[Topper’s Interview] Abhinav Agnihotri (Rank-302/CSE-2015) Sociology, 4th Attempt, Kurukshetra University, Haryana

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  1. Candidate Profile
  2. Education
  3. Introduction
  4. Electronic Vs Paper material
  5. Tempo and style
  6. Struggle of a Senior player
  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
  16. General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude
  17. Mains answer-writing?
  18. Mains Optional Subject
  19. Before the interview
  20. During the interview
  21. CSE-2015 Marksheet
  22. Career Backup
  23. Views on UPSC reforms
  24. Insecurity about profile
  25. Wisdom
  26. Credit: Friends/family
  27. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate Profile

NameAbhinav Agnihotri
Rank in CSE-2015302
Roll No.0019417
Total attempts in CSE (including this one)4
Optional SubjectSociology
Schooling MediumHindi
College mediumEnglish
Medium chosen for Mains answersEnglish
Medium chosen for InterviewEnglish
Home town/cityAmbala City, Haryana
Work-experience if any3 Years  4 Months
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failuresHaryana PCS, Punjab PCS, Rajasthan PCS—Appeared in interviews, but not selected. 2 Times failed in APFC
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used)Sociology Coaching- Upendra Sir, Sociology Test Series- NICE IAS Praveen Kishore Sir. No Coaching and No Test Series for General Studies. No coaching for Preliminary.
Service preferences (Top-5)IAS>IPS>IFS>IRS-IT>IRS-EC
state cadre preference (Top-5)Haryana>Punjab>Rajasthan>


% in class 1089 %
% in class 1280 %
Graduation course and %Engineer Instrumentation, 78 %
Name of college, city, passing out yearUSIC, Kurukshetra University, Passing Out Yr 2008
Any other professional coursesNA
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievementsPlaying with children, Running, Cycling.


Q. Tell us something about yourself, your family, when and why did you enter in this field of competitive exams?
UPSC Topper Abhinav Agnihotri
In 1993, my family migrated from a small village Shahzadpur, Ambala District, Haryana to Ambala City. I and my brother had hindi medium till tenth standard. Then parents realized English medium and Non medical streams are promising. So we both were destined to become engineers. My parents always stressed importance of study. I , although being an average student, used to stand first in my class till 10th standard. This was possible due to my hard work and parents confidence in me. So there was supportive environment for studies in my home. Although my father studied up to 12th standard yet he inspired us to study hard and score good marks.
I stood first in Ambala District in Matriculation Haryana board in 2002. I was also one among toppers in engineering studies Kurukshetra University 2004-2008 Batch, Even During my job at Navratna Engineers India Limited, my passion for learning, being a student always remained alive.
During my job, I met few friends those were preparing for civil services. They inspired me to take civil services as career option. I started thinking this is right job profile for me. As I wish to take more challenging works, as I used to think my sphere of work should positively and directly help people in distress. I was serving the nation through EIL by constructing big refineries like HMEL, PNCP, Panipat. But I thought I must give chance to my potentials.
My job was tough and demanding. I used to work 9-7 PM excluding 2 hours too and fro journey time. So I decided to leave my job. But family members were not supporting this decision. I persuaded them that it is only a matter of 1 year, I’ll clear exam in 2012 attempt itself. But I came to realize these claims are due to ignorance.  When I failed continuously again and again, family supported me but they kept asking do I still have confidence in myself to clear this exam. My answer every time was I will clear this exam this time. Fortunately God made 2015 “this year”.
My father is in Punjab Police. He is presently working as SHO, Freozepur (Punjab).  He is hard working, sincere and dedicated to his works. That is why I imbibed such qualities in my personality. This has helped me a lot in study and other spheres of life.
My Mother is a teacher. She is double MA. She is very patient and humble. She was my first and last helpline during the torturous process of UPSC examination. She used to guide me, helped me to keep patience during preparation. She is one who helped me to overcome my fears, absorb my pressures and make me stronger.
My brother is a IT Engineer. He works as a manager in a IT company, Panchkula, Haryana. He has been my right hand during whole process starting from taking decision to leave my job to finally financing selection parties. He helped me through guidance, motivation, money and many things else.

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 study life. 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)
I follow internet selectively e.g. current affairs. I use internet to complement the newspapers. Generally I follow some sites like Mrunal, Insightsonindia, EPW, PRS india Newspapers sites. However I make newspapers as basis and try not to be over-indulged in internet surfing. I generally download pdf files, copy-paste data from different sources together in a doc file. I highlight important things so as use these files as notes themselves. And revise them for exam preparation. I have relied a lot on Mrunal.org doc files. I also used internet for tips and guidance from toppers and experts.
For optional papers, I surf internet either to link current affairs with sociology paper 2 or to understand some concepts which I am not able to partially/fully understand from basic books. I make hand written short notes. Generally I try to highlight suitable portions of the downloaded files to make notes onto them. But for some important topics or complex topics I prefer to make hand written notes. Writing by own hand helps retaining the contents.
I had made the notes for specific topics, not for all in General Studies. In sociology, I started with making notes for specific topics. But later I extended note making for almost all topics.
if I have to revise something boring, I prefer writing it in short but quick manner. This keeps my motivation to complete it.
My typical day activities are generally scheduled depending upon the time left for exam, syllabus to be covered, my mind set. However following is a general pattern:
I wake up around 6:00 AM. Then running, daily activities, tea with friends etc will take around 2-2:30 hours. Here running help me to sustain pressures, make a study-physical life balance. Discussions with friends help me discuss topics, getting their point of views. This also expands my social circle.

