I failed Prelims in 1st Attempt: This is What I did Next to Clear UPSC
The UPSC CSE 2017 Results have been published a couple of weeks ago. Once again, we have new stories of successes and struggles and new heroes (gender neutral sense) for the IAS aspirants to look up to and to emulate. But beyond this euphoria, attention and achievement lie a large number of dejected aspirants who could not see their names on the list. Rarely does anyone talk about them or talk to them.
I have been on both sides of that coveted PDF and hence understand the sentiments of those who do not make it after all the hard work. When the 2015 Prelims result came in, I did Ctrl+F and started typing my name when suddenly that ‘ting’ sound blew the death knell of my dreams. A deep ache pierces your heart with that ‘ting’ and you are in a state of despair.
But why do we go through that sinking feeling even though we know very well that when lakhs of candidates appear for a handful of seats, the chances of succeeding are much less and of failure are exceedingly high. I believe, they are caused by the following thought processes:
1. We are worried about how to explain our failure to our parents. Of course we are answerable to them because they invest in us believing we would be through. Even if you are financing your preparation yourself, the accountability remains because the parents have to ‘show their faces’ to neighbours and relatives. It helps a lot if your parents understand but if they don’t, take some time out to sit and talk to them and inform about the uncertainty involved in the process.
2. We compare with friends who earn big in Corporate world and you see their pictures of exotic vacations on social media. You start questioning your stupid stupid decision to choose this career path. For me, it didn’t matter because I was never oriented towards ‘pay package’ and didn’t treat education as a means of bagging a package. But if it bothers you, the solution is to disappear from social media. Then, the only peers you would be seeing around are the ones who are in the same boat as you.
3. The dread of going through the whole cycle once again. This is serious. The worst part of the UPSC preparation is that the cycle is way too long (1.5-2 years) and once you fail at any point, the mere thought of restarting can break the strongest of resolves. There is a way to deal with it. Think of it this way: Once you have put in more than a year of hard work, you are not at the same level as a fresh aspirant. You have a certain advantage and edge over thousands of other candidates. All you need to do is analyze what went wrong and work on that. This makes your workload much lesser.
4. Career Uncertainties If you do not have a professional degree, like me, you have literally put all your eggs in one UPSC basket. This makes us so much more vulnerable to the outcome of the UPSC exam. You can work on your back-ups like I did. I appeared for UGC-NET and cleared it. I also cleared SSC CGL with smart strategies to minimize effort. The same year I also got interview call for West Bengal Civil Service, in which I did not appear.
You can enroll in a Masters program through IGNOU and then appear for NET. If you have Maths background and your English is reasonably good, just 2-3 hours over the weekends will secure you a comfortable job in SSC CGL. You can also appear for GRE/IELTS etc exam and apply abroad for higher studies. These back-up plans will minimize your worries, increasing focus on the task at hand.
Things that I did after failing Prelims in UPSC CSE 2015.
I immediately analyzed the reasons for my failure and they were
- Overconfidence due to superior performance in Test series. This made me not go through the questions or the options carefully and I made the silliest of mistakes.
- Not taking care of my health and missing out on sleep. When I was attempting the paper I was totally hazy in my thinking. The lack of clarity was due to poor health and lack of sleep.
- Overthinking and not thinking straight. The only Test Series I had solved was that of Vajiram. The questions they set at that time were very tricky. This had developed in me a habit of second guessing. Even for the simple questions, I thought it can’t be that simple!
- Not solving enough test papers
- Focusing solely on Prelims. Honestly, even if I had made it through the Prelims, I would have failed the Mains due to lack of answer writing. I focused too much on Prelims while to clear the UPSC one needs to have an integrated approach.
- Choosing the wrong optional. I had chosen Zoology based solely on the fact that I had biology background. It was rather an impulsive decision. I hadn’t gone through the syllabus and previous papers. This would have been blunder if I had written the Mains
How I rectified those mistakes
- Shed overconfidence. Failing Prelims anyway breaks your confidence so..
- I made it a point to regularize my sleep one week prior to Prelims. I had slept for 7 hours on the night before Prelims 2016. It certainly had a big role in getting me high accuracy.
- Solving varied Test Series. I solved at least one Test Paper a day from either VisionIAS or Insights and completely avoided Vajiram.
- Integrated Approach I had started doing Mains Answer writing practice from IASbaba.com. Everyday, I would finish two questions at least. I also approached my optional from Answer Writing point of view and made separate notes of important facts and figures.
- Selection of Geography Optional I had no option of getting coaching for optional subject due to financial constraint. I had interest in geography since school days and I was generally good at drawing and understanding maps. Further, from the analysis of the syllabus and questions, it appeared that around 40% of it was already covered in the GS. These factors influenced my decision of choosing optional.
So there I was, from being rejected in the Prelims in October 2015 to the 34th in the merit list in May 2017. But then there is always chance factor involved. There is so much dependent on chance and you will see how an equally capable, if not more, friend of yours doesn’t make it even though you did. But my advice in this regard is that ‘do not worry about things that are beyond your control, it’s useless’.