ABC of Civil Services | The importance of frugality

The civil services examination is conducted annually by the UPSC in three stages.

It is important to do the simple things as we are into the fourth week of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and people are coming up with innovative ways to beat the boredom. Amid the resource constraints, new simple recipes are being tried out and people have started appreciating the small things at least for the time being. World over, governments are fighting the virus with their limited resources. In short, the world is going through a stage of frugality.

One should remember that the governments always had to face this challenge. In fact, governance in a nutshell can be described as managing things with the available resources. One will never be able to do things in a perfect way because there will not be enough funds at hand and that too may not be available on time. In government, one may not be at the liberty to pick a team to work with and has to manage with the available human resources. So, in a retrospective analysis, there will always be scope for improvement. All these factors apply to civil service examination too.

Peculiar test

The peculiarity of civil service examination is that a percentage of mark is not fixed as the minimum mark for eligibility of selection. The number of vacancies is filled up each year by the people who get maximum marks in that particular year. Interestingly, the topper often gets around just 50 per cent which will be very different from the rest of the examinations where the toppers invariably score more than 90 per cent.

The reason for this low score is the nature of the questions itself. Particularly, the general studies paper has questions where one needs to understand basic concepts and apply it in contemporary situations with the help of real examples.

For instance, let us take a question: "In the absence of well-educated and organised local level government system, panchayats and samitis have remained mainly political institutions and not effective instrument of governance. Critically discuss”.

To answer this, one needs to know about the constitutional provisions regarding panchayats, the problems of their functioning and the government’s attempt to rectify them. One needs to quote relevant studies conducted in this regard and also suggest some ways to improve the same. To do all these, one gets hardly ten minutes and has to stick to a word limit of 150 to 200. So, obviously the answer written under such time pressure will be a far cry from perfection. Hence the low marks.

Key points

While preparing for civil service, this factor has to be kept in mind but at the same time one should try to do the best. One must practice writing answers within the prescribed time limit and try to add maximum points. But there are people who are very reluctant to practice writing as they want to come up with only perfect answers. A former student of mine was a classic example of this. He always wanted to impress others by doing everything perfect. In the end, he never wrote any tests because of the fear of negative feedback!

There are others who fall for short cuts and gimmicks. They never do the simple things like reading and understanding the basics, periodic revisions and regular practice but invest in too many books and attend all possible classes. This extravaganza is never going to pay off because in the end one needs to convert all the knowledge to specific answers which needs to be produced under time pressure. This can be done only with proper understanding and regular practice.

Indian tradition prescribes a frugal existence with limited food, clothing and sleep for students. This applies to civil service aspirants too. Rather than spending too much on books and notes, one should concentrate on understanding things clearly.

One need not do different and exotic things to clear this examination, but should stick to efficient use of time and resources. So, at this time of COVID-19 lockdown, understand the importance of frugality in every walk of life and try to economise the preparation for civil service as well as your general way of life.

(The author is a former IPS officer and a trainer for civil service aspirants)

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