Then I study with 1-2 breaks of 1-1:30 hours till evening. In evening I will to shop different necessities. In night I will go for planning, strategies etc.. I keep talking to myself. I use A3/A2 sheets to make plans and paste it on wall.. (I think every aspirant paste papers on walls).

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 realize mood swing and distractions are inevitable. 100 % insulation from their effects is not possible. However one can reduce their frequency and duration. One should not go for opting of distractions deliberately e.g. I think I cannot manage study and girls together, I always avoided it. So avoid something that you cannot manage with studies.
To insulate bad effects on study I had developed alternative methods like:
I become a part of a friend circle (sincere, dedicated and liberal). Whenever one/more among us are low on energy/ motivation, other members start taking initiatives. They decide timelines, distribute works to all members. This helps to leverage our levels.
In some areas, I have either no expertise or less interests e.g. notes making for the Hindu. Here I requested friends to give me notes of hindu. I extended and supplement it from other sites and redistributed it. So I took their help to overcome my weaknesses.
Sometimes I deliberately used to promise friends that I will teach them a particular topic. This promise used to propel me to cover the topic in comprehensive and time-bound manner.
I keep boring topics pending till it is urgent. Till that time I concentrate upon my weak areas. I make hand written notes technique when I am not able to keep my momentum.
I also share my mindset, problems and possible solutions with friends and family. Sometimes they help me out of the bad mood/ low motivation.

Struggle of a Senior player

Q1. How did you survive through this mental prison and what’re your words of wisdom to other senior players? If any specific inspirational incident(s), please share.
I new some people who are well deserved for selection but year after year their efforts are not fructifying to final selection. I used to one such persons till 10th May 2015. I like to mention here that this is an exam of positive energy, confidence. This is nature of exam that few things rest on our destiny. But hard work is the key. If you remain frustrated as yesterday you failed or missed the opportunity, then you will not able to win today/tomorrow. Just keep working hard, let things unfold as destiny has written. We should play our parts i.e. to toll for ambition. Rest should be left to nature/god/positive energy.
I personally feel this exam and repeated failures can teach us many new and amazing things in life. E.g. my case- I used to think I can win when I wish to. This had made me somewhat arrogant, impatient and isolated. But repeated failures had helped in generating respect for those putting sincere efforts irrespective of they get successful or not, now I am more patient, now I am more humble. I got very good friends during exam preparation. So this phase of life will give many things to us. It depend on us whether we wish to see pain/anxiety/failures or learning/ skills/friends/ hopes etc.
I suggest you to practice a calm state of mind. Don’t let anxiety eat your energies/hopes. Believe in yourself and keep doing your duty with a smile on face. Smiles add value to your face. (I am also learning these things.. you keep practicing, you will get positive results all around).
Q2. What went wrong in your previous attempt? What changes did you make in this current attempt?
2012- my marks in public administration was poor. I totally ignored the essay paper. I got very bad marks in essay. My interview score was 200/300. I was short of 10 marks from final cut off. I realized I have to prepare mains papers more comprehensively.
In 2012, I had high expectations from myself. I could not digest that I failed and thus created unnecessary pressure and anxiety onto myself. This pressure continued for next two years. It made me miserable for next two years.
2013- Because of 2012 failure, I decided not to appear for this year. The syllabus had also changed this year. I thought I would appear next time with best preparation. I thought 2014 chance would be my final chance and I will get a very good rank. So I focused more on preparation than anything else.
Looking backwards I realize this was wrong decision. not appearing for 2013 prelims was a mistake that I ever repent on. There is nothing like best preparation. Wasting  one year when last year one has appeared for interview was big mistake in my life.
I had good friends to guide me. But I did not listen them as I used to live more in isolation. I had won family “yes” due to 2012 performance. If I had listened my friends and had appeared for exam, I could had selected in 2013.
2014- I appeared in examination after a gap of around 2 years. During these 2 years, I studied a lot and prepared almost everything in syllabus I could think. Here I repeated 2012 problems i.e. high expectations from myself. I did not know some bad thoughts like this will hinder my performance.
Expectations turned into anxiety. Anxiety caused sleeplessness during exam days. I was not able to control my mind during the exam days. Unfortunately I could hardly sleep for 2-4 hours before every exam day in mains. However preparations took me through mains stage.
I appeared for interview in the same board as of 2012 i.e. David Sir Board. The poor sleeping and thus guilt emerging from that continued till interview, I could not remove the guilt and thus related burden. I performed abysmally poor and got bad marks.
Since 2012 to 2014, I could not forgive myself that I failed. This happened as I used to consider myself capable to crack any exam. This overconfidence ruined 3 years of my life. This had given me misery.
2015- This time I controlled my mind and worked upon it. I changed my room from highly competitive environment to a more peaceful area. I mingled with friends those were good to take examination in more lightly and lively manner. I learned from them. I engaged more in my hobbies of running, cycling, playing with children. This helped me a lot to overcome my weaknesses/fears. I let the things go and concentrate only on efforts than on results.
Academically I did not join any test series for preliminary/mains test series. I tried to cover current affairs as comprehensively as I could do. I referred multiple sources but tried to avoid redundancy. I joined mains test series for sociology. This time I joined a test series which challenged my previous learning. This gave me some different perspectives, new knowledge. It also helped me enhancing my answer writing skills in few areas where I was not performing well due to lack of contents.
I joined essay test series. I learned writing methods, practiced diverse essays writings. I was confident I would break the past records of poor marks in essay. But again I failed to fetch good marks in essay. Last time it was 110 (2014), this time 113 (2015). So my efforts were not good enough here.
During exams, I did not take any pressures. Actually I did not bother how my exams will go, what I wrote in papers, who attempted better/worse than me etc… I just wrote what I know and then forgot about it.
This time I had tried to imbibe new things like underlining key points, using diagrams in essay paper, reading question again and again while answering the question, innovate new dimensions rather than repeating same thing in new way etc. (few things like reading question again and again is what I learnt from Madam Ira Singhal interview)

