IAS Target

Prajit Nair

Year : 2017

Rank : 87

Topper Story - PRAJIT NAIR Background
My name is Prajit Nair. I have secured rank 87 in my 3rd attempt. In the past 2 attempts, I had cleared the prelims but couldn’t break the mains barrier to get an Interview call. So this time, I decided to give my last attempt with the most watertight and fail proof strategy, though UPSC is always unpredictable. By God's Grace, I not only got the Interview call this time, but got finally selected with Rank 87, which will give me my dream service - Indian Administrative Service.

My background:

I am a resident of Mumbai. My parents are from Kerala. I have done by graduation in Electronics Engineering from University of Mumbai. I graduated in 2013. I started preparing since then only. I had joined ForumIAS 4 years ago (you can see on my profile page, my username is Louislitt) and followed number of posts and comments, to come up with the final strategy for my this year's attempt.

My strategy

I had failed two times in Mains before I cleared in my third attempt. What I can offer to potential aspirants of value are areas of possible improvement and methods to improve. I would not be dealing with the book list and sources to refer. You can find many such lists across various blogs and platforms.

My GS marks in my various attempts were.

GS 2014 2015 2016
GS – 1 56 91 105
GS – 2 77 57 92
GS – 3 74 97 106
GS – 4 93 81 129
I sincerely believe that Mains is a stage where the aspirants uniqueness and creativity comes to the fore. No two candidates are same. All have their own strengths and weaknesses. You work on them separately and write a paper that is the best that you can manage with your skills. What I present in the subsequent passages are a set of things I did beyond the reading of sources. You should take these as pointers for your own improvement and use them to recognize weaknesses in your strategy. If you persist with similar constant improvements, no force can stop you from getting the coveted services. I have tried my best to put all my experiences that may help any aspirant into this article. So apologies for the long post.

Initiatives that I followed & Implemented

I was following Answer Writing last year as well on other websites, but I was somehow not able to improve my score. I needed to figure out what I was doing wrong. So I concluded that. The quality and quantity of questions that you attempt is important. So it's not that of you just solve random questions everyday and you will get good practice. Questions quality has to be good.
Do daily answer writing practice. I later thought that I will need some guidance and need to write questions in an exam atmosphere for three hours, so I joined ForumIAS MGP ( offline ). I realized that we need to get our copied checked and evaluated at least once from someone to see deficiencies that I am unable to see. Otherwise, I will keep repeating the same mistakes that I made in my last attempts.

General Strategy for all Papers

Any answer can be written with focus on the following points: content, presentation and lucidity. If you are getting low in your test series or main exam, it is a given fact that you may be lacking in any or many of these points. More often than not, people end up blaming the examiner for low marks. This is a useless argument that defends your failure. Another common complaint that people sight is that they lack content to write and end up gulping down more books. If you follow this strategy to improve your scores, the chances of succeeding are slim.
Before we jump into the specifics, bear this is mind that you are expected to write an average answer to all questions rather than writing a rockstar answer for 2-3 questions and ending up wasting time and missing questions. One’s target should be to attempt all questions with average answers and if luck and time permits, answer some questions well. If you practice answer-writing, average marks can be pulled to 5-5.5 marks. That translates to 100-110 score.

Content:

This is the most basic requirement to write an answer. Bear in mind that you have barely three sides of paper and 9 minutes to answer a 12.5 marks question. You have no time and space. So be aware of the fact that irrespective of the content you have, you are limited by the time and space to present the same. So read less and try to reduce concepts to its bare skeleton. There is no point in reading large sources for covering bullet points given in the syllabus. There should be a good focus on reducing the size and increasing the brevity of notes while covering the syllabus.

For difficult topics like

”Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes;” You can prepare on these lines. Try making some framework for answering. I did it as follows Welfare schemes are of 3 kinds.
  • Social security nets - UBI, Pension, medical insurance etc.
  • Specific sections for vulnerable sections - gender specific, tribe, SC/ST specific, Antyodaya schemes.
  • General schemes that cover  all sections - NFSA, PDS, TPDS, Jan Dhan Yojana
Focus on the performance of each type of scheme by looking at the data of the vulnerable section. For example, for tribes look at their health and education data. Similarly for women. This exercise should focus on recent schemes more.
You can get an idea about reducing your content and focusing on organization alone.
GS – 1 GS – 2
Social Empowerment Good Governance
Women’s Movement Transparency
Role of Civil Services
Reduced the whole topic to a small, brief and concise set of points that can utilize in an answer. It ends up organizing the content you have into neat bullet points that are easy to remember and weave answers around. Gradually I started reducing every syllabus bullet point in such a concise set of points. It helped me revise easily and manage the points well in the mains. It also helps maintain lucidity of points.

