[Topper’s Interview] Abhilash Baranwal (Rank-272/CSE16): Sociology, 3rd Attempt, ISM-Dhanbad

Subscribemotivation2 Comments

UPSC Paperset
  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 a Senior player
  27. Struggle of Working professional
  28. Grand wisdom
  29. Credit: Friends/family
  30. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate Profile

Abhilash Baranwal

NameAbhilash Baranwal
Rank in CSE-2016272
Roll No.0799601
Total attempts in CSE (including this one)3
Optional SubjectSOCIOLOGY
Schooling MediumENGLISH
College MediumENGLISH
Medium chosen for Mains answersENGLISH
Medium chosen for InterviewENGLISH
Work-experience if anyWorking in Oil India Limited since 2011
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failuresIIT-JEE 2007 (Not sure if it counts)
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used)Online mains test series for Sociology by Bibhaas Sharma (EliteIAS) and for General Studies by VisionIAS
Service preferences (Top-5)IAS>IPS>IFS>IRS(C&CE)>IRS(IT)
state cadre preference (Top-5)JH>BIHAR>OR>CHATTISGARH>MP


Educationfill the details here
% in class 1092.6
% in class 1289
Graduation course and %PETROLEUM ENGINEERING (B.TECH): 81.9%
Name of college, city, passing out yearISM DHANBAD, 2011
Any other professional coursesNONE
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievementsDEBATING, POETRY, MEDITATION


Q. Tell us something about yourself, your family, when and why did you enter in this field of competitive exams?
A: I belong to a place called Lalpania which lies in Bokaro district, Jharkhand. My father is an Electrical Executive Engineer and mother is a housewife. My elder brother is a mechanical engineer turned entrepreneur. Before the dawn of internet, Lalpania used to a world in itself with little exposure to the outside place. Hence the ambitions were similarly more modest. As I came to DPS Bokaro for my 10+2, I gained certain confidence for dreaming big. Cleared IIT and went into ISM Dhanbad. Got placed in Oil India Limited and came to Assam in 2011 itself. Coming to Assam has been the catalyst in my involvement in CSE preparation. I met people who were preparing and they encouraged me also to dive in. Though I was satisfied with my work and found it interesting as well, still I knew that I wouldn’t be happy in this for my lifetime. I simply couldn’t envision my next 30 years in Petroleum Industry which had extremely little scope for interaction with people.
I got an opportunity to serve as Presiding Officer in General Assembly Election 2014 and Assam Assembly Election 2016 which I thoroughly enjoyed. Convinced me more than ever to join a service where I would be able to deal directly with people and in a position where I could prove useful for them.

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)
A: I had an ambiguous relationship with the online sources. Initially I used online sources merely for inspirational stories, preparation strategies, and clearing confusion over difficult topics like WTO conferences and issues. Mrunal.org, insights are two honourable mentions. My preparation was mostly based on paper material and notes making for current affairs from newspapers. Lately I am relying more on online sources like Vision, Insights, Rajya Sabha TV, civilsdaily,  gktoday for current affairs etc. For culture and Geography also, online sources have been crucial. It is easy to get bogged down by the amount of online material available. I recommend choosing few time-tested sources and sticking to them.

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.Negligible
Daily hrs spent on whatsapp and telegram studygroupsHalf hour
Daily hrs spent on online for exam prep.Generally 1-2 hours
Primary Device for online study: desktop, laptop, tablet, mobileLaptop

Q. Any other things that you wish to elaborate on above table:
A: UPSC preparation requires smart labour. As hundreds of websites are coming up for aiding online preparation, self-discipline is crucial. I started depending on online sources only after thoroughly covering my tracks in paper-material.

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.)
A: I have made notes for the NCERT books, Geography and Modern History. I used to prepare paper notes of Hindu. Last year, I prepared current affairs notes in Microsoft Onenote. But this year, I have refrained from making any notes. I believe note-making gives you ample confidence in preparation. But you may start relying on ready-made notes once you are comfortable in static portion and an overall picture of different issues.

Prelims (CSAT) Paper-1: General studies

History AncientNew NCERT + Online topicwise study from gktoday
History MedievalDo
History Modern (Freedom Struggle)Bipan Chndra + Spectrum
Culture and societyNitin Singhania handmade notes
Polity (theory + current)Laxmikanth
Economy (theory + current)Newspaper + Eco Survey
Science (theory + current)NCERT + Vision material
Environment (theory + current)Shankar notes + NCERT + IAS4sure revision material
geography physicalNCERT + Mrunal videos
geography IndiaDo
geography worldDo
other national/international current affairsNewspaper
Schemes, Policy & Filler StuffVisionias material + Newspaper

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?
A: I was pleasantly surprised with the Prelims 2017 paper. The paper was more conceptual in nature bucking the trend of paper becoming more factual in nature. The emphasis on polity instead of petty information related to environment or GK like National Highway number etc was again a much-needed course-correction. In my opinion, the Prelims-2017 question paper looked best suited for selecting future civil servants compared to papers of some previous years.

