1. Candidate Profile
  2. Education
  3. Introduction
  4. Electronic Vs Paper material
  5. Tempo and style
  6. Working professional
  7. Prelims (CSAT) General studies
  8. Prelims (CSAT) Aptitude
  9. Prelim accuracy
  10. Mains: Compulsory language paper
  11. Mains: Essay
  12. Mains General studies paper 1 to 4
  13. General Studies (Mains) paper 1
  14. General studies (Mains) paper 2
  15. General studies (Mains) Paper 3
  16. General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude
  17. GS4 Ethics case study answers in Mains 2014
  18. Mains answer-writing?
  19. Mains Optional Subject
  20. Before the interview
  21. During the interview
  22. CSE-2013 Marksheet
  23. Career Backup
  24. Views on UPSC reforms
  25. Insecurity about profile
  26. Wisdom
  27. Credit: Friends/family
  28. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate Profile

Vivek Anand

Vivek Anand: Anthropology, 1st Attempt, B.Tech

Q. Details
Name Vivek Anand
Rank in CSE-2014 450
Roll No. 625621
Age 27
Total attempts in CSE (including this one) 1
Optional Subject Anthropology
Schooling Medium English
College Medium English
Medium chosen for Mains answers English
Medium chosen for Interview English
Home town/city Jamshedpur
Work-experience if any 6 years
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failures AIEEE, 2005 (Success)
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used) None
Service preferences (Top-5) IAS>IFS>IRS
State cadre preference (Top-5) Gujarat> AGMUT >Rajasthan


Fill the details here
% in class 10 80
% in class 12 70
Graduation course and % 7 GPA
Name of college, city, passing out year NIT Calicut, 2009(Major: Electrical and Electronics Engg.)
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievements
  • My biggest passion is Writing ( check out https://sinyasi.wordpress.com)
  • I love Cooking (Indian, Continental & Fusion)
  • I can perform some basic Magic
  • Intel Scholar Program (National champion, 2008)
  • Convener, Hyderabad Entrepreneurs Society


Q. Tell us something about yourself, your family, when and why did you enter in this field of competitive exams?

I was born with a steel spoon – a run-of-the-mill middle class family in a small town of India. My parents gave me the best they could afford and I made the best of it. My dad passed away soon after I joined college and Maa took care of my sister and me. She is a strong woman and an inspiring figure in our lives.

I worked at Deloitte Consulting for 3 years after my B.Tech. from NIT Calicut. Thereafter I started my journey as an entrepreneur. After 2 years in the startup industry I felt slightly disillusioned. Working on creative and technical challenges made life thrilling, but there was a lack of fulfillment and a sense of purpose.

I had seen Maa struggle a lot after dad’s passing away, even for the smallest of things… even for her entitlements. And I had often been a mute spectator. I realized I wanted to get out of the dollar race. I wanted my work to have a positive impact on the lives of millions. These thoughts forced me to evaluate my career plans.

Also, I am more of a generalist who likes working on new and varied challenges. And lastly, I wanted a career that gave me time to write, as that is my biggest passion. Reading Gaurav Agarwal’s interview on Mrunal was a turning point in my life. I decided to write the Civil Services Examination.

I never wanted to compete with a million aspirants for Civil Services. But that was the only way to take a fresh turn in my career and life. So, I went ‘all in’!

Electronic Vs Paper material

Q. In recent times, there is spur in electronic material- blogs, sites, pdfs, RSS-feeds. Many aspirants feel bogged down by this information overload. So, how much do you rely on electronic material and how much on the paper material (Books, newspapers)? If possible narrate a typical day in your study life. What is your style of preparation (e.g. I continue making notes no matter what I’m reading, I just read multiple times but don’t maintain notes, I make mindmaps on computer …or xyz style)


Coming from an IT and startup background, I heavily leveraged online resources.

  • I used paper material mostly for standard reference books.
  • To build on that foundation, I relied a lot on websites, blogs, Evernote and PDFs.
  • I would use my laptop to make notes whenever I had time (mostly in my optional). I would also convert webpages (like Mrunal’s notes) into PDFs. I would then revise these notes and read PDFs on my iPad.

