[Topper’s Interview] Samir Saurabh (Rank-127/CSE-2015) Anthropology, NIT Tiruchirappalli, Jharkhand allotted to IPS

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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. Mains General studies paper 1 to 4
  14. General Studies (Mains) paper 1
  15. General studies (Mains) paper 2
  16. General studies (Mains) Paper 3
  17. General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude
  18. Mains answer-writing?
  19. Mains Optional Subject
  20. Before the interview
  21. During the interview
  22. CSE-2015 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

Q. Details
Name Samir Saurabh
Rank in CSE-2015 127
Roll No. 0407622
Age 32
Total attempts in CSE (including this one) 4
Optional Subject Anthropology
Schooling Medium English
College medium English
Medium chosen for Mains answers English
Medium chosen for Interview English
Home town/city Hazaribag (JH)
Work-experience if any 4 years in Morgan Stanley, Mumbai
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failures Not Applicable (N/A)
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used) Sriram’s IAS for GS, Vaid’s ICS for Anthro, Samkalp and Chanakya for Interview
Service preferences (Top-5) IAS>IPS>IFS>IRS(IT)>IRS(C&CE)
Finally allotted to IPS
state cadre preference (Top-5) MP>GJ>MH>RJ>AP


% in class 10 87
% in class 12 77
Graduation course and % B. Tech. in Computer Science and Engineering; CGPA 8.9 out of 10
Name of college, city, passing out year NIT Tiruchirappalli, TN; 2007
Post-graduation N/A
Any other professional courses N/A
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievements Sketching, Painting, English Crosswords


Q. Tell us something about yourself, your family, when and why did you enter in this field of competitive exams?
Samir Saurabh
I am the eldest of my two siblings. My father is a retired Executive Engineer (State Govt) and my mother is a homemaker. My younger brother is an IIT grad and MBA from US, and is currently working in Singapore. My sister is married and lives in Chennai. I got married in 2010 and have a very supportive wife, who has my pillar of strength during the last 5 years. And yes … I also have a lovely 4-year old daughter, who is always confused that why does her dad study so much J
During my school and Btech days, I never “dreamt” of becoming an IAS or an IPS. I always thought that a private sector job is way cooler than a public sector one. So, with full zeal, I joined Morgan Stanley through campus placement. Job as Morgan was great. I was working with some of the best brains of the industry, and on very crucial projects. But after 3 years or so, a sense of discontent started emerging. Job started to look monotonous. There was hardly any direct social impact of my work. Though the working environment at Morgan was very encouraging, diverse and cosmopolitan, I personally felt I wanted something more out of my life – something where I can make a direct contribution to the society.
Jumping into Civil Services Preparation was the natural, and perhaps the best option.

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)
I am an old-school guy. I always prefer paper material over electronic ones. If I find something important online, I generally take a printout and read from that.
A typical day in my study-life starts at about 9 in the morning. During the first 1.5 hours, I glimpse through the newspapers (The Hindu and Indian Express) and highlight the important articles which I have to make notes upon. Then, as per that day’s plan, I study sections of GS or Optional. After lunch, I sleep for about 1.5 hours in the afternoon, and spend another 1.5 hours in the evening with my wife and daughter. During late evenings and night, I again study GS/Optional as per the plan. And in the last 2 hours (generally 12 to 2 am), I prepare word-doc notes from the newspaper based on articles that I highlighted in the morning. At the end of each month, I take the printout of the newspaper notes and revise them.
My focus during preparation is to make my revision easier. So, I always make notes for my optional and some areas in GS. However, there are few books, which one has to read thoroughly – for these I did not make separate notes. At best, I wrote few keywords on page margins, or used those yellow stickies.

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 think the prime mover for this exam HAS to be a very strong motivation – why one wants to enter Civil Services. If this motivation is strong, issues such as lack of consistency and slacking momentum can be taken care of to a large extent. But since the exam calendar is so long, one must proactively guard against such issues. Inculcating interest in the subjects, following a weekly and a daily study plan and testing one’s preparation level periodically are some of the ways to stay focussed.
But despite all this, there WILL be days when you just don’t want to study, which is quite natural. Do whatever refreshes you – watch a movie, chill out with friends, go for a long walk, play with your daughter J etc. But then, do get back to your study table the next day – with full vigor. Prolonging such cooling-off periods can be fatal to your preparation as well as your morale.

