Read this inspirational interview with Ms. Debanjali Ambuly, who has secured 212th rank in Civil Services Exam, 2014.
1. Since when did you dream of entering into this field? Was this a decision you made in school or while you were in college? What drove you to make this decision?
I made the decision of appearing in UPSC while in college, but started preparing for it only after starting to work at Coal India. I was driven to appear for the exam due to its huge potential to impact society, as I understood by seeing my father (a retired IAS officer) at work. Also, I wanted to use whatever little I know of law in this profession as law provides the foundation on which administration is based.
2. What was your Cadre Preference?
My service preferences were IAS followed by IRS(Income Tax), IRS (Customs & Excise) and then IPS. My Cadre preferences were my home state Tripura followed by Assam-Meghalaya and Gujarat.
3. Would you like to share with us about your family, friends, teachers and inspirations?
My biggest inspiration were my parents. My father is a retired IAS officer. He used to check the mock answers I wrote for the Ethics Paper and his feedback helped a lot in the actual paper. My mother is a Rabindrasangeet singer and occasional writer. She single-handedly prepared me for the Interview by taking my mock interviews and preparing topics which I could not due to lack of time. My soon-to-be who is an Advocate practising in Delhi helped me in preparing for my Law Optional. My brother and sister-in-law, best friend from college and friends from my office also supported me.
4. How did you maintain consistency in preparation? Did you ever feel that something was distracting you? How did you manage to overcome that distraction?
I am not very consistent at anything I do, so that was a huge problem. I try to maintain consistency by taking very frequent breaks and watch fun shows on tv and then return re -energized to study again. The only potential distraction for me during the preparation phase was endless speculation on the internet forums about the answer keys and cut-offs, and I have to admit it was easy to get swayed by it. But thankfully, I managed to overcome it by keeping the question papers locked up after each exam and I never bothered to check my correct answers. I waited patiently for the official results at each stage, and until then, kept anxiety away by watching my favourite comedy shows and listening to music.
5. Did you make daily notes or used electronic media as your daily note resource?
I made notes of whatever I studied by compressing the entire topic into a very small portion of an A4 size page to enable easy revision before exams. I used the electronic media to read The Hindu and blogs like Mrunal and insightsonindia. I made notes of important stuff I found in these websites too.
6. What are your observations or tips about GS Prelims 2014 paper?
I think it was a difficult paper and needed good caution before attempting answers. I had to be very careful as they were many questions which seemed like I knew them but the options confused me. I attempted only 55 questions in Paper 1 and 60 in Paper 2 because I was scared of losing marks in search of imaginary cutoffs.
7. What are your tips for the GS Prelims 2015 paper?
I cleared Prelims 2014 by getting only 1 mark above cut-off (206). So I am utterly incapable of giving any advice to aspirants of 2015. My only advice would be to keep extremely calm inside the hall, and not get swayed by what others may think of the paper. If we start thinking that others must be finding it easy, then we will try to cross that imaginary high cut-off by attempting many questions even at the peril of losing marks. And the end-result will not be a good one, mostly. If preparing for the exam was on our own terms, even answering questions should be on our own terms, without external factors influencing it.
8. What were you strong at? GS or CSAT?
I always thought I was stronger at GS than CSAT. But the marks I got proved otherwise. Since I barely managed to pass the Prelims, it shows that my knowledge of GS may not have paid me rich dividends. But after the final results, I can certainly say that it helped all along the way, especially in Mains.
9. Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? Do you think they are necessary for success?
I did not attend any mock tests because I was terrified of the impact that negative results would have on my confidence before the actual exams. For Prelims, I bought Xerox mock tests from Delhi and attempted them at home. For mains, I focused only on increasing my areas of knowledge. I did not practice answer writing because I love the spontaneity of the actual exam hall only, and I had faith that if I knew the content, I would be able to create a decent answer when the time came.
10. How important is coaching? Which Coaching Institute did you join, if any, and how did it help you with the preparation?
I did not join any coaching institute. I don’t think coaching is necessary at all for this exam. But its my personal opinion because I prefer reading things myself. Also, I think that all the information one needs about this exam and its pattern is freely available on the internet. You only need to look out for those things.
11. What was the difficulty level of the compulsory language papers of CSE-2014?
The English Paper was easy I guess. But the Hindi Paper was moderately difficult, especially the translation part. But my only focus was on finishing the Paper at any cost.
12. How did you prepare for the essay paper? Did you write answers in bullet points or in paragraphs, in general?
I did not prepare for the Essay Paper separately. I relied on my knowledge of GS and Law to help me in this regard. I did not write a single essay before the actual exam because—I did not have enough time left; wanted spontaneity of the exam hall; was keen to avoid negative feedback before the exam.
13. How many marks worth questions did you skip/couldn’t finish in the GS papers?
I think apart from 3 questions in Paper 1, I attempted all questions in GS.
14. Did you use highlighters / sketch pens in your answers?
15. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? If yes, did you draw diagrams with pencil or pen? Did you use a ruler to draw the lines in diagram? Or did you just make it by hand?
16. Which colour pen did you use-blue or black? Ball point/Gel Pen or an Ink Pen? (Yes, students do get curious these days!)
Blue Ball Point Pen.
17. What was your optional? How much time did it take to finish the core optional syllabus?
My Optional was Law, which was my graduation subject. It took me about 3 months to prepare it, while doing so simultaneously with other Papers.
18. How many days or weeks before the exam did you start with the answer writing practice?
I did not do any answer writing practice apart from the Ethics Paper for reasons already stated. I have been very fortunate that it has worked for me, but I would not suggest others to do the same.
19. How did you prepare for the interview? Did you attend any mock interviews by coaching classes? If yes, which ones? And how did you benefit from the same?
I was solely prepared for the Interview by my mother. She took my Mock interviews for over 40 days. She polished by body language and answers, and corrected me where I was going wrong. Since I had to revise many things and was running short of time, she prepared some topics for me which I could not do myself. Three questions that she had asked me a day or two before the actual interview, were fortunately repeated during the D-Day. I was smiling while answering them out of sheer happiness at the coincidence. I got 212 marks in the interview and I only have her to thank for that.
20. What did you wear for the interview?
I wore a pink and navy blue cotton Saree.
21. Who was the chairperson of your interview board?
Dr. P. Kilemsungla
22. How long did your interview last? Any instance you would like to share with us? 🙂
It lasted for about 35 minutes. There is no instance in particular that I would like to share but I was greatly touched by how nice the entire Board was. It helped me to feel very comfortable throughout the duration I was sitting there. I did not know about 5-6 questions and pleaded ignorance, but they moved on from it without making me feel ignorant.
23. Were the questions same as you expected or were answering them very stressful?
The questions about my State, and Law were mostly expected. Other questions were not expected but did not hit me in the head like a bolt either. I answered them where I had an idea, I apologized and pleaded ignorance when I had no idea at all.
24. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?
If I were not selected, I would have prepared for 2015. Simultaneously I would have appeared for my State’s Judicial Services exams.