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UPSC rank-holder's self-study belief

Atul Prakash

Patna: Bihar, once again had a proud moment with three aspirants from the state making it to the top 20 in the civil services examination 2017 conducted by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). The UPSC announced the final results on Friday evening. Atul Praksh ranked 4th, Sagar Kumar Jha 13th and Abhilasha Abhinav 18th respectively.

The Telegraph interacted with Atul Prakash to find out more about his success story, the problems he faced and the lessons learnt, all of which could be of help to other civil services aspirants.

Tell us about yourself, early life and education

I am a resident of Mangraon village in Buxar district, around 160km west of Patna. My father, Ashok Kumar Rai, is a chief engineer with the East Central Railways, and posted in Hajipur district. My family lives at Gola Road in Patna. I did my matriculation from Delhi Public School in Patna and went to Delhi for higher studies. I passed Class 12 from Abhinav Public School in Delhi and then got into IIT-Delhi for a five year integrated B.Tech and M.Tech course which I completed in 2016, specialising in mathematics and computing.

Why civil services?

While studying in Delhi, I decided to join the civil services as it offers an excellent career opportunity for young people like me. I started preparing for it before completion of the course at IIT-Delhi.

How was your first attempt?

I first sat for it in 2016, was ranked 558 and got selected for the Indian Railway Personnel Service.

Why a second attempt?

Though the Indian Railway Personnel Service is also a Class A service, I was determined to write the exam again and check my abilities further. The attraction to work in the All India Services was a reason too. The scale and scope that the Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service offer is unmatched. So, I decided not to miss the opportunity. I took leave to prepare for the examination while training in the railways.

What was your strategy for the preliminary exams?

The preliminary exam is a process to sort out candidates. If the basic concepts of general studies and practice of civil service aptitude test are up to the mark then there is no reason to fail in the prelims. I joined a test series for practice but the most important thing is I focused more on self studies.

What about the main examination?

For general studies, newspaper-reading is vital because a lot of questions are based on current issues. A good command over prelims syllabus helps a lot in the mains too. Students are required to have not only content, but also a viewpoint that can be comprehended and understood by a layman.

How did you prepare for the optional paper?

I decided to go with the subject I specialised in, Mathematics. However, the subject is considered to be very difficult and the syllabus is vast too. But once someone covers the entire syllabus, it is very rewarding. Those planning to go with maths need to practice a lot.

What about answer-writing practice?

Answer writing in the main exams is quite different from writing daily routine or personal memories. The aspirants are required to answer what is asked in the question in a specified time limit. Now, UPSC asks questions that present the viewpoint and opinion of the aspirant so it must be developed and be balanced, not biased. Practice helps increase speed of writing answers and also form a readymade structure in the mind of the aspirant. Now there are various forums on which students can upload queries and get feedback from experts for free. Speed of writing answers should be emphasised on, otherwise even possible toppers can miss the bus.

What about the last hurdle, the personality test?

The interview is not as horrible as is often made out to be. It is a process to check overall personality of the aspirant such as communication skills, convincing power and analytical ability. My interview took place at the Arvind Saxena Board on March 8. A lot of questions from current issues, which would give an insight into the aspirant's thinking ability and viewpoint, were asked. I had faced various mock interviews and practiced a lot. So, I was neither over-confident nor nervous. I just tried to project a balanced view of my own, neither influenced nor biased.

What do you have to say about the myths surrounding this examination?

The greatest myth is whether or not coaching facility is required. I focused more on self-study. Coaching institutions have their own techniques, but nobody can make you succeed. You alone can lead. Students should think about themselves instead of coaching classes.

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