Struggle of a Senior player

(Answer only if you’re 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.
Understanding the nature of this exam is crucial for a candidate. I think patience and perseverance are the twin oars that can steer you through tough times during preparation. Always have faith in your abilities, and stay optimistic. But then, if you are failing in prelims repeatedly, there’s something seriously wrong with your preparation approach, and you must rectify that. Success in prelims/mains can be a great motivator.  I think I survived to take my 4th attempt because I had reached till the interview stage in CSE 2013 and 2014. Therefore, I knew I needed to iron out only a few flaws to make it to the final list.
While there is no specific incident which inspired me, I remember being quite pumped-up after listening to Suharsha Bhagat (AIR 5, CSE 2014), who got into IAS in his 5th attempt.  His story of failures, struggles and finally success motivated me to stay in the hunt. As he said, perhaps UPSC also realizes that its recruitment process is a bit subjective, and that’s why it has given 4 (now 6) attempts to a candidate to prove her worth.
Q2. What went wrong in your previous attempt? What changes did you make in this current attempt?
In my first attempt, I failed in prelims, because I was a bit overconfident about Paper 2 (CSAT). In 2nd and 3rd attempts, I reached till the Interview stage, but failed to make into the final list because of low marks in mains. In this attempt, I wrote answers in Anthro more from an application-oriented perspective, rather than a purely theoretical perspective. Also, used lots of examples and diagrams in my answers. I think this strategy might have paid off, since I got good marks in Anthro this time.

Working professional

If you’re a working professional, share some tips on how to manage studies with job
I had quit my job before coming to Delhi, because I wanted to give my best to Civil Services preparation.

Prelims (CSAT) General studies

Topic strategy/booklist/comment
History Ancient Ancient India (NCERT 11th) by RS Sharma. Must read it from Cover to Cover.
History Medieval Did not prepare. I felt there was too much to read and not many questions come from Medieval. Studied some specific topics such as Mughal architecture, etc.
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra et al. THE best book, by far. In order to answer History questions, you need to be aware of the story around an event, which is given beautifully in this book.
Culture and society Selective study of Spectrum’s Art&Culture. Also, use Ancient India NCERT.
Polity (theory + current) DD Basu and Sriram’s IAS Polity; PM Bakshi for Bare Acts. The Hindu for current affairs.
Economy (theory + current) Introductory Macroeconomics (NCERT); Sriram’s IAS Economy; The Hindu; Economic Survey; Mrunal.org
Science (theory + current) The Hindu only. Focussed less on Science-Tech because of its low reward to effort ratio.
Environment (theory + current) The Hindu, Wikipedia, Mrunal.org
Geography physical Goh Cheng Leong; NCERT 11th Fundamentals of Physical Geog.
Geography India NCERT 11th India Physical
Geography world Resource Geography – NCERT 8th
Other national/international current affairs Newspaper (The Hindu)
Schemes, Policy & Filler Stuff Newspaper(The Hindu)

Q. Any observation / comments / tips about GS prelim 2015 paper?
I think the preparation should always be aligned towards the Main exam, not prelims. But yes, 40 to 50 days before the prelims, the focus should be solely on prelims. Prepare the 4 core topics – History, Polity, Economy and Geography very well. Topics such as Envt and Science-Tech have high volatility in terms of number of questions asked. So, better be selective in these.
In GS Prelims 2015, quite a few questions tested your awareness level not only from very recent topics, but also from topics which have been in news over the last two years or so. So, mugging up Prelims-specific notes from Coaching institutes may not be very helpful. Having a comprehensive and deeper awareness about national and international happenings is crucial now.
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)?
I don’t think anything else needs to be done. If you prepare the 4 core topics solidly, and stay abreast of current affairs, you should be able to answer 65-70% of the questions in GS Prelims (assuming average difficulty level of the paper).

Prelims (CSAT) Aptitude

Topic strategy / booklist
Maths Revise the formulae; and Practice & Practice
reasoning Nothing specific.
comprehension Inculcate the habit of reading a good newspaper. That should be sufficient.
Decision Making Think like an administrator in such questions.

Q. Any observation / comments / tips about GS Aptitude 2015 paper.
Never align your preparation strategy to a specific pattern of questions asked by the UPSC, because the pattern may be changed anytime. UPSC is always keen on staying unpredictable. For example, in Prelims 2015, there were no decision-making questions in Paper 2. You have to be ready for such surprises.

