Day 2 – Essay & English language
(AKA ‘The Breather’)
All I have to say about this day’s papers is, if there is going to be one positive highlight to the entire exam, then today would have to be it! That’s why I’ve called this day and section ‘The Breather’. But don’t get me wrong, you can still go wrong so you shouldn’t get lax.
Some of us do take our English language skills for granted. I admit fully that most of the time, I am not aware of what grammatical rules are at work in a sentence construction. The only reason I might be able to let’s say, ‘change the narrative’ or ‘correct the grammatical mistakes’ or ‘fill in the blanks’ is because of English practically being my first language – I just say the sentence aloud and see what sounds right. Not very scientific. So how to tackle the English paper then for those who are non-English speakers? There are countless grammar books and exercise books to help with this. There is one grammar book I remember having as a kid and it was incredibly useful growing up, the Wren and Martin English Grammar book. Even if I couldn’t understand the grammatical concept, this book had excellent examples so I could understand through that. Also, just immerse yourself in English language movies and shows. At least your ear will get use to hearing English.
I noticed with the Essay paper today and the long-answer question for the English paper, that the kind of questions given can be broadly based into two types -’factual’ and ‘creative’. Creative here does NOT mean actual creative writing but I use the word to mean that these type of questions require some independent thought and originality. Factual questions are ones which require some more technical facts to support your answers e.g. Discuss the creation of smaller states and it’s political and economic impact. The ‘creative’ type questions can be ones like ‘Does Indian cinema shape popular culture or reflect it?‘ (these were both actual questions on the essay paper). Go with your strengths. If you’re the type who does better with solid facts then you know what type of questions you’re better at. But if you like having to ‘think on your feet’ then you know which question to attempt. The Essay paper was for 200 marks and 3 hours long.
There were five questions in total (with many parts i.e. A, B, C etc.) for the English language paper for 300 marks. The first question is a semi-long answer question, to be answered in 300 words. Topics such as ‘Modern world’s concern over nuclear energy‘, ‘Invention creates necessity‘ (liked this one and how the old saying of necessity being the mother of all inventions had been turned the other way around) etc. Then there is passage comprehension which was straightforward and simple. Fill in the blanks was not bad either with questions coming in two forms: one, putting in the correct usage of a verb in the sentence e.g. (SEE) I remember _______ her when she was a little girl and two, questions on putting in the correct preposition e.g. I have no fondness ______ music, I have no doubts ______ your honesty etc. Changing the narrative dealt with questions like change the narrative of this sentence – He said to me, “What a strange man you are!”. There was a question also on using the correct conjunction; the question gave five coordinating conjunctions ‘when‘, ‘but‘, ‘and‘, ‘nor‘ & ‘for‘ and then 5 sentences were given and you had to select the correct conjunction to use e.g. He picked up his pen. He began to write. There was one question which I did find kind of tricky since it was a little open-ended. For me, unless I see it written specifically in the instructions then I am prone to making my own corrections. Here are some of the sentences that came for this question: ‘Saints desire nothing ____________the society‘, ‘I did nothing but laughed‘ etc. etc. Some were pretty clear, others I managed to confuse for myself :p
The precis I kept for last. It was a 611 word passage and you had to redo it in 204 words. The special sheet they use has individual boxes for every word, every line containing 5 boxes and on the margins are the number of words for every two lines. For precis, the only thing you can do is practice. Practice and practice. Overall, it was a good day compared to Day 1 and the General Studies papers. For English language, brush up on your school grammar i.e. tenses, parts of speech etc. There is not much more advice to give for these two papers.
So, how am I holding up after Day 2? The answer – I am thoroughly exhausted at the close of Day 2. Sleeping has gotten bad in the sense that every time I wake up, I keep thinking that I’m late for the exams regardless of day, date and time! I took a nap around 9pm last night and woke up around 1 am in the morning thinking I had missed yesterday’s exams and also thinking I had missed my upcoming exam on Friday! Time has ceased to exist! Sigh. It’s gotten ‘bad’ to the point that I do not have strength to walk properly….I now waddle happily in the street. It’s more about mentally being tired rather than physically. Also, as much I love and appreciate all the support and prayers of my parents, I get more tired having to field questions (in detail) about the exam i.e. type of questions, which did you answer, how many marks, can you estimate your expected marks etc. etc. etc. I realized that I’m halfway there now with just two more days of exams, four more papers then free…..to face one term paper, one research proposal and two assignments! Arghhhhhhhh!!!! It never ends!
Day 1 – General Studies
(AKA read the entire Encyclopaedia! and everything the Government has ever printed about the nation….hmph…and still no guarantees there!)