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?
A: Not much. But my advice to fellow aspirants would be to focus on understanding concepts even when preparing for Prelims. Instead of speculating about the probable pattern, go the whole hog and prepare static and dynamic parts completely.

Prelims (CSAT): Paper-2: Aptitude

Topicstrategy / booklist
Decision MakingNone

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:
A: Not much is coming to my mind. May be, reading questions before the comprehension itself can help. Fortunately I am quite good at non-passage sections of the paper which leaves me with sufficient time for passage.

Prelim accuracy

Q1. Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? do you think they’re necessary for success?
A: Tests along with their solutions are available online. Solving tests are more crucial for new aspirants as it helps them understand what aspects of any topic could yield potential questions. This would enable them to trim/broaden their horizon while studying any topic. For senior players, test series serves as additional source for current affairs preparation. I recommend, solving at least 10-15 tests prior to Prelims. Use these tests to also assess your accuracy.

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

attempted Q.correct (Expected)Official score
aptitudeDon’t rememberDon’t remember150

Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paperYour preparation strategy / booklist?
English paperNone
your regional languageNone

Q. other observations / tips / comments on the length / difficulty level of compulsory language papers in CSE-2016
A: Don’t take lightly. A close friend of mine who has been clearing Mains for last 3 years got disqualified in English paper due to 1 mark. If you feel that you are weak in any paper, sort it out.

Mains: Essay

Q1. How did you prepare for the essay paper?
A: I read essay strategies of toppers across different forums like ForumIAS, Mrunal etc. I loved the article written by Arushi Sharma (AIR 292). The link is http://blog.forumias.com/how-to-ace-the-essay-paper-ias-rank-292-arushi-shares-how-she-managed-141/
I made a mistake of writing only 1 mock essay. Moreover I also relied too heavily on different “so called” tricks like using quotes, multi-dimensional analysis, using sub-headings etc which rather made my essay look somewhat mechanical. They robbed the essay of a natural flow. Hence I ended up with average marks.
I believe it is important to practice essay to develop a natural flow. Taking a balanced view, and overall positive outlook is also extremely crucial.
Q2. Which two essays did you write and What key points did you include in it?
A: 1. The engendered development one. 2. Digital India. My emphasis was on touching as many dimensions as possible. By dimensions I mean social, political, legal, constitutional, economic, historical and other aspects.
I used sub-headings in the essays and tried using quotes to introduce both of my essays.

General Studies (Mains) paper 1

TopicHow did you prepare?
CultureNitin Singhania handwritten notes
Indian historyBipan Chandra
world historyOwn notes made out of old NCERT + Some topic wise study. I had read Norman Lowe and enjoyed it thoroughly but I won’t recommend it for UPSC preparation.
post-independence IndiaTopic wise study from internet. I recommend going through any decent coaching material to cover same. Didn’t have much time to cover it myself.
Indian societySociology optional – So not needed.
role of women, poverty etc.Do
globalization on Indian societyDo
communalism, regionalism, secularismDo
world geo physicalMrunal videos + NCERT
resource distributionMrunal videos + NCERT
factors for industrial locationMrunal videos + NCERT
earthquake tsunami etcMrunal videos + NCERT
impact on flora-faunaMrunal videos + NCERT

General studies (Mains) paper 2

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
Indian Constitution, devolution, dispute redressal etc.Laxmikanth
comparing Constitution with worldLaxmikanth
parliament, state LegislaturesLaxmikanth
executive-judiciaryLaxmikanth + SARC Report
ministries departmentsLaxmikanth
pressure group, informal asso.Laxmikanth + Sociology optional
Representation of people’s actLaxmikanth + SARC Report
various bodies: Constitutional, statutory..Laxmikanth
NGO, SHG etcCurrent Affairs + SARC Report
welfare schemes, bodiesCurrent Affairs
social sector, health, edu, HRDGovt. reports like Draft National Health policy, National Education Policy etc + Current Affairs
governance, transparency, accountabilitySARC Report
e-governanceSARC Report
role of civil serviceSARC Report
India & neighborsCurrent Affairs
bilateral/global groupingCurrent Affairs
effect of foreign country policies on Indian interestCurrent Affairs
DiasporaCurrent Affairs
international bodies- structure mandateCurrent Affairs

