Toppers Interview

Utkarsh Dwivedi
5th Rank In Civil Services Examination - 2021

Utkarsh Dwivedi, AIR 5, CSE 2021, is an epitome of motivation for many civil service aspirants who dream of becoming an IAS officer despite the hurdles. Presenting to you here is an interview with Mr. Ayush Sinha, founder and director of Forum IAS and Utkarsh Dwivedi.

Ayush: Utkarsh, a very warm welcome to you and congratulations for securing Rank 5 in CSE 2021. What was your reaction when you saw the results of CSE 2021? Also, what were you doing in Haridwar when the results came in?

Utkarsh: Thank you sir. Initially, I was happy and later, the excitement subsided as reality set in that it is time for responsibility. This was my third attempt of CSE and every time I failed, I had no one except my mother to cry about it. So, I went to my relative’s place in Haridwar so that I may not be alone if something were to go wrong again.

Ayush: Please tell us about your education and family background.

Utkarsh: My family includes my parents and a younger sibling. I have had school education from all across the country and later pursued Mechanical Engineering from VIT, Vellore. I came to Delhi in 2018 for CSE preparation right after I finished my graduation.

Ayush: What are your thoughts on people starting their CSE preparation during second and/or third year of graduation?

Utkarsh: Though I started my formal preparation after graduation, the informal one started in college itself. It good that people become clear as to what they have to do in life but it is equally important to enjoy the college life instead of missing out on the days later.

Ayush: What was your strategy for the preparation of Prelims? What study sources did you refer to?

Utkarsh: I wrote a lot of tests. In fact I have been a part of Forum IAS’s Prelims Test Series ever since my first year of preparation. I have also recommended to lot of my friends. UPSC is not only about knowing everything; there will be times when one will have to work on their intuition to get an answer right. I stuck to limited reading sources like NCERT, spectrum, Laxmikant. I joined Forum for test series and by the time I appeared for the exam, I had already solved more than 10,000 questions.

Ayush: Unlike the trend where students buy test series during their second attempt of CSE preparation, why did you take the subscription in the first year itself?

Utkarsh: Solving questions at Forum helped me realize the areas I needed to work on. Therefore, taking test series is way more beneficial than going for market-available test papers where you can just know the score.

Ayush: Despite solving number of test papers, students score somewhere between 60-70 marks. Since you have cleared Mains thrice, what in your opinion are the mistakes these students must have been making?

Utkarsh: Solving questions is just one portion of the preparation; analysis of the answers is the second one. One needs to analyse the correct as well as the incorrect options to dig dipper into the topic and to avoid repeating mistakes during the next attempt. This approach also helps in option elimination in case of MCQs.

Ayush: How many questions did you attempt for the prelims?

Utkarsh: I attempted more than 90 questions because attempting less questions does not take one too far as the paper has become more dynamic and unpredictable.

Ayush: How did you deal with CSAT since it has become a disqualifying paper for many students?

Utkarsh: I myself scored much less than what I scored in 2020 and the year prior to that. In my opinion, it is best to solve all the previous years’ papers right from 2013 till date and join some program for practice. In areas like logical reasoning and maths, one should make notes on the tricks that would save time.

Ayush: One month before the prelims, how did your day look like?

Utkarsh: I used to give tests from morning till afternoon and kept the evenings for revision. I used to get good sleep, and often talked with friends to refresh my mind. I would suggest people to solve previous years’ papers in the last week. This will orient the brain to the actual examination pattern.

Ayush: Which newspaper did you read and how much did you struggle in notes’ making?

Utkarsh: I was always habitual of reading newspaper right from my college days. I read 3 newspapers, viz., The Hindu- Complete, The Indian Express- Editorial and explain page, and The Mint- primer, long story and editorial. Reading the newspaper helps in the Mains as well as during the interview.

Ayush – Did you digitalize the notes or had hard copies for them?

Utkarsh: I made hand-written notes during my first attempt. Later, I digitalized the notes using Evernote.

Ayush: Did you have a specific hack for organizing your notes on Evernote?

Utkarsh: I used ‘stacking’ method to organize my notes. I compiled different topics under their concerned subject and different subjects under their respective category (e.g. GS 1, GS 2 & so on). In this way, I had a notebook category-wise and subject-wise.

Ayush: How was preparation of the Mains different from that of the Prelims?

