Utkarsh Dwivedi, AIR 5, CSE 2021, is an epitome of motivation for many civil service aspirants who dream of becoming an IAS officer despite the hurdles. Presenting to you here is an interview with Mr. Ayush Sinha, founder and director of Forum IAS and Utkarsh Dwivedi.
Ayush: Utkarsh, a very warm welcome to you and congratulations for securing Rank 5 in CSE 2021. What was your reaction when you saw the results of CSE 2021? Also, what were you doing in Haridwar when the results came in?
Utkarsh: Thank you sir. Initially, I was happy and later, the excitement subsided as reality set in that it is time for responsibility. This was my third attempt of CSE and every time I failed, I had no one except my mother to cry about it. So, I went to my relative’s place in Haridwar so that I may not be alone if something were to go wrong again.
Ayush: Please tell us about your education and family background.
Utkarsh: My family includes my parents and a younger sibling. I have had school education from all across the country and later pursued Mechanical Engineering from VIT, Vellore. I came to Delhi in 2018 for CSE preparation right after I finished my graduation.
Ayush: What are your thoughts on people starting their CSE preparation during second and/or third year of graduation?
Utkarsh: Though I started my formal preparation after graduation, the informal one started in college itself. It good that people become clear as to what they have to do in life but it is equally important to enjoy the college life instead of missing out on the days later.
Ayush: What was your strategy for the preparation of Prelims? What study sources did you refer to?
Utkarsh: I wrote a lot of tests. In fact I have been a part of Forum IAS’s Prelims Test Series ever since my first year of preparation. I have also recommended to lot of my friends. UPSC is not only about knowing everything; there will be times when one will have to work on their intuition to get an answer right. I stuck to limited reading sources like NCERT, spectrum, Laxmikant. I joined Forum for test series and by the time I appeared for the exam, I had already solved more than 10,000 questions.
Ayush: Unlike the trend where students buy test series during their second attempt of CSE preparation, why did you take the subscription in the first year itself?
Utkarsh: Solving questions at Forum helped me realize the areas I needed to work on. Therefore, taking test series is way more beneficial than going for market-available test papers where you can just know the score.
Ayush: Despite solving number of test papers, students score somewhere between 60-70 marks. Since you have cleared Mains thrice, what in your opinion are the mistakes these students must have been making?
Utkarsh: Solving questions is just one portion of the preparation; analysis of the answers is the second one. One needs to analyse the correct as well as the incorrect options to dig dipper into the topic and to avoid repeating mistakes during the next attempt. This approach also helps in option elimination in case of MCQs.
Ayush: How many questions did you attempt for the prelims?
Utkarsh: I attempted more than 90 questions because attempting less questions does not take one too far as the paper has become more dynamic and unpredictable.
Ayush: How did you deal with CSAT since it has become a disqualifying paper for many students?
Utkarsh: I myself scored much less than what I scored in 2020 and the year prior to that. In my opinion, it is best to solve all the previous years’ papers right from 2013 till date and join some program for practice. In areas like logical reasoning and maths, one should make notes on the tricks that would save time.
Ayush: One month before the prelims, how did your day look like?
Utkarsh: I used to give tests from morning till afternoon and kept the evenings for revision. I used to get good sleep, and often talked with friends to refresh my mind. I would suggest people to solve previous years’ papers in the last week. This will orient the brain to the actual examination pattern.
Ayush: Which newspaper did you read and how much did you struggle in notes’ making?
Utkarsh: I was always habitual of reading newspaper right from my college days. I read 3 newspapers, viz., The Hindu- Complete, The Indian Express- Editorial and explain page, and The Mint- primer, long story and editorial. Reading the newspaper helps in the Mains as well as during the interview.
Ayush – Did you digitalize the notes or had hard copies for them?
Utkarsh: I made hand-written notes during my first attempt. Later, I digitalized the notes using Evernote.
Ayush: Did you have a specific hack for organizing your notes on Evernote?
Utkarsh: I used ‘stacking’ method to organize my notes. I compiled different topics under their concerned subject and different subjects under their respective category (e.g. GS 1, GS 2 & so on). In this way, I had a notebook category-wise and subject-wise.
Ayush: How was preparation of the Mains different from that of the Prelims?
Utkarsh: In my opinion, both the exams require a different approach. For e.g. preparing notes on the same topic that can be asked in prelims and/or the Mains require an altogether different content. One thing that is inescapable and common for both the exams is practicing as many questions as possible.
Ayush: In GS paper 1, questions rarely come from the topics Post-Independence History and World History. Would you recommend skipping these topics?
Utkarsh: No, I would not advise to leave any topic as UPSC is unpredictable. One can never be sure how UPSC might frame paper the next time.
Ayush: What was your approach for ‘Society’ & ‘Core Geography’?
Utkarsh: I made notes of my own for ‘Society’ and also sought help from newspaper. For ‘Geography’, I referred NCERT and notes of the prelims.
Ayush: How did you handle all the subjects under GS paper 3?
Utkarsh: The students are unable to score