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HOW TO CRACK NDA AND CDS EXAM IN FIRST ATTEMPT
- Col Amardeep Singh, Sena Medal (Retd)
Armed Forces as A Career
Armed forces are the most preferred career options of majority of the young boys and girls, despite a number of other and more lucrative options that are available today. The X Factor attached with the uniform cannot be quantified or even explained in words. The thrill of donning the uniform is unparalleled. I have travelled across the country and have not come across any able-bodied person who has not thought of joining the armed forces at least once in their lifetime. The defence forces represent service to the motherland in its purest form. This single factor overtakes all others by miles. Soldiers are held in high regard by the society and the armed forces’ tradition of valour and sacrifice makes these services very special.
Armed forces are a unique way of life full of adventure of the extreme kind. The satisfaction of leading men into combat, flying supersonic fighter jets and commanding high seas is the motivation behind scores of young men and women to choose the uniform as a career.
Given below is a simple strategy to crack the NDA and CDS, and almost any Defence Written Exam. For success, you have to make a commitment to yourself and follow the steps suggested by me with full dedication. A number of subject matter experts, motivational speakers, life coaches and self help gurus have written millions of pages on the subject. Here are the ideas from a soldier, who has walked this path and who is still learning new things almost daily.
Setting Your Goal
Before you choose the armed forces as a career, you should be 100% sure of your choice. Social media may not give you the entire picture. Before deciding, you must speak to different serving or retired officers and soldiers and if possible, their children to understand the pros and cons of your decision. Parents may have to help the children and presenting a realistic picture about various career options. This should be done as early as possible. The earlier you decide, more time you will have to prepare yourself for the gruelling entrance process. Armed Forces offer options to join as soldiers and officers. I would personally recommend all students who have studied till class 12th to try for officer entries.
Options After Class 12th
UPSC conducts entrance exam for approximately 400 seats in National Defence Academy and Naval Academy, in April and September every year. The written exam is MCQ based and comprises of two papers, Mathematics (300 marks) and General Ability Test (GAT : 600 marks). To join Navy and Air Force through NDA/ NA, the candidate should have studied Physics and maths till 10+2 level. For Army, 10+2 in any stream is required. NDA has allowed female candidates from 2022. The number of vacancies for girls are only 19 (Army; 10, Air Force; 6 and Navy;3). This written exam is followed by the Services Selection Board (SSB) Interview and Medical examination. After all three stages, the final merit list is prepared. The training in NDA/NA is of three years, divided in 6 terms (semesters) of five months each. After passing out from NDA, the cadets join the respective pre-commission training academies, namely Indian Military Academy (IMA), Air Force Academy (AFA) and Indian Naval Academy (INA), for the final year of training.
Technical Entry Scheme (TES); Army and 10+2 B.Tech Entry Scheme; Navy : Meritorious students who score more than 70% aggregate in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics who clear the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) Mains, are directly called for SSB Interview subject. The selected army candidates undergo initial training at OTA Gaya, for one year before joining the respective Cadet Training Wings (CTWs) at Military College of Telecommunication Engineering (MCTE) Mhow, College of Military Engineering (CME) Pune or Military College of Electronics and Mechanical Engineering (MCEME) Secunderabad. The naval cadets are trained at INA, Ezhimala.
Expert Tip : If you are serious about joining NDA/ NA, opt for PCM after class 12th. Take the 10+2 exam seriously. Even if you don’t clear the NDA exam, you can join the army or navy through 10+2 TES or B.Tech entry schemes.
Options after Graduation
UPSC : Combined Defence Services (CDS) Examination is conducted for all three services. The army candidates can join as Permanent Commissioned (PC) officers through IMA or as Short Service (SS) officers through Officers Training Academy. The air force and navy candidates go to AFA and INA for pre-commission training of one and a half years.
Non UPSC : A number of options exist for engineering graduates and NCC C certificate holders to join the armed forces. Also, Air Force and Navy conduct their own exams, Air Force Common Admission Test (AFCAT) and Indian Navy Entrance Test (INET) to induct officers in various branches. Besides these, options are there for various other streams to join the forces in the Legal and Education branches. The readers are requested to refer to the official websites of UPSC and the three services for latest examination and eligibility related information.
Expert Tip : Go for NCC. Select a college that has NCC. It shapes your personality as well as NCC certificate exams are given weightage in various competitive exams. Defence Forces have a NCC Special Entry Scheme for officer cadre.