Current Affairs = Hindu + VIsion CA material + insights editorials

General studies (Mains) Paper 3

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilizationRamesh Singh, Newspapers
inclusive growthInternet, Newspapers
BudgetingNewspapers, Laxmikanth, Internet
major crops, irrigationInsights suggested materials, Mrunal Geography videos, Newspapers
agro produce – storage, marketingNewspapers, Ramesh Singh
e-technology for famersInternet, Newspapers
farm subsidies, MSPMrunal, Newspapers,
PDS, buffer, food securityInternet, Newspapers, EPW
technology missionDidn’t cover separately
animal rearing economicsDidn’t cover separately
food processingMrunal, internet, newspapers
land reformsSociology optional
LiberalizationRamesh singh, Newspapers
investment modelsSome random coaching material + Newspapers
science-tech day to day lifeNewspapers
Indian achievements in sci-techNewspapers
awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPRNewspapers
environmental impact assessmentNewspapers + SARC Report +
Disaster ManagementDisaster Management SARC report
non state actors, internal securityInternet + Newspapers
internal security – role of media, social networking siteSARC Report + Internet + Newspapers
cyber securityInternet
money launderingSARC Report + Internet + Newspapers
border  ManagementIDSA + Newspapers
organized crime, terrorismSARC Report + Internet + Newspapers
security agencies- structure mandateSARC Report + Internet + Newspapers

It must be emphasized that preparations for paper 3 were mostly current affairs based. Hence i relied heavily on newspaper reading, vision ias current affairs, and some selective reading from EPW, downtoearth etc.

General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude

TopicHow Did You Prepare?
ethics and interface, family, society and all the hathodaa topicsSubba Rao
attitude, moral influence etc.Subba Rao
civil service: integrity, impartiality, tolerance to weak etcSARC Report on ethical governance
emotional intelligence, its use in governanceSubba Rao
moral thinkers of India and worldNone
ethics in pub.ad, accountability, laws, rules etc.Subba Rao
corporate governanceSubba Rao
probity in governance, work cultureSubba Rao
citizen charter, ethics code, work culture etc.SARC Report on ethical governance
challenges of corruptionSARC Report on ethical governance
case studies on above topicsSubba Rao

I had read the book by G Subba Rao in 2014, but found it to be helpful only as a framework. Lately I have relied greatly on Gandhian Ethics. Test Series soln also help to a great extent.

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?

A: It is one paper that is most ambiguous in nature. Generally the questions were asking ethical/moral/administrative competence and ability to see the bigger picture. But the CSM 2016 did ask some theoretical questions which caught me with surprise. My advice would be to focus on building an ethical understanding of different issues. Analyzing issues with ethical viewpoints would build a perspective. However also consult a book which would help in preparing for theoretical questions.

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
GS4NoneAll attempted

I rarely do a post-examination review of my answers because the ending of examination in itself is a great relief for me. Hence am not in a position to be able to say with any definitiveness about the number of answers that were best attempted or of average quality. All I can say is that 60-70% of the attempted questions in each paper would be of good quality and rest of average quality.

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]
A: Ira Singhal Ma’am, AIR 1 of CSE2014, had shared her strategy in which she advised to respect the intelligence of the examiner. Hence I also refrained from answering questions where I had little or no idea at all. Questions like West African anti-colonial movements, McBride Commission, allelopathy etc were left completely untouched.
There are multiple views on this aspect of answer writing. But given my marks, I can say with reasonable confidence that my strategy hasn’t back-fired. So it saves time, allows you to focus on producing quality answers and is also lenient on your hands.
Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?
A: Due to limited writing practice, fixed space posed a consistent restraint on my answers. I was determined to answer only those questions about which I knew adequately. Hence rather than time, space became a constraint for me in most of the papers.
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.
A: Bullet points. I wrote in paragraphs in CSM 2014 and was punished brutally for the same. ra
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.
A: Yes. I have followed this format because of multiple reasons:

  1. It indeed gives the answer a beautiful structure.
  2. It is least risky structure. And when it comes to CSE, treading known path is always advisable.
  3. Every question might have

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. I drew diagrams for Geography questions.
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?Needn’t draw any straight line in any diagram.
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. 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.
A: This is true to some extent. The score in optional subjects have varied to a great extent. However I am a strong believer in not bothering about these issues as these are beyond our control. Performance of different subjects vary every year and it is important to make peace with it. Changing optional has done wonders to some aspirants but ultimately it is a personal choice. Since the CSE cycle covers the entire year and the form for prelims are filled before results of last year CSE are out, UPSC leaves little scope for the same as well. Moreover I am a strong votary of choosing optional which appeals to you instead of being guided by perception of marks fetching ability of the concerned subject.