Working professional

If you’re a working professional, share some tips on how to manage studies with job
I had left my job then I started preparation. Other people can guide better than me on this topic.

Prelims (CSAT) General studies

History AncientNCERT
History Modern (Freedom Struggle)SPECTRUM, Bipin Chandra old Ncert 1-3 chapters
Culture and societyNCERTS, Nitin Singhania notes, Added more information from internet. Not prepared Society part as I am student of Sociology
Polity (theory + current)Laxmikant, The Hindu, Mrunal
Economy (theory + current)Ramesh Singh, Sriram Notes, Mrunal
Science (theory + current)Not prepared this topic. Just attempted test series questions
Environment (theory + current)Internet, A Magazine special edition.
geography physicalNCERT, Goh Cheng Leong, Also referred internet and Savindra Singh
geography IndiaNCERT, Goh Cheng Leong, Also referred internet and Savindra Singh
geography worldNCERT, Goh Cheng Leong, Also referred internet
other national/international current affairsThe Hindu, Mrunal , GK Today
Schemes, Policy & Filler StuffIndia Year Book

Q. Any observation / comments / tips about GS prelim 2015 paper?
GS paper was easy. Many people attempted more than 80 questions. Risk of negative marking increases in such cases. Current affairs was given more weightage in 2015.
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)?
Still I have not thought about this thing. I had prepared best of mine for last year prelim. But of course in changed scenario, more attention needs to be paid to GS.

Prelims (CSAT) Aptitude

As  this was a qualifying paper, I did not pay much attention to this paper.

Topicstrategy / booklist
MathsArihant Publications
ReasoningR S Aggarwal
comprehensionArihant Publication
Decision MakingNot Prepared

Q. Any observation / comments / tips about GS Aptitude 2015 paper.
Paper was easy.

Prelim accuracy

Q1. Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? do you think they’re necessary for success?
I did not join any test series. But I used to purchase them and attempt at home. This is important to test oneself using test papers. One can do it by joining a coaching institution or otherwise. Prelim test series also reveal our risk taking behavior, helps us to assess in which types of questions/ areas we have incomplete/wrong data. For freshers, it helps to complete the syllabus Good test series build up confidence, helps in indentifying the weak areas. But bad test series causes unnecessary anxiety.
Bad test series check what you don’t know. They will show that you don’t know 100 %. They don’t ask concepts, important facts, important policies but something exceptional things. Market is flooded with such bad test series. People undergo in self-doubt mode or frustration mode after attempting them. Unfortunately aspirants think this challenges them, inspires them to learn new things. Many big name coaching institutions play this exceptional/odd questions techniques to lure aspirants to join their test series.
Good test series is one that fulfills upsc demands. But nobody knows upsc expectations specifically. One should continuously check whether test series questions are alike upsc conducted exams questions. Don’t get upset by bogus test series. Have confidence. I am not suggesting to ignore them but don’t get swayed by them.

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

attempted Q.correct (Expected)Official score

Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paperYour preparation strategy / booklist?
English paperNot prepared this.
your regional languageHindi, not prepared this.

Q. other observations / tips / comments on the length / difficulty level of compulsory language papers in CSE-2015
I found them easy

Mains: Essay

Q1. How did you prepare for the essay paper?
Wrote essays on different topics, from different streams.;   get my copies checked by friends, checked their copies.

