Indian Statistical Service Toppers strategy – Amelia Betsy AIR 29 , ISS 2018

 

  • What is the inspiration behind going for statistical service?

              “ISS…. Not possible in the first attempt” was the phrase that reached my ears at least once a day. But for a person like Betsy who waited for chances to venture into a new path, this seemed more like a petrol. It was all in my first year PG that I had interned in the NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation) FOD, that I looked up to my DDG- an ISS Officer who triggered my thoughts. But every time I had tried to know more about ISS I could hear someone say “It’s not an easy task to crack it”. That’s when I started getting more curious and went deeper in my search. It was then when I had approached my college professors, I came to know that our college syllabus would be of no help for my preparation as it focussed completely on private sector jobs.

So in my thirst for ISS, all I could find was only closed doors. I literally had no one to guide me and I also found that there were hardly any ISS officers from South. This lack of awareness amongst us literally added fuel to the fire in me. Fortunately I am the first one to break the ice in my family which is bagged by business thoroughly to a Govt. official – A new beginning.

Every time we think of reciprocating to the society, the very next thing that flashes our mind is an IAS or IPS officer. So I wanted to go ahead with something subtle, that which does not bring me to the limelight but where my actions mattered a lot to the society and that’s exactly how I found myself getting closer to ISS. Incidentally, my passion towards statistics and my drive to serve, at its best cadre has driven me to what I am today – an ISS. And I truly believe that it is only by the grace of God that I stand here. 

 

 

  • Tell us something about the nature of the job. What are the posts one gets to hold by clearing the exam? And also the significance of ISS.

 

                  Out of all the Government Ministries, almost in 43 ministries we ISS officers are the technical heads. We form the major portion of the think tank of the Indian economy. Right from policy formulation, policy implementation and impact revaluation we play the role of a data driven policy maker. Our roles are diversified amongst various ministries of the Government.  For instance, if we are posted at National Accounts Division in New Delhi then we would be involved in the estimation of GDP. We have the Labour Bureau of India in Shimla where we get to compile certain measures of inflation like CPI. There might be situations where we would be representing our country in International forums like UN, ESCAP, UNSD, World Bank, etc.

The latest cadre strength of the service under different grades are given below

Sl.NO. Grade / Designation Pay Structure Sanctioned strength
1 JTS – Assistant Director Level – 10 250
2 STS – Deputy Director Level – 11 179
3 JAG – Joint Director Level – 12 176
NFSG – Director Level – 13
4 SAG – Deputy Director General Level – 14 136
5 HAG – Additional Director General Level – 15 18
6 HAG Plus – Director General Level – 16 5

 

It is remarkable to note that for the very first time, an ISS officer of the 1983 batch, Shri Pravin Srivastava has been appointed as the Chief Statistician of India.

 

 

  • What is the pattern of ISS exam? (Syllabus, Stages, marks, No. of papers , cut-offs)

 

The ISS examination is held in two stages. 

1st Stage: Written Examination comprising 1000 marks.

The unique and the breath taking part of ISS/IES examination is that the exams are held for three consecutive days with two exams per day. Since 2016, the syllabus has been revised corresponding to the new exam pattern.

2nd Stage: Personality Test / Interview comprising 200 marks.

Now that our academic competency is tested, we will be tested on our behavioural aspects as well. So we simply need to be ourselves before the unbiased panel. A wide variety of questions (official statistics, basic economic concepts, current affairs and hypothetical questions) can be expected. Do not try to manipulate answers, instead it would be better to agree if you did not know an answer, irrespective of the number of unknown questions. By this way at least our integrity is paid off.

Therefore the Total marks                          = 1200

The revised syllabus, examination pattern and the latest cut off percentage can be found from the link below

https://www.upscsyllabus.in/iss

 

 

  • What is the level of competition and how did you overcome it?

 

       Every year close to 20,000 applicants apply for both IES (Indian Economic Service) and ISS put together out of which only 14 IES and 30 ISS get selected. So each candidate has roughly around 0.22% chances of entering the service.

And that’s just for data sake!!!

My perspective:

In reality, however high the competition is, all that mattered to me was just a single seat. So I never bothered about the number of vacancies at any point of time. Since I narrowed down my focus only to that “ONE” seat, everything else fell in place in my very first attempt and I obviously owe all these to the One above Who gave me the strength to fight persistently throughout my battle.

 

 

  • What are the books to be followed?

 

There are a wide range of books that can be used for reference. But, the following were the ones that were useful in my journey of preparation. So it depends on your preferences.