Mains Optional Subject

Q. What’s your optional subject and why did you chose it and not something else?
A: Sociology. I was clear that I will choose an optional that I would love to study. I purchased a basic book for Pub Ad – found it extremely boring. Then bought a standard Psychology book – again didn’t interest me much. Then I came to sociology and it was love at first sight.
Q. If a new player wants to pick your subject, would you advice for it or against it?
A: Choose what you love. Sociology in itself is a good optional. It would help you with GS-1 preparation along with essay. Since it basically tells you about why the societal elements behave in the manner they do, it should be helpful in administration as well.
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.)
A: Paper 1: Orange cover Haralambos + IGNOU BA/MA Material. I read Ritzer for thinkers as well, but that realized that was not that necessary. Paper 2: Society in India by David Mandelbaum + IGNOU BA/MA material. I recommend purchasing a coaching material and using it as a framework. Build over it by your own reading of above mentioned books.
Many first timers have got excellent marks in sociology. This show that more than comprehensive coverage, writing skills and dynamic approach in answers are very important.
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?
A: Current affairs is more important for Paper-2. Develop a sociological eye for the real life incidents and you would get lots of examples to quote in your answers.
For example the regime change in Bahubali movie is a classic example of Pareto’s theory of circulation of elites between Lions and Foxes.
Q. How many months did it take to finish the core optional syllabus?
A: 6 months
Q. How many days/ weeks before the exam, you started answer writing practice?
A: 2 months
Q. Do you maintain self-notes for revision of optional? In which format- electronic or paper?
A: No. I want to and that would definitely be a better approach. But I haven’t had the time and requisite motivation. But I have prepared notes for thinkers of Paper-1.
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?
A: 2016 mains was relatively difficult compared to 2016 mains. Do not focus on too many thinkers. Try and connect with current affairs and develop a sociological understanding of the issues.

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?
A: Prepared possible questions from all relevant points mentioned in DAF.
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?
A: No. Mock interviews can be attended, but they are not extremely necessary.
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 a Guest House. I brought my laptop which had all the relevant material.
Q5. Describe the formal-dress worn by you in interview.
A: White shirt, blue tie and a dark grey trouser.