Prelim accuracy

Q1. Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? do you think they’re necessary for success?
During my previous attempts (CSE 2013 and 2014), when CSAT was crucial for success in prelims, I attended CL’s Mock tests, which were extremely helpful in improving my accuracy and speed. In CSE 2015, I did not attend any mock test. Now that CSAT has been made qualifying, the usefulness of such mock tests has reduced. But still, for those who are not from Science/Maths background, I would strongly suggest to take few mock tests to improve speed and accuracy.
For Paper I of prelims, mock test can be useful, though to a limited extent. Many coaching institutes come up with their own such tests, but the level of questions in most of these is sub-standard and does not reflect the UPSC level. Still, from a revision point-of-view, these mock tests may be helpful.

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

  attempted Q. correct (Expected) Official score
GS 76 69 128.00
aptitude 56 51 124.89

Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paper Your preparation strategy / booklist?
English paper Nothing specific
your regional language Nothing specific

Q. Other observations / tips / comments on the length / difficulty level of compulsory language papers in CSE-2015
I found both the papers of average difficulty level. Compulsory language papers should not be an issue for those who are comfortable with the language. Just go through last years’ question papers to see the type of questions asked, and prepare a bit accordingly. Pay special attention to your spelling and grammar in the essays.

Mains: Essay

Q1. How did you prepare for the essay paper?
[Copy-pasting from my blog samirsaurabh.wordpress.com] My Essay scores have generally been good: 120, 146 and 146 in CSE 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively. But I never prepared specially for Essay. Nevertheless, I feel that during the normal course of CSE preparation, one can take certain measures, which would help her in writing a good essay.
Before the preparation
Good and wide knowledge, and a certain level of command over the language are the sine qua non for writing an effective essay. Generally, candidates have a paucity of time when they enter the active preparation phase of CSE preparation, with multiple classes, test series, newspapers, optional etc. to be taken care of simultaneously. Hence, if possible, a good foundation of wide knowledge and language skills should be laid out before such a hectic schedule begins – maybe during their graduation years, or in the initial months of the preparation when the pressure is a bit light.

  • Inculcate the habit of reading one English newspaper (preferably The Hindu or Indian Express) daily – for atleast one hour.
  • Carefully observe the usage of expressions which are powerful and effective, and note them down in a separate notebook
  • Build your vocabulary and fine-tune grammar skills
  • Increase your overall general awareness about domestic and international happenings. In other words, get in the right frame of mind.

During the preparation
As I said, I did not do anything specific towards Essay preparation. Infact, the scope of GS is so vast that if you do your GS well and thoroughly, you would have sufficient material to write on any Essay topic. You just need to be able to identify the relevant information specific to the essay topic, and present it in a coherent and lucid style.

  • Continue to note down powerful and effective expressions and revise them, ideally, once a week
  • There are certain sectors such as Education, Health, Science-Tech, Agriculture, Gender issues, Poverty etc. which, I feel, are like “universal supersets”. Generally, most of the essay questions can be traced back to any one of these sectors. So, for these sectors:

    • Remember the latest relevant data (eg. Literacy rate, Enrolment ratio, Rain-fed area %, Net Sown Area %, Poverty level, Sex Ratio, doctor to patient ratio, student-teacher ratio, etc). Most of such data regularly appear in the editorials of Hindu or Express. You MUST note down and mug them up.
    • Most of the fodder for these sectors would come from newspapers, Yojana and maybe Frontline. But you MUST also read up these sectors from the Economic Survey for that year. You’ll get most recent data there, as well as the steps the Government is taking for addressing the challenges.
    • In a specific sector, if some report has been widely published, you must be aware of its basic findings. Eg. Pratham’s ASER in Education, PISA by OECD etc. and quote them in your essay. It would give a rich feel to your essay.
    • Keep handy few quotations relevant for each of these sectors. You can use them in introduction and/or conclusion. However, do not try to compulsorily push a quotation which might jump out as sorely out of context and disrupt the natural flow of your essay.
  • If you must, join any Essay Test Series. But please be careful here. The aim of joining such a program must only be to practice writing essays, and NOT an expectation of getting the right guidance and accurate feedback – because generally, the evaluation & feedback quality of Essay programs of most of the coaching institutes are sub-par. It is better to get yourself evaluated from your peers or seniors.