In the beginning there was a tendency to over-use IT (RSS feeds, several note-making tools, etc.). But that complicates your preparation in a way. As I experimented and learnt from my mistakes, I tried to use online tools and IT only in ways that came naturally to me.

Typical Day:

I would wake up around 8:00 AM and go for a game of TT. Studies started a little before 10 AM and continued till lunch. Lunch was followed by some TV time or a short nap. After this break I studied till dinner. Dinner was again an extended break with some TV and family time. Post that, I studied till about 2 AM.

Some evenings I would go for a walk/cycle ride to spend some alone time. Some evenings I would go and hang out with my startup friends for a change of scene.

Tempo and style

Q. People know what books and syllabus points are to be prepared. But most of them lack consistency in their preparation. So, how do you keep study momentum going on? How do you fight against the mood swings and distractions?

I believe you shouldn’t fight against natural tendencies of your mind. When I didn’t feel like studying, I didn’t. When I felt like watching movies, I did. These things tend to become overpowering addictions only if you resist them too much.

I am a stickler for what Oscar Wilde said- “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.”

‘Ati sarvatra varjayet’. Fun, in moderation, is essential for good preparation. Consistency will come naturally if you feel happy and satisfied.

Working professional

If you’re a working professional, share some tips on how to manage studies with job

In my case, and I believe this holds true for any aspirant’s preparation, complete dedication to preparation was quintessential. But I also had a startup to take care of. So, I took help from family and friends to help me manage that.

For working professionals, I would suggest a couple of things. Start your preparations well in advance so that time crunch doesn’t become an issue. I didn’t have that privilege. Devote yourself completely as the exam comes close. More than preparation time, this is important to help you focus your mind.

Secondly, time management is essential. Planning and schedules are tools you can use to streamline your preparation. But also beware that your planning isn’t too ambitious. Leave ample buffer to realistically accommodate revisions, distractions and mood swings without affecting the long-term schedule.

Prelims (CSAT) General studies

Having taken the decision to write the CSE very late, I filled the form on the last day. I started my preparation about 1.5 months before the prelims. I was in Hyderabad and didn’t have a circle of CSE aspirant friends. Being so short on time and resources, my strategy had to be a little different.

For prelims, I just focused on covering all topics from bare minimum sources. I couldn’t focus on note making. Here I relied more on my proficiency in the GS-II paper and my memory of GS-I topics from school.

Even with this minimalist approach, I wasn’t able to cover much in environment and culture. That manifested in a poor show in GS-I in the prelims. Hence, my preparation style for prelims is in no way ideal. Let my spirit inspire you but not my method!

Topic Strategy/booklist/comment
History Ancient TMH GS Manual
History Medieval Skipped
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) TMH GS Manual (inadequate)
Culture and society Skipped
Polity (theory + current) Laxmikanth
Economy (theory + current) Ramesh Singh
Science (theory + current) Skipped
Environment (theory + current) TMH GS Manual (inadequate)
geography physical TMH GS Manual
geography India TMH GS Manual
geography world TMH GS Manual
other national/international current affairs Vision IAS Current Affairs monthly compilations (very useful, specially because I didn’t read newspapers)
Schemes, Policy & Filler Stuff Random PDFs

Q. Any observation / comments / tips about GS prelim 2014 paper?

I believe it is difficult to predict the paper pattern. A lot of questions came from environment and culture. My preparation for these topics was terrible (not well covered in TMH GS Manual). Despite fairly strong preparation in other topics, these two topics ruined my GS-I performance.

In 2015, GS-II is qualifying. This can affect the standard of both the papers. A balanced and thorough preparation is required to crack prelims.

Q. In GS-Prelims 2014, there was unusual questions from environment and agriculture portion. If you were to give the attempt again in 2015, what new strategy / books / sources would you focus?

I would study environment in-depth. TMH GS manual is grossly inadequate for this topic. Perhaps, I would study from Shanker IAS material for environment. I am not sure about agriculture. I might rely on online resources.

Q. Now that Aptitude paper has become qualifying, obvious more attention needs to be paid on the GS paper so apart from the books that you already have gone through, what else would you have tried for CSE-2015 (if you were going to appear)?