During the interview

Q1. Who was the chairman of you interview board?
A: Sujata Mehta Ma’am
Q2. How long was the interview?
A: 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?]
A: Since I am engaged in a well-paying fulltime job, my answer needed to be well rounded. I
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.
Board: Sujata Mehta Ma’am
Home state – Jharkhand
Currently working in an upstream oil and gas PSU. Posted in Assam.
Interest and Hobby: Running, Debating, Hindi Poetry and Meditation
Few details: I was the 5th person to be interviewed in the forenoon session. When I approached the gate, Ma’am indicated me
to come in. I wished the two ladies including chairwomen and then the three gentlemen.
Ch: Shows me my passport pic and asks me is it you?
Me: Yes Ma’am. (With a smile)
Ch: You are currently working in xx company. What is your job profile?
Me: Ma’am my current designation is Sr. Reservoir Engineer. When some oil and gas wells fall sick i.e. they are not flowing with
their optimum potential, my role is to identify such wells, diagnose the problems, plan a remedial action, monitor the execution
and visit wellsite to supervise critical operations.
Ch: So if a well doesn’t start producing with expected potential after drilling, will you be called up?
Me: Not directly Ma’am. I move with a workover outfit which is in itself a full-fledged rig and the operations are very expensive.
So the first job would be to verify whether the original assessment was correct. These assessments are made on basis of
available data which need to be continually revised based on latest activities. So if the re-assessment says that the expected
potential was correct, I would be called in. I explained the answer with an example.
Ch: In KG D6 basin, the production from gas wells have reduced. Does it need your involvement?
Me: Ma’am the first thing that has to be ascertained is that whether it is a reservoir specific problem or a well specific problem.
The expected potential was based on initially estimated reserves. But if the reservoir turns out to be not that prospective, the
reserves will be downgraded. But if the problem is well-specific, then workover operations will be needed and I will be needed.
Ch: What about the secular decline in Bombay High?
Me: Ma’am every reservoir or field has a life-cycle. Production increases, plateaus and then declines gradually. My role in
secular decline comes in if we are going for enhanced oil recovery operations.
Ch: India’s Strategic Petroleum Reserves – Where are they and how much?
Me: They are at three places currently. Mangalore, Padur and Vishakhapatnam. The current reserves stand at 5.33 MMT. But
the govt. is planning to create two more strategic reserves at Chandikhole and Bikaner taking the total capacity to 15.33 MMT.
This will give India 30 day reserves.
Ch: Are they stored in caverns?
Me: I am sorry Ma’am. I don’t have adequate idea about it.
Ch: Another question about these reserves.
Me: I am not sure Ma’am.
Ch: What is tight oil and shale gas?
Me: Ma’am tight oil is that crude which is present in reservoirs of very low permeability. They can be sandstone, limestone or
shale. For example, my company has several reservoirs which are very tight. But shale gas refers specifically to the gas that is
present in shale layers in the sub-surface stratigraphy.
Ch: How much shale gas reserves India has?
Me: Ma’am there are varying estimates, but according to Schlumberger, recoverable shale gas reserves in India can be anything
between 500 tcf to 2000 tcf.
Ch: Is the govt. putting off shale gas exploration for future use?
Me: I beg to differ with you Ma’am. India has currently 40% import dependency in natural gas. Hence there is no reason for
putting off shale gas exploration. In fact, the govt. has brought out several policy changes to encourage shale gas exploration
and production. However certain challenges are there.
Ch: (As soon as she heard the word challenge, she encouraged me to speak about the challenges through gestures).
Me: The shale gas reserves are located in many of the densely inhabited areas like Ganga Basin and Damodar Basin. So
exploration and production would pose problems of land acquisition and environmental pollutions. Apart from that, shale gas
exploration requires hydro fracturing operations which in turn require massive amount of fresh water. Availability of fresh
water is another impediment.
Ch: What about impact on seismicity? In many areas, its exploration has led to earthquakes in nearby regions.
Me: Ma’am as far as I know, the link hasn’t been proven conclusively. Shale gas exploration is being carried out at a large scale
in USA. There has been allegations of the hydro fracturing leading to increased seismicity. But the scientific body is still divided
on the same.
Ch: 100 earthquakes are occurring daily in some regions. And you are saying that it is not conclusive? Do you want to suggest
that we do not have scientific maturity yet to be able to deduce the impact?
Me: (Thinks for some time). Ma’am I want to make two points. Firstly, the available data and correlations are not adequate to
conclusively establish the link between two as shale gas exploration is a relatively recent initiative. Secondly for sake of
assumption, even if we assume that hydrofrac operations are leading to 100 minor earthquakes in some regions daily, it can be
seen as a blessing in disguise. It might be possible that the continuous release of stress through these multiple minor
earthquakes will prevent build-up of stress in the region which might lead to any catastrophic earthquake in future.
Ch: Yes, that sounds completely logical. (She said it 2-3 times. J I was feeling happy).
She then pointed towards another lady member and asked her to question me.
M1: Your hobby is Hindi poetry?
Me: Yes Ma’am. I like to read and even compose Hindi poetry.
M1: Who are your favourite poets?
Me: Shri Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Shri Maithili Sharan Gupt, Shri Dushyant, and Shri Hariwansh Rai Bachchan.
M1: Anyone from current period?
Me: Ma’am I like to read Shri Piyush Mishra and Shri Ashok Chakradhar.
M1: Good, good. So you have lived in Jharkhand mostly. Must have travelled to different parts of country. But you have been
