[Topper’s Interview] Aastha Suman (Rank-331/CSE16): First Attempt, Bengaluru, Law Optional, BA LLB From Kolkata

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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
    1. Prelims (CSAT): Paper-2: Aptitude
    2. Prelim accuracy
    3. Mains: Compulsory language paper
    4. Mains: Essay
  8. Mains General studies paper 1 to 4
    1. General Studies (Mains) paper 1
    2. General studies (Mains) paper 2
    3. General studies (Mains) Paper 3
    4. General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude
  9. Mains answer-writing?
  10. ELASTICITY of Optional Subject Score
  11. Mains Optional Subject
  12. Before the interview
  13. During the interview
  14. CSE-2016 Marksheet
  15. Career Backup
  16. Views on UPSC reforms
  17. Insecurity about profile
  18. Internal Motivation
  19. Grand wisdom
  20. Credit: Friends/family
  21. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate Profile

UPSC Topper Aastha Suman

NameAastha Suman
Rank in CSE-2016331
Roll No.103978
Total attempts in CSE (including this one)1
Optional SubjectLaw
Schooling MediumEnglish
College MediumEnglish
Medium chosen for Mains answersEnglish
Medium chosen for InterviewEnglish
Home town/cityBengaluru
Work-experience if anyAssociate, Luthra & Luthra Law Offices (2012-2015)
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failuresNA
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used)
  • Byju’s classroom coaching
  • Byju’s/Vajiram Prelims test series
  • Vision IAS mains test series
Service preferences (Top-5)IAS>IFS>IRS (IT)>IRS (C & CE)>IAA
state cadre preference (Top-5)Karnataka>Rajasthan>Bihar>Orissa


Educationfill the details here
% in class 1093.8
% in class 1285
Graduation course and %BA.LLB (5.4/7)
Name of college, city, passing out yearWest Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, 2012
Any other professional coursesNA
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievementsReading, Writing, Swimming, Yoga, Legal aid


Q. Tell us something about yourself, your family, when and why did you enter in this field of competitive exams?
(Please pardon my long answer, but I felt that this needs an explanation.)
Till September of 2015, I was a corporate lawyer working at one of the top law firms in India.  I made a decent living and had no plans of giving the civil services examination until then.
Both my parents are All India Services Officers but I was never encouraged to apply to the civil services as a child. As I grew up, I only saw the civil services from the eyes of my parents and their friends in the service. They are a bunch of brutally honest officers, who have had their fair share of trysts with the political system. I have seen officers who work day and night being given no credit for their work, and living under the cloak of anonymity.  I have seen officers being lynched by mob for no fault of theirs. I have seen honest officers being implicated under Section 13 of Prevention of Corruption Act, often for merely taking a decision instead of leaving the file pending like most government officers do. My own mother was falsely implicated under the Prevention of atrocities against SC & ST Act for merely doing her duty of preventing encroachment of the last remaining patch of good forest in her district. To top it all, many honest officers feel they are not paid commensurate to their ability and work. I have seen that a one person salary of an honest officer sometimes makes it difficult for ends to meet. These reasons had initially deterred me from joining the services.
However, what I completely missed was seeing the impact the civil servants (more particularly my parents and their friends) have had on other people’s lives. I began to see the other side after meeting an artisan in 2015. At first sight he looked like a simple person from a humble background, and the SUV he was coming out of seemed completely out of place. When he saw me, he called me by name, even though I was sure I had never seen him before in my life. He told me that I am a spitting image of my father who was responsible for changing his life and the life of his entire village. As the chief development officer of his district, my father had implemented the TRYSEM scheme of the Government of India where he trained uneducated youth to do sandalwood carving. The trained individuals trained others while organizing themselves into a cooperative producer-company which changed the fate of the entire village!
This incident had a great impact on me. I started to compare my job with that of my parents and for the first time I felt that my present career does not provide the meaningful life, I suddenly craved to have. Thus, I decided to give the civil services examination.

