Pratham Kaushik
AIR 5, CSE 2017

Pratham Kaushik, the 5th rank holder has been able to make his family proud by fulfilling their overlong dream in his second attempt of the Civil Services Examination. Pratham has vehemently made his place for himself in the Indian Administrative Services and believes this will help him in fulfilling his generous and thoughtful vision of empowering people. Here are the excerpts from our conversation with Pratham Kaushik:

CSC: First of all, our heartiest congratulation to you from Civil Services Chronicle. How do you feel about achieving AIR 5 in the UPSC Examination?

Pratham:It’s a very pleasant feeling. I feel very good that I have been able to fulfill a dream that my family had dreamt long time ago.

CSC: What was your inspiration to become an IAS?

Pratham: I drew inspiration from my father, who is a Haryana Civil Services Officer. As a whole, I feel, as an IAS you are most equipped to empower people and I definitely believe in the approach that one does not feed fish to someone, instead you teach them how to fish. I feel, to empower people and to provide them with more opportunities, IAS is the best way to do it.

CSC: To whom do you give the credit for your success?

Pratham: The credit lies with all my friends and family, all the teachers who have been with me during this journey and all the well wishers; but specifically I wanted to be a role model for my little sister, which constantly motivated me; so I give credit to her that I could be an example for her.

CSC: It has been observed in the last few years that people who are graduating from technical backgrounds have been more successful in the examination. What are the possible reasons behind this?

Pratham: Actually, if you see, Civil Services is the most diverse pool of human resources that India has had earlier and now as well. You will see that students from different backgrounds, not only from engineering background, but also from medical, humanities, law background as well are becoming bureaucrats. People with technical background are getting slightly more success which might change in a few years. It is not a permanent trend. It will definitely change.

CSC: Students coming from these technical backgrounds take Humanities as their optional and they achieve success in the exam. What may be the reasons for this and do you think it is the right way?

Pratham: In my opinion, UPSC offers you an optional subject to check your attitude to study any subject in great detail. For example, even I took Geography as my optional and I have an engineering background, but I do not see any correlation here. There are many engineers, many of my friends as well, who have taken engineering as their optional subject and they are getting success too. It lies in the personal preference of the candidate.

CSC: What do you think is the criteria for choosing an optional?

Pratham: Geography, in my opinion, is an optional that helps you in General Studies as well and it is an ever-evolving optional because every day the human geography is changing. It is an interesting optional, that is why I took it.

CSC: Is there any correlation between one’s age and the preparation? When should one start preparing for the examination?

Pratham: I do not think that age is a factor in starting the preparation. The moment you feel that you want be an IAS or that you want to be a Civil Servant, you jump in right there.

CSC: When did you start your preparation?

Pratham: I started casually, during my college to look at the sources and newspapers but I started serious and regular preparation right after my college.

CSC: It is often seen nowadays that students who enter class XIIth are starting their preparation for three years. Do you think this trend is a good thing for them?

Pratham: Civil Services is not only about the knowledge that you’ve gained through your preparation, it is also about your personality and one’s personality is groomed right from their childhood. So, for students who are taking up coaching or who are taking specific subjects right after class XIIth, I think it is a bit too early; they should concentrate on their graduation subjects. During graduation or right after graduation, they should start preparing.

CSC: What was your strategy while preparing for the exam?

Pratham: The most important aspect of my strategy was to break the syllabus down in small parts because the syllabus is vast. Sometimes you get lost in there, so to streamline my preparation, I divided the syllabus into small parts and assigned a few days for each part and then started to prepare them and revise them.

CSC: Did you have a separate strategy for Prelims and Mains or is it possible to prepare for both simultaneously?

Pratham: Except for the month right before the Prelims, I think the preparation is collectively done because the syllabus is more or less overlapping, so except for some specific topics for Mains and the time right before the Prelims exams when you have to mug up certain things, the preparation is all inclusive.

CSC: What should one consider while selecting notes and books for preparation because it is often seen that there are a plethora of books and materials out there? So how should one go about it?

Pratham: There is a lot of guidance available. I looked for strategies adopted by the toppers earlier and through that you can very well analyze that which material is best for which topic because there is no material that is perfect for the whole syllabus. In fact, even in GS or in optional, you have to look for materials for that specific topic and you have to read it multiple times.