Presentation:

This happens to be the most ignored aspects of answer writing. To improve your perspective of this aspect, you need to observe the answers from an examiner’s perspective. An examiner is usually a bored personality who has no interest in reading your answer.
The easier you make your answer for him to follow, the more marks he rewards you. One way to do this is to write answers in a group of 3-5 people and evaluate(not discuss!) each other’s answers. Evaluate 2-4 answers for the same set of questions and you’ll be enlightened. It is when you start evaluating other’s answers that you begin to realize, what is it that an examiner looks for in an answer. The easier he finds it, the less he gets irritated and more marks he rewards.
  • Underlining of keywords
  • Sub-headings according to various parts of the question
  • Introduction
  • Conclusion
For the Introduction, there is a short video by @Neyawn, You can follow it. It is a tried and tested method which most realize only after a few attempts(including by yours truly :P )

Lucidity:

This is a facet of answering that explains why people with good vocabulary and skills in English do not score the highest marks in GS. Lucidity in writing is reflective of clarity of thought. The most simple answers are also the most difficult to write. You should be clear with your sources. You must read your (limited)sources repeatedly and revise them. Make notes on topics as shown above and try incorporating the format of notes into the answers. It requires you to be well-versed with your own notes.
When the actual answer mirrors your notes, it automatically reflects clarity of thought and becomes very simple to follow. I created additional sections to answer the question in a very broad way. The additional section of “Present Status’ is not demanded by the question, but since I knew it due to my notes and it added value to the answer I added it. The answer looks complete. The Second method is to use short sentences and be less verbose in answering. It is easy to write in paragraphs, but they also represent the least number of points and require more words to say the same thing. ForumIAS Mentors taught me two things here analyzing my answers at the micro level.

Write two short sentences instead of one long sentence

Your arguments should be self explanatory. One way to incorporate lucidity is to write in points and use paragraph format only for the intro and conclusion. I’m not saying that using paragraphs is wrong. The only problem with writing in paragraphs is that it is easy to lose focus of the question while answering in paragraphs.
(P.S: I use paragraphs for answering questions for which I do not have much content. Paragraphs hide my weakness well.). All the above points are based upon a few observations that I made over the course of the preparation+ the guidance that I got from ForumIAS Mentors.
The usual reaction to failure in mains is to study more or read more. That is what we as students are made to think. This makes us ignore the huge improvement that can be made on the presentation part and lucidity aspect. If you have tried reading more sources and failed, you can try working on the aspects I have mentioned. Try them over the course of a month or so. Practice notes-making and answer-writing, as mentioned, over this time period. Form a group and try brainstorming while evaluating answers. Join a test series and experiment these and observe whether these things gets you the desired results. Be patient and sincere. It worked for me, it should work for you if you persist and put your heart into it.

Paper-Specific Suggestions

This is one paper that I found where the most scoring can be done with least efforts. Since my optional is Geography I can’t suggest much for the same. For sociology, the NCERT suffices in covering most topics mentioned in the syllabus. Preparing a one-page write-up for all topics of sociology mentioned in the syllabus can help in answering all questions of UPSC. I had prepared a set of data to use in sociology related syllabus. Though I could not use it in this attempt due to the nature of the questions asked, but I believe they will aid in answering questions on sociology in GS1 if the paper is designed as per 2015 pattern. You will find a link to my Ever-note on the same topic.

For Modern History

Prelims reading comes handy. Focusing on answer-writing can help a great deal in scoring marks in the history question. A good source of questions for practice on this topic are past year UPSC Question papers.

For World History

Sticking to the NCERT should be sufficient. If you observe the past trend of UPSC, some questions are picked up directly from those given at the end of each chapter in NCERT. If you seek a good (additional)source for World History reading there is a user on Forum(@kainat09) who has shared his handwritten notes.
@crazyphoton certifies them as the best(Me too!).
(here is the link: http://discuss.forumias.com/discussion/1468/download-2nd-arc-reports-and-world-history-hand-written-notes-of-d-amarkesh-cse-2012-topper-air-217)

GS Paper 2 ( Mains)

This is one paper that is tricky in answering. Assuming that you have gone through the basic ritual of covering Laxmikanth, further improvement can be done in following ways. You can read the ARC reports. But if you are lazy like me you can download and print these handwritten notes by @kainat09.
(here is the link: http://discuss.forumias.com/discussion/1468/download-2nd-arc-reports-and-world-history-hand-written-notes-of-d-amarkesh-cse-2012-topper-air-217 )
Apart from these, reading reference answers of various test series helps immensely in collecting some good points and enriching your answers. The answer-writing part is where all the scoring happens. A good way to learn would be to look for lucidity, conciseness and neatness. This is one paper where answer-writing practice has spillover effects on other papers too, including optional. I scored 57 in 2015 mains in this paper.
The reason for this low score was that my answers were verbose, lacked clarity and were a bit philosophical. I was told about this by many test series. I simply could not understand the extent of the problem in my answers by looking only at my answers. I understood my shortcomings ONLY by comparing my answer sheets with those of @Arsenal. It was only after comparing my own answers to someone else’s that I could differentiate a good answer from a bad one. So before you start reading my answer papers I would suggest you attempt these questions on your own and compare your answers with my answers. This will enable you to find your own weaknesses and areas of improvement.