residing in North East India for last how many years?
Me: Told her the duration.
M1: OK, so what difference have you observed?
Me: (Thinks for some time). Ma’am I have observed at least three differences. First the weather is extremely pleasant. Second,
the people are less aggressive over there. And third, the life is quite laid back there. People are more content. Even in
agriculture, they mostly grow one crop in a year, and live in a festive mood for the rest of the year.
M1: Have you heard about digital divide?
Me: Yes Ma’am.
M1: Do you think that we should disturb the heavenly paradise that you just described by mitigating the digital divide? Don’t
you think that we should let them live a content life and not disturb them b introducing digital technology?
Me: I am sorry Ma’am, I beg to differ with you. Historically it has been seen that as education increases, aspirations rise among
people. Even in Asasm, people are increasingly using internet as their aspirations rise. Though there are infrastructural
deficiencies, but the govt. is trying to bridge them. Moreover globally, it has also been seen that with education, interest of
youth in agriculture reduces. They will need new opportunities. It is important to digitally empower them so that they are able
to take benefit of the opportunities that a rapidly developing India would present to them. This will be important to reduce the
feeling of alienation among people of North-East India and will further integrate the region with rest of the country.
M1: Have you heard about net-neutrality (I nodded yes). So what it is?
Me: Ma’am there are variety of definitions. But there is a consensus that net neutrality implies that the Internet Service
Provider should not act as a gate-keeper. It should not get to decide upon the content that users can access or content that
publishers can publish within the statutory limits.
M1: Does your company record real-time data and upload them online for your access?
Me: (A little impatiently) No Ma’am, Oil India Limited currently doesn’t have real-time data recording and publishing facility.
But we measure productivity on a daily basis.
M1: It’s alright. But some companies must be doing it?
Me: Yes Ma’am.
M1: Movies are also treated by ISPs as data packets. Your data would also be treated as data-packets. Something something
which I couldn’t understand.
Me: I beg your pardon Ma’am. I am unable to understand the question properly. Are you asking about the data security
provisions on the part of data-publisher?
M1: No. Since all types of data are treated by ISP as data packets only, do you think that you should be able to access all types
of data in the same manner or should there be preferential access to your company data?
Me: Absolutely Ma’am. Preferential access would be better.
M1: Won’t it violate the net-neutrality?
Me: I beg to differ with you Ma’am. In this case, the decision still rests with the user or the publisher regarding the preferential
access. The ISP merely act as a facilitator. It can’t have the suo-moto rights.
(Sujata Ma’am points to another member)
M2: You have talked about development in the North Eastern Region. What kind of development? The same kind that has been
pursued in the metros of the country? And what exactly do you mean by integration of the region with rest of country?
Me: Sir, I would try to answer your question in two parts. First I would deal with the kind of development that we should
pursue in NE and the second will deal with integration aspect.
M2: Absolutely. Go ahead.
Me: Sir, development in North East should be empowering in nature. It should empower the local institutions, be respective of
their culture and create employment opportunities. As many states like Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya are
predominantly tribal in nature. Their lives are closely interwoven with nature and hence any development should be in
consonance with nature. In fact, given the increase in env consciousness due to climate change, development can no longer be
divorced with env sustainability. Moreover it should be according to the own genius of the tribals as was envisaged in the Tribal
Panchasheel given by the first Prime Minister of the country Jawahar Lal Nehru (forgot to add Pandit before the name). For
example, tourism can be one way. Ecological tourism, wildlife tourism, rural tourism, adventure tourism, culture tourism etc.
There is huge scope. Secondly, handicraft industry can be promoted. As Ma’am was asking about digital empowerment, the NE
can be integrated with the whole world through internet. Coming onto, second part i.e. integration. Sir, I believe integration
refers to how people of North East India perceive themselves vis-à-vis the rest of the country (Sir says yes correct). So it is
important that the development model must empower them, so that it is embraced by people. This will enable them to be
better integrated.
M2: What is auto-ignition point, flash point, octane number?
Me: Sir are you asking about auto-ignition temperature?
M2: No. Auto-ignition point.
Me: I am sorry sir. I do not have adequate idea about auto-ignition point.
M2: (Interrupts me) OK. I have heard in some seminar about Clastic Reservoir Modelling. What is it?
Me: Sir, in ~, the entire reservoir is imagined to consist of minute sand size particles which form the entire matrix. It integrates
the concept of fluid dynamics and hydro-dynamics into the reservoir modelling.
(Wasn’t sure of the answer. But was forced to answer as it was from core of my studies. Thought it would reflect poorly and
took a gamble).
M2: You are a petroleum engineer. In refineries, they use the terms open cup method and something which I could not hear.
What are they?
Me: Sir, most humbly I beg to submit that petroleum engineering as a course is related to upstream oil and gas sector. I haven’t
studied anything about refineries during my course or during my job.
(Had to cut the downstream questions. So expressed my limitations. Was worried that the interviewer might be offended)
M2: Ok Ok. Alright. I wasn’t aware of that.
(Sujata Mehta points to another sir)
M3: I will ask you an abstract question. Why don’t you continue as a petroleum engineer instead of becoming a civil servant?
