[Topper’s Interview] Hardeep Singh (Rank-331/CSE-2015) History, Mohali, 1st Attempt, AIEEE

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  1. Candidate Profile
  2. Education
  3. Introduction
  4. Electronic Vs Paper material
  5. Tempo and style
  6. Working professional
  7. Prelims (CSAT) General studies
  8. Prelims (CSAT) Aptitude
  9. Prelim accuracy
  10. Mains: Compulsory language paper
  11. Mains: Essay
  12. General Studies (Mains) paper 1
  13. General studies (Mains) paper 2
  14. General studies (Mains) Paper 3
  15. General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude
  16. Mains answer-writing?
  17. Mains Optional Subject
  18. Before the interview
  19. During the interview
  20. CSE-2015 Marksheet
  21. Career Backup
  22. Views on UPSC reforms
  23. Insecurity about profile
  24. Wisdom
  25. Credit: Friends/family
  26. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate Profile

Rank in CSE-2015331
Roll No.0078151
Age22 yrs 5months
Total attempts in CSE (including this one)1st
Optional SubjectHISTORY
Schooling MediumENGLISH
College mediumENGLISH
Medium chosen for Mains answersENGLISH
Medium chosen for InterviewENGLISH
Home town/cityMOHALI ( SAS NAGAR)
Work-experience if anyNONE
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failuresAIEEE-2011 ( AIR 6125) , cleared IIT JEE exam 2011 also
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used)ABHIMANU’S IAS STUDY GROUP , CHANDIGARH (Foundation , GS and interview program)
Service preferences (Top-5)IAS < IPS < IRS ( IT) < IRS ( C & CE) < IFS
state cadre preference (Top-5)Punjab < Haryana < Himachal < AGMUT < Rajasthan


fill the details here
% in class 1091
% in class 1293.2
Graduation course and %CGPA  9.3/10
Name of college, city, passing out yearPEC University of Technology , Chandigarh
( Passing Year: 2015)
Any other professional coursesNone
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievementsJogging , reading


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

Hardeep Singh
I have background in mechanical engineering and have recently graduated (2015) . I have no job experience and was focusing on civil services only.
I decided to enter this field during my graduation itself. The civil services have unique aura across length and breath of the country. It offers secure carrier path as well as opportunity to make more direct contribution to the society and process of nation building.

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)

  • Information overload during upsc exam preparation is a serious problem . We need to filter lot of information around us and read + grasp only relevant information ( Thus it is important to know all the topics of syllabus).
  • I too relied on e-material . Some very important sites that I referred includes mrunal.org and insights on india. For some GS and history optional topics I googled up intensively so that I don’t leave anything important.
  • I made both hand written notes as well read some books ( particularly history optional) multiple times ( I didn’t made notes out of those except modern history ).

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?
Self motivation to crack the exam in 1st attempt and support provided by parents kept my momentum going on . To deal with mood swings I ensured my work throughout day remained diversified . So I also regularly  watched movies on TV , documentaries , did jogging and sometimes played cricket in evening.

Working professional

If you’re a working professional, share some tips on how to manage studies with job
Not applicable

Prelims (CSAT) General studies

History AncientNCERT -Themes in Indian history I
( History is my optional so upinder singh also)
History MedievalNCERT – themes in Indian history II
History Modern (Freedom Struggle)Bipin Chandra’s India freedom for struggle
Culture and societyNCERT
Polity (theory + current)Laxmikant
Economy (theory + current)Mrunal.org , The Hindu and Indian express , Mishra and puri
Science (theory + current)Spectrum , The Hindu , class 10 NCERT
Environment (theory + current)The Hindu and Indian express , Benny Joseph environmental studies
geography physicalNCERT 11 , Goh Chen Leong
geography IndiaNCERTs
geography worldNCERTs and Goh Chen leong
other national/international current affairsThe Hindu and Indian express
Schemes, Policy & Filler Stuffsame

Q. Any observation / comments / tips about GS prelim 2015 paper?
Lot of questions from current affairs was a surprise . Rest if one knows basics paper was simple.
Q. Now that Aptitude paper has become qualifying, obvious more attention needs to be paid on the GS paper so apart from the books that you already have gone through, what else would you have tried for CSE-2016 (if you were going to appear)?
Would have sticked to my earlier strategy only as in CSE-2015 also aptitude was qualifying

Prelims (CSAT) Aptitude

Topicstrategy / booklist
MathsCL test series and booklist by mrunal
Decision MakingSame

Q. Any observation / comments / tips about GS Aptitude 2015 paper.
Paper is qualifying only so no need to take much tension now . Just Practice some tests to evaluate your level .

