[Topper’s Interview] Akash (CSE-2013/AIR-63) First Attempt, 297 in prelims, IFoS ranker, maths optional, IIT Madras from Kerala

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UPSC Paperset
  1. Candidate Profile
  2. Education
  3. Disclaimer about this interview
  4. Introduction
  5. Electronic Vs Paper material
  6. Tempo and style
  7. Working professional
  8. Prelims (CSAT) General studies
  9. Prelims (CSAT) Aptitude
  10. Prelim accuracy
  11. Mains: Compulsory language paper
  12. Mains: Essay
  13. General studies (Mains) paper 1
  14. General studies (Mains) paper 2
  15. General studies (Mains) Paper 3 (Mrunal rocks here!!!)
  16. General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude
  17. GS4 Ethics case study answers in Mains 2013
  18. Mains answer-writing?
  19. Mains Optional Subject
  20. Before the interview
  21. During the interview
  22. CSE-2013 Marksheet
  23. Career Backup
  24. Views on UPSC reforms
  25. Insecurity about profile
  26. Wisdom
  27. Credit: Friends/family
  28. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate Profile

NameAKASH P
Rank in CSE-201363
Roll No.086809
Age22
Total attempts in CSE1
Optional SubjectMATHEMATICS
Medium chosen for Mains answersENGLISH
Schooling mediumENGLISH
College mediumENGLISH
Home town/cityThiruvananthapuram, Kerala
Work-experience if anyNIL
competitive exams, including success/failures
  1. NSOs(National Science Olympiad),
  2. NMOs(Mathematical Olympiad) occasionally cleared first rounds but lost in finals;
  3. NTS Scholar (2007);
  4. KVPY (2008) passed aptitude test but failed in the interview ;
  5. IIT JEE (2009)-Rank 866;
  6. Kerala Engg Entrance Rank 2;
  7. AIEEE AIR 960 and State Rank 15;
  8. CAT(2012) Exam failure -72 percentile!
  9. Indian Forest Service (IFoS) 2013 Rank 27.)
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used)CSAT mock test series by TIME for paper-II. Nothing for paper-I. Joined Kerala State Civil Service Academy in August 2013 after prelims results were out. Attended GS class for one month till the realization dawned that GS is not something that can be crammed inside any classroom! Attended optional class- mathematics- till November. So the contribution of class room coaching to my result is to be estimated by the reader in their own judgment.
service preference #1, 2 and 3IAS, IRS (IT) & IRS (C&CE).
state cadre preference (top3)Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka

Education

% in class 1095.xx
% in class 1296.xx
Schooling (Medium)ENGLISH
Graduation course and %B-Tech Engg Physics, CGPA 8.24
Name of college, city, passing out yearIIT MADRAS, 2013
Post-graduationNIL
Any other professional coursesNIL
Hobbies & Extra curricularReading, Teaching, Puzzles etc.

Disclaimer about this interview

iit-madras,akash p,maths optional,topper interview

The answers to the questions posed are plainly and honestly stated. You are free to read the interview or not. If you believe that topper’s interviews are useless don’t read. If you get something out of this, I am happy, else, I am sorry. I don’t necessarily recommend my ways to the readers- I am simply stating what I did. That may not be the best way. I am making this disclaimer because of the (controversies surrounding my previous interview with Mrunal.).

In view of the adverse feedback following changes were implemented in this interview:

  1. Shorter and simpler sentences.
  2. Skirting controversial issues and answering diplomatically (but without lying, of course. I shall not be a liar come what may).
  3. Extra humility attempted in answering with lot less adjectives and dramatics!

I hope everyone is happy by these changes!

Introduction

Q. Tell us something about yourself, your family, when and why did you enter in this field of competitive exams?

I belong to a typical ‘average (tending to the lower side) middle class’ family with an intrinsic attraction towards govt. jobs. I am ambitious and have had a reasonably successful academic career before joining IIT after qualifying for the JEE entrance with no coaching (being too expensive and inaccessible) and relying wholly on self-study. In IIT I constantly suffered setbacks, crises and confusion. But a special seminar conducted at college by the alumni association which was presided by 3 IAS officers who themselves are IITians gave a fresh perspective on my career choice and I decided to go for the civil service. Regarding competitive examinations, I had regularly tasted success with intermittent failures till I crashed disastrously in CAT 2012 which was a wakeup call for me to shed my complacency and practice CSAT Paper-II rather than take it lightly, thinking that it’s a trivial exercise. I enrolled for TIME mock test series, comprising of 10 tests and I can vouchsafe for its quality and authenticity. I scored around 190 for CSAT-II.