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 liked to read the Hindu and Frontline in hardcopy and make notes from them in hardcopy. However, I always kept internet handy to look up more information about current affairs.
Caution: Remember that everything in print is not necessarily true and authentic information. Specifically, forum/telegram/whatsap discussions are very misleading. Wikipedia is a good source but may not always have updated information. For instance, I had prepared notes from Wikipedia on hornbills before the 2016 prelims, which said that they are found in the Himalayas. The UPSC prelims answer key suggests they are found in the Western Ghats. Just my luck L
The following are the websites I would recommend:
While starting out:

  1. Best for economics preparation (covers budget/ economic survey in simple language);
  2. Keeps you updated on other job openings (after first attempt, I strongly urge everyone to look for a backup option); and
  3. Topper’s Section is very useful to devise a strategy

For current affairs:
Refer to Vision IAS monthly booklet available for free at http://visionias.in/beta/blog/current-affairs
(Everybody reads these, do not miss them.)
For daily answer writing practice: insightsonindia.com
For reference:

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.0 hours
Daily hrs spent on whatsapp and telegram studygroupsWas off all social media for 4 months during the exam
Daily hrs spent on online for exam prep.(I am always online while studying, in case I want to check up the meaning of a word or do more research on a topic)
Primary Device for online study: desktop, laptop, tablet, mobileLaptop/ mobile

Q. Any other things that you wish to elaborate on above table:
It is important to read a little more than the NCERTs and the basic books. I used to add extra information on important topics from the web onto the margins of all the books.

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 think it is important to condense the reading material by making notes or mindmaps. I even ended up making mindmaps and tables out of Laxmikanth!
For optional subjects, this is doubly important (due to paucity of time, I was not able to make notes for the optional subject, for which I suffered).

Prelims (CSAT) Paper-1: General studies

History AncientBooklist: RS Sharma, New NCERT
Comment: Prepare a glossary of new terms- Vishti, Shramic- they were asked last year in prelims)
History MedievalBooklist: Satish Chandra, New NCERT
Comment: Do not neglect this, atleast read about the architecture, bhakti and sufi movements, Contribution of Mughals and Khilji
History Modern (Freedom Struggle)Booklist: Bipin Chandra, New NCERT, Spectrum (had to read this when I realized all coaching institutes frame questions from this and everybody is reading it!)
Comment: Do prepare a timeline of important events for revision.
Culture and societyBooklist- Youtube videos, Nitin Singhania, Class 11 NCERT
Comment: My strategy was to have a general idea of the art forms and not to memorize anything. Trying to visualize and taking an interest here helps immensely.
Polity (theory + current)Booklist: Laxmikanth, MP Jain on Constitution (If you have law optional), Vision IAS for current affairs

  1. Do solve the past years question papers given at the end of Laxmikanth.
  2. It is easier to remember if one has made a small table in one place for questions like: Who gets salary from consolidated fund of India?; Membership of various committees and who appoints them etc;
  3. Keep in mind that Governor/President is always the appointing authority but the actual decision is made by cabinet/council of ministers in most cases.  (Few people recently asked me this)

(Anyone with legal doubts and doubts on constitution can reach out to me aasthasuman27@gmail.com)

Economy (theory + current)Ramesh Singh (this is optional read), Sanjiv Verma (this can be skipped), New NCERT (Classes 9-12, Can skip Class 11), Mrunal Videos, Vision IAS for current affairs
Science (theory + current)New NCERTs (Class 6-10), Vision IAS booklet
Environment (theory + current)Booklist: Shankar’s Environment (Not compulsory), Majid Hussain (Not compulsory), New NCERTs (Class 11 and 12 Biology-select chapters), Self made notes
Comment: Please go through the international conventions and the Indian laws on environment in detail. Keep an eye out for developments in the field of climate change and renewable energy.
geography physicalNew NCERT (Class 6-12), Mrunal video’s, Majid Hussain (please skip, was a waste of a week)
geography IndiaNew NCERT (Class 6-12), Mrunal video’s, Majid Hussain (please skip)
geography worldBooklist: Goh Cheng Leong (Can be condensed into 2-3 pages of notes)
Comment: Map pointing is very important for geography. I used to look at my atlas whenever free.
other national/international current affairsReading List: Vision IAS current affairs booklet, Vajiram current affairs booklet, notes made from Frontline and Hindu (We do not get Indian Express in Bengaluru.)
Comment: At the time of final revision, I was able to go through only my notes.
Tip: Instead of mugging up all information from the current affairs booklet, try to make note of similar patterns. For instance, I had noted that all frog related research in India seemed to be happening in the Western Ghats while new species of fruit trees were being discovered in Andamans. Who knew such trivial observations could get me marks in prelims!
Schemes, Policy & Filler StuffIndia yearbook, Vision IAS schemes booklet, Self made notes from newspapers

