[Toppers Interview] Neeraj Kumar Singh (AIR 11/CSE11) shares his Preparation strategy and Success Story

motivation39 Comments

India Yearbook

In the year 2011, a gentleman achieved 11th rank in his 1st attempt in Civil service Exam.
Today We’ve Neeraj Kumar Singh who achieved this amazing feat and he is with us sharing his journey and studyplan of clearing the mother of all examination.
By the way, Sum of digits of (2011, 11, 1) =7 and his roll number 240550 also sums up to 7. A curious coincidence!


NameNeeraj Kumar Singh
Roll number240550
Rank (CSE 2011)11
Optional Subjects
  1. Economics
  2. Public Administration
Medium for Mains ExamEnglish
Mains Examination CentreNew Delhi
Number of Attempts1
Details of Graduation and Post-Grad.Integrated (5 year) Master of Arts in Economics
Schooling (Medium)English
Extracurricular activities,
hobbies, achievements etc.
Essay Writing
Event Management
Are you a working professional?Yes
If yes, then did you leave your job
or prepared while on the job?
Joined the job after the main examination
Did you take Coaching?Prelims: Yes
Mains: Yes. (for economics)
Interview: Took mocks
Did you buy any postal courses?No
Did you join any Mock test series?Yes


Q. When and how did the inspiration and idea of joining civil service come in your mind?
Neeraj Kumar Singh
I zeroed on civil services as a career option in 2009 after a lot of deliberation. During my undergrad days I was a part of National Service Scheme. The projects there interested me and also got an experience of some of the lacunae in public policy implementation. Further, discussions on developmental issues in classrooms and with friends also made me interested in taking up a career in public policy implementation.

The Choice of Optional Subjects

Q7. After a person decides to appear in civil service exam, the first big obstacle is “Choice of optional subjects”. What factors did you consider before selecting your optional?

Choice of subjects should be based on interest and availability of guidance. For me, Economics was a natural choice as I was pursuing my post-graduation in it. The subject interested me and I was willing to put in the hard-work to crack the exam with Economics as an option. For my second option, I looked through the probable options and considered taking either Public Administration or Political Science. I had done few courses in Political Science during my undergrad studies and quite liked the subject. But when I read the syllabus of Pub Ad and saw a couple of ARC reports I felt inclined to take this subject. Since I hadn’t earlier studied theories of administration and organization I thought there will be a lot of new things I could learn by taking this subject. Hence, I chose Pub Ad as my second option.

My advice to the aspirants would be keep your interest in the subject foremost while deciding on optional subjects. Then look at factors like previous training in the subject (especially for technical subjects) and availability of guidance. Make a rational choice based on these three factors. Please do not go by preconceived notions like one subject is easier to score than others. A lot of people kept telling me that one cannot score high marks in Economics but I found no reason to listen to them.


Q. People initially prepare with much enthusiasm but then a boredom phase comes – they don’t even find the motivation to read the daily newspapers, let alone studying the books.
Sometimes they get diverted because of external factors e.g. heavy workload in office, family responsibilities and so on. How did you sustain the study-momentum throughout the year,
How did you keep yourself busy with the books, continuously?

This is a huge problem. This happens not just with civil services but with any relatively long term project we take up. We tend to start with the lot of enthusiasm which gradually declines. In this respect, I think the intensity of your resolution matters. When I started my preparation I had told myself that I will give all that I have in this first attempt. If I cannot clear this year, then I won’t have anything to regret since I gave my all. This might sound slightly over the top but I had a countdown on my Gtalk status message to the prelims. It was a 365 day countdown and when I changed the number of days left each day I remembered the promise I made to myself to clear in the first attempt. These small things do help in sustaining the momentum and making sure that you don’t let a day go waste. But despite all this, it wasn’t easy. There will always be some issues at home, some fights with friends, the feeling of being cut-off from everyone that will test the strength of your resolve. At all these times, I would just remind myself that I have made a promise to myself and I would lose that self-respect if I deliberately break that promise. And with that I would shutoff everything that distracts me and get back to the books.


On an average, How many hours did you study per day? How many months did it take you to complete the core syllabus of GS and optional subjects?

My prep was divided into phases.

