ABC of Civil Services | Common links between sports and competitive exams

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The COVID-19 pandemic changed the human life so much that people started to talk about “the new normal”. Many educational institutions either suspended or postponed examinations and there are worries regarding the conduct of competitive examinations.

Another field, which is affected by the pandemic is the world of sports. The excitement of watching a sporting event in the stadium will not happen in the near future and sportspersons need to follow all the COVID-19 protocols and get themselves used to playing in empty stadiums. The Tokyo Olympics has been postponed o next year and many athletes, particularly the older ones who qualified for the Games, are anxious. The situation is similar to candidates appearing for civil service especially those who have just one attempt left. There are lot of parallels between the world of sports and competitive examination in general. There are many things which a candidate can learn from the sporting legends.

The main connecting factor between sports and civil service examination is the element of competition involved. The three-stage selection process of civil service is very similar to a person or a country playing the qualifiers for Olympics or the FIFA World Cup and then battling it out in the finals. Unlike the examinations in schools and colleges, getting a particular percentage of marks does not ensure your winning. You need to be ahead of other competitors and every year the Union Public Service Commission picks up a particular number of people who scored better than the rest. This is very similar to an athletics event where the top three gets medals. The other competitors might have given their personal best performance, but that do not ensure them a place on the podium.

The examination process of civil service takes almost a year and a half to complete. Every year it starts with the announcement of examination, followed by the three stages where elimination happens. Those who fail to qualify for a particular stage need to start from the beginning and has to wait one more year. A person who is already in the service and is writing again to improve his/her rank may fail in the first step itself. We have seen similar stories in many World Cups and Grand Slam tennis events where former champions sometimes exit in the first round itself. They then wait for the next major event or four years in case of Olympics and FIFA World Cup practicing and polishing their skills; a trait which a civil service aspirant should follow.

Don't worry about failures

Since it may take years for a person to be a world champion, perseverance and determination matters. The setbacks should be converted to stepping stones of success. This is true for civil service aspirants too. The “I will give only one perfect attempt” attitude does not make sense in the world of competition where one should be ready to face failures too.

The comparison with the fellow competitors is the most important ingredient of success in a competition. One should have a fair idea about the level of the competition and should keep on analysing one’s performance vis-a-vis others. In sports, it is easier since one has a fair idea about other teams and players. In an examination like civil service, one actually does not see all the fellow competitors. So, at least one should join a test series to assess one’s progress. This will ensure that you are comparing yourself with some fellow aspirants and this helps in understanding the nature of competition involved.

The civil service examination follows a calendar. One needs to follow it thoroughly. Ideally one should start preparation a year before combining the preliminary and main syllabus. The last three-four months before the prelims should be devoted exclusively for that. Soon after that, preparation for the main exam needs to be started. The time should be divided for revision as well as writing model tests. Recently I came across an advertisement where a test series with over 70 tests were announced for a period of almost as many days! This can be heavily counter-productive. One needs to observe the sporting field for cues where there is separate workout regime during season and off season. Also, there will be regular routines to improve strength and skill and always practice matches before the actual event.

So, in this time of pandemic, the world of sports is ideal for motivation and one needs to learn how sheer hard work makes winners.

(Remya Roshni, ex-IPS, is a civil service trainer and author of "How to Ace Civil Service Interviews")

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