Utkarsh: In my opinion, both the exams require a different approach. For e.g. preparing notes on the same topic that can be asked in prelims and/or the Mains require an altogether different content. One thing that is inescapable and common for both the exams is practicing as many questions as possible.

Ayush: In GS paper 1, questions rarely come from the topics Post-Independence History and World History. Would you recommend skipping these topics?

Utkarsh: No, I would not advise to leave any topic as UPSC is unpredictable. One can never be sure how UPSC might frame paper the next time.

Ayush: What was your approach for ‘Society’ & ‘Core Geography’?

Utkarsh: I made notes of my own for ‘Society’ and also sought help from newspaper. For ‘Geography’, I referred NCERT and notes of the prelims.

Ayush: How did you handle all the subjects under GS paper 3?

Utkarsh: The students are unable to score much over here despite all the efforts. It is advisable to being abreast with the current affairs because GS paper 3 is dynamic and one has to cover all the topics and solve previous year papers.

Ayush: You were a part of Forum’s MGP for almost 2 years. How was your overall journey and experience with us?

Utkarsh: One thing that was striking here at Forum was the quality of mentorship, questions, and the comprehensiveness of the solutions. I picked up a lot of reading points as and by I kept on appearing for the tests. That greatly helped in making continuous improvements.

Ayush: Did you develop some negativity towards the personality test after not getting the expected marks?

Utkarsh: I have been taking mocks with you, Sir for both years – this year and last year. When one is unable to score at this stage close to the finish line, it is a huge disappointment. So yes, some amount of negativity did creep in but God has been gracious this time. Also thank you for all the guidance during the Mains and the Interview during both these attempts.

Ayush: During your CSE preparation journey, how did you keep yourself motivated?

Utkarsh: Your articles written under the name “Neyawn” were highly motivating and I would recommend them to all. Also, my wonderful seniors and friends constantly supported me even during my failures.

Utkarsh was a student of Forum IAS Academy for Prelims & Mains preparation. Readers can find the interview on Youtube at our official website- Forum IAS Official.

121th Rank In Civil Services Examination - 2021

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

Uttam: Thank you very much sir. I am quite happy and feeling is beyond description- a combination of excitement, joy, nervousness for upcoming transformation in life.

CSC: 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 (teachers, friends) in your preparation and success?

Uttam: My inspireation for opting civil service is social service - lessening sufferings of people, helping them to achieve their dreams. I would give credit of my success to my family (parents, siblings). They supported me throughout this journey. During my preparation, my teachers (special mention here for Sunil Gupta Sir) gave me proper direction and motivated me.

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

Uttam: General Studies, being the most important component of both the stages (49% in mains and 100% in prelims), requires special focus. I would say revising, and practicing regulary is the key for both the stages. Regular writing for mains, daily practice of MCQs would be helpful. I prepared for prelims and mains in an integerated manner. Only three months before prelims, I dedicatedly worked for prelims only.

CSC: What was your optional? What was the basis of selecting this optional? What strategy one should follow for preparing?

Uttam: My optional was Public Administration. Basis for selection of this was – my interest for knowing all about administration, short syllabus, and comparative advantage (overlapping with general studies syllabus). Fore preparation, my strategy was joining a good coaching (I joined INSPIRATION IAS ACADEMY), revising coaching notes, daily answer writing and doing test series.

CSC: What was your strategy for preparation and books of Ethics Paper-IV?

Uttam: Ethics Paper-IV is the area where one can score very high with little effort. I did two readings of Lexicon book, practiced a lot of case studies and added a number of examples from Ramayana and Mahabharta.

CSC: Tell us something about preparation of Essay paper.

Uttam: Essay again is an area where little efforts can fetch you good marks. I followed a strategy of writing essay every Sunday on INSIGHTS ON INDIA platform.

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?

Uttam: My style of writing comprised a good structure (Introduction- Body- Conclusion), filled with data, substantiated with examples and case studies (for instance, if I have to write something about Urban Planning , I used to refer Indus Valley Civilisation). I developed my writing style with practice (I wrote four answers per day since the beginning of my preparation).

CSC: How did you prepare for interview? Which types of questions were asked in interview? Did you answer them all? Was there any specific area they emphasised upon?

