[Topper’s Interview] Shefali Singh (AIR 336/CSE-2012) Geography and Sociology

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Mrunal’s UPSC GSM3-2020 Model Answer lecture: Science Technology, Internal Security Border Management Questions from last Mains Exam Solved!
  1. Bio
  2. Coaching
  3. Inception
  4. Information
  5. Momentum
  6. Hours
  7. Strategy: CSAT (Aptitude)
  8. Strategy: General studies
  9. Mains 2013
  10. Optional Subject #1 (Geography)
  11. Optional Subject #2 (Sociology)
  12. Optional Subject in Mains 2013?
  13. Compulsory papers
  14. Essay
  15. Previous Attempts
  16. Insecurity  about “Profile”
  17. Backup
  18. Family and Friends
  19. Interview
  20. Marksheet
  21. Wisdom
  22. Bogus marketing propaganda


Roll number 9727
Rank (CSE 2012) 336
Optional Subjects
  1. Geography
  2. Sociology
Number of Attempts 3
Medium for Mains Exam English
Schooling (Medium) English
Centre for Prelim exam Dehradun
Centre for Mains exam Delhi
Name of home town/city Mussoorie, Uttarakhand
Did you appear in any other competitive exams? Yes- CGL 2012. Couldn’t clear as Paper 2 in Tier 2 was disqualified due to a mistake in Test Form No.


% in class 10 95.2
% in class 12 87.5
Graduation course and % B.Tech biotechnology, CGPA 7.85
Name of college and year of passing out Thapar University, 2010
PG (if applicable) NA
Any professional courses (if applicable) NA

Extra Curricular

I was very active in quizzing during school. Participated in a number of Olympiads, quiz competitions and public speaking events. In college I helped organize cultural and technical fests. I love to play badminton and read books in my spare time.

Family background

My father is an Assistant Engineer (Civil) in CPWD and mother is a housewife. I have a younger brother who is currently an NDA cadet. My family is the main reason behind my success in the exam. Despite failure they never lost faith in me and constantly motivated me to work harder. It is because of a strong support system at home that I could commit myself completely to the preparation.


Did you join any Coaching?
  • For Prelims- No
  • For Mains- Yes
  • For  Interview- 2 Mock Interviews at Vajiram and Ravi
Did you join any postal courses? No
Did you join any Mock test series? No


My uncle got posted to LBSNAA, Mussoorie when I was in class 5. He told me about IAS and inspired me to aim for it. As I grew up I came to realize that Civil Services offer a wide spectrum of opportunities in a number of fields which can be used to affect the lives of so many people. Civil Services has been my desired career since then.


Q. Outside Delhi, it’s hard to dig how to prepare for civil service. So How did you gather the necessary information / strategy / booklist?
topper shefali air 336 cse-2012
Ans.I relied heavily on internet for latest updates and information in almost all areas. There was hardly anything available in terms of readymade study material in Mussoorie so I searched for material on various websites and blogs and compiled the data myself. This was time consuming and involved a lot of hard work but helped me in the long run. Mrunal’s notes helped me understand countless concepts without a teacher. Other than this websites like thecalibre.in, upscportal.com, halfmantr.com and many others provide good study material for GS.


It is not possible to keep studying efficiently continuously. So, I used to plan my schedule with proper breaks. After every 10 days or so I used to take a day off when I would watch a movie or read some pages from my favourite books or simply relax. If I still didn’t feel like studying I would talk to some friend, refresh myself and get back to work. I used to live in LBSNAA itself so seeing the OTs go about their training was a major morale boost. My parents kept me motivated and never let frustration set in.


Q. On an average, How many hours did you study per day?

Ans. Around 12 hours before Prelims and 14-15 hours before Mains. I had the extra job of finding as well as preparing study material alongwith studying. For someone with good access to material 8-9 hours should suffice.

Q. How many months did it take you to complete the core syllabus of GS and optional subjects?

Ans. It took me around 7 months to complete both my optionals as well as GS. Though parts of  GS continued well after that.

Strategy: CSAT (Aptitude)

First, please provide the list books/sources used for preparation for following topics.

Topic Books/sources
Maths Cracking the CSAT by Arihant Publishers for all these sections
Decision making
  • Comprehension: I have a hobby of reading books so Comprehension was not much of a problem. For practice I completed all RCs from the above book.
  • Decision Making: Conversations with my father over practicality as well as righteousness in public service and govt. work helped.