Electronic Vs Paper material

Q. In recent times, there is spur in electronic material- blogs, sites, pdfs, RSS-feeds. Many aspirants feel bogged down by this information overload. So, how much do you rely on electronic material and how much on the paper material (Books, newspapers)? If possible narrate a typical day in your studylife. What is your style of preparation (e.g. I continue making notes no matter what I’m reading, I just read multiple times but don’t maintain notes, I make mindmaps on computer …or xyz style)

  • Yeah, I agree that a deluge of information can confuse and even de-motivate an aspirant. But I was not bogged down by the information explosion as I was very selective in referring material online. I did read many sites like Mrunal.org, insightsonindia.com, pib.nic, idsa.in etc to get specific material and I didn’t take any resolution to cram all the data available and only took what I felt was relevant for my preparation.
  • I relied extensively on newspaper (HINDU), magazine (FRONTLINE) and journal (EPW) and I bet that almost, if not all, questions of GS in IFoS and CSE can be answered from these sources (probably except the history and culture part).
  • I had no particular style, order, time-table, pattern etc in my preparation. I randomly did whatever I felt was useful in my preparation and frequently took outings to relax. There was no detailed strategic war plan or anything. No maps, no notes, just reading and left everything else to luck/destiny.

Tempo and style

Q. People know what books and syllabus points are to be prepared. But most of them lack consistency in their preparation. So, how do you keep study momentum going on? How do you fight against the mood swings and distractions?

I read on an average 6-8 hours per day. There are days when I don’t study at all- visiting relatives, entertaining guests etc. Surely preparation for the civil services is such a drab thing capable of psyching out even the most persistent player and one wishes the drudgery would end soon. Momentum was maintained by constant self-motivation and by taking rest and frequently undertaking outings.

I believe that a strong desire coupled by the determination to see the end of it would help one to succeed in any endeavor that one pursues in life.

Working professional

If you’re a working professional, share some tips on how to manage studies with job

The reason why I declined a private sector job was that I wanted to completely concentrate in civils. Of course, people in the past have cleared civils concurrently working privately. But if your family can afford to wait for a few months without you earning, then, I believe, it is better to dedicate full time into civils supported with a reliable back up plan.

Prelims (CSAT) General studies

Topicstrategy/booklist/comment
History AncientLargely left. Didn’t think its worth doing PhD for a few marks. Tried to scramble for my high school history books, not much success.
History MedievalSame
History Modern (Freedom Struggle)Spectrum publication’s brief history of Modern India
Culture societyLeft. Bought spectrum culture, but was too boring.
Polity (theory + current)Indian Polity by M.Laxmikant, hindu, frontline, EPW
Economy (theory + current)Mrunal.org, Ramesh singh, hindu, frontline, EPW
Science (theory + current)Hindu S&T, Frontline.
Environment (theory + current)Mrunal.org, Hindu, frontline.
geography physicalleft
geography Indialeft
geography worldleft
other national/international current affairsHindu
Schemes, Policy & Filler StuffHindu, frontline, EPW

Q. Any observation / comments / tips about GS prelim 2013 paper?

No time crunch in this paper. But one has to be very careful in finding the correct answer out of many choices which largely looks the same.

Prelims (CSAT) Aptitude

Topicstrategy / booklist
MathsTIME mock test (10 nos)
reasoningTIME mock test (10 nos)
comprehensionTIME mock test (10 nos)
Decision MakingTIME mock test (10 nos)

Q.Any observation / comments / tips about GS Aptitude 2013 paper.

No theoretical preparation, no coaching class necessary. Just enroll for some mock tests. Analyze performance regularly. Focus your care on weak areas. This is the sure fire way to crack CSAT.

Prelim accuracy

Q1. Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? do you think they’re necessary for success?

Yes TIME series. They are good for improving one’s accuracy.

Q2. Approximate no. of attempted answers vs. correct answers.in CSAT-2013

attempted Q.correct Questions (Expected)Official score
GS10064106.66
aptitude8077190.83
total297

Mrunal comments: you took unnecessary risk of attempting all 100 questions in GS. Otherwise your score may have been well above 310.

Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paperYour preparation strategy / booklist?
English paperJust went through previous paper. Took the IFoS General English paper as a sort of mock test.
your regional languageNo preparation. Very confident and fluent in Malayalam. It’s advisable to attempt a couple of previous papers in examination conditions.

Q2.other observations / tips / comments on the length / difficulty level of compulsory language papers in CSE-2013

As Mrunal had pointed out early, the length of these papers have somewhat increased. So the focus should have to be on to write fast while also being legible and careful.

Mains: Essay

Q1. How did you prepare for the essay paper?

I had prepared for writing in English by taking my minor in English Literature at college. The exam was my first effort in writing such a long essay within a stipulated time. No special books, institute or method of preparation. I did buy some useless books like how to write an essay from market but didn’t have time to read them at all.

Q2. Which among the following essay did you write? What key points did you include in it?

  1. Be the change you want to see in others (Gandhi)
  2. Is the Colonial mentality hindering India’s Success?
  3. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) along with GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) would be the right indices for judging the wellbeing of a country
  4. Science and technology is the panacea for the growth and security of the nation.

