UPSC Pathshala’s Guide of choosing Coaching Institute for UPSC preparation

Oct 14, 2019

With all the options plaguing aspirants today, ranging from self-study to free YouTube video channels right up to relocating to Delhi or any big city to prepare for UPSC Civil Services exams, let us take a look at UPSC Pathshala’s guide to choosing the right institute and the right method of preparation for UPSC Exams.

Let us first look at the question of how to prepare for the UPSC exam, or more precisely, what method of preparation to choose. In order to do that, we will first need to have an in-depth review of the choices available to us and the pros and cons of each option.

Offline Coaching Options

Let us start with the first and most widely known and popular option, which is joining a physical coaching institute or an offline institute. Even in this category, there can be various types of offline institutes. Let us try to categorize them.

The first option is moving to a nearby city or Delhi and joining the top-notch institutes there. The second option is again moving to a big city and joining a second rung or mediocre institute. The third option is to stay in your hometown and availing of whatever coaching is available.

Top Rung Institute in a Big City

Now let us thoroughly review the pros and cons of each option. For option one, joining the top-notch institute in the big cities, the pro is that they have good faculty. They also have a good command on the pattern of the examination and thus can effectively guide your preparation accordingly. The third pro is that you would expect to meet only serious students in the top-notch institutes. These students could help your preparation and motivate you to prepare better.

The cons of these top-notch institute is that the whole task of shifting to a new city is expensive, coupled with the fact that the actual courses are also very expensive. The second problem is that you will not have the support of your parents because you will have to relocate. There will be physical and emotional hardships that you will have to deal with by yourself. The third con is that there are bound to be distractions that take your focus away when you are in a big city and are suddenly surrounded by a new environment. Another con or negative aspect of big and popular institutes is that the batch sizes are huge and you might feel lost in such a large group.

Mediocre Institute in a Big City

Now let’s review the second option of relocating to a new city but opting for the mediocre institutes. So the first thing in its favour is that of course it is cheaper than the top rung institutes.  You will be able to save on the coaching fees if not the living costs. The second positive is that they might have smaller batch sizes. The other pro is that you will still be in the vicinity of good peer groups and might be able to take advantage of that.

Let us now see what the cons of this option are. The first is that you will definitely develop a complex about you being in a mediocre institute and not next door top rung institute. The second con has to do with why these coaching institutes are mediocre. The fact is that many top teachers from the top rung institutes decide to start an institute by themselves based on the success of their teaching. However, even though they continue being good teachers, they might not be able to get together a good enough team to make their institute equivalent to the ones in the top rung. These coaching institutes are mediocre because maybe one subject is taught excellently, but the rest will be taught in an average fashion. This again is very difficult for the aspirants to judge. The other cons like distractions, necessity to relocate and the high living costs in a big city are common with the cons of the first option.

Local Coaching

The third option that is taking coaching locally or at the district headquarters of your home town. The pros are that first of all, this option is affordable as you are not relocating. Next advantage is that since you are not relocating, you will have the physical and emotional comforts associated with staying in your familiar surroundings.
The cons are that these coaching institutes are hardly ever teaching you UPSC syllabus. They typically target students appearing for the state exams and bank P.O. exams and thus are built around the requirements of those exams. Thus they also employ teachers that teach for these state and bank P.O. exams and thus they are poor quality teachers for the purpose of UPSC Exams.

Online Coaching Options

Now let us look at the online institutions or portals that help aspirants to prepare for UPSC Civil Services Exams. Again let us look at the choices in the categories of online institutions. The first category comprises of the institutions that provide you end to end support. This means that they provide you with video lectures, study material tests, doubt clearance and whatever else you need to prepare. The second category of institutions is made up of those that provide you with just notes and tests. The third category is made up of institutions that provide you with just tests and are very famous for their test series.

End to End Service Providers

The biggest pro of the first category, that is, the institutions that provide end to end solutions is their flexibility with regards to time. This of course is a pro for all the online methods mentioned above. If you are working or are in college, it is very beneficial as you can attend the lectures at your convenience. The second important pro is that they become a one stop solution for you and you don’t have to look out for anything else. The third pro is that they may provide you very high quality teachers without having to go through the pain of relocating. This is not a certainty and will differ from institute to institute. Other than the flexibility of the schedule there is flexibility of the classes themselves, as the course can easily be deferred or rearranged in case you need to take a few days off from preparing.

What then are the cons of the online end to end solutions providers? First of all, you are not sure of the quality of the teachers. As a student, you might not know how many students they have and thus this option might suffer from a lack of personal attention. There is a limit to the number of students that can be fit into a physical classroom, but on an online platform, the number of students can be in the thousands and you might not even know it.

