This document is part of my efforts to give something back to the Civil Services aspirant community, of which I was a part for over 2.5 years.
My attempt here has been to be as objective as possible. In some places, people might feel that I am bragging, but trust me, failure at Civil Services has taught me how ridiculously average I am. I just want individuals to make their decisions after knowing all the facts.
Context: This year (2016), I made it to XLRI Jamshedpur by getting a direct convert despite having a 2 year career gap. I did this after preparing for XAT in 1 month and clearly telling the board that because I had failed at Civils, I was looking for other opportunities (something that was supposedly a taboo). In this comment, I intend to highlight how I went around preparing for XAT and my GDPI experience.
Relevant background about me:
(a) 27 months of work-ex across analytics and e-commerce before the 2 year gap.
(b) B.tech grad from nit, average acads (X||XII||Grad:: 88.4||77.6||75.4)
( c) I had a CAT percentile of 99.03 in 2012 and had converted the new IIMs but did not join them because of confusion over life goals. The point is that I wasn’t exactly starting from scratch while preparing for XAT.
Arun Sharma (How to Prepare for quantitative aptitude for CAT), Total Gadha Books on Number System, Geometry and Time, Speed and Distance
XAT last year question papers (2009-15, except 2011), previous year CAT papers (1999-2008, except 2003), Mock CATs of CL (5 tests) = had solutions to all of them
XAT mocks of Career Launcher (3 mocks, absolutely crap and as far from actual XAT as it can possibly be)
Guidance from a couple of friends who were in IIMs (C,K), going through random Quora posts on strategy for XAT by XAT Toppers.
I started preparing for XAT 2016 (held on 3rd January 2016) on 4th Dec, 2015, after I realized that I did not have it in me to give a 3rd attempt at Civils and deciding on what I wanted to do if not Civils. On an average, I put in 10-12 hours of practice for the test (as I was at home, plus I knew this was my only shot).
Strengths and weaknesses:My strength was verbal and logical reasoning while Quant was my Achilles heel. I wasn’t much worried about GK and essay part of the paper courtesy Civil Services prep.
Quant section: For me, this was the toughest part for 4 reasons
Difficulty wise, XAT’s quant is a notch above CAT.
Questions are more wordy and less direct (normally, they mix 1-2 concepts)
While I can solve most of the quant questions, I tend to bungle a lot when it comes to solving them in pressure and time-bound situations. Sometimes, during mock practice, my mind would just go blank or I would do silly mistakes like ½+ ½ = ¼.
Time was way too less for me to even have a decent hold on it.
Solving LOD 1 and LOD 2 questions. I could not touch any of the LOD 3 questions
Because time was less, I dedicated 2 days to 1 topic, then would move on to another for 2 days and then another for 2 days, cover all and then repeat. While this is a recipe for getting incomplete knowledge, but I wanted to have some idea of all topics rather than detailed idea of a few, especially given that XAT mixes and matches Quant questions.
In my analysis of last year papers, I found that XAT did not directly ask questions from
Progressions, Averages, Ratio Proportion and variation = so I just took a cursory glance at them = get a basic idea, practiced some LOD 1 questions quickly and move on.
Topics to focus upon
Number systems, Algebra (Block V of Arun Sharma)(indirect questions are asked heavily)
Profit and loss, Interests, Time and work, Time, Speed and Distance, Set theory = you should be extremely comfortable with LOD 2 level questions.
For Geometry: If it is your strength, then go for Block IV of Arun Sharma. However, I was weak in this, especially when they combine geometrical figures, ask weird questions or expect us to draw imaginary lines for solutions. After realizing this, I crammed the formulas, and relied on mocks for this part.
PnC and Probability: I went through some of the XAT previous year questions, realized that no matter how much I practice, in 3 weeks I would never be able to answer the level and the type of questions they were being asking in XAT. So did LOD 1 to get idea of basics and skipped the rest.
10:30 AM to 1:30 PM
Under test taking conditions (3 hours, OMR Sheet, only printed question paper for rough work) : 1 mock paper of CAT, initially and then later on XAT - all sections
This was my only practice for verbal and Decision Making section.
This was the most crucial and important part of my preparation. Mocks in CAT/XAT are equivalent to answer writing practice in UPSC. Absolutely important.
2:30 PM to around 6 PM
Analysis of mock
It was heavily focused on improving my quant score:
What section of quant I was weak in, why did I get a particular question wrong, how stupid can I get.