Essay- the format of my essay was roughly like this:

I chose the S&T essay. First went on to explain science, technology and their mutual interdependence in separate paragraphs. I explored dimensions of growth and security. Then I explained S&T’s relevance to the growth and security of a nation especially in the Indian context. Illustrated the cardinality of S&T using 5 examples:

My memory is very sketchy, so I think these may roughly be the way it was:

  • agriculture- food sufficiency-food security
  • Energy security-renewable energy-nuclear- atomic-space national security
  • S&T- growth- tech exporter etc.
  • health sanitation, medicine etc
  • education- knowledge creation-intellectual hub

After elaborating these in many pages, I concluded by saying that though S&T alone can’t solve everything but it is an imperative to develop it. It’s a necessary but not sufficient condition.

It was a flamboyant essay with many high-sounding words. Got reasonable 125, but was expecting more. I’ll share my answer sheet once it is out.

General studies (Mains) paper 1

I did not take any coaching notes. Attend Kerala State Civil Service Academy classes for GS for a month. It was all crap kind of university kind of clichéd things that they dictate in class which I found to be totally irrelevant.

My marks in GS are also poor- only 294/1000- so I don’t think that I am fit to suggest you how to prepare for it. But anyways for the sake of it.

I largely neglected GS 1 as I disliked history, geography etc at school. So I did pretty little for this paper. Yet I give below some references which I more or less followed.

Anyways, here starts the list:

TopicHow did you prepare?
cultureLeft.Mrnual comments: Ustaad, you’re awesome in your own capacity.
Indian historySpectrum’s brief history of Modern India
world historyCrash course in world history by john green- you tube videos, Mrunal.org.
post-independence IndiaRam Guha, India after Gandhi.
Indian societyWrote sociology questions without any reading. Answered using intuition and common sense.
role of women, poverty etc.Do
globalization on Indian societyDo
communalism, regionalism, secularismDo
world geo physicalMexus videos in you tube.
resource distributionDo
factors for industrial locationMexus +Mrunal.org/geography
earthquake tsunami etcMexus
impact on flora-faunaleft

General studies (Mains) paper 2

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
Indian Constitution, devolution, dispute redressal etc.
comparing Constitution with worldMrunal competition.
parliament, state Legislatureslaxmikant
executive-judiciarydo
ministries departmentsleft
pressure group, informal asso.left
Representation of people’s actGoogle search
various bodies: Constitutional, statutory..laxmikant
NGO, SHG etcleft
welfare schemes, bodiesHindu, economic survey
social sector, health, edu, HRDEconomic survey, planning commission draft plan.
governance, transparency, accountabilityDidn’t read much
e-governanceGoogle search
role of civil service
  • 2nd ARC
  • Laxmikant’s Public Administration book
India& neighbors
bilateral/global groupingDo
effect of foreign country policies on Indian interestDo
diasporaLeft
international bodies- structure mandateWiki.

General studies (Mains) Paper 3 (Mrunal rocks here!!!)

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilizationRamesh singh, Mrunal, draft plan, eco survey
inclusive growthDraft plan, survey
budgetingleft
major crops, irrigationMajid Hussain geography
agro produce – storage, marketingDraft plan, survey
e-technology for famersdo
farm subsidies, MSPdo
PDS, buffer, food securitydo
technology missiondo
animal rearing economicsleft
food processingDraft, survey
land reformsMajid husain
liberalizationRamesh singh
infraDraft, survey
investment modelsleft
science-tech day to day lifeHindu s&t, frontline
Indian achievements in sci-techdo
awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPRdo
environmental impact assessmentMrunal competition
Disaster Managementdo
non state actors, internal securitydo
internal security – role of media, social networking sitedo
cyber securitydo
money launderingdo
border  Managementdo
organized crime, terrorismdo
security agencies- structure mandateDo. Mrunal competition really rocked in this part!! Thank you Mrunal for that.

General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude

  • For this paper, I largely relied on internet- Wikipedia, insightsonindia.com etc and also the few Mrunal articles. I also did buy a book (worth around Rs 250) brought out by JTS which was a shoddy copy paste job but had some essential concepts explained. So much for my material sources and I am leaving the following table blank as it is difficult to delineate the sources of every topic.
  • I did not prepare any moral thinkers.
  • ne important word of wisdom- UPSC doesn’t tolerate nonsense. Answers should be rock solid and objective. When they say “the content of answer matters and not its length”, they really mean it!

GS4 Ethics case study answers in Mains 2013

Q. in GS4 ethics papers, please give a sketchy overview of your case study answers:

caseyour approach/keypoints
1: RTI: To hide or not to hide
  • I have filed an RTI to retrieve my evaluated answer sheets.  I will send a copy to you once I have it.
  • Mrunal comments: You’ve 96 marks in ethics. We certainly look forward to see your answercopy. Thanks in advance.
2: Engineer: Bogus flyover vs deadline
3: Child Labourers in Sivakasi
4: Nepotism in Job recruitment
5: Leaking information
6: Narrate one incident in your life when you were faced with such crisis of conscience and how you resolved the same.

