Shubham Aggarwal
Civil Services Examination 2019, Rank–25


  • Hello Everyone, I have always read interview of toppers, and here I am, now with an opportunity to write one myself.
  • I am Shubham Aggarwal. I am 22 years old. I am from New Delhi itself. I have done my schooling from St Francis De Sales School in Janakpuri. Then I went on to study at Shri Ram College of Commerce.
  • This was my first attempt at Civil Services Examination. My optional was commerce and accountancy.
  • Becoming an IAS came to mind in the second year of graduation and hence my journey began from there. I gave my first and only attempt right after graduation i.e., without a gap year since I was already 21. Preparation included shifting to campus despite being a Delhiite to ensure complete focus on the exam and managing college studies, classes along with CSE preparation. It all culminated into me giving college final exams in May 2019 and prelims on 2nd June 2019.

Candidate Profile

  • Your Name: Shubham Aggarwal
  • Place of Birth: New Delhi
  • How old are you? : 22 years
  • Schooling done from Name and City and score?: St. Francis De Sales, Janakpuri , New Delhi – 97% in class 12
  • College from which City and Gpa: Shri Ram College of Commerce, New Delhi – GPA – 8.9
  • PG (if Any): None
  • Your attempt at the exam( 1st, 2nd, 3rd) – 1st
  • Did you write any other exam? No
  • Who else is there in your family?: Father, Mother and an Elder Sister
  • Work-experience (if any): None
  • Optional: Commerce and Accountancy

Tell us about your Tryst with UPSC.

  • Becoming an IAS came to mind in the second year of graduation and hence my journey began from there. I gave my first and only attempt right after graduation i.e., without a gap year since I was already 21. Preparation included shifting to campus despite being a Delhiite to ensure complete focus on the exam and managing college studies, classes along with CSE preparation. It all culminated into me giving college final exams in May 2019 and prelims on 2nd June 2019.


Preliminary examination


PLEASE MENTION YOUR STRATEGY AND BOOKS/NOTES DID YOU REFERRED TO FOR GENERAL STUDIES AND CSAT?

  • For CSAT, I just gave 2018 CSE paper as a mock in 2 hours time and was scoring 140+ so I did not prepare for it. If someone faces difficulty in doing the same, then recommended books can be referred to.

GS (STRATEGY AND BOOKS)

BOOKLIST:

Topic
Resource
History Ancient R S Sharma old NCERT
History Medieval Satish Chandra Old NCERT
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) Spectrum by Rajiv Ahir
Culture Fine Arts NCERT
Polity (static + current affairs) Laxmikanth
Economy (static + current affairs) none
Science (static + current affairs) Current Magazines
Environment (static + current affairs) Shankar IAS
Geography(Physical +Indian+World) 11th and 12th NCERT + GC Leong

HOW MANY QUESTIONS DID YOU ATTEMPT IN GS? HOW MANY DID YOU GET RIGHT?

  • I attempted 83 questions in my final exam – I believe I got 62 right


WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE OPTIMAL NUMBER OF QUESTIONS TO ATTEMPT IN PRELIMS? DO YOU ADVISE ACCURACY OR MAXIMUM ATTEMPTS?

  • It really depends what the candidate is more comfortable with. More often than not it is number of attempts due to low accuracy of the multiple correct options type questions.


IF YOU HAD TO PREPARE AGAIN WOULD YOU CHANGE YOUR STRATEGY IN ANY WAY?

  • Focus more on art and culture


Mains Examination


HOW DID YOU PREPARE GS/GK?

  • Picking up the generic books which every toppers reads from and complimenting them with certain dedicated websites for topics which are not covered in such books. Having a 6 monthly, monthly, weekly and daily time table helped to keep my preparation on track and me being aware of the portions left to cover. It gives a sense of control over the prep and is hence, highly recommended to all candidates.


WHAT’S YOUR OPTIONAL SUBJECTS AND WHY?

  • Commerce and Accountancy because of my Commerce and Economics background in graduation


PLEASE SHARE YOUR STRATEGY AND BOOKLIST FOR EACH OF THE OPTIONAL?

  • Booklist for both the papers of Commerce and Accountancy were limited to the coaching material provided by Rankers Coaching Classes.

Optional 1

  • STRATEGY: Practicing practical questions in a timely fashion and making notes of the theory aspect. Taking a lot of tests along with the coaching classes is a key to get accustomed to finish the paper in the prescribed time.
  • BOOKLIST: Coaching Material of Rankers Classes

Optional 2

  • STRATEGY: Made comprehensive notes out of the coaching material so as to have my own concise material to revise from. Took as many tests as possible to write quality answers within the given time limit.
  • BOOKLIST: Coaching Material of Rankers Classes


HOW IMPORTANT IS ANSWER WRITING? WHAT WAS YOUR STYLE OF ANSWER WRITING?

  • Good answer writing is one of the key requirements for scoring high marks in Mains exam. Utilising the space to one’s advantage and writing crisp answers is key.
  • My strategy included using diagrams and schematics to write points. Every page had at least one flow chart/diagram/infographic


HOW MANY QUESTIONS DID YOU ATTEMPT? WHAT STRATEGY DID YOU FOLLOW FOR MAINS EXAMINATION IN THE EXAMINATION HALL?

  • All questions. I did not skip a single question in any of the 9 mains papers. Writing briskly while thinking continuously is important. Keeping an eye on the clock helps to allot equal time to each answer.


IF YOU HAD TO PREPARE AGAIN WOULD YOU CHANGE YOUR STRATEGY IN ANY WAY?

  • Probably do more answer writing practice


ROLE OF FORUMIAS ACADEMY

  • Here, I would like to bring to note the role of forumias academy in my preparation. I had joined ForumIAS MGP with a test series of 11 tests – 8 for GS and 3 for Essay.
  • Their answer checking is genuine and gives one detailed analysis which helped me a lot in altering my writing style for the better. Keep doing the great work team!
  • Whatever GS Mains Answer Writing Practice I had was with ForumIAS only.


Interview


HOW DID YOU PREPARE FOR THE INTERVIEW? DID YOU ATTEND ANY MOCKS?

  • I did not give any mock interviews. I prepared for possible questions from my DAF and also my Optional Subject. Since I graduated last year i.e., 2019, I prepared for subjects studied in college too. Having knowledge of recent happenings is important. Overall, keeping a balanced view point but having a strong opinion on things is what is required. Indecisiveness is not a trait of an aspiring bureaucrat.


WHICH INTERVIEW BOARD DID YOU FACE?

  • Ms. Smita Nagaraj


PLEASE SHARE YOUR ENTIRE INTERVIEW LIKE WHAT WAS ASKED AND WHAT WAS YOUR REPLY? WERE YOU ABLE TO ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS?

  • My interview started with mocking me being 22 years old and in what rush was I in becoming a civil servant. The rest of the questions were from the sectors of micro-finance, rural banking, informal moneylending, farmer credit issues, NBFCs, demonetisation, etc. There were some questions on foreign policy. The interview ended with a personalised discussion on Dowry.


WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU THINK ARE BEING TESTED IN THE INTERVIEW? SOME STRICT DO’S AND DON’TS FOR THE INTERVIEW FOR ASPIRANTS AND INTERVIEW CANDIDATES?

  • In my opinion, qualities tested are commitment to rule of law, dedication towards the upliftment of the underprivileged sections of the society, ability to take bold decisions, stick to one’s own opinion and not being succumbed under pressure. Having belief in what one says is crucial.
  • Be yourself. Do not try to be someone you are not. Don’t for a second appear disinterested in the chairperson or the panellists. Stay attentive. Be upright about things you do not know. One bluff and game over.


