(Toppers Talk) Exclusive interview with Mijito Chishi, IFS 2010 & Sashi Wapang, IRS 2009

How much does it take to make it through the UPSC…is NPSC a cake walk compared to UPSC? Here’s a look at the competitive examinations from two very successful candidates. Both have faced the battles, both have won and now they tell ‘the Morung Express’ of their journey. Check out this exclusive interview with Mijito Chishi, IFS (Indian Foreign Service, 2010 batch) and Sashi Wapang, IRS (Excise and Customs) 2009 batch.

MeX: Let’s start from the beginning; tell us about your early schooling years and college?

Chishi: I did my early schooling from Don Bosco, Kohima after which I moved to Mussoorie. I graduated from Delhi University with B.com (Honors). I enrolled in Nagaland University for a post- graduate degree in commerce and finished in 2006. In Oct that year I came back to Delhi to prepare for the civil services. I cleared the exam in 2010.

Sashi: I completed most of my schooling at Mount Hermon School, Darjeeling though I did study for two years in between at Chandmari English School, Kohima. I am an engineering graduate in Electronics and Communications from PESIT (Peoples Education Society Institute of Technology) Bangalore. I moved to Delhi in 2006 and began preparing to clear the Civil Service exams. I cleared it in my third attempt. I am currently in the last phase of my 18 month training for the Indian Revenue Service (Customs and Excise) 2009 batch and will get my first posting in May 2011.

MeX: What did you want to be when you were growing up? Was this your aim always?

Chishi: My earliest memory is telling others that I wanted to be a doctor like my dad. In boarding school, my deficiency in science subjects surfaced and my preferences changed. College in DU made me try the CAT exams for the IIMs. One attempt later, I knew that was not for me. But somewhere at the back of my head the civil services was there, fueled partly by my insistent mother and a few uncles. I suppose I had to reach a point in life where that idea had to be accepted once and for all.

Sashi: The thought of writing the civil service exams took concrete shape only during the end of my engineering years. While growing up, I wanted to be many things at different points in time. I wanted to be a doctor after reading Robin Cook and Erich Segal novels in high school. I wanted to be an architect after being inspired by Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. I ended up becoming an engineer like my dad. And then the civil services bug bit me!

MeX: Well Mijito you studied in one of the best commerce college in the country. Why would you come back to Nagaland University? Any failures academically?

Chishi: Being in the best college doesn’t make you the best and brightest student. Like someone once told me- a student is one who studies. There are plenty of distractions in Delhi and I lost my way because of a variety of other interests. I took four years to complete my undergraduate studies with horrible marks to show for it. That I had disobeyed my parent’s plea to study was apparent in my academic performance. I realized that I needed to obey them once and return home like they told me to. Coming to Nagaland University had a lot of lessons. My professors at NU were surprised. In retrospect, the two years (2004-06) were wonderful and very important for my growth as a person. I could get back to proper academic life and balanced other interests.

MeX: Okay coming to the interesting part. Let’s hear about the UPSC and NPSC fever that hits everyone after graduation. Also is it better to concentrate on one exam or dabble in both? What about the deeply troubled NPSC question patterns, mistakes etc?

Chishi: Before I began preparing, I asked around and found out that it’s always better to try for one exam properly. Sure, there are others who can crack all of them together but I knew my limitations. Contrary to what most people think, NPSC and UPSC are different exams and require different approaches. I wrote the NPSC four times and managed to make the interview only in my fourth attempt. It’s not easy but people think that if UPSC is the aim then NPSC should be a cakewalk. Nothing can be further from the truth. I could never really figure out NPSC because of the constant change in exam pattern. More often than not, the exam leaned towards a few subjects because of the lack of scaling system. Thus the recurring agitations and complaints from many corners. I think it would augur well for the esteemed NPSC to move the exams to a more even platform, either with scaling or with general papers (like how the UPSC exam has evolved).

Sashi: I did sit for the NPSC exam thrice out of which I was called for the interview once. I remember that in each of my attempts the question format of the exam was different. Multiple choice questions the first year, descriptive long answers the second year, and then the third time there were 2-mark short answer type questions. The lack of a predefined pattern of question paper format and the frequent changes in format caused confusion for me. I didn’t know how to prepare for the exam (NPSC) because every time I sat for it the question pattern was an unpleasant surprise. I then decided to fully concentrate on the UPSC exams.
Secondly, in the NPSC exams there is no parity in standard of difficulty between question papers of different optional subjects. So if, for instance, the History paper is easy for a particular year, then a lot of successful candidates are usually those that have taken that lucky subject. This puts the ones having taken other optional subjects at a disadvantage. On the other hand, the UPSC is known to use a scaling system which creates a level playing field for all optional subjects. This means that irrespective of what subject you take up, there would be a chance for you to clear the exam, as long as you are among the better performers in that subject.
Thirdly, in some cases it has been found that questions in the NPSC exam have mostly been set from some particular text book. It is true that luck favors the prepared but with so much at stake it becomes rather unfair if success depends on reading a particular text book by chance.

MeX: If someone reading this interview would like to try for UPSC, how would he go about it? Any advice for UPSC aspirants.

Sashi: It usually takes at least one year to cover the syllabus once. This process will be a lot easier if you can settle down in some place where you can study without disturbances. This would require some degree of isolation from your usual social engagements and obligations. Finding some likeminded people who are also writing the exam and forming a study group would help a lot.  Choosing the right optional subject is very important. Taking up completely new subjects will require more hard work but if you are not comfortable with your graduation subjects, taking up new subjects may offer a refreshing change. I took up Geography and Public Administration.

More than anything else I feel that the UPSC civil service exam demands a certain level of consistency in your preparation. Occasional flashes of brilliance won’t do and neither will last minute heroics. I’ve seen many people who are very brilliant and smart but lacked the steady preparation which is so essential, and therefore didn’t make it; whereas many average type students have cleared the exam owing to their consistency.

Chishi: The UPSC is becoming more and more unpredictable. The mains written exams have become broad and opinion based. I would put a premium on reading extensively quality and not quantity and at least two newspapers must be read daily; not cover to cover but picking and choosing relevant national and international issues with a grasp of centre page op-ed articles. For general studies, a lot of material has to be read and reread so that one can spot the right answer from the options available. I was important for me to remember so many things, so I discussed with fellow aspirants and had quiz sessions regularly. The mains require depth and conceptual clarity, not so much recollection of facts and figures. Knowing background of issues and having clear opinions help in articulating one’s answers. Connecting and adding illustrations from day to day life and current affairs in the answers help. The key again, lies in reading well. Optional subjects must be chosen well because it’s the only area of strength where one can score reasonably well. Of course, get a copy of ten years question papers!

MeX: Is it necessary to take Coaching classes? Whats the verdict?

Sashi: I didn’t take proper coaching I only got some help in Geography. I don’t really think its necessary unless of course you are taking new subjects. For most people self study works it all depends on your will. In fact most people I know who got through never took coaching classes. Coaching is only for guidance its not compulsory. There are many coaching institutes which try to cash-in and exist only to make money. So, be sure to ask around before deciding on which one to join. Don’t trust their claims made in advertisements in newspapers and magazines.

Chishi: Well coaching classes gives you clarity and the best part is that you get to meet other aspirant which is always good motivation. I took coaching for six months on two subjects- commerce and General studies. Its a personal choice you see, coaching is not compulsory but it does give you a sense of direction. At the end of the day its you and your study.

MeX:  To whom or what do you credit your success with?

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Courtesy: morungexpress.com