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How to prepare for UPSC by IAS Salma Fahim


EdUpgrade is an initiative set forth by EdJustice Foundation which aims to accelerate the growth of college going students by connecting them to industry leaders and stalwarts. And in this session, we had the privilege to have IAS Officer Salma Fahim who gave her two cents on how to crack the UPSC Civil Services Exam and dwelled into the life of a civil servant. This article covers up the main aspects discussed during the session.

Salma Fahim

Salma hails from Bengaluru and was raised in a middle-class family with her father working as a Karnataka Civil Services Officer and her working mother as a bank employee. From her childhood itself, Salma’s parents laid a huge emphasis on education and its importance and were keen on making their three daughters self-reliant and financially independent.

Salma then moved to Delhi and pursued B.A. in Economics and History from Delhi University. She was also an active NCC Army Wing Cadet and took part in the prestigious Thal Sainik Camp.

After her graduation, it took her 3 attempts to clear the exam in 2005. She opted for the IAS in 2006 and underwent her training at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration for two years.

Salma started off her civil services career by working as the SDM of Karwar sub-division. And later moved on to become the CEO of Gulbarga Zilla Parishad. She is currently the MD of Hutti Gold Mines which is a Government of Karnataka undertaking.

How to Clear Prelims and Mains?

Prelims is the very first step to clear the Civil Services Examination and it is considered to be much more difficult than the Mains. In Prelims, one must remember and dive deep into the very smallest of details and facts and should have a broad and intense approach. Paying attention towards the Indian economy, happenings in the sports world and current affairs is also very crucial.

When it comes to Mains, the candidate should focus on his/her writing skills. This would help in boosting your critical analysis ability and help in analyzing what is written. For example, if you are going through an editorial, after you are done reading it, you should be able to write at least one paragraph which supports that point of view and one which opposes it. This is to be done as most of the questions in the Mains exam are about critically examining a policy, event or subject. It would be beneficial to have a mentor or guide who can assess your writings and give you suggestions regarding your shortcomings.

One shouldn’t necessarily take up subjects based on his/her academic background. The aspirant should have deep interest in the subjects chosen as you would have to read and study those subjects over a course of 2 years.

Guides should be strictly avoided. Instead, one should stick to 2-3 standard textbooks which can help lay a strong and thorough foundation. After which, if there is any need to master a particular chapter, then read only that specific chapter from that recommended author or book.

Upon analyzing previous years question paper, you will realize that 40% of the chapters or topics repeated every year, will definitely come up this year as well. So, in a way you have already gotten to know about 40-50% of the question paper. Another 50% of the question paper is being covered by the current affairs.

How to Clear the Interview?

After the Mains result, the candidate gets around 1 month of time before the interview. This time can be leveraged by attending mock interviews at coaching centres. As a matter of fact, a lot of people will be there to help you out as you have come so far and are just a step away from being selected.

Questions asked by the interview board revolves around your application form. Technical knowledge of subjects is not being asked as you have already been judged on that. Interview board gauges your personality and whether or not your strengths are the right fit to make you a good officer.

There is also one psychologist who observes your non-verbal ques like your confidence while talking, eye contact and fidgeting.

An aspirant who is in his/her college years should focus on mainly two things. Firstly, the aspirant should get into a habit of reading newspapers every day. One should also make it a practice to read political and economy focused magazines. Secondly, he/she must participate in as many clubs, forums and sports activities so as to improve on their personality.

How to Keep Yourself Disciplined?

One should really be of thick skin and be mentally prepared when he/she has chosen this path of civil services. This is because the exam is really difficult to crack and has a very low selection rate. After some time, one might also get into anxiety over unsuccessful attempts as the aspirant is spending the most productive years of his/her life towards preparing for an exam which does not guarantee his/her selection.

One should set aside a minimum of 2 years of dedicated preparation for this exam. Two attempts are good enough to gauge whether or not you have the capability to clear.

Do not be overwhelmed by the vast syllabus. Set small goals. Beak the syllabus into monthly portions. Further distribute the monthly portions to a day-wise curriculum. Have a stringent routine and abide by it no matter what.

Assess and measure progress regularly. Have a go-to person with whom you can share your feelings for your emotional well-being. One must inculcate the habit of doing yoga and exercise as it calms and relaxes yourself.

Life of a Civil Servant

As a civil servant, any state or cadre can be allotted to you and then that place becomes your home for the rest of your career or sometimes even life. A civil servant should be in the practice of detached attachment in order to keep their motivation levels high amidst frequent transfers. In a career span of 30 years, one can get transferred at least 15 times if you are lucky!

During the first 10-15 years when you work on the field on programme implementation, you will get to interact with a variety of people. The most dynamic part of your career will be when you will a District Magistrate. After which you will be transferred to the secretariat in the capital for policy implementation.

In between, the Government will grant you the opportunity to study and will permit you to take sabbaticals for the same. During her sabbatical, Salma pursued her Master’s in Public Administration.

Final Words

It is a great head start if you are starting this UPSC CSE journey with the motive to bring in a positive change to your community and work towards the betterment of the nation. But one must also take into consideration that there are lakhs of people who give this exam every year and only around 200 of them are selected.

One most be consistent in his/her efforts and work hard determined. A lot of times self-doubt and anxiety creeps in when you are not able to clear it in your attempts. But nevertheless, we have heard of people who have cleared despite coming from extremely challenging circumstances.

Clearing the exam boils down to 90% hard work and 10% of luck. If luck favours you, then its great. If not, it is not the end of the world. There are other avenues through which you can contribute towards social upliftment. Onwards and upwards.

All the best!!!

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Anusha Shrivastava
Anusha Shrivastava
Sep 10, 2022

Just checked out your bideo interview with Salma mam and it’s really helpful for aspirants

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