CSC: If you can delineate a strategy for preparation for the overall examination, what would it be?

Pratham: First of all, as I said earlier, you break the syllabus down to understand it better and so that the syllabus does not bug you down. The second thing is to gather few resources based on the advice by your seniors or by toppers, you look for the resources and find out the best resources and then you read it, re-read it and then revise it; reading one source multiple times helps. You can divide the syllabus on the basis of what is more important and what is less important, by looking at the previous year question papers. Things that are more important can be prepared in great detail and the rest of the topics can be just gone through quickly.

Beyond all these things, you need to have a very good opinion of yourself, good self confidence, and a belief that you will make it because eventually attitude and belief will take you through the examination.

CSC: In the Mains examination, one should follow an inter-disciplinary approach and the same is the case with the questions. So how can one develop the inter-disciplinary approach?

Pratham: My optional was Geography and it is an inter-disciplinary subject because it encompasses history, geopolitics, political sciences and society. So, because of the optional, an inter-disciplinary approach was developed automatically which helped me in GS as well.

CSC: Can essay be prepared with the help of essay specific classes just like GS?

Pratham: Essay is a written test of your personality, according to me, because at the Mains level you get to write your thoughts for three long hours on just two topics, so essay preparation lies with two aspects- one, your thought process, and other is the material and content that you have. The content can definitely be taken from the GS preparation and the thought process and the structuring of your essay needs to be practiced repeatedly. There is no such correlation between essay specific classes and the exam.

CSC: Ethics paper which is a very dynamic paper but over the years it has been noted that the questions are very easy but scoring marks has been difficult. Can you state why?

Pratham: In Ethics paper, you basically write what you think because time crunch is there and the paper is lengthy. The difference in marks is definitely because of two reasons- first, it is the solution that you think of the case study or problem that is given and secondly, the way you write it or your expression.

CSC: Did you find it necessary to study the whole syllabus as the whole syllabus of UPSC is vast? Is it necessary to cover the entire syllabus? Is it possible?

Pratham: That’s what I told you, that you divide the syllabus into different parts. You will see that some parts of the syllabus are very crucial and important and are repeated almost every year which should be prepared in detail. Among the rest of the topics, you can pick and choose. Definitely, you have to skip certain topics because either they are not very relevant as far as questions are concerned or they are too dynamic to be completely prepared.

CSC: Can you give some insights into how you prepared subject-wise for both GS and optional?

Pratham: Most of my preparation is based on the NCERT and core books; I have read NCERT books multiple times. For GS I, for example, History, Art & Culture, I prepared everything from the NCERT books. Geography was my optional so I didn’t need to prepare specifically for it.

For GS II- Polity and Governance, I relied on the current affairs and I tried to find out the reasons and need for certain government policies and their impact. For International Relations, I prepared certain bullet points on which international relations depend and vary; along these lines I wrote my answers in GS II.

For GS III, Agriculture and the Indian economy were covered in my optional; for the rest of it, I relied on the newspaper because GS II and GS III can comprehensively be covered with the help of newspapers. For Ethics, I did not read anything specifically. For Geography optional, there are specific books for different topics and along with the books, various materials from teachers are available in this field, they helped.

CSC: Have you taken any coaching classes?

Pratham: Yes, I joined coaching for my optional subject and test series. Coaching has been an important part of my preparation.

CSC: Thank you so much.

Pratham: Thank you.

Jagdish Chelani
AIR 57, CSE 2017
Most important factor is perseverance.

CSC: What were the basic mantras of your success?

Jagdish: The basic mantra was to remind myself throughout the journey, of the motivation behind preparing for this examination. A motivation that lies beyond oneself. I wish to better the lives of people, through the responsibility endowed on me by civil services and I believe that voluntary contributions can never be a substitute to institutional mechanism.

CSC: When did you start preparation for the IAS Examination? When should one ideally begin thinking about preparing for this exam?
I had started seeping through the content of the syllabi for the examination in 2013, but I effectively started preparation in Dec 2015, after experiencing a failed attempt. The intensity increased manifold over the last one year.

There is no ideal timeline to this examination. But, if one has the right guidance, it is possible to qualify within one year of preparation.