How to Prepare
Once you have made the decision to join the armed forces, then you should not keep waiting. Remember the Chinese proverb : The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, but the second best is now.
This decision should be taken as early as possible. For NDA, the preparation should preferably start when you are in class 9th/ 10th. Starting early reduces the stress and improves the chances of success. For CDS and other graduate entries, the right time to start preparing is the first year of college.
Stick to the Syllabus : The syllabus for all exams is available on the official websites, mentioned above. One guide book (can be an old one, but not too old), one set of previous years papers and one set of mock test is all that you will need. Get hold of a good set of notes from successful candidates. These are available as handwritten pdf documents for a small fee. If you don’t have the money, then form a study group with like-minded friends. YouTube and Google are good resources. You should copy the link of the study topics, and read as per the plan.
Expert Tip : Stop looking for short cuts and tips and tricks. These will be useful only in the final stages of preparation.
Divide the Syllabus : Three major divisions of easy, moderately difficult and difficult will help you in covering the first two in your own time. Expert help may be required only in case of the third category, for example, you may need some to explain the concepts like GDP, GNP, New Education Policy, Trade Deficit, Calculus, Theory of relativity etc.
Expert Tip : All topics that fall in the difficult category have been explained by multiple experts on YouTube. You should carry out your own research before giving up.
Set Target : Once you have divided the syllabus, it’s time to make a realistic time plan. Set weekly targets and stick to those. Later on, you can set your daily targets too. Ask your friends and parents to help you keep a check on your progress.
Study the Paper Pattern : Each exam has a fixed weightage given to various topics. You should study the previous years papers (at least 5 years) to prepare your own paper pattern chart. These are also available on YouTube. Divide time accordingly.
Aptitude Based Exams : All Defence Entrance exams are aptitude based. This means you will always have more questions and less time. Wrong answers will fetch negative marks. The only way to crack the exam is to appear for as many mock tests as possible. There are scientific ways of cracking the MCQ based papers. Go through such tips before attempting the first paper.
Prepare for Multiple Exams : If you are a medical or engineering aspirant, there is not harm in filling the NDA form too. Most of the topics are common. I was preparing for engineering entrance exam too. Thus, I scored good marks in NDA Maths paper. Similarly, after graduation, you can appear for multiple exams like CDS, AFCAT, INET, TA, CAPF (AC) and CAPF (SI) etc. The subjects for all these can be divided into Elementary Mathematics, English, General Studies and Reasoning.
Make Your Own Notes : This ensures better retention and gives you confidence. One set of detailed notes should be reduced to short notes (one column per topic) during the second revision. Important topics can be converted into flash cards for ease of handling and last minute revision. The detailed note making too can be divided among the study group members, but ultimately you should have the complete set made in your own hand.
Expert Tip : while making notes on an A4 sheet, fold the paper longitudinally and write in two columns. General eye span is one column width. You will be able to cover more in lesser time.
Four Revision Model : One full revision from the source, one revision from your notes, and two quick revisions, spread over two years will help you succeed. The last revision should be a 45/30 days crash course to revise important topics and to attempt mock papers. Attempting 10 Mock papers in the last three months, will improve your chances of success manifold.
Expert Tip : Instead of a register or notebook, make notes on loose sheets of paper. These will come handy when you revise.
What does a Coaching Institute do?
You can join a coaching institute if you lack confidence or you are not clear about the syllabus. You should understand that the coaching institutes are business entities and do not guarantee success. You may take coaching for the following reasons :-
a) For the final set of revision and crash course.
b) Mock tests for realistic evaluation and feedback.
c) To clear your doubts.
d) To be part of a study group of like-minded people.
The coaching institutes have expert teachers who are well versed with the syllabus and paper pattern. They have ready-made study material like notes, worksheets and mock tests. They have a specially designed time table and can help you prepare for multiple exams simultaneously.
Group study reduces stress and gives you a chance to evaluate your performance. The teachers are readily available to clear your basic concepts and doubts.
But remember, it all comes at a cost.