Focus was not on attempting more questions, but getting 100% accuracy in even my limited attempts (Quora advice).
Would mark the questions that I thought I should have got or whose solutions were interesting and then revise and review them on Sunday and whenever I felt like it.
I was okay with getting verbal questions (especially RC and par jumbles) wrong as long as they remained in acceptable limits, but quant accuracy was my highest priority
Sequence of sections to be attempted and how much time to be given to each
I finally narrowed down to Verbal (50 minutes)
Then Decision making (50 minutes)
And finally Quant (80 minutes)
Verbal was my strength
In some of the papers that I gave, DM did not take 50 minutes. This allowed me bonus time in which, depending upon the paper
I could tackle the much tougher quant section.
Go back to verbal section and see if I could attempt any skipped questions.
7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Cramming all the quant tricks, solving quant questions posted on PagalGuy (they have a thread every year (Official Quant Thread for CAT 2015))
10:00 PM to 12:00 AM
Total Gadha Books on Number systems, geometry and Time, Speed and Distance
Was able to finish Number system and TSD, gave up on Geometry after around 70 questions
Was extremely selective while solving this
Would give 2-3 minutes on questions on which I was stuck, would then look at the solution. After this, if I thought that ‘Yeah, I should know this’, I would mark it for review, and if I thought ‘my next 7 generations can’t think like this’, I would skip it.
I know that this is a stupid way of doing quant but I had only 3 weeks.
Sunday: XAT last year papers (2-3 based on time and mental stamina) + questions marked for review
Detailed and thorough analysis.
Skip XAT 2011 paper: This was among the most controversial papers of XAT. The quant questions were disturbingly difficult.
I was able to follow this strategy pretty much to the dot, because of the sitting habit I had acquired during Civil Services prep + I wasn’t targeting long months of this study pattern. 3 weeks of 12 hours study is like average for mains (at least, this is how I convinced myself).
Based on this preparation and a lot of luck, following was my final score:
While objectively, you might think that Quant screwed him over, trust me it didn’t. I attempted only 8/9 questions in Quant. Focus was on accuracy even if it meant attempting very less.
XAT quant is tough, even for veterans of aptitude exams. My advice is to focus on accuracy for Quant.
I think it was a combination of luck and the fact that I had been regularly practicing GS 4 two months before Pre (as a mode of refreshment) and after it. Ethical dilemmas and ‘what should he do’ questions are easy to solve when you have studied ethics and practiced questions.
Interview prep and experience
This was a very challenging phase because a lot of people told me that it was all pointless. Some of the things that I read and was told were the following:
My year gaps were going to screw me over
My XAT score wasn’t good enough
Panel would see me as a confused candidate
Average acad scores + I couldn’t reach the interview stage of UPSC despite dedicated preparation = Candidate is not smart enough
Well, as a Civil service aspirant for over 2 years, I was used to all this. Civil services prep helped me become mentally stronger to negate out these voices. It’s like you look at Gaurav Aggarwal, see his amazing credentials, look at yourself, feel ashamed, but then still go on and tell yourself, I’ll get his rank. While there is a huuuuuge difference between Civil Services and XAT, I hope you get what I am trying to say.
Stage 1 of GDPI process
We were required to answer 6 self assessment questions + Make a video of ourselves speaking on a topic of our choice for 3 minutes.
I unfortunately don’t have the copy of assessment questions but they were something like “ What has transformed you the most”, “Tell us of a situation where you did something outstanding that wasn’t accepted”, “Describe a time when you had to significantly reassess yourself” etc.
I wrote all the answers, as it is said ‘Dil se’. Took, I think, a week to write them. I wanted the panel to know me as I was. If they didn’t like me, I couldn’t really do much about it, but I had decided not to be pretentious, even if I thought that what I was writing could be seen negatively.
Decisions about quitting my job, mentions about Civil Service exam was present in 3 of the 6 questions
My video was on “The sociological construct of Power in Society”. My optional was sociology and this was my favorite topic. I used a lot of day to day examples in this video.
E.g. Zero sum theory of Weber was explained by saying that professors can decide deadlines of assignments and normally students cannot do anything about it.
Dispersed nature of power in society was highlighted by giving examples of filio-centric families, dual-career families. I said how children decide what gadget to buy, female members decided how the house should look or what new item to be bought and if there was anything left, then that was decided by the male members.