Q2. Which two essays did you write and What key points did you include in it?
Section A:
Character of an institution is reflected in its leader.

  • Different types of institutions in society.
  • Different leaders in society
  • Leaders are representatives of a given institution
  • Not necessarily all leaders are true representatives of a given institution
  • Examples of Nehru and Gandhi, Winston Churchill to show how society was reflected in their leadership.
  • Not remembering all points here.
  • Later on I took the essay in the direction of “problems of institutions are reflected in problems of leadership”. Here I mentioned different institutions like Indian economy, sports, world institutions like WB, UN etc… they are malfunctioning as their leaders lack some qualities.
  • Suggested solutions ranging from moral, technical, technological, administrative etc.

In midway I realized I am distracted from topic. I was not satisfied with my answer.

Section B
Can Capitalism bring Inclusive Growth.

  • Explained what is capitalism and inclusive growth. Mentioned different dimensions of Inclusive growth.
  • Historically capitalism caused inequality, exploitation.
  • However in England, As per economy father Adam Smith, capitalism brought prosperity, inclusive growth.
  • Marx argued this can never bring capitalism. It is source of inequality. In capitalistic system , equality i.e. inclusive growth is never possible.
  • But socialism also failed e.g. china and Russia. They cannot bring fast growth, a prereqution for inclusive growth. Hindu rate of progress based on controlled economy.
  • Capitalism is universal model today. Still world bodies, nations progressing towards inclusive growth. Like MDG, SDG goals.
  • But there is exploitation undergoing mentioned Metro-Satellite theory.
  • I mentioned real time examples of Africa, india etc nations
  • If capitalism is tamed , people participation, good governance etc.. then capitialism can bring inclusive growth
  • Mentioned factors those can inhibit correction in capitalism path.

I used too much knowledge of my optional here. I could have done better if I had thought in general language, not a sociological analysis of the topic. I was aware what I had done.

I again failed to perform better in essays.

General Studies (Mains) paper 1

TopicHow did you prepare?
CultureNECRT Ancient and Medieval, Nitin Singhania Notes, CCRT files downloaded, Current Affairs from Newspapers. I added to Nitin sir notes from internet
Indian historyBipin Chandra old NCERT 1-3 Chapters, Spectrum. I also referred Grover and Grover for few topics.
world historyNCERT
post-independence IndiaBipin Chandra Post Independence, Politics in India NCERT.
Indian societyNot prepared this topic. Sociology optional
role of women, poverty etc.Not prepared this topic. Sociology optional
globalization on Indian societyNCERT
communalism, regionalism, secularismNCERT- Democracy in India
world geo physicalNCERTs, Savindra Singh,
resource distributionMrunal.org
factors for industrial locationMrunal.org
earthquake tsunami etcClubbed this topic and GS Paper 3 topic. CBSE 10th standard book, Current Affairs on this topic from Vision IAS, Mrunal, DM Site for ppts
impact on flora-faunaNot prepared as such

General studies (Mains) paper 2

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
Indian Constitution, devolution, dispute redressal etc.Laxmikant, VISION IAS
comparing Constitution with worldVISION IAS
parliament, state LegislaturesLaxmikant, 2nd ARC, Selected topics from Punchii Commission Reports and NCRWC reports
executive-judiciaryLaxmikant, 2nd ARC, Selected topics from Punchii Commission Reports and NCRWC reports
ministries departmentsLaxmikant, 2nd ARC, Selected topics from Punchii Commission Reports and NCRWC reports
pressure group, informal asso.VISION IAS, Vajiram Printed Notes, IGNOU
Representation of people’s actMrunal doc files
various bodies: Constitutional, statutory..Mrunal doc files
NGO, SHG etcVajiram Printed Notes and Yojana- a special issue
welfare schemes, bodiesIndia Year Book
social sector, health, edu, HRDCurrent Affairs topics from Newspaper, Mrunal, Bills from PRS india, insightsonindia
governance, transparency, accountabilityVajiram Printed Notes and 2nd ARC
e-governanceVajiram Printed Notes.
role of civil serviceVajiram Printed Notes
India & neighborsCurrent Affairs topics from Newspaper notes, Mrunal, IDSA, insightsonindia, VISION IAS Current Affairs
bilateral/global grouping———————DO————————
effect of foreign country policies on Indian interest———————DO————————
international bodies- structure mandate———————DO————————

After GS-2 paper, I was happy that I had worked hard in current affair areas.