Strategy: General studies

Book/ source
History Ancient NCERT books
Medieval NCERT books
Modern Modern India by Spectrum Pub.
Culture IGNOU material (link given in this website),
Mains Gave “India’s struggle for freedom” by Bipin Chandra a quick read to get the general idea and followed it with Spectrum for revision.
Polity Basics M. Laxmikanth
Current Newspaper and related information from the aforementioned websites.
mains D.D.Basu, Vajiram class notes
Economy Basics NCERT books class 11 and 12
Current Newspaper, Internet.
mains Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh, Vajiram Class notes, Made a list of important economic issues of the past year and studied them by myself using internet
Geography Physical Geography was my optional so I didn’t separately prepare for it.
Environment, Biodiversity Basics Much of it was covered in Geography itself. Most of what remained was covered under govt. schemes and Science and Tech. Couldn’t find satisfactory material for it anywhere on the internet.
Science Tech Basics Had studied Physics and Chemistry till class 12 and Biotech as my graduation subject. So didn’t need much preparation in the basics. Revised NCERT books only.
Current Upscportal.com- Sci n Tech monthly updates, Compilation of SnT news given in this website.
Yearbook / Govt. schemes etc. Read only the most important chapters from the Year Book and marked necessary information for revision.

For Govt. Schemes I went through Pratiyogita Darpan, Yojana and the official Indian portal india.gov.in. Made a list of schemes with details whenever I would come across one.

IR/diplomacy World Focus, Newspaper, Website of Ministry of External affairs.

For Prelims I focused on preparing the core syllabus of GS subjects very well with multiple revisions. I did Current Affairs in moderation during Prelims. For Mains I took up GS a month before the exam. But I made it a point to keep revising the core GS syllabus regularly so that I don’t have to waste time redoing it later. The month before Mains had me revising both the optionals as well as GS core syllabus alongwith in-depth reading of the current affairs which usually continues till the day of the exam.

Mains 2013

Q. UPSC has changed the GS syllabus for Mains 2013. So if you were to prepare for it, what’d be your approach/strategy/booklist?

Ans. I feel whatever course is overlapping should be covered very well at the time of Prelims itself. After Prelims take up the other subjects. Prepare shorthand notes for revision and around 2-3 weeks before Mains stop doing anything new (continue with current affairs though. Don’t read more in the core subjects and optional) and try to consolidate all that you’ve done. Practice answer writing and time your attempts.

Optional Subject #1 (Geography)

I used following books

  1. ALS study material for all topics.
  2. Strahler and Strahler for a basic read.
  3. Certificate Physical and Human Geography by Goh Cheng Leong
  4. Physical and human Geography- Rupa Publications
  5. Specrum’s Geography Issue by Rajiv Ahir for Maps and Diagrams
  6. Indian Geography by Khullar
  7. Some parts from Human Geography by Majid Hussain
  8. Book on Map Entries by Majid Hussain
  9. Every topic covered extensively from the internet alongwith books.

Optional Subject #2 (Sociology)


  1. IGNOU BA notes
  2. Haralambos and Holborn
  3. Sociological Thinkers by George Ritzer
  4. Some parts from T.B.Bottommore
  5. UIAS study material well as UIAS class notes.


  1. Society of India by Mandelbaum for background reading
  2. Some parts of Changing India by Robert Stern
  3. Few Chapters of “India- Development and Participation” by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze
  4. Pre-independence Movements and rebellions from Sumit Sarkar
  5. “Tribal India” by Nadeem Hasnain
  6. “Caste in its 20th century Avatar” – Essay by Panini and edited by M.N.Srinivas
  7. Population studies by Bhende and Kanitkar
  8. Modernization of Indian Tradition by Yogendra Singh
  9. IGNOU MA notes
  10. Supplemented every topic with information from the internet.

Optional Subject in Mains 2013?

Q. Instead of two, now UPSC will have only one optional subject. So if you were to give Mains 2013, which optional would you keep and why?

Ans. I would’ve taken Sociology as my optional as it helps in understanding the society and is very relevant to civil services. Also, the syllabus is less as compared to Geography that would give me ample time to study GS which has become more important now.

Compulsory papers

Q. Your booklist/strategy for compulsory Regional language paper.

Read a few hindi newspaper articles one day before the exam for fluency.

