1. Candidate Profile
  2. Education
  3. Introduction
  4. Electronic Vs Paper material
  5. Tempo and style
  6. Struggle of a Senior player
  7. Prelims (CSAT) General studies
  8. Prelims (CSAT) 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. Mains Optional Subject
  18. Before the interview
  19. During the interview
  20. CSE-2015 Marksheet
  21. Career Backup
  22. Views on UPSC reforms
  23. Insecurity about profile
  24. Wisdom
  25. Credit: Friends/family
  26. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate Profile

Q. Details
Name Noor Shergill
Rank in CSE-2015 510
Roll No. 0363304
Age 25
Total attempts in CSE (including this one) 2
Optional Subject Law
Schooling Medium English
College medium English
Medium chosen for Mains answers English
Medium chosen for Interview English
Home town/city Mohali
Work-experience if any Nil
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failures Failures mostly :P
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used) Anil Narula’s Study Centre, Chandigarh
Career Launcher for Prelims
Vision IAS test series
Service preferences (Top-5) IFS>IAS>IRS(C&CE)>IPS>ICLS
state cadre preference (Top-5) Punjab> Haryana>AGMUT>Himachal Pradesh>Rajasthan


% in class 10 86.6%
% in class 12 67.4%
Graduation course and % 3.27/4
Name of college, city, passing out year Symbiosis Law School, Pune (2014)
Any other professional courses
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievements Reading, Watching Documentaries and Quizzing.


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

UPSC topper Noor Shergill
I am a 25 year old law graduate. I was born and raised in Chandigarh and did my schooling from here. After that I attended college in Pune and spent five years there. After college I came back home and started prep.
My father is a doctor and my mother is a school teacher.
I was initially coaxed into this by my parents, but I started enjoying the preparation as time went on.

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 studylife. 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)
I have been an average student my entire life so giving such a competitive exam is quite a daunting task. Studying a fixed curriculum is always a struggle for me, because I have a wandering mind. I had to deal with the information overload also. However, the nature of the exam is such that it requires us to acquaint ourselves with all that has happened, is happening and is likely to happen in the future. People who can deal with this are more likely to succeed in this exam. I just made my peace with this fact and got on with it.
It doesn’t really matter whether the material is in electronic or paper form. Just revise whatever material you have again and again. Use whatever helps you the most. Pdfs, classroom teaching, books, youtube videos etc.  Read many topper interviews, use those as an indicator but also feel free to use something that you feel comfortable with.
I just cannot read off of a screen so I used to get everything printed out. There are many websites that provide cheap printing solutions and deliver the material to your doorstep. So you could use those. I used printster.com .
I changed my preparation routine depending on the situation. Shorter, more relaxed sessions when the exams were further away and longer more intense sessions as the exams approached. But I was preparing full time, I didn’t do anything else for two years.
I didn’t really have any streamlined preparation style as such. I remember it being a struggle to finish -the syllabus for most of the time. One thing that I would suggest is keeping a diary in which you record every question that you get wrong through your preparation. This way you will amass a list of topics that you don’t know. Then, every once in a while, come back to this list and strike out these topics when you are confident that you have studied them thoroughly.
For eg. : In one of my prelims test series I got a question on handicrafts wrong. I recorded this in my diary and realized that the reason I didn’t know the answer was because I had no idea about handicrafts. So I studied this topic in detail and was able to answer a question about “Kalamkari” in the prelims as a direct result of this approach.

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?
This is quite a significant issue that I personally also faced. I don’t really have a solution or a suggestion apart from the fact that I just accepted that this was part of the journey. This is not something that can be avoided so reversals and disappointments should just be accepted and expected as part of the preparation.
Many people have described this exam as being a microcosm of life and in the journey of life we experience all sorts of emotions. The UPSC journey is no different. So I would just say that be prepared and accept this to be a part of the journey.
In short try to live the UPSC experience fully !!  This path isn’t littered with roses.
Discipline is very important. You must study hard and study regularly. Edison said that “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” If you aren’t sweating it out then you’re probably wasting your time. This exam is basically a test of how much you have practiced. Plain and simple.
Be self aware and honest and cut down on distractions. For eg. I realized I was spending too much time on facebook and I just deleted my account permanently. It’s not the most elegant, convenient and mature decision but i reckoned it had to be done if I wanted to succeed.
I realized that I could get a lot of work done early in the morning so I got up early and finished a lot of revision before noon.