Prelim accuracy

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

  • Gave tests at abhimanu’s ias study group
  • Joined CL test series ( mainly for aptitude purpose but latter upsc made it qualifying only )

Q2. Approximate no. of attempted answers vs. correct answers. in CSAT-2015

attempted Q.correct (Expected)Official score
aptitudeAttempted full paper146

Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paperYour preparation strategy / booklist?
English paperNone
your regional languagePrevious year papers and Hindi guide (10th level )

Q. other observations / tips / comments on the length / difficulty level of compulsory language papers in CSE-2015
Papers were simple and on same pattern as previous ones

Mains: Essay

Q1. How did you prepare for the essay paper?
No separate preparation . GS and optional knowledge is sufficient .Just practice few essays so that one gets to know as to how to structure an essay , improve presentation and how to write good intro and conclusion etc
Q2. Which two essays did you write and What key points did you include in it?

  1. Education without values
  2. Crisis faced by India : moral or economic

General Studies (Mains) paper 1

TopicHow did you prepare?
CultureCcrt.gov.in + my ancient history notes
Indian historyNCERTs + Bipin Chandra
world historyNorman lowe
post-independence IndiaIndia after Gandhi
Indian societyNCERT+ Newspapers and classnotes
role of women, poverty etc.Same
globalization on Indian societySame
communalism, regionalism, secularismClassnotes
world geo physicalGoh chen leong + NCERTs
resource distribution
factors for industrial locationMrunal.org
earthquake tsunami etcGoh chen leong + NCERTs
impact on flora-fauna

General studies (Mains) paper 2

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
Indian Constitution, devolution, dispute redressal etc.Laxmikant , DD Basu , Visionias material and classnotes
comparing Constitution with worldSame
parliament, state LegislaturesSame
ministries departments
pressure group, informal asso.Vision ias material
Representation of people’s actSame
various bodies: Constitutional, statutory..Same
NGO, SHG etcThe Hindu , Yojana and Indian express
welfare schemes, bodiesSame
social sector, health, edu, HRDSame
governance, transparency, accountabilityVision ias + The Hindu
role of civil serviceSame
India & neighborsRajiv sikri + The Hindu editorials + regularly followed editorials by  C Raja Mohan
bilateral/global groupingSame
effect of foreign country policies on Indian interestSame
international bodies- structure mandateSame + Wikipedia for important international bodies

General studies (Mains) Paper 3

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilizationMishra & Puri + The Hindu + The Indian Express + Economic survey and Budget + MRUNAL.ORG
inclusive growthSame
major crops, irrigation
agro produce – storage, marketingMrunal bhai
e-technology for famersSame
farm subsidies, MSPSame
PDS, buffer, food securitySame + Yojana + N/w papers
technology mission
animal rearing economicsMrunal
food processingSame
land reformsSame
investment modelsSame
science-tech day to day lifeMrunal + N/w papers + selective articles from science reporter or Vision ias current affair material
Indian achievements in sci-tech
awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPRSame
environmental impact assessmentEnvironmental studies by Benny joseph
Disaster ManagementClassnotes
non state actors, internal securityDownloaded pdfs after some topic wise research on internet
internal security – role of media, social networking siteSame
cyber securitySame
money launderingSame
border  ManagementSame
organized crime, terrorismSame
security agencies- structure mandateWikipedia

General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
ethics and interface, family, society and all the hathodaa topicsMrunal , self made notes and vision ias
attitude, moral influence etc.Same
civil service: integrity, impartiality, tolerance to weak etcSame + ARC report
emotional intelligence, its use in governanceSame
moral thinkers of India and worldsame
ethics in pub.ad, accountability, laws, rules etc.Same
corporate governanceSame + The hindu editorials
probity in governance, work culturesame
citizen charter, ethics code, work culture etc.Same
challenges of corruptionSame
case studies on above topicsSame

Mains answer-writing?