Given the unique discipline to which you belong, I say that your services will be much more useful there.
Me: (Thinks a little) I am sorry sir but I will beg to differ with you (M3 smiles). I agree with you sir that come from a very unique
discipline. But the strength of civil services is its diversity. And I would add to this diversity. I would be of much use in policy
formulation. Secondly, if I happen to become a civil servant and get posted in audit or vigilance organisations, I would again put
good use to my technical expertise. This is a common complaint among specialized PSUs like ONGC, OIL that these
organisations do not sufficiently appreciate the technical nuances of decisions. Hence economy often precedes over efficiency.
As a result, only safe decisions are allowed. Hence I will be helpful in these organistions, if I get a chance. Apart from that, as
petroleum industry has environmental implications, we are trained to be environmentally conscious while taking different
decisions. This is also important as the country needs its future civil servants to be environmentally conscious.
M3: So you are asying that you will use your technical expertise in the service also.
Me: Yes sir. Moreover currently, at least 1500-2000 petroleum engineering students are graduating every year. But the industry
absorption is hardly 250-300 graduates. Most of them are forced to join IT sector. Hence the sector is not talent starved.
M3: Your optional is sociology
Me: (With a big smile) Yes sir.
M3: So tell me about ethnicities present in India.
Me: Can I take a minute to think?
All: Yes yes.
Me: Sir, the different ethnicities are Mongoloids, Caucasians, Negritoes, Australoids. Sir I am not sure whether this list is
exhaustive or not.
M3: That’s alright. So what are central Indian tribes?
Me: Sir Australoids.
M3: To which group their languages belong?
Me: I am sorry sir, I don’t have adequate idea about it.
(Ma’am points to last member)
M4: Why are they called Australoids?
Me: I am not sure sir but I can take a guess. (M4 nods). During Gondwana times, India, Australia, Madagascar, South Africa etc
were combined. It might be possible because of this reason they are called so. But again, it is purely a guess and I don’t have
any substantive idea about it.
M4: Do you have any idea about aboriginal tribes of Australia and Fiji?
Me: No sir.
M4: Have you heard about Mr Red Piper (this is what I heard, not sure it was what he told)? He is a very famous personality
intimately related to O&G industry. (Sujata Mehta Ma’am nods)
Me: No sir.
M4: What is pig?
Me: I am sorry sir. I am unable to recall it currently.
M4: How is oil pipeline cleaned? Looked at my facial expression and himself said “no idea”. I said no sir.
M4: How is a fire in oil and gas well put off?
Me: Sir, the fire is a result of combustion of gas. So all efforts are geared towards cutting the gas supply to the surface through
the well. If the fire has enveloped the well, aerial services are used. They pour water and sand over the well. When the fire is
relatively controlled, the gas supply is immediately cut-off from wellhead or Blow-out preventer.
M4: Do you use explosives?
Me: Yes sir in seismic exploration.
M4: In putting off fire?
Me: I don’t have adequate idea about it sir.
M4: You do poetry. Can you recite four lines of your own composition?
Me: Yes sir. The poem is titled Jawani.
Muqaddar aur waqt ka rona to kayar rote hain,
Mard to apne falsafe ke khud shayar hote hain,
Daastan-e-takdir to tazindagi sunne ko milti rahenge,
Par jo kismat ka kissa na banaya to wo jawani hi kya
M4: The place where you live has a mountain. What is its name?
Me: Names the mountain that I have heard.
M4: It is only is a small part of it. What’s the name of the mountain?
Me: I am sorry sir. I don’t know.
M4: Have you heard about XX Pahad?
Me: No sir.
M4: (In surprise) What! You haven’t heard XX Pahad?
Me: No sir.
M4: Have you heard about CNT and SPT acts (I said yes sir). Do they need reforms?
Me: Yes sir. Both the NITI Aayog and 12th PC have commented that land leasing and land ownership transfer regulatory acts
have started hurting the tribals more rather than advantaging them. But it is important to follow gradualism in reforms rather
than radical reforms.
M4: What gradualism? How can gradual reforms be introduced?
Me: Sir for example, under the acts, a tribal can sell his/her land to a another person of same tribe who lives within same police
station area. While a Dalit or Backward class person can sell the land to fellow community members who live in same district or
block. One way to introduce gradual reforms can be gradually expanding the area from which the prospective buyer can be. I
support gradual reforms because it will mitigate political opportunism from the issue. Moreover reforms to these acts have
been associated with exploitation of tribals by non-tribals. Gradual reforms will not fall into that trap.
M4: Arjun Munda was your CM. What is the meaning of term “Munda”?
Me: I am sorry sir. I don’t know.
Ch: Thank you. Your interview is over. (It appeared as if she wanted to ask more questions, but then had a second look at watch
and decided otherwise).
Me: Thank you Ma’ams. Thank you sirs. Have a good day Ma’ams. Have a good day sirs.
My comments: Overall a good experience. Though the board seemed to be in a little bit of rush as they spent more than
allocated time in interviewing the first three candidates.
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?
A: 70-80% of the interview was on expected lines. Two aspects of my profile ie petroleum engineering and posting in North East are not common. They expectedly fetched a lot of questions. Sure there were unexpected questions, but it wasn’t a stress interview at all.
Q6. Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document or do xyz thing, or you’ll face problem”?
A: Bring photocopies of your documents and make sure you have at least 4 photographs of passport size.
Q7. Any word of wisdom / observations about medical checkup?
A: Take at least 4 photographs, drink lots of water and ensure that your ears don’t contain wax. During my medical, the hospital refused to provide fitness certificate immediately to at least two aspirants because wax present in their ears. One of the aspirant was an existing IPS. So better safe than sorry.