Struggle of 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.
I never saw myself as a senior player and I was never in a mental prison. In fact in my mind I was completely free. I used to daydream a lot about what it would feel like to clear the exam. It is only natural and even though it is damned and frowned upon in ‘conventional wisdom’, I would suggest it to everyone. Daydream guys !! Fantasy comes to the rescue when there aren’t any other options.
But don’t make thoughts your aim and don’t ever let it make you passive. Snap back to reality and Study hard also.
I also think that I always try to see the funny side of things, however hopeless, and that helped me preserve my sanity.
I also listened to a lot of inspirational music  – Naav from the movie Udaan, Lose Yourself  by Eminem, Hall of Fame by The Script, Eye of the tiger are very good capsules of motivation.
Q2. What went wrong in your previous attempt? What changes did you make in this current attempt?
My first attempt was in 2014 and I managed to clear the prelims with just a few months of preparation. However the mains exam was an unmitigated disaster.
I think there is a very important lesson for everyone from my first attempt. After my first prelims there was a lot of talk about the cut off being very high. A lot of people told me to start studying for the next year and since I was new, I listened to them. I didn’t do much over the next 90 days thinking that the next test was a whole year away.
When the prelims result came I was shocked to find my roll number on the list and had to prepare for the mains in just 60 days (In fact I cleared the prelims cutoff quite comfortably).  You can imagine what followed.
However, I learned so much from my first main attempt. I realized that it was important to attempt all the questions and to have a lot of writing practice behind you. I tried to incorporate this into my next attempt which I think helped me.  Also, I started preparing for the mains immediately after the prelims exam this time around.
Lesson :  Ignore rumors, Learn from failures, start preparing for mains right after the prelims regardless of what ANYONE says.

Prelims (CSAT) General studies

Topic strategy/booklist/comment
History Ancient NCERT
History Medieval NCERT
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) Spectrum, Bipan Chandra , Tamil Nadu State Board text book
Culture and society Downloaded following notes from Gaurav Aggarwal’s blog: File1;
File2 .
Polity (theory + current) Lakshmikant
Economy (theory + current) Notes taken from – Mrunal’s lectures #Gold
Science (theory + current) I have a general interest in science so nothing special.
Environment (theory + current) Youtube videos especially  this link
This is a very important section.
geography physical Goh Cheng Leong
geography India Wizard Geography for GS
geography world Goh Cheng Leong, spend free time on google earth just looking at different countries etc.
other national/international current affairs Newspaper
Schemes, Policy & Filler Stuff Newspaper, Google as and when required

Q. Any observation / comments / tips about GS prelim 2015 paper?
The prelims exam is about very slow and incremental progress. You will have to wrest marks from the UPSC one question and one fact at a time. If you work hard, you’ll see yourself inching upwards. No long leaps here, just a frustratingly slow crawl to the top 15,000.
Try to solve as many questions as you can. This will tell you how good you are at applying your knowledge. You may think that you understand something but you’ll still get wrong answers. Try to understand where you went wrong go back to the text read it again and again till you get it right.
You cannot possibly be perfect at everything, so try to become perfect at some core areas. Practice so much that it becomes very hard for you to get a question from these core areas wrong. For me, my core areas included the high yield subjects like Polity, Geography, History and Ecology. In the other areas I tried to become very good – economy for example.
Try out different strategies by joining test series and try to improve your rank in each test. It’s important to peak in August and not in June. It’s perfectly okay to be in a hopeless situation in June :P
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-2016 (if you were going to appear)?
I attempted very few questions and went for accuracy. I just managed to scrape through in the prelims.
Attempt more questions. Study and practice harder for greater accuracy.

