Smriti Chetna is a student of Civilsdaily mentor Ravi sir. She joined the Ultimate Assessment Program (UAP) on 18 August 2020. As she is happy with Civilsdaily, she has now upgraded to UAP 2022.
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Initially, Smriti wasn’t confident about Prelims when she began her preparation but found Mains to be manageable. Though she had joined Civilsdaily in 2020, she started studying for UPSC-CSE in 2019. At that time, Smriti had enrolled in multiple institutes. Though, most of these institutes had promised a personal mentor, she was unable to get in touch with them on a daily basis. Also those mentors never scheduled test-series on a weekly basis. Hence, despite preparing for a year, Smriti had scored only 70 marks out of 250 in her first test series by Civilsdaily.
She then started writing 20-25 test series over the course of UAP 2021 and in her last test, her scores have drastically improved. She now scores in the range of 130-135 marks in prelims’ and 110+ in mains’ papers.
Smriti Chetna: “Believe in yourself, Believe in your dream and Surround yourself with those who Believe you can achieve your dream“.
We had a chance to catch up with Civilsdaily student and aspiring civil servant, Smriti. In between her college studies and UPSC CSE preparation, we were able to have a quick 15 minute chat with her.
Smriti, what has motivated you to prepare for UPSC as a college student?
My father is a government officer and we have discussions (sometimes, even debates) over dinner on how we can improve systemic changes that impede the growth of our country. From this, I have realized that as a country we do have the laws, money, resources and manpower for high growth. What’s lacking is the right execution. Only government and civil servants can do this. Though my dad is not an IAS officer, I have seen him bring changes in whatever capacity he is allowed. When I was in school, our chief guests on annual days were IAS or IPS officers. Their inspiring speeches and my dad’s work has what interested me to prepare for UPSC.
Why do you think mentorship is very important for your UPSC-CSE preparation?
I think its important for every aspirant to be in the right company when they are preparing for this unpredictable and tedious exam. They need to believe in your preparation as much as you do. Our parents provide us financial and emotional support, friends provide us moral support and the right mentor gives you logistic and logical support. There are days when I felt I won’t be able to compete against lakhs of aspirants, that’s when Ravi sir reminded me of my improvement and encouraged me that I can crack it with the same consistency. We need someone, who tells us we are performing well especially when we cannot see that ourselves. The mentorship at Civilsdaily helped me become mentally stronger as a person. In other institutes, mentors are allotted only for doubt resolution. But at Civilsdaily, I am getting end-to-end support.
You found prelims to be difficult initially, why so? How has Ravi sir mentored you for prelims?
I was not good at remembering the exact factual data. I have done UPSC-CSE prelims paper analysis from 2018-2021. I must say, the Civilsdaily prelims test series are at the same level and some of them are even tougher than the actual UPSC-CSE paper. I have also personally checked if the subject-wise test series covers all the topics in the syllabus. There are 4-5 questions even from topics that aspirants consider to have lesser weightage. Under Ravi sir’s mentorship, I learnt to pay attention to stats and figures for prelims. He also helped me with the different elimination techniques I can use to get the right answer. Samachar Manthan is my favorite aspect of the Ultimate Assessment Program. The current affairs is neatly consolidated topic-wise from The Hindu, Indian Express, PIB, RSTV, Yojana and Kurukshetra. It’s a good material to revise your current affairs 3-4 months before the exam. The more tests I take, the lesser fears and anxiety I have about the upcoming UPSC-CSE exam. I get value-added materials, coaching notes and online classes from Civilsdaily as well.
How was your preparation 1-2 weeks into UAP and how is it now?
When I started out, I used to take 2-3 months to complete a standard book. However, I would still not have my concepts clear. Right now in my third revision, I am able to complete the entire Laxmikanth book in one week. With respect to mains answer writing, I never used to answer all the keywords of the questions. Now, I am able to organise an answer in my mind as I answer it. After evaluating my answers, Ravi sir would give me a call where he would discuss where I could have included diagrams or flowcharts and the other sources I can refer for better answers on a topic.
I always feel as a beginner, you have to be easy on yourself. Don’t write off UPSC CSE, just because you did not understand the concepts on Day 01.
What’s more important for a UPSC Aspirant — Intelligence or Consistency?
Few of my friends who started at the same time as me, performed much better in tests and had more knowledge on a topic than I did. But now, they are not interested in preparing for the examination anymore. I would definitely rank consistency over intelligence.
Are group studies detrimental or useful for your UPSC preparation?