Mains answer-writing?

Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?

I believe that the fixed space was a boon, except the Paper-I in Mathematics optional (very less space indeed) – as it provided abundant space to write our answers without bothering about messy question numbers and leaving space for unattended questions to return later. But they gave too much space for GS tempting us to write more than what was necessary.

Q. Did you write answers in bullet points or in paragraphs? Some players (who cleared mains and got interview call letter) were claiming that they wrote entire paper in bullet points, so it doesn’t matter….whether examiner is asking ‘examine, comment, discuss or xyz’….simply write in bullets and points.

I wrote in paragraphs, but that seems to have backfired given the marks obtained in GS. I attempted all the questions and that was useless as well. Probably it’s better to answer clearly highlighting the points only those questions which you have at least some idea. Don’t just bluff or beat around the bush and give concrete answers.

Q. Did you follow the “introduction-body-conclusion” format? because some mains-qualified candidates claim they simply wrote the points they could recall within the time, instead of bothering with proper introduction and conclusion.

There was only 7 minutes and 12 seconds for a question and I don’t think there will be any time to write a structured answer. I just scribbled whatever came to my mind in random order and that reflects in the (poor GS) marks too.

Q. In GS papers, Since UPSC came with those 100 and 200 words questions. What was your approach in the exam (I wrote all, I only focused on the questions where I could answer perfectly, I just not to high quality points to reach the word limit etc.)

I attempted all the questions and when I was not confident I wrote low quality filler answer. That strategy clearly backfired as evidenced by my abysmal performance in GS. So, I think it is better to answer only those questions that one is sure of and present them systematically and in an organized fashion.

Mrunal comments: Akash bhai, your previous IFoS interview also generated lot of comment-wars about this “attempt everything” strategy….so, I take this opportunity to point out a few things, without meaning any disrespect to any toppers or readers:

  1. Sakshi (Rank 6) left ~7 questions, but she too tried to maximize attempts by making “educated guesses” (her words).
  2. Neha (Rank 12) attempted all questions except one blunder in Tashkand agreement. (her words)
  3. Roman (rank 18) wrote something in all questions. (his words)
TopperGS1GS2GS3GS4Total GS
1 Gaurav856388102338
2 Munish896685111351
3 Rachit7871103142394
6 Sakshi*936288109352
12 Neha*9573115117400
18 Roman*976110898364
63 Akash*58548696294

*attempted almost every question in GS1 to 4.

  • Of course one can interpret this table in many ways. But from the interviews of Sakshi, Neha and Roman, we can see they had exhaustively prepared every syllabus topic in general studies paper 1 to 4.
  • On the other hand, you Akash bhai (on your own admission) had left certain syllabus topics in GS1 and 2 altogether while studying. (Perhaps therefore) low score in GS1 and 2 because low quality filler answers.
  • But, observe that in GS3 and GS4, you had prepared all topics (Except moral thinker), and therefore, you have almost parallel marks with toppers above.
  • In other words, “attempt everything” was a rational strategy for GS-mains, but only works well when one has prepared everything exhaustively (to make educated guesses to write decent fodder points.)

Anyways, that doesn’t diminish or glamorize your achievement. You’re here because of your hardwork. I just had to make this commentary because aspirants have wasted lot of time in this debate (both in Mrunal.org and in other online forums).

moving to the next question:
Q. How many marks worth questions did you skip/couldn’t finish in the GS papers?

GS (Mains paper)Couldn’t finish __ mark
GS10
GS20
GS30
GS40

Q5. Did you use highlighters / sketchpens in your answers?

No

Q6. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in GS1 Geography)

No

Q7. If yes, Did you draw diagrams with pencil or pen?

NA

Q8. Did you use ruler to draw the lines in diagram? Or did you just make it by hand?

NA

Q9. You wrote the answer in blue pen or black pen?

Black Pen

(Mrunal – since readers keep mailing such queries, therefore I’m asking the topper to clear all the air haha.)

Mains Optional Subject

Q1. First the essential book/resource list / strategy?

My Optional was Mathematics. There is no base book. There are as many books are there are topics. You can refer to any of them. The aim is to improve the problem solving ability and enhance the accuracy. I think it’s all about practice. The more, the merrier.

Booklist is given in Prakash Rajpurohit’s blog (previous rank holder). You may go through them as I have nothing to add.

Q2. How much of internet-research necessary for this optional? OR can one simply rely on the books and be done with this subject?

I didn’t use internet for Maths at all.

Q3. How many months did it take to finish the core optional syllabus?

Roughly 4-5 months, given I am an engineering student and most topics familiar.