Phase 1

The first phase was from May 2010 to July 2010. This was the period when we had a summer break in IIT. Since there was no pressure of coursework I went full-on with the preparation during this period. Call it the initial enthusiasm, but I often studied for 16 hours per day during this period. On an average I think I devoted 14 hours per day during this time. A lot of learning happened at this time as anything I read added to the knowledge base. I completed about 80 percent of first reading of Pub Ad and 40 percent of first reading of Econ during this time.

Phase 2

The second phase was from August 2010 to November 2010 which was my 9th sem at IIT. There was coursework but most of the courses related to Economics so the time spent in classes was also in some ways useful for civil services prep. During this period I spent close to 8 hours a day on civils prep. I managed to complete full reading of Pub Ad and Econ once and started on revision of both subjects.

Phase 3

The third phase was from December 2010 – April 2011. I completed one more revision of my optional subjects. I wasn’t very confident about paper 2 of Pub Ad though. Since I also had to work on my final year thesis, I spent about 10 hours per day on civils prep.

Phase 4

The fourth phase was mid-April 2011 to May 2011. I prepared only for prelims during this period. I had also kept on preparing for GS during all these phases. But I never set any target on GS. I was a very fluid preparation.

Phase 5

Fifth phase was from June 2011-October 2011. This was the most crucial phase. I moved to Delhi and joined a coaching from Economics and test series for Pub Ad and GS. For Pub Ad and GS I also started a discussion group with few friends. The discussions were really helpful. During this time I started understanding both Econ and Pub Ad in a much better way. Now I was able to not just understand a concept but go beyond that and relate it with other concepts in the subject and present a coherent picture. I devoted close to 10 hours a day during this period.


How did you use computer and internet for your exam-preparation?

I used to read many articles online, watch lectures on youtube, listen to All India Radio discussions their website for my preparation. Most of my notes were made on my computer as I found modifying it much easier than modifying hand-written notes. I would go as far as to say that you can no longer merely rely on books to crack civil services. Using internet is a must.


How did you prepare yourself for the essay?
Which Essay did you write in Mains-2011?
What were your keypoints in that essay?
How many marks did you get in that essay?

Didn’t do any special preparation for essay.
Wrote the essay on smaller states in the exam.
The main line of argument was that the available evidence gives an inconclusive result about the benefits of smaller states. Hence, a case by case study is needed for each of such demands and decision should be taken on the merit of such study only.
Marks: 105


Many aspirants fear the interview, thinking that “my profile is not good because

  • I’ve low marks in SSC/HSC/College,
  • I don’t have any extra-curricular certificates,
  • I don’t have work experience,
  • I graduated from some unknown college,
  • I’m from non-English medium and so on…”

So, How important or relevant is the profile of a candidate during interview?

It’s hard for me to answer this question as I have no background to answer satisfactorily. From my interview experience I can say that they didn’t ask me many question on my academic profile or my achievements. They mostly focused on the problems existing in Chhattisgarh (my home state) and what solutions I have in mind for them.

How much portion of your interview centered on your profile?

80% of the questions were about the problems in Chhattisgarh (my home state). The rest 20 % was also from my profile. So nothing outside the profile was asked.

Did they ask any uncomfortable questions from your profile?

There wasn’t any uncomfortable question. All the questions were expected. But the questions were such that they required in-depth understanding the ground level issues.


Q. In case you had not cleared the UPSC exam, what was your career/future backup plan?

I had taken up a job recently. I would have worked on this job for next two years.

Family and Friends

Q. Behind one topper are many people who stood by him/her during those uncertain times when he/she was merely an ‘aspirant’. Would you like to tell the world, who were those people in your case? Any specific incidence that you would like to share with the readers?

My sisters and parents supported me through the period of preparation and gave me the needed encouragement. I used to talk home on phone for about 30 minutes daily to as a stress buster. I made some extremely good friends during my studies and talking with them at times helped get out the stressful moments. My family and all my friends were always confident that I would crack the exam and speaking with them provided the positive attitude that is needed for sustaining oneself through the period of preparation.