TMH GS manual formed the cornerstone of my prelims preparation last year. That was due to time crunch and lack of familiarity with the UPSC exam. In a fresh attempt, I would focus on doing each subject in depth from standard reference books.

  • Bipan Chandra for Modern India
  • R S Sharma for Ancient India
  • NCERT books and Goh Cheng Leong for Geography
  • NCERT for culture
  • Shanker IAS for Environment, etc.

Prelims (CSAT) Aptitude

Topic Strategy / booklist
Maths None
Reasoning None
Comprehension None
Decision Making None

Q. Any observation / comments / tips about GS Aptitude 2014 paper.

I dint do any particular preparation for that paper. Hence, I am not in a position to suggest anything substantial.

Prelim accuracy

Q1. Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? Do you think they’re necessary for success?

No. For GS, I believe you can practice from question banks and that will be enough. They can even help you figure out your accuracy.

If GS-II is a problem area for you, then test series can help you with time and attempt management. But now it is only qualifying, so no worries.

Q2. Approximate no. of attempted answers vs. correct answers in CSAT-2014

Attempted Q. Marks
GS 65-70 (should’ve attempted less, specially with my preparation) 60
Aptitude 68-70 152

Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paper Your preparation strategy / booklist?
English paper None
Hindi paper None

Q2. Other observations / tips / comments on the length / difficulty level of compulsory language papers in CSE-2014

I considered myself fairly good in Hindi. But writing in Hindi was much more difficult than I imagined. It was difficult to manage complex spellings and write in a consistently legible handwriting. A little writing practice just before the test can help.

Mains: Essay

Q1. How did you prepare for the essay paper?

No specific preparation per se. I wrote 3-4 essays in the time between prelims and mains and asked a couple of friends to comment on them. I didn’t focus a lot on quotations, etc. I have always been good at writing and leveraged my skill.

A couple of days before then exam I made a list of topics asked in the last 10 years. I chose the most recurring themes and made a list of points for each theme. I believed that would help me save time in brainstorming the essay. The topics asked this year were not in line with many of those recurring themes. But in my second essay (Tourism) I did use a format I had planned for any industry-specific topic and that helped me save time.

Q2. Which two essays did you write and What key points did you include in it?

I wrote on:

  • Competition: good for youth?
  • Tourism: the next big thing?

I will write a separate article on my essay writing strategy soon.

Mains General studies paper 1 to 4

I’ve created a table, so you can quickly point out what you referred. Alternatively you can write a separate standalone “Strategy” article in a wordfile.

MAINS Strategy

I wasn’t sure how I had done in prelims. Also the syllabus of mains intimidated me a little bit. This led to procrastination in starting mains preparations for about a month. I started serious preparations only after the declaration of prelims result. I was again short on time. But this time I was more diligent and committed.

I divided my preparation into weekly rounds. I made a list of books for each topic and would assign different books/resources to each round. I didn’t have time to make notes but I would highlight important points for future reference and revision. I devoted Sundays to revision of topics covered during the week. I made sure not to touch a new source for a topic till I revised from the original source at least once.

There are two things I regret about my mains preparation. Due to time crunch, I couldn’t join a test series. It was very late by the time I completed the syllabus. I didn’t get much writing practice. I believe this can greatly influence your preparation and performance. The second thing is reading newspapers. I started reading newspapers only after mains (for interview preparations). I believe newspapers are a great resource and if I had started my preparations earlier, I would definitely have read at least 2 newspapers every day.

Depth of coverage:

Initially I developed a tendency to get sucked into the topic and cover it in great depth. But soon I realized I didn’t have time for that. So, my coverage of topics was neither complete nor uniform. But it was such that I could confidently talk/write about any major issue with a multi-dimensional perspective.


I tried to study one topic from a single good source. I looked up a new source only if I felt dissatisfied with my first source. Of course, you’ve to build on top of that with current affairs.

For many topics, I referred to Gaurav Agarwal’s notes on Evernote. Though, they are very deep for Modern history and Economics (his optionals), they are excellent for other topics. Rely on them only for value addition, though.

Current Affairs:

I didn’t read newspapers as I decided that I didn’t want to spend 2 hours on news each day. In retrospect, that was a bad decision. Newspapers helped me immensely before the interview.

