August is a very busy month for the civil service aspirants. Many people start their full-time coaching for next year around this time. Those who have cleared the preliminary examination are very busy for the Mains which will happen in September and the precious few who became winners are about to join their foundation course by the end of this month.
While interacting with the new entrants, I came across a peculiar problem. As general knowledge and current happenings are the major part of the syllabus of civil service examination, the candidates are given basic books to go through and are advised to read the newspaper. Though reading a newspaper is very much part of any Keralite’s life, reading an English newspaper for an examination is a novel experience for many. The result is that people spend three-to-four hours reading newspapers; marking important points and noting them down and not getting enough time for studying anything else. Many believe that one has to read a minimum of five newspapers to be an expert on current affairs.
All this fervour last for the initial few months. Once the preliminary examination is just a few months away, people stick to solving maximum question papers and this daily routine of newspaper reading takes a backseat. There are many coaching institutes which give concise information on what is happening and it will be easier to follow them. Closer to the examination, people come and ask: “Do I have to revise current affairs from last January or whether the last six months will do?”. After the preliminary results, the large syllabus of Mains with four general studies papers and two optional papers makes it difficult to follow newspaper thoroughly. People go for secondary sources, particularly online knowledge portals, to catch up with current affairs.
Candidates re-start their newspaper reading after the Main examination to prepare for interview since opinion formation is important. After a few months gap, some will find it difficult to follow the current events as they have missed what was going on in the previous months. One person admitted during a mock interview that he had lost touch with reality because of marriage! In simple words, he has not read any news for the past few months. Another problem here is that people reading and memorising the editorials and sticking to that particular point of view as the cardinal truth. I remember a candidate, who was giving answers entirely based on what was written in a particular newspaper he was following, and we were joking that this guy should be made the editor-in-chief of that daily.
After clearing the examination, it is difficult to devout a lot of time for newspapers particularly during the training period. Thanks to the smartphones and social media, one can still keep up with things around. But a lot of senior bureaucrats are very keen on reading newspapers.
Points to keep in mind
So, when it comes to preparing for civil service, how much importance one should give to newspaper reading? Well, the idea is to get oneself updated. One should not miss the current happenings across the globe. A good newspaper can help in that. As it has separate pages related to various topics, one can browse through without missing much. A news channel may prioritise its content in a different way. Reading one good English newspaper will be more than enough and one should not take more than an hour for the same. Stick to governance related topics primarily with emphasis to economics, environment and science. Any new acts, any developments in the bilateral relations, inventions and recognitions etc. should be noted down. The newspaper might not give a detailed picture in certain issues. In that case, one should browse about them using internet. Here also, try to stick to official sources like the Press Information Bureau's website. Besides, all dailies have their online versions now which allows one to go through multiple versions of the same story. This helps in forming opinion.
The editorials are the stand taken by respective media houses and an aspiring civil servant should not blindly swallow its content. Go through the good articles published in newspapers written by eminent persons to enrich yourself with good vocabulary and new currents of thoughts. In an era, where information is everywhere, the idea is to stick to reliable sources be it print, visual or social media and a habit of newspaper reading is just one aspect of the whole preparation.
(The author is a former IPS officer and a trainer for civil service aspirants)