Q2. Which two essays did you write and What key points did you include in it?
Essay1:  “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make a man more clever devil
Key Points: Used my basic understanding of Ethics paper. Focussed on issues such as corruption, crony capitalism, tax evasion, money laundering, and other white-collar crimes, etc. (I’m afraid I don’t remember specific details)
Essay 2:Can capitalism bring inclusive growth?
Key points: Yes, it can, but it must not be laissez-faire. As Stiglitz has pointed out, the “invisible hand” suggested by Smith does not exist. Government must play a critical role in resource distribution etc. So yes, regulated capitalism is needed. Pure socialism has failed to be successful in a democratic setup (Examples of USSR, Cuba, etc.)
My choice was based on my understanding of the topics, and how much content I had to do justice to these topics.

Mains General studies paper 1 to 4

General Studies (Mains) paper 1

Topic How did you prepare?
Culture Ancient India (NCERT), Nitin Singhania’s notes, CCRT, Spectrum, self notes on few topics, etc.
Indian history Bipan Chandra’s India’s Struggle for Independence
World history NCERTs of class IXth and Xth (Arjun Dev)
Post-independence India Bipan Chandra’s India Since Independence
Indian society Newspapers (The Hindu & Indian Express)
Role of women, poverty etc. Newspapers
globalization on Indian society Newspapers
communalism, regionalism, secularism Newspapers
world geo physical Goh Cheng Leong, NCERT 11th
resource distribution Resource Geography, NCERT 8th
factors for industrial location
earthquake tsunami etc NCERT, wiki etc.
impact on flora-fauna Newspapers

General studies (Mains) paper 2

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian Constitution, devolution, dispute redressal etc. DD Basu, Sriram’s IAS Notes, Newpapers
comparing Constitution with world Wiki
parliament, state Legislatures DD Basu; Newspapers; prs.org for Bills/Acts
executive-judiciary DD Basu
ministries departments PIB; India 2015
pressure group, informal asso. Sriram’s IAS
Representation of people’s act Sriram’s IAS
various bodies: Constitutional, statutory.. Sriram’s IAS
NGO, SHG etc Sriram’s IAS
welfare schemes, bodies Newspapers
social sector, health, edu, HRD Newspapers
governance, transparency, accountability Newspapers
e-governance Newspapers
role of civil service Sriram’s IAS
India & neighbors Internet, Newspapers, Sriram’s IAS
bilateral/global grouping Internet, Newspapers, Sriram’s IAS
effect of foreign country policies on Indian interest Internet, Newspapers, Sriram’s IAS
Diaspora Internet, Newspapers, Sriram’s IAS
international bodies- structure mandate Internet, Newspapers, Sriram’s IAS

General studies (Mains) Paper 3

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilization Sriram’s IAS Economy, Economic Survey, Newspapers
inclusive growth Sriram’s IAS Economy, Economic Survey, Newspapers
Budgeting Sriram’s IAS Economy, Budget Doc
major crops, irrigation Sriram’s IAS Economy (Agriculture), Economic survey, Plan Docs, Newspapers
agro produce – storage, marketing Sriram’s IAS, Mrunal.org
e-technology for famers Plan Docs, Economic Survey
farm subsidies, MSP Sriram’s IAS, Economic Survey
PDS, buffer, food security Sriram’s IAS, Economic Survey, Plan Docs
technology mission Sriram’s IAS, Economic Survey
animal rearing economics Self prepared notes from Plan Docs, internet
food processing Mrunal.org, Plan Docs
land reforms Bipan Chandra’s India Since Independence
Liberalization Sriram’s IAS, Bipan Chandra
Infra Plan Docs
investment models
science-tech day to day life Newspapers (The Hindu & Indian Express)
Indian achievements in sci-tech Newspapers (The Hindu & Indian Express)
awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPR Newspapers (The Hindu & Indian Express)
environmental impact assessment Newspapers (The Hindu & Indian Express)
Disaster Management Sriram’s IAS notes; McGraw Hill’s “Challenges to India’s Internal Security” (Ashok Kumar)
non state actors, internal security -do-
internal security – role of media, social networking site -do-
cyber security -do-
money laundering -do-
border  Management -do-
organized crime, terrorism -do-
security agencies- structure mandate -do-