DO YOU THING MARKS IN SCHOOL OR COLLEGE AND THE JOB EXPERIENCE CAN IMPACT ONE’S SCORE IN THE INTERVIEW?

  • A good score can positively impact the boards opinion about you but a low score will definitely not lower their opinion of you. I’m not sure if it translates into the actual score achieved.


HOW WAS THE INTERVIEW EXPERIENCE? WAS IT PREDICTABLE? HOW MUCH DID YOUR PREPARATION HELP?

  • It was more of a conversation with a lot of back and forth in the discussion. It wasn’t entirely predictable given very limited (almost none) questions were asked related to the DAF. Anyway, Preparation always helps as it puts you in the right frame of mind before the big day.


Miscellaneous Questions


HOW MUCH INTERNET DID YOU USE FOR YOUR PREPARATION? HOW MUCH VALUE DID IT ADD

  • Preparation in this day and age without internet is simply not doable nor it is recommended. Using and limiting oneself to the right sources is key. Otherwise, one can be lost in the ocean of information that is available out there.


HOW DID YOU BALANCE SO MUCH RESOURCES AND DATA? WHAT SMART TECHNIQUES DID YOU USE TO MANAGE YOUR PREPARATION IN A BETTER MANNER?

  • Making time-tables for different time durations, keeping a track of everything I was doing and everything that was left to be done. Limiting the resources and having trust on your own decision to chose the books you did is important. Having very few (0/1) co-aspirants helps to defend yourself from over-load of information.


WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST ESSENTIAL QUALITY/QUALITIES NEEDED TO CLEAR THIS EXAM?

  • Perseverance, inner motivation to serve the society, smart work


WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO THE YOUNG ASPIRANTS WHO LOOK UP TO YOU?

  • Hang in there. It is a roller coaster ride with a lot of mood swings. There will be days when you will think you will achieve rank 1 and days when you will question whether this profession is for you. Rudyard Kipling’s lines sum this up
  • If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
  • If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
  • If you can meet with Triumphs and Disasters
  • and treat those two imposters just the same;

WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE THAT YOU HAVE RECEIVED?

  • Be truthful to yourself


WHAT DID ALL HURDLES YOU FACE WHILE PREPARING FOR IT? AND HOW DID YOU TACKLE THEM

  • I lost my aunt on the day of the first mains exam (essay) and the news came in while we were on our way to the centre. I told my mother that she was in my heart but not in my brain. I would not let if affect my exams.
  • I was tested positive with Covid-19 a mere 20 days before my Interview. Having read about how to respond to it, I self-isolated myself and recovered in the 15 day time period.

Himanshu Gupta
Civil Services Examination 2019, Rank–27


  • Name : Himanshu Gupta
  • ForumIAS Community Username ? nightHAWK
  • Place of Birth : Delhi
  • How old are you : 25
  • Schooling done from Name and City and score : Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, New Delhi – 94% class 12.
  • College from which City and GPA: Delhi Technological University (Formerly DCE), percentage (SPI) : 77.5
  • PG if Any : NIL
  • Your attempt at the exam : 3rd
  • Other Exams : Gave Interview for UP-PCS 2018 on 28th Result awaited
  • Family Members : Father, Mother and Elder Brother
  • Work-experience : Chip-Design Engineer for 1year and 7 months at Qualcomm India, Bangalore.
  • Optional : Philosophy
  • Contact details : @nightHAWK23 ( FourmIAS Profile )

Hello, World!

  • Hello Everyone, I am Himanshu Gupta. I have secured Rank 27 in CSE 2019. Pata nahi kaise.
  • I have flunked 2 times in Prelims (2016, 2018). But cleared all stages Pre, Mains and Interview in 2019 attempt.


Its been a long journey.

  • I started preparing for the exam in 2015 (4th year of college). Gave the 1st attempt in 2016, graduated fresh just out of college and few days after I had relocated myself to Bangalore for a job at Qualcomm.
  • I failed in prelims miserably. Got around 80 Marks.
  • I realized that preparing along with a hectic job would require a lot of efforts. So I skipped my attempt in 2017 and prepared for the Mains exam and optional subject keeping a long-term perspective.
  • In the mean-time, I shifted my job location from Bangalore to Noida (I thought I could study more being at home). But after a few months, I thought of going full-throttle and took a calculated risk of resigning from the job in March 2018.
  • That year I joined the 1st ever batch of SFG program and the Current Affairs classes of FORUMIAS. I toiled, toiled hard to remain in SFG and not slip back to RLG (reserve list). We used to attempt papers in the open-park, the under-construction building, at 7AM in the chilling winters!
  • I remember @Neyawn saying, “you need to reach your peak on the day of exam, not before, not further.” In 2018 prelims, my peak probably came too early. I was burnt up. At the time of exam, I was so exhausted that I took a lot of time on every question.
  • I had too many questions to solve for the 2nd iteration with less than 20 minutes left. In panic, I attempted 97 questions out of 100, without thinking too much and literally making wild guesses. I scored 90.
  • This 2018 attempt was an eye-opener. I realized I needed a comprehensive strategy – not only for Pre, but also for the Mains exam. I needed to study in an integrated manner, not in silos. Inspite of the prelims result, I continued with Dipin Sir’s CA classes. I joined MGP and Essay programme for 2018 Mains. Next year when the time of actually giving the Mains came up, I had a lot of things ready at hand for me to just revise/update myself.
  • For the next prelims of 2019, I was able to clear the cutoff for both CSE and IFoS. This time, I tried to rectify a few mistakes of 2018 attempt:


1 REACH THE PEAK OF PREPARATION AT THE RIGHT TIME.

  • This time the intensiveness of my preparation increased gradually, till it reached the peak on 2nd June.


2. DISTRIBUTE PRELIMS PREPARATION OVER THE COURSE OF ENTIRE YEAR.

  • In my previous attempts, I used to directly study just the yearly compilations for prelims. But this time I made up mind to at least read and revise prelims specific news DAILY as well. Monthlies also came up for the first time. And when the time was up for pre-only mode (mid-March), I also picked up yearly compilations.
  • In fact this year I had download Epic monthly, and was studying it for this years attempt, before results came,
  • {Tip: I made a whatsapp group of which I was the sole-member :p (you may google it). I used to keep all screenshots/stuff you require and TAG them for future revision purpose. Ensure regular revisions.}


3 DON’T WRITE TOO MANY TEST-PAPERS

  • Don’t write too many test-papers at the cost of actually studying. In 2018, I had written around 80 test-papers. But this time, I wrote very few tests. It was because I realised tests should be written to get the knack of eliminating options, to get one’s heuristics right, and to revise stuff.
  • I had done this already in 2018 (special thanks to Forum’s SFG and simulators). Tests are useful only when you are not compromising with studying and revising. My toils for 2018 prelims bore fruits for the 2019 attempt. I just needed to revise more, without bothering about giving so many mock tests.