Please tell us how many marks worth attempt did you give? along with comments if any, in the following cells:

PaperBest attemptedAverage qualitynamesake answerTotal attempt
GS1Sorry didn’t remember237.5

My focus was to complete the paper as well as write only whatever is asked . Wrote nothing irrelevant
Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?
No problem
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.
Wrote most of the answers  in bullet format and few in paragraph format as well. Missed to write conclusion in some questions
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.
Could not follow it properly due to time constraint
Q5. Did you use highlighters / sketchpens in your answers?
Q6. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in GS1 Geography)
Q7. If yes, Did you draw diagrams with pencil or pen?
Q8. Did you use ruler to draw the lines in diagram? Or did you just make it by hand?
Q9. You wrote the answer in blue pen or black pen?
Blue pen

Mains Optional Subject

Q. What’s your optional subject and why did you chose it and not something else?
History . I chose it because :

  1. Guidance available in Chandigarh
  2. Interest
  3. Easy availability of material
  4. Thought that it will help in GS 1 as well

Q. If a new player wants to pick this subject, would you advice for it or against it? (e.g. every senior player in Public Administration seems to be advising against pub.ad)
Choose it only if you can sustain interest in it . If you are averse to map work ,ancient and medieval history do not take it .
Q. First the essential book/resource list. (Also mention which one is the “Base book” for covering the theory? + Whatever comments you’ve for a particular book e.g. “my seniors said read xyz book but I found that ABC book was better”.  “xyz topic not given properly in this book, so prepare from xyz website or book…” OR and so on.)
Ancient History

  • Upinder singh ( good maps also given )
  • Romilla thapar
  • Spectrum history maps

Medieval History

  • Satish chander
  • Some chapters from IGNOU


  • Bipin Chandra
  • India after Gandhi
  • From plassey to partition

World History

  • Norman lowe
  •  mrunal.org has a good collection of these pdfs too
  • Used Wikipedia for some topics which I could not get from books

Q. How much of internet-research / current affairs is necessary for this optional? OR can one simply rely on the books and be done with this subject?
Not much internet research is required . Just read –read –re read the standard text books
Q. How many months did it take to finish the core optional syllabus?
5- 6 months
Q. How many days/ weeks before the exam, you started answer writing practice?
3 months
Q. Do you maintain self-notes for revision of optional? In which format- electronic or paper?
Made notes of modern history only.
Q. Your observation about the difficultly level of 2015 mains vs previous papers. And what precautions / rectifications are necessary in the future strategy for given optional subject?
Paper 2 was slightly tricky this year while paper 1 was simpler. But ironically I got lower score in  paper 1 than paper 2. Precaution : Do not ignore map work for paper 1 at any cost.

Before the interview

Q1. How did you prepare for the interview? – for college grad, hobbies, place of origin, current affairs at national and international level?
Googled up every keyword from my DAF + read visions current affairs material + N/w papers
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?
I gave 3 mocks . But the official interview was quite different from them . Nonethless since upsc interview was my 1st ever formal interview so I did not take chance by skipping mocks . Mocks helps you in building confidence level . But there is no need to give too many mocks.
Q3. Where did you stay for the interview? (Hotel / friend’s home …) and what books/material did you bring for the ‘revision before interview’?
My relative is colonel in army so stayed at Delhi Cantonment. I brought my self prepared notes from DAF but could not concentrate ( as D-day was very close)
Q4. Any words of wisdom about Medical checkup?
Just relax . But if you wear spectacles do take your prescription along.
Q5. Describe the formal-dress worn by you in interview.
White shirt + Blue tie ( pattern) + navy Blue turban + grayish trousers

During the interview

Q1. Who was the chairman of you interview board?
Alka sirohi madam
Q2. How long was the interview?
25 mins approx
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?]
They didn’t asked this question.

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. (Earlier some toppers only tell me their question but not their answer. I would appreciate if you give both Question + your original answers)
My interview had questions from

  • Mechanical engg ( some very technical ques on locomotives , solar power plants , nuclear fusion and fission). I could not handle them well
  • Hobbies and extra curriculars
  • Home state ( On agriculture stagnancy in punjab )
  • Indo-france relations , Rafale deal , Paris climate change conference
  • Alka ma’am asked lot of techinal question on Blood donation camp ( I organized it as part of NSS)
  • Factual questions on History ( eg How many times babur invaded india ? , In which attempt he succeeded , South Indian dynasties , What did we learn from British rule ? etc )

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?
Though the questions were not very difficult and I answered only what I knew and said ‘ I don’t know ‘ for the rest but ironically I got very low score in interview which I have not expected . So I need self analysis .
Q6. Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document or do xyz thing, or you’ll face problem”?
Just carry 10th certificate and educational qualification certificate along with your photos.