General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude

Topic How Did You Prepare?
ethics and interface, family, society and all the hathodaa topics Lexicon for Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude; SK Mishra Sir’s Notes
attitude, moral influence etc. -do-
civil service: integrity, impartiality, tolerance to weak etc -do-
emotional intelligence, its use in governance -do-
moral thinkers of India and world How many thinkers did you prepare? Only those related to theories, e.g Aristotle, Pluto, Socrates, Gandhi, etc.
ethics in pub.ad, accountability, laws, rules etc. Lexicon for Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude; SK Mishra Sir’s Notes
corporate governance -do-
probity in governance, work culture -do-
citizen charter, ethics code, work culture etc. -do-
challenges of corruption -do-
case studies on above topics -do-

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?
As I said, one’s preparation strategy must not be aligned to a specific pattern of questions asked by UPSC. Ethics paper, in general, demands a deep level of self-awareness. You must know who inspires you and why, what are your likes and dislikes, what have your learnt from your failures, etc. These questions are very individualistic, and each candidate would have a different answer.
Mains 2015 ethics paper was different because the case studies were not “standard” – they needed some time to think and understand. So, time management is crucial. Also, I feel one must develop the habit of writing good quality answers for Ethics paper. So yes, I feel the quality of language does matter in ethics paper.
Moreover, for Case Studies, there should be a standard approach – as highlighted in Lexicon. It should include a brief gist of the issue, duty of the office in question, unambiguous steps to be taken, and conclude with what the Constitution/Law says. Awareness of crucial laws such as RTI, RTE, POCSO, Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace, Whistleblower’s Act, Right to Service Act, etc. , along with Civil Service Conduct Rules, is definitely a plus, and must be quoted in your answers.
Among all the four GS papers, Ethics paper needs minimum effort. So, if you prepare it well, you can get very good marks with less effort.

Mains answer-writing?

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

Paper Best attempted Average quality namesake answer Total attempt
GS1 14 4 2 20
GS2 13 6 1 20
GS3 11 6 3 20
GS4 10 2 1 13
Opt-P1 4 1 5
Opt-P2 4 1 5

Q. 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.) Because the UPSC aspirant Community is divided over what counts as a ‘good’ paper. Some experts claim you should attempt all- even if it involves “making up” an answer with filler lines, some claim attempt only those questions you know perfectly. Where do you stand on this? [Based on your experience and of your seniors/buddies]
I think the single MOST important factor in Main exam is Time Management. The approach must be to finish the paper, and at any cost, do not leave any question which you know something about. No one is writing perfect answers in the exam. You just need to ensure that you do write what is asked, and do not try to bluff the examiner with drivel. If you come across a question which you know very well, do not get carried away and write more that what is desired, or eat up more time than you’ve set for each question. Typically, each question must be done in 7-8 minutes. So, make sure you do about four questions per 30 minutes.
Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?
There is ample space to write your answers. So, you don’t need to practice writing small, etc. More than the space, focus on the time while writing answers.
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.
My advise is that if you have more than sufficient content for a question, write it in paragraph-cum-bullets. Bullets allow you to write more points/keywords in lesser time. But each bullet must be a complete sentence. Do not try to get away by mentioning just the keywords.
On the other hand, if you know very little about a question – say no more than 2-3 points, then try to rephrase it in good paragraphs, and underline the keywords. But be careful not to fill up the space with irrelevant garbage.
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.
The new mains pattern gives no time for the traditional “intro-body-conclusion” format. But still, rather than jumping directly to the answer, I tried to have one sentence for the introduction and one/two sentence(s) for conclusion. For example, in the question on Uniform Civil Code (UCC), I devoted one sentence to define what it is, and mentioned about Art. 44. The body contained the crux of the answer, and in the conclusion, presented an optimistic hope and the expected benefits of UCC.
Q5. Did you use highlighters / sketchpens in your answers?
No. Not in GS. But yes, underlining the keywords, with pen, is important. In few questions in Anthropology, I used black and green pen for drawing the diagrams.
Q6. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in GS1 Geography)
Yes. One MUST draw diagrams and maps in GS 1, esp. in Geography. I drew diagrams to explain Ocean Currents in GS 1. Also, I drew a map of India and World to discuss labour migration trends.
Q7. If yes, Did you draw diagrams with pencil or pen?
Pen. I am equally comfortable in drawing with pen and pencil. So, in order to save time, I used pen.
Q8. Did you use ruler to draw the lines in diagram? Or did you just make it by hand?
No time to use the ruler. I made it by hand.
Q9. You wrote the answer in blue pen or black pen?
Blue Ball pen – Cello Butterflow.