CSC: Which is the most difficult part of IAS examination and why? What was your strategy to tackle this difficult part?
The most difficult part is the wait of results after each stage. After that, it is the preparation for Preliminary examination. Its scope covers many things under the sun. Also, it is the very stage where the success ratio is the least, i.e. maximum aspirants are ousted from the exam cycle.

The key strategy was to remember that it is not about how much you read but more of how much you retain. Thus, I relied on management of time, and coverage and revision of current affairs and static portions. Alongside, regular mock tests for Prelims were a key factor to cement and learn further.

Also, I would suggest, that someone planning to give it next year should get into the Prelims mode four months prior to the examination.

CSC: How did you manage your time in both Prelims and Mains examinations?
Time management was a key to success. I divided my day in terms of hours of study, and relaxation. Also, I pinned down daily targets with a review of them in the evening. I also utilised the time of lunch and dinner by listening or watching a video for both Prelims and Mains. I limited my sources but went for a comprehensive study. Also, I started with the static portions in first half of the Mains and covered current portion after they saturated significantly for a holistic coverage.

CSC: Did you integrate your Prelims and Mains preparations or were these separate?
Though often suggested, I did not. I took all the three stages by themselves, owing to the difference in scope of study and nature of questions asked. I relied on memory for Prelims and presentation for Mains primarily.

CSC: Tell us something about preparation of ‘Essay’ paper.
I had no strategy for Essay at first and it developed over time while preparing for Mains examination. I experimented in the Mock tests with respect to the different kinds of introductions, of use of quotes and without it, etc.

One thing that I learnt was that it is better to draw a rough outline of the essay on the back of the paper and deliberate on the organs of the body of essay in the starting 15-20min before writing an essay. This lets us go back for reference and enables a wider coverage of content. Most importantly, it should be lucid enough for a 10th class student to understand, without compromising on the depth of the material.

CSC: Did you prepare notes? How helpful are the notes? What is your advice on notes-making?
Notes were another important factor. I primarily made short notes on both theory and application of concepts for my optional subject and Ethics paper and static portion of Mains examination. For the other papers, the notes were issue based, banking on current issues. For essay paper, I collated the quotes from different non-controversial leaders – Buddha, Gandhiji, Ambedkar, Lincoln, Amartya Sen, etc. Also, I noted down quotes from important speeches of Prime Minister and President.

CSC: Did you attend any coaching institute? How helpful are the coaching institutes? What is your overall opinion about the coaching institutes?
Yes. I joined INSIGHT IAS ACADEMY of Shri S. BALIYAN sir at Delhi. Coaching classes were of great help especially considering that I was coming from an engineering background. The optional classes were helpful in giving me a deep insight into the subject and the Test series was helpful to push me towards completion of portion and improve my presentation skills.

CSC: What are your suggestions for freshers who want to join coaching institutes for preparation?
Personally, I believe coaching institutes are a good way of streamlining preparation and testing oneself by way of mock tests and guidance. However, with that said, I believe coaching institutes can function only as a way of guidance and cannot substitute the self-study. The questions asked are often dynamic in nature and requires quick thinking and good presentation in Mains. Thus, it should be significantly substantiated with efforts from an aspirant.

CSC: What was your style of writing in the exam? How was it distinct from the general writing style? How did you develop this writing style?
There was nothing significantly different in my style than others. All I focussed was on meeting the demands of the questions and generating continuity with good content in my answers.

This came after seeping through the toppers test copies and giving test series myself, which helped me to understand the question thoroughly, breaking it into sub-parts and answering the question accordingly and importantly completing the paper within 3 hours.

CSC: How helpful is one’s background in his/her success?
It doesn’t really matter greatly until the Interview stage. And even at that, it depends upon how well you can defend questions from the field if asked.

The most significant part my background from an IIT played for me, was getting a good peer group. If one has that, the background ceases to be an important determinant.

CSC: Does this exam provide a level playing field for the rural or economically poor background candidates?
I believe it doesn’t entirely. Even though the syllabi and stages of examination are set keeping in mind all the aspirants, the selection ratio would stand to tell otherwise. The pattern of examination requires, good study material at the Preliminary stage, a good writing style at the Mains stage and a good personality at the interview stage.