I studied from Vision IAS Current Affairs monthly compilations. It was a great source and proved to be sufficiently adequate.

Coaching Notes:

I got my hands on Vajiram notes. They have wonderful coverage but I didn’t feel like studying from it. I believe coaching notes are superfluous and leave you at the mercy of their judgment of the syllabus and strategy.

General Studies (Mains) paper 1

Topic How did you prepare?
Culture Mrunal Write2Win contest notes
Indian history
  • TMH GS Manual (inadequate)
  • TN Board History Books (inadequate)
World history Mrunal’s NCERT World History Summary
Post-independence India Various websites and Quora
Indian society Nothing specific, random articles
Role of women, poverty etc. Nothing specific, random articles
Globalization on Indian society Nothing specific, random articles
Communalism, regionalism, secularism Nothing specific, random articles
World geo physical Goh Cheng Leong
Resource distribution TMH GS Manual
Factors for industrial location Mrunal’s notes
Earthquake tsunami etc Nothing specific, random articles
Impact on flora-fauna Nothing specific, random articles

General studies (Mains) paper 2

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian Constitution, devolution, dispute redressal, etc. Laxmikanth
Comparing Constitution with world Vision IAS PDFs
Parliament, state Legislatures Laxmikanth
Executive-judiciary Laxmikanth
Ministries departments Nothing specific
Pressure group, informal asso. Laxmikanth
Representation of people’s act Vision IAS PDFs
Various bodies: Constitutional, statutory.. Laxmikanth
NGO, SHG etc Vision IAS PDFs
Welfare schemes, bodies Vision IAS PDFs
Social sector, health, edu, HRD Vision IAS PDFs
Governance, transparency, accountability Vision IAS PDFs
e-governance Online articles and websites
Role of civil service Vision IAS PDFs
India & neighbors Vision IAS Current Affairs notes
Bilateral/global grouping Vision IAS Current Affairs notes
Effect of foreign country policies on Indian interest Vision IAS Current Affairs notes
Diaspora Nothing specific
International bodies- structure mandate Online articles and websites

General studies (Mains) Paper 3

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilization Ramesh Singh
Inclusive growth Vision IAS Current Affairs notes
Budgeting Ramesh Singh, Laxmikanth
Major crops, irrigation Online articles and websites
Agro produce – storage, marketing Online articles and websites
e-technology for famers Vision IAS PDFs
Farm subsidies, MSP Vision IAS PDFs
PDS, buffer, food security Vision IAS PDFs
Technology mission Vision IAS PDFs
Animal rearing economics Online articles and websites
Food processing Online articles and websites
Land reforms Online articles and websites
Liberalization Online articles and websites
Infra Ramesh Singh
Investment models Vision IAS PDFs
Science-tech day to day life Vision IAS Current Affairs notes
Indian achievements in sci-tech Vision IAS Current Affairs notes
Awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPR Vision IAS Current Affairs notes
Environmental impact assessment Skipped
Disaster Management Vision IAS PDFs
Non state actors, internal security Vision IAS PDFs
Internal security – role of media, social networking site Vision IAS PDFs
Cyber security Mrunal Write2Win contest notes
Money laundering Vajiram Notes
Border Management Vajiram Notes
Organized crime, terrorism Vajiram Notes
Security agencies- structure mandate Online articles and websites

General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Ethics and interface, family, society and all the hathodaa topics G. Subba Rao / Pavan Kumar’s IAS Notes
Attitude, moral influence etc. Skipped
Civil service: integrity, impartiality, tolerance to weak etc G. Subba Rao
Emotional intelligence, its use in governance Skipped
Moral thinkers of India and world G. Subba Rao
Ethics in pub.ad, accountability, laws, rules etc. G. Subba Rao
Corporate governance Skipped
Probity in governance, work culture Skipped
Citizen charter, ethics code, work culture etc. G. Subba Rao
Challenges of corruption Skipped
Case studies on above topics G. Subba Rao

GS4 Ethics case study answers in Mains 2014

Q. In GS4 ethics papers, please give a sketchy overview of your case study answers:

My strategy for GS-IV:

1. I got the book by G Subba Rao. Read the first few chapters very diligently and surfed through the others. Also, good case studies are given at the end of the book.