CSE-2016 Marksheet

Q1. Please provide both prelim and final mark sheet:
A: I hadn’t downloaded my marksheets. In Prelims, I have scored somewhere around 132 and 145 in Paper 1 and 2.

Gs 1107
Gs 287
Gs 3111
Gs 4111
Opt 1145
Opt 2143

Career Backup

Q1. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?
A: Already working.

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.)
A: Not applicable.

Views on UPSC reforms

Q. Optional subjects should be removed altogether. The present stalemate is helping no-one, except coaching-owners, book publishers.
A: Yes. The optional should be removed. Topics from relevant optionals like sociology, public administration, political science etc should be included in GS itself. Moreover it would also remove the so called “butchering” concept and the unpredictability that goes with it.
Q. Your views on the decision to make CSAT paper 33% qualifying?
A: The decision has made prelims a big gamble. Stalwarts are stumbling in prelims itself. If CSAT has been made qualifying, I believe the Paper – 1 could be broken down into two papers of 100 marks each to provide candidates a chance to better manage examination stress.

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. 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.
A: Being posted along the easternmost part of the country, I can empathize with the problem. Lack of guidance often leads to more effort than required. However with the constantly changing question pattern, the difference between a Delhi based aspirant and others is more or less ironed out. Moreover given the vastness of syllabus, you never know how the so called “irrelevant materials” would prove useful. My advise would be to research well on strategies of different toppers, find the one most suitable to you and then stick to it.
Q. UPSC should disclose official prelim answerkey and cutoffs, immediately after prelim is over, instead of postponing it till interview phase is over.
A: I don’t think it would serve any purpose. Rather Mains score should be released for the qualified candidates immediately after Mains result. If not the score, some indication of score like percentile or quartile could be revealed.

Q. UPSC should be conducted online like IBPS and CAT exam to shorten the duration of exam.
A: No.
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.
A: Yes. IFoS mains has become more or less a practice ground for the CSE Mains.
Q. If you are made the UPSC chairman, what other reforms would you initiate for the civil service exam?
A: I would provide different services some autonomy to set criteria for their selection. This can be achieved by adjusting weightage for different stages of selection process. For example, audit services would need better mathematical skills. So the service could be allowed to keep certain enhanced weightage for CSAT scores. All the services would be allowed to publish their own rank list. In a computerized world, this does not require much effort and will not cause much trouble. Moreover it will be able to differentiate between apple and oranges.

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?
A: No insecurity as such. Academics was always my domain and I have always believed that no exam in insurmountable. A lot of credit for this mindset goes to my parents, relatives and friends.

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?
A: I suggest finding a group a people who have confidence in your ability and motivate you. During the trough part of the mood cycle, talking to these people help immensely.
Watch TV series, movies if you are feeling like to study. Select certain movies you can draw inspiration from. For me it has been Cindrella Man, Rush, McFarland, Seabiscuit, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, etc.

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.
A: UPSC is indeed a chakravyuha. I have been preparing for the last 4 years. Fortunately I am engaged in a job that I truly enjoy because of the awesome working environment. This helped me survive the mental prison. In fact, the only time I found UPSC preparation to be quite burdensome was when I took a month leave for Mains Preparation.
Q2. What went wrong in your previous attempt? What changes did you make in this current attempt?
A: In my first attempt in 2014, I featured in the reserve list. I suffered heavily in GS because of lack of exposure. I wrote in paragraphs which led to repetition of points and poor presentation. Then I had read somewhere to introduce answers in a unique manner which led me killing a lot of time on coming up with good introduction and conclusion in every answer. Finally I hadn’t written any mock test and hence didn’t have writing practice for 3 continuous hours. This hampered my answer quality as well as number of answers I could attempt.
Changes I made in current attempt – Point wise answer writing. Joined test series and wrote at least 5 complete tests. These are merely for GS as I wrote nearly 5-6 tests for my optional as well. It is important to get feedbacks on your tests as well instead of blindly having more writing practice.

Struggle of Working professional

If you’re a working professional, share some tips on how to manage studies with job
A: Enjoy your job. I loved my time spent in office and this rather kept me recharged for the UPSC preparation. Moreover this helped me have a diverse friend circle amongst whom I could escape from the UPSC prison for a while. But it is important for working professional to be disciplined and strict with their schedule. I do not recommend stealing 10-15 minutes of study time wherever available but be really sincere in whatever time you can afford.

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?
A: I am extremely thankful to the almighty for not giving me success in the very first or second attempt.
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?
A: Civil Services Examination is an unpredictable examination. Apart from hard work, intelligent strategy, you also need a lot of examination temperament and a bit of luck. When I performed poorly in Prelims 2015, I still took it in a positive way. I thought that the failures will make me a more mature, determined and perseverant person. These failures are a part of your training as a civil servant. In service also, despite your best attempts, you will meet with failures because of situations beyond your control. And in those times, you will be able to handle the situation and yourself in a far composed manner.

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?
A: Everyone who believed in me. A special thanks to my mother and elder brother.

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.  
A: Of course I used it. In my initial days of preparation, mrunal was the Go-To site for me for economics, WTO and environment concepts. I relied heavily on Mrunal Geography. Even for my interview, the recent interview guidance articles helped me a lot.

Mrunal recommends

  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

2 Comments on “[Topper’s Interview] Abhilash Baranwal (Rank-272/CSE16): Sociology, 3rd Attempt, ISM-Dhanbad”

  1. You are an inspiration for us.
    Great writing & ideas.

  2. how to start upsc preparation….give any of suggestion regrd. upsc bcoz am newer to this exam …so give any ideas..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *