Vallari Mahendra Gaikwad
Academic Background: Graduation: Law BSL LLB (ILS law College, Pune.)
Post Graduation: LLM in Constitutional Law (Department of law,
Pune university, Pune)
Optional Subject: Law
Number of Attempts: 4
Current Affairs Today: Congratulations on your selection! How do you feel?
Thank you! I feel relieved to begin with, and then a big feeling of elation too.
DCAT : What attracted you to the civil services?
The services which one gets, be it IAS, IFS or IPS and their individual work-profile is unparalleled with any other services out there. Hence, the opportunity to undertake challenging work full of responsibility, and one which has potential to have direct impact on many lives seemed like the kind of work that’ll give me the service satisfaction that I seek.
DCAT : When did you start your preparation- along with graduation, immediately after it or something else?
The thought of appearing for CSE occurred to me while I was pursuing my post graduation. So, I began my full fledged preparation only after having completed my PG.
DCAT : Was this your first attempt? If not, what changes did you make in your strategy for this attempt?
No. In my first prelims, I missed the cut off by 2 marks! So, for the next attempt, my bigger priority was clearing prelims. Therefore, I deeply analysed the mistakes that I’d committed and tried to read my own mind as to why I marked those questions wrong while in the exam hall. I realized that most of the mistakes could have been easily avoided had I been a little more careful, as even half a mark makes a huge difference in reaching the cut off!
I also tried analysing the questions that UPSC might ask, based on analysis on previous years questions and prepared static and current affairs part thoroughly. This was coupled with solving umpteen number of mock tests.
DCAT : Were you satisfied with your level of preparation before the exam and were you hopeful of being successful?
For, prelims, I was mentally satisfied with my preparation and revisions done, so was hopeful of scoring more than the cut off. But the same cannot be said about mains, as a lot of subjectivity is involved. I wasn’t completely satisfied as there was always a feeling, in retrospect that a particular answer could have been written better, but then again, in mains, one has to only do relatively better! Therefore, my focus was on completing the paper, writing precise and to the point answer to each and every question while not compromising on the presentation style. I was sure that I had done the best I could in that moment.
DCAT : How is the UPSC examination different from other examinations?
In multiple ways, but to mention just three:
First would be the duration of this exam which takes one full year and so we are engaged in the process for a long time. One mistake in any of the three stages and it’s back to square one!
Second would be the huge competition spanning all over India numbered in lakhs vis-a-vis the small number of vacancies. So the level of competition is really cut throat!
Third would be the uncertainty and vastness of studies involved despite the mentioned syllabus. Especially for prelims, one has to read and revise a lot as width of the knowledge, common sense, etc gets tested. In mains, the depth of knowledge, quality of answers, speed, time management etc gets tested, and in PT, the overall personality gets tested by a highly intellectual panel. I don’t think any other exam comes close to CSE and hence it’s rightly called the mother of all examinations in India.
DCAT : What do you consider as your formula of success?
Patience and perseverance are a sine qua non for this exam. There’s no one formula, but, self analysing the pulse of UPSC, trusting intuition regarding what information is or is not important as segregation is vital when there’s overload of material. Proper revision and use of educated guesses in prelims, focussing more on quality content and writing innovative answers for mains. Maintaining consistency in studies is important and I tried to be balanced and have equanimity during ups and downs.
DCAT : Considering the extensive syllabus of general studies in preliminary examination and main examination, what strategy did you adopt?
I did integrated studies for both. I focussed more on understanding the concepts, the news, the what why when of all issues and kept close to syllabus so as to not divert. Strategy was designed to cover each topic of syllabus thoroughly. Self notes from newspaper and internet for dynamic topics also helped.
DCAT : Did you give special emphasis to some particular sections or equal emphasis on all sections? In your opinion, can certain sections be skipped by assuming them to be not so important?
I tried to cover all topics mentioned in the syllabus, such that I had a basic idea of everything. But there isn’t enough time to dedicate equally to all topics. Therefore, analysing few topics (like freedom struggle for example) that are more important than others becomes necessary and I did such topics in extra detail. But when it comes to optional subjects, covering all sections is absolutely essential.