Q4. Do you maintain self-notes for revision of optional? In which format- electronic or paper?

No notes. If you are able to solve a problem no need to keep notes of it.

Q5. Your observation about the difficultly level of 2013 mains vs previous papers. And what precautions / rectifications are necessary in the future strategy for given optional subject?

  • Paper 1 was easy in the sense they were not tricky and eminently doable but there are pitfalls if you are not careful. Provided space was insufficient. If you make a mistake you screw, you stare at it helpless without any space to redo it.
  • Paper 2 was difficult for me. I had to leave roughly 80 marks questions in it both due to my lack of tact as well as due to the appearance of unseen kind of questions.

Q7.How much did you skip OR couldn’t answer properly, in the optional paper?

optional paperCouldn’t finish __ mark. + comments on any weird questions
Paper IFinished all questions. Made 30 marks worth  careless mistake
paper IILeft 80 marks worth question.

Official score

Maths Paper 1122
Maths Paper 2106

Before the interview

Q1. How did you prepare for the interview? Particularly college graduation subjects related questions?

The interview sessions conducted by Kerala State Civil Services Academy was awesome and that’s that. No other sources. No he lergely ignored my graduation (one stray question or so) even though the interview was largely profile based.

Q2. Did you attend any mock interviews by coaching classes? How were they similar / different than official interview? Do you believe it is necessary to attend such mock interviews?

Refer above. The mock session had Mr. Roy Paul, ex member UPSC. It was a very helpful experience and the original interview was in fact very much similar. Personally, I would suggest that it is good to attend mock interviews.

Q3. What did you wear? Some experts say coat is must, some say tie is must, and some say black shoes must. What attire did you pick up?

I defied all such advices come what may and wore a simple full sleeve shirt and pants inserted but with black shoes. No blazers, no tie. Coats are unneeded. If it enhances your confidence go for it. If you think you are more than what you wear, no need. Whatever you wear, be neatly dressed.

Q4. Where did you stay for the interview? (Hotel / friend’s home …) and what books/material did you bring for the ‘revision before interview’?

Kerala govt provides free flight tickets, food and accommodation at Kerala House for those selected for interview. I just used this luxury. No material- read newspapers. That’s all.

During the interview

Q1. Who was the chairman of you interview board?

Mr  Chattar Singh IAS (retd)

Q2. How long was the interview?

30 minutes.

Q3. Why do you want to join civil service? Why don’t you continue in your graduation field? Social service can be done from private sector too.[Since I don’t know whether they ask you this question or not. But if they had asked- what will be your reply?]

Nope, he didn’t.  I would have told about responsibility, diversity and the social status attached with it.

Q4. Please narrate your entire interview- what questions did they ask and what did you reply and other pleasant or uncomfortable experiences during the interview.

Well, any question can be asked at the interview.  Since narrating one’s interview would at least give a sketchy picture for future aspirants to form a broad idea of how a UPSC interview may span out, I am giving some of the questions-which I recollect now- and the answers that I gave. The level of detail would be just enough to comprehend the question and the import of my answer and not vivid enough to betray my stupidity.

Chairman: Mr Akash, whats your opposite?

Me: Pataal (Akash =sky, pataal= underworld) {Answered promptly}.

Chairman: Very good. Despite being south Indian you immediately….blah…blah…. (visibly impressed, extremely happy gave, 204. That’s it, nailed; I think that was the high point. It enhanced my confidence to no end.)

C: reading  hobby, what do you read?

Me: said poetry, literature, non fiction, newspaper. (matter ended-no connected questions)

C: maths optional and interest (I gave mathematics as my hobby/interest also), why students find it difficult, what to do?

Me: said useless answer like you have to make students love the subject by personal attention and other crap.

C: finance commission? Planning commission? Overlapping mandate, why two?

Me: FC constitutional technocratic body, PC political body.

Then Chair extended my answer by saying that “so we need a pliable political handle” and he was extremely impressed by that point and said very good again.

M1 was again our friend.

  1. M1: kerala, why better developed?
  2. Me: said clichéd and canonical answers.
  3. M1: smaller states good?
  4. Me: said yes and no. explained advantages and disadvantages.
  5. M1: some question about NREGA (answered satisfactorily)

There were connected questions which I don’t recollect in sequential order. This member was also very happy with my answers.

Next came the villain. M3 a history wallah.

  1. M2: Some crap about Zamorin, Vasco da Gama, and latter’s visit to Kerala. (I drew a blank)
  2. M2: Its deplorable that an ambitious young man knows so little about his own place. (Adverse comment. Heart pumps faster! But Chattar still happy, so I was happy!)
  3. M2:what is petro dollars? (I bluffed)
  4. M2: You are guessing man, I will ask another question.
  5. M2: what is privy purse? Significance of Kerala in foreign contribution? Jingoism?
  6. Answered  kind of OK.
  7. M2: where is Mairai (I had no idea)

So this guy slightly screwed me but Chattar fortunately holds pen and paper!

