Can An Average Student Crack IAS Exam?

“Your ‘I can’ is more important than your IQ.”    – Robin Sharma

A common question among UPSC civil services aspirants is, “I have been an average student throughout school/college. Can I clear the tough IAS exam?” It is a well-known fact that the UPSC civil services are the toughest exams in the country. It is a long and grilling process divided into three stages:

  1. UPSC prelims
  2. UPSC mains
  3. Board Interview/Personality Test

For more on the exam pattern read INDIAN ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICE (IAS) EXAM.

Read on to know, ‘can average student crack IAS’?

Since lakhs of students take this exam and only a few hundred are chosen every year as IAS, IPS, etc. a lot IAS aspirants doubt their chances of making the cut. Undeniably, the UPSC civil services exam is difficult to clear. But is it intelligence and academic brilliance that differentiate the winners from the rest? If you look at past toppers and high rankers, there have been academically bright students who have cleared the exam. But there have also been people who have had less than noteworthy school and college academic performances. What does this mean?

First of all, let us define what ‘average’ is? is it right to classify students as brilliant, weak and average on the basis of marks obtained in school exams? Sachin Tendulkar was by conventional standards an average school student. But we all know that he is pure genius. Albert Einstein was considered ‘average’ by his teachers. Was Einstein not a genius who revolutionised the world with his theories? Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Dr John Gurdon (Nobel Prize winner), Charles Darwin – these are all names we recognise as brilliant. But all of them were undistinguished school or college students.

The problem lies in our educational system which insists on using the same yardstick for assessing intelligence or talent for everyone. There is a famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein which goes as follows:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”


Now, coming to the UPSC civil services, we have many examples of people who have cleared this exam despite being called ‘average students’. Take the case of Rukmani Riar who got AIR 2 in UPSC civil services exam of 2011. She had failed in class VI because she was unable to deal with the pressure of moving to a boarding school. She overcame that and went on to do well at the college level and finally in the UPSC exam. She said on her success, “I think my consistency, hard work, determination, persistence and consistency were the basis of my preparation and the key to success. Specific reading, emphasis on every topic as well as a subtopic and repeated revisions was my strategy”.

Your success or failure depends on three things alone:


You should genuinely have an interest in what you are doing. Remember in high school, you always scored better in some subjects than others. This is because you didn’t get to choose what subjects you could study. Interest in a subject means you would be curious to know more about it. This is the first step in learning. Similarly, you should be interested in civil services. It should be YOUR GOAL, YOUR AMBITION AND YOUR DREAM. Not your parents’. Take the case of 2010 9th rank holder in the UPSC civil services exam, Ajay Prakash who in his XII opted for science stream against his interests which lay in literature. As a result, he got an ‘average’ mark of 78% in class XII and flunked the IIT-JEE and AIEEE. He pursued his passion and the rest is history.


Once you are sure about your goals, you must prepare for it. And you must do it with utmost devotion and sincerity. The UPSC syllabus is vast and it requires intense studies for almost a year to be able to clear the exam. You must be willing to work hard resisting all temptations and distractions.



The last thing you need is a proper study plan for IAS exam to go about covering the vast syllabus and revising it at least a couple of times. Your preparation strategy is an important factor that decides fate at the civil services exam.

As you saw, intelligence doesn’t feature in the list of factors needed to clear the IAS exam. That part is covered in the fact that you need to be at least a graduate to take the UPSC exams. The real test is whether you have it in you to endure the year-long preparation required to pull you through till the end.

If you are civil services aspirants having doubts regarding your abilities because of ‘average’ school/college performance, know that marks are not a true measure of your capabilities. It is true that ‘academic brilliance’ comes naturally to a few people. But success depends on your hunger for it and perseverance.

Tim Notke was a high school basketball coach whose words are apt to describe the importance and necessity of hard work.

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

Read more stories about the “average student who cracked the IAS exam”.

Also, read | Power of Self-Belief Can Help You Crack UPSC Civil Services

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