DCAT : How much time did you take to complete your preparation for all the three stages of the examination? Did you prepare for each stage in sequence or for all the stages simultaneously?
Prelims and mains was done simultaneously and it takes one complete year to properly cover the vast syllabus. Interview stage is a different ballgame and preparing the DAF and a few mocks do suffice.
DCAT : How important do you think is making own notes with studies? Please enlighten on the basis of your experience.
I personally think that self made notes are very important. The yearlong exercise of taking out notes from newspaper in my own words also helped immensely during mains as answer writing habit was indirectly strengthened. Besides, it’s easier to revise, read and remember notes that are written in your own handwriting. I remember, a week before the mains exam, I’d only carried my own notes for revision, so yes, they are quite important.
DCAT : Did you rely on any electronic material (e-notes/videos etc.) and other social networking sites for your preparation? If yes, did you find them useful? Please share some websites you frequented.
Given the dynamic nature of UPSC CSE questions, it has become rather important to be constantly updated about events. Also, everything is not covered in the static portion of books so taking recourse to the internet becomes essential.
I referred to Wikipedia for basic understanding, and used to scan Insights, Mrunal etc. Also referred to government ministry websites to get authentic information, referred to IDSA for defence related articles and to EPW for good articles on current issues. Listened to RSTV debates and spotlight analysis of news on radio as well, and took out brief notes of all these.
DCAT : How did you determine which books, magazines and periodicals to study and which to ignore/leave?
All the basic NCERT’s and important reference books which are well known have to be done. Role of magazines and periodicals is limited to supplementing your knowledge and providing additional fodder material. I used to quickly scan through Yojana, EPW and see if both the topic/theme as well as the author are relevant enough.
DCAT : In your opinion, how useful is participating in mock test series at different stages of this examination? Please share on the basis of your experience.
Very important, as it is via mocks, be it in any of the three stages, that we are able to judge ourselves, our weaknesses and our level of preparation. Mocks during prelims acquaint us with our unique styles, how much are we able to attempt, whether and where to take risks etc. This strategy should be ready before the actual exam. Mains, answer writing surely helps, although I didn’t join any as I was comfortable in this aspect. For personality test, a few mocks should ideally be given as they help gain feedback and confidence.
DCAT : How did you tackle the challenge of time management- whether it was on a daily, monthly or annual basis?
Long before the exam, the focus was on covering topics and conceptual understanding. Hence I did targeted studies and time wasn’t really a factor. Sometimes I studied for 18 hours at a stretch and other times just two hours. So it was quite haphazard, but as long as syllabus was getting covered, I was okay. But as exam approaches, a more organized and planned time management is required to complete reading and revision.
DCAT : How did you maintain consistency in preparation despite the de-motivating and often frustrating nature of this exam?
The feeling of frustration during preparation is common in all aspirants such that the fire may go through periods of highs and lows but it’s important to keep it burning throughout!
Engaging in constructive hobbies, exercising etc saves one from monotony. I also used to watch a lot of relevant movies for a change. Equanimity was the key.
DCAT : Do you think group study helps? Please tell based on your experience.
It’s really an individual thing. I was always comfortable doing isolated studies.
DCAT : What was your optional subject? Did you study it during your graduation?
I had graduated in law and hence chose law optional.
DCAT : Some people say that some optional subjects are smaller, easier and more scoring and hence more popular. In your opinion would it be right to say so? While choosing your optional subject did you consider it’s popularity as a basis?
In general studies papers, the level of knowledge expected is that of a generalist. But in optional, graduation level i.e. higher standard of knowledge is expected. It is true that some subjects are more popular, but I believe that an individual must go through the syllabus and previous years questions before deciding on an optional as that subject will have to be read in detail and hence having an interest or passion is important. Besides, given the unpredictable nature of UPSC, it’s better to take optional based on comfort (possibly the graduation subject).
With me, law was quite an unconventional subject and I was advised by seniors to not opt for it as it is not scoring, but I felt that I knew more about law than other optional and hence it made sense to study that in further detail than to start an altogether new optional from scratch.
I must mention here that since there is a paucity of good material on law optional, my notes on International Law, Torts and Contracts is soon going to be published for the benefit of aspirants taking law optional.