Prelims (CSAT) Aptitude

Topic strategy / booklist
Maths Career Launcher exercises
reasoning Career Launcher exercises
comprehension Career Launcher exercises
Decision Making Career Launcher exercises

Q. Any observation / comments / tips about GS Aptitude 2015 paper.
The change in pattern took everyone by surprise. Prepare for every eventuality. This underscores the importance of practice.

Prelim accuracy

Q1. Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? do you think they’re necessary for success?
Many. I took the Career Launcher prelims test series (13 tests) and I think they were instrumental in my success. Very high quality and feedback. Plus, you can test out various approaches.
Q2. Approximate no. of attempted answers vs. correct answers. in CSAT-2015

attempted Q. correct (Expected) Official score
GS Around 60 Not sure 107.34 !!
aptitude 55 Not sure 103

Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paper Your preparation strategy / booklist?
English paper Nothing separate
your regional language Just the grammar portion.

Q. other observations / tips / comments on the length / difficulty level of compulsory language papers in CSE-2015
They reduced the minimum marks requirement. So it was quite easy.

Mains: Essay

Q1. How did you prepare for the essay paper?
I didn’t prepare anything. Last time around I got 130 marks so I thought I could manage.
I got 98 marks only.
Lesson :  never be over confident, practice everything.

Q2. Which two essays did you write and What key points did you include in it?
Lending someone a hand is better than giving them a dole.
Can capitalism provide inclusive growth ?
I don’t think I have any tips to offer here given my appalling performance.

General Studies (Mains) paper 1

Topic How did you prepare?
Culture Downloaded following notes from Gaurav Aggarwal’s blog
Indian history Tamil Nadu board textbooks
Bipan Chandra
world history Norman Lowe
Youtube videos – no specific channel just topic wise searches
post-independence India NCERT
I had also read India After Gandhi in college so I was fairly well versed with this section
Indian society NCERT , Class XI and XII – Very good Source
I had also read Dipankar Gupta’s Mistaken Moderity which was very helpful
role of women, poverty etc. Same as above
globalization on Indian society Internet search
communalism, regionalism, secularism Internet search
world geo physical Wizard Geography for GS
resource distribution Vision Notes
factors for industrial location Mrunal #Gold
earthquake tsunami etc Vision Notes
impact on flora-fauna Internet Search

General studies (Mains) paper 2

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian Constitution, devolution, dispute redressal etc. Law Optional material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
comparing Constitution with world Law Optional material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
parliament, state Legislatures Law Optional material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
executive-judiciary Law Optional material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
ministries departments Vision IAS material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
pressure group, informal asso. Vision IAS material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
Representation of people’s act Vision IAS material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
various bodies: Constitutional, statutory.. Law Optional material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
NGO, SHG etc Vision IAS material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
welfare schemes, bodies Vision IAS material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
social sector, health, edu, HRD Vision IAS material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
governance, transparency, accountability Vision IAS material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
e-governance Vision IAS material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
role of civil service Vision IAS material + Newspaper for Current Affairs
India & neighbors Newspaper – Try reading Pax Indica by Shashi Tharoor, only if you have time.
bilateral/global grouping Newspaper
effect of foreign country policies on Indian interest Newspaper
Diaspora Mrunal
international bodies- structure mandate Newsapaper

General studies (Mains) Paper 3

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilization Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
inclusive growth Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
Budgeting Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
major crops, irrigation Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
agro produce – storage, marketing Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
e-technology for famers Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
farm subsidies, MSP Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
PDS, buffer, food security Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
technology mission Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
animal rearing economics Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
food processing Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
land reforms Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
Liberalization Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
Infra Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
investment models Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
science-tech day to day life Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes
Indian achievements in sci-tech Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes + Newspaper
awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPR Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes + Newspaper
environmental impact assessment Mrunal  + Vision IAS notes + Newspaper
Disaster Management 2nd ARC Report on Crisis Management
non state actors, internal security Teach Yourself Security Management by Unique Publications
internal security – role of media, social networking site Teach Yourself Security Management by Unique Publications
cyber security Teach Yourself Security Management by Unique Publications
money laundering Teach Yourself Security Management by Unique Publications
border  Management Teach Yourself Security Management by Unique Publications
organized crime, terrorism Teach Yourself Security Management by Unique Publications
security agencies- structure mandate Teach Yourself Security Management by Unique Publications