Mains Optional Subject

Q. What’s your optional subject and why did you chose it and not something else?
My optional is Anthropology. In CSE 2013, my optional was Geography. But despite putting in good effort in Geo, I got very poor marks (163/500) in it that year and failed to make into the final list by few marks. I felt that Geography marks may be a bit volatile in near future, and hence decided to take Anthro after some research. Anthro has the advantage of having a relatively manageable syllabus, which can be done well in 4 months time. Moreover, the subject appeared quite interesting.
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)
I would most certainly advise her to pick Anthro. But one must not go by my advice, rather choose an optional based on her interest. Look into Anthro’s syllabus and last few years’ questions. If they attract you and you feel you can study it for 4 hours daily, go for 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.)
[Again, Copy-Pasting from by blog] The books that I followed for Anthropology are:
Paper I:
In Search of Ourselves: An Introduction to Social Cultural Anthropology *– Naresh Kumar Vaid
An Introduction to Social Anthropology – DN Majumdar & TN Madan
The Tribal Culture of India* – LP Vidyarthi & Binay Kumar Rai
Physical Anthropology * – P. Nath
History of Anthropological Thought – Upadhyay & Pandey
Anthropology – Ember & Ember (only for reference)
Paper II:
The Tribal Culture of India*– LP Vidyarthi & Binay Kumar Rai
An Outline of Indian Prehistory – DK Bhattacharya
Tribal India * – Nadeem Hasnain
Indian Anthropology * – Nadeem Hasnain
Indian Anthropology * – PK Singh and VS Sahay (out of print now, I studied from its photocopy)
(*) The MUST HAVE books
Along with these books, there is one more resource which you will need to get a good score in Anthro, and which you MUST prepare on your own – Topic-Wise Question Bank of the last 10 years’ Anthro papers.
Such a topic-wise question bank is available for the more popular optionals, and I am given to understand that even for Anthro, it is available now. But still, I insist that each one of you should prepare a question bank on your own – it would be immensely beneficial in familiarizing yourself with the syllabus, understanding the relative weightage of topics in terms of questions asked, and more importantly, establishing a personal connect with the subject and its syllabus.
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?
Anthropology is largely static. So, not much internet search is needed. I think 90% preparation can be done from the books/self-made notes. But yes, if a new fossil is found, or a new excavation is done in India, one must be aware of it. Idea is to keep an eye for events related to your optional, and then decide whether this is relevant for the exam or not.
Q. How many months did it take to finish the core optional syllabus?
In my first attempt with Anthro, i.e. CSE 2014, I finished the core optional syllabus in 3.5 to 4 months.
Q. How many days/ weeks before the exam, you started answer writing practice?
Answer-writing practice is a continuous process, which should go in parallel with one’s preparation. Once I finished a sub-topic, I looked at the type of questions asked previously and tried to answer it. Then, I got it evaluated from Vaid Sir. And yes, in the last 1 month before the exam, focus must only be on revision, nothing else.
Q. Do you maintain self-notes for revision of optional? In which format- electronic or paper?
I think self-notes are a must for Anthropology. I maintained hand-written self-notes on most of the topics of the syllabus, and revised them multiple times.
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?
2015 Anthro paper was slightly trickier than 2014 paper. But I think 2014 paper was an aberration because it was a very easy paper. I think in future, questions, especially in Paper 2, will be more dynamic – as they were in 2015. One must focus on having a good understanding of atleast 85% of the syllabus. And in Anthro answers, examples and diagrams are very important.