I have decided to start a four-day series (this is because my exams will spread for four days!) about the Road to Becoming a Civil Servant! Why? you may ask, have I decided to blog about this experience…well, only because on this day, the 29th of October, 2011, thousands upon thousands of hopeful, young (and not so young), bright, fresh-faced (not entirely) youth have decided to go sit an exam that will either make or break their dreams and careers! Yes…it IS actually that big a deal for a lot of people and I can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness when I think my life lies in the hands of a bureaucratic exam. Sigh.
So what does it feel like to sit the Civil Service Mains exam? Hmmm, feels like someone spun you in a circle REALLY fast, stopped and then told you to walk in a straight line down to the UPSC office o_O Not kidding. I woke up in a state of disoriented disbelief as I could not get a grip on the fact that I was actually going to sit THE Civil Service Mains exam. I went through the motions of getting ready, having breakfast, riding the metro, getting the auto and reaching the building. Sure enough, it was a freaking SEA of humanity ALL around me today! I found it highly amusing as it reminded of the scenes you see on the first day of school or nursery with the multitude of ‘children’ of all shapes, sizes and personalities: wide-eyed kids, smart-ass kids, know-it-all kids, duh kids, rebel-without-a-cause kids, get-out-of-my-way kids, rude kids AND their anxious parents! Lol. Yep, definitely felt like the first day of school all over again.
So surrounded by the crowd of hopefuls, I threaded my way through! Got told to hand in my mobile at the front, fought the human wave and got to my designated seat and the exams began! Just an observation – if the candidates who might be running your nation’s administration cannot themselves observe basic etiquette and patience e.g.: pushing, shoving, cutting in line etc. would you still want them as your administrators?
Some practical things to note:
- Please read the instructions carefully (ahem). It seems I’m suppose to start every new question on a fresh page and draw a line across the page at the end of each question (tedious). Even more tedious, there’s a table on the front of the answer booklet where you’re suppose to write down the question number, the page number on where you answered (yes, UPSC answer booklets come with numbered pages) and note the booklet number (whether you answered in one answer booklet or took supplementary booklets).
- Carry a freaking mathematical box-set with you! You know the type that come with a ruler, a compass, a protractor, a pencil, eraser and sharpener. I so needed it when it came to the maths portion of the General Studies Paper – II. Heads up – you’re allowed to take in a calculator!
- Do not leave blank pages in the middle between questions and make sure to cross out any rough work or anything that you don’t want the examiners to count as part of your answer.
- Try and get there early only because you don’t want to be panicking about finding your seat because you can’t get through the crowds. I managed to reach with 20 mins to spare for the first paper and actually spent 10 minutes just trying to walk with/against the flow of the crowd to get to the exam hall!
- What they don’t tell you when you sit for this General Studies papers is that you need to become something of an encyclopaedia and an almanac in one! (remembering everything under the sun that has happened not just THIS year but even in PREVIOUS years, ALONG with ‘basic’ GK about EVERYTHING i.e. Economics, Geography, History, Science, Constitutional knowledge, Development etc.)
- You can be prepared for one section but never really for the latter sections where obscure short-answer question topics are picked up like ‘Bihar Courts Act of 2009′ or the ‘Advertising Standards Council of India’, or perhaps the ‘Community-led Sanitization Programme’, or maybe you’d like to try your hand at SAGA-220 or the Damodaran Committe Report on customer services in banks? Like I said, ANYTHING under the sun comes.
- Do not neglect your basic GK about the arts! Easy marks if you can learn about classical dances, theatre, painting, music etc. Should be the easiest thing to do and remember, right? But often neglected because we get so wrapped up in trying to pack in info about the other stuff!
- Easy marks to score would be to just keep a watch out for people who come in the news but it’s touch-and-go here, since the ones you may have learnt about might not show T_T
- Get a TV! I’m not kidding. Visual media sometimes is the fastest way to keep up-to-date about things going on in the world and in India. It’s tempting to watch other stuff but you can keep that aside as a treat for when you’ve done your bit of info-gleaning.
- Freaking learn to become comfortable with Stats! Yah, seriously, easy marks get lost because we get so freaked out trying to finish the essay questions that we don’t get time for the stats section. Sigh.
- Just READ! Especially the paper and magazines. Not even intensely but make it a habit to just read the paper habitually (does not have to be the Hindu, it can be TOI one day, Indian Express the next, perhaps a little bit of the Asian Age or Hindustan Times). Whatever strikes your fancy, pick it up and make it a point to read it and try to do so everyday!