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 haven’t gone through the prelims 2017 paper but I do not think making wild guesses is a good strategy. Try to eliminate as many options first. If in the end only 2 options remain with one being more likely than the other, then one may take a chance.
One tendency, I would like to warn everyone against is that based on one question asked in one year, do not plan an entire strategy. For example, just because one question was asked about an endangered reptile in one year, does not mean one should memorize names of all endangered species of India for the next year. Sticking to basic books and keeping abreast with current affairs is a better strategy.
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?

Prelims (CSAT): Paper-2: Aptitude

Topicstrategy / booklist
Decision MakingNil

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:
It is not a good idea to ignore CSAT-Paper 2. Solve a few papers to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Accordingly, come up with a strategy to cross 66.
I realized that I rarely got a comprehension question wrong but found math difficult. My strategy was to first answer all the comprehension questions, then solve the easy reasoning questions followed by easy math questions. Time is of the essence, hence there is no point trying to solve a difficult math or reasoning problem.

Prelim accuracy

Q1. Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? do you think they’re necessary for success?
I did attend mock tests (around 20 in total). I think they are important to get a feel of the examination hall. It helped me in time management and in forging a strategy for myself. My strategy was to first answer the questions that I was 100% sure of, while marking the ones I had no idea about (I never relooked at these.) Then, I tried to use the elimination method to arrive at an answer for the remaining unmarked and unanswered questions.
Q2. Approximate no. of attempted answers vs. correct answers. in Prelim-2016

attempted Q.correct (Expected)Official score
aptitudeDo not rememberDo not remember88

Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paperYour preparation strategy / booklist?
English paperNil
your regional languageI have seen my Hindi speaking friends fail the Hindi examination and hence, I did not take this paper lightly. I tried to write a few essays in Hindi and memorized some basic ‘Paryayvachi shabd’ and ‘Muhavare’ from the web.

Q. other observations / tips / comments on the length / difficulty level of compulsory language papers in CSE-2016
The compulsory papers are not difficult and do not require high level of preparation. However, over-confidence must be avoided. Also, it is important to get a good night’s sleep before the language paper. I had been preparing for my optional paper all night before the compulsory language papers and could barely keep my eyes open during the examination.

Mains: Essay

Q1. How did you prepare for the essay paper?
I started preparing for the essay paper after taking some guidance from seniors. There are a few things that I would like to highlight from my experience:

  1. Do not write anything remotely controversial. Never choose a topic where you have to pick sides.
  2. Avoid choosing vague topics or topics with multiple meanings. (For instance, though I am most passionate about women’s issues, I did not pick the topic ‘If development is not engendered, it is endangered’ last year as it seemed to have multiple meanings.)
  3. More than knowledge, essay is about presentation and language skills (use simple language which is grammatically correct).
  4. Improve your handwriting. (trust me this is very important)
  5. Strategize first and then start writing.
  6. Quotes are over-rated. One does not have to sit and memorize dozens of them. A sensible introduction and conclusion can be written without any quotes also.
  7. Try to make the essay interesting with real life examples and analogies. Do not make it drab, boring or technical.
  8. Write a few essays and get them corrected from a third party.

Q2. Which two essays did you write and What key points did you include in it?
I wrote on ‘Water Disputes in federal polity’ and ‘Digital Economy’. I do not remember the content though.