M3 was a skeptical frenchie who always looked quizzical and unsatisfied. He looks like the stereotypical psychiatrist in movies!

  1. M3: technological growth in 30s what spurred them?
  2. Me: Said world war, consumerism, desire for better life, globalization etc. ( He looked sceptical)
  3. M3:Treasures at Padmanabha swamy temple, what to do?

Since connected with religion, won’t reveal my answer. M3 still looked skeptical and suspicious.

Chattar Singh: Whats important about 1905 in physics (I am B-Tech in Engineering Physics)

Me: Einstein’s paper- Brownian, special relativity.

Chattar: Thank You Akash.

Thank You Sir, Sirs. Exit.

So the board (mine had only 4 members as 1 left before mine due to personal reasons) was very cordial and friendly and there are a few words of wisdom:

  1. Interview is unpredictable and clearly some luck is involved. But your attire is irrelevant as long as you are neatly dressed.
  2. They may be looking for some key words and specific points in your answers and they will reward you plentifully if they get it from your mouth.
  3. Placate the Chairman. Only he has the pen and paper. Its 275 marks of pure whimsy. Make him happy. Don’t argue with him, but take his questions very seriously. Even if some members aren’t happy about you, still doesn’t matter.

 Q5. Was your interview on the expected lines of what you had prepared or did they ask you totally unexpected questions?  Was it a stress interview, did they ask any uncomfortable questions? If yes, how did you handle it?

The interview was largely background (Kerala) based and there was nothing unexpected. Perhaps those questions on Kerala history completely caught me off guard.

Q6. Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document or do xyz thing, or you’ll face problem”?

Just read the call letter send by UPSC and make sure you bring all necessary docs to the interview. You can be screwed if you don’t!

CSE-2013 Marksheet

Essay125
GS158
GS254
GS386
GS496
Maths Paper 1122
Maths Paper 2106
Written Total647
Interview204
Final total851
Rank63

Career Backup

Q1. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?

No backup plan considered -a fight to finish was envisaged. With a reasonable record behind me, I was sure that if I keep on writing I would succeed today or tomorrow.

Q2. when were you going to “execute” that backup plan? (e.g. after __ failed attempts/after I cross __ age/after dad retires/ etc.)

I know that I could clear at least some UPSC or bank tests within a couple of years.

Mrunal comments: besides you already got selected in Indian Forest service also.

Views on UPSC reforms

What are your views on following issues?

Q. Optional subjects should be removed altogether. The present stalemate is helping no-one, except coaching-owners, book publishers and the candidate whose optional subject gets favorable treatment under given year’s scaling formula.

May be optional can be retained but the UPSC should stop the policy of selective butchering of arbitrarily selected optional each year. The scaling policy should be transparent, uniform, reasonable and scientific and should be declared beforehand.

Q. Despite what UPSC has done in recent years, it has failed to curb the nuisance of Delhi’s coaching factories. In fact it’s increased under the new syllabus in 2013. Let’s face it, most toppers have fully or partially relied on (authentic OR Xeroxed) coaching notes because there was hardly any time left to prepare so many topics in such short time. This system work against an individual preparing from far-away area, without any financial resources, high-speed internet or contacts in Delhi.

I didn’t have any Xeroxed material from Delhi both because of accessibility and affordability issues. There seems to be no way to curb the menace of coaching factories unless some special tax is imposed on them or all forms of coaching are banned outright, which is stupid!

Q. Half-merger of IFoS with CSE is a bad move because it has raised the cutoffs for players who’re solely dedicated to IFoS only (and not to IAS/IPS).Adding salt to the wounds, many who had applied for both jobs, cleared the prelims- they did not even bother to appear in all the papers of Mains-IFoS. (RTI revealed this).

It was unfair on UPSC’s part to do that. There should be separate prelims for IFoS so that this random ‘ticking’ of both boxes doesn’t take place.

Most importantly, if any changes are sought to be implemented, the UPSC should notify them much in advance and give the aspirants’ sufficient time, may be a year-and-a-half or so, to adapt themselves to the changes so as to be fair on them.

Q. UPSC should disclose official prelim answerkey and cutoffs, immediately after prelim is over, instead of postponing it till interview phase is over.

Though the UPSC’s reasoning that it would affect the examination procedure is patently specious, I think it isn’t urgent and can wait.

Q. UPSC should be conducted online like IBPS and CAT exam to shorten the duration of exam.

Yup definitely, UPSC prelims should be made online that will save a couple of months. In the whole the 15 month process should be squeezed to 7-8 months so that the candidates are not mentally tortured and kept in suspense and anticipation for a prolonged period.

Q. If you are made the UPSC chairman, what other reforms would you initiate for the civil service exam?

I do have some ideas but most of them are unpopular and I will be torn down by the blogosphere if I actually state them here!

