[Topper’s Interview] CA Prashant Raj Shukla (Rank-64/CSE16): First Attempt, Commerce Optional, Shared Geography Notes

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India Yearbook
  1. Candidate Profile
  2. Education
  3. Introduction
  4. Electronic Vs Paper material
  5. Typical day in your Online life?
  6. Style of Preparation and notes making
  7. Prelims (CSAT) Paper-1: General studies
  8. Prelims (CSAT): Paper-2: Aptitude
  9. Prelim accuracy
  10. Mains: Compulsory language paper
  11. Mains: Essay
  12. General Studies (Mains) paper 1
  13. General studies (Mains) paper 2
  14. General studies (Mains) Paper 3
  15. General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude
  16. Mains answer-writing?
  17. ELASTICITY of Optional Subject Score
  18. Mains Optional Subject
  19. Before the interview
  20. During the interview
  21. CSE-2016 Marksheet
  22. Career Backup
  23. Views on UPSC reforms
  24. Insecurity about profile
  25. Internal Motivation
  26. Struggle of Working professional
  27. Grand wisdom
  28. Credit: Friends/family
  29. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate Profile

CA Prashant Raj Shukla

Rank in CSE-201664
Roll No.0015638
Total attempts in CSE (including this one)1
Schooling MediumENGLISH
College MediumENGLISH
Medium chosen for Mains answersENGLISH
Medium chosen for InterviewENGLISH
Work-experience if anyPRACTICING CA FOR 6 MONTHS
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failuresEPFO EO EXAM AND CIL MT EXAM 2017 (SHORTLISTED FORINTERVIEW IN BOTH)
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used)
Service preferences (Top-5)IAS, IPS, IRS(IT), IRS (C&CE),IFS
state cadre preference (Top-5)UP, MP, UK,HP,WB


Educationfill the details here
% in class 109.8(CGPA)
% in class 1295.20%
Graduation course and %70%
Name of college, city, passing out yearST. XAVIERS COLLEGE, KOLKATA
(Passed year 2015)
Any other professional coursesCA(may 2016)(AIR 41),
CS(final)(AIR 4)
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievementsWatching Animes.


Q. Tell us something about yourself, your family, when and why did you enter in this field of competitive exams?
Hi I am Prashant raj shukla I am a CA by training. My father works with Aditya Birla Group and mother is a house wife. Both of my sisters are married and work in the corporate sector. I decided to sit in the exam during my graduation (around 2014) as during the articleship I understood that my interest does not lie in working in any firm  and then the interest towards civil services got developed. Besides I believe that civil services is the job which provides maximum chance to work at the grassroot level.

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 do you balance this i.e. electronic material vs. paper material (Books, newspapers)
I  donot use internet much. I only used Mrunal and InsightsonIndia during my preparation. My main focus was only on revising and re-revising the standard books as I believe that this exam is not about reading 10 materials 1 time but about reading 1 material 10 times. Infact I might say that I am not much technosavvy.

Typical day in your Online life?

Online lifeAnswer
Daily hrs spent on online platforms for predicting cutoff / syllabus change / age-attempt limit change and other “peripheral-bolbachchan“ related to civil services.Nil(your time is precious donot waste it on these things)
Daily hrs spent on whatsapp and telegram studygroupsNot more than 10 mins.
Daily hrs spent on online for exam prep.Maximum 1 hour ( only if watching your videos)
Primary Device for online study: desktop, laptop, tablet, mobileMobile

Q. Any other things that you wish to elaborate on above table: Though I did not use electronic medium much but I won’t discount its utility. My way might be different as many of my friends cleared this exam by intensively using electronic medium. I can only say that Even while using electronic medium donot try to gather info from anywhere and everywhere if you are not able to consolidate it well.

