Dear Mentor:

How should I prepare for the IAS?

I want to know about the IAS [Indian Administrative Service] exam. I am in the 1st year of an engineering program. I want to know about the strategy of preparation. Please help me.

IAS Preparation, Orissa, India

Dear IAS Preparation:

The essential ingredient of succeeding on an exam is the knowledge of the contents and structure of the exam and the process. The UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) of India conducts the IAS exam. The three-step process is: Preliminary Exam (Prelims), Main Exam (Mains), and Interview.

The Prelims are composed of two tests of two hours each. The General Studies (GS) test contains 150 objective, multiple-choice questions. It primarily covers six topics: the constitution of India, history, geography, economics, science, and current affairs. The second test is on a subject chosen, from among the 23 subjects, by the candidate. This objective, multiple-choice test contains 120 questions. The GS and second test are worth 150 and 300 points, respectively.

The Prelims are used as a screening mechanism for reaching the next phase of the Mains. Approximately 200,000 candidates appear for the Prelims and less than 20,000 qualify for the Mains. The number of candidates for the Prelims is about 10 times larger than the number of vacancies available. Obviously, getting an IAS job in India is extremely competitive and thus highly regarded.

The Mains consists of 9 tests. The first two are language tests: first is the English Test and the second is the Language Test in any one of the languages included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian constitution. Each test is worth 300 points. These tests are at the high school level. The candidates are expected to only qualify; the score from these tests is not included in the aggregate. The Language Test is not required for candidates from the North-East. The third test is an Essay Test, worth 200 points. The candidate can write the essay in English or in any other language included in the Eighth Schedule of the constitution. The next two tests, each worth 300 points, are on General Studies. The syllabus for each test is different. These tests aim to judge your awareness and well as your understanding and analysis of contemporary events. The remaining four tests, each worth 300 points, are on two of the optional subjects chosen by the candidate. The subject matter is consistent with the college level education.

The interview, worth 300 points, is the last stage of the selection process. Nearly twice as many candidates are invited for Interview as the number of vacancies.

As you can see, the process consists of mandatory and optional subject matter. For optional subjects, you should choose those subjects in which you have the most knowledge and greatest interest. Obviously, you need to master the constitution, history, geography, economic, science, and current affairs. Another critical dimension is the thought process, analytical skills, ability to articulate thoughts coherently and strong writing skills, both in English and in the language of your choice. Given a particular emphasis on the general knowledge, you must become an avid reader of newspapers and magazine that deal with Indian and international affairs, political, economic and business issues, and other current events.

Remembering the facts is necessary but not sufficient. You must develop a good understanding of the facts and their implications in the larger context of India and the world. You should start preparing now. Of course there is the subject matter at the college level for which you do not have knowledge. But there are plenty of other subjects for which you can start preparing now.

You should buy guide-books on the IAS exams to practice and prepare. May services are also available that offer interactive online preparation service. Approximately one year before taking the test, you can consider taking coaching classes. Your strategy for success must include: early, continuous, and serious preparation, starting right now.

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