[Topper’s Interview] Manikandan Soundararajan (AIR-759 /CSE-2012) First attempt, Public Administration, Geography

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IAS Mock Interviews

This is the same Manikandan, who has contributed many articles in the past for Mrunal.org

  1. Introduction
  2. Educational Background
  3. Hobbies
  4. Inception
  5. Information
  6. Study Momentum
  7. Study Hours
  8. Strategy: CSAT (Aptitude)
  9. Strategy: General studies
  10. Mains 2013
  11. Optional Subject: Geography
  12. Optional Subject: Public Administration
  13. Optional Subject in Mains 2013?
  14. Compulsory papers
  15. Essay
  16. Insecurity  about “Profile”
  17. Career Backup
  18. Family and Friends
  19. Interview
  20. Marksheet
  21. Wisdom
  22. Bogus marketing propaganda


Roll number284198
Rank (CSE 2012)759
Optional Subjects
  1. Geography
  2. Public Administration
Number of Attempts1
Medium for Mains ExamEnglish
Schooling (Medium)English
Centre for Prelim examChennai
Centre for Mains examChennai
Name of home town/cityKaraikudi

Educational Background

% in class 1091
% in class 1294
Graduation course and %B.E[Electrical and Electronics Engineering], 81
Name of college and year of passing outAlagappa Chettiar College of Engineering and Technology, Karaikudi
PG (if applicable)N/A
Any professional courses (if applicable)N/A


Photography, Blogging.

Family background

  • Father, working as a Superintendent in Central Excise.
  • Mother a Homemaker.
  • An elder sister and an elder brother both working as engineers.


Did you join any Coaching?Yes
Did you join any postal courses?No
Did you join any Mock test series?Yes[Part of coaching, no separate test series]
Did you appear in any other competitive exams?Yes[Bank, SSC, SPSC]


Initial direction was given by my school teacher, when I was at my 12th standard. But that was just an idea then. My real desire/preparation started only after my graduation.


Q. Outside Delhi, it’s hard to dig how to prepare for civil service. So How did you gather the necessary information / strategy / booklist?
Yes, the first struggle for aspirants is proper guidance and getting information about civil services. I started my search with the teacher who once advised me to take up civil services exam. Then I got guidance from the coaching institute.

Once you start getting guidance the second most important thing is to know the limit and stop chasing different materials/books. This particular aspect I learnt when I accidentally stumbled upon mrunal.org while on the hunt for materials. It is where I learnt that more than materials, only our structured preparation is going to help us much. And thank you mrunal bhai- Your articles on prep strategy, book list, motivation was helpful to begin with my preparation.

Study Momentum

I think these phases are natural and mood swings happen to every one of us.[Even Gandhi believed in Struggle-Truce-Struggle strategy!!!]. It is to keep myself engaged in a positive manner during those periods and to maintain my morale high, I took to blogging [have contributed my articles to mrunal.org] which provided me an alternate route to stay with my books. Taking a break in between, meeting family responsibilities does not matter as long as we are returning to study cycle in time. So we can take breaks, but structure them so that it raises our enthusiasm to higher levels when we come back.


Q. On an average, How many hours did you study per day?

Ans. It varies, but on an average 4-5 hours per day.

Q. How many months did it take you to complete the core syllabus of GS and optional subjects?

Ans. I started my preparations by June 2011, I hope by the end of Jan 2012 though I was not an expert, I had a basic idea about my GS and one optional subject. Even now I cannot declare I have completed the whole core syllabus of GS.

Strategy: CSAT (Aptitude)

Preparing aptitude for last one year during my college days I did not go in to a structured preparation for my CSAT. My strategy/advise is as what Mrunal says get your hands dirty… from jan 2012 to may 2012 I started practicing problems topic wise based on importance.


  1. Averages, ratios, proportions – basic for solving problems of any kind.
  2. Work and time, time, speed and distance – common in any competitive exam etc.,

For the above problems took some guidance from mrunal.org, from books of coaching institutes [accumulated while preparing for my campus].

  1. Comprehension- I don’t think civil service aspirants need special training after years of reading of ‘The Hindu’. Only thing we need is to keep our cool in the exam hall and answer to the question within the context of the passage[overcoming our prejudice].
  2. For reasoning and decision making I did not do any specific preparation, did some practice question papers.