This, I believe, puts people from rural background or economically weaker backgrounds at disadvantage, who can often not afford to prepare for an entire year for Civil Services Examination. However, there are significant number of examples of people who have beaten the odds.

CSC: How did you prepare for interview?
I focussed on my Detailed Application Form(DAF) and the permutations the questions can be asked from, at first, along-with issues of current relevance. I went for some mock-interviews and analysed my performance by sharing it with my friends, getting their feedback on areas that may require improvement. Alongside, I tried to watch some toppers mock-interviews on Youtube.

I engaged in discussion with my friends on issues. By the last week, I tried to expand the scope of my study and cement it by reading 4 newspapers, including one economic daily.

CSC: Which type of questions were asked in interview? Did you answer all?
The questions ranged from a wide variety of subjects – International relations, Biotechnology, Medieval history, Terrorism and its funding, Education, and Ethics. There were situational questions as well. I was unable to answer all the questions.

CSC: Was there any specific area the interview board emphasized upon?
No, it was a mixed bag of questions, drawing from my DAF, current issues and personality based.

CSC: Before getting down to actual preparation, what kind of reading should one do to improve one’s suitability for this exam? What is the outside reading one should do?
One should start and be thorough with NCERTs (6th – 12th). They are a gem of study material, and are interesting and grasping. They will help one to understand the scope of study for the examination.

Also, it is important that one starts reading a newspaper daily and focussing on important issues for the examination. This should set the tone.

CSC: Whom would you credit your success?
I would credit this success to my family, which didn’t question my decision to prepare for IAS examination and held me with the psychological support needed at every stage, my teacher Shri S. Baliyan Sir whose guidance helped in cracking this exam, my friends Siddharth and Minha, who were instrumental in my preparation, guiding me and helping me through, giving me their emotional support and company in times of anxiety, and the almighty.

CSC: What is your advice to the freshers who are going to appear in this exam?
Freshers who are entering the preparation cycle this year, please remember that the most important factor is perseverance. If you can toil your way even through failures during your preparation, with a positive attitude, then you are perfectly fit for this examination.

And, always remind yourself, why you wanted to pursue a career in civil services. If your purpose is bigger than you, then it will provide you humility and a zeal to work for the welfare of others.

CSC: What is your advice to the candidates who have failed in this exam?
I understand the state that failure brings to you. More than being happy of selection, I was relieved that I did not fail. Failures become a burden when we attach ourselves to expectations, and beliefs of others and when we make CSE as a basis for path our life would take.

I would sincerely suggest, remember this is just a job. No matter, it is the most prestigious, but still it is just a job. Your purpose should be above you, but this examination should not hold your life hostage. Prepare for its own sake, without attachments. Failure is a part of preparation. It’ll make you stronger and calmer. Embrace it.

I know, it may seem fairly easy to say on my part in the present moment, but remember, life is well beyond this examination and has a lot to offer.

CSC: Do you think Civil Services exam is a true test of a candidate’s merit?
I believe it is. It tests us on multiple levels, with each level presenting a different challenge. It tests our memory, our reasoning skills, our presentation and our personality and our psychological strength. There is no other exam which tests individuals on such a wide array.

However, at the end of the day, it’s been a journey towards self-discovery for me, part of a larger context of life. It is important to realise, that it’s an examination for exclusion, rather than selection. It may not be able to reflect the best an individual has to offer, but it comes closest.

CSC: Since when did you begin reading Civil Service Chronicle magazine? What are your suggestions to make it more useful for civil service aspirants?
I started reading Civil Service Chronicle magazine during my days of IAS preparation. It is a comprehensive magazine and covers issues very well. It helped me in covering current issues comprehensively.

IAS 2016
With guidance of seniors and basic reading of books like NCERTs, Laxmikanth book for Indian Polity

CSC: What were the basic mantras of your success?

Manoj: Planning, implementation and reviewing the progress along with consistent dedicated hardwork were the basic mantras of my success.

CSC: When did you start preparation the IAS Examination? When should one ideally begin thinking about preparing for this exam?

Manoj: I started my preparation in 3rd year of engineering in 2014.One should ideally begin thinking about preparing for IAS exam as early as possible (atleast 2 years before 1st attempt)

CSC: How did you start your preparation for the IAS Examination?