Your Study plan

CSAT (Paper I) General studies


TopicSource of your preparation
Current AffairsThe Hindu, Economic Times, Live Mint
History Ancient/Medieval/ModernNCERT
Physical GeographyNCERT, Go Che Long
Geography of IndiaNCERT
Geography of WorldNCERT, Atlas
Polity and GovernanceLaxmikath
Public Policy
Rights issueMade self notes from internet
Environment and BiodiversityMade self notes
Economic and social DevelopmentMade self notes

General Studies paper I


Syllabus TopicSource of your preparation
HistoryBipin Chandra, NCERT
Geography of IndiaNECRT
Issues of social relevanceSelf notes
Indian economy and planningSelf notes
Public health
Law and order
Good governance
EnvironmentSelf notes


General Studies paper 2


Syllabus TopicSource of your preparation
India and the WorldMEA website + made notes on all the important countries and institutions
Indian diasporaMinistry of Overseas Indians Affairs
India’s Economic interaction with worldWebsite of commerce ministry + self notes
International affairs and institutionsMade self notes
Science & Tech.

Optional Subject #1 and #2

I have posted my detailed strategy for the optional subjects on IO.
Public Administration Strategy (had posted on Indianofficer forum but no longer working)
My Strategy for Economics Optional


How did you prepare for the interview?

Didn’t prepare much. Made sure I knew my profile well.

Who was the chairman of you interview board?

Mr. Vijay Kumar Singh

Was your interview on the expected lines of what you had prepared or

Yes. I had expected a lot of questions to be from Chhattisgarh and so it turned out to be.

Did they ask you totally unexpected questions?


What was the toughest question you faced during the interview and how did you answer it?

Rather than toughest the most curious moment that I faced in the interview was when I was asked to repeat a rather long answer I had answered few minutes back.

[Mrunal: For more on his Interview, see the thread Neeraj Singh’s UPSC Personality Test April 17, 2012]




Remarks: Recommend


Q. What is your message to the aspirants?

  1. You will have distractions all your life. Never let any distraction move you away from your goal.
  2. If you don’t believe you can clear in this attempt, you never will. Set the date for yourself when you want to see yourself as an IAS officer and work towards it. Ask yourself each day if what you have done today is the maximum you could have done to achieve your goal.


Finally two questions

When you’ll give interview in the famous competitive magazines, the last question is generally “did you use our xyz magazine and how did it help you?” So here goes mine. And Even if you answer “No”, there is no problem; I’ll publish your answer as it is. (Unlike some Competitive magazines who distort the answers after taking the Toppers’ interview.)

  1. Did you use indianofficer.com  for your preparation? If yes, How did it help you?

I joined IO in early 2012. So I hadn’t used it during my mains preparation. But I am delighted to note that the quality of discussion on IO is very high and useful for civil services aspirants.

  1. Did you use mrunal.org  for your preparation? If yes, how did it help you?

Yes. I had subscribed to RSS feeds from mrunal.org during the entire period of my preparation. The website helped me clear a lot of doubts about the exam. The articles by Mrunal helped me better understand a lot of topics in GS.

Mrunal recommends

  1. (free) NCERT, NIOS, TN-Books
  2. Environment by ShankarIAS
  3. Indian Polity M.Laxmikanth (Hindi | English)
  4. Art & Culture by Nitin Singhania (Hindi | English)
  5. Spectrum: Modern History (Hindi | English)
  6. Bipin Chandra: Post Independence
  7. Fast-track to Arithmetic Rajesh Verma
  8. MK Pandey’s Analytical Reasoning
  9. Disha’s Topicwise Paperset (Hindi | English)
  10. School Atlas
  11. Mains: Language papers
  1. (free) NCERT, NIOS, TN-Books 4 History,Geo,Sci
  2. Indian Polity M.Laxmikanth (Hindi | English)
  3. Spectrum: Modern History (Hindi | English)
  4. Maths: Quantam CAT Sarvesh Kumar
  5. Objective General English SP Bakshi
  6. Word Power made Easy -Norman Lowe
  7. Topic wise Solved Paperset by Disha

So far 39 Comments posted

  1. mayur

    why i can not see the latest article posted by you .
    it showing me now older entries upto june 2
    is there problem in website?because from last three on opening your site it shows error.
    please do something .please please please because my day starts by opening your website .
    for your superb article.
    reply me .

  2. ANU


  3. vikash kumar

    @ sir neeraj kumar singh can i know which is the best coaching for economics and public admin. because i have
    also these two optional subject so plz reply …..