How to choose a Coaching Institute
a) Before you pay the fee, interact with the staff and students of the institute and have a look at their success record. This can also be seen from the testimonials and quality of content on their website, social media handles and YouTube channel. Make sure that the institute you select has good infrastructure. You may be spending 6 to 8 hours daily for almost 6 months to a year in that place.
b) Ask for a few demo classes. These may be free or after paying the registration fee.
c) Ask for their refund policy beforehand.
d) You may be required to stay in a hostel/ PG accommodation. It should be nearby, should be of reasonable standard and without distractions.
e) Most of the institutes have free wi-fi and library facilities. These will help you make the best use of your time. Find out when you carry out the initial survey.
f) See if they have facilities like a physical training instructor/ yoga hall etc. These are generally part of the package. The physical exercise will keep you healthy and focussed.
g) See that the institute subscribes to daily newspapers and monthly current affairs magazines etc.
h) Most of the institutes give you facility to pay fee in parts. If available, go for it. No point in committing a huge sum initially.
i) Coaching Institutes follow a school like schedule wherein you may have multiple classes. You will have to follow their schedule. Before you join, please get a detailed briefing as to how they plan to cover the syllabus.
SSB Preparation and Personality Development
These are the important aspects. Most of the institutes prepare you only for the written exam. However, SSB is a mandatory stage for all officer entries. Even the CAPF selection process has an SSB like interview. For this, you will need guidance from retired armed forces officers and SSB Qualified Assessors. It is better to select an institute which offers you SSB Preparation along with the written exam coaching. I have written a separate blog on the subject. You can access it : SSB PREPARATION TIPS FROM A ‘NON SSB SPECIALIST’ – SOLDIER SPEAKS
While you are preparing for the written exam and SSB Interview, you should also pay attention to the following :-
Physical Fitness : The armed forces training is tough. Keep yourself physically fit while you prepare for the exam. Go for daily run, do at least 50 push ups and sit ups. Do 15 – 20 minutes of yoga/ meditation.
Expert Tip : In your routine, consciously add 1 hour for body and 1 hour for mind. Physical and mental exercise in any form will help you grow steadily.
Learn Swimming : This is a skill that requires guidance. Some of the candidates take a lot of time in the academies. If during the school or college days, you can learn swimming, it will make life easy when you join the academy. It is also refreshing and can be counted as an hour of exercise.
Read Newspapers: At least one English and one in regional language. This will build the GK base and you will not require any extra effort in mastering the current affairs. Also get hold of a recent edition of Manorama yearbook. It contains all the static GK that you will need in any competitive exam.
English Speaking : It is an essential requirement in the SSB. It can be learnt and mastered through sustained effort. Don’t postpone it. Adequate open-source material is available on the internet.
Expert Tip : You should start with short routine sentences. Within the group, have small incentives and punishments for not speaking in English.
Flash Cards : For Group Discussion and Lecturette in SSB, flash cards will come handy. Each card, not more than the size of your mobile phone screen, should carry at least 10 important points related to the topic.
Internet : Make judicious use of the internet. Download relevant study material/ videos and study them in offline mode. Reduce your screen time and till you clear the exam, use the internet only to enhance your knowledge and not for entertainment.
Psychological Conditioning : I meet a number of aspirants almost every day. Most of them lack clear focus and confidence. You have to keep telling yourself, you can do it. The lack of confidence may affect the performance and hence the selection. In SSB, confidence and initiative are assessed qualities. You must read the following books or at least their summary :-
a) Goals – Brian Tracy
b) Psycho Cybernetics – Maxwell Maltz
c) The Secret – Rhonda Byrne
Besides these, remove negative words from your daily vocabulary. Positive thinking comes with practice. The day you begin, the confidence will start building up. Leave the victim mentality. Make the best with whatever you have. Count your blessings and stop complaining.
The Final Word
Remember, the hard work done during initial years will pay rich dividends throughout your life. Everything is available, if you look for it. With sustained effort all goals are achievable. So many of the students keep preparing for competitive exams without a definite goal in mind. The points given by me are not exhaustive. You can add or delete portions to suit your requirement. Most of the candidates do not start their preparation until it is too late. They say, well begun is half done. Therefor, do it and do it Now!!!
About Myself : I joined the National Defence Academy (NDA) in July 1989 and was commissioned in the MARATHA LIGHT INFANTRY in June 1993. I have had the privilege of serving in operational areas that include Counter Insurgency (CI), High Altitude and as a UN Peacekeeper. I was fortunate to be posted as an instructor in three prestigious training establishments that include The Infantry School, Mhow, Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun and Army War College, Mhow. The high point of any officer is commanding his battalion. I commanded my unit for almost 40 months in the intense CI environment in Manipur and then as part of an elite strike corps responsible for the western sector. Owing to personal reasons and a back injury, I took voluntary retirement from the army in 2018 and since then I have devoted my time and energy in motivating and guiding the youth of the country towards their career goals. I am the Founder Director of The Winning Edge Defence Academy (WEDA).