Education Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: IIS Abhinav Saxena shares his preparation strategy for UPSC Exam

Abhinav Saxena is an IIS officer of the 2018 batch. He ranked AIR 522 in the UPSC CSE 2017. Let's decode for his key to success.
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Abhinav Saxena is an Indian Information Service (IIS) officer of the 2018 batch. Currently, he is serving as Assistant Director, New Media Wing of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

In an exclusive interaction with The Liberal Journal, Abhinav Saxena shared an effective UPSC examination strategy. Here is our conversation with Abhinav Saxena that would be really helpful for you to crack one of the toughest and prestigious examinations.

1.) A beginner UPSC CSE candidate is usually confused about the syllabus, which books to follow, what to do and what not to do so. What should be the strategy for beginners?

Response: The strategy for beginners should be to begin from the very beginning of acquainting themselves with the UPSC Civil Services Examination.

  1. The first step (and the best source) to become familiar with the exam is to visit the www.upsc.gov.in website.
  2. The second step should be to download the Examination Notification, check the eligibility criteria and the Syllabus provided in detail in the notification.
  3. The next step, and a very important one, should be to download the previous year question papers which become very helpful at various stages of preparation.
  4. After these three initial steps, the beginner candidates should analyze their strong and weak areas as per the syllabus and the previous year question papers.
  5. Beginners should also select their Optional subject with the utmost care, keeping in mind various factors like their academic background (which need not be the same as the Optional subject they choose); their interest areas and inclination towards any particular discipline of science or humanities; their comfort with the kind of questions being asked in the Optional Subject (both Paper I and Paper II) over the previous few years.
  6. Only after this, the question of selecting the books comes. There is no fixed formula to qualify UPSC CSE and there is no fixed book list that is cast in stone. Candidates should refer to various booklists available on the Internet, try to go through different publications, if so, for a particular subject and select the one they find themselves comfortable with. For subjects that have only one reference publication being recommended, candidates can follow that. For instance, Indian Polity by M. Laxmikanth is the most followed reference book for covering the syllabus of Indian Polity. NCERTs can and should be followed by beginners, especially if their fundamental concepts are not very strong.
  7. After selecting the books, smart schedules need to be prepared; daily, weekly, and monthly targets need to be fixed and candidates should begin their preparation, one step at a time.
IIS Abhinav Saxena

2.) We see that there are a lot of online platforms available nowadays, so is it a good alternative to replace offline studies, what is your view on it?

Response: Online and digital media have not replaced traditional media (Print, TV, and Radio). Similarly, online study resources have not been able to completely replace offline resources. None is an alternate to the other. Both need to be utilized in a judicious and balanced manner to supplement each other.

3.) A college student has his/her own syllabus and as we know that UPSC CSE has a vast syllabus. What should be the first step for such students?

Response: If there is an overlap between the college syllabus and UPSC CSE syllabus, the candidates can begin preparing those portions of the CSE syllabus so that they can learn the college syllabus simultaneously and do well in the college exams.

If there is no overlap between the UPSC CSE syllabus and college syllabus, candidates need to divide their time judiciously between both, devoting 4-6 hours daily to their UPSC CSE studies regularly, till they complete their UG/PG.

IIS Abhinav Saxena

4.) Due to curfew and lockdown restrictions, everyone is facing his/her own challenge. It is difficult to keep one motivated. How should one always keep himself/herself charged up?

Response: Stay away from negative news and distractions. Consume optimistic news and have a hopeful outlook towards the present and future. Keep your eyes and mind focused on your goal. Strive to complete your daily, weekly, and monthly targets as per your decided smart schedules. Do not ignore your overall well-being. Take out some time for physical exercise, yoga, Meditation, etc.

5.) How many times should we read reference books like spectrum, Lakshmikant, Nitin Singhania etc.?

Response: There is no fixed number for that. The more you read and revise, the better. However, after the initial reading, you can also make some chapter-wise or topic-wise short notes from such books which are useful at the time of last-minute revision. During the course of preparation, the number of revisions of these books should depend upon your comfort level and strength/weakness in any particular subject/topic.

6.) What is the correct way of reading a newspaper? Which newspaper is best for the preparation?

Response: There is no correct or incorrect way of reading a newspaper. However, when it comes to utilizing the newspaper for UPSC CSE preparation, you need to keep a few things in mind:

  1. Be well-versed with the syllabus so that you can skip the topics that are not relevant from the examination point of view.
  2. Do not give much time to ‘political’ news. Reading only the headlines of such news related to the political activities of various parties and their leaders would be more than sufficient even if you consider it necessary from the perspective of being aware of the country’s politics. However, news related to Indian Polity must be read and comprehended in greater detail. For this also, knowing the syllabus becomes useful.
  3. The focus should be on topics/issues related to various subjects such as Indian Economy, Polity, Social Issues, Security Issues, International Relations, Science and Technology, Developmental issues, Governance Issues, etc.
  4. The newspaper should be read regularly, devoting adequate time to it. Not too much to leave no time for other subjects, not too less to even comprehend and retain what you have read.
  5. Short notes based on what you have read help you in retaining and revising what you have read. These notes can be different for Prelims (facts, figures, data, reports, studies, etc.) and Mains (ideas, concepts, arguments, analyses, insights, etc.)
  6. The Hindu or The Indian Express are the two most popular newspapers that the candidates usually read. Any one of these two can be read depending upon the candidate’s preferences, reading comprehension, etc.
IIS Abhinav Saxena

7.) How can we prepare for the CSAT Paper?

Response: Those who have never practised any aptitude questions or those who believe/know that they have weak aptitude may refer to any standard practice book and solve topic-wise questions every fortnight or once a week. Once they are comfortable in the topics that UPSC asks, which they’ll get to know from the syllabus, they can proceed to practice previous year question papers of CSAT. Identify the weak areas and continue to work upon improving such areas.
Those who have a sound aptitude need not refer to any specific book. They can directly start practising from the previous year CSAT question papers.

8.)What is the relevance of test series for prelims and mains how much test should we opt for?

Response: In order to not get surprised by the nature of the examination, it is always better o practice as much as you can. In this case, the practice involves both revisions of what you have studied as well as solving the previous year question papers or practice/mock test papers.

For Prelims, you can download/purchase mock test papers of any credible institutes and solve them by yourself. Do not forget to analyze the papers to know your weak and strong areas and learn from your mistakes so that you do not repeat those mistakes in the actual exam.

For Mains, it is recommended that the candidates join a test series (either online or offline) where they can practice writing answers in a timed manner to get adapted to the exam atmosphere. Get your answers reviewed on time so that you can apply the feedback received from the very next practice test.

A couple of sectional tests for all the subjects and a few Full-length tests should be sufficient, provided you give enough time for analysis and ‘revision’ of test papers.

IIS Abhinav Saxena

9.) It has been said many times that we should try to know what not to read rather than what to read, so how can we restrict ourselves with limited sources?

Response: The candidates need to know both: what to read and what not to read. For both, at the cost of sounding repetitive, I would reiterate that they need to know the syllabus. The resources need to be selected in such a way that all the topics and portions of the syllabus get covered. Multiple resources for the same topic can be avoided. Revise those limited resources which cover the entire syllabus.

IIS Abhinav Saxena

10.) Is self-study sufficient or should we prefer any coaching for the preparation?

Response: Coaching is never sufficient. Self-study is a must, irrespective of whether you take coaching or not. So joining a coaching program should depend upon your financial constraints and the time at your disposal.

(Interview by Nitin Anand)

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