2. Another source I glanced through was – Pavan Kumar’s IAS. That itself has material sourced from places like BBC. This is a good one time read.

3. I did not prepare any thinkers in detail. Subba Rao has profiles of a few philosophers and thinkers (both Indian & Western). Pertinent references to thinkers and their views can help improve the depth of your answers.

4. My whole preparation for GS-IV took a week with 4 hours each day. I kept it till the end of November. Revision in December took 1 day. I don’t know if that strategy will work for all.

5. Marks will boil down to your answer writing strategy. For the first part (essay type) I answered from my heart, completely ignoring rules regarding how to structure a good balanced answer. I gave personal examples wherever I wanted to elucidate a point. I referenced thinkers (but very sparingly). An honest answer reflecting my true personality helped me get good marks. This might work for others, too.

For the second part (case studies), I followed a strategy. First, I explained the exact facts of the dilemma. Secondly, I elaborated on why it is a dilemma and what are the ethical issues involved. Thirdly, I outlined the various approaches (also referencing schools of thought) that can be used in the scenario. Fourth, I outlined my stand with supporting reasoning. And lastly, I ended with a couple of out of the box suggestions.

Mains answer-writing?

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

Paper Best attempted Average quality Namesake answer Total attempt
GS1 70 80 70 220
GS2 87.5 75 62.5 225
GS3 87.5 75 37.5 200
GS4 100 120 10 230
Opt-P1 120 80 20 220
Opt-P2 100 40 20 160 (got ill midway)

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]

Despite being very new to the CSE game, I did not join a test series. That was a terrible mistake! I wasn’t able to manage my time well during the exam. I easily spend 15-18 minutes per question for the first few questions I attempted. In the end, I had to leave 2-3 questions un-attempted in each GS paper (50 marks in GS III).

Based on my experience, I would suggest that candidates should first try to answer all questions they feel very confident about (9-11 mins each). Then shift to questions you think you can do fair justice to (7-9 mins each). In the end keep 20-30 minutes for those 3-5 questions you aren’t very confident about. In any case, try to attempt all. In the end, you should have done proper justice to at least 60-70% of the questions.

Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?

It was inconsequential. In no case, did I take more than 2/3rd of the space provided.

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 matte whether examiner is asking ‘examine, comment, discuss or xyz’….simply write in bullets and points.

I wrote in bullets in many answers. But I used paragraphs (short) in quite a few.

What matters is how you are able to engage the examiner. When thousands of answers are evaluated, yours has to be a little different to merit a detailed perusal. I didn’t bother much about the keywords (examine, comment, etc.). The analysis was based on the core issue the question was built around.

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.

Yes, introduction and conclusion hold your answer together. But I made sure the introduction wasn’t just a reiteration of the question. We need to dig a bit deeper and highlight the core (often hidden) issue in the introduction. E.g. mention the ‘changing power (political & economic) equations in the world’ when discussing the importance of the NDB & AIIB.

The body can be in points or short paragraphs (2-3 sentences). The conclusion can be the saving grace if the examiner doesn’t read the whole answer properly.

Q5. Did you use highlighters / sketchpens in your answers?


Q6. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in GS1 Geography)

Yes, but only in the El Nino question.

Q7. If yes, Did you draw diagrams with pencil or pen?


Q8. Did you use ruler to draw the lines in diagram? Or did you just make it by hand?


Q9. You wrote the answer in blue pen or black pen?

Black. Luxor Pilot Hi-TecPoint V5.

(Mrunal – since readers keep mailing such queries, therefore I’m asking the topper to clear all the air haha.)

Mains Optional Subject

Q. What’s your optional subject and why did you choose it and not something else?


I found the syllabus very interesting. The optional had to be a subject I would read from scratch and in-depth. Hence, it was very important for it to have topics that interest me.

Q. If a new player wants to pick this subject, would you advice for it or against it? (e.g. every senior player in Public Administration seems to be advising against pub.ad)

It is a great subject for people who find interest in genetics, evolution, archaeology, culture and sociology. I am not aware about the marks trends over the years, but I believe it can be a scoring paper if you are well versed.