  4. Bhardwaj Soni

    sir is it necessary to attempt about every question to fetch good marks in the upsc cse mains in optionals and gs,……

  5. MrunalBhaiyaRocks

    Are you sure the digits of his Roll No. add up to 7?

  6. MrunalBhaiyaRocks

    I guess 16 then 1+6 = 7 …..


    Hi, I am indrajeet Das preparing for SSC exam of various posts. Congratulation! on Your great achievement. Sir, I read Time Of India daily news paper, but I have a problem to understand that what news should I read what is not necessary for me? How I read news period in short period of time? What news I should underline. Kindly suggest me above mentioned problem solution.
    I should remain grateful to You.
    Thank U Sir.

    1. amarjeet kumar

      dear indrajeet. dil se padhiye sab kuch samajh me aa jayega. bas dil se. be vociferous reader for english and make ur vocabulary much stronger for the same go through d good dictionary daily for 60 days then start reading eng-new paper. grammar 1/2 an hour daily. above all develop inner-interest then everything will be auto clear in ur mind. rest later on. bye………

  8. Nupur

    I want to know from where can I get all the study material for Prelims(CSAT). NCERT textbooks and all do I need to buy every book?

  9. malini

    sak malini shri,
    sir the tips given by u reallyhelps me in my preparation.thank u sir.

  10. b maurya

    please suggest a coaching institute for postal guidance course for UPPCS geography and essay papers

  11. mrutyunjayya

    sir i dicided to become a ias officer from your story

  12. santhosha

    Really good

    Any one can reach the destiny, With proper plan and hard work.

    1. amarjeet kumar

      no doubt.

  13. gourav

    Sir the message you are given is awesome and i will try to apply these message lines in my life

  14. ASHISH

    hello sir
    sir please send my some ” HINDI MEDIUM topper interview ” just like english medium topper interview

  15. abhishek

    sir ..plz start providing mains 2013…..study material support……..

  16. amarjeet kumar

    he ram,
    dear sir, thanks a lot(for guiding us)
    what u say try to do, for life first u see the sea of pains ,undoubtedly u will have sweet gains. if u care d time future will care ur happines nd everything, if fact if u dare nothing is rare just be fair. finally tufaan ko duniya ki koi takat nahi rok sakti. kabra me jaane se pahle kuch to karke jao, kya karna hai ye to tum jano. bye-bye

  17. shruti

    sir, please provide some information about the latest recruitment of Meteorologists in UPSC.

  18. Amit Singh

    Really inspiring strategy sir, specially phasing programme

  19. anurag singh

    smart and witty guy

  20. MTS Data Card

    Wow, awesome weblog layout! How lengthy have you ever been running a blog for? you made running a blog glance easy. The overall look of your website is fantastic, as neatly as the content material!

  21. Ranbir singh

    thanx to murnal.com to redeuce my stess clear my concepts….

  22. Ranbir singh

    after reading this article my stress come down & the way u had managed your time ….

  23. Rangita

    Thank you for your information.Its clear my concepts……..

  24. Dinesh Nubed

    Sir, the interview transcript of Neeraj Sir is not opening. Plz help.

  25. Rahul Pandey

    You are a true inspiration to me Neeraj Sir, your dedication towards your goal has made you successful, i respect that.

  26. kris

    neeraj singh’s economy preparation strategy not at opened ….please help me sir…

  27. manish srivastava

    how can a working aspirants give 16 hours to study???
    maxmum he can 8 hours…..
    can he crack in first attmpt by giving 8 hours??

  28. Neetha

    I am unable to find the link for your “My Strategy for Economics Optional”..could please help me sir in finding the link..as economics is my optional subject for Mains.

    Will be waiting for your reply and any help with regard to same will be very helpful

    Please guide me the reference books for economics option

    Thank you!

  29. arunkumar

    notify me please

  30. indira

    i couldnt find the link for neeraj singhs” strategy for public ad” wl b highly thankful if nybody helps…..

  31. neetish kumar

    sir i want to ask u ,i m in part one geography hons. how should i prepare for upsc from today only.
    sir plz reply


    sir i am randhir kumar in part one math hons sir mai upsc ka tayari karna chahta hu sir app mughe help please sir 9507713168

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