General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude

Topic How Did You Prepare?
ethics and interface, family, society and all the hathodaa topics 2nd ARC Report + Lexicon of ethics
attitude, moral influence etc. Google
civil service: integrity, impartiality, tolerance to weak etc Nolan Committee + 2nd ARC
emotional intelligence, its use in governance Vision IAS
moral thinkers of India and world How many thinkers did you prepare?
ethics in pub.ad, accountability, laws, rules etc. 2nd ARC Report
corporate governance Vision IAS
probity in governance, work culture 2nd ARC Report
citizen charter, ethics code, work culture etc. Vision IAS
challenges of corruption 2nd ARC Report
case studies on above topics Test Series

Here are some other things that I kept in mind :
For the Indian Freedom Struggle – Try to do a theme based study rather than an event based study of the whole movement. How did various groups see the movement and how did they contribute eg  Dalits, Tribals, Landed classes, Businessmen etc. What were the challenges that our leaders faced and what did they do to overcome these challenges. How did the nature of the freedom struggle change with time. For this the reading of Bipan Chandra becomes very important. Try to condense each chapter into notes and revise.
Geography is a precise science. So the answers will require a lot of practice to get right. But this is also the easiest of all the subjects.
Polity and Economy are based on current events, so newspaper reading is essential. Do go through Mrunals videos on the Economic Survey, I hope he’ll make them each year.
Please try to read as many 2nd ARC reports as possible. You will find many questions addressed in a direct or an indirect way in these reports. I read the ones on ethics, Crisis management and Public order. These are gold.
The 2nd ARC report on Crisis management has a questionnaire at the end, go through that and think of answers to the questions. Use the internet for help.
Q. Many candidates found Mains-2015 Ethics paper very peculiar and “out of the book”. What are your observations and tips for future aspirants regarding preparation of this paper?
For ethics, I memorized the meaning of each of the terms given in the syllabus. As you read more you’ll come across new terms. Write them down and prepare a 30 word summary. For example, I came across conflict of interest. I wrote down what it meant, how it can arise and how it can be addressed. Incidentally the same question came in the paper. So this really helped.
During my mocks, I read the case study questions, thought about them and then read the model answer. Then I figured what I had left out. This approach was quite useful as I got to know what was expected.
To be quite honest, I found many of the case studies in the mains paper to be quite lame. I don’t know what it tests really.

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 18 2 0 20
GS2 17 1 2 20
GS3 15 2 3 20
GS4 20 0 0 20
Opt-P1 All 0 0 All
Opt-P2 Cant recall All

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]
In my first attempt I had answered only the questions I knew, but that was a disaster. I learnt two very important things.
Firstly, finish the syllabus. Secondly, answer each and every question. It is very important to do both of these things.
Write something just for the heck of it, if you must. In the end the difference of even one mark can make it or break it.
With enough practice you’ll be able to make up better answers even when you don’t know anything. So PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE !!
Also try to go through as many questions as possible. Share test series with friends. Read the questions, think about what you would have written. I could answer at least 3 questions in the mains exam from the various test series I had gone through apart from the ones I had been taking.
I also benefitted immensely from the IASBABA and Insightsonindia compilations.
Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?
Great ! There isn’t much time to worry about these things.
Q. Did you write answers in bullet points or in paragraphs? Some players (who cleared mains and got interview call letter) were claiming that they wrote entire paper in bullet points, so it doesn’t matter….whether examiner is asking ‘examine, comment, discuss or xyz’….simply write in bullets and points.
I felt that even with a lot of answer writing practice, all my plans about writing a particular way went out of the window in the exam hall. I cannot recall how I wrote the answers but I did read the question multiple times to grasp the essentials. Then I made sure I addressed all the things asked.
Q. Did you follow the “introduction-body-conclusion” format? because some mains-qualified candidates claim they simply wrote the points they could recall within the time, instead of bothering with proper introduction and conclusion.
I think i did try to stick to this pattern.
Q5. Did you use highlighters / sketchpens in your answers?
Q6. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in GS1 Geography)
I was prepared to draw diagrams but I don’t think there was any opportunity to draw any diagrams in this years paper. So I didn’t draw any.
But its always a good idea to include them. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Q7. You wrote the answer in blue pen or black pen?
I used a blue ball point pen.