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 picked up the keywords from my Detailed Application Form (DAF), and used internet/wiki etc. to prepare a detailed word document on each of these. Focus was on being aware of the basic information in each of these fields.
For Current Affairs etc., I read The Hindu and Indian Express very carefully. Also, watched Rajya Sabha TV’s The Big Picture to gain insight on recent issues.
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 mock interviews by Samkalp and Chanakya IAS. Also, took a personal session with Mr. Ravindran of Vajiram&Ravi, which was quite helpful. As I had been to the actual UPSC interview twice (in CSE 2013 and 2014), I was aware of the basics. Focus was to develop and maintain a desired level of confidence just before the interview.
I found the mock interviews to be slightly different from the actual interview. Though the nature of questions is similar, the entire ambience and environment of a UPSC interview is very different from a mock interview. But I must add that Chanakya’s mock – both in terms of quality of questions as well as the overall ambience of the interview room – was almost at par with the actual UPSC interview.
I think attending a couple of mock interviews can certainly help in identifying the key areas of the profile, overcoming the fear of speaking, and make a candidate more confident. But mocks must not be overdone. At most – 3-4 mocks are sufficient to judge your level and improve. If a mock is not available closeby, you can form a group of peers and discuss issues related to your DAF/current affairs, etc. Idea is to assess yourself before the UPSC does.
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 in Delhi only – in my rented accommodation – where I had done my preparation from. And I am not a last-minute-revision guy – it stresses me even further. So, brought no books/material to the UPSC building.
Q4. Any words of wisdom about Medical checkup?
A detailed set of instructions is issued just before the medical checkup date, which enlists things such as minimum fasting hours, prescription eyeglasses, etc. Make sure you follow the instructions. It will help you avoid inconvenience at the hospital. Rest all is pretty routine. Nothing to worry about.
Q5. Describe the formal-dress worn by you in interview.
Plain Blue full-sleeve formal shirt, dark blue non-shining tie, dark grey formal trousers, brown socks, black leather shoes.

During the interview

Q1. Who was the chairman of you interview board?
Mr. Vinay Mittal Sir.
Q2. How long was the interview?
35-40 minutes 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?]
For me, the greatest pull factor for joining civil services is public service. Social service can be done from private sector/NGO also, but the level of impact you can make as a civil servant is much more deeper and diverse. Moreover, Services such as IAS/IPS offer one of the best career options in the country today (in my view).
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 was cordial and smooth. The questions were very diverse, such as Why Civil Services, UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India, NPAs of banks, Artificial Intelligence, my job experience, my optional Anthropology, Rise of Islamic State, and problems of the North Eastern states of India such as controlling mafia etc. I think I answered most of the questions satisfactorily.
I am able to recall two specific questions here. Chairman Sir asked that if I were posted as the DM of Beed district, what would be my priorities. Since I am not from Maharashtra, I think the question tried to assess whether I was aware of the most immediate emergency in Beed or not – the farmer suicides. Thankfully, I was, and I answered it properly.
In another question, a lady member asked that as the head of a government recruitment agency, if I were to make a choice between Efficiency and Equity, which would I choose. I said I’d chose Equity, because India is a welfare State, and we must ensure that all sections of the society find adequate representation in the labour force. If such a choice compromises efficiency, I would train the recruits to bring up the level.
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?
Interview was on expected lines, and was very cordial.
Q6. Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document or do xyz thing, or you’ll face problem”?
Reach the UPSC building well before time. Bring all the documents asked, and few extra passport size photos.
Q7. Any word of wisdom / observations about medical checkup?
Nothing more than what I’ve already mentioned earlier.

CSE-2015 Marksheet

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

Subject Marks obtained
Paper 1 128
Paper 2 124.89

Mains mark sheet-

Subject Marks obtained
Essay – Paper-1 146
General Studies – Paper 2 110
General Studies – Paper 3 76
General Studies – Paper 4 99
General Studies – Paper 5 89
Optional Paper – Paper-1 118
Optional Paper – Paper-2 133
Written total 771
Personality Test 151
Final Total 922

Q2. After looking at the marksheet, suppose you had to prepare again next time, what changes will you make in your studies?
I would try to improve my performance in Ethics paper, and Anthro Paper 1.

Career Backup

Q1. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?
I would have gone back to the private sector job (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.)
CSE 2015 was my final attempt. So, after the Main exam, I had already started preparing myself mentally for a private sector job (though half-heartedly). I had planned to start a full-throttled job search in the case of failing in this attempt.

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.
Definitely. Optionals must be removed altogether. Despite all the scaling “technology” and “expertise” which the UPSC has, it cannot be denied that the multitude of optionals does introduce a certain level of subjectivity in the Main exam. Instead, why not test every candidate on the same set of questions?
Q. Your views on the decision to make CSAT paper 33% qualifying?
A correct move, just that it came few years too late. Lot of non-serious English-savvy candidates used to qualify in prelims, only to be thrown out in the main exam; while many serious candidates failed to cross the unjustified high barrier of CSAT.
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.