It is a subject where various arts disciplines meet scientific enquiry. You need an analytical bend of mind with a penchant for the social sciences, as well as a flair for writing.

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.)

  1. Start with Ember & Ember to get an overview and get interested. Build upon Ember & Ember with specific books for various topics.
  2. Physical Anthropology: P Nath
  3. Tribal Anthropology: Nadeem Hasnain
  4. Indian Anthropology: Brain Tree notes
  5. Cultural Anthropology:  IGNOU & Brain Tree notes

Braintree notes for Anthropology are pretty good. But they should be used only to cover topics you don’t find anywhere good reference book for. They are also excellent for revision.

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?

Books/notes are mostly enough for this optional. But the concern is – most books are old editions and might lack some updates. It is well advised to update with online resources on few topics:

Genetics: http://learn.genetics.utah.edu

Physical & cultural Anthropology: http://anthro.palomar.edu/tutorials/

Anthropological Theories: http://anthropology.ua.edu/cultures/cultures.php

Indian Anthropology: http://sumananthromaterials.blogspot.in

Answer-writing: http://www.insightsonindia.com/anthropology-daily-answer-writing-challenge/

Quoting recent happenings (Xaxa committee for Tribal Anthropology questions) can also help boost the quality of your answers.

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

I was short on time. It took me around 1.5 months.

I took a printout of the syllabus and indicated one source against each topic. I read everything thrice. The first time was like a story where I tried to quickly absorb the bigger picture and become ‘aware’ about the topic. The second reading was more exam-focused where I made notes or underlined important data. There was, of course, a third reading for revision.

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

I didn’t get any answer writing practice. Immediately after finishing the Anthropology syllabus, I shifted focus on my GS preparation.

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

For the topics in Physical Anthropology, I made hand written notes. For many other topics, I made electronic notes. For others, I relied on highlighting in books.

Q. Your observation about the difficultly level of 2014 mains vs previous papers. And what precautions / rectifications are necessary in the future strategy for given optional subject?

I have had a look at previous question papers. The 2014 question paper was of average difficulty. And a well-prepared candidate could target above 250.

I made a grave mistake that cost me almost 30-50 marks. The day before the exam I had a panic attack. Anthropology was completely new to me 3 months earlier. The syllabus looked too humungous to revise in one day. I didn’t study for a minute till around 9 PM. Then my family members counseled me and I got back to revision. But to finish revision, I had to stay up all night. I didn’t catch a single minute of shut-eye. I went to the exam high on caffeine. It bode me well in the first paper. But in the second paper, I got a terrible headache and couldn’t keep my eyes open or brain functioning halfway through. I couldn’t attempt the paper well and it shows in my marks.

So, folks, please! Please get proper sleep during the exams. Last minute revision doesn’t really contribute much. What matters is the hard work you put in for months before.

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?

  • Academic/Professional – Looked at frequently asked questions in Electrical Engineering. Prepared the Power and startup sector in detail from various sources.
  • Hobbies – Own experience + Google + Wikipedia
  • Places – Google, Wiki & Quora based in-depth research on Jharkhand (home state), Mithila (origin), AP & Telangana (current residence), Kerala (college) & Gujarat (first cadre choice). Preparing for so many places was a pain, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
  • Current events – The Hindu, Indian Express & Wikipedia.

I used www.quora.com extensively for research in debatable topics to get a multi-dimensional perspective. E.g Kiss of Love, Beef ban, Kasturirangan vs. Gadgil reports, Jharkhand Naxalite issue, etc.

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?

Upon insistence from a friend, I attended one mock interview a few days before my actual interview. That was by Chanakya Academy. It wasn’t very different from the actual interview but not quite the same.

I don’t think it is essential to attend such interviews. Even if you badly feel the need to get an experience before the D-day, go for one and then focus on your preparations and confidence. But it should be a personal call.

Q3. Describe the formal-dress worn by you in interview.

I wore a black formal suit with a textured white shirt, a blue striped tie and a million dollar smile J

Q4. 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 my friend Niraj’s home. I brought my laptop to access Wikipedia, Quora and few notes.

During the interview

Q1. Who was the chairman of you interview board?

Mrs. Alka Sirohi

Q2. How long was the interview?