Style of Preparation and notes making

Q. What is your style of preparation and notes making? (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, I use xyz software etc.)
I seldom made notes except for geography because I found the language a little tough and in order to make last time revision. I just try to read as many times as possible.
My Geography are available at: <atarget=”_blank” title=”click to download topper notes” href=”https://www.mediafire.com/folder/4mdu1vaywqk16/Topper_Notes”>https://www.mediafire.com/folder/4mdu1vaywqk16/Topper_Notes

Prelims (CSAT) Paper-1: General studies

History AncientNCERT(class 11)
History MedievalNCERT(class 11)
History Modern (Freedom Struggle)Spectrum
Culture and societyNitin Singhania notes and fine Arts Ncert
Polity (theory + current)Lakshmikant and Vision IAS for CA
Economy (theory + current)Mrunal and Ramesh singh
Science (theory + current)Ncerts
Environment (theory + current)Shanker IAS
geography physicalGC leong and <atarget=”_blank” title=”click to download topper notes” href=”https://www.mediafire.com/folder/4mdu1vaywqk16/Topper_Notes”>my notes:
geography IndiaMK Barnwal
geography worldMK barnwal
other national/international current affairsVision IAS
Schemes, Policy & Filler StuffGS Score booklet on schemes

Q. Candidates are complaining that compared to earlier years, Prelim 2017 GS paper was very tougher, Tickmasters’ 90+ strategy (and its perverted & populist version known as Guessmaster-giri) and E-learning materials had limited utility. What are you views and wisdom on all these?
I agree that the paper was tough but getting around 110 was not very difficult if serious preparation is done. Every year UPSC makes certain changes and that’s why everything should be prepared comprehensively and nothing must be left thinking that UPSC is not asking this in these years. I will just say that no one knows all 100 answers , at max 50-60 questions can be answered correctly. That’s why donot refrain from making a logical guess in the paper if you can do it.
Q. Suppose, If you had to prepare for Prelims-2018, then after going through this 2017 paper, what changes would you make in your preparation?
I don’t think I would have made any changes as I have a habit of not leaving any major topic. At max I would have prepared schemes and International organizations more seriously.

Prelims (CSAT): Paper-2: Aptitude

Topicstrategy / booklist
MathsNothing (just solved 2 mock papers and was getting above 100 so did not bother much)
Decision Making-do-

Q. In the recent two prelims (2016 and 2017), the comprehension portion becoming quite tough and lengthy. Candidates struggle even to finish the paper-II. Kindly provide some words of wisdom:
I can only say that if one finds the paper a bit lengthy then they should solve mock papers for speed . since no sectional cutoff is there that’s why 66 marks can be achieved if reasoning and quants is done well.

Prelim accuracy

Q1. Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? do you think they’re necessary for success?
Yes, I attended InsightsonIndia  mock test . They were good and certainly helped me Boost my score.

Q2. Approximate no. of attempted answers vs. correct answers. in Prelim-2016

attempted Q.correct (Expected)Official score

Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paperYour preparation strategy / booklist?
English paperPractised some past papers
your regional languagePracticed some pat papers

Q. other observations / tips / comments on the length / difficulty level of compulsory language papers in CSE-2016
This year the paper was average so I had no such problem. But I can say that One must not take these papers casually.

Mains: Essay

Q1. How did you prepare for the essay paper?
Practiced time bound essays from Vision IAS( donot take their marks seriously, I got 85,99,102,122 and 101 marks in their test series but still I got 153 J). But for 2017 I started writing weekly essays so I recommend to write them weekly. In the present scheme of things I can say that its Essay and Optional that will determine your selection so don’t take them lightly.
One thing I did was that I referred to the blog of Siddhartha jain (AIR 13 in 2015) for strategy, It really helped.
Q2. Which two essays did you write and What key points did you include in it?
I wrote the following 2 Essays:

  1. Innovation is the key determinant of economic growth and social welfare
  • Started with history and how innovation in the ancient and medival times led to Human welfare (eg  wheel , fire , renaissance,etc)
  • Then focused on economic aspect with regard to all three sectors of the economy
  • Then talked about social welfare on areas like women, education, healthcare, disabled, poor etc
  • Conclude with how can we use innovation to help in solving future problems like terrorism, climate change and economic inequality.
  1. Cyberspace and internet
  • Started with how the world was different before the internet and made my stand clear that internet is a boon and will help us if used in a wise manner.
  • Then talked about its benefits In various areas like society, politics, family, business etc  and its challenges.
  • Conclude with how we can maximize the benefits and minimize the challenges for a golden future.

General Studies (Mains) paper 1

TopicHow did you prepare?
CultureNitin singhania notes and Ncerts
Indian historyNCERTs
world historyVision IAS material
post-independence India-do-
Indian societyVision IAS current affairs (CA)
role of women, poverty etc.-do-
globalization on Indian society-do-
communalism, regionalism, secularism-do-
world geo physicalGC leong and my notes for last time revision
resource distributionMrunal ( You are the best )
factors for industrial location-do-
earthquake tsunami etc-do-
impact on flora-fauna-do-

General studies (Mains) paper 2

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
Indian Constitution, devolution, dispute redressal etc.Lakshmikant and Vision IAS CA
comparing Constitution with world-do-
parliament, state Legislatures-do-
ministries departments-do-
pressure group, informal asso.-do-
Representation of people’s act-do-
various bodies: Constitutional, statutory..-do-
NGO, SHG etc-do-
welfare schemes, bodiesGS score material
social sector, health, edu, HRDVision IAS
governance, transparency, accountability-do-
role of civil service-do-
India & neighborsVision IAS is really helpful here
bilateral/global grouping-do-
effect of foreign country policies on Indian interest-do-
international bodies- structure mandate-do-

General studies (Mains) Paper 3

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilizationTotally from Vision IAS CA and Economic survey (given my commerce background no special study was needed)
inclusive growth-do-
major crops, irrigation-do-
agro produce – storage, marketing-do-
e-technology for famers-do-
farm subsidies, MSP-do-
PDS, buffer, food security-do-
technology mission-do-
animal rearing economics-do-
food processing-do-
land reforms-do-
investment models-do-
science-tech day to day lifeVision IAS CA
Indian achievements in sci-tech-do-
awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPR-do-
environmental impact assessment-do-
Disaster ManagementVision IAS material on specific topic
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

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
ethics and interface, family, society and all the hathodaa topicsLEXICON and some self prepared definitions
attitude, moral influence etc.
civil service: integrity, impartiality, tolerance to weak etc
emotional intelligence, its use in governance
moral thinkers of India and worldHow many thinkers did you prepare?
None as they ask general questions though this time they asked about john rawles.
ethics in pub.ad, accountability, laws, rules etc.
corporate governance
probity in governance, work culture
citizen charter, ethics code, work culture etc.
challenges of corruption
case studies on above topics

Q. In ethics, they’re asking random definition and concepts out of the book. Most of the serious candidates (both topper and non-toppers) have received marks in similar ranges. What are your observations and tips for future aspirants regarding preparation of this paper?
I will advice candidates to be generic in their approach and give real life examples. The paper looked specific but it was generic. For eg in 7 sins question even though I knew 2 sins I elaborated that how one virtue without the other might create problem. Similarly in chankya quote people were writing about chanakya while the question only wanted to discuss about the idea behind the quote.

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
GS4130 marks100 marks20 marksfull
Opt-P1250 marksFull
Opt-P2190 marks060 marksfull

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 attempted all the questions as I made up my mind that I am already selected and that’s why every mark counts( That really helped me). I advice candidates to write everythink you know about the topic even if it seem to be irrelevant because it might be relevant for the examiner (no one knows what might impress him)

Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?
Fixed sheet was not the problem. But I will say to fill every space if possible because when I saw last year toppers answers I found out that they fill the whole space that’s why I also decided to fill the whole sheet.

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

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

I don’t like asking following rudimentary questions, but these are the most frequently asked questions by new aspirants.

Q5. Did you use highlighters / sketchpens in your answers?no
Q6. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in GS1 Geography)Yes in gs 1
Q7. If yes, Did you draw diagrams with pencil or pen?pen
Q8. Did you use ruler to draw the lines in diagram? Or did you just make it by hand?no
Q9. You wrote the answer in blue pen or black pen? blue

ELASTICITY of Optional Subject Score

Q2. What are you views on following observation: “In CSM-2016, the marking gap between average to brilliant scorers is smaller in Essay to GS papers and interviews; but in optional subjects there is huge difference among average to brilliant scorers.” Therefore, the deciding factor was the marking in the optional. I have not asked this question to suggest in anyways that you got ‘lucky’ with your optional. But I’ve asked this question because these days younger candidates tend to select or change optionals based on how their coaching-walla, peer-group or social media portrays the particular optional subject. So, kindly provide wisdom for younger aspirants.
I don’t believe that shifting optinals is a good strategy because preparing for optinal requires time and shifting it will lead to going back to square 1.

Mains Optional Subject

Q. What’s your optional subject and why did you chose it and not something else?
Commerce and accountancy because I am a CA and that’s why it was natural choice for me.

Q. If a new player wants to pick your subject, would you advice for it or against it?
Go only if you have a background from this subject as it is a technical optional
Q. First the essential book/resource list.
I only referred Rankers classes material as it is sufficient for the exam.

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?
For me books were the key

Q. How many months did it take to finish the core optional syllabus?
One month only

Q. How many days/ weeks before the exam, you started answer writing practice?
2 weeks before exam

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

Q. Your observation about the difficultly level of 2016 mains vs previous papers. And what precautions / rectifications are necessary in the future strategy for given optional subject?
Paper 1 was easy but lengthy
Paper 2 was a bit tricky

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?
Went to samkalp coaching they have classes for all these.

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, vajiram, chanakya and samkalp. However the actual interview was a bit different
Q3. Where did you stay for the interview? (Hotel / friend’s home …) and what books/material did you bring for the ‘revision before interview’?
Sisters house
Q5. Describe the formal-dress worn by you in interview.
Suit and a tie

During the interview

Q1. Who was the chairman of you interview board?
Shri chattar singh
Q2. How long was the interview?
Around 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 joined civil services for the diversity and the impact it creates. I was not much interested to work in private.
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)
Though I donot remember exact questions but they ranged from my school to CA course and some philosophical question about whther power corrupts or not. I found that these questions were to test my personality rather than my knowledge as I did not answer around 50% questions correctly but then also got 178 marks.
Q5. Was your interview on the expected lines of what you had prepared or did they ask you totally unexpected questions?  Was it a stress interview, did they ask any uncomfortable questions? If yes, how did you handle it?
The interview was not on expected lines but it was not a stress interview either.though initially they were a little strict but then they got milder and at the end started laughing on some of my answers. My interview ended with an uproar of laughs by the board. Though it might be due to my age ( I was 22 at the time of interview)
Q6. Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document or do xyz thing, or you’ll face problem”?
UPSC is lenient on these aspects.
Q7. Any word of wisdom / observations about medical checkup?
Donot eat before the test

CSE-2016 Marksheet

Q1. Please provide final mark sheet:

Gs 1118
Gs 2 77
Gs 3110
Gs 4114
Opt 1155
Opt 2144

Career Backup

Q1. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?
Already practicing as a CA