Q. Your booklist/strategy for compulsory English language paper.



Q. How did you prepare yourself for the essay?

I had joined essay classes in Vajiram & Ravi which taught me how to handle the essays well. Also, my extensive data hunting on the internet gave me a lot for fodder material for essay on most of the topics.

Q. Which Essay did you write in Mains-2012?

Science and Mysticism: Are they compatible?

Q.Provide some keypoints/highlights of your Essay.

  • Began with explaining Differences and co-relation between Religion and Science.
  • relation between Religion and Mysticism
  • I’d recently read about Isaac Newton’s deep mystic experiences and drew heavily from it
  • Gave examples of eminent Scientists like Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Ramanujam etc who believed in the unity of spirituality and Science at the most basic level
  • Gave the opinion that both could benefit if we can consider them with an open mind instead of rejecting one for the other. It’s a question of possibilities. The atom existed even before there were instruments to detect and theories to explain it.

Previous Attempts

Q. When you look back in the past, what were the deficiency in your preparation in the previous attempt? How did you rectify them this time?

First attempt: I took my first attempt in the final year of college in 2010 without any preparation at all and couldn’t even clear the prelims.

Second Attempt: second attempt in 2011 I couldn’t clear Mains because:

  • I couldn’t overcome the dearth of study material for GS and despite working very hard the output wasn’t up to the mark.
  • I hadn’t practiced maps and diagrams in Geography well and lost marks on this account.
  • I didn’t have much time to study Sociology and fundamentals were still shaky. So, the answer quality suffered.
  • Didn’t prepare notes on any topic and therefore, couldn’t revise properly.
  • Mains are also physically very tiring. I wasn’t acclimatized to the heat inDelhi (I live in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand) and in absence of a strategy of how to go about the revision during the exams in the middle of all this I ended up writing the papers from what I remembered. This year I was psychologically prepared for it and made sure I revised well before every paper.

Insecurity  about “Profile”

Q. Many aspirants have the (unnecessary) fear of interview, thinking that “my profile is not good because  I’ve low score in class 10/12/college/ I’m from unknown college, I’ve no work experience etc.etc.etc.”  So, How important or relevant is the profile of a candidate during interview?

Ans. They begin the interview with the profile but its not the only thing they ask. Even if your profile lacks some things they won’t judge you on that basis alone. I too became very nervous as I thought I was under-prepared for the interview (my interview was on the first day itself) but I realized after the interview that I would’ve done a lot better had I been more confident. Just keep in mind that the board is genuinely interested in knowing you and be honest with them.

How much portion of your interview (in terms of minutes and no. of questions) was centered around your profile?

Ans. They asked me around 6-7 small questions based on my profile like my place of birth, developmental works there, number of attempts and any other work done during the preparation, questions on biotechnology. It must’ve taken them about 10 minutes.

Did they ask any uncomfortable question from your profile during the interview?



I had planned to write SSC CGL this year and I was quite confident of clearing it this time as last year I couldn’t get selected due to a minor glitch. Apart from this I had planned to sit for all exams where I was eligible and secure a job. I did not have anything in hand at the time of the results.

Family and Friends

I would give complete credit of my success in the exam to my family. My parents were my pillars of strength. They always taught me to believe in my dreams and work the hardest to make them come true. After my failure in Mains 2011 my parents instilled in me the confidence to prepare once again and overcome the disadvantage of living in a small town with hardwork. I still and will always look up to my father to draw inspiration who fought against all odds to secure a good career.


Q. How did you prepare for the interview?

I took 2 mock interviews in Vajiram  & Ravi. The first one didn’t go well at all. The second one was a little better. A personal sitting with Ravindran sir was very beneficial. I read the interview module that they gave and it was very helpful though I didn’t attend the classes as I hardly had time.

Q. Who was the chairman of you interview board?

Mr. Vijay Singh

Q. How long was the interview?

30 minutes

Q. Provide the list of questions asked (and if possible answers also)

  1. This is your 3rd attempt. What did you do in between?
  2. The changes that you’ve seen in your place of birth in the last 10 years.
  3. Biotechnology related questions: Instruments that you’ve used in Lab., Gene Sequencer, Seed Act, How is technology transferred from Lab. To fields.
  4. Suppose you’re the DM of a tribal district and an incident of rape occurs. The village elders decide that the girl be married to the man as compensation instead of punishing him. What will you do?
  5. Differences between Directive Principles and Fundamental Rights.
  6. Widow Pension Scheme
  7. What according to you will be better for India- Presidential or Parliamentary form of govt.?
  8. What is the difference between Supreme Court and High Courts with respect to powers concerning Fundamental rights?
  9. Should death penalty be awarded to rapists?
  10. Should the upper age limit of juveniles be reduced in light of the recent Damini Rape Case?