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 already spoken about the personal reasons that triggered the thought of joining the civil service. But it wasn’t an impulse. It was a well thought of decision based on career evaluation, too.

  • Wide scope for public service and impact of work
  • Challenging job in a huge democracy like India
  • Diversity of experience
  • Opportunity to take initiative
  • Decision making powers & leadership opportunities

Q4. Please narrate your entire interview- what questions did they ask and what did you reply and other pleasant or uncomfortable experiences during the interview. (Earlier some toppers only tell me their question but not their answer. I would appreciate if you give both Question + your original answers)


  • What is your startup all about?
  • Does lightening strike a place twice?
  • How many volts does a lightening strike carry?
  • Can we store the power in a lightening strike? Possible application, if ever possible?


  • What is Calicut famous for?
  • Something about specific achievements of Kerala.
  • Issues faced by professionals returning from the Gulf?
  • NGO working for these professionals.


  • About my project at XLRI during an internship.
  • What are Hi-tech products? How do you market them?


  • Jharkhand vs. Chhattisgarh – the development story. Few follow-up questions.
  • What was my work at Deloitte?


  • How good are you at magic? Can you hypnotize us?
  • Will you ever buy a 4K LED TV? Why or why not?
  • Should Delhi be given complete statehood?


  • Where are the various defense PSUs?
  • Which Ordnance factory makes rifles?
  • Customs and exise exemptions for defense PSUs are being cancelled. Why?

I don’t remember my answers in detail. But I would write a detailed blog post about that later, when I get more time.

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?

I tried to not expect anything and prepared in all angles I could think of. It wasn’t a stress interview. But there were many moments of discomfort. I did not let it show on my face and kept on smiling and speaking in a confident voice. I believe it is a test of your attitude and personality and not of your knowledge. If I give the interview again, I would like to learn from this experience and better my score.

Q6. Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document or do xyz thing, or you’ll face problem”?

Just follow instructions and clarify immediately if you have any doubts.

Q7. Any word of wisdom / observations about medical checkup?

Just follow instructions and clarify immediately if you have any doubts. Take a copy of your eye prescription, if you wear glasses.

CSE-2013 Marksheet

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

Mains Exam Subjects Marks
Essay 130
General Studies – I 82
General Studies – II 81
General Studies – III 82
General Studies – IV 124
Optional – I (Anthropology) 122
Optional – II (Anthropology) 99
Written Total 720
Personality Test 187
Final Total 907

Q2. After looking at the mark-sheet, suppose you had to prepare again next time, what changes will you make in your studies?


  • Focus on environment and culture and prepare in-depth


  • Manage exam time revision well and get proper sleep before all exams.
  • Prepare notes (Evernote/OneNote) for all topics, specially the small ones.
  • Cover topics in GS – I (history, geography) in more depth and try to score better.
  • Read newspapers.

Career Backup

Q1. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?

My startup. But I was determined for CSE.

Q2. When were you going to “execute” that backup plan? (e.g. after __ failed attempts/ after I cross __ age/after dad retires/ after girlfriend dumps me etc.)

The startup is already up and running.

Views on UPSC reforms

Q. Optional subjects should be removed altogether. The present stalemate is helping noone, except coaching-owners, book publishers.

I enjoyed reading Anthropology a lot. Nevertheless, I don’t see how optional subjects serve a purpose. It results in uneven competition and doesn’t serve as a proper yardstick.

But the scope of the GS papers should be expanded.

Q. Your views on the decision to make CSAT paper 33% qualifying?

Numerical, language and comprehension skills are indispensible for civil servants. I am strongly against making Paper II qualifying. A better solution would have been to increase the cut-off for Paper I (say 80 or 90).

I also believe the language papers in mains can be revamped and the marks should be counted towards the total.

Q. Despite what UPSC has done in recent years, it has failed to curb the nuisance of Delhi’s coaching factories. In fact it’s increased under the new syllabus in 2014. Let’s face it, most candidates who gave Mains-2014 have relied on (authentic OR Xeroxed) coaching notes because there was hardly any time left to prepare so many topics in such short time. This system work against an individual preparing from far-away area, without any financial resources, high-speed internet or contacts in Delhi.