Objective papers

General Statistics

  • Fundamentals of Mathematical Statistics by Gupta and Kapoor
  • Fundamentals of Applied Statistics by Gupta and Kapoor
  • Introduction to Probability and Statistics by V.K.Rohatgi and Mohammad.A.K. Saleh 

Specific topics

Computer – Any fundamental book on Computer for graduate students

Official Statistics – MOSPI website and PPTs on statistical systems of India from UN website

Linear models

  • Introduction to Linear Regression Analysis by Montgomery, Peck and Vining
  • Applied Regression Analysis by Draper and Smith

Numerical analysis – Graduation notes are more than enough

 

Descriptive Paper 1: Statistics 

Sampling – 

  • Sampling theory of Surveys with Applications  by P.V.Sukatme
  • Sampling techniques by William Cochran 
  • Sampling theory by Prof.Shalabh (IIT Kanpur)

Applied Statistics – 

  • Fundamentals of Applied Statistics by Gupta and Kapoor
  • Fundamentals of Statistics by Goon, Gupta, Dasgupta (Vol 1 & 2)

Econometrics – 

  • Basic Econometrics by Damodar Gujarati
  • Econometric methods 3rd  by John Johnston

Time series – Time series by Brockwell & Davis

 

Descriptive Paper 2 : Statistics 

Statistical Quality Control- 

  • Fundamentals of Applied Statistics by Gupta and Kapoor
  • Introduction to Statistical Quality Control by Douglas Montgomery

Multivariate Analysis

  • An Introduction to Multivariate Statistical Analysis by T.W. Anderson
  • Applied Multivariate Statistical Analysis by Richard Johnson & Dean Richarn

Demography – 

  • Fundamentals of Applied Statistics by Gupta and Kapoor
  • Fundamentals of Statistics by Goon, Gupta, Dasgupta (Vol 1 & 2)

Design of experiments- 

  • Fundamentals of Applied Statistics by Gupta and Kapoor
  • Fundamentals of Statistics by Goon, Gupta, Dasgupta (Vol 1 & 2)
  • Experimental Designs and their Analysis by Prof.Shalabh (IIT kanpur)

Operation research

  • Operations Research by S.D. Sharma
  • Operations Research by Taha 

C & R language -Programming in ANSI C by E. Balagurusamy

 

General Studies:  Adequate care should be taken as this is the place where many aspirants fail to clear the cut off and in turn it affects their overall result. I tried to get a pattern from the previous question papers which helped me to save time by avoiding certain topics. 

  • NCERT ( History and Geography) books from classes 6-10 will be sufficient
  • Indian Polity by Laxmikanth will be the best for questions on Polity
  • Repetitive headlines from The Hindu can be covered

General English: 

  • Try to improve your vocabulary every day by using word play applications in your mobile phones. 
  • Stick on to simple and precise language while writing essay type questions.

 

 

  • Do you need to be good at mathematics to clear this exam?

 

        I’m basically a Mathematics graduate and I encountered Statistics directly in my PG only. I personally don’t feel that Mathematics has impacted ISS preparation except for a better computation of MCQ’s and numerical oriented answers with a comparatively decent speed. 

 

 

  • How long is the training after clearing the exam?

 

Our probation period is close to 2 years @ NSSTA (National Statistical Systems and Training Academy) in Greater Noida. This period is definitely the best part of any Officer’s life (this is what almost every faculty who come to train us tell). We have different modules that we are being trained at, through classroom sessions and we are also taken to premier institutes in India to get a hands on experience of how the work is originally done. By these we are really able to realise how much of an important role we play in this economy.

For instance, we are taken to institutes like IARI (Indian Agricultural Research Institute) @ New Delhi for Agricultural Statistical module, Labour Bureau of India @ Shimla for Labour Statistics module, FRI (Forest Research Institute) @ Dehradun, IGIDR (Indira Gandhi Institute for Development and Research) @ Mumbai for a module on Basics of Macro Economics and Micro Economics and so on. The much awaited part comes in MCRHRD (Dr. Marri Channa Reddy Human Resource Development Institute) @ Hyderabad where we get to interact with other Civil Service officers (IPS,IRS,IFS,…) of our batch for around 100 days. There is also a one week schedule @ Netherlands which is known for its best statistical system.

On the whole, The ISS training shapes us from an overall perspective. Being just a fresher who had joined training on February 4th 2019, I feel that learning becomes 100% productive when it is packaged with enjoyment and I’m thoroughly experiencing it. This is also the phase where we realise that we owe the Government so much in terms of the ample amount of facilities and privileges that we are blessed with right from our training period. 

 

 

  • What was your strategy for your examination?

 

More than my examination strategy, I followed a strategy right from my preparation which took care of my exam.

Know where you stand – Exactly one year before ISS 2018 exams when I had not started with my preparation, I went through the previous years’ question papers to check my level of preparedness. This totally depressed me as I knew 0% of the papers (without any exaggeration) except for a few terms which sounded familiar. So then I decided to give up (pleasures) all that it takes to become an ISS officer and started working really hard towards my aim “ISS in the first attempt!!!….”. I actually did not have any basic understanding of statistics because I had done my graduation in Maths and even in PG we gave importance to our project. Hence I started my preparation right from the scratch (Definition of statistics). It started at 6hrs/day of productive studies, slowly geared to 8 hrs/day to 12 hrs/day and then finally to 13-14 hrs/day. It is not that tedious as it sounds, as I had planned it in such a way that I was able to handle it without any pressure till the end.