General studies (Mains) Paper 3

<tdeight:42px;”> Liberalization<tdeight:42px;”> Ramesh Singh, Mrunal.org

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilizationIn general I referred Ramesh Singh, Sriram notes, Current Affairs from The Hindu—Hand Written notes (took that from my friends), EPW magazine, Vision IAS monthly current affairs.
inclusive growthMrunal.org doc files
BudgetingSriram notes and GOI site for budget, Budget Analysis from newspapers
major crops, irrigationMrunal.org doc files
agro produce – storage, marketingMrunal.org doc files, downloaded pdf files from internet
e-technology for famersVery basics from internet.. I did not go into details of this topic.
farm subsidies, MSPMrunal.org doc files, downloaded pdf files from internet
PDS, buffer, food securityMrunal.org doc files, downloaded pdf files from internet
technology missionNot covered this topic
animal rearing economicsMrunal.org, Vajiram notes
food processingMrunal.org doc files, downloaded pdf files from internet
land reformsBipin Chandra Post Independence, Mrunal.org, Sriram Notes for recommendations and new innovations
InfraMrunal.org, Economic Survey, Downloaded pdf from internet
investment modelsNot covered.. just prepared PPP from Economic Survey and Downloaded pdf from internet
science-tech day to day lifeScience monitor, Mrunal.org, Vision IAS and others
Indian achievements in sci-techScience monitor, Mrunal.org, Vision IAS and others
awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPRScience monitor, Mrunal.org, Vision IAS and others
environmental impact assessmentMrunal.org doc files
Disaster ManagementCBSE 10th standard book, Current Affairs on this topic from Vision IAS, Mrunal, DM Site for ppts
non state actors, internal securityMrunal.org doc files, Vajiram Notes
internal security – role of media, social networking siteMrunal.org doc files, Vajiram Notes
cyber securityMrunal.org doc files, Vajiram Notes
money launderingMrunal.org doc files, Vajiram Notes
border  Management——————DO————————
organized crime, terrorism——————DO————————
security agencies- structure mandate——————DO————————

After GS paper 3, I thought I should have gone for very simple topics also. I was thinking UPSC will not ask very simple questions like livestock rearing, digital India helping farmers, gold monetization scheme, Namami Ganga etc. I ignored such topics thinking these are not exam fodder. I was focusing upon more complex topics. My suggestion is not to ignore anything. One should also prepare simple questions.

General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
ethics and interface, family, society and all the hathodaa topicsEthics, Integrity And Aptitude by Subha Rao, Mishra Sir Class notes,
attitude, moral influence etc.Ethics, Integrity And Aptitude by Subha Rao, Mishra Sir Class notes,
civil service: integrity, impartiality, tolerance to weak etcValues in Administration DOPT manual, 2nd ARC,  Mishra Sir class notes
emotional intelligence, its use in governanceVajiram notes
moral thinkers of India and world. How many thinkers did you prepare?Mishra Sir class notes. I prepared all Indian thinkers mentioned in Subha Rao. Preparaed around 10 thinkers. Not paid much attention to foreign thinkers.
ethics in pub.ad, accountability, laws, rules etc.Values in Administration DOPT manual, 2nd ARC,  Mishra Sir class notes
corporate governanceDownloaded from internet, Subha Rao
probity in governance, work culture2nd ARC, Mishra Sir class notes, DOPT Manual
citizen charter, ethics code, work culture etc.2nd ARC, DOPT Manual
challenges of corruption2nd ARC
case studies on above topicsPracticed them.

Q. Many candidates found Mains-2015 Ethics paper very peculiar and “out of the book”. What are your observations and tips for future aspirants regarding preparation of this paper?
I thought paper was application oriented e.g. Q1- “Discrimination versus Preferential treatment, forgiveness is the attribute of the strong, how do virtues of trustworthiness and fortitude get reflected in the public service” these questions can be answered if we reflect upon these topics. If one has thought/ acted upon such topics then one can write substantially, can cite proper answers.
Some questions asked about problems faced in proper implementation of instruments of good governance like RTI, Media etc. This is also application oriented question.
I had always tried to generate some good real life examples on different topics. I used to write them and revise them periodically. We friends used to discuss ethics topics together. We used to share such incidents/ examples, used to generate examples. We used to critically analyze other’s answers. Give inputs for correction.

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
Opt-P14+3+3+4+2=16305 (19)
Opt-P23+3+1+3+2=1241+1+1=35 (19)

I had attempted all questions in General studies and Optional papers. I believe one should not blindly write anything where he/she does not know. If you know nothing about a question, don’t attempt it. But if you know something, make logical guess about it. Write what you know. But don’t try to expand your 50 words substance to 200 words by just repeating the same idea in different words.  One can try to innovate and generate his/her own logical points.
I had completed the papers. I also know people who attempted lesser questions than me but got better marks.
Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?
Space was enough. Even if one draws diagrams, there is no crunch of space.
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.
For General Studies paper 1 and 3, I have used the bullet points. For general studies paper 2 & 4, I have used mixed pattern i.e. using point forms as well as paragraph forms. For optional papers, I used paragraph form. Wherever questions demand point form, I used it irrespective of what paper it is.  I focused on expressing myself in more effective way, presenting contents in examiner friendly manner.
Most questions were “critically discuss” so I wrote both positive and negative points for most of answers. Wherever I did not know negatives then I tried to innovate. I tried to meet the requirements of the questions. I read questions again and again to know what its demands are.
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.
For general studies, I plainly went for writing to the point especially for paper 1-3. IN GS -4, in some questions I used IBC format. In optional wherever I feel IBC is necessary I wrote in that fashion.
Q5. Did you use highlighters / sketchpens in your answers?
Q6. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in GS1 Geography)
Yes paper 1, paper 3, for geography, economics and internal security. One diagram in ethics paper.
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?
NO. By hand but I tried to make lines as straight as possible
Q9. You wrote the answer in blue pen or black pen?

