How should I prepare for UPSC without any coaching?

Let me here narrate you a story. Hope this one inspires you.

I first took the exam in 2012. I was working at a private firm at the time, and I didn't take significant time off to study. I took one week off to prepare for prelims, and a couple of weeks for the Mains. I don't mean to say that I was twiddling my thumbs outside of this three-week period. I used the time after work, typically early morning and the evenings to cover the preparation material. I cleared the prelims, and got through the Mains as well, and attended the interview. One of my optional papers let me down badly and I missed the rank list by 15 marks. No matter, I knew how close I was and I would try again next year.

Fast forward to 2013, I was still working at the same firm. I didn't take even a day off for prelims, but took eight weeks off this time for Mains to focus completely on the preparation. This time I did clear the exam, with an All India Rank of 250. One of the GS papers let me down again, but overall this was a much improved show. No coaching of any kind involved.

While everyone is different and will have to tailor their strategy to their personal needs and quirks, I will briefly lay down the strategy I adopted for the benefit of those who may find it helpful.

Most of these may sound like platitudes bandied about indiscriminately by all and sundry, but I promise I won't write anything which I actually didn't find useful. :)

1. Focus on what you're doing at the time
This does sound like one of those platitudes that I just warned you about, but I can't stress more how important this is. I was aware from the beginning that I would have to manage my time smartly to have any chance of cracking this. This did not just mean using my time after work to sit and read through the syllabus, but actually using that time as productively as possible. This meant shutting away all the distractions for that window of an hour or two. The average time I spent on preparation did not exceed two-three hours a day while I was attending work, the key was to make those hours count.

2. Keep tabs on things happening around you, and learn to have an opinion
Read a newspaper daily, look up concepts/events in the past that you find unfamiliar, but don't stop there. Think about them, their causes and effects, alternate realities (a bit of daydreaming, yes, guilty as charged), and in cases of policies/decisions, think about the rationale/what you could have done differently. Discuss and have debates(don't let them degenerate into shouting matches ;) ) with friends, colleagues, family, anyone who can give you an opinion. Your ideas will emerge more rounded, and you will have more points to attack a question from. This will help you a lot in the Mains for GS and the Essay.

3. The internet has (almost) everything you need. Use it wisely
It stands to reason that the material that coaching materials put out is compiled from the sources around us, so why get them second-hand? Granted it takes some time and effort to get there, but there are a lot of tailored sources out there like Mrunal or GK Today, which can at least provide starting points from where you can branch off.

Be aware of distractions that lurk and shirk away from them. For instance, Khan Academy on YouTube is an excellent resource for learning , but clicking on "related links" on YouTube and following the chain can easily burn a couple of hours.

4. (Try to) love the process of writing the exam
OK, you must now be thinking that I have gone absolutely bonkers from all the preparation. I know this sounds weird, but this is one of the things that helped me a lot. In CSE, especially the Mains, you don't have a lot of time to think, it is easy to get stressed at the sight of such a demanding paper. I sometimes get into a trance-like state while I'm taking an exam, everything apart from the examination paper and myself cease to exist for those three hours. Exam-nirvana, if you like. :P Keeps you calm, and focussed, and helps you think on your feet.
Disclaimer: Personal experience. YMMV. Don't lynch me if you can't fall in love with the exam. Most human beings choose better things to fall in love with.

5. Have a fallback hobby/routine
Civil Services is not an easy exam to crack by any means, and the syllabus may seem daunting at times. I have had times when I was mired in self-doubt and existential crises while I was preparing. Learn to take these moods in your stride, these will pass. Have something that you can fall back on to get you back in the groove. My friends were PG Wodehouse, AR Rahman, Quora and long walks :) Make sure you come out of these fairly quickly, it's easy to get stuck in a mental rut.

There, I have to admit this ended up becoming a lot longer than I wanted to make it, but if this helps someone, I'll be more than happy.

This story was narrated by Shafeeq Syed Sir on his profile. And I am so inspired and well satisfied by this answer.

Let me extend this answer by adding few more things.

And I believe now no other such question may arise in your mind.

If you have an ambition to be an IAS you have to go through CSE( Civil Services Exam) conducted annually by UPSC. This is one of the toughest exam in the whole world.

Now (MY OPINION) it hardly matters how much you study, What matters is What you study and how much you grasped from that(WHATS YOUR OUTPUT - That matters).

And the First thing i believe before starting preparation (FOR ANY EXAM) we must be familiar with the exam pattern (So first thing surf net and grasp all about CSE exam pattern)

Now coming back to preparation strategy :

  1. Start with S.ST.(Comprising Geography, History, Economics, Polity) OLD NCERT (From 6th to 12th).
  2. Read newspaper (THE HINDU Preferred ) daily and jot down the important news lines( i.e - National and International Issues, Sports and Economic updates, Government policies, and Awards)
  3. For Essay - Read editorials daily from newspaper because most of the times essay come upon current events. So newspaper will be of great help.
  4. General Studies : BOOKS
  • Facts of Indian Culture (New Edition by Spectrum)
  • India after Independence - Bipan Chandra
  • India After Gandhi - Ramchandra Guha
  • India's Struggle for Independence - Bipan Chandra
  • Geography of India – Majid Husain .
  • Indian Polity - M. Laxmikant
  • Indian economy - Ramesh Singh
  • Ethics, Integrity and aptitude - lexicon publications
    • Home Ministry Website
    • MoEF Website
    • Ministry of S & T Website
    • Gk Today

A few things that can be followed to this Voyage are :

  • MIND SET - Before beginning with preparation it's very essential part of the journey that one has to make his/her mind set. Mind set for the questions which will arise many times - Why I am preparing ? What will I achieve from this ? Is it really my Aim or I am just forced to do ? Am I am that strong to face the defeat or I am too strong enough to beat the defeat ?

- Make you goal. Don't aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally.

  • UNDERSTAND THE SYLLABUS - UPSC is a lengthy process. Begin it with understanding it. 1st step should be download the syllabus from Internet. If possible have it's hard copy and paste it near your study table or any place where you can read it twice a day. This will help you understand and will remind you that - UPSC isn't about everything under the sun. Moreover you will be familiar with what to do and what to follow.

-"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles

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