Strategy: General studies

Book/ source
ModernNCERT+Bipan Chandra+Spectrum
MainsMy notes of Bipan Chandra+Spectrum
PolityBasicsLakshmikanth + Ncert [11th]
mainsSame+ PRS legislative research website
EconomyBasicsNCERT[12th] + Mrunal + Internet[Investopedia – easy to understand]
CurrentSame+Hindu Economy Page
GeographyPhysicalNCERT[Fund. Of phy. geo]+ Oxford Student Atlas
IndianNCERT[Indian Physical environment + India people and economy]+ atlas
WorldNewspaper + Internet[If something interesting] [Geography my optional subject borrowed some knowledge from there, not necessarily needed for others]
mainsWill give it as a part of optional subject preparation
Environment, BiodiversityBasicsMaterials from Shankar IAS academy+Internet+Mrunal
CurrentNewspapers+ Internet+mrunal
Science TechBasics11th and 12th NCERT[Biology,Physics]
CurrentHindu +Mrunal+ Internet [essential-limited to getting basic understanding]
Yearbook / Govt. schemes etc.India Yearbook + Mrunal [very helpful] + Compulsory follow up of Govt. websites like CSIR, DRDO, MEA etc. [keep it limited, regular. Do not try in a single day, may drain our motivation/energy]
IR/diplomacyMinistry of external affairs/ newspapers[editorial part especially]+ Mrunal[very useful for mains in getting a summary idea].
  • Now this is not a success strategy, but just my way of preparation. Only preparing for prelims is an uphill task, because it is here where we learn quantitatively [everything is new at this stage]. So here I tried to be as regular as possible. Here I tried to learn any new terms I came across, note them down, get my basics strong.
  • For the mains I believe understanding the question, answering it to the point is essential [Quality than quantity]. One more thing I learnt from Mrunal bhai at this stage, make your answers as simple as possible. [In an easy language, giving exactly what is needed].

Mains 2013

UPSC has changed the GS syllabus for Mains 2013. So if you were to prepare for it, what’d be your approach/strategy/booklist?

I have no idea as of now, but will share sometime soon. I am also eagerly waiting for Mrunal’s guidance like you all.

Optional Subject: Geography

Booklist Paper I

  1. Physical Geography,Climatology, Oceanography- NCERT[Fundamentals of Physical Geography], Pysical geography[by Savindra singh].
  2. Biogeography, Environmental Geography – Geography[Spectrum], Friend’s notes from some book, articles read here and there.
  3. Human Geography – [did not prepare too well] Spectrum, NCERT [Funda. Of Human Geography- really good for basic idea], Human geography- Majid Husain
  4. Economic geography, regional planning- spectrum.
  5. Population and Settlement geography – Human geography [ Majid Husain].
  6. Model, theories and laws – Models and theories [Majid Husain].

Booklist Paper II

  1. Indian Geography – D.R.Khullar, Geography[Spectrum],NCERT.
  2. Geography through Maps, and an atlas.

Since Upsc is marching to unconventional areas, what I feel is we should be more aware while reading newspapers understand the dynamics, look any issue with a wholesome thought. One example now is Global warming =>Melting of Ice=>Its impact on littoral states is one aspect, while opening of arctic, changing world trade routes, its economic, political significance [importance of Eurasia – Rimland theory] shall be our thought.

More than facts and knowledge it is our logic, analysis and a structured answer I hope they expect.

Optional Subject: Public Administration

booklist Paper I

  1. New Horizons of Public administration – Mohit Bhattacharya.
  2. Public administration – Lakshmikanth [for structure of answer].
  3. Administrative Thinkers – Prasad and Prasad [Do take notes else will be difficult for revision].
  4. IGNOU materials [though I could complete only half, is an excellent read].

Booklist paper II

  1. Indian administration – By Rajini goyal/ Fadia and Fadia [any one, though I followed latter].
  2. Yojana and Kurukshetra.
  3. Some famous committee reports.
  4. ARC reports [Mrunal.org – very helpful, It is difficult to get a summary of those voluminous reports].
  5. Newspapers [Editorials, governments schemes and their success, failure discussions].
  6. RajyaSabha TV – discussions [during your leisure hours, can give your different view-points in various issues].

Optional Subject in Mains 2013?

Q. Instead of two, now UPSC will have only one optional subject. So if you were to give Mains 2013, which optional would you keep and why?And what will be your strategy / approach / booklist for it?

Ans. Geography – Felt comfortable and coverage of the subject in prelims. Though I loved Pub Ad also, given a choice took geo, nothing special.

Compulsory papers

Q. Your booklist/strategy for compulsory Regional language paper.

No specific preparation, just saw the question papers of previous years and got accustomed to it before the exams.

Q. Your booklist/strategy for compulsory English language paper.

Same as above.


Q. How did you prepare yourself for the essay?

This is where I made my mistake. Saw previous question papers, brainstormed ideas on those topics, but failed to give myself some written practice. It is better to write and practice 4-5 essays before the actual exam. First we should practice to sit for the entire three hours, utilize it in a preplanned fashion, like- collecting points, jotting them down, arranging them in sequence, making paras, writing the fair draft all within given time.
Q. Which Essay did you write in Mains-2012?