4 MOCK TEST ANALYSIS

  • Thanks to a friend who taught me how to analyse prelims test-papers. I had made a custom excel file solely for this purpose.
  • I used to categorise my MCQ attempts into 4 categories
    • 4: completely sure,
    • 3: almost sure but still confused in two options,
    • 2: only 1 eliminated, and
    • 1: no idea at all).
  • I had set a target of accuracy for each of these categories. (for eg. Category 4: 100% accuracy, Category 3: 75% accuracy, etc.).
  • This helped me track and shape my risk-taking appetite. Attaching a small example snippet here:

My Booklist for Prelims

Topic Resource
History Ancient RS Sharma + TN board book + new NCERT + AL Basham (for Buddhism and Jainism) + wikipedia
History Medieval TN Board book + new NCERT + compiled keywords and their meanings through internet
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) Spectrum + a few chapters from Bipin Chandra (which were missing in Spectrum) + New NCERT class 12 + Forum’s static revision classes + Internet
Culture Class XI NCERT + Nitin-Singhania notes (not book) + a visit to the National Museum, Delhi + Internet + Baliyan Class-notes from Market
Polity (static + current affairs) Laxmikanth (static) + Prelims compilations (CA)
Economy (static + current affairs) Class 12 Macro NCERT + Shankar-Ganesh book + Mrunal Lectures
Science (static + current affairs) Class 12 Biology last 3-4 chapters + Pre compilations
Environment (static + current affairs) ShankarIAS + 2-3 Chapters from Savindra Singh Physical Geography + Pre compilations for CA
Geography(Physical +Indian+World) Class XI and XII NCERT + PMF IAS notes
Current affairs CA Class-notes, compilations – monthly and yearly
  • I did not join any Test Series for prelims. Gave many open-tests (vision, forum, etc.). Bought test-papers from the Market and solved them at home. I had already solved SFG Test papers and was thorough with the basic book reading.
  • I attempted 92 question in Prelims. Around 70 were right. I think the optimal number of questions to attempt in prelims should be above 85 seeing the present trend of prelims exam.


My Booklist for Mains

  • Dipin Sir’s CA Class-notes and some other class-notes were my base-material. I revised them multiple times.
  • In the last few days before mains, I made the notes of these notes (again @Neyawn’s suggestion). Tried to brainstorm over every value-added content that where all it could be utilized in exam.
  • This “notes-of-notes” register was my carry-along for all the GS papers outside the exam-centre. I even tried a technique of recording my audio of reading aloud these “notes-of-notes register”.
  • I’ve listened to my recordings more than 10 times now. I’m glad I was able to utilize a lot of this content in the mains exam.
  • For example, the UNESCO question – I quoted the preamble of UNESCO in conclusion and related it well to the theme of the question.
  • Eg. Hunger-Poverty divergence question – Quoted Utsa Patnaik (republic of Hunger) and Angus Daeton’s “nutri-puzzles” and again related all of them to the context of question.
  • Comment from Neyawn : Yeah, I am telling you this will be a permanent point all poverty questions from now onwards.

Optional Preparation

My Optional Subject was Philosophy.

  • Primary reason was interest. I tried to read a few books, watch crash-course philosophy playlist, other youtube videos, etc. to see whether I like it or not.
  • Later, I researched about the PYQs, the strategies of toppers, guidance-availability, etc to make sure that it is a viable optional.


STRATEGY for Philosophy Paper 1

(This is for those who do not have background in philosophy. Moreover, all this worked for me in my circumstances.)

  1. Be intense. Leave no stone unturned to gain as much marks as possible in optional. Do not come into the trap that the syllabus is very small and static. Every optional can be studied in as much depth as the others.
  2. In philosophy, many concepts are interlinked. For conceptual clarity, do not hesitate to go a bit beyond syllabus. Though questions are asked from within the syllabus, but you may answer it by going even beyond it (but not too much and without digressing from what is asked).
  3. For Indian philosophy, try to use Sanskrit word in phonetic language. Use Sutra’s (given in CD sharma book footnotes) for value-addition.
  4. Quote thinkers, books, etc for substantiation of arguments.
  5. Try not to make arguments by yourselves in the exam until and unless you have actually studied about it somewhere. Sometimes people tend to think themselves as philosophers.
  6. Since you have to write lesser number of words in 3 hours as compared to GS, try to answer in a more neatly. You may use pencil for diagrams (if at all required), black-pen for underlining, etc.


BOOKLIST for Philosophy

  1. Western philosophy : VVR-IAS material (Class-notes, pre-class, post-class) + MitrasIAS + Patanjali IAS + Stanford website + IGNOU + NPTEL videos + research papers (academia, jstor, shodhganga)
  2. Indian Philosophy: VVR-IAS material (class-notes, pre-class, post-class) + MitrasIAS + CD Sharma book + Shodhganga + NPTEL
  3. Socio-political philosophy: VVR-IAS material (class-notes, pre-class, post-class) + Shubhra-Ranjan PSIR Notes (Political theory part) + Ambarish Vemuri’s notes + IGNOU material + internet
  4. Philosophy of Religion : VVR-IAS material (class-notes, pre-class, post-class) + IGNOU material + Stanford website + shodhganga

Classes I took at ForumIAS

  • At ForumIAS, I took Dipin Sir’s Current Affairs Classes, ForumIAS’s Ethics+, Essay and MGP, Static Revision Classes ( conducted in 2018 ) , Prelims Simulator Tests and Interview Guidance Program.
  • Usefulness? I think I used them quite well. I had internalized them a lot. Though I felt everytime that I’m missing a lot of things, but then I realized there would be no end to it. Stick to whatever you have and revise them multiple times. Try making maximum use of the resources and material you already have.


Answer Writing

  • Answer Writing is the Core of Mains. My style of Answer writing has been contextual. I try to change it with the demand of the question. An objective style question which can have several dimensions/arguments needs Point-format or diagrams.
  • But a narrow-subjective question requires paragraph format. I’ve also used formats like inline-numbering within the paragraphs (again @Neyawn’s suggestion).
  • I’ve focused a lot on value-addition and differentiated content. Introductions and conclusions are the places where they can be utilized to the maximum.
  • Case studies, data, facts, figures, pie-charts, graphs, diagrams, were used extensively. But I try to refrain from mindless making of diagrams. Use diagrams only when it helps you express it in lesser words/ lesser time/lesser space.

How many Questions I attempted in GS ?

  • I attempted all questions in all GS Papers and optional.
  • For 3 GS Papers,I came up with this highly effective strategy for time-management after much thought:


Q1-Q2> Q11-20(all 15 markers)> Q3-Q9 (all 10 markers)

This worked well.

  • For GS-4 as well, it was similar – Section A Q1 and Q2 > Sec B > Section A rest of the questions.
  • If you had to prepare again would you change your strategy in any way?
  • I learnt a lot more about STRUCTURING of answers, particular to the CONTEXT and the KEYWORD of the question that is asked.
  • Structuring is not only about Intro, Body and Conclusion. But it is much more detailed. We need to understand that multiple points in the Body part can be clubbed together to make a single dimension (a Bucket as I always say).
  • This way, one should write about multiple Buckets in the Body part, along with the sub-points within every bucket.
  • If this wasn’t your first attempt what mistakes you think you made in the previous attempt in mains? It was my first Mains.


Interview Preparation

  • My Interview was on 17th Feb, the 1st day of the start of the interview itself. Since this time the results were also declared too late, I had very less time to prepare for my DAF.
  • I attended Mock interviews at ForumIAS, as well as other coachings. With every mock, I learnt something or the other.
  • My final performance was much better than whatever I did in the mock interviews. However, there were many good and bad things. There were some questions where I thought I answered well. At the same time, there were some where I thought I could’ve answered differently.
  • So, its quite subjective in the end about how your interview would be. The only thing you could do is enhance whatever is in your hands and “control the controllables.” I think I tried my best to do that.


