Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Interviews, Competitive Magazines and Media: Something for the future toppers (Part I)

During the first three weeks after the D-day (May 16, 2007), I took many interviews with magazines, newspapers and was involved in two programs with NDTV. This post is mainly concerned about my experiences during that time.

First, the competitive magazines. My interviews were published in Civil Services Chronicle, Civil Services Times, Competition Success Review, Competition Refresher and Pratyogita Darpan. I won't go into the details of my experiences with each of these, but experience ranged from disappointing to outright disgusting.

Two of these magazines didn't leave any stone unturned - including trying to make a complete fool of me (trying to get signatures on an empty sheet of paper or on a pre-written letter), bribing me, asking favour in the name of religion etc. - to ensure that I recommended their magazines to the aspirants. I did not recommend any of these and even told one of them not to publish my interview, but to no avail. The interview format itself gives away the intentions. Questions like "Apart from our publication ...... what else did you read?". And since they ask to fill up the form in a hurry, many of these tricky questions slip by and it appears as if the successful candidate is endorsing these magazines. I was lucky enough to spot most of these and strike out such questions, but many have fallen into the trap. BEWARE!!

All the five magazines (including the interview published in the magazine that I actually read) have altered the interview to suit their interests. What I wrote does not appear in toto in any of these. Thus none of these gives a complete picture of my preparation. After my experiences with first three magazines to approach me, I asked the remaining two to get the final interview approved by me before printing it. None of them did it and changed the interview as per their interests.

And one the magazines has quoted me completely out of context. I always say that newspaper reading is much more important than magazines even though magazines are excellent from an examination perspective. So I was very surprised to see a statement which implied that magazines are all important for the examination.

Why am I posting this today? That is due to the conversation I had with Mr. Adapa Karthik (AIR 1) today. After my experiences, I realised why he had refused to be interviewed by any of these magazines. He was aware about all these tactics and refused all interviews. Bravo Karthik, that was well done! I just wish I had been aware too.

And as I write this I am aware that at least two toppers from previous batches and one from our batch had similar experience.and couldn't do much about it. Out of the five of us, Karthik has done what each of us wished we could have too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Attempting the Mains Examination (Part II)

I’ll probably be going against popular opinion among serious aspirants when I say this paper is not a no brainer. I agree that innovative thinking and conceptual clarity have a limited role to play in the paper. Memorizing the facts is a must. But utilizing those facts in the paper requires a cool, calm and thinking brain. I’ll illustrate my point:

Let’s take the first question in General Studies Paper 2 (CSE 2007):

Answer in about 150 words
(a) Indo-Russian Defence Co-operation
(b) India’s response to political crisis in Bangladesh
(c) Elaborate on India’s Nuclear Doctrine

Question (a) does not read “Recent Developments in Indo-Russian Defence Co-operation”. So if an examinee just mentions the recent developments the answer is incomplete. What’s required in this answer is, probably, 60-75 words on defence relation between the two countries from 1947-2007 and 75-90 words on recent developments.

Question (b) is quite self-explanatory but examinee must organize the answer into various heads like India’s stand on the issue, political response, diplomatic response, humanitarian aid etc.

Question (c) says “Elaborate on …”. This does not mean just mentioning the points in India’s Nuclear Doctrine. The answer to this question should explain the need for the doctrine, and the reason behind each and every point in it.

So read the question very carefully. Spend time on thinking what the examiner is asking and then bring out the relevant facts and analysis from memory. There is enough time to think. Please don’t start writing the answer straight away. Don’t get carried away thinking you know all the relevant facts and will do well in the question. Chances are that by doing so you’ll end up with much less marks than what you deserve just because you didn’t answer what was asked.

The above is equally true for optional papers. I will try to bring out a similar analysis on Physics paper later.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Physics - Mains (Part IV)

Electricity and Magnetism: I had studied Field and Wave Electromagnetics by D K Cheng at college and that remained my textbook for the topic. It explains concepts well but it is not a popular book though and neither is it sufficient.

Cheng does not cover multipole expansion which is done adequately in Griffiths (a popular textbook for the topic). Cheng is quite good in solutions to boundary value problems. Magnetic shell is from D C Tayal. Clausius Mossoti equation can be done from textbook in Solid State Physics.