“Is the criticism that the ‘Public-Private-Partnership’ (PPP) model for development is more of a bane than a boon in the Indian context, justified?”

Q.Provide some keypoints/highlights of your Essay.

  • I started my essay with a story to stress the necessity of cooperation, then proceeded to some definition for PPP, then its adv, disadv, practical examples, its need today etc.
  • As far as possible I tried to keep my Pub Ad knowledge at bay and wrote it as a general person than as a pub ad optional student.
  • But having told I did not do my essay to my capability, I feel I could have organized it better, in a coherent fashion.

Score: 89 marks.

Insecurity  about “Profile”

Q.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? How much portion of your interview centered on your profile? Did they ask any uncomfortable question from your profile during the interview?


  • I have already given a report of my interview. (click me) Nothing came about from my profile. But I feel the interviewer does not expect extra ordinary profiles, they need from us, just an understanding of what post are we applying for, how confident am I about myself? So whatever be my profile I have a reason why it was that way, I should be frank with that.
  • Remember two things while preparing for the interview: Never blame yourself and never lie because it can reduce our confidence level while answering. Everything said everyone will have his/her own fears, so I am not the only one with problems [this thought can be of some comfort].

Career Backup

Being my first attempt, I was not under too much pressure, yet I had applied for bank/SSC. By March,2013 I got an offer through IBPS. But I did not have any bigger plans, was hopeful till the last.

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 motivational/inspiration incidence that you would like to share with the readers?

  • First thanks to my parents who believed in me. Secondly would like to thank my brother and sister who gave me the cushion to prepare for one year and stayed by me during the period.
  • Next I would like to thank Mr.Shankar[Chairman, Shankar Ias Academy] for his guidance.
  • A good surrounding is essential for anyone to prepare, here I wish to thank many of my friends whom I met during various stages of preparation in this exam, all of whom shared their success and failures with me, which helped me mend my preparation.
  • Last but not least, would like to thank Mrunal Bhai, for his selfless efforts in guiding this many aspirants[me included] achieve their dreams.


Manikandan has already provided details interview and medical checkup in a separate article. click me




Q. Through this journey, what have you learned about life and competition? What is your message to future aspirants?

When You put in hard work at one end it should come out at the other end… For the hard working aspirants success may be delayed but if you persist it will come to you. Believe in your own preparation methods because none can replace you in designing the best path for your success…

Bogus marketing propaganda

You are well aware of the unwritten golden rule of conducting toppers’ interview. Final question has to be about bogus marketing propaganda. So,

Q1. Were you a subscriber/ regular reader of Mrunal.org. If yes, then Since when? You can even say “no”, I’ll publish it without editing, unlike certain magazines hahaha.

Yes, I have mentioned earlier I have been following this since the beginning of my preparation.

Q2. How did Mrunal.org help you in your preparation?

I think no need a mention here as I have given at every stage how mrunal.org has helped me.

Mrunal recommends

  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

27 Comments on “[Topper’s Interview] Manikandan Soundararajan (AIR-759 /CSE-2012) First attempt, Public Administration, Geography”

  1. Interview link is not working

  2. congrats sir..

  3. congrats sir…………….

  4. hey Manikandan ,

    PG not applicable !!!!
    i think you have done M.Tech from IIT Delhi.
    You were in Zanskar.

  5. congrats and thanks for sharing with us

  6. Sir,
    Would you please tell me whether a permanent employee working in LIFE INSURANCE CORPORATION OF INDIA ( LIC) be considered in govt. category in PUNJAB CIVIL SERVICES (PCS).

  7. Please share philosophy strategy :)
    We can’t found it anywhere :[

  8. Congrats n all d best.. Thanks for sharing.. EEEians Rocks

  9. Congrats Sir, I too have started preparing for UPSC. Our best wishes are always with you and all other IAS aspirants

  10. Sir,

    Can you share where you had joined coaching.

    1. yes i too..read his int. months b4..m too happieee…nw mili prernaa…ty ji..:)

  11. Can anyone tell me coaching institutes in Chennai..plz

  12. Dear Sir
    B.Tec(Civil)is by distance mode valid for UPSC Or IAS exam…

    please reply me on my E-mail


  13. Sir,
    Congrats on ur success. Pls specify for mains geography which spectrum? General studies manual or the particular geography one….

    1. if your optional is geography you can refer to spectrum edition of geography optional.

  14. Congrats and all tbe best…

  15. Dear Mrunal,
    Please try to bring us some interviews of candidates with Psychology as an optional.

  16. Congraxxxx sir

  17. sir, i have question i have started my preparation for upsc with PA as optional but now i’m thinking that i should switch optional to Geography ….!!! i’m student of B.E(3rd yr). what is your opinion ???

  18. sir ,without coaching is it possible

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