GS Paper 3 ( Mains)

This is one paper where the variables are the least. Questions are pretty straight forward. A decently written answer gets you average marks. By decent I mean addressing all parts of the answer. Multiply average marks by the number of questions you attempt and you get an overall average score. If you add in facts, case-studies and diagrams, the score increases. Having a good command over facts help. If you need a good idea about writing answers for this paper you can go through topper’s answer-sheets available at various platforms.

GS Paper 4 ( Mains)

This is a paper were getting 100 is the easiest. All that you need to do is complete the paper with average answers. Take it from me that you will score 100. The real task is scoring more than 100. This is where creativity and preparation plays its part. I experimented with different ways of writing answer and case studies. I implemented them in my test series at ForumIAS MGP and got opinions regarding them and tweaked them accordingly. Apart from the test series I attempted around 14-15 full question papers and got them evaluated from friends. Over the course of solving these papers I developed good examples to illustrate various ethical concepts and dilemmas. These examples I used liberally in my actual examination.
One example could be the use of flowcharts in illustrating case-studies Other ways of creativity are simple examples. To elaborate this, here is an example. Think of simple concepts like integrity and honesty. You can explain the difference between the two concepts in many pages of theory, but in the actual exam you get two sides of a page and seven minutes to do the same. So if I were asked to explain the two concepts, my answer would be something like honesty is telling that I took a bribe, while integrity is not taking the bribe(Short, simple and concise). Similarly, there are minute differences between various concepts.
Another way to increase marks in GS-4 is to spend time in contemplation. I used to take bullet points from the syllabus and think over them. I used to note down whatever used to come to my mind. The focus was on building ethics specific material. For example, there are over-lapping topics of GS-2 and GS-4 like Citizen Charter. The method of covering these topics has to be different for different topics. Here I present the different notes for the same topic but for different papers.
For good material that can help your answer I would strongly recommend reading the 2nd ARC Report on Ethics in Governance. It is a well-written report that has many good examples and innovative expressions. For example, corruption is very succinctly defined as monopoly plus discretion minus accountability. This was my introduction to this question in the mains.

EVERNOTE Ethical Terms:

http://www.evernote.com/l/AP7wlMGP3pFBTb0qNOQ5Hbwy-MPf3c1nt4U/

Ethical Concept Framework:

http://www.evernote.com/l/AP7MVufbWw1EmYdU8UhjknGn3Rpu3LLQLXA/
About ForumIAS and its role in my selection Civil Service preparation is usually a torturous process often time taking, effort and testing one’s patience to its limits. If someone tells you that he/she enjoyed the process, ask them to write prelims again and their facial expression will tell you all about their “enjoyment”. The whole examination process makes you a theist, drives you insane & back, pushes you to the very edge among other things. In endeavors like these it is always better to have people who are going through the process to interact and talk out things.
This forum has been among the best things that I came across in the course of my four years long preparations. The most significant role that forum played was to give a platform that allowed aspirants to come together and share their problems. I was a silent member (username: louislitt) on this forum. I found great support in reading various posts by others regarding their own problems. Not that I gloated on other’s problems or drew sadistic joy from reading them. Just that I was reticent in sharing my own problems. But the very knowledge of the fact that people in the process are going through the same and all this is very normal was something that helped me trudge through the process.
This has been the greatest help that ForumIAS could offer me during the course of my prep. Apart from the support ForumIAS was of immense help in following ways. I used to frequent the bakar threads and various threads on Geography discussion. In this process I made some very good friends via Forum. @rks22 is one of them. Had it not been for the forum I wouldn’t have met them. They stayed through the process. We interacted over the forum, shared notes, prepared together, discussed answers, made improvements. All this helped in some way or the other in my eventual success.
About ForumIAS MGP I had joined this test series and it turned out to be a gem for me personally. Earlier I had thought that i will not join any Test Series, but after 1.5 months , I felt the need to do so. They served as good material for reading current affairs.
The extent of improvement is tangibly visible in the 8th paper starting from my level in 1st paper. My scores in UPSC also saw a similar jump in this attempt. The level of improvement speaks for itself. To be honest, this entire jump in my score was not accidental, but because of lots of effort that went on planning and executing things and the tremendous help that ForumIAS mentors gave. In fact, The mentors are ForumIAS are pretty experienced in terms of evaluating answer-sheets, and if you show keenness they will not disappoint you. They were also keen on getting people like me who never had an interview call before getting their first interview call. A few of the people I know from MGP who were in 4th of 5th attempt with no interview calls got their first interview call. Some of them are on ForumIAS itself. About Mains Marathon I followed this initiative from 22nd August(the day this started) till mid-October. The initiative has some well designed questions.
All that I have written above is nothing new. It is just a collation of many things that have various sources and have been discussed at various places. Some are of previous toppers, some are my own and some are of my close friends. I have learnt them over a period of four years. This article is a way to thank ForumIAS and the vibrant aspirant community that allows averages like me to clear this exam. I’m just doing my part now that I’m on the other side.

Regards Prajit Nair