Notes and Tests Providers

Coming to the second category of institutions have similar pros and cons like the end to end solution providers, but additionally, there is no explanation provided. So this is not a great way to prepare.

Test Series Providers

The institutes in the third category are not providing a method of preparation as tests cannot make you prepare for an exam. They are tools to evaluate and review your preparation not tools for preparation.

Self Study

Another method of preparation that is chosen by many students is self study.  Let us have a thorough review of what this method entails. This means that the student typically looks for and finds a Book List, finds Notes to refer to, covers the curriculum, and joins a test series and appears for tests. Lots of students believe in this method and there are pros and cons to this method as well.

The first of the pros are that it is definitely cheaper than all the other methods discussed earlier. However, let us understand that even though it is cheaper, it is not free. Many students harbor this misconception that self study means it is free, but if you add up the costs of the books that you will need to buy, that itself will cost you 10 to 15 thousand rupees. The other pro is that you could buy the best books and thus the authenticity of the content is not under question. You can buy the best books that are possible and can be your own judge.

The most important con is that students don’t have a plan of covering the syllabus and get lost in learning the books rather than covering the syllabus and preparing for the exam. Of course, to counter this, you could study from notes, but you will never be able to trust the genuineness of the notes that you buy. The third con is that there is no benchmarking since you don’t have a peer group to compare your preparation with. The fourth and very important con is that it is easy to lose motivation as there is no one to check on you. When the preparation period is as long as it is for UPSC exams, it is very easy to lose motivation and lose track midway. Thus self study can easily become a disaster.
So it is important that you join some institution and follow some methodology. Or at least make sure you have a mentor who can replace the structure and push of an institution. Don’t lose a year in self study just to save some money. Nothing is more expensive than lost time.

How to choose the right Coaching Institute

Finally, let us come to the parameters of choosing a good coaching institute.

  • The first parameter is to check the coverage of the syllabus by the institute. The reason is that they have specialist teachers who cover one or two subjects extremely well but are just average or worse for other subjects. In today’s age of cut throat competition you have no leeway to leave out or under-prepare any part of the syllabus. You just cannot afford to have any weak or unprepared areas.
  • The second criterion is the quality of teachers. This probably does not need any explanation. A great teacher can take your thought process and preparation to an entirely new level.
  • The third criterion to judge a coaching institute is whether the institute has a study plan and how your preparation will be done as a part of that plan.
  • The fourth parameter to judge a coaching institute is to check the processes in place for clearing your doubts.
  • The final parameter is to check the overall impact and their confidence in their claim that their course will make you clear the exam. This confidence in turn is reflected in your preparation and approach and becomes a great asset in boosting your preparation.

What shouldn’t you consider?

Finally, let us understand a few things that you should never consider while selecting a coaching institute. The first such criterion is branding. The fact is that if a coaching has a brand name it only means that someone is investing in them heavily it does not mean that it is a great coaching institute. Results, is the next criterion on which you should not judge a coaching institute. In today’s world there are many institutes that “manage” the student lists and the results they declare. 

Also, the fact is that one person might have enrolled at various institutes, giving all those institutes a chance to publish their names in their student list once the student tops the exams.

Before you join

Finally, let’s see what you could do before joining a coaching institute to ensure that you are choosing the right one.

  • The first thing you need to do is to talk to former students. This will enable you to get enough information to judge the institute on the aforementioned criteria.
  • However, don’t talk to the students who have cleared the interview stage and have got selected. This is because once students get selected they give interviews to everyone and generally don’t want to give negative feedback about any institute.
  • The third thing is not to be prey to formative bias. Just because you have spent your entire school life sitting in a classroom and studying, does not mean you have to continue doing that or that it is the only or the best way to study. Consider the actual syllabus you had to cover in school every year and exactly how much time it should normally take to cover such a syllabus versus how many hours it actually takes to cover it in school. In the cut-throat competitive race for getting selected in UPSC, it is very important that you remain open to trying new methods, whether they are Skype lectures, discussion rooms or video lectures. Don’t discount methods before trying them.
  • So take demos of 2 to 3 classes and see how easy it is for you to understand the content and how much you are learning. Finally, do a comparative analysis and try to figure out which method is making you learn better, faster and more sustainably. You should not only learn more, but you should learn faster and you should learn in such a way that you can recall the information when it is required during the exam.

Choosing the right coaching can be one of the most important steps that can make a huge difference in your results and it is only right that you take a few days to make this decision. Go through the steps mentioned above and compare a few institutes after taking their demo classes and talking to their students and take the decision as you will be staying with this decision for a period of a year or more.

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