Using Internet and Digital Resources

  • I’ve used internet and digital resources extensively. I did not read any offline newspaper consistently. But I kept track of various news and editorials through digital content – news websites/apps, youtube videos on news analysis, RSTV, ORF, IDSA, etc.


Some Techniques I used for resource Management

In order to balance with a plethora of data and resources available, 3 skills are required:

  • #1 Viveka: The ability to differentiate between what is useful and reproducible for the exam and what is not. This comes with analysis of the trends of the exam – previous year questions and syllabus memorization helps.
  • #2 Suniyojan: The ability to effectively organize whatever content you collect – either offline or online. If I have studied some topic somewhere I should be quickly abe to locate where it is stored so that I can update my notes as quickly as possible. I made subjectwise offline folders where I kept all my notes/resources.
  • #3 AtmaSanyam: Or Self-restraint,i.e. the ability to know when to stop collecting material/resources and start studying them. Revision of whatever you have collected is more crucial than collecting more and more data. Otherwise, everything will just go in vain.

Yes, notes were mostly offline. Most of my notes were not consolidated into single-pages notes. I tried to consolidate a few themes which I thought were most relevant and were fragmented here and there. For eg. Electoral reforms, Globalisation and its impacts, Climate change, etc.

Last Lines

  • I think that to clear this exam, there are a few things that are necessary. One is the ability to absorb things one reads, listens etc. Second is the ability to express. And third is patience and dedication, as it may take more time than you may think at first.

Thanking you,


Sanjitha Mohapatra
Civil Services Examination 2019, Rank–10


#AboutMe

  • Hello Everyone, My name is SANJITA MOHAPATRA. I am an old ForumIAS Community Member with the username “BeTheChange”. I was born in Rourkela. I have done my schooling from Chinmaya Vidyalaya (E.M), Rourkela, ICSE Board.
  • After that I had done my college from my graduation from College of Engineering and Technology, Bhubaneswar, 2012 batch passout. This was my 5th attempt at Civil Services, but my second serious attempt.
  • Before this, I had secured 2nd Rank at OPSC (Odisha Public Services Commission) and had got State Rank 2. I am from a middle class family with my father who is not working anymore, mother who is a housewife. My elder sister Sarita Mohapatra is presently Manager in BHEL, Bangalore.
  • I myself have been working as an Assistant Manager in Rourkela Steel Plant ( SAIL ) from 2013-2018.
  • I took Sociology as an Optional.
  • The Civil Services Examination was a Childhood dream for me. Started preparation while in college with baby steps. Reading newspapers. After joining job started with basic NCERT books, polity, geography. Gave 2 attempts while in college with no preparation. 3rd attempt did not revise.
  • First 3 attempts could not clear prelims . 4th attempt failed in mains . 5th attempt I have been successful. However, I would not advice this long path to anyone. It is better to have your first or at least second attempt as a prepared attempt. My fifth attempt was my second prepared attempt.


My Prelims Strategy

  • I have been focussing on building up the foundation by repeated revisions, covering basics from NCERT . Also what is important that 2 months before Prelims no answer writing practice should be there. I did solve numerous test series for Prelims
  • Weekly twice I used to solve the daily quizzes on various online platforms

My Prelims Booklist

Topic Resource
History Ancient NCERT
History Medieval NCERT
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) NCERT + SPECTRUM
Culture NCERT + NITIN SINGHANIA
Polity (static + current affairs) LAXMIKANT + THE HINDU + INDIAN EXPRESS
Economy (static + current affairs) NCERT(basics) + Ramesh Chandra + HINDU
Environment (static + current affairs) SHANKAR IAS + WIKI
Geography(Physical +Indian+World) NCERT + PMFIAS NOTES
Current affairs The HINDU + INDIAN EXPRESS + ONLINE CA FROM VARIOUS SOURCES

The Mistakes I made in previous attempts

  • This was my 5th attempt and 2nd serious attempt . I did not qualify Prelims in 3 attempts, 4th attempt failed in mains.
  • The first 2 attempts I gave while I was still in college, so I had basically zero idea about the UPSC examinations. In my 3rd attempt I did not revise well for Prelims. Fourth attempt could not complete the mains paper. This year I was able to manage things better.
  • In my earlier attempts , the notes I made from editorial were too huge and I couldn’t revise them completely before mains. Also I had numerous sources and did not stick to the syllabus. There was also lack of revision. This time I tried to fix all these issues.


My General Studies ( Mains ) Approach

  • For GS. my constant companion was newspaper. I religiously read The Hindu and Indian Express certain editorials and Explained page
  • I had 4 copies (GS 1,2,3,4). I arranged all editorials most relevant under those copies. Wrote the editorials in very crisp, revisable manner, which can be read for mains revision. This note-making was the key of my preparation. Whenever new value addition would come, you can always staple a page to add up the content.
  • I was not very regular with Monthly current affairs.
  • I made notes for every topic mentioned in the syllabus. The notes could be handwritten, digital, bookmarked sites, but my aim was that when I sit for revision I don’t struggle for sources. I should have everything at one place. And then value addition as and when new topics or CA arises
  • I had joined ForumIAS Current affairs class for Mains 2019. I personally found it very helpful because of the teaching way of Sir. I think that for the first time I realised how to prepare a topic and summarily and make it concise. If I had known about it three years back, I would have been in a much better situation.
  • The Concise notes of the class helped in quick last minute revision. That was the icing in the cake.


Answer Writing is Important

  • Answer writing is irreplaceable and of utmost importance
  • I started writing answers from December 2018 for mains 2019. People can start even earlier.
  • I wrote answers in bullet forms.
  • I used two inks for heading and main content. I have this habit since childhood from school so it has stayed.


My exam hall strategy for GS Mains

  • Out of 80 questions of all GS, I attended nearly 78. Some question I dint know, so wrote half a page kind of thing. For optional this time I completed the paper . Strategy was to complete the paper anyhow.
  • I start writing answers from Q1. In first one-hour finish 8 questions (10 marks)
  • In 2nd hour 7 questions (from Q11 – 20 markers), 3rd hour rest. Focus was to follow this as much as possible.


My Interview Preparation

  • I studied Economic times for a while to gain a different perspective. I gave in total 5 mocks before interview. I had gotten Sujata Mehta ma’am Board.
  • My interview was on July 23rd. So it was very different with mask, shield and all that. It was alarming at first.
  • I belong to Odisha so many questions were focused on the same like issue of migration in Odisha and how to tackle it like
    • Olive ridley turtle
    • How to make Puri a global tourist destination
    • Questions on child labour and its reason for persistence
    • Women issues in Odisha
  • I couldn’t answer maybe 20% of the questions.
  • They were mostly factual details about Odisha and politely replied I’m unaware


Qualities that are being tested in Interview

  • I am not an expert on it so I can’t say it exactly. But my focus was to be “ME” not fake myself, staying composed, saying NO politely to something you don’t know .
  • They actually try and test you in-depth knowledge about an issue. The questions except for the factual ones are always answerable. They want to understand your mindset.


Do you thing marks in school or college and the job experience can impact one’s score in the Interview?

  • No I don’t think so.


How was the interview experience? Was it predictable? How much did your preparation help?

  • It was unique and different. I had not predicted anything. I went to the interview with an open mind. It was cordial and a great discussion
  • My preparation helped in correcting many of my mistakes. I used to talk very fast, I did not think before responding, I was too lengthy in answering. These are things that I had fixed.