DCAT : In your opinion, to what extent is success in main examination dependant on the answer writing style? What approach did you follow in developing the right style of answer writing?
During graduation itself, I had good enough practice of writing answers, so in UPSC, I only had to work on compressing the answers and writing to the point. The format of intro-body-conclusion was followed but I always added a positive way forward, or a statistic, data, report or any piece of information relevant to the question such that it showed a connect with the current happenings. I also referred to toppers answers online and extracted good things I found therein. Important words were underlined and diagrams were drawn only if required.
DCAT : Time management and strategy for writing essay?
Two essays are to be written in a span of three hours. So half an hour has to be given for formulating the broad contours of the essay, creating the format and developing the ideas and content in the rough work sheet attached at the end of answer sheet. Once this is done, one hour is sufficient to write a ten page essay. Content and originality, I believe, are awarded more marks than writing clichéd quotes.
DCAT : How did you prepare for the interview? Does the preparation done during that short period immediately after the mains actually help in the interview?
My interview was scheduled on the third day itself, so I didn’t get sufficient time to prepare. I focussed on knowing the contents of my DAF (Detailed Application Form) thoroughly, revised current affairs and polished my graduation subject well.
In the short period after mains, no matter how much one prepares for the interview, it seems insufficient, as anything under the sun could be asked in the interview. I gave one mock interview and the feedback was helpful. Mock interview videos of Drishti ias, KSG etc also helped.
The key in interview is to be calm, composed and honest. There’s a saying that goes: you are ready for an interview not when you know all the answers but when you can handle all the questions, and I think that its very true.
DCAT : Please share some of the questions asked to you during the interview.
One member asked: If I were to give you a choice between becoming a Lok Sabha member or a Rajya Sabha member right this second, which one would you choose and why? To which I answered that there really isn’t much of a choice here as I won’t be eligible for Rajya Sabha as I’m not 30 yet!
Other member asked me how my hobby (rifle shooting) has contributed in bettering me in my life.
Another question was opinion based, whether the words secular and integrity added in the Preamble later on via 42nd amendment was a superfluous exercise.
Interview went for about 35 minutes and it was very cordial.
DCAT : In which board did you have your interview? Does the board that you get for interview make a difference in the result?
My board was that of Ajit Bhosale sir. I don’t think which board you get matters per se, it is only on how you perform, as all boards have been known to award marks in all sorts of ranges. It is better in fact, to not go inside the interview room with any pre-conceived notions, as they may disturb you mentally and hamper an otherwise good chance at the interview.
DCAT : Is it necessary to support/justify/endorse the policies and views of the government while writing the answers of CSE or replying in the interview? Can the government’s opinion on any issue be opposed?
In the written examination, constructive criticism is actually welcomed. If the question is analysed properly and relevant criticism is made, I think that should be fine. But the way in which it is presented has to be subtle and shouldn’t sound too aggressive. And when criticism is made, it’s better that the solution for the same is also stated in two lines, as that will give a positive impression and not seem like mere cynical musings.
In the interview, it’s better when one is honest, as then, the answers come from the heart. But at the same time, personality test is also about communication, so opposing views should be presented, but they should be done in the most polite and humble way possible.
For example, one panel member seemed very concerned when he asked me don’t you think the criminal judicial system in India is favoured towards the accused, in that the defendants only have to plead not guilty and the prosecution have the entire burden of proving the alleged crime? Now, I really did not agree, so I humbly put forth my views, that in India, we purposefully have adversarial system of law, and in criminal cases, if the guilt is proved, then the punishment is incarceration, which will have the effect of depriving that person of his fundamental right of freedom and liberty, and to be able to take away such a sacred right from a man, it is only fair, that his crime is proved beyond reasonable doubts.
DCAT : How important it is to have an alternate career back-up when preparing for civil services? Which path had you chosen?
Having a back-up surely provides security in the face of such an uncertain exam. I had decided to pursue litigation in Supreme Court, had I not made it in this attempt, as I voluntarily wanted to get out of the cycle of repeated attempts! Therefore I hadn’t even filled the form for the next attempt. It should really be a personal decision depending on the situation and the individual concerned.
DCAT : We wish you all the best for your future.