Uttam: Interview preparation for me was most scary one (because UPSC CSE Interview was first interview of my life). So, I dig a lot from internet and listened to a number of toppers’ videos. I prepared a list of questions (personal questions, questions from current affairs and optional). I prepared those questions in front of mirror every day, gave 2 mock interviews also.

In my interview, questions were asked about my name (Uttam – How your name motivates you?) my hobbies, questions on optional paper, J&K Issue, Russia – Ukraine war and India's stand, two situation-based questions.

They also asked me 4-5 questions from Chemistry (my academic background).

I answered all of the questions except the name of chief minister of J&K at the time of drafting of Constitution of J&K.

CSE: What is the importance of coaching in the preparation of this exam?

Uttam: For me, I would say, coaching from INSPIRATION IAS ACADEMY has played an important role. Coaching decides a path for you. It draws boundary line, so that student does not drift here and there.

Mentorship of Sunil Gupta Sir (Director of INSPIRATION IAS ACADEMY) has helped me sail through this exam. He has supported and guided me during coaching and even after that for public administration preparation.

CSE: What is the role of Civil Services Chronicle in your success?

Uttam: Civil Services Chronicle has helped me for preparing Ethics (Paper-IV) and following magazines every month for Model MCQs (Prelims) and exclusive topics for mains. Chronicle has helped me for General Studies & Current Affairs.

CSE: What is your source of preparation? Which books, magazines, news papers and online sources were used by you during your preparation?

Uttam: My preparation was based on standard books for each subject, following magazines like Civil Services Chronicle, Yojana, Kurukshetra, reading The Hindu newspaper and following INSIGHTS IAS for daily answer writing.

CSE: Suggest a book list for Prelims, GS & CSAT and Mains Paper (1 to 4) and Essay.


Booklist for GS (Prelims + Mains)

  • Polity – M. Laxmikant
  • History – Spectrum
  • Economy – Sri Ram Notes
  • Geography – 11th & 12th NCERT
  • Environment – Shanker IAS
  • Disaster Management – Current Affairs
  • Internal Security – Class Notes
  • International Relationships – Current Affairs
  • Ancient & Medieval History – Class Notes
  • Essay – Ultimate Cheatbook for Essay written by IRS Ravi Kapoor
  • Ethics – Lexicon by Chronicle

CSE: Suggest a book list for Optional (Public Administration Paper 1 & 2).


  • Class notes + Handouts given by Sunil Gupta Sir (Inspiration IAS Academy)
  • Prasad and Prasad (for thinkers)
  • R.K. Sapru
  • Mohit Bhattcharya (for selected topics)
  • Aribam books for both - Paper 1 & Paper 2

91th Rank In Civil Services Examination - 2021

Pragya Jat, AIR 91, CSE 2021, is an epitome of motivation for many civil service aspirants who dream of becoming an IAS officer despite the hurdles. Presenting to you here is an interview with Mr. Ayush Sinha, founder and director of Forum IAS and Pragya.

Ayush - Pragya, a very warm welcome to you and congratulations for securing Rank 91 in CSE 2021. Can you please introduce yourself?

Pragya - I am Pragya. I am 24 years old. I graduated in B.A. Honors (Economics) from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University in 2018. My family hails from Rajasthan. My father worked for Indian Railways. I currently reside in Gurgaon.

Ayush - Pragya, what motivated you to take the most prestigious exam of the country?

Pragya –My father suggested me to go for Civil Services and gradually, the idea sinked in and I went for it after graduation.

Ayush - How did you come to know about Forum IAS?

Pragya - After graduation in 2018, I came across Anudeep sir’s blogs who secured Rank 1 the same year. He had been a part of Forum’s Test series. It was then I heard about Forum IAS and later, joined for Mains Guidance Program (MGP).

Ayush - What is your take on the choice of Newspaper for the preparation of Civil Services?

Pragya - Keeping a tab on the news on a daily basis has been an eternal struggle for me and reading every piece of micro-news is overwhelming for me. So, for this attempt, I decided to quit reading the newspaper. I will not advocate for this kind of move to my fellow students; everyone should do what works best for them.

Ayush - How did you manage with the Current Affairs given the fact that you quit reading Newspaper?

Pragya - As far as working on the Current Affairs (CA) was concerned, I relied on the yearly compilations for Prelims and joined Forum’s CA classes for the Mains. Also, Dipin sir’s classes were really good and his notes helped me a lot in working on the Current affairs.