How much internet did you use for your preparation? How much value did it add

  • I completely relied on internet as I did self study.
  • Starting from collecting sources my own notes, to solving online quizzes, CA I was completely dependent on it.


Did you make notes? Why yes or no? Did you find them any useful (if you made them).

  • Yes I made self notes. I completely relied on them for my whole preparation.
  • My revision was based on the notes which acted like my one-stop destination


What do you think is the most essential quality/qualities needed to clear this exam?

  • Patience, Perseverance, Consistency and above all Hard work ( it should be smart as well )
  • Couldn’t think of one… they form an inseparable group.


Did you join any offline and/or online coaching? What relevance do you find of coaching in preparation of this exam?

  • I joined Upendra Gaurs’s 3 months course for Sociology which made my foundation very strong.
  • I joined ForumIAS Current affairs class post prelims which helped in quick wholesome revision of CA


What is your advice to the young aspirants who look up to you?

  • Hardwork has no substitute and Consistency is the key.
  • Stay focused


What is the best advice that you have received?

  • Don’t think if you would crack it or not, just give your best shot


What did all hurdles you face while preparing for it? And how did you tackle them

  • Depression and helplessness. Feeling that I am not good enough. Self-doubts. But I think that this is something that we face in every walk of life when we are not able to get what we want.
  • Self-reflection on what motivated me in the first place to choose this career path, self-motivation, talking to friends was how I tackled it.

Pratyush Pandey
Civil Services Examination 2019, Rank–21


Personality/Profile

  • Your Name: Pratyush Pandey
  • Place of Birth: New Delhi
  • How old are you? : 24
  • Schooling done from Name and City and score?: Sanskriti School, New Delhi, 10 CGPA (Class 10), 97.4% (Class 12)
  • College from which City and Gpa: IIT Kanpur, 8.9/10
  • PG (if Any): IIM Ahmedabad
  • Your attempt at the exam( 1st, 2nd, 3rd): 1st
  • Who else is there in your family?: 1 Brother, Parents
  • Work-experience (if any): 9 Months
  • Optional: Sociology

Hello everyone, I am Partyush Pandey. I graduated from IIMA in March 2019 and had decided to appear for the exam this year itself. I didn’t have a mentor so I had to spend a lot of time reading about the process through online blogs by previous year toppers. When I left college, I had a slightly better understanding of how to proceed, and that greatly simplified my preparation. I believe UPSC is more about understanding the path you will take – walking along the path is the easier part.

PLEASE MENTION YOUR STRATEGY AND BOOKS/NOTES DID YOU REFERRED TO FOR GENERAL STUDIES AND CSAT?

GS – same strategy I use in life. Look at the cost and look at the benefit – spend as much time as you can in high benefit low cost area, then move to high benefit high cost, then move to low benefit low cost, and only then if you feel you need to study more then go to low benefit high cost. You must see past year papers to know – subjects like environment, Science and Tech, modern history, and topics like Buddhism, Jainism are very high benefit.

  • Similarly world map and monetary policy (conceptual question), and even national parks/wildlife sanctuaries – at least 1 come almost every year. These must not be neglected.
  • Things like dykes, sills in geography, or random ocean currents I hadn’t seen in papers in last 5-10 years, and personally always found boring – low benefit high cost for me, so I skipped. I never studied for 200 marks for prelims, only to qualify – prelims won’t give you a rank.
  • Nothing for CSAT, didn’t feel any need, but I’d advise giving a mock test if you’re unsure, and if you score <100 then you might want to spend a little time.

GS (STRATEGY AND BOOKS)

BOOK LIST:

Topic Resource
History Ancient Old NCERT (brief
History Medieval Old NCERT
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) Spectrum
Culture Nitin Sangwan notes
Polity (static + current affairs) Lakshmikant, News
Economy (static + current affairs) Only News (Eco was my favourite subject in college)
Science (static + current affairs) Only news (Science background)
Environment (static + current affairs) Prelims – IAS4sure compilation & Nitin Sangwan notes

Mains- News compilations + NCERT Disaster Management + Previous Year Papers + Googling important laws, acts

Geography(Physical +Indian+World) NCERT – for very limited topics like Disaster Management,

World Map, India Map for prelims, Mrunal.org for resources around the world, PMFIAS for slightly complex topics like earthquake, volcano

In addition, ForumIAS created a document with handwritten notes ( Current Affairs Classes ) on important topics some weeks before Mains – I found it relevant, it covered many topics in a short space.


WHICH TEST SERIES DID YOU JOIN? HOW HELPFUL DO YOU THINGS SUCH TEST SERIES ARE?

  • Forum IAS MGP and Lukmaan IAS for mains, Triumph IAS for sociology. Test series are as useful as you make them – what you get out of them depends on what you put into them, how you think about and act on the feedback. I think I spent as much time writing test series as I did on revision – it’s a generalist exam and frankly, you don’t need as much content as it seems you do.


HOW MANY QUESTIONS DID YOU ATTEMPT IN GS? HOW MANY DID YOU GET RIGHT?

  • Attempted 93 or 95 or so, I don’t recall. I made a lot of mistakes that day, more than I ever did, somewhere around 30 wrong (don’t recall exactly, I never live in the past – give the exam and move on).


WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE OPTIMAL NUMBER OF QUESTIONS TO ATTEMPT IN PRELIMS? DO YOU ADVISE ACCURACY OR MAXIMUM ATTEMPTS?

  • You need to figure it out for yourself; one size never fits all. Whether you go for the accuracy or maximum attempts, you must practice that strategy in the mock tests you give before prelims. I barely “knew” 20-30 questions for sure, I always went for maximum attempts; very rarely did I not attempt 100/100. It worked for me; I usually got 120ish in mock tests; though a lot of guesses went wrong on the day of the exam, I’d attempted so many that the right ones compensated for it and I probably cleared with a 5-10 mark margin. Which is what I wanted – prelims doesn’t get you a rank, and I spent as little time as I could on it.


IF YOU HAD TO PREPARE AGAIN WOULD YOU CHANGE YOUR STRATEGY IN ANY WAY?

  • Not really. I spent quite a lot of time deciding my strategy before I actually prepared because I didn’t want to have this regret that I could have changed my strategy and succeeded. So I’ll say – sharpen your axe for 4 hours, then you’ll only need two hours to cut the tree. Otherwise, you’ll find it takes much longer.

Mains examination

HOW DID YOU PREPARE GS?

  • Have listed the books on my blog. The most useful thing I found was a blog by Gaurav Agarwal (Rank 1, 2013) – GS is a generalist paper, you DON’T need to know a lot to write great answers. This sounds very simplistic, which is why I’ve written in great detail on my blog about it (it would be too long to repeat here)


HOW DID YOU COVER CURRENT AFFAIRS FOR MAINS?

  • Would read editorials, newspaper at breakfast on my phone or while cycling in the gym. I referred to popular monthly compilations for Mains. If you understand how you need to answer questions in the exam, you can read much faster (again, explained in blog with example of an article on EIA changes).


WHAT’S YOUR OPTIONAL SUBJECT AND WHY?

  • Sociology, partly because I had interest since I’d taken a couple of courses on it in college, and partly because I didn’t have time and could find useful material easily. And I wanted something new, not the same subjects I’d learnt in college. Though I’ll say sociology didn’t live up to my expectations – I’d mostly read Marx and Weber before, and no one else came anywhere close.


