For an exam which lasts for over a year, qualifying for the civil services is tough. For one, the number of seats varies each year. Last year 881 seats were fought over; this year it's just 80. With over a lakh attempting the examination, the chances of emerging victorious at the end of the tunnel are pretty low. With three subjects - General Studies and two optional subjects - to prepare for, how should one navigate the plethora of pamphlets, advertisements and hoardings from scores of institutes offering help and guidance? Here are some tips to help you make a choice.
What's your subject? Different institutes over the years have acquired proficiency in specific subjects. Find out which subject the institute at which you want to study specialises in. Ask around and examine the institution's past record.
The duration of the course Stay away from institutes promising crash courses. You will be flooded with information, notes and lectures, with no time to absorb it all.
Quality of notes The point of taking these classes and paying for their notes is to go beyond the general answers and information competitors would have. If the notes are not detailed, skip the institute.
Teaching conditions Sarika Kumari, who enrolled for a Sociology course, recalls that the classes at her institute would be held in the afternoon and in a crowded basement. Although the institute was charging a hefty sum, there were no fans or air-conditioning. Not an atmosphere conducive to learning.
Expenses The most expensive may not be the best. Ask around for a cheaper institute which offers equally dense study matter.
Distance/ Regular Classes One of the objectives of attending coaching classes for the UPSC exam is to enforce discipline and regularise studying. For an exam for which most people take a year off from both work and studies, this can be very difficult. That's why the idea and efficacy of distance coaching seem dubious.
Peer Guidance The most reliable, tried and tested way to judge an institute is to speak to your seniors and classmates, who have already enrolled in the coaching centre you are considering. Amaresh Singh, an IRS officer, points out, "An experienced senior or colleague who has taken a few attempts and is close by to guide is a better option, since the very routine of attending classes may consume something upward of two hours, apart from study time."
Reputation Don't be gullible and get lured into joining an institute because of the number of toppers who advertise it. Singh says, "There are instances of a host of successful candidates who are alleged to have lent their names on payment of money. However, some institutes engage leading academicians in their fields. In that case, one can safely join that institute." The most important issue is the quality and reputation of teachers. The teacher must be accessible and available. The difference between a good and a bad institution is the quality of its teachers.