CSE-2015 Marksheet

Prelims mark sheet-

Subject Marks obtained
Paper 1122
Paper 2268

Mains mark sheet-

Subject Marks obtained
Essay – Paper-1125
General Studies – Paper 294
General Studies – Paper 388
General Studies – Paper 4105
General Studies – Paper 598
Optional Paper – Paper-1107
Optional Paper – Paper-2140
Written total 757
Personality Test 138
Final Total895

Q2. After looking at the marksheet, suppose you had to prepare again next time, what changes will you make in your studies?
I will try my level best to improve my interview score. I will also focus more on GS 4 , essay and history paper 1

Career Backup

Q1. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?
Again reappear till I crack it
Q2. When were you going to “execute” that backup plan? (e.g. after __ failed attempts/ after I cross __ age/after dad retires/ after girlfriend dumps me etc.)
Have not given much thought to it

Views on UPSC reforms

Q. Optional subjects should be removed altogether. The present stalemate is helping no-one, except coaching-owners, book publishers.
If optionals will be removed the competition will become more tight as in GS scores do not vary much but at the same time level playing field will be provided to all aspirants.
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 Mains-syllabus in 2015. Let’s face it, most candidates who gave Mains-2015 have 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.
Coaching per se is not a problem . But when they do not complete syllabus on time , charge hefty fees , exploit fears of aspirants etc then it is unethical.
Thanks to internet and its ever expanding reach  that many aspirants from far flung areas are able to access material and guidance provided by mrunal.org , insights and other free blogs & forums without going to Delhi .
Q. UPSC should disclose official prelim answerkey and cutoffs, immediately after prelim is over, instead of postponing it till interview phase is over.
yes it could be done
Q. UPSC should be conducted online like IBPS and CAT exam to shorten the duration of exam.
Yes it could be tried
Q. If you are made the UPSC chairman, what other reforms would you initiate for the civil service exam?
I will try to cut short the cycle ( if possible) . 1 year cycle of examination takes huge toll on aspirants ( particularly psychologically )

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? Did you suffer from such insecurities? What is your message to these candidates?
All these things do not really matter. Just have faith in yourself and be confident


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?
Competition is really like a rat race and aspirants do have to invest a lot cogitatively  and psychologically .  But one should always enjoy this journey as one learns a lot of things during the whole course . Civil Service is one of the best carrier ( just based on my perception ) but it is not end of everything . There are many better alternatives as well. So just never loose hope . Always be committed and motivated .
Q. Many hardworking candidates have failed in Mains/Interview of CSE-2015. They’re feeling cynical, hopeless and depressed- what is your message to them?
Same as above

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?
My family has been biggest source of support and motivation throughout this journey . My parents provided all sort of facilities I demanded and consistently supported me in this endeavor.

BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Q. You are well aware of the sacred rule of conducting toppers interview- 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.
Yes I was a regular follower of mrunal.org. I am a big fan of mrunal sir’s economy series . It is unparalleled in terms of concept clarity , quality and presentation. Even geography and ethics series  were also very good . Thank you mrunal sir for your guidance and support!

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 7 Comments posted

  1. Raj Lodhi

    Thanks for guiding the aspirants with the best bright light the career! Please provide some material for upsc 2016…

  2. Pankaj

    Dear Mrunal Sir,
    Please A request to you
    History ke lecture prelims tak pure upload kar dijiyega
    Thank you.

  3. saba alam

    very useful

  4. Raj Patel Patan

    sir one request i have , if stuff is ready for history lecture please upload it, as it is important for spipa also after all, Sir i m going to attend your lecture live in spipa shortly (2017-jan)!!!

  5. priya

    please somebody explain what he said about wearing spectacles..? I don’t understand

  6. guy

    Thank u mrunal sir. Keep doing the great work. I myself have benefitted a lot today by having read this comprehensive interview about preparations and strategy which is like no other interview. I feel very blessed and lucky to read this post. May God bless u dear sir.

  7. shubham

    Sir from where one should start preparation for optional ..which book would be best to start ?

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