The civil services examination is probably the only such examination of the country that invokes multiple responses. Some say it's the mother of all examinations, both in terms of toughness and vastness; while others believe that it opens the widest door of a prestigious life ahead. But the one understanding that is above all these responses is this- it is the only examination that can offer you the most extensive administrative platform to contribute to the progress and prosperity of the nation.
This exam is conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) every year, in three phases- Preliminary (Objective), Mains (Written) and Personality Test (Interview).
There must be many early beginners who have started their preparation, not for 2020, but for 2021. Their strategy and timeline of preparation would vary accordingly. At the very outset, they must debunk the myth that the exam is the toughest. To be precise, it's not the toughness of the exam, rather, it is the vastness of its syllabus that makes it appear tough. The successful candidates are invariably those who could manage their time efficiently to tide over this vastness.
Thus, the most significant advantage that the early beginners have, is the advantage of extra time. However, there's also a problem. When the time is sufficient, it's not the 'time management', rather your 'consistency maintenance over this prolonged period of time' that requires more attention. Thus, all the days, weeks and months should be pre-scheduled with respective targets. First and Foremost, a candidate must imprint the entire syllabus of all the three phases of the exam, in his mind. This small but significant work would go a long way in keeping your preparation focussed and relevant.
Given the sufficiency of time, it is also important to begin with 'mains first' strategy'. After prelims, a candidate gets hardly three to four months for the preparation of mains. The schedule is further tightened by the requirement of answer writing and essay practice. Thus, it will be an intelligent move to prepare for the mains part first.
The most vital element of mains syllabus is optional subject. The choice of optional subject should be as per your own level of comfort with and degree of interest in the subject. This decision must not be misguided by any sort of false speculations of 'which is the most scoring optional'. It's not the optional subject per se, it's your preparation and presentation (answer writing) that makes it scoring.
After having wisely chosen the optional subject, the candidate must start it's preparation right from the beginning. Allocate the months and schedule your days and weeks well in advance, ensuring that by November - December, you finish the syllabus for the four General Studies papers and Optional subject. It is possible to do so smoothly if you plan your time with perfection.
One thing that must be kept in mind, is that syllabus of mains and prelims is not completely compartmentalised. There is, in fact, significant overlap. Thus, while preparing for mains, a significant portion of Prelims also gets covered. For the remaining portion, one can get into 'prelims-focussed' mode from January or February onwards. From this point onwards, the golden trinity of 'revision, consolidation and assessment', as aforementioned, must become part of the preparation.
One important, in fact, decisive, part of the preparation is to religiously and consistently follow the newspaper daily. The candidate should always be updated with all the important national and international events. One can follow any one or two magazines and government sources like Yojana, Kurukshetra, PIB, PRS etc. Also, if time permits, you can start with your initial answer writing practice after you are done with the mains syllabus once. Try to get it evaluated from some senior or teacher.
No doubt, Civil Services is not just a single exam but a series of tests that evaluates multiple dimensions of our knowledge (factual and analytical) and personality (in the interview). Thus, a sincere candidate must allot sufficient time for all these aspects and retain consistency while executing the strategy. Smart management of time and consistent execution of one's strategy form the decisive factors in crafting the final merit list of successful candidates.