But I would prescribe guidelines for evaluation in interview and mains to reduce the arbitrariness and conduct multiple interviews and take the average or some sort of that. In the whole, the process would be more systemized and whimsies reduced.

Insecurity about profile

Q. Many candidates prepare sincerely but constantly live under fear about ‘profile insecurity’. I’m not from a big college, I’m not from English medium, and I don’t have work-experience. What if they ask some stressful questions in the interview about this? What is your message to these candidates?

I am not well placed to guide aspirants who are not situated as given in the question. But, regarding work experience, I think they don’t matter. I’ve even heard rumors/conspiracy theories suggesting that UPSC secretly favors candidates who are young, unmarried, fresh graduates and without working experience. But I’ve heard nothing that indicates otherwise. Doyens of the personality test suggest that one’s background doesn’t matter as much as his personal presentation before the board.

Wisdom

Q. Through this struggle and success, what have your learned? What is the wisdom of life and competition? What is your message to the new aspirants?

UPSC is unpredictable and unrepentant. Be prepared for all exigencies. Try your level best and all the best.

Focus on your goals and ignore the existence/hype of any undue competition. Do one’s work judiciously and diligently. Don’t get bogged down by peers, parents, failures, society etc. (which is easier said than done!). Also remember, as Mrunal says, life is greater than all transient success or failures and bigger than all competitive exams, which are indeed, only a part of life and not the other way around. Life is the mother of all exams and not CSE!

Q. Many hardworking candidates have failed in Mains/Interview of CSE-2013. They’re feeling dejected- what is your message to them?

It is known that hard work or raw talent by themselves may not be enough for one to succeed. Sometimes sheer luck may also play a major role. I have seen many of my friends, wholly deserving gentlemen, unable to be in the list because of the whimsical tyranny of some UPSC board members who screwed them unreasonably in interview by giving them absurdly low score. The same thing happens in Mains in Essay paper which is no less arbitrary.

And many have in fact gotten into IAS after having failed in their first few attempts. Analyze your situation dispassionately, take advice from elders, and take a considered decision about what to do in life- to continue or to take an alternative career- giving due importance to pragmatism rather than idealism or childhood dreams.

Credit: Friends/family

Q. Behind every topper are many people who stood by 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?

I should be eternally indebted to my parents, who despite being well educated and aware, did not shove their personal ambitions and individual opinions down my throat and gave me full leeway to make any choices in academic matters. They trusted me completely, and did not try to influence my thinking when it came to my studies and career choice. So I suffered no insecurities, psychological stress (due to parental pressure- I was stressed due to other extraneous factors) etc and they were infinitely and uncritically co-operative in whatever endeavor I pursued. Also my friends have played a major role in motivating and assisting me in the journey so far.

BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Q. You are well aware of the sacred rule – the last question must be about self-marketing. So, Did you use Mrunal.org for your preparation and if yes, how did it help you?  And you can even reply “No”. I’ll still publish your answer without tempering, unlike those competitive magazines.

  • I am indeed indebted to Mrunal for the conceptual clarity and solid understanding of the basics that he gave me in economics, ecology and international relations- a sizeable chunk of GS portion. And after the enlarged version of GS came out, Mrunal was my major hope.
  • It’s due to Mrunal competition articles alone that I got at least 86 in GS3. If I am an IAS officer today, a substantial chunk of credit goes to Mrunal.
  • Also it is my reference of first resort whenever I decide to mine data from the web. In addition to the valuable information that he so generously lavish, the keen wit, candid and prescient insights as well as the kind words of empathy and warmth showered by Mrunal makes this site an ideal place to visit for a UPSC aspirant- more so, for the beginners- for informational and emotional security.
  • P.S 1- I am a great admirer of the ‘Mrunalian’ take on coaching factories of Delhi! :-)
  • P.S 2- I think almost all the toppers refer to your site but some maybe too hypocritical to openly admit it. So whether they say or not, you are indeed rendering a yeoman service to every batch of civils aspirants. Kudos to that!
  • To sum up, You are simply awesome. Kindly keep the good work.

Mrunal comments: honored with these compliments. I also thank the folks who participated in write2win competition and indirectly helped in success of this topper. Thank a lot Mr.Akash P. for sharing your journey with us. We wish you the best for the service and cadre allocation ahead.

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

42 Comments on “[Topper’s Interview] Akash (CSE-2013/AIR-63) First Attempt, 297 in prelims, IFoS ranker, maths optional, IIT Madras from Kerala”

  1. sir, there is only 3 mnths left after prelims for the mains. can we prepare optional and gs in that time ?

  2. I got stuck at “procedure is patently specious”…such rocking use of words…

    1. I was floored too!
      @Akash: Heartening to know your loquaciousness wasn’t a barrier during the interview! Congrats!