Mains General studies paper 1 to 4

General Studies (Mains) paper 1

Requests while you fill up the following tables

TopicHow did you prepare?
CultureMistake made by me: After discussing with previous year’s toppers, I realized that the ‘mains’ is about strategizing and improving your writing skills only and not really about knowledge. Thus, I skipped revising all my resources for culture, which was a bad idea.
Indian historySame as for prelims
world historyNorman Lowe- It is better to make short notes from the book. There will be no time to re-read the entire book again.
post-independence IndiaBipin Chandra- Do not skip this section, last year there were numerous questions on rise of regionalism, language issues etc.
Indian societyNCERT Sociology Class 11/12 and Vision IAS (current affairs module)
role of women, poverty etc.Had prepared short notes from net
globalization on Indian societyNCERT Sociology Class 11/12
communalism, regionalism, secularismHad prepared short notes from net
world geo physicalSame as for prelims
resource distributionNew NCERT for geography (Also go through Mrunal Sir’s websites for some articles on these.)
factors for industrial locationNew NCERT for geography (Also go through Mrunal Sir’s websites for some articles on these.)
earthquake tsunami etcVision IAS booklet (Also, Rajatanil ji on Mrunal Sir’s website has explained these with good diagrams which are useful.)
impact on flora-faunaSame

General studies (Mains) paper 2

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
Indian Constitution, devolution, dispute redressal etc.I referred to MP Jain but for non law students, I recommend to revise the entire Laxmikanth before the mains. The mains last year had numerous basic questions on preamble, fundamental rights etc which could have been easily answered if one had revised Laxmikanth.
comparing Constitution with worldVision IAS booklet
parliament, state LegislaturesMP Jain
executive-judiciaryMP Jain
ministries departmentsSkipped
pressure group, informal asso.Made short notes from the web, the 2nd ARC report
Representation of people’s actMade short notes from the web. Later realized that Vision IAS has a great booklet on this.
various bodies: Constitutional, statutory..Made short notes from the web on the issues plaguing such bodies.
NGO, SHG etcMade short notes from the web
welfare schemes, bodiesVision IAS booklet
social sector, health, edu, HRDVision IAS booklet
governance, transparency, accountabilityByju’s booklet on governance (I would recommend that everyone read the 2nd ARC report on these issues-they can be very useful in essay and ethics also)
e-governanceByju’s booklet on governance
role of civil serviceVision IAS booklet
India & neighborsVision IAS booklet
bilateral/global groupingVision IAS booklet
effect of foreign country policies on Indian interestVision IAS booklet
DiasporaMade short notes from the net. Found certain IGNOU pdf’s to be useful.
international bodies- structure mandateMalcolm Shaw (but for non law students, refer to the New NCERT)

General studies (Mains) Paper 3

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilizationEconomic survey covered by Mrunal Sir, Vision IAS current affairs booklet, Notes from Ramesh Singh
inclusive growthSame
BudgetingBudget highlights; Laxmikanth chapter on budget process
major crops, irrigationRajtanil ji’s lectures, NCERT
agro produce – storage, marketingNotes from web
e-technology for famersNotes from web
farm subsidies, MSPRamesh Singh
PDS, buffer, food securityRamesh Singh
technology missionNotes from web
animal rearing economicsNotes from web
food processingRamesh Singh
land reformsBipin Chandra
InfraVision IAS booklet
investment modelsVision IAS booklet
science-tech day to day lifeVision IAS booklet
Indian achievements in sci-techJust read up on CV Raman and other achievements of ISRO/DRDO in news
awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPRVision IAS booklet
environmental impact assessmentShankar IAS
Disaster ManagementByju’s booklet
non state actors, internal securityByju’s booklet
internal security – role of media, social networking siteVision IAS current affairs booklet
cyber securityVision IAS current affairs booklet
money launderingVision IAS current affairs booklet
border  ManagementNotes from newspapers. This was in discussion a lot last year.
organized crime, terrorismIGNOU booklet
security agencies- structure mandateIndia year book

General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
ethics and interface, family, society and all the hathodaa topicsLexicon, Mc Graw Hill
attitude, moral influence etc.Lexicon, Mc Graw Hill
civil service: integrity, impartiality, tolerance to weak etcLexicon, Mc Graw Hill
emotional intelligence, its use in governanceLexicon, Mc Graw Hill
moral thinkers of India and worldI just gained a broad understanding of all the thinkers mentioned in Mc Graw Hill and Lexicon
ethics in pub.ad, accountability, laws, rules etc.2nd ARC Report, Byju’s booklet
corporate governanceSkipped (I worked as a corporate lawyer)
probity in governance, work culture2nd ARC Report, Byju’s booklet
citizen charter, ethics code, work culture etc.2nd ARC Report, Byju’s booklet
challenges of corruption2nd ARC Report
case studies on above topicsI just evolved a general strategy of answering questions. There are only few types of case studies which can be asked. Arihant publication may be referred for the question bank.

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 think the following needs to be prepared for ethics:

  1. Basic definitions: These need to be memorized from basic books. One should be able to differentiate between various concepts like ethics, morals and law. Try to give real life examples while defining.
  2.  Debates in ethics: One should be familiar with basic debates in ethics like means and ends, environment and development etc. There should be strong arguments given to support your side of the debate.
  3. Reading and absorbing the 2nd ARC report– It explains exactly what is wrong with the current system and gives suggestions for the same.
  4. Use innovative diagrams/mindmaps/tables in your answers. Prepare these separately to differentiate your answer.

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
GS4Rest1 (10 marks)1 (10 marks)All
Opt-P132Was not able to answer an easy 15 marks sub-question due to paucity of time.

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 it is really wrong to bluff the examiner. It is more prudent to leave the paper blank if one does not know anything about the question. For instance, last year there was a question on Mcbride commission. The question vaguely mentioned UNESCO also, so some of my friends wrote on UNESCO and tried to guess the commission’s mandate. None of them were even close to the correct answer!
Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?
I tend to write a lot and the fixed space limited me, especially so in the essay paper.
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 always write point-wise with appropriate headings and subheadings.
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.
Structuring the answer properly is very important. Intro-body-conclusion works.
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 all papers
Q7. If yes, Did you draw diagrams with pencil or pen?Pencil
Q8. Did you use ruler to draw the lines in diagram? Or did you just make it by hand?By hand
Q9. You wrote the answer in blue pen or black pen? Some papers in black and some in blue. But did not mix pens in one paper obviously.

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. E.g. some three Mains back, there was an atmosphere “you should shift from Public Administration to Pol.Sci or Sociology or anthropology because of Public Administration is giving only two digit scores in each paper.” Similarly, two mains back, some were preaching others to avoid LAW optional because not even 20 are getting interview calls and so forth (data unverified). So, kindly provide wisdom for younger aspirants.
Being a lawyer with law optional, this is a question I am asked very often. Let me provide my views:

  1. No optional does consistently well. For instance, public administration was a dead subject till last year but we have candidates getting 320+ this year! In my opinion it depends on the head examiner. Public administration has suffered in past years, due to some examiners who believed that a candidate who reproduces coaching material does not deserve marks. This may happen with political science next.
  2. There is also a tendency to believe that taking a regional language gives a candidate the edge as it would invoke regional tendencies in the examiner. This also may not work in all cases as any literature answer immediately becomes very subjective and chances are that you may be seeing very low or very high marks, both not being commensurate to your effort.
  3. Now, Law is different from other arts subject and is a very objective subject. In fact it is often referred to as a science by jurists. If the right case laws are cited with the right analysis, there is very little scope for marks to be deducted. This is where law optional marks of this year are very perplexing, specifically of Paper 1. There seems to be little explanation for why such poor marks were awarded to majority of the students. I have some theories regarding this, but this is no forum to make conjectures.

In conclusion, I would urge law candidates to evaluate for themselves if they want to take law optional. If one loves the law, then they should go for it regardless of the present scenario.

Mains Optional Subject

Q. What’s your optional subject and why did you chose it and not something else?
I chose law as my optional subject. I have studied law for 5 years and have practiced it for over 3 years, there was never any other choice.
Q. If a new player wants to pick your subject, would you advice for it or against it?
I would not want to advice for or against it.
Q. First the essential book/resource list.

