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The first question that pops out of the mind of an aspirant is the doubt- “Am I capable?”  This doubt often roots in the mental image of all those (apparently) super-smart Rank holders, the glitzy characters from movies and real life phenomena like Mr Ashok Khemka IAS.

The civil services suddenly appear to be a gargantuan task, one that is near impossible, one that can only be completed by super humans with super abilities. Couple this with the blogs/videos/strategies churned out by “super smart” rank holders and/or “assured success” coaching centres on #speedreading, #smartpreparations #shecracked@21wow!! #AIR-Xshareshisnotes etc and good old stories on 14 hours of daily toil, most candidates get discouraged before even starting the actual preparation.

The above lament is not meant to belittle the achievements of the worthy, or to trivialize the hours of hard work that went into clearing the exams, or the sincere attempts at helping fellow aspirants, but to represent the broad spectrum of electronic noise that’d pop up once you start fantasizing about a career in the civil services. The Times are so bad (PUN INTENDED), that it is almost like the pre-internet era, when the average candidate was at disadvantage due to disinformation; the difference now -that the modern confusion is the product of misinformation and excess information combined.

Okay, I am not shying away from addressing the elephant in the room.. Are you capable?

Our answer is .. a definite YES!! *

*unfortunately, as always, conditions apply…  🙂

Now unlike mutual funds or Product claims in ads, these conditions are NOT about unforeseeable risks or incomprehensible pre requisites.  The capability, ( I’d rather term it potential) to clear the civil service examinations depends on whether or not one has a skill set consistent with the ever fluctuating demands of the exam.

Let’s Explore what these skill set comprise of:

  1. Reading comprehension and language ability
  2. Perseverance (the dogged variety preferred)
  3. Discipline (plans, schedules and deadlines)
  4. Malleability

Reading Comprehension and Language ability

UPSC civil services examinations, like any other exam, is the measure of the intersection of demands of a job versus resources possessed by the candidate. Unfortunately, unless and until a telepathic psychic evaluation method is invented, the medium of communication will be language.
To be capable, one must be able to read, understand and comprehend. To be capable one must think, collate, organise and express, on paper.
The preparation, as well as examinations, are solely based on this single skill. To understand and to express in the language of your choice. The demands of this skill progressively increase from prelims to mains to personal interviews. This might sound childish, but to reiterate,


Now this never means that one should have an ocean deep vocabulary or an ornate writing style. The sheer flow of simple sentences progressing logically to express a coherent idea would produce a better effect than a beautifully, chaotically written monologue. Heck, these days even bullet point phrases fetch more marks than the attempted literary marvels. To cut short, one needn’t be a journalist to the Hindu to be capable of the challenges thrown by the exam.


Now here’s another cliché stuff coming up, you might think. But never underestimate the importance of the ability to take hits and still bounce back. This simply is the function of individual ambition, commitment and courage. The less u REALLY want to be in the service, MORE is the chance of you quitting.
No, I am not talking about quitting once you fail in one attempt or even a couple of attempts. I am specifically pointing out to the quitting that one does daily, even on an hour to hour basis. One may slog through all the 6 attempts or more, that one has, but still failure maybe the reason of lack of perseverance.

Watch out for these types-The quitting on continuing studies than keep up the hard toil for 5 more minutes to finish that part before getting up. The “ ek din loss hone se kya farak padta hai” attitude when one fumble with the priorities on multiple days. The quitting to do better “NEXT YEAR” than appear this year, because, you know what, the mocks were disastrous. The mental submission to the air of intellectual superiority that is around you, smothering u every moment u prepare, the sheer feeling of inferiority, and the battle is lost before it begins. This skill may not mean much for the casual player more interested in backup plans (SSC, IBPS etc) and trying his luck at prelims, because that’s cool.

For the TL; DRs , you’re capable provided,

Don’t get IN if you don’t want to go all the way. Don’t get OUT if you haven’t made it all the way.


Now, as Brian Tracy points out in his book, (The Miracles Of Self-Discipline, (No I haven’t read it, but do try the 1hr summary by the author, mp3, audio book) everyone feels that they aren’t disciplined enough; That they are some sort of sloggers who get by, somehow. The discipline that I mention here may be different for different people.

For the ‘mostly’ disciplined, it may be about dividing the target linearly and setting strict daily schedules, sticking to it to cover the targets.

For the grossly undisciplined crowd, it may simply be meeting deadlines, without getting their arses on fire.

No matter whichever group you may belong to, it is very important to have a plan. At this stage let us stay purely on an abstract plane.

Person A has a schedule- when to get up, what to read, what to finish by the day fall.

Person B doesn’t have a schedule but say, put in 8 hrs of work daily spread out according to own convenience, dawn to dusk.

Now depending upon individuals u may be A or B or even something else. But you should have a plan to cover whatever needs to be covered, fully customised to your abilities. Yes, planning is frustrating, planning is tedious and planning is repetitive. But,

Are you going to stay slave to the INORGANIC SCHEDULES widely advertised by some websites? Or the readymade “tested OK” plans of the topper?