Stage 2 Preparation
Motivation and fighting self-doubt: The most important thing, at least for me, was Confidence and belief. I told myself this
You have seriously prepared for your dream. You failed in it. But you gave it a shot, you are proud of it and wouldn’t change anything. Let the panel know this. Shout it out loud if you want to. Preparing for Civil Services is not a mistake.
You know way more than anyone needs to know. World history, Indian history, Economics, IR, Ethics, Polity, social issues. Whatever be the topic, you’ll know.
When people around me at the interview were worried about understanding GST, I could tell 10 points on its impact faster than a bullet left the barrel of a gun (exaggeration, but I hope you get the point :p)
I talked to people in corporate (contacted them through LinkedIn, old contacts at work, bugged cousins working in corporate). Senior people, like director level senior. Of those who replied (Thank you), some of them could not even understand why I was worried about my year gaps. One particular individual was like “You have your mark sheet of civils? Yes Sir. Can you answer current affairs related questions? Yes Sir. Can you answer sociology questions? Yes Sir. Can you tell me how you have changed in the past 2 years? Of course sir. Listen Mr. XXXXX, this is not a year gap, not even by a long stretch”.
Some people did reply in the negative as well. But the fact that some people chose to be positive about my year gap really helped my confidence. And trust me, it is very very important.
My work revolved around use of mathematical models and crude understanding of business principles for making data driven decisions. Luckily, while I was working, I would make notes about my different projects on my laptop in order to ensure that I understood everything in my own language (it was easier to explain to others this way).
Guess when, these notes proved their usefulness
One more thing that I would like to highlight is that I had worked for Amazon. One of the panelists who interviewed me also had had some association with it. This worked in my favor because those who are a part of Amazon know about its screening process. I think this was a +ve point in my favor
I wasn’t much worried about this part. In my college, I had participated in a lot of GD competitions. While I didn’t win even 1 of them, I knew what to expect and my own strength and weaknesses + My work involved a lot of team discussions and dealing with disagreements in a respectful manner, so I was comfortable here.
Suggestion: Don’t feel worried about GD. If you get a call and are not confident, join an institute and practice. Just like answer writing practice, you will eventually get good at it.
It is not about what you say, but how you say it, how you deal with disagreements = well all gyan that you can find in any GD tips online.
XAT’s HRM GD topics are generally not esoteric but extremely general. My GD topic was “Are discontented employees a source of problem for the organization”. Some other topics (given to other groups) included Natural leaders vs. learned leaders, Should old employees be asked to retire etc.
I gave examples from real life in GD. In the group, I was the only one who did that. TERI’s RK Pachauri incident, Amazon’s work culture fiasco highlighted by NYT, innovations like Google’s Gmail and Orkut, Maruti’s labor unrest in Haryana = all picked up during prep for GS-4.
Managed to slip a couple of quotes that I had crammed up for GS-IV and essay.
I let others speak up and did not interrupt them. Thrice in my GD, both I and another girl were speaking at the same time. Twice another guy told me “1 minute, I just have one point”. I always backed out and respectfully allowed them to speak (basically, you smile, respectfully using hand gestures tell them to “Please go on”). While everything is pure speculation and I am no one to judge whether it worked or not, I like to believe that it was a good act on my part.
We were given a notepad to write down our points and the panelists were observing us. As a habit picked up during working, I divided my notepad into different sections titled pros, cons, criteria etc., and would always tick any point that I spoke and write down any relevant point said by another member of the group in the section to which it belonged. I do not know whether this was observed by the panelists.
I had joined CL’s weekend program for interview coaching. Went there 3-4 times, would rate it as average. If you get a call, I would recommend you do join a coaching institute just to get a feel of the interview.
I thoroughly prepared the following questions. Basically, I wrote down the answers to each of these questions and practiced them in front of the mirror again and again to the point that I knew every word.
Why didn't you opt for civil services after graduation?
What did you learn in the last 2 years ?
Why HR? Why XL?
Why not go back to analytics?
Are you giving up? Why not 3rd attempt?
Will you try for civils after MBA?
What if we don't select you?
Where do you see yourself - 5, 10 and 20 years ?
Why join Amazon?
How did your first organization change you?
Combine Sociology and HR?
Compare HR policies of your 2 orgz?
Difference between IPC and CrPC ? (because I clearly mentioned my dream of becoming a police officer)
What is sociology, Society, HRM?
Name and explain some theories of contemporary sociologists ?