Manoj: With guidance of seniors and basic reading of books like NCERTs, Laxmikanth book for Indian Polity, I started my preparation for IAS exam.

CSC: What were your strategies for the lengthy syllabus of General Studies both for Prelims and Main examinations?

Manoj: First, I cleared the basic concepts and second, I focussed more on Main examination preparation. I gave 4 months to Prelims examination exclusively.

CSC: What was your optional subject? What was the basis of selecting this particular optional subject?

Manoj: I took ‘History’ as my optional subject. History topics are very to understand because the stories of past can be correlated with present. Since ‘History’ optional covers a good portion of syllabus of compulsory papers of General Studies and Essay, it was almost a natural choice.

CSC: How did you come to know that which sources of reading material are standard?Please give a list of books, magazines and Newspapers.

Manoj: I learnt from guidance of my teachers and seniors. I followed the interviews of IAS toppers. I read NCERTs books for basic understanding. Thereafter I followed the class notes and printed material provided by coaching institute. I also read Civil Services Chronicle and Yojana magazines.

CSC: Tell us something about preparation of ‘Essay’ paper.

Manoj: I followed toppers and read carefully ‘Yojana’ magazine and Economic survey. I wrote down section wise quotes and examples to use them in my essays.

CSC: Which is the most difficult part of IAS examination & why? What was your strategy to tackle this difficult part?

Manoj: I think Prelims examination is the most difficult part among all the three stages
of IAS examination. I believe Prelims is the exam of elimination. I solved nearly 50 practice papers of General Studies along with last 15 years question papers of UPSC Prelims examination.

CSC: Did you integrate your Prelims & Mains preparations or were these separate?

Manoj: My preparation
was integrated because many topics of syllabus are common to both, just focus and approach changes.

CSC: Did you prepare notes? How helpful are the notes? What is your advice on notes making?

Manoj: Yes, I prepared notes for every important topic. It is a compulsory task because with the help of notes syllabus can be revised easily at last moment. We should make separate notes for Prelims & Mains examinations.

CSC: Did you attend any coaching institute? How helpful are the coaching institutes? What is your overall opinion about the coaching institutes?

Manoj: Yes. I attended INSIGHT IAS ACADEMY of Shri S. BALIYAN Sir at Delhi. Coaching classes played a very important role in my success. Good guidance and mentorship makes the preparation very easy. I was lucky to get the guidance of S. BALIYAN Sir.

CSC: What are your suggestions for freshers who want to join coaching institute for preparation?

Manoj: The beginners should go for optional coaching first and General Studies should be prepared later. Go for test series. Practice as much as possible through test series after completing the classes.

CSC: What was your style of writing in Mains exam? How was it distinct from the general writing style? How did you develop this writing style?

Manoj: I followed paragraph and point format writing style. I directly hit the core parts of questions and gave more focus to solution oriented answers.

CSC: How helpful is one’s academic background in his/her success in IAS examination?

Manoj: One’s academic background decides his/ her sensitivity, thinking process and attitude. I think it plays an important role.

CSC: How did you prepare for interview?

Manoj: I prepared questionnaire on DAF (Detailed Application Form) first. Then I gave 6 mock interviews at institute to asses my level of preparation.

CSC: Which types of questions were asked in interview? Did you answer all?

Manoj: In my interview most of the questions were related to my village and districts like problems & their solutions. Interview was more focussed on DAF and I answered well.

CSC: Was there any specific area they emphasized upon?

Manoj: Details filled in my DAF were the main focussed area.

CSC: Before getting down to actual preparation, what kind of reading should one do to improve one’s suitability for this exam? What is the outside reading one should do?

Manoj: I would suggest extracurricular reading like historical novels and watching series like Pradhanmantri.

CSC: What is your advice to the freshers who are going to appear in this exam?

Manoj: First, understand the exam and its requirements by reading notification. Go for basics and focus on current affairs.

CSC: Since when have you begun reading Civil Services Chronicle magazine? What are your suggestions to make it more useful for civil services aspirants?

Manoj: In 2015 I started reading Civil Services Chronicle magazine. It is very good magazine and it helps in clearing your basic concepts.

CSC: Mr. Manoj, thanks a lot for giving your valuable time and sharing your insight on civil services examination.

Manoj: Thank you.

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