Regular coaching is no longer enough – UPSC candidates choose “personal mentors” to pass the exam

New Delhi: Big classrooms with hundreds of students from all corners of India. Teachers delivering a lecture with a microphone so their voice can be transmitted across the room. The sound of students scribbling madly on paper. These are the characteristics of a typical classroom in a UPSC exam coaching center.

For decades, these centers have helped the nation’s young men and women pass the — notoriously tough — national-level competitive examination administered by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) for hiring in the public service.

Almost 5 to 6 thousand people on average take the UPSC exam for a few hundred jobs each year, resulting in a thriving coaching industry. In 2021, for example, over 5,000 candidates showed up for the exam.

The industry, valued at nearly Rs 3,000 by experts in 2018, has diversified over the years. It is no longer limited to just face-to-face classes and online lectures – it now also focuses on “personal mentoring” and the “holistic development” of an aspirant.

The shift, insiders say, is being driven by the realization that aspirants must not only pass the UPSC exam, but do so within a specific timeframe and choose the right service for themselves.

And that’s where the “Mentor” comes in – an offer that was rumored to have been introduced a couple of years ago.

Often a former civil servant themselves, the mentor is essentially someone who has managed to pass the exam and knows what it takes to do so.

However, this guidance costs a hefty sum and drives up the price of the coaching by almost 20 to 30 percent. For example, if a coaching class charges an average of Rs 1 lakh for the Prelims and Mains Package, one would have to shell out around Rs 1,30,000 to also get a mentor.

“Getting exam prep content is no longer the issue, especially with the rise of edtech platforms. Whether online or offline lectures, one can easily get the content to prepare for exams,” said Sajal Singh, Founder of Civilsdaily, a UPSC preparation platform focused on one-on-one mentoring.

“The trend today is towards personal care. A mentor is someone who prepares students for everything… the exams, the interview.”

A personal mentor first identifies an aspirant’s potential – what level they are at, whether they simply need to change their strategy as they take the exam, or whether they need to learn more. These mentors typically guide their students through the entire journey – from the preliminary talks to the interview.

Often, help can be as simple as teaching candidates how to formulate a specific answer or essay. Allowing the aspirant to develop an individual personality and encouraging critical thinking is also described as part of the mentoring process.

Singh is a mentor himself and has coached almost 50-60 people/year – candidates who have passed their prelims but have not been able to complete their main exams in the last two to three years.

As someone who has already passed the exam, Singh said he knows the nuances of passing it. “I analyze all their past performances and tell them how they can improve or where they made mistakes,” he added.

Richa Khera, 22, who is currently on a postgraduate gap year to prepare for the UPSC exam, is among those who have chosen to pursue personal mentoring with a private coaching platform in Delhi.

“I’m not short on reading material, there are hundreds of videos online – both free and paid content – to help me study, but what I need is a more realistic guide on how to do the exam,” Khera said.

Also read: Most UPSC candidates cannot afford private coaching, so states are stepping in to fill the gap

“Taking the exam is not enough”

Badal Soni, an educator at edtech platforms PrepLadder and Unacademy who prepares candidates for engineering and civil service, said passing the exam isn’t enough.

You also have to understand that they need to make it at the right age in order for them to get promotions on time and be able to move up the ranks, he added.

“People used to take a gap year after college to prepare for the civil service exam. Now they’re starting to prepare while they’re still in college,” Soni said.

“Age is the fuel for promotion in government jobs… if you enter service late, your promotion will be limited. But if you enter public service early, there are higher opportunities for advancement,” he added.

Aspirants and successful candidates that ThePrint spoke to agreed. You have to be smart about how to prepare for the UPSC exams, they said.

A 28-year-old civil engineer from Ranchi, who joined the Indian Police Service (IPS) on his third attempt after passing the UPSC exam last year, said he “was able to get on the power grid on the first two attempts, but failed the introduction round.” “.

“I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong until a former IPS officer, a family friend, personally coached me and pointed out my mistakes,” he added.

Khera had a similar experience. After reviewing her exam preparation papers, her mentor pointed out that the introductory paragraphs in her essays were too long.

“It took me too long to get to the point when I wrote the first paragraph of my essays. My mentor told me that the introduction should be clear and make a point quickly,” she said. “That’s something I’ve started working on now.”

Focus on “holistic development”

Chandrahas Panigrahi, co-founder and CEO of Edukemy, another platform that helps students prepare for the UPSC exam, said the “holistic development of an aspirant’s personality” is crucial. Red learning and cramming, he added, is no longer enough.

“The UPSC exam has changed over the years and so has the method of preparation. Currently, the focus is more on questions related to current issues in both the pre-examination and the main examination,” he added. “For example, the question might be: ‘Write the course of Indian history if Gandhi wasn’t part of it,'” he said, adding that the teachers encouraged “alternative thinking or imagination for problem-solving.”

The approach, he added, needs to change from the age-old formula “You have to lock yourself in a room to prepare for the UPSC exam.”

“Teachers themselves need to be more dynamic in teaching, they need to include open discussion or questions in the lesson,” said Panigrahi. “You need to encourage students to keep up to date with current developments in the world, such as popular films, books, debates, discoveries, and focus on engaging students in the real world.”

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: “No Fraud” – that’s why UPSC always hires fewer candidates than jobs are reported

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