Prefer dynamic preparation- Since I don’t prefer focusing on a single subject for a very long time, I had a very dynamic time table every day. I usually start with an objective type paper (working out as much questions as possible) and then switch on to a descriptive paper and this repeats almost twice a day. In between these two, I used to read through NCERT books which served as a stress buster for me. I also had a word play app in my mobile to enhance my vocabulary (General English paper). When I felt a little bit off track then I used to read The Hindu and make notes on it every day (General studies paper).

There’s a lot more than just studying – I took immense care to keep myself on pace and at no point of my preparation I felt exhausted – the most important point. During my breaks in between I used to listen to a lot of songs to keep my mind calm and I hardly had time to fidget with my phone. Daily prayers, considerable amount of physical exercises and small yaps in between kept my mental health and physical health at pace. Amidst a few mental depressions and physical illness, the only thing that used to run in my mind was “ISS”. I used to watch motivational videos by IAS ,IPS officers every night which would make me feel very light.

Revamping -An undoubted fuel – The biggest challenge in an ISS exam would be the handling of pressure for a back to back three days with 6 exams one after another. This is where many aspirants give up on ISS. The best way to tackle this is by proper revision.

So I started my test series 3 months before the exam. With the help of the previous years’ question papers, my Sir and my PG friends had prepared question papers for my test series and I timed myself exactly in the same way as in the exam.

  • First attempt – Initially I started with one paper a week and I found that my whole paper was on a huge mess. I was not able to produce all the concepts at one short because of mixture of subjects. I was able to solve very few questions only in the objective papers.
  • Second attempt – Now the series was scheduled to two papers a week. This time I had lesser time to revise in between papers. But I found that I had little clarity while writing and definitely performed better than the first one.
  • Final attempt – Three days with six exams back to back (just as in original ISS exam), my test series were taken up this time. Although it was very tedious, this was the best of the three.

Trust me, this pattern worked best for me as I was able to tackle the pressure easily during my mains because I was getting used to taking up such test series.

 

ON THE BATTLE FIELD

Objective papers:

  • It’s not about the number of answered questions that matters but it’s about the lesser number of negative answers that decides your score.
  • Effective utilisation of time – First opt for theoretical questions that are a little direct and then go for the ones that needs bigger computation. This way we can optimise the number of correct answers within the limited time.
  • No double checking – since we use OMR sheets, circle only those questions that you are 100% sure.
  • Don’t get too excited over a question that you feel is known as you might miss out on the smaller trickier figures out there.

 

Descriptive papers:

  • Space utilization – Another bigger challenge is to restrict ourselves to the limited space available with points that best fits the question. I had prepared hand written notes for few topics in the form of short answers / point wise answers for my preparation and stuck only to those notes for further reference. This helped me to get habitual of writing only crisp points in the exam.
  • Selection of questions – This is an important art. If you are both conceptually and numerically strong then it would be better to choose a problem and score full marks rather than opting a theoretical question which might yield less marks comparatively.
  • Choosing optional subjects – In the 2nd descriptive paper, we are allowed to choose any 2 subjects out of the 6 that is given and answer questions from the ones that you have chosen only. Your preparation can be confined to just those two subjects but to such an extent that you will be able to answer any question from those two subjects. May be if you are a fast learner, you can add one more subject to your cart for safety sake. Trying to cover as many out of the six subjects (thinking to play much safer game) is not really a good strategy. 

At the end of the game it’s not about the quantity of preparation but the quality (even if it’s small in quantity) that matters. So play smart!!!

 

Personality test / Interview:

As everyone understands that this is not a test for theory but a check on our other humanitarian aspects, I also expected my interview to be of the same type. But unfortunately mine turned to be worse and it went on for around 40 minutes. Initially I had questions from my DAF and certain economic concepts which I think I managed pretty well. Then I had a few theoretical questions which I totally didn’t expect and I could not answer any of those questions honestly. For close to 4 questions my only answer was “Sir, I have no idea about this” with a smile on my face (never changed my facial expression). And the final questions were on official statistics which was not that satisfactory but still I was able to manage them logically to a certain extent.

              I totally lost my hopes on ISS after giving my interview. But when our results arrived, I came to know that my interview score was pretty much decent. So more than how much statistics we know, it is about how we tackle the situation ahead of us.

Way beyond all these strategies, I feel that I am blessed abundantly as I had received blind support from my family to walk the talk. There was absolutely no pressure from their side and hence I could work on ISS with full vigour and mental stability. 

 

10) What would you want to advice the aspirants who want to choose ISS as their path?

If you want to barter your blessings to the society in the most accurate form but in a very passive manner (Never stole the spot light), then the ISS fraternity would never want to miss an officer like you.

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