Ayush - Though at Forum we suggest giving 4-5 months for prelims especially when you have not been able to clear the same a couple of times, how much time did you devote for the prelims?

Pragya - 2-3 months. I have barely given much thought how much time others devote in the preparation; I simply, went with the flow.

Ayush - What was your strategy for the preparation of Prelims?

Pragya - This was my third attempt at the prelims. I did not adopt any particular strategy for the preparation. I just kept working hard.I kept solving mocks.

Ayush – Most of the students struggle with this question that at what stage the toppers bubble the circle in Prelims. What was your strategy?

Pragya – I used to bubble the circle immediately after reading the question because the probability of making a mistake at the end becomes higher.

Ayush – How did your day look like during the preparation of prelims?

Pragya – I studied for almost 8-10 hours daily with intermittent breaks. I used to watch videos right before sleeping just to absorb the content during sleep as well.

Ayush - What was your approach to GS paper 1?

Pragya - I did not give much time to History as I had this subject during 11th and 12th. As we neared the exam, I simply read through the notes of previous years toppers. Also, while solving the tests under MGP, I would note down a topic/question that was unknown to me and later, learned the answers to the same. For Geography, I made diagrammatic notes.

Ayush - What was your approach to GS paper 2?

Pragya - I read Laxmikant and would look at only those topics that I meant to remember. Dipin sir’s classes also covered a lot of topics.

Ayush - What was your approach to GS paper 3?

Pragya – Topics like Disaster Management, Geography, and Environment are a part of Paper 1; so the preparation overlapped for GS paper1 and 3. For Security, I prepared at the time of prelims. For Economy, I just went through the basics as it was my subject during graduation.

Ayush - What was your approach to GS paper 4?

Pragya - In my opinion, paper 4 is a bit tricky as everyone can write the answers, but a good one, only a few can. I worked on writing answers of Ethics and later sought help from answers of other toppers. Also, I worked on quotes and captured a lot of examples to enhance my answers. The Red Book by Forum on Ethics helped in this.

Ayush - How did you tackle Essay writing?

Pragya – As I used to participate in debates when in school, my brain was programmed for breaking the topic in parts that would bring out the best motion and analytics. I wrote total 4 essays at Forum. I also went through essays of toppers. I would write the essay with a timer and prepared a rough draft before attempting an essay. The quotes and examples were an added advantage.

Ayush - Why did you choose Sociology as your Optional subject?

Pragya - I did not do well in Economics in college. So, I decided to go for an altogether different subject. Also, reading about Sociology here and there, developed my interest towards the subject.

Ayush – You were a part of Augmented Test Series (ATS) - Sociology here at Forum. How did you benefit from the same?

Pragya – I wrote 3 tests and later, went through the answers. Any point that was not covered in my notes or sources of study, I would include that. The Value addition Classes at Forum were also an added advantage in enhancing my answers.

Ayush – How much did you score in the Personality test? Who were the board members in your Interview? How was your experience?

Pragya – My score in Personality test was 193. I faced T. C. Anand Sir’s board. It was extremely cordial. I was nervous before the interview but all went well. Though I could not answer all the questions, I went with a simple ‘no’ in all honesty.

Ayush – How many mock Interviews did you take?

Pragya - I gave one online and one in-person mock. That’s it!

Ayush – Did you digitalize the notes or had hard copies for them?

Pragya - I preferred paper notes.

Ayush - Which pen did you use for the exam?

Pragya – Initially, I started with Black ball point pen, but later, switched to Pilot V5 till the end.

Ayush - Why did you opt for Indian Foreign Service instead of Administrative Service?

Pragya - As a child, I was fascinated with the officials of Indian Foreign Service and after clearing the exam, I felt Diplomacy is that one aspect I would be inclined towards.

Ayush - If you were to recommend a course of Forum to fellow aspirants, which one would that be?

Pragya - I would recommend Current Affairs Classes and MGP at Forum.

Ayush - Any suggestions to the readers?

Pragya - Just give your best and do whatever it takes to crack the exam. Have a positive mind-set and keep pushing yourself till the end. This exam not only tests your knowledge, but also your personality.

Readers can find the interview on Youtube at our official website- ForumIAS Official

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