Mains Optional Subject

Q. What’s your optional subject and why did you chose it and not something else?
Sociology.  I was able to understand this subject easily. I also thought to choose public Administration (one of my subjects in 2012 Mains besides Sociology). But I found public administration scope of syllabus is very broad.  Moreover I was more comfortable in sociology than public administration. One important reason for this confidence in sociology was my teachers. Upendra sir lectures had helped here a lot. My foundation of public administration was weak. So I preferred Sociology.
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)
Yes.. one can opt for sociology.. but don’t go for it only because syllabus is short and few people got good marks in this optional.. you  must check your understanding, comfort level, your interest to  learn more about the subject. You must be able to gain confidence in the subject after some time.
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.)
I would like to mention detailed resource list here.

<tdeight:101px;”> Sociology – The Discipline:Modernity and social changes in Europe and emergence of sociology.Scope of the subject and comparison with other social sciences.Sociology and common sense. <tdeight:101px;”> Upendra Sir notes, Ritzer, My friend shlok’s hand written notes

Sociology as Science
Science, scientific method and critique.
Major theoretical strands of research methodology.
Positivism and its critique.
Fact value and objectivity.
Non- positivist methodologies.
Haralombus, Praveen Kishore Sir Notes, Upendra Sir Notes
Research Methods and Analysis
Qualitative and quantitative methods.
Techniques of data collection.
Variables, sampling, hypothesis, reliability and validity.
Haralombus, Praveen Kishore Sir Notes, Upendra Sir Notes
Sociological Thinkers
Karl Marx.
Emile Durkheim
Max Weber
Talcott Parsons
Robert K. Merton.
Ritzer, Haralombus, Upendra Sir Notes, IGNOU BA notes for thinkers comparisons, Praveen Kishore Sir class notes for Parsons, Weber
Stratification and Mobility
Theories of social stratification
Social mobility
Haralombus, Upendra Sir Notes, Referred few topics from internet,
Works and Economic Life
Social organization of work in different types of society
Formal and informal organization of work.
Labour and society.
Haralombus (Smaller one with orange cover), Ranker Kshitij Tyagi hand written notes (Downloaded from Mrunal.org), Upendra Sir printed notes
Politics and Society
Sociological theories of power.
Power elite, bureaucracy, pressure groups, and political parties.
Nation, state, citizenship, democracy, civil society, ideology.
Protest, agitation, social movements, collective action, revolution.
Upendra Sir Class notes, Haralombus
IGNOU materials and Upendra Sir Notes for underlined portion
Religion and Society
Sociological theories of religion.
Types of religious practices
Religion in modern society
Haralombus, Upendra Sir Notes, Praveen Kishore Sir notes
Systems of Kinship
Family, household, marriage.
Types and forms of family.
Lineage and descent.
Patriarchy and sexual division of labour.
Contemporary trends.
Haralombus, Upendra Sir Notes, Upendra Sir printed notes, few definitions from dictionary, internet for patriarchy topic.
Social Change in Modern Society
Sociological theories of social change.
Development and dependency.
Agents of social change.
Education and social change.
Science, technology and social change.
Upendra Sir class notes and printed notes, internet for dependency theory, Praveen Kishore Sir notes.


  1. Introducing Indian Society:

Perspectives on the study of Indian society
Indology, Structural Functionalism, Marxist Sociology

Upendra Sir Hand written notes and printed notes. Referred Nagla and Mahapatra Sir notes, for Marxist Sociology referred NCERT.
(ii) Impact of colonial rule on Indian society
Social background of Indian nationalism
Modernization of Indian tradition
Protests and movements during the colonial period
Social reforms
Upendra Sir class notes,  Yogendra Singh Book, History books for social reforms and protest movements.
B. Social Structure:
(i) Rural and Agrarian Social Structure:
The idea of Indian village and village studies
Agrarian social structure
IGNOU for village studies.