The ability to plan and execute, to have the very basic discipline to obey oneself,  say 1/3rd of a day (ie. 8hrs per day) is crucial to you being capable.

To summarise,

Make a plan, Stick to the plan…. That’s the only plan.. “


Given the way UPSC is playing around with its schedule, formats and rules the potential candidate needs to be extremely ADAPTABLE. There are various points to ponder in this regard:

  1. Exam flavour swings (prelims)- current affairs to static portions and vice versa.
  2. Exam flavour swings (mains)- Specific to generic, factual to opinion and vice versa
  3. Schedule shifts- advancing dates over the years.
  4. X factor- optional to be there till?? Another shift in mains/prelims format?
  5. Rule books: Age, creamy layer, no. of attempts…

The above-mentioned points are UPSC’s stage setters, upsetting the individual plan of long term prep by reduced attempt or age limit, rendering prep useless by removing the optionals (?), Surprising the unsuspecting candidates by springing factual or current affairs dominated prelims papers (or vice versa) and so on.

I have seen people going through 3, 4 attempts without even trying the slightest change to their strategy or preparation mode. The point is not whether one is right or wrong, but about being able to understand when to try different things if one doesn’t seem to be going nice. It’s okay never to understand what went wrong right after the exams, but it’s a different thing if even the marks couldn’t make sense to you (apart from the essay paper in written exams).

If UPSC springs a surprise and you find yourself with no more attempts, what is the next best option? If UPSC short circuits the rules and next is your last attempt, what then? As chaotic as this subsection seems, it is no less chaotic to the real life scenario with aspirants.

The more important aspect of adaptability is one’s willingness to change. In the course of preparations, especially post prelims, one might have to unlearn and learn concepts, smash those preconceived notions and build new perspectives, and more importantly, be genuine and consistent about it. One should develop a strong feedback mechanism, from self and from dependable individuals to continue improve and reinvent oneself. This process is as much about self-improvement as it is about clearing exams.

The very majority of rank holders tend to appear “super smart” for the aspiring rank holder. Point to be noted here is that they are rank holders not because they are “super smart”, but because the preparations made them “super smart”; super smart being just a perspective on honed skills.

Now that I am done with the painful monologue on the capability conditions, the observant eyes among you must have noted this- THERE IS NOTHING PARTICULARLY UNIQUE ABOUT THE CONDITIONS APPLIED..

Yes, that is the simple truth. And that is the exact reason why UPSC is so difficult, because the capability is just a measure of skills we need in everyday life, but measured in tonnes than kilos.

The only factor that you can’t bend is TIME. Some may have 6 attempts left, some- more, other might be lamenting and racing against time or age towards the final years. But given sufficient time, say 2-5 years, eventually anyone can become capable.

It is never late to start reading, building your command over the language. It is never late to decide and practice patience, build emotional and intellectual endurance to resist fatigue. It is never late to discipline yourself and plan your life. It is never late to be open up for change and get out of those comfort zones. Never late to switch career or try something different.

It is never late.

Before fixing this goal, to be a civil servant, ask yourself- what motivates you? Because if the motivation is NOT strong any of these 4 conditions might falter under pressure, and you may fall back to a “backup plan”. Worse, if you don’t enjoy the process, have fun learning, studying and building yourself and on top of it end up in a different career, you’re going to regret the  “LOSS” of prime years of your life, envying the fun life your buddies had while you slogged through books, for “nothing”. There is no point in trying for civil services without proper motivation. If it is so, ‘do you want to end up a man filled with regrets, growing old?’

A sincere preparation is about stretching your limits and pushing one’s knowledge horizons as far as possible. It is about enduring, apart from UPSC and exams, the pressure of society, relatives, buddy circles, resisting temptations, making sacrifices, making quick decisions, managing fatigue and keeping one’s head cool, above all the negativity or performance pressures. It is a tough job, a toil of the simplest of capabilities. Some already blessed ( I prefer acquired) with some or all of these capabilities, may find it easy and do it in 1-2 years. Someone not so capable (yet), may take 3-5 years, or even more. The Tamil Nadu victor, Jayaganesh, who made it into IAS after 7 attempts is a real inspiration to aspirants.

Yes, you are capable. The world is not a mathematical machine. There is no finality, only probability. Provided the ambition is there, provided the time, passion, anyone can hone these proficiencies to the desired levels to be able to match the demands of the exams, giving at least a decent odds in favour of clearing the exams.And if you decide, with a full heart and steely resolve, to jump on this bandwagon,

I can assure you one thing – regardless of whether u make it to the service or not, you are going to love the individual that you become in 2-5 years.

This article is not a guide. Was never meant to be. Sorry to have disappointed you. An article on our perspective on how to prepare (with no solid strategy proposed) will be uploaded soon. Meanwhile, this is the starting point. Think. Embrace what might be relevant for you, sleep on it. Think..You are capable…..

Today is the best day ever because it comes every day.