-Sociology(I believe the 5th edition is available in India in a paperback format...expensive book but its usefulness justifies its expense)

MacIonis-Sociology(brought to India by Pearsons publications)

These books give a basic understanding and at the same time an analysis of more contemporary topics.

Now you could go onto the basic book for Thinkers which is:

Francis Abraham and John Henry Morgan-Sociological Thought

You should also elaborate upon Thinkers by referring to Ritzer selectively(a must)

Some of my friends picked up tit-bits from Lewis Coser and some referred to Raymond Aron too(optional)

For Paper 2- Start with IGNOU BA course material and stick to it! Take care to mention the case studies considered in the IGNOU booklets in your examination.
You should also read:
M.N.Srinivas-Social Change in India

Yogendra Singh-Modernisation of Indian Tradition

Handbook of Indian Sociology-edited by Veena Das (selective reading of the book )

J.C.Verma (a NBT publication on Tribals) for the portion on problems faced by tribals...

I found books like Madan and Mazumdar- Social Anthropology and Horton and Hunt relevant for prelims only

Though one could pick up meaning of terms like culture etc from the Horton and Hunt book to understand its usage and maybe, apply it in the Essay paper (if it so demands)

Now the question arises how to supplement this basic material ?

In paper 2 the theory portion should be connected to/updated by egs drawn from real life /recent case studies covered in magazines like Yojana and Economic and Political Weekly . You could become an online member of these magazines and avail the benefit of browsing through their archives.
I was too lazy to do this and consequently suffered(thankfully not too badly!) in paper 2.

In paper 1 there is an excellent reference book by the name of Haralombos and Halborn,its detailed,comprehensive and contemporary....unfortunately, reading it is a time consuming exercise so do it only as a last resort and/or to add value to selective topics(to avoid meandering away from relevant topics always keep the syllabus by your side)

These are the books/resources which I found relevant ..if I later on recall more(not that you would want me to, once you see the content of some of these books!) I would add on to this post...
Hopefully all of you would come to enjoy Sociology as much as I did (and also get good marks...very imp! )