These are the questions I can recall. Will add later if I remember something.

Q. Was your interview on the expected lines of what you had prepared or

Did they ask you totally unexpected questions?  If yes, how did you handle it?

The interview questions were easy and there wasn’t any question that I didn’t know. I faced problem in recalling Biotechnology concepts as I didn’t have time to revise them. I was hoping they’d ask me something from my optionals but that didn’t happen. Overall, I wasn’t satisfied with my interview. It would’ve been very good had I managed to keep cool.



GS 106.00
Aptitude 165.83
Total 272

Written + interview

Essay 121
GS1 110
GS2 114
Geography1 68
Geography2 109
Socio1 127
Socio2 115
Written Total 764
Personality Test 201
Final Total 965


Q. Through this struggle and success, what have you learned about life and competition? What is your message to future aspirants?

Ans. Civil Services Exam requires consistent hard work and patience. Begin your preparation with the idea that it might take you more than one attempt to get through. Its not just an exam but a very enriching experience of your life and the lessons learnt now will make you a wiser person. Coaching, study material, books, notes are all physical constraints which can be overcome by hardwork. So, never lose hope and your zeal to do something bigger and better in life.

Bogus marketing propaganda

Q1. Were you a subscriber/ regular reader of Mrunal.org. If yes, since when? And You can even say “no”, I’ll publish it without editing.

Ans. Yes, I’ve been a regular reader of your articles since 2011.

Q2. How did Mrunal.org help you in your preparation?

Ans. I studied economics more from this website than anywhere else. The study material I found here and the suggestions on books and notes that I found here were always the best. There are so many topics that I understood easily from your diagrams, examples and the interesting conversations. You have a gift of presenting complex things very simply and your articles are a life saver for people who can’t go to a teacher for understanding things. Thank you so much for everything.

Indian History Freedom Struggle Pratik Nayak

28 Comments on “[Topper’s Interview] Shefali Singh (AIR 336/CSE-2012) Geography and Sociology”

  1. Congrats on your suceess!!! Can u share some of ur hand written notes of Sociology or GS as it will benefit all of us!!!

  2. thanks and all the best.

    thank u mrunal sir and please post the strategy for upsc 2013 mains exam(new pattern)….

  3. congrates mam for yor spectacular success. if u can device some strategy for sociology preparation and how to maintain rhythm when chips are down during preparation

  4. Many congratulations!!
    Can you please share some of your Geography and GS Notes….just for a reference, how to complete a particular topic.

  5. mrunal sir
    i saw the marks list of candidates released by upsc .i have seen some students getting same total marks and different rank . what is the criteria for allotting rank to students who scored same marks in total .? please clarify ..

  6. Mrumnal sir thank u for guiding many civil aspirants in this website….all the best and v r all with u…

  7. Marksheet of Ms Shefali Singh uploaded

    GS: 106.00
    Aptitude: 165.83
    Total: 272
    Written + interview
    Essay: 121
    GS1: 110
    GS2: 114
    Geography1: 68
    Geography2: 109
    Socio1: 127
    Socio2: 115
    Written Total: 764
    Personality Test: 201
    Final Total: 965


  9. maam , as per your book list for second paper , can you please elaborate which sections or toipc to be refer from this list –

    Society of India by Mandelbaum for background reading
    Some parts of Changing India by Robert Stern
    Few Chapters of “India- Development and Participation” by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze
    Pre-independence Movements and rebellions from Sumit Sarkar
    “Tribal India” by Nadeem Hasnain
    “Caste in its 20th century Avatar” – Essay by Panini and edited by M.N.Srinivas
    Population studies by Bhende and Kanitkar
    Modernization of Indian Tradition by Yogendra Singh
    IGNOU MA notes

  10. sir agar ap ye comment padh rahe ho to mai bata du k i can relate myself with u
    thnk god!mai is duniya me akeli nhi
    apka interview padh k mujhe khud ki hone wali situation ka trailer mil gaya
    i bcame ur biggest fan

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