  3. HI Mrunal,
    Is there any one among toppers with Physics as a optional subject. Please publish his/her interview..I am planing to make my first attempt with physics for this year mains…if get through prelims

  4. i hope i cn speak english as good as u smeday :) and a hearty Congratulations on securing a rank in top 100 ..truely inspiring :)

  5. Mone akashe , kalakki macha … All the best bro for your IAS journey .. Hope we meet in distant future …

    1. AKASH BHAI….congrats….a lot THANKS FOR HUMBLE AND SIMPLE EXPERIENCE SHARING…great achievement….u done the dreams of many KERALITES AND INDIANS….PROUD OF U and i am a Keralite who silently watching U SINCE UR ifos INTERVIEW IN THIS OUR OWN [AAM AADMI KA MRUNAL.ORG] SITE…

  6. Congrats bro ……….. another maths optional aspirant …….!!!!!!!!! does mexus video and iken edu both the same ??????

  7. Congrats,sir!
    IFoS pre cut-off was certainly higher,but what was it? Please tell.

    1. It’s official now.
      IFoS pre 2013 cutoff was 267 for general n 249 for OBC…go to d upsc site

  8. sir, plz publish hindi medium topper’s interview

  9. SUGGESTED REFORMS .NO OF CHANCES SHOULD BE REDUCED TO 3 FOR ALL-AGE SHOULD BE 24 IN UPPER LIMIT,CSAT PAPER 2 WOULD BE THE DECIDING FACTOR IN PRELIMS.MINIMUM MARK SHOULD BE 150.IN NO WAY A CANDIDATE AGED ABOVE 25 SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO APPEAR IN CSE.

    1. Congrts sir i m IFS aspirant i always got mark in B.Tech average marks around 55 to 65 Can u tell me mathematics is right optional in forest service ? nd how much time recquired to cover all syllabus i

  10. Congrats buddy, …….One request…….There were many articles which were repeated in Mrunal’s competition, can u please tell or send us only good ones………. pls tell to mrunal, He may post separately.

  11. Congrats bro. Your interview after IFoS success was exceptional. Completely accept your viewpoints. I too follow the same principle of attempting all the questions and have cleared Prelims twice. All the best :)

  12. space given in mains answersheet for writing answer………………it is blank space or ruled space?………..because some people are comfortable in writing in blank space while others with rule line

  13. I’ve even heard rumors/conspiracy theories suggesting that UPSC secretly favors candidates who are young, unmarried, fresh graduates and without working experience. But I’ve heard nothing that indicates otherwise.

    1. Nothing like that. Gaurav Agarwal.. 29 yrs, not a newly passed out, 3 year working experience and married. AIR: 1.. Conspiracy theories all around :D

  14. the above comment corroborating the presence of a prejudiced eye in upsc

  15. thanks sirs.

  16. HI Mrunal,
    Is there any one among toppers with Electrical Engineering as a optional subject. Please publish his/her interview..I have planned but still confuse plz do the needful

  17. real life size photos on the main page are an eyesore

  18. @Mr.Akash . You are extrovert to the core( revealed ur problem in foot, )which may affect ur 2.5 years of arduous preparation. Hats of bro. For this character God blessed u with IAS.

  19. hello friends,,
    I am also taking mathematics as an optional
    can i do msc( math) ignou with ias preparation with maths as optional with extra study???
    thanks in advance

  20. Congrats Akash.. A deserving victory indeed.. Really inspirational.. :)

  21. What an arrogant guy..abhi se dhoka dene wali tricks using..desh ka kya haal hoga.

  22. HI Mrunal,
    Is there any one among toppers with Agriculture as an optional subject. Please publish his/her interview.

  23. Hello Akash Sir,

    Since we find rarely any guide for maths as optional.
    So can u plz take the pain to be in touch for the journey of preparation n also guide us at the same time.
    Can u share ur contact mail id or nyother means of contact is also most welcomed.

    Thanks a lot

  24. Hello sir, i am doing mechanical engineering (2nd year). You said you managed to study at least 6 hrs a day daily. Being a student from private engineering college, who usually demand 75% attendance, how could I manage my upsc (my dream) studies along with engineering (so as to pass)? Please suggest.
    Thankyou.

  25. Sir, would you like to suggest some of maths preparation books or the optional study material with us, you read for the exam??
    It will be a great help sir.
    Thank you! :)

  26. Impossible! Don’t even think of pushing optional prep post prelims, you don’t be able to do it perfectly with the given amount of stress and necessity of revising gs papers.

  27. Sir please tell me is flat foot are allowed in ifos

  28. hi sir i am feeling some problems give me answer after you respond

  29. sir i want to take math as optional with hindi medium,is there ant type of deduction of marks due to hindi.plz suggest me.

  30. Congratulations on your well deserved,spectacular success.
    Nation will be in safe hands,with such well meaning and brilliant buraucrats with clear ideas and focussed goals.

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