I was far away from the coaching factories in Delhi. I love what UPSC has done to revamp the pattern in 2014. But I believe more interventions on similar lines, as opposed to regressive ones like making CSAT qualifying, will make it a more level playing field.

Internet definitely gives an advantage to people who have access. But with internet becoming more pervasive and cheaper that will not be an issue for long.

Q. Half-merger of IFoS with CSE is a bad move because it has raised the cutoffs for players who’re solely dedicated to IFoS only (and not to IAS/IPS). Adding salt to the wounds, many who had applied for both jobs, cleared the prelims- they did not even bother to appear in all the papers of Mains-IFoS. (atleast that was the scene in 2013).

Yes, there should be a separate preliminary test for IFoS. That way, the extreme focus on environment and geography can be eased and we can expect a more balanced GS-I paper.

Q. UPSC should disclose official prelim answerkey and cutoffs, immediately after prelim is over, instead of postponing it till interview phase is over.

It didn’t really matter. Most coaching institutes publish keys and that, more or less, serves the purpose.

Q. UPSC should be conducted online like IBPS and CAT exam to shorten the duration of exam.

Prelims can definitely be conducted online. I believe the whole exam cycle needs to be reduced to, say, 4-5 months.

Q. If you are made the UPSC chairman, what other reforms would you initiate for the civil service exam?

  • Making CSAT count and increasing GS-I cut-off.
  • Removing optional subjects.
  • Restructuring GS papers to make include some more pertinent areas.
  • Restructuring language papers and making the marks count.
  • Personality Test shouldn’t just be a 30-minute interview. Tools like ‘group discussions’ can be used.

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?

No man is perfect. If I try and list down my weaknesses:

  • Too corporate in attitude (not good for interview mannerisms).
  • Great college but average marks.
  • Very bad memory.
  • I have been experimenting with startups for the last 3 years. To few, it might seem fickle-minded.

Your profile shows the person you were. They are there to judge the person you have become. And CSE preparation definitely changes a person.


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 remember a question in GS-IV – ‘what, according to you, is happiness?’ I answered – ‘happiness is doing what you love doing.’

I believe the true key to success in CSE, and for that matter anything in life, is enjoying the journey. Do not get bogged down by trivial details like trends, cut-offs, syllabus, questions, etc. Focus on learning and analyzing and enjoying every moment of your preparation. I am sure Rancho would agree!

And remember – ‘It is not how many times you fall, but how many times you pick yourself back up that counts.’

Q. Many hardworking candidates have failed in Mains/Interview of CSE-2014. They’re feeling cynical, hopeless and depressed- what is your message to them?

I prepared for prelims in 1.5 months and for mains in 2.5 months. It wasn’t a great preparation. My studies were superficial in many topics. My revision was incomplete.

But when the exam came, I was as confident as any other son of a gun writing the paper. Whether you think you can do it, or you cant, you are right!

Cometh the moment, cometh the man!

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?

  • My inspiring mother – who brought us up with great difficulty and in the most hostile environment. Her struggle inspired me to be a part of the solution and stop bitching about the problems.
  • My wonderful wife – without her incessant motivation I would have given up long ago. Once she was sure of my resolve, she gave me unquestioning support. She is the one who made me believe in myself! She took care of everything else and I never ever had to worry about anything, not even paying the bills!
  • My brilliant sister – she reminded me of all my amazing achievements in the past whenever I doubted myself. And her jokes would uplift my spirit in the murkiest times.
  • My best friend Niraj – he is the one who first told me I could crack CSE. His constant guidance and tips (based on his experience) are the only help I had, apart from my family, throughout my preparations.

BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Q. You are well aware of the sacred rule – the last question must be about self-marketing. So, Did you use Mrunal.org for your preparation and if yes, how did it help you?  And you can even reply “No”. I’ll still publish your answer without tempering.

Mrunal.org… whats that?

Just kidding! I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I say I couldn’t have qualified without Mrunal’s blog. It was my lifejacket and my survival manual, as I floated adrift in the CSE Ocean.

Your topper’s interview section was what got me going when I got tired and depressed. Your articles and notes came in handy at all stages of preparation. I simply loved your style and presentation. Thank you!