‘A sense of service motivated me to put almost half a decade for preparations for the civil service exams’
Morung Express Feature
‘Nothing succeeds like success’ for 28-year-old Swapneel Paul, a small-town boy from Dimapur who embarked on a dream career of making it to the coveted Indian Administrative Service.
Securing the 6th position in the HSLC examination 2006, Swapneel, then a student of Holy Cross Higher Secondary School, passed Class XII from Army Public School, Narangi (Guwahati) and completed B. Tech (Electrical) from NIT Silchar in 2012. While at NIT Silchar, he got campus placement in Alstom India Ltd., a French company based in Vododara, Gujarat.
But his eyes were set on the civil services examination (CSE) and so in October 2013, he began preparations for the CSE conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). In his first attempt in 2014, he went as far as the interview stage but could not make it to the main list. In his second attempt (2015) he was selected for the Indian Postal Services. The third attempt (2016), he climbed the CSE ladder and landed in the Indian Revenue Service (IRS).
The ultimate breakthrough came in the fourth attempt when he was ranked 64th in the CSE 2017. The only child of PB Paul, an advocate at Gauhati High Court, Kohima bench, and Alpana Paul, Swapneel’s family roots in Dimapur go back to the early 50’s when his grandfather, a tax practitioner, came and settled in Dimapur.
Swapneel is also reportedly the first candidate from Nagaland from the general category to secure the top 100 position in the CSE.
The Morung Express caught up with the IAS topper, who shared his strategies and routine beginning with the Prelims upto the final interview.
MEx: Why did you opt for or what prompted you to choose civil services as a profession?
Swapneel Paul(SP): So that I can make greater impact on society and touch lives of millions. It is only this sense of service which motivated me to put almost half a decade for preparations for the civil service exams.
MEx: Was this your first attempt? When did you enter this field of competition? Did you enroll in any coaching centres?
SP: This is my fourth attempt. In the first attempt, I took full time coaching for general studies but in subsequent attempts I enrolled for test series only.
MEx: In the present IT world, there is a sea of electronic materials – blogs, sites, RSS-feeds and the likes. Did you rely more on electronic materials or paper materials for CSE?
SP: My preparations were a blend of both taking a very calibrated strategy for specific subjects like dynamic ones from the internet and static ones from conventional text books.
MEx: What were the resources (books/magazines/newspapers) you read for the Prelims (General Studies and Aptitude)?
SP: Books, authors and websites I read and referred to included M Laxmikant, Sriram’s IAS, Economic Survey, NCERT books, mrunal.org, Shankar IAS, gktoday.in, Atlas, Vision IAS and magazines for current affairs.
MEx: What medium did you choose for your compulsory language paper?
MEx: Enlighten us on the study materials and resources you used to prepare for the General Studies (Paper I, II, III and IV) in the Mains?
SP: (a) For GS-I: Nitin Singhania, Sriram’s IAS, NCERT books, Wizard book of social issues, selected Yojna magazine, Vision IAS value-added material, newspapers, Mrunal.org and Atlas
(b) GS-II: Newspapers, Vision IAS, Mains 365, M Laxmikant, Vajiram &Ravi public administration notes.
(c) GS-III: Newspapers, Vision IAS, Mains 365, Economic Survey, Niti Ayog 3 Years Action Agenda, mrunal.org, Tata McGraw Hill.
(d) GS-IV: Internet, Chronicle Lexicon and writing practice
MEx: What was your optional subject? Why did you choose this subject?
SP: Anthropology. First, I had great interest in studying varied cultures and knowing about the issues of the society at both macro and micro levels. Second, since the subject is a blend of Science and Humanities, it helped me enhance my GS preparations, both in terms of memorization as well as analysis.
MEx: After clearing the Prelims, how many hours did you devote daily for the Mains? And what sort of recreation or other activities you treated yourself with to break the monotony of study and refresh your brains?
SP: On an average, I studied 8-10 hours daily, mostly during night time. For relaxation and recreation, I did meditation and also went out with my friends. It is very important to take break in between studies otherwise one can end up putting a lot of stress which can be counter-productive.
MEx: How did you prepare for the interview? Name some books/magazines/newspapers or other video or audio study materials you read and listened to update yourself with current affairs and knowledge?
SP: For the interview, I mainly concentrated on the detailed application form that I filled up after the Prelims, which comprised of my bio-data, place to which I belonged, educational background, work experience and current topics.
MEx: Did you attend any mock interviews by coaching centres or conduct mock interviews with friends? Were they helpful? How were they different or similar to the official interview?
SP: Yes, I undertook mock interview exercises. Mock interviews are really helpful to make us get a feel of the real interview and guide us in shaping a proper frame of mind for the final day. One difference is that in the main interview, the board members are mostly high functionaries in the government and very much aware of current happenings and their questions are contemporary based, while mock interviews tend to be repetitive and monotonous.
MEx: What was the first question by the interview board? How long did the interview last?
SP: ‘What are the specific problems faced by North East India?’ I cited a lot of problems including poor infrastructure and connectivity and lack of employment avenues.
MEx: What is your message or advice to other civil service aspirants?
SP: First of all civil service preparation itself creates a difference in one’s life – it makes one a sensitized and ‘aware’ citizen. If one clears the service that is happy news, but if one fails it may be even happier news because the knowledge and awareness that one gain by preparing seriously for this exam can go a long way if implemented in any field, which can take a person to the pinnacle of success. Put all your efforts sincerely and leave the rest to the Almighty God and success will be yours in any case.
MEx: The credit of your success goes to…?
SP: A lot of dimensions involved: my mother who devoted her entire time during my school days and even sacrificed her job to raise me up, my father who taught me how to remain calm during adversities, my would-be wife who proved to be my greatest critic and motivator during my preparations, the entire Paul family for providing moral support, my school teachers and home tutors and friends.