Had data on social issues, number of disabled, SCs, STs, IMR, MMR, growth rate, death rate etc. on my tips.
Answers to all the self-assessment questions along with possible counter-questions
I only remember bits and pieces of my interview. So, I will just post the questions and the approximate answers
I2: Are you from Delhi, Mr. XXXXXX?
M: No sir, I belong to Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh
I2: Oh, that is the place where the Tibet govt. in exile is present, right? What is the name of that place?
M: Yes Sir, McLodgunj (trying to remember everything about China-Tibet controversy, history of China, anything that he may ask)
I2: And you are currently working in XXXXX organization?
M: (damn, no history). No sir, around 2 years ago, I quit my job to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a police officer. I gave 2 attempts at Civil Services and failed to make it to the final list. After my second failure, I reassessed myself to help arrive at what I would do, if not a police officer. And that is why I am here sir (Smiling)
I2: But you can still become a police officer?
M: Sir, Civil services is an exam that requires 100% dedication (he laughed here). I have given and done everything I could to clear this exam. There is absolutely nothing more that I can do. I believe that it is time for me to move on to other opportunities in life. Disappointment is there sir, I am still extremely disappointed, but there is no regret. And that, I think is important to me.
I1: Do you have work-experience?
M: (Huh). Yes, Sir. I have 27 months of work-ex across analytics and e-commerce before making the decision to quit. I did not leave my job early because I was too afraid to let go of my financial security, but realized that I had to take a call and I could never manage with my job. So I quit. (why did I even say the last two lines, I still don’t know)
I1: Tell me something outstanding that you have done in your work?
Now, I don’t exactly remember what happened after this. But I1 somehow decided to take my case badly. I tried to defend it, but he countered very strongly. The only thing I remember is that I was smiling throughout the interrogation.
I: How is it outstanding, I don’t find it, you just copied the idea, not good. What else? What else? What else? How can you better implement it? Why wasn't it implemented if it was outstanding? This is essentially 'Some HR term'.
I1: Tell me a situation in your work where you have shown people management skills?
I1: panel not impressed, gave a 'meh' look. Again counter questions on it, deducting flaws in my solution, what can be better done? What would you do to make sure this situation did not arise? Every time I gave a solution, he would give me a look that made me feel like an idiot. But I kept on smiling, every single time.
I2: Give me 3 suggestions on how you can improve motivation of police officers?
M: Sir, first of all, I think we need to market the lower order jobs properly.
I2: No, I want something related to Human Resources.
M: (Smiling). Sir, the first area of concern that comes to my mind is the lower salary of our police officers, especially the constables and sub-inspectors?
M: Okay Sir. One of the other concerns can be ensuring the welfare of their family members, especially children through special scholarships…(I1 interrupts)
I1: Just a minute, why didn’t you oppose him when he refuted your point of salary? Don’t you think salary is an important component of employee motivation?
M: Sir, he asked for anything apart from salary.
I1: Why are you trying to impress him? Do you think salary is important?
M: (Huh). Yes Sir, it is an important component but…
I1: Arey, now you are agreeing with me. Why didn’t you tell this to him?
M: (I just smiled. I knew this was all over.)
I2: Okay, what else?
M: Sir, as highlighted in the Prakash Singh judgment by SC..(cuts me here)
I2: Wait, Prakash Singh Judgment? Have you read the judgment?
M: No Sir, but I have read the recommendations.
I2: Tell me the recommendations?
M: Sir, first of all, it says the transfer of officers below the post of SP…(cuts me here)
I2: Thank you XXXXXX. Your interview is over.
M: (Smiling). Thank you for your time sir.
I2: Do you have calls from our BM division.
M: No Sir, I don’t.
I1: All the best for your future
M: Thank you sir.
Over. When I came out of the room, I knew it was all over and maybe my worst fears had come true. No questions on why HRM after Civils, current affairs, acads.
I may have missed out on a couple of things because the interrogation lasted for about 20-25 minutes. But, I think my mind has blocked out that ordeal.
Anyways, come 10th April, 2016 and this happened:
I don’t know what to say.I am conscious of the fact that had it been a reject, maybe my thoughts would have been something altogether different. The only thing I have to tell my fellow aspirants is something that I learnt
Please don’t let go off the opportunities that come your way (especially after the nth attempt). The value of n is for you to decide.
Hope I could help. Feel free to drop any comments/queries. ATB