The first thing you have to do is to stand up against yourself. This is a psychological truth. Your mind is accustomed to the same pattern of studying, writing and thinking due to your studies till now. To change this you have to be mentally prepared and accept that your method is not correct. But it is easier said than done. In the beginning you have to repeat this thought many times a day so that it gets imbibed into your subconscious and you get accustomed of it.
But it will not be as easy as it does sound. Your mind will not accept this change easily. It will revert to the old ways again and again and try to reason with you that they were better. You have to fight this illusion created by your mind.
The second stage of self-coaching will show you that the best professor is an unsolved paper. Take an unsolved question paper and analyse the kind of questions that are asked. You will see very few questions that are plain or direct. With every question will be attached 'criticise, analyse, do you agree?' Some questions would be so twisted that you would _not know what to answer. You should understand the questions, in fact you should memorise them. These will act as a lighthouse for you, guiding you to the right path.
After you are done with the unsolved papers, start studying. While studying keep in mind that you should be able to answer the questions you read in the unsolved papers. Your way of studying should be the way to answer those questions. In the beginning, you will see that you have read the topic but you are unable to answer the questions. Don't worry. This is your biggest challenge and it is present because of the old mind. So in the beginning you have to hit your mind with ideas of change just like a rock is hammered- cracks will appear soon if not immediately.
Read the topic again and again. Think about it. It might be difficult initially but thoughts will soon pour in. And remember, your ability to think like this will take you closer to your goal of being an IAS.
I have to warn you that this may get boring and even frustrating for you. You may even think that it is useless advice. But it is not, believe me. This is what you need to do at the moment. And if you keep doing it, and if you do not quit halfway, you will start seeing such underlying facts in the same topic that were not visible earlier. This is called 'reading between the lines.' Everyone can read what is written in black and white, but to interpret what is being said in between the lines is possible only for great thinkers. After practicing this for a while, you will start having various questions in mind about the topic. You will also get your answers. When this happens, you will know that you are on the right track.
The last stage would include writing down the answers to the unsolved papers. After you have written down your answers you yourself have to judge them. You should judge your answers on two things-
(a) First you read your answer and then figure out if it answers the question that was asked. Imagine you are the one asking the question and someone else is writing the answer. Now ask yourself are you happy with the answer? Have all the aspects of your question be addressed fully? Or you still have some unresolved things in your mind? If you do have, then it means your answer lacks something. Find out and then address the issue.
(b) Another way you can judge your answer is by taking help of a book. After writing the answer, read the topic again. See the points that are missing, and that you should have included in your answer in order to make it more meaningful. Let your answers be updated accordingly.
You have another option; you can ask someone who knows about the subject to judge your answer. But make sure to choose .the right person. Wrong advice is like a wrong diagnosis. You get treated for something you don't have. As a result, the actual condition does not get treated and side effects of the wrong medicine may create other problems. It's better not to take any advice at all, then to take wrong advice.
Friends, I have told you about the process of self-coaching that I do believe in. My belief is grounded in the experiments I have been doing with it since long. Having been successful with it myself, I recommended it to various people. And I am glad to tell you that they benefitted from it. You are .also welcome to adopt it and be successful- if you wish to.
Now let us come back to the talk of coaching institutes. You have to decide whether you want to join coaching. And you have to find out whether this institute or that. It depends on your need, comfort and resources. My advice is that no matter what the teaching methodology of an institute is, you can still benefit from it- provided that you are aware what benefit to take and how it can be taken. There are many students who never took coaching, but achieved their dream. So the question here is that of your need, it is not a necessity.
Now I will tell you how coaching can be beneficial for you and how to make the most of it.
(1) Coaching would prove beneficial to a science student who has picked up an arts subject. Such a student would not know anything about the subject. Listening to the lectures in the institutes and taking notes would provide knowledge about the subject. There is a difference when a student studies from books and when he listens to the lectures and then reads from the books. Classrooms also give you the opportunity to clear your doubts on the spot. Now this does not apply to someone who is an arts student and is already familiar with the subject.
(2) The importance of General knowledge for civil services has increased through the years. I doubt how well students know General knowledge and how well they can prepare for it on their own. Coaching institutes have a long experience of teaching. They know the kind of questions that are asked and how to'get the material for them. This way these institutes can help you prepare for the general knowledge.
But I want to clarify here that you should not take your coaching to be the end of all your study. You should look upon it as raw material but don't be totally dependent on them.
(3) I take coaching to be a forum where people with the same purpose gather. It is not possible for an aspirant to form a study group of his own. But in coaching you can select your companions and form a group. This group will help you during group discussions. So please don't miss out on it.
(4) I have seen that coaching institutes have libraries but students are not using them. You can find many books concerning your subject here. Reading them will make you mentally strong. So take full advantage of it.
(5) If you are alert and open to all the possibilities, coaching can help you develop your personality- provided you don't just go there, attend the lecture and come back to your room. You should interact with as many people as possible. This will help you get rid of any hesitation you might have. It will improve your social skills, your language, and help hone your leadership qualities. Do not put all your efforts only into studying.
(6) Discipline is important when you are doing something big. Coaching can help you with this. Every institute has its own set of conducts and a time-table that are bound to be followed by the students. It will help you live according to a fixed routine. And as soon as you start living in a disciplined way it will start reflecting on your preparations as well.
Friends, let me tell you that a weapon does not matter, what matters is who is using it. If you keep the brave warrior Maharana Pratap's strong and sharp sword on the shelf in your living room, what use will it be? It can't win battles for you until you learn to use it efficiently. When preparing for IAS do not forget this truth that no book and no institute can help you on its own, it is you who can get juice out of them. Remember, you have the power and the ability to increase or decrease the value of something with your touch.