Views on UPSC reforms

Q. Optional subjects should be removed altogether. The present stalemate is helping no-one, except coaching-owners, book publishers.
I won’t say that because optional subjects help professionals like practicing CA and doctors who cant attend coaching due work constraints. Besides I don’t believe any optional is bad and good candidates will be selected in any exam format whether this one or any other.
Q. Your views on the decision to make CSAT paper 33% qualifying?
It’s a good step as it will help students from rural background who are not good in english
Q. Despite what UPSC has done in last seven years in syllabus and pattern change, it has failed to curb the nuisance of Delhi’s coaching factories and the readymade material sellers. In fact, it’s increased under the new Mains-syllabus post-2013. Let’s face it, UPSC added so many topics and so many random questions, even fulltime student struggles to gather and process all standard reference books and material himself within the short time available to him. and This system work against an individual preparing from far-away area, without any financial resources, high-speed internet or contacts in Delhi to procure the said material in authentic or pirated form.
I think that reliance on coaching has decreased and will further decrease.
Q. UPSC should disclose official prelim answerkey and cutoffs, immediately after prelim is over, instead of postponing it till interview phase is over.
Q. UPSC should be conducted online like IBPS and CAT exam to shorten the duration of exam.
Only if infra permits
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.
Yes I agree with that
Q. If you are made the UPSC chairman, what other reforms would you initiate for the civil service exam?
Further reduce the weightage of interview

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 don’t think that profile matters much. Though I did not suffer from any such insecurities.

Internal Motivation

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 would go to meet my friends or watch a movie weekly

Struggle of Working professional

If you’re a working professional, share some tips on how to manage studies with job
Respect time and use it as efficiently as possible. Don’t waste it on social media. Take books while travelling.

Grand wisdom

Q. Through this struggle and success, what have your learned? What is the wisdom of life and competition? What is your message to the new aspirants?
I can only say that one must not loose heart and be determined. I did not go for placements in CA even when I was a rankholder because I was determined about it and fortunately it paid me.
Q. Many hardworking candidates have failed in Mains/Interview of CSE-2016 and scored quite low in Prelims-2017. They’re feeling cynical, hopeless and depressed- what is your message to them?
Donot loose hope as some day you will be on the list. Optimism is the key.

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?
For me my family and friends were the supporting pillar during my preparation. My parents backed me in every decision. I am also grateful to my friends Nishant singhania, Prakhar ankit singh , pritam etc.  Specially, I am grateful to my sister Neha bajpai who stood by my side always.

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.  
Mrunal is like a boon to candidates . your lectures were really helpful to me.

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 12 Comments posted

  1. harish

    Congo brother

  2. Shikha

    Congratulations! It’s really good to read original unchanged answers! And truly Mrunal is THE BEST!

  3. Ashish Gupta

    straight and simple………congrats for your success!

  4. Swaroop

    Congrats Prashant Raj Shukla. All the very best with your future endeavors:)

  5. Md K G Navaz chartered accountant Nellore

    Hearty congrats. You’re a proud to our CA profession .

  6. Harsh yadav

    Very very congratulations bhaiya.

  7. Pooja Navetia

    Congratulations for your success!
    I have a question.. I am a Chartered Accountant too and have started preparing for IAS about a week before… Naturally my preference for optional is stuck on Commerce and Accountancy..what I am confused about is the changes in syllabi that will happen because of Ind AS , GST …. Will the entire syllabus get changed for accounts ? Since I have not studied the new changes especially Ind AS- will it be prudent for me to choose commerce as an optional? There are not a lot of people I can ask for help. Please advise

    1. Praval Bhatt

      Hello Pooja….. i am also a CA (Nov 16 passout) and preparing for IAS 2018. Even i have not studied IND AS/GST. But i think it is always better to take Commerce as optional as during interview the panel will question on topics related to Commerce and CA.
      And IND AS and GST both will be IPCC level….they wont ask difficult questions. So better take Commerce.
      One of my friend is also preparing with me….he is Nov 13 passout and AIR 31…..he s also taking commerce as optional.

  8. p.veeranji reddy

    congratulations for your grand success ,you can be a source of inspiration for those aspirants who are in this process of exam with COMMERCE AND ACCOUNTANCY as their optional ,

    all the very best for your future direct involvement of public life


  9. Mahesh kondagooli

    Congratulations for your advice

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