Fouzia Tarannum: AIR 31, managed to clear the exam while working as an IRS


Background: Fouzia Tarannum started her preparation for UPSC in December 2010. She quit her job as a Business Analyst with Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. In CSE 2011, she cleared with AIR of 307, thereby joining the IRS (IT). The attempt in 2012 didn’t see any improvement in her rank/service.

Her preparation journey: Once posted she started feeling the difference in service – IAS and IRS. She felt that she should try one last time for her dream service and give one last attempt. A few weeks before 2014 prelims she jumped into preparation mode.

What made her successful this time? She reread the standard books, along with the sources available online. She feels that a big part of the improvement in rank to AIR 31 this year was due to her growth as a person, becoming more mature, having seen more of this world and a creeping sense of practicality and realism in approach, compared to an over-idealistic one earlier.

Her advice:  She advises that UPSC is actually looking for more rounded personalities with problem solving approach and an analytical mind. The UPSC journey should be looked at in this light, and not merely reading of books.

How difficult it was to prepare with her job? She felt a deep sense of duty and responsibility towards her work that she doesn’t compromise on her present work while giving this attempt. She had to be more than justifying the salary that she was taking home.

Though it was tiring at times, but she made sure that at office, she would concentrate on work, and at home on preparation efforts.

How did she balance both? The balance came from management of time. There will never be enough time; rather we have to make time for everything. She took no leave before prelims, took 30 days leave before mains and 5 days leave for interview.

How did she plan her studies? She studied for atleast 2 hours a day, on working days – depending on her work day either early morning or late night – August to December 2014. She also managed to take a few Fridays off after the prelims results, so as to get 3 days of continuous studies.

She finished weekly newspapers that she piled up and studied for about 4 hours a day, on weekends and holidays.

How did she manage her different subjects? She focused on revising her strong areas (economy, geography, etc.) and re-prepared her weak areas (history, culture, sociology, etc.) along with preparing for the newly introduced topics.

She focused on current events and ensured that she remained updated with GS.

Optional Subjects: she chose Sociology as optional because it takes lesser time to prepare in comparison and enjoyed reading this subject, though she had never studied this subject academically.

Her tips for Ethics- GS Paper 4: She just read a few solved papers and looked up definitions on all the terms used in the syllabus and made short notes. She suggests that one must give true answers to most situational questions/case studies.

Did she practice writing answers? She says she couldn’t practise writing due to lack of time and also feels that if she had practised, she could have scored better.

Tips to write answers: She gave many examples in her answers, and tried to keep them interesting to whoever was to read them.

Time Management: There is a dire need for short, productive periods of reading through the day. For instance, she read the news feeds after returning from lunch at office, watched news/saved videos while travelling to and from office, etc. Such reading of 15 minutes in short bursts 4-5 times a day really adds up and contributes immensely to our efforts.

Whenever she felt low in her studies: She use to take up a subject that she liked and enjoyed when she would feel depressed. This really helps make our efforts more productive. She suggests one should be judicious in the time one allots to various “sub-subjects”.

Writing style: She feels short, to the point, bullet points, covering as many dimensions and aspects as possible is the best way to write answers. She didn’t focus much on word limits, for some answers she looked for more space and for some she just jotted down half a page. She suggests interlinking of topics and use of diagrams/charts. She also underlined important points while writing.

Her suggestion: A lot of resources are available online, one must have a look and settle for what works best and not waste time on internet unnecessarily.

Do not lose focus and never lose faith. Stay consistent in your efforts. Believe in yourself! Don’t forget to keep learning and to keep improving!

Though a certain amount of luck is required, hard work does pay!

She says- “I have not studied in big “Ivy League” institutions, nor do I have any civil servants in my family. I come from a very simple, ordinary, loving household, where education has never been very important”.

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By Root

Caretaker @civilsdaily

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