Cheng and Tayal are ok for Current Electricity portion of the syllabus.

Chopra/Aggarwal is a must for Electromagnetic waves. It’s a good book. Concepts are explained well in Cheng also but not in sufficient detail. EM Field Tensor and covariance are from J C Upadhyaya (Classical Mechanics). Rayleigh scattering is dealt well in Chopra/Aggarwal.

For Black Body Radiation and Thermal and Stastical Physics two books are needed – Thermal Physics by Garg/Bansal/Ghosh and Heat Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics by Satya Prakash. Garg/Bansal/Ghosh is a better book for most topics. So be thorough with it.

Satya Prakash is needed mostly for Otto and Diesel Engines, derivations of statistical distributions (Maxwell-Boltzmann, Fermi-Dirac, Bose-Einstein). Again stick to the syllabus and prepare answers. There will be more than one way to derive many questions. Be thorough with the one you are confident about.

Physics - Mains (Part III)

Mechanics: The syllabus has changed quite significantly, so keep a look out for better sources. Textbook: J C Upadhyaya

Mechanics of Particles: Upadhyaya does not have topics related to gravitation. Most of the others are covered well. Centre of mass and laboratory reference frames can be done from Kleppner-Kolenkov.

Rigid Bodies: Again, Upadhyaya is quite good. “Top” is covered in it but the treatment is very mathematical. I referred to T W B Kibble to get a good physical understanding of the topic.

Continuous media is a new topic and I don’t know about it.

Relativity is done well in Upadhyaya especially Minkowski, Four vector, covariance. But the book won’t give conceptual clarity. Read Bieser for concepts before starting with Upadhyaya.

Waves and optics:

Waves is covered well in Bajaj. Stick to the syllabus and see previous years questions to get the orientation. Huygens principle is from Ghatak (Optics).

Geometrical Optics can be done from Ghatak. Nodal Planes are not explained well. They can be done from B S Aggarwal.

For Interference, Diffraction and Polarization follow Brijlal Subramaniam. Certain topics which are not in it can be done from Ghatak. Circular aperture is a tough topic, but I did the needed mathematics from Ghatak. Focusing of laser beams is another tough topic but it is given in Ghatak. Don’t go into mathematical details of holography. Just a simple “General Studies” approach.

Physics - Mains (Part II)

Nuclear and Particle Physics: Textbook S B Patel (Nuclear Physics), Pandya Yadav (for Particle Physics. The book is titled Elements of Nuclear Physics).

Patel is a good source for most topics. I particularly like the way it deals with Liquid Drop model. However, it is not as conceptually correct as I would like it to be.

Semi empirical mass formula and mass parabolas, deutron problem and non-central forces are done well in Patel. While discussing mass parabolas be sure to mention all the four cases with examples.

Shell model should be done from Resnick-Eisberg (It is a good reference book for entire Paper II). Do the need for the model, assumptions, results, physical interpretation, successes and failures – done well in Eisberg and somewhat in Patel.

Violation of parity in beta decay is done extremely well in Irving Kaplan. A must read for this topic.

Mossbauer spectroscopy is in Chapter 9 of Patel. But it does not give good applications (especially regarding application in general relativity). Do some of the applications from Eisberg. See question asked in Indian Forest Service Examination 2007.

Nuclear fission is done well in Eisberg. Eisberg is also a must for nuclear fusion, role of quantum mechanics (barrier penetration) and energy production in stars.

B S Aggarwal deals ok with critical mass required in nuclear reactors. Four factor formula is done well in Patel. But no book goes into detail of types of nuclear reactors. All just give an overview. Be happy with it.

For Elementary Particles do the Chapter in Pandya Yadav. Physics of neutrinos is done in Patel. Unification of forces is from Beiser. Eisberg may also be referred to but at a later stage.

Solid State Physics: Textbook S.O. Pillai. Handles most topics well.

Space groups are just given a passing reference in Pillai. It is a very tough topic and details may be omitted. Details of Point Groups are available on internet. Curious Aspirants may go through 32 point groups from internet.

I don’t know about electron microscopies.

In Band theory, Pillai does not give proof for Bloch Theorem. That may be done from C L Arora. Omit the solution of determinant in Kronig Penney model and just give the final equation obtained after solution followed by the interpretation as given in Pillai.