Group studies online, especially the way Civilsdaily has structured it, removes the cons generally associated with group studies. When we study with our friends, we generally do for an hour or so before hanging out at a joint and chit-chatting. That does not happen over here. We explain concepts that we are not clear about to each other, sometimes share links of important reading material. When you are able to make another person understand a concept, you feel more positive about yourself.
Any final advice you would like to give to beginners?
Always go through the videos of toppers who have given multiple attempts before clearing the exams. Because, what has worked for others might not work for you, but what has not worked for others will also not work for you. I understood how important it was to study for your optional subject everyday after watching these videos.
What is Ravi sir’s mentorship all about which boosted Smriti’s confidence & marks nearly 2x times? Let’s hear him talk about it.
Smriti used to consult multiple mentors in other institutes but now she only prefers the mentorship of Civilsdaily. What’s unique about the mentorship of Civilsdaily?
After talking to other students, I learnt that the mentors in other institutes are egoistic and have a ‘know-it-all’ attitude. They often demotivate students for what they call as ‘silly mistakes’. They even go to the extent of predicting if a student is likely to clear UPSC or not. But in Civilsdaily, mentors believe in working like a GPS. We understand what direction the student is in right now and tell them the closest route they can take to complete the syllabus and score marks in their tests. We are nobody to judge a learner. That’s why aspirants like Smriti prefer Civilsdaily mentorship.
With respect to Smriti, how did you guide her?
Smriti is a very passionate and hardworking student, but I noticed that she would take study breaks that lasted more than a month or two. This didn’t deter me from putting across reminders to her. I believe that a mentor shouldn’t stop encouraging an aspirant in the initial months even if they don’t show the inclination to prepare. The syllabus is vast and overwhelming and it’s understandable that a beginner can get demotivated.
Due to this, Smriti gradually opened up to me about her issues. I understood that she gets panic attacks and it would take her nearly 2-3 weeks to recover. I decided that as a mentor, I had to be empathetic and sensitive to her issues and not brush them aside. Smriti often felt guilty about her study breaks and I assured her that it was okay to take a break as she deserved one. I asked her to hang out with her friends and family more often and go on a walk in the park with them. Over a period of time, Smriti could recover from a panic attack in 2-3 days instead of 2-3 weeks.
I then started giving her weekly targets to achieve and congratulated her upon successful completion in the study group. I would assign her a topic to read and ask her to explain the same to me. I would let her teach me those topics. When she missed out points, I would immediately tell her why adding a certain point will help her in the exam. After this, I even asked her to conduct few sessions on Habitat for other learners. This made her confident to continue her preparation.
Let’s get into the specifics, what are other methods you used to mentor Smriti on a day-to-day basis?
All of my test-series, whether prelims or mains are conducted on Zoom with the camera on so that I can monitor the students. This will discourage a student from taking unnecessary breaks and they will only utilize the three hours to answer questions.
Besides this, when a student starts studying I will ask them to say ‘Hi’ . When they are taking a break they need to say ‘Bye’ and when they resume their studies they need to say ‘Hi’ once again. At the end of the day, I would calculate the number of hours they spent studying and let them know the same. I never used to judge them for studying less. It’s like how a fitness tracker works. Whoever is interested in completing 1000 steps in a day will compensate for the next day if they are unable to achieve today’s target. This pushed Smriti to study for long hours.
We have heard about the virtual library in your mentorship. What is that?
Virtual library is a practice wherein the student gets their study materials, logs in to a zoom session with other aspirants. All of them study silently. On the go, I share any extra reports or current affairs articles they have to read along with their standard books. While studying, if any student has a doubt they can ask in the session and it will be resolved.
Sometimes, our virtual library will be divided into small study group of 3-4 members who will all study the same topic together and discuss the aspects of the topic to each other. This is to prevent the aspirant from feeling lonely in their long preparation journey. Many students have reacted positively to this initiative as well, they get a sense of companionship and competitiveness when they are studying as a group.
What are few of the topics which students find difficult?
Economy is a subject where most of the students grapple with. I get a lot of doubts on topics like RBI, security market and bonds.
We have asked Smriti as well, but we want your take on this. What do you think of Smriti’s performance in the past 10 months?
She is a consistent performer. Though, initially she had scored only 30 out of 250 marks in GS Essay, now she is scoring above 100+ in all the mains test series. I am confident if she maintains the same consistency she can clear the exam in 2022.
That being said, I feel she can score better in mains. While evaluating her papers, I understood she is not including relevant factual data to back up her answers. I will be providing her committee reports and recommendations and mentor her in this direction from now on.
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