  1. Constitution-MP Jain, Laxmikanth (some articles will have to be memorized)
  2. International Law-Malcolm Shaw, SK Kapoor (Internet research and note making is necessary)
  3. Bangia for contracts (I would like to acknowledge contribution of my law professor Lovely Ma’am, who helped me a lot with this) and torts
  4. KD Gaur for Indian Penal Code (Sections will have to be mugged up)
  5. IGNOU material for negotiable instruments and sale of goods act
  6. Dukkis for the rest

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?
Internet research is required for few topics. Out of habit, I like to follow Livelaw which is very informative on contemporary laws.
Q. How many months did it take to finish the core optional syllabus?
I started preparing for the optional only after the notification came out.
(1 ½ months first reading + Revision after prelims)
Q. How many days/ weeks before the exam, you started answer writing practice?
Never did any answer writing practice and suffered for it. I was not able to complete paper 1.
Q. Do you maintain self-notes for revision of optional? In which format- electronic or paper?
Never really had time for this.
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?
I felt that some questions in paper 2 this year were very intelligently framed and were markedly of higher standard than previous years. Paper 1 seemed to be of same standard as previous years.

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 had a lot of help from my parents and their friends while preparing for the interview. I would specifically like to thank Pradeep Uncle for all the effort he took in framing interview questions and taking mock interviews based on my DAF. Most of my interview questions had already been asked by him before.
I played it safe and not only prepared questions my DAF and current affairs but also re-read important law subjects.
Q2. Did you attend any mock interviews by coaching classes? How were they similar / different than official interview? Do you believe it is necessary to attend such mock interviews?
I did take mock interviews but they were nothing compared to the official interview. Mock interviews are essential to the extent that they give you a little confidence for the D-day.
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 Karnataka Bhavan. I had brought my laptop and internet.
Q5. Describe the formal-dress worn by you in interview.
I wore a mustard yellow saree with a red border. (On hindsight, I should have chosen more neutral colours. Some people have told me that I screamed hindutva with the overdo of red and yellow!;)).

During the interview

Q1. Who was the chairman of you interview board?
David Sir
Q2. How long was the interview?
20-25 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 have answered this in the first half. I gave the same answer.
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.
I do not remember all questions and I do not recollect the exact answers I gave. Some of questions were:

  1. Factual questions on swimming, my hobby-Types of swimming strokes, World champion in swimming etc;
  2. Question on the type of books I read; the last book I read etc;
  3. Women related questions-How can you as a woman contribute in civil services? What changes still needed in law to help women?;
  4. Question on birthplace Dehradun- On valley of flowers and forest fires;
  5. Question on Kulbhushan Yadav and ICJ statute;
  6. Question on Justice Karnan.
[No question on my work experience or my actual home state Karnataka!] 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. It was not a stress interview.
Q6. Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document or do xyz thing, or you’ll face problem”?
Please make sure you give a decent photograph of yours for the application. You are judged on your photograph also!
Q7. Any word of wisdom / observations about medical checkup?
Bring food along as the checkup may take a while.

CSE-2016 Marksheet

Q1. Please provide both prelim and final mark sheet:
Prelims mark sheet-

Subject Marks obtained
Paper 1150
Paper 288

Mains mark sheet-

Subject Marks obtained
Essay – Paper-1152
General Studies – Paper 2103
General Studies – Paper 3100
General Studies – Paper 4116
General Studies – Paper 5120
Optional Paper – Paper-1108
Optional Paper – Paper-2143
Written total842
Personality Test165
Final Total1007

Career Backup

Q1. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?
Go back to being a lawyer!
Q2. When were you going to “execute” that backup plan? (e.g. after __ number of failed attempts/ after I cross __ age/ after dad retires/ after girlfriend dumps me etc.)
After the first attempt

Views on UPSC reforms

Q. Your views on the decision to make CSAT paper 33% qualifying?
This is not a good decision. Paper 1 relies a lot on vague memory based questions and is a bad test of a person’s suitability of being in the service. On the contrary Paper 2 tests basic language skills and mathematical ability which is a much more reliable test.
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 e-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 wish I could say that coaching wallahs are useless and the sincere candidates preparing in seclusion without any financial resources are not at a disadvantage, but this is not true. The bitter truth is that people of lesser means are losing out in the race. My friend who is visually challenged and is studying in Nellore all alone faces this very challenge.
However, unlike a lot of other competitive examinations, UPSC ensures that civil services is a fair exam and a slum dweller or a rikshaw puller can also dream of making it here but they obviously have a much harder path to trudge to reach the destination.