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. IFoS and CSE must be kept separate.

Q. UPSC should disclose official prelim answerkey and cutoffs, immediately after prelim is over, instead of postponing it till interview phase is over.
Yes. This would certainly be a progressive step, boosting transparency. A candidate can then also be reasonably sure about selection/non-selection in prelims, so that she can plan her next step accordingly. But to UPSC’s credit, it has shown keen-ness in expediting the whole process, with faster declaration results etc.

Q. UPSC should be conducted online like IBPS and CAT exam to shorten the duration of exam.
I don’t think this would be possible in near future. With the kind of traits UPSC tests in the Main exam through subjective questions, all of these may not be efficiently evaluated in an online exam. Moreover, with low internet penetration, I feel the candidates from rural regions may be at a disadvantage if UPSC is brought online. If certain sections of the exam are kept subjective, they may not be as fast in typing the answers, and hence may lose out.

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?
The first thing needed for this exam is self-belief. Moreover, as is well known, UPSC is a great leveler – with candidates from very diverse backgrounds getting selected. You’d regularly find media reports of students from very humble family status cracking this exam. So, the so-called “profile-insecurity” is totally uncalled for. The qualities needed for clearing this exam are totally independent of your college background, medium, work-ex, etc. Not only that, if you have risen from a humble beginning, the interview board acknowledges that as a positive trait. So, shed all such false baggage and prepare with a free mind.


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?
I think more than the destination, you have to learn to enjoy the journey. Civil Services preparation is a wonderful journey, though cruel at times. You have to sacrifice a lot, but then you also learn a lot – probably more than you’d learn in your entire life. I also realized that failures teach you more than success. So, failing is good – but then you MUST learn from your mistakes and improve.
To the new aspirants: Each one of you has the ability to crack this exam. All that is needed is self-belief, willingness to work hard, and perseverance. Focus your efforts in the right direction, so that you get maximum returns out of your hard work. Always remain optimistic and refrain from negative thoughts. And most importantly, have a deep self-awareness of WHY you want to join Civil Services – this should be your greatest source of motivation all throughout your preparation phase.
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?
I’ve been at the situation where you are today. If I can emerge successful despite failing twice after the interview stage, so can you. Stay optimistic, do not lose focus, identify your weak points and work upon them. UPSC is a tough exam. Show them you ARE tough.
As Sir Edmund Hillary said – “It’s not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves”.

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?
The first credit goes to my parents, who inculcated in me an interest to learn, and taught me the difference between right and wrong. I am grateful to my teachers, especially Sriram Sir of Sriram’s IAS, Delhi. His knowledge, zeal and dedication towards the students is simply incredible and unmatchable. I also found a great motivator in him. Also, my few close friends, esp. Lokesh and Prakash, always kept me motivated and energized. But perhaps the greatest credit goes to my wife Vandana, who always stood by me and believed in my abilities – even when I was unable to make it to the final list in my previous two attempts. Right from the moment when I decided to quit my job to prepare for this exam, till today, she has been my strongest pillar of support and encouragement. And yes, not to forget my 4-year-old daughter Nimisha, who gracefully accepted the fact that her father is a student, and did not disturb me much during the last 4 years J

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 tampering.
Yes, I’ve been a regular user of Mrunal.org, especially for Indian Economy during the initial phase of my preparation. Mrunal has the knack of explaining very complex concepts in quite simple terms – which is extremely helpful. The use of flowcharts, tables and images is also done very innovatively. So yes, highly recommended.

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 5 Comments posted

  1. sahipakdehain

    I do not perform well in entrance/competitive exams, but I am fine with “subjective” ones like the board exams or university semester exams. Because we have financial issues, I cannot foresee being able to join coaching classes. Please help me deal with this mental block!


    Congrats . all the very best for your future

  3. Amod Kumar

    Congratulations Samir.. Your interview is interesting and inspiring.

  4. Anju Dahiya

    Dear Sir Very-Very congrats from heartly. I am very happy to your golden success. I wants to get success like you.I need some guidance that what subject should be choose for UPSC. I am pursuing MCA. Please guide me sir.


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