Fortunes opened doors for Bandla Dinesh Aditya as with CSE 2015 additional attempts were given by UPSC and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
For him, not repeating previous mistakes was important. He tried to analyse his mistakes in each of the attempts (5 in all) and had not made the same major error twice.
His consistent efforts got him 270th rank in Civil Services Examination 2015 that got him Indian Revenue Service (IRS – IT).
Bandla Dinesh Aditya did B.Tech in Computer Science & Engineering from MGIT, Hyderabad. Pursuing PhD (JRF) Osmania University, Hyderabad; completed PGD, Cyber Law – NALSAR, Hyderabad in 2013. Previously he had dropped out of MBA from SIBM, Pune. He completed MCJ (Communication & Journalism) from Osmania University and have an MA in Public Administration from IGNOU.
Tackling the unpredictable nature
Preparation in the face of unpredictability is a challenge.
For some it builds character for others it breaks their resolve.
Purely from an examination stand point - obviously covering all bases in terms of the topics and phrases mentioned in the syllabus would be the smart way to start.
Moreover, an understanding of the previous years’ question papers may be helpful in understanding the thought process behind the paper setters’ intentions.
Away from the examination, from my experience I would suggest that candidates should have a healthy social life and should not stagnate professionally.
Being positive and always getting better incrementally should be a goal.
An honest appraisal from time to time is needed to intervene if things are drastically going wrong. But, always allow for the vagaries of the examination and do not condemn oneself or let unreasonable doubt to creep in.
Preliminary Examination – A Real Challenge
Prelims is the biggest hurdle from a numbers PoV (15 to 16,000 out of 1 million applicants!) and also because of the “Cycle-Gap” through which one is expected to push through a huge tank – it is a matter of luck for people who are +/- 15 marks from the cut-offs.
As far as the candidate in this range, not all is lost – but, it is luck in this range.
But anything less needs an overhaul as far as Preliminary Examination is concerned.
Also the Prelims-centric mind-set is detrimental to Mains because of the simple fact that not 1 mark in Prelims counts towards final selection.
So, a Prelim-cum-Mains approach is the way to go and goes without saying is the real and complete challenge.
Optional Subject and the role it can play in final result
Optional Subject is extremely important, since it is the only part of the examination where candidates try to score heavily.
Obviously post-2013 with only ONE optional subject there has been some moderation of the influence of optional subject on the final result.
But, even with ONE optional now, given that General Studies scores in the past 3 years have almost never reached 50% for even the best of candidates – optional retains the position of preeminent deciding factor status in priority in candidates’ minds.
Selection of optional should be done ideally with a view on sustainable interest in the subject. Once such a subject is selected then factors such as availability of material, guidance (if necessary) should be looked at.
Obviously syllabus & previous question papers should be examined in detail.
Also it would be wise to take mock tests or even attempt previous years’ question papers of the subject.
A big contributor to my selection this year from a marks point of view has been my optional subject – Anthropology where I secured 250/500.
I credit Prof.Anam Muniratnam Reddy for excellent guidance in Anthropology and for making the subject a living entity for me.
General Studies Preparation
The new pattern is more analytical and therefore answering cannot stop at just being factual.
I think that is a huge leap from the old pattern and candidates may only now be getting to grips with this altered reality.
Most questions already provide the most relevant information; especially General Studies Paper II seems to ask for either a panoramic view of the issue or a extrapolation into the future or a dispassionate analysis of the past and so on.
In this sense the evaluators may not be in a position to award extremely high marks because of the diversity of answers such questions may result in and to match up perfectly to any possible “key” answer maybe a matter of chance.
In fact, an individual candidate will struggle to provide a consistent template for all answers within a paper.
Therefore it is no surprise that “big scores” are not the norm and candidates are having to depend more and more on the optional for the big push.
Concentrating on General Studies papers through enrolling in Vision IAS test series has helped me avoid getting borderline General Studies marks.
In General Studies I managed to score 349/1000, which by most counts is healthy (although there is definite scope for improvement).
For General Studies preparation, I broke down the syllabus into around 300 individual areas and tried to place most static and current affairs in these areas so that I can co-relate static with dynamic aspects of the preparation.
Role of Essay & Interview
Essay and Interview are the most unpredictable parts of the Civil Service examination as most candidates will admit.
For me Essay marks have been unpredictable and in hindsight might have cost me selection in the 2013 attempt when I scored 85/250 and I missed final selection by 7 marks.
This year, I was able to score 123/250 which in my estimation is a safe score and hence Essay thankfully has not hindered my selection this time.
For the Essay paper, I did extensive preparation by writing mock essays and circulating them among friends to gain feedback on all fronts – be it content, style, overview or even spellings!
Also I read through some mock essays written by previous years’ toppers.
I used sub-headings and underlined important phrases (which was a change from my previous strategy). Also the 2 Essays format since 2014 has I believe led to reduction is any subjectivity and bias on part of the examiner and also allowed candidates to make amends for any errors thus reducing the scope for extreme marks.
Interview, on the other hand has been a consistent affair for me.
I have secured exactly the same mark i.e. 179/250 in both my interview attempts (2013 & 2015)!
But, I have enough experience and feedback from friends to know that interview is a highly subjective exercise and any semblance of consistence (as I appear to have) might well be random.
My strategy for the interview preparation was to do a lot of mock interviews for getting a grip on the FAQs and to brainstorm on possible questions and talk to my father, friends and previous colleagues for all the profile-based questions.
I was also following current affairs topics and debates especially on contemporary issues to get a grasp of the ‘talking points’ on these issues.
UPSC’s assessment near my expectations
Essay: Given my preparation and the new pattern I was hopeful for a mark close to 140 in the Essay paper and since 123 is within my personal rule of 10% margin for error, therefore; I am satisfied.
Interview: Therefore compared to my expectations going in, I think my interview of 179 (65%) has actually given my overall marks a small spike and as most aspirants will know - 179 is an above average mark for this year.
I think I was able to secure a decent rank on this attempt because I was able to temper and calibrate my preparation in a balanced way.
I tried to concentrate on my weak and unpredictable areas such as General Studies & Essay so as to get a sanitary mark at the least.
At the same time I also made sure that I at least revised all the topics my optional of Anthropology.
Doing this, I was able to make sure that my marks never really dipped too much in any of my papers.
I am especially satisfied that I was able to execute my idea of a “safe attempt” focussed on selection finally, rather than simply going for broke.
A word of Advice for motivating future aspirants
This was my 5th time attempt. I am a serial attempter, if you will!
When I started out with my 1st attempt in 2010 there were only 4 attempts in the General category.
So, if I place myself in my younger self’s shoes – this is indeed a miracle - since 5>4!
What has therefore sustained me through this period is having a sense of humour and proportion about these things.
I try not to be too hard on myself for things outside my control and instead try to be analytical about the parts I didn’t do well.
I understand that some people derive their strength from adding pressure; I am not one of them.
“To Each, His Own” is the adage.
Still, I would like to relate a verse from the bible which I like - “For when I am weak, then am I strong”.
It is not the worst thing to have doubts – because that is, when one will build resolve.