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 have personally not suffered from this insecurity but have met individuals who have similar fears and insecurities. I think such fears are not well founded as UPSC tries to make a level playing field and encourages diversity. Such fears are only in the mind and have no basis in reality.
I had the opportunity to meet an IPS officer recently, who is son of a poor landless farmer and who has had education only in the vernacular language. He couldn’t speak English before he joined the service but he has never let that stop him from achieving his dreams. He is till date not shy or insecure about his background. In fact, he is proud of it and why shouldn’t he be? Anyone who is judging you only based on your wealth or occupation or ability to speak in English is just not worth your time.

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?
My biggest solace was that I had decided that I was giving the examination only once, which kept me going. Also, my years at the law firm where we slogged for 70-80 hours a week had prepared me for the hard work.

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 just want to tell the aspirants not to make UPSC your whole life. Having grown up with people in the service, I am at position to say that clearing UPSC is not panacea to all problems. The civil services are but a job and should be taken as such.
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?
Failure is a part of life. No successful person can ever claim that they have not at least once failed at something. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba group had numerous Harvard rejects and once he was even rejected for a job at Macdonald’s. (in fact, there were 24 candidates for 23 job openings there. He was the only one rejected!)
Do not let the world be denied of your greatness because of one small setback J

Credit: Friends/family

Q. Behind every topper are many people who stood by during those uncertain times when he/she was merely an ‘aspirant’. Would you like to tell the world, who were those people in your case? Any specific incidence that you would like to share with the readers?
I would like to thank my mother Mrs. Ritu Kakkar, who has made supreme sacrifices for me, even at the cost of her health. Then my father, Mr. Sanjiv Kumar and sister Ms. Upasna Suman, who have been the voice of sanity in the past year. Mr. Pradeep Kharola for all the weekends he sacrificed mentoring me, even while holding the busy Namma-Metro post. Mr. Kedarnath and Mr. Nimbalkar for showing great faith in my abilities at the toughest of times. Finally, my friends Jayant and Dipika, for not letting fun escape from my life.

BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Q. You are well aware of the sacred rule of conducting toppers interview- the last question must be about self-marketing. So, Did you use Mrunal.org for your preparation and if yes, how did it help you?  And you can even reply “No”. I’ll still publish your answer without tempering.  
Yes, I used Mrunal.org at every stage of my preparation. It showed me what a good teacher can really achieve. As per my initial analysis, I had earmarked Economics and Geography as my weak points. However, by the time I had finished with Mrunal’s youtube videos, Economics was one of my strong subjects!
Visit: Mrunal.org/TOPPERS for more interviews.

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 11 Comments posted

  1. Ruhi

    Why you have exercised your preference for the least developed states in the country which are politically challenging also for the officer…Such as Bihar, Rajasthan, Orrisa?
    You can have opt for Gujarat, Kerala , AGMUT…. because i do feel that an officer also needs a quality life also.

    Only Curious to know ..I respect your preferences.

    1. zameer

      Your question has the answer I guess.

      1. Ruhi

        You interpret it wrongly…It doesnt mean that you want to get posted to a least developed state to bring changes in the lives of the people.
        I was saying that Rajasthan and Bihar are the States where you have to pay “Bribe ” to the minister to become a DM.
        Moreover the Districts and Tehsil are so undeveloped that you can’t find a Good School for your kids….Even the Sarkari Paathshala are in Pathetic state….Forget about the other ammenities you get…..

        While In Kerala ..you will have have ministers who are educated…Work Culture is different in AGMUT, Kerala as compared to Bihar and Rajasthan..

  2. Nilam

    👍 Great.. congratulations Aastha Suman
    Thank you Mrunal sir for this information specially of optional subject Law.



  4. Jz

    Cadre preference .. south west north east .. 👍

  5. Satpal

    thanks for writing you experience.I also have law optional. So it gives confidence that minimum someone cleared this time with law optional. As most of the people whom I know could not make this time only because of their low score in law optional.

  6. swaroop dharmappa

    Thank you so much Aastha Suman mam. All the best with your future endeavors.

  7. Nikita

    This was an inspiring read! Thank you so much Aastha 🙂

  8. sanchit

    The entire write up is very informative. Have learned a lot. Thanks Mam and Mrunal bhai..God Bless You..!!

  9. rohit roy

    congrats and u r right abt law paper 1, it got me ,as well, out of the list despite 150 in essay and 430 in GS !

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