PLEASE SHARE YOUR STRATEGY AND BOOKLIST FOR SOCIOLOGY OPTIONAL?

Optional 1

STRATEGY: This is a paper mostly about the six thinkers. Interlink each of them – for example, use Parsons/Weber/Husserl to criticize Marx if the question is about Marx. It’ll become much easier, you’ll have lots more to write. I gave as many names of sociologists as I could, and some examples from news wherever I had any. Rest, I felt the paper very similar to GS.

BOOK LIST: Referred IGNOU books, Tusharanshu notes, yourarticlelibrary.com

Optional 2

STRATEGY: Two distinct parts in this. One is the Indian sociologists, you need to know about them. The other is very GS type – feminism, caste, poverty etc. Point is this is a SOCIOLOGY paper not GS. So I always threw in as many names as I could in all my answers. I would say “According to Veena Das/ Dipankar Gupta” before my point – otherwise it would just become a GS answer. Also tried to use current affairs examples wherever possible – so questions on youth/women would have Greta Thunberg, Nadia Murad, questions on SC would have Bhim Army and so on.

BOOKLIST: Tusharanshu notes, yourarticlelibrary.com


DID YOU JOIN ANY CLASSES FOR YOUR MAINS PREPARATION? IF YES THEN HOW USEFUL DID YOU FIND THEM?

  • Did not join, always preferred studying by myself. Had referred to Current Affairs Class Notes of ForumIAS which they released before Mains 2019.


HOW IMPORTANT IS ANSWER WRITING? WHAT WAS YOUR STYLE OF ANSWER WRITING?

  • Answer writing is everything in my opinion – you’re only judged by what you put on the paper, not what you know. I read Gaurav Agarwal’s post for answer writing (it is hands down the best thing I found in this exam) and spent some hours studying Anudeep Durishetty’s answer sheets. In a nutshell: Go wide, – give more dimensions and fewer, shorter points. My answer writing strategy literally WAS my preparation strategy – I’ve written on it in great detail in the link I’ve shared, I think it might help.


HOW MANY QUESTIONS DID YOU ATTEMPT? WHAT STRATEGY DID YOU FOLLOW FOR MAINS EXAMINATION IN THE EXAMINATION HALL?

  • Attempted all questions – I never leave any. It’s hard to say how many were right – I didn’t know quite a lot of the questions – I’d never heard of CyberDome project, never come across overground workers specifically, and some questions in GS 2 were the size of a paragraph and made little sense in the exam – but I always wrote answers, using a framework I’d developed.


IF YOU HAD TO PREPARE AGAIN WOULD YOU CHANGE YOUR STRATEGY IN ANY WAY?

No, not too much, maybe wouldn’t have used some of the books I first referred to, but I think this is something you find out for yourself only once you begin. Don’t get bogged down by the mystique and aura around this exam -I’ve always believed in thinking for myself, and there is ALWAYS a simpler way if you’re willing to look for it. I’ve elaborated in my blog.

  • I joined ForumIAS MGP. Very very professional. It was impeccable. – I never had to waste time asking for my copies, they came right on time. The feedback helped me a lot – Mains is all about answer writing when you come down to it.
  • I made significant tweaks as per the feedback in my answer writing, which frankly I think is the key.
  • Sharing some of my Answers ( which I kept improving upon )
  • I didn’t particularly follow the blog, but I have read some of Neyawn’s articles and enjoyed them. Not the usual clichéd content you see far too often, he shares ideas of his own. That helped.


Interview


HOW DID YOU PREPARE FOR THE INTERVIEW? DID YOU ATTEND ANY MOCKS?

  • I was working after mains so didn’t have too much time, I attended 4 or 5 mocks on the weekends. Mocks can help you as a rehearsal for the main event, especially if you’ve not given interviews before. But you still need to apply your mind, not just blindly follow everything you’re told.
  • I faced R.N Choubey Board.
  • I don’t recall all questions exactly, will do my best – C = Chariman, M1,M2,M3,M4 are members, my answers are in italics, and in brackets I’ve added any comments I have now, looking back at it)
  • C: What are you doing currently? Working as a Risk Analyst (seemed to make a good impression when I mentioned my role and firm)
  • Why is it not mentioned in the form? I joined immediately after my exam, I found I couldn’t simply sit at home. (Again it seemed to make a good impression, I think because I meant what I said)
  • C: What is your work? What’s the role, what do you do, how is it useful? Gave the big picture – identifying customers at risk of defaulting on loans, predicting in advance which segments of customers are likely to face high stress in repayment,
  • C: How do you do that? Isn’t there a credit score already known? Mentioned about insights generated from the firm’s internal metrics that go beyond simple credit scores
  • C: Don’t you think AI can replace you? I don’t deny it can take over many of our functions, but I think that, at least in the near future, it cannot. The broad strategy is laid out by humans based on their goals, not by AI. And there are always outlier events – take the pandemic, which has triggered a recession and led to huge defaults. So I think AI couldn’t replace humans completely just yet.
  • C: You are just saying that because your job depends on it. Just smiled, didn’t answer – I don’t think it was a question.
  • M1 (only female member): So you must have heard of the Nirbhaya case (it was March 20, day of the hanging of the convicts) – what is your opinion on capital punishment? (I’d expected either violence against women or capital punishment. Interview isn’t like Mains – don’t quote committees or blindly parrot answers. I also don’t believe in giving the same bland answers especially if you don’t agree with them so I didn’t say we should abolish it or just answer “rarest of rare”). Many countries, especially those in Scandinavia have abolished capital punishment (CP). But I feel that our circumstances are different, we have a less stable neighborhood, so we cannot simply imitate them. For example, in the Kandahar hijacking, hostages were used as a bargaining chip to secure a terrorist’s release – in these cases, CP could be justified. And, there are some crimes, such as the Nirbhaya case (that was the Question, after all), which are so barbaric as to be a crime against humanity- this is the rarest of rare, where I believe CP may be the most just punishment. And I feel our judicial process has a lot of safeguards to prevent a miscarriage of justice.
  • Something about violence against women: I don’t think it’s as easy as changing attitudes; attitudes are hard to change and that will take a long time. Security and deterrence, along with providing women the independence to stand on their own feet, are as important, especially in the short term, while also working on reforming mindsets in the long term.
  • M2 (I think he was from the Air force): You mentioned terrorism. Why do you think India hasn’t been able to eradicate it in seventy years? (Rather surprising, didn’t have a ready-made answer – you might have to think on your feet in the interview). I think that, for a long time, we focused on attacking the symptoms and not the root cause. We only worked on defending against the aggression of our neighbours. That has changed in the recent past with the air strikes conducted – we’re no longer simply defending against the symptoms but attacking the root cause.
  • Is that all? It doesn’t help that we have a hostile neighbourhood, with one neighbor committed to attempting to bleed us through a thousand cuts and another supporting it. I think it’s not reasonable to compare India with other countries, say in the West, which have a far more peaceful environment.
  • M3: What would you do to develop a district? Tell me 3 things you would focus on. (I never give big, fancy answers in these questions – I’ve seen too many presentations, all those ideas remain on paper. I only say what I personally would do). I’d concentrate on education. Quality control is much harder when schools are scattered, and many schools have very few children and teachers. I’d work to consolidate these schools into one large institution, where I could ensure high standards. Then I’d focus on healthcare, following a similar approach, to aggregate and automate purchases and bring down costs while raising quality, perhaps leveraging e-consultations and retired medical personnel who could be motivated to volunteer. Third thing would be employment…I think that, if we handled education and healthcare, employment would take care of itself. To get good teachers and doctors, you have to provide good roads, good houses, good facilities – so only through this would education and healthcare be improved, and once it was done, we would see investment coming of its own accord.
  • M3: Have you heard of ___ scheme in UP (don’t recall the name)? No, sir. I haven’t heard of it.
  • M4: What is organic farming? What do you think of it? I described it simply, as farming done without the use of chemicals in fertilizers/pesticides, with natural inputs as far as possible. (I sort of got a bit carried away then) First I mentioned about Zero Budget Natural Farming that had been quite popular in the media and in some states. But I went on to say that there have been allegations that the yields are low, that it requires a very high labour cost, and that it’s an unscientific and unproven method not backed by any studies. So I ended by saying that in my opinion, the decision should be left to farmers – we’ll support them by subsidizing a new technology and then allow them to choose if they want to adopt it. And that I believe a pilot based approach would be best – carry out scientific estimates in a few areas, and if the results are favorable, scale it up.
  • M4: So you are such a person who has been to Sanskriti School, then IIT and then IIM – why are you coming to civil services? (This is the hardest question. There are 2 answers – the simple one like diversity/challenge which doesn’t require thinking and is for the consumption of others. The other is you own – it takes hours of thinking.) I spoke about myself – I’ve worked in the corporate sector, and I joined IIMA because I enjoyed learning at IIT and again loved it at IIM. That IIM isn’t just about jobs and packages – I chose courses in public policy, infrastructure development and financing and economics. And at IIMA, I interned at the Clinton Foundation in my second year because I wanted to see how it would be. Only after all this did I decide to appear for the exam. (One suggestion, if it helps you adopt it – I never spoke about civil services in Why IAS – the board knows much more about the job, what can I tell them that they don’t know? I always use interviews to talk about myself instead)


WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU THINK ARE BEING TESTED IN THE INTERVIEW? SOME STRICT DO’S AND DON’TS FOR THE INTERVIEW FOR ASPIRANTS AND INTERVIEW CANDIDATES?

  • I think a personality test is basically about the Board deciding whether they can see themselves working with you – would you be a colleague/junior they would like to work with? In consulting, they call it the airport test – can I sit with this guy for 8 hours in a flight without being bored? I decided long ago I wouldn’t put on a fake face for any interview, since then all my interviews are either really good or really bad. I haven’t got my marks yet, but I’m confident they’ll be high or low, not average. Try not to be boring – the board sees dozens of candidates, if they all follow the same script no one will remember you. If you be yourself, no one else will be like you. The rest is the same – you can admit you don’t know a question, nothing matters. Dress/Manner of walking etc are tiny things- whole point of these are that no one should notice them, meaning it shouldn’t attract adverse attention – don’t get fixated on them. It’s the easiest and most fun part, don’t worry about it till you clear mains. Focus on prelims and mains first. So I can’t give you any strict Dos and Donts!


DO YOU THING MARKS IN SCHOOL OR COLLEGE AND THE JOB EXPERIENCE CAN IMPACT ONE’S SCORE IN THE INTERVIEW?

  • Not much, what you say in those 30 minutes matters. If you make a bad impression, your marks/job will not save you, if you make a good impression, your below average marks won’t hurt you. Don’t be cocky if you’re from a good college – let’s face the truth, we just cleared one exam to make it there, and most of us in these colleges aren’t as brilliant as the outside world thinks us to be. If this sounds harsh, it’s because I’ve seen so many IIT/IIM guys think they’ll clear the exam like a breeze and failing repeatedly. One thing I want to tell all those from top colleges – I know this exam is in some ways crueler for you, you have my sympathy – if you fail, you will see surprise/malice, and if you clear, you will hear, “I’m not surprised you cleared”. It doesn’t really matter, learn to focus on yourself and not what others say, for they will always say something (if you clear, you’ll hear, “Why IIT/IIM and then IAS? Why “waste” a seat?”)


HOW WAS THE INTERVIEW EXPERIENCE? WAS IT PREDICTABLE? HOW MUCH DID YOUR PREPARATION HELP?

  • Some of it was predictable, some was not. Preparation helped – pausing before speaking to collect my thoughts was especially useful, which I had focused on in my mocks.


Miscellaneous Questions


HOW MUCH INTERNET DID YOU USE FOR YOUR PREPARATION? HOW MUCH VALUE DID IT ADD?

  • My whole prep was through the internet. Value added depends on you. There is so much harmful misinformation, I’ve created a list on my blog of what helped me.


HOW DID YOU BALANCE SO MUCH RESOURCES AND DATA? WHAT SMART TECHNIQUES DID YOU USE TO MANAGE YOUR PREPARATION IN A BETTER MANNER?

  • Written extensively in my blog, it’s very detailed. Hope it helps someone.


DID YOU MAKE NOTES? WHY YES OR NO? DID YOU FIND THEM ANY USEFUL (IF YOU MADE THEM). PLEASE SHARE A HIGH QUALITY SAMPLE IF YOU MADE NOTES. ALSO WERE YOUR NOTES ONLINE OR OFFLINE?

  • Very scattered notes, relied a lot on Google. Some online, some offline – I realized I don’t need to mug so much information, there’s a better way to learn (I’ve shared it)


WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST ESSENTIAL QUALITY/QUALITIES NEEDED TO CLEAR THIS EXAM?

  • Think for yourself. No one can do your thinking for you, and no one will, for no one cares as much about your success as you do. If you ask me to tell you which book to read or which optional to take, you are not likely to make it frankly. DON’T expect spoon-feeding, it doesn’t help.


WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO THE YOUNG ASPIRANTS WHO LOOK UP TO YOU?

  • Don’t look up to me. Don’t over-hype this or any other exam; there are far better things to life, and clearing an exam doesn’t make you great, it’s what you do after the exam that counts. I’ve never listened to “motivational” or “inspirational” stories, I want to make my own story. So be your own hero, don’t make me or anyone else one.


WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE THAT YOU HAVE RECEIVED?

  • Too much to go into now. There are too many amazing things I’ve read and tried to make a part of me, I’ll share only some I can think of right now. If you REALLY understand even one of these, your life won’t be the same.
  • “You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.” Richard Feynman
  • “I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.” Friedrich Nietzsche
  • “Beautiful things of any kind are beautiful in themselves and sufficient to themselves. Praise is extraneous. The object of praise remains what it is—no better and no worse. Does anything genuinely beautiful need supplementing? Are any of those improved by being praised? Or damaged by contempt? Is an emerald suddenly flawed if no one admires it?” Marcus Aurelius


WHAT ALL HURDLES DID YOU FACE WHILE PREPARING FOR THE EXAM? AND HOW DID YOU TACKLE THEM

  • College schedule (for all those in B-schools, you know about free-riders, I was blessed with countless study groups where out of 6 people I usually was the only one who did the project), People telling me not to drop out of placements (apparently that’s the only purpose of an MBA and IIMA). Nothing very great – I’m lucky enough to come from a financially comfortable middle class family and I know others have it much tougher.


WHAT ROLE DID FORUMIAS PLAY IN YOUR PREPARATION? DO YOU HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR US?

  • MGP was highly beneficial. As I have said in my video interview, it was impeccable. No suggestions.

Dipankar Choudhary
Civil Services Examination 2019, IAS Topper, All India Rank–42
I am also very excited for new challenges and opportunities.