Upendra Sir class notes,

Caste System
(a) Perspectives on the study of caste systems
Features of caste System
Untouchability-forms and perspective
Upendra Sir class notes and printed notes.
Referred internet for untouchability, Also refer Praveen Kishore notes
Tribal communities in IndiaInternet for Govt Policies, Plans, analysis of them; Upendra Sir class and printed notes
Social Classes in IndiaUpendra Sir class notes, IGNOU for middle class.
Systems of Kinship in India
Patriarchy, entitlements and sexual division of labour
Upendra Sir class notes, IGNOU.
For patriarchy, also referred internet.
Religion and SocietyReferred internet for analysis and current affair topics like conversion; Upendra Sir class notes
C. Social Changes in India:
Visions of Social Change in India
Upendra Sir Class notes, yogendra singh- Modrenization of Indian Tradition.
Rural and Agrarian transformation in India
Changing modes of production in Indian agriculture
Paper by Hmza Alvi, Veena Das Selected notes, IGNOU, upendra Sir class notes and printed notes.
Industrialization and Urbanisation in IndiaUpendra Sir class notes, IGNOU, …………….
Politics and SocietyIGNOU, Smarak Swain Book
Social Movements in Modern IndiaIGNOU, Ghanshayam Shah book. Can refer either of two. Also cover other movements like Labour movement in india, Present status of all these movements etc.
Population DynamicsReferred Yojana on census 2011, internet for different topics. Also cover topic related to Reproductive Health.
Challenges of Social TransformationUpendra Sir class notes, Referred Internet. Also prepare miscellaneous topics along with this chapter like Domestic workers, Disability etc…..

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?
upsc is experimenting in paper 2.. so to cover topics those are not even mentioned in the syllabus, to link current affairs with static knowledge; to understand topics where books are not enough one can refer internet. However basics should be recommended books. First complete them. Then add to that knowledge using internet.
Q. How many months did it take to finish the core optional syllabus?
3-4 months
Q. How many days/ weeks before the exam, you started answer writing practice?
60 days before.
Q. Do you maintain self-notes for revision of optional? In which format- electronic or paper?
Yes. Both in hand written and electronic form. They are complementary to each other. i.e easy or lengthy topics, I prefer electronic medium. For rest topics like difficult to understand/remember I prefer hand written notes.
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?
Sociology paper 2 was different wrt previous years. Last 2 questions were very odd. One can expect such bouncer question in following years. One should enhance level of preparation for handling such questions. I still have to think how to handle these questions.

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?
I followed current Affairs from newspapers and Rajya Sabha TV. I had used the internet extensively, downloaded many pdf files on every possible topics and sub-topics and highlighted them. Read and revised them.
I used to have discussions with friends on various common topics of DAF including current affairs. We used to focus on contents, way of presentation, body language and etiquettes. After we cleared mains stage, sitting frequencies were increased.
I tried to live my hobbies. First month after mains i.e. January 2016 was most dedicated to my hobbies like running, cycling. I read about them from internet. Generated all possible questions, wrote answers for them. Organized data and revised them.
I read previous interviews from forumias, iasbaba sites.
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?
Yes I attended Chankya, Chaitanya, Sankalp mock interviews. Not everywhere one can get all valuable inputs. They are not necessarily a total replica of official interview despite efforts to produce same situations using the infrastructure, mock panelists profile etc.
Conditions are different as candidate mindset might be different. Few candidates perform well in mocks but not in interviews due to pressures of real interview. The reverse can also be true. But some candidates take their inputs as burdens.
Interviews are very subjective. What mock panelists may not be liking, upsc panels might not bother about it. One should join mock interviews. But not take them to tag yourself in a negative manner rather use them to correct yourself.
Q3. Where did you stay for the interview? (Hotel / friend’s home …) and what books/material did you bring for the ‘revision before interview’?
I stayed at my own rental room at mukherjee nagar. I revised hand written notes. I stopped preparing 1 day before interview date.
Q4. Any words of wisdom about Medical checkup?
Remember to take 8 photos, eye prescriptions, other medical  history related reports and documents. Take some eatables to consume after blood sampling.
Q5. Describe the formal-dress worn by you in interview.
It was blue suit, white shirt, blue tie, black shoes, black socks, a white handkerchief.

During the interview

Q1. Who was the chairman of you interview board?
Manbir Singh Sir
Q2. How long was the interview?
25-30 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?]
I consider civil service is one of best platforms to work for nation and citizens. It is a challenging, prestigious job. My previous job was also a govt sector job and I was indirectly serving the nation and citizens. However I opted to expand my responsibilities and areas of work by joining civil service. I thought I have potential to clear this exam. I thought I can be an agent of development and welfare of people.
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)
(Sorry I am just mentioning the questions despite you clearly told to write answers )

Chairman Sir- What you been doing for last 5 years.
have you gone through Budget? What are the provisions of budget those will increase the Gross National Product.
Important proivison of budget accoriding to me.

M1: what is start up india
What is time period for a startup to be considered as start up
As per you as an instrumentation engineer, what should be focused in start ups and in which areas startups can be set up
Had your institution helped  to set up any startup.

M2: JNU problem and my views.
Why Afzal guru had been a in news while he did not directly attacked the parliament.
What is naxalism problem. Why tribals are not helping the government. What are the solutions? Can government solve this and how time will it take.

M3: asked about the higher education related questions,  problems of Indian higher education.
What can be done

M4: which matters will be under scope of state and which under centre.
If given a choice, what kind of model will you use to deliver better health services to Indians.