Superconductivity: Done ok in Pillai. Deifference between a superconductor and perfect conductor is done well in J P Srivastava (Prentice Hall India publication). High Temperature Superconductivity and BCS Theory need a “General Studies” answer. Prepare 20 marks answer for them.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Physics - Mains (Part I)

I have secured 378 (208 + 170) in Physics in CSE 2007. I had 269 in CSE 2006. The improvement was primarily due to emphasis I gave to answer writing practice during the attempt. I practiced (and memorised) most of the questions asked in past 15 years and prepared relevant notes.

Notes are a must
for this optional. Best way is to read a topic, solve past years papers and improve the answers to the best of your ability. The answers form your notes. Go through this process religiously. It will help because the paper does not give time to think. Only rigorous practice can help in writing answers well in the time alloted.

With some exceptions, most topics require more than one book. Pick up a standard text book for the topic (I'll mention mine topic wise below) and study the parts mentioned in syllabus thoroughly from it. For books for other topics follow borrow, beg, steal, buy policy in the correct order.

Quantum Mechanics: Textbook Ghatak. It's a tough book but I am happy about my choice. Atleast it does not give wrong concepts, only tough concepts. Covers most topics well. But here's what's not in it.

Exact proof of uncertainity principle: It does not solve the general case. But do it on your own. To simplify use properties of Hermitian operators which I did from a borrowed Gupta-Kumar-Sharma.Satya Prakash also deals Hermitian operators well. Do see and solve question on uncertainity principle in CSE 2004 examination.

Proof that Gaussian wavepacket is minimum wave packet: It is given in unsolved with hint but does not solve the equation. Be brave, go ahead and solve the differential equation. Do normalise the final result.

Ehrenfest Theorem: It is in unsolved with hint but in three dimensions using del operator. Solve it in one dimension using integration by parts. Or see solution from Satya Prakash.

Finite well: It solves the problem but it's much better in H C Verma Quantum Mechanics. Please read H C Verma for this.

Linear Harmonic Oscillator: Follow the book and reach till Hermite polynomials. The only problem is it's quite lengthy. So delete the part where the author proves that s = 1 is invalid. Start with assuming s =0 i.e. remove s from the picture altogether. Not correct according to rigorous mathematics, but we are talking Physics. This topic will require lots of practice to finish in the time alloted.

Hydrogen atom Problem is a head ache, but there is no shortcut. If a question is asked in examination, read it thoroughly and see whether it demands a complete solution or not.

Do operator algebra and Pauli spin matrices from Satya Prakash. It's a must

Atomic and Molecular Physics: Raj Kumar for Atomic Physics and Banwell for Molecular Physics are a must and good enough. Stick to the syllabus. The topic missing is "Importance of neutral .......". The only question asked till date is H21 cm line. Prepare answer on it from internet.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Important Current Affairs topics for CSE 2008

Prepare answers (facts + analysis + organise answer) in your own words for them and treat them as a part of syllabus.

India and World
Indo - US relations (due to nuclear deal)
Indo - Pak relations (due to recent political developments in Pakistan and firing across LoC)
Indo - China (Tibet issue and boundary talks)
Indo - France (Visit by Sarkozy)
Steps by India to get civilian nuclear cooperation
Energy Security (due to Nuclear deal)

International Affairs
Developments in Nepal
Developments in Pakistan
Developments in West Asia Peace Process
Developments on Iran nuclear issue (do mention turnabout in US policy)
G8 summit
Lisbon Treaty

WTO and Agriculture
Global recession and oil price rise
FAO summit on food crisis
WIPO and its Development agenda

Science and Technology
DNA, its structure and functions (A pioneer in the field - Gunther Stent - died recently)
Genetic Engineering
Chandrayaan/India's space programme (it was postponed from February this year to sometime next year)
India's three stage nuclear programme

Trust Vote
Role of Speaker
Parliamentary control over executive
2 markers on Rule 184 and Rule 192
Trial by Media (Arushi murder case). See some points from P M Bakshi for this topic.

National, Social and Environmental issues
Climate change and India's Climate Change Action Plan
Project Tiger
Internal Security

Try to add relevant points from Current Affairs even in traditional questions. For example:

(1) On Parliamentary control over executive make a reference to current govt. taking trust vote on a deal with foreign country even though no law has been passed for it yet.
(2) In Project Tiger give the recent developments on it (National Tiger Conservation Authority has been formed recently for Project Tiger areas. Give its functions too)
(3) In Internal Security give reference to recent blasts and steps taken by govt.