C.S.C. : Heartiest congratulations to you from Civil Services Chronicle for your success. How are you feeling about it?

Dipankar Choudhary : I am very happy. I am also very excited for new challenges and opportunities. Finally all my hard work and patience has paid off and I can take a sigh of relief.

C.S.C. : What is your inspiration for becoming an IAS officer? Whom do you give credit for your success? What is the role of family and others (teacher, friends) in your preparation and success?

Dipankar Choudhary : My father who is a retired civil servant was my primary inspiration. I could see myself working like him. Civil services give you diverse opportunities and the chance to grow to your full potential. That itself was a huge inspiration for me.

I give credit to my parents, my elder sister, my mentor Mr Smar Ranjan he is associate members of indian institute of public administration. He has always stood besides me throughout my preparation. He is truly my mentor in all respect.

my friends and my fiancé (Tanwika) for my success. Family, friends and your mentor are your support systems, your pillars of strength and a source of constant motivation and guidance in this long and arduous preparation. They help in every possible way be it mental support, emotional support, financial support or guidance of any sort.

C.S.C. : What strategy one should follow for preparing for General Studies Prelims & Mains? Did you integrate your Prelims and Mains preparation or was it separate?

Dipankar Choudhary : Yes, the strategy should be integrated but there are times when you need to prepare separately too. 3 months prior to prelims, you should be more prelims oriented and after prelims you have to be Mains oriented.

C.S.C. : How much time did you devote for Prelims, Mains, Interview, Optional ? How did you manage your time in both prelims and mains examinations?

Dipankar Choudhary : I started preparing in 2016 and in 2018 I was selected with a rank of 166 and was serving as an IPS in Kerala. So almost 2.5 to 3 years of dedicated preparation. Intially, like I said my preparation was integrated. For optional, it took me 5-6 months to finish it once and cover my basics. Thereafter I polished it; added more material, examples, theories; wrote test series and kept discussing with Smar Ranjan Sir.

I used to put in 8-10 hours of dedicated study everyday after I left my job.

C.S.C. : Did you prepare notes? How helpful are the notes? What is your advice on notes-making?

Dipankar Choudhary : Yes, I prepared notes for optional, ethics and modern history. For current affairs and everything else, I relied on the books and magazines but I used to scribble at the margins, cross reference everything and highlight using a marker. They served as my notes and I revised them over and over again for, maybe, I guess 7-8 times. I also prepared diagrams and flowcharts for many topics in my notes.

Notes are very important. They help you to revise speedily. As far as my advice goes, you can and should make notes specially for optional. The notes should be as concise as possible. You should be able to revise the entire paper 1 or paper 2 of your optional with the help of those notes in 2-3 hours.

The same goes for any subject you choose to make notes for. Making notes for current affairs can get very bulky in my opinion, so better rely on magazines and newspapers. But if one feels that some topic for current affairs is difficult to follow and understand then one can make notes for it.

C.S.C. : What was your optional?What was the basis of selecting this optional? What strategy one should follow for optional?

Dipankar Choudhary : My optional was Public Administration. I chose it because I had a very good mentor and the syllabus was simple. Moreover it overlapped with GS Paper 2, Indian economy, social issues and ethics.

For optionals it is very important to make notes and read good books. One shouldn’t completely rely on readymade notes but make it for oneself. Also keep reading Yojana, newspaper, NITI Aayog website etc for case studies, examples etc. Write test series to gauge your level of preparation.

C.S.C. : What was your preparation strategy and books which you referred for Ethics Paper?

Dipankar Choudhary : I relied on class notes of Mr Sanjeev Kumar, my public administration notes wherever they overlapped and examples from various sources like newspapers and Yojana. I also wrote test series for it.

C.S.C. : Tell us something about preparation of Essay paper.

Dipankar Choudhary : For essay I practiced a lot and focused on my flow and lucidity. The essay shouldn’t look abrupt and bumpy. The connection from one paragraph to another should be smooth. You don’t have to prepare extra GS topics for essay. All you should do is practice and focus on your writing skills.

The trick is moderation. Use of examples, stories, anecdotes, facts, case studies, personal life examples, quotations from eminent people, poems or couplets etc, but all in moderation. To develop these practice a lot and get it reviewed from peers and mentors. Read good essays written by toppers.

C.S.C. : 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?

Dipankar Choudhary : I focused a lot on presentation i.e. use of diagrams and flowcharts. I used it in almost 8-9 questions in every paper. Don’t overdo it though. Interlink your content by using cross referencing when revising as I have already mentioned. Focus on an edge of 1-2 marks in each question. Write answers point wise and also number all your points. You can use paragraph for introduction, conclusion and to connect two different parts of the answer but these should be brief, to the point and crisp. Avoid flowery and flamboyant language.

C.S.C. : How did you prepare for interview? Which type of questions were asked in interview? Did you answer all? Was there any specific area they emphasised upon?

Dipankar Choudhary : I prepared my DAF in detail and went for some mock interviews. They asked me questions mostly about my engineering background, my home-state and hometown and some situation based questions like-

If you have to make one amendment in the constitution of India, what would it be?

If you were asked to explain Fourier transform to a student of 9th standard, how would you do it?

What should India emphasize on, education budget or defense budget?

No, I didn’t answer a few questions. I simply said that I don’t know and I will look them up for the questions I didn’t know the answers to.

C.S.C. : Importance of coaching in the preparation of exam.

Dipankar Choudhary : Test series and the guidance of a good mentor is vital. You don’t have to join classroom classes necessarily.

C.S.C. : What is the role of Civil Services Chronicle in your success?

I have referred it for current affairs and a few other topics. I read topper’s strategies from it and used it to enrich my preparation.

C.S.C. : What is your source of Preparation? Which Books, Magazines, News Papers and Online Sources were used by you during your preparation?

Dipankar Choudhary :

C.S.C. : Suggested Book list for Optional paper 1 & 2.

Dipankar Choudhary :

Paper 1

  • Nicholas Henry
  • Stephen Robbins for selected topics,
  • BL Fadia,
  • MP Sharma,
  • Prasad and Prasad administrative thinkers,
  • Three books by Mohit Bhattacharya-Restructuring Public Administration, Public Administration: New Issues and Perspectives, Social theory and development administration.
  • The public administration theory primer by H George fredrickson and Kevin smith,
  • The public policy theory primer by Kevin smith and Christopher Larimer
  • Post Modern Public administration by Hugh T. Miller and Charles J. Fox
  • Selected IGNOU material.

Paper 2

  • 2nd ARC report,
  • Punchhi Commision report,
  • Yojana which are relevant.
  • RK Arora,
  • BL Fadia,

Current Affairs,

Updates from NITI Aayog website

  • Books: Ancientand medieval history: IGNOU Material.
  • Modern history: Bipan Chandra andS.Chand publication BL Grover- A new look at modern Indian History.
  • Geography: DR Khullar and Savinder Singh.
  • Economics: NCERT of class 11 and 12; and current affairs of 2.5 years.
  • Social issues: current affairs of 2.5 years and Public administration material.
  • Polity: Covered in Public administration.
  • Ethics: Sanjeev Sir's notes and Lexicon.
  • International relations: current affairs of 2.5 years and online material to look up background.
  • Art and culture: IGNOU and CCRT.
  • Environment: Self made notes, NIOS and current affairs of 2.5 years.
  • Newspaper: Indian express and Mint.
  • Online news portals like: Scroll, HW News English, WIRE, Firstpost, The Print etc.

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