I thought I had given a good interview. But my marks were very surprising. I got only 138. It is not that I don’t understand what a good interview means? i and my other experienced friends had no reasons to justify such low marks. But I still believe there might be some wrongs with me. I would try to improve this.
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?
It was very general interview. They did not ask anything about the DAF. It was like questions from General Studies Paper 2 and 3.  No , it was not stress interview. I was epecting they will ask some challenging questions, DAF based questions but this did not happen.
Q6. Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document or do xyz thing, or you’ll face problem”?

CSE-2015 Marksheet

Q1. Please attach both prelim and final marksheet
Prelims mark sheet-

Subject Marks obtained
Paper 1141
Paper 2147

Mains mark sheet-

Subject Marks obtained
General Studies Paper 189
General Studies Paper 298
General Studies Paper 3105
General Studies Paper 497
Sociology Paper 1126
Sociology Paper 2132
Written Total760

Career Backup

Q1. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?
for first three years I did not think about the career option as I was confident to get clear this exam. However fourth year i.e. 2015 I started searching for engineering job.
I had confusion: should I go to coaching so that I keep concentrating on my upsc preparations or should I focus on engineering job to secure my future.
I was clear that bank jobs and other jobs are not my interest areas. So I was not ready to sit for these exams and join them. I know I will not get job satisfaction there.
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.)
After this 2015 exam. Actually I had started executing these back up plans. I had applied to many coaching institutes. I was revising my engineering subjects, reviving my old contacts to get an opportunity for a job.

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.
Optional don’t give level playing field. But general studies are fetching almost equal marks for many candidates. General Studies papers are very uncertain with unlimited syllabus. So technically what effects optional removal will cause, it is hard to predict.
It is true that coaching institutes are thriving on uncertainty generated by changed pattern.
Q. Your views on the decision to make CSAT paper 33% qualifying?
CSAT can remain as a qualifying paper. This will certainly help rural background and Hindi medium students who cannot fetch as high scores as numerous English medium aspirants get. A merit deciding CSAT paper is not necessarily a level playing field in Indian conditions.
I think it can be made 50 % qualification. 33 % is comparatively low threshold. 33 % threshold is increasing competition in GS paper. Even few students after passing present CSAT paper fail in English Compulsory paper of mains. 50 % threshold might force them to hone their language skills. This will help to clear mains English paper.
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.
Actually greed has blinded coaching institutes. Coaching itself is not bad. But the way delhi coaching houses run after making money is bad. They sometimes misguide students, not complete the syllabus, charge exorbitant fees, not help students becoming self-dependent etc . These coaching institutes believe in restricting information, knowledge than sharing this.
Sites like Mrunal, insightsonindia etc are helping students. These are good signs for student community.
Internet, guidance, regular evaluation wrt cream students etc  have become the necessities of this exam, rural students also need to fulfill them.
Whenever rural students get trapped by coaching institutions, they suffer. So system works against them.
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. (atleast that was the scene in 2013).
Yes true. Even I cleared IFoS prelim 2015 but not appeared for IFoS mains. This is not good thing for players who’re solely dedicated to IFoS only.

Q. UPSC should disclose official prelim answer key and cutoffs, immediately after prelim is over, instead of postponing it till interview phase is over.
if this does not lead to filing of cases against upsc in high court/supreme court, then upsc must do this. This is right of students. But in SPSCs I see disclosing official keys in between exam process have led to huge and lengthy litigations. This can delay examination process.  In that case it will be violation of rights and injustice with students.

Q. UPSC should be conducted online like IBPS and CAT exam to shorten the duration of exam.
This is a good option. Upsc should further shorten its process duration.
Q. If you are made the UPSC chairman, what other reforms would you initiate for the civil service exam?
Like Punjab Public Service Commission, UPSC should also conduct a counseling session with finally selected students. This is to confirm:
Whether ranker is willing to join the service he/she will be getting? In many cases Already IPS get IRTS, they don’t join. Seat remains vacant. Somebody on next rank should get this

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?
I thought I have not that “decent” hobbies. My hobbies are Running and Cycling. In 2014 interview I suffered from such insecurities. In 2015 I had worked a lot. So I was well confident in hobbies. But board did not ask any question about it.


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?
Work hard. Don’t give up. Believe in God and keep putting your best efforts. Keep a smile on face.
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?
It is only the tough time that will reveal your strengths. This path is our own choice. We should believe in our decisions. Keep working. Don’t give up.

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 parents, brother, friends and GOD.

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.
It has helped me a lot. I have mentioned this on above pages. Here I thank Mrunal for helping so many students like me. Thank you.

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 4 Comments posted

  1. ankur

    congrats sir! your Hard work has paid off!!

  2. dirat

    He scored so nicely in prelims……. Great Man!!!!!!!!

  3. suraj kumar panda

    Congratulation sir! I am doing bsc maths in hindi medium.Is it possible to take maths optional in hindi medium and what should be its result?

  4. vikas dhuriya

    Sir what will be useful for IR and science studying .please guide me .Hopping ans. soon.Thanking u sir.

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