Climate Change could be an essay topic this year.

Coaching Institutes and their relevance

This is what I've attended:

(a) two years with my uncle Dr. Brijpal Singh for gs/essay/interview (2nd and 3rd attempt)
(b) DIAS for physics and interview (during 4th attempt)
(c) Sriram's for gs/interview (during 4th attempt)
(d) Mock interviews at Samkalp (3rd and 4th attempts)

I only read Civil Services Chronicle magazine. If any other institute/magazine makes claim, please inform me which one and where did it advertise. I'm in a position from where i can follow it up and take them to task.

Coaching institutes are just a guide to preparation. Please don't depend on them solely. Lots of individual effort is required in understanding needs of this paper and finding one's strengths in it. My preparation is much deeper than what coaching institutes taught me. One size fits all approach won't work. Plan and practice for each and every topic given in the syllabus.

Attempting the Mains Examination (Part I)

My attempt in mains exam: Here is the breakup which may surprise many:

(a) GS:
Paper I: I didn't know 10 two markers. I was very dissatisfied with my answers on Regionalism (30 marks) and Child Labour (30 marks). My score 203.

Paper II: Again, I didn't know 10 two markers. I didn't know anything about Q.5 (2 * 15 marks) i.e. i played blind in that question, wrote hardly 140-160 words for Q.4 of 250 words, was very dissatisfied with my answers to Q.7(a) paper ii (impact of globalisation on state system). My score 160.

(b) Electrical Engineering: My correct attempt is 410. 210 in Paper I and 200 in Paper II. My scores are 186 and 166 respectively.

(c) Physics: I have a correct attempt of about 550. I missed out about 25 marks in each paper. My score is 378 ( 208 + 170).

My experience with the exam is that no marks are rewarded for writing wrong or irrelevant stuff. Stick to what is asked and answer it very clearly. Organise the answer in a coherent manner.

The important thing is that if I read a topic, I am thorough with it. I make sure I'll put up among the best answers for topics that I read. That approach has worked for me.

Even last year (CSE 2006), I had 991 marks in Mains and my attempts were 420 in EE (score 298), 390-400 in Physics (score 270).

GS paper 2006 gave me excellent feedback. I'll share it.

GS I: I am weak in Social issues and National Movement was very tough that year. I stretched my attempt to 280 in GS Paper I even though I hardly knew about 200 marks. My score - 118.

GS II: I knew 230-240 marks and attempted them very well. I left 12 economy 2 markers!!, one 15 mark question and many 2 markers which I didn't know. Attempt of about 240-250. I scored 168.

This may or may not work for every one. But last year topper Mr. Muthyalaraju Revu had the same experience.

Here are the inputs from last year topper Mr. Muthyalaraju Revu regarding his attempt last year. I quote him:

"Most of the aspirants believe that they have to attempt more questions rather than concentrating on quality. I would like to share my experience as it may provide some help to future aspirants.

GS1: I do not know ten 2 markers. I attempted three 30 mark questions in last 25 minutes. My score is 173.

GS2: I attempted only four 2 markers in economy. I wrongly interpreted one 30 marks question and one 15 marks question. My score is 147.

Maths 1: I got answers for 278 marks. I got 179.

Maths 2: I got answers for 234 marks. I got 172.

Electrical 1: I attempted correctly for 253 marks. I scored 200.

Electrical 2: I attempted correctly for 245 marks. I scored 195. "

Electrical Engineering - Mains

Till 2007 the syllabus of this optional differed vastly from IES. However, since 2008 syllabus is nearly as per IES syllabus. that's good if you want to prepare for both the exams. But please don't take 2 science optionals. I have covered that in a later post.

Circuits: A. Chakrabarti (Dhanpat Rai) Circuit Analysis and Synthesis covers the entire syllabus well.

Signals and Systems: I had Oppenheim and Willsky. The only thing missing was handling initial conditions in z-transform. Any Indian author book that has this can be used as a supplement.

Power Electronics: PS Bhimbra is enough. Stick to syllabus, prepare notes for this topic. They'll be quite handy.

