In the Civil Services Examination of 2017, Mayur Kathawat has secured AIR 96, IAS. Mayur cleared UPSC in his first attempt. He spoke to us about his strategies to crack the exam.
UP: Tell us something about yourself and why did you choose to pursue the UPSC examination. Has it always been your dream? Did you achieve it in your first attempt?
Mayur: In 2015, I graduated from IIT Bombay; and during the campus placements, I got placed for the post of a Manager in OLA Cabs, Bangalore. After working there for over a year, approximately 13 months, I left the job and in July 2016, I joined the National Bank of Dubai. Honestly, I belong from a rural area and when I worked in Dubai, I actually realized how developed the city was already, in comparison to where I was brought up.
I came to know about the role of civil servants in changing the living situation of society. For almost one and a half year, I worked in the corporate sector. However, I felt like the corporate sector was compartmentalized, like working for 5 days a week and partying on the weekends was not my actual goal in life. I wanted to work on all the seven days of the week and create some value, not only in my life but also in other people’s life.
Secondly, my father is also a state civil servant. So, since my very childhood, I had an exposure to that background, which also counts as one of the reasons as to why I caught interest in this field. Civil services is not a job, rather a service, which comes with a huge respect in the society.
You actually hold the power to bring a change, not only from your service but also by being an idol for the rest to follow. Nevertheless, since the very beginning, I wanted to do something for my society and my nation, and that is when I started focusing on and preparing for the UPSC Examination. I was confident that I would succeed in this exam but making it in the first attempt itself was, frankly speaking, a distant dream.
UP: How did you keep yourself motivated throughout the preparation, considering the duration being long?
Mayur: Firstly, since I had appeared for the IIT-JEE examination and successfully secured myself a position in the IIT, I had an exposure to how challenging the role could be. Secondly, I had taken a very big risk when I left my job in Dubai, where I was paid 35-40 lakhs annually.
I consider it to be a risk factor because this exam is very uncertain. Usually, people take 3-4 years to successfully crack the examination; and suppose, if at all I wouldn’t have qualified for it in the first place, I would have to retake the exam and practically saying, it would have been very much difficult for me, which was again a factor of motivation to me.
Thirdly, every one of my alumni is very successful in their lives, for example, many of them were the CEOs in their start-ups; so I too wanted to do something great in my life. What matters is inward motivation and how you pursue the challenges in life. This is what kept me on a positive note throughout my preparation.
UP: Alright, so now I’ll get a bit technical part. In terms of prelims, what was your strategy? Did you attempt any of the mock tests? According to you, how important is solving papers for the prelims?
Mayur: I actually had a very less time before the prelims. I started preparing in January 2017, and only 6 months had remained for the examination. At that time, I started preparing for the optional. Only 3-4 months were left when I started focusing completely on the prelims and GS.
I started referring to the basic books, like the NCERT textbooks because I was left with little time in my hands. I’d solved least 50 test papers prior to the examination because once you start solving the paper, you get the idea of the type of questions asked in the paper.
According to me, getting into the mode of solving the question papers is very important, as it gives confidence and also teaches you the elimination technique.
UP: True, you’d previously mentioned that you were left with very less time to prepare for the examination, what was your strategy in terms of mains? How did you prepare for the essay paper?
Mayur: After I was done with the prelims, every weekend I used to write an essay, focusing particularly on the beginning section. I concentrated on making the beginning section attractive, by writing a catchy introduction. The main body was structured and included arguments and sub-arguments.
Besides, I had written a lot of essays in the test series which I had joined later. Hence, essay writing was not much difficult for me.
UP: That’s great! So, coming to the main part, i.e., the GS, did you write the answers in bullet points or in paragraphs? Does it matter how you write your answers? What would you suggest?
Mayur: Whenever I thought of writing an answer, I would think of reading it from an examiner’s perspective. According to me, writing the answers in bullet points really helps, since it becomes easier for the examiner to check it. It gives clarity to the answer. Moreover, since I come from engineering background; I already had a touch of writing the answers using bullet points.
But considering the optional, we’d have to write the answers in the form of paragraphs. Initially, I was not very much comfortable with it, but later on, I got a hang of it. Writing was kind of my comfort.
UP: Which optional subject had you chosen for mains? Why did you choose the same?
Mayur: Firstly, I went on with economics as I had previously worked with a bank and during my college years as well, I had studied economics. But later on, I switched to political science as there wasn’t lot of material available for economics.