Machines: Nagrath-Kothari or Ashfaq Hussain is enough. I had Ashfaq.

EMTheory: Follow any standard book. K D Prasad is considered The Bible for this topic of the exam.

Communication(Analog/Digital):Whatever the book followed in college, supplemented by Singh/Sapre (TMH) should be enough.

Measurements: Sawhney is the only book. Solve IES EE papers for this topics (a must). Questions are repeated.

Power System and Power System Protection: Ashfaq hussain and Wadhwa for Power Systems. Bardriram-Vishwakarma for PSP. Again IES papers are a must.

Controls: Kuo is good even though I haven't read it. I read Nagrath-Gopal.

Digital Electronics: Any book that covers the syllabus.

Analog Electronics: I followed Boylestad though I wasn't happy with it. Sedra-Smith goes too much into depth that isn't needed for this exam. I also had Millman-Grabel.

Don't try to go for full attempt. It may prove disastrous. Stick to what you know. I got 352 on a correct attempt of 415.

Thanks to last year topper Mr. Muthyalaraju Revu for guiding me in this optional.

General Studies - Mains

If conventional topics (National Movement, Polity, Economics, Geography) are prepared well during Prelims itself, then it eases a lot of pressure in preparation for the Mains as during the period May-October effort can be focused on practicing for Mains and Current Affairs which have become very important in GS exam. I'll try to deal with each of the topics mentioned in syllabus.

For National Movement, I used to read from Spectrum “History of Modern India” and practice from NCERT. There is usually a surprise element in UPSC history questions (though this year's were straight forward) and practicing from NCERT without reading it gave me adequate practice. I'd read a chapter after solving the questions given at the back. I tried approx. 5-8 tough questions from most chapters. Also, some topics – State People’s Movements, Rise of Left Front, Communalism – are covered very well in Bipan Chandra “India’s Struggle for Independence” (Penguin).

For Polity, I read Dr. D.D. Basu “Introduction to the Constitution of India”, Wizard Indian Polity and Constitution and solved questions given at the back of Wizard book (they are just Previous Year questions). To add some extra points or clarify doubts for important topics, I used to go through P.M. Bakshi’s “The Constitution of India”

For Geography, I read NCERT books - India's Physical Environment, India People and Economy.

For Economics, I had notes from Sriram's institute and substantiated them from Misra/Puri. I was thorough with XIth Five Year Plan and would read important topics from Economic Survey. These were: State of the Economy, External Sector, Infrastructure, Social Sectors.

I practiced previous year papers for Statistics.

And now the most important part- Current Affairs - India and World; International Affairs; current topics in Economy and Polity; National, Social and Environment issues; Science and Technology.

I was regular with The Hindu - took clippings daily, underlined important points in them right away (so that I didn't have to read the article all over again later) and arranged them topic wise once every fortnight or so. I also read Chronicle and important topics from Frontline (20 pages in each issue out of 130 pages). By August mid I had a list of important issues from all topics. This includes:

  • Relations with about 10-12 countries (Russia, US, Pakistan, Nepal, Brazil, South Africa, China, Japan, ASEAN, SAARC, G8, Italy, Germany; any country important for that year). I arranged the clippings topic wise and wrote answers for relations with each country. For example: In India-Russia relations I divided answer into 6 sections (Energy, Defence, International affairs, Economy/Trade, Cultural, Miscellaneous). There would be about 5-10 points of recent developments under each heading.
  • Nearly 10-15 topics each from International Affairs, National issues, Polity issues and current Economy, Science and Technology.

I prepared and practiced answers for these important topics. Atleast 3-4 revisions are must to get the best out of this effort.

Many of the 2 markers were covered from these news clippings. Also, I practiced to write maximum information in minimum words. This is a must to do well in 2 markers.

Tackling the exam: For me time is a big issue in exam. I write quite slowly. So I would answer all the questions I knew first and leave all the flukes for the last (around 30-40 marks detailed questions). This way I could give my best in the questions I was thorough with. Moreover, before writing the answer I’d think on it for a few minutes and prepare a basic framework. This is a must. I wrote to the point answers. Moreover, if I could write only good 150 words for a 250 words answer, I’d leave it at that rather than trying to stretch my answer to required word limit.

I left 2 markers which I didn't know rather than attempting flukes in them.