Also, for political science, all of these criteria were met. Besides, political science is something which you’d directly connect with, by means of reading the newspaper. In political science, 60-70 percent consisted of the current affairs, which you’d to cover anyhow in GS. This overlap mainly helped in the GS as well as the interviews, which is one of the reasons why I opted for political science.
UP: How much time did it take for you to complete the optional subject, taking into consideration the fact that it comprises a vast syllabus?
Mayur: After finishing GS in between the Prelims and Mains, I had only 2 months. So, mainly I focused on ethics and made my own notes, which could be referred to again and again. My advice would be read from limited sources, revise more and have a sense of self-belief that whatever you are reading is enough.
UP: If at all a new person had chosen this optional, what would have been your first advice to him?
Mayur: Well, what I think is that anybody shouldn’t opt for political science merely because it is much easier to prepare and qualify in comparison to the other subjects or the coaching material is available. If, and only if you are completely interested in that subject, you should prefer it.
Moreover, political science is mostly a theoretical subject, so, in particular, if at all you don’t kind of enjoy that, it would be very difficult for you to score in it. Interest should be the major criteria if you want to opt for this optional subject.
UP: Who was the chairman of your board for the interview?
Mayur: Air Marshal Ajit Shankarrao Bhosale was the chairman of the board for the interview, which was on 9th of March.
UP: How did you prepare for the interview? Did you have any specific study plan for the interview, just like you had for the mains and prelims?
Mayur: Well, according to me, the duration of 2 months is enough to prepare for the interview. What matters is the quality of time rather than quantity. What I did, in particular, was that I had gone through the previous years’ transcripts and started preparing for it by watching the toppers’ interview. You should focus principally on the transcripts and put it in context.
I also took up the mock tests which gave me an idea of the actual interview questions. In all, I gave 5-6 mock interviews and it gave me a good idea about the same.
UP: How long did the interview last? Can you tell us a few questions that they had asked you during the interview?
Mayur: To begin with, they asked me about my hobbies, to which I replied that I like playing tabla and go mountaineering during my free time.
So, they wanted to know how the musical instrument originated and how useful is mountaineering in civil services. They asked me to name some of the renowned alumni from IIT Bombay and the reason I decided to opt for the civil services examination; since I was at the peak of my career. I was also asked about the actual meaning of success. Also, they’d asked me about some of the current affairs.
UP: What was your career backup plan, if at all you were not selected?
Mayur: Actually, prior to getting qualified in the UPSC examinations, I had the work experience for almost a year and half. So, if at all I were not qualified, I would have gone back to working in the corporate sector.
UP: Any words of wisdom for the young aspirants who are starting to prepare for the UPSC examination?
Mayur: Hard work has no substitute. Everyone should believe in their abilities and not get confused to where they are heading. Initially what happens is that there are too many advices, but eventually, they’ll evolve through it.
Referring to the NCERT textbooks would really be helpful, at least during the initial few months of the preparation, as it is very easy to understand. Last but not the least, stay focused towards your goal and don’t take too much stress.
UP: What are your views on online UPSC Preparation?
Mayur: I think online resources are kind of revolution for the preparation because of the advantages you get from the online coaching mode.
First thing is that the cost will be much lesser than the classroom preparation. Not everyone can afford to go to Delhi and the expensive coaching classes. For such students UPSC coaching is available for cheaper cost.
Second thing is that you can save a lot of time for the preparation, and then you can have video lectures to which you can revisit whenever you wish to. It also gives you the flexibility to study whenever and wherever you want to.
Referring to the online resources has a great future and it is also an equalizer. I too referred to a lot of online content for my preparation. Especially the dynamic content is available very easily and is great for preparation.
UP: Is it necessary to altogether eliminate the optional subjects? Or, should it be a part of the UPSC curriculum?
Mayur: Well, I think the optional subjects should totally be scrapped out from the UPSC curriculum. Optional subjects create an extensive amount of fear in the minds of the candidates; and what happens sometimes is that the majority won’t opt for one of the subjects because of its toughness. This would create a lot of uncertainty. That being said, UPSC aspirants must not worry about getting an optional slashed, instead, focus on their preparation with the current syllabus.
We would once again like to express our heartiest congratulations for this grand success. Wishing you, all the very best in your career and life ahead.
(Recreated from a telephonic interview)
Author: Akshay Palande
Akshay Palande is a passionate teacher helping hundreds of students in their UPSC preparation. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering and double masters in Public Administration and Economics, he has experience of teaching UPSC aspirants for 5 years. His subject of expertise are Geography, Polity, Economics and Environment and Ecology.