Mains Optional Subject

Q. What’s your optional subject and why did you chose it and not something else?
I put a lot of thought into which optional to pick. . I narrowed in on PSIR, Law, Philosophy, History, Geography based on my interest. Then I went through the previous years papers to get a feel for the level of difficulty for different subjects
In the end I felt I knew so much more of my own graduation subject that I decided to go for that.
I also feel that the specialist subjects ( picked by candidates with a background in these subjects eg. Medical  science, Law, Commerce, engineering etc.) have a higher success rate as compared to the more popular subjects like Sociology, Geography etc. More people take these optional, but a much smaller fraction qualifies. So you should have very strong reasons to pick a subject other than the one of your graduation.
I would urge everyone to follow their heart in these matters and not any “prevailing wave”.
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)
I think law graduates should surely go for law. Although this year the law marks haven’t been as spectacular but it’s still a great optional.
I think law can be a good optional even for those who don’t have a background in law because law is just common sense with knobs on. If you excel at memorizing large number of things then this is an excellent optional for you.
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.)
Law  optional has many different laws so there isn’t any base book as such. However, I relied heavily on past years question papers to see what level of preparation is expected. So make that your base.
Kalinjar Publications has a book which has the past 20 years questions divided by topic – you could use that.
Constitutional Law – JN Pandey, it lies somewhere between a textbook and a dukki. Excellent for entrance exams.
International Law- Malcolm Shaw, Micheal D Evans, Questions and Answers in International Law. – I made extensive notes here.
Criminal Law- PSA Pillai + Bare Act
Contract Act – Bangia –  I initially went for Avtar Singh but its too detailed. Bangia is concise and sufficient for almost all questions.
Torts – Bangia  –  Standard textbook
I also used the All india Bar Exam test material for help
Dukkis and Bare Acts for everything else.
Law has many great text books written; however this exam doesn’t require the best book but the easiest. Therefore, you may avoid MP Jain for Constitutional Law and Avtar Singh for Contracts.
Additionally, I benefitted greatly from the blogs written by those who came before me. Riju Bafna and Abdaal Akhtar’s blogs are so well written that I cannot possibly add anything else.

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?
Some but not much. Only to fill gaps.
Q. How many months did it take to finish the core optional syllabus?
Q. How many days/ weeks before the exam, you started answer writing practice?
I couldn’t do much answer writing practice here. I was just trying to finish everything.
Q. Do you maintain self-notes for revision of optional? In which format- electronic or paper?
I answered many of the questions that had appeared in the exam and went over them again and again.
I made extensive notes for the entire international law syllabus.
Q. Your observation about the difficultly level of 2015 mains vs previous papers. And what precautions / rectifications are necessary in the future strategy for given optional subject?
I think that I this year’s  law paper did take some of us by surprise because of many obscure questions coming in the compulsory part of the paper.
But this only emphasizes something that has been known for a long time – that UPSC exams can be quite unpredictable and that if you have any chink in your armor, you will end up paying for it.
I have also spoken to a few other candidates with the same optional and the marks have been quite underwhelming this time around. Having said that, there are people who have excelled with law. So it all depends on one’s level of preparation.

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?
My interview was only 2 weeks after the results were announced so there wasn’t much time to prepare as such. The interview is not something you can prepare for in a month or two. Just went through the normal material over and over again.
I think they judge your confidence and personality more than how many questions you answer. The questions put to me were quite easy and I remember thinking after the interview “That was so easy !!”
I think one important thing to ensure is a positive attitude. I met a lot of people who were intimidated by the interview. They saw it as some kind of a contest between the chairman and the candidate. It is not like that at all. Put yourself in the chair of the Chairperson. What sort of a candidate would you choose ? Make sure that you potray the best and the most confident version of you. I just thought that I was going to meet my dad’s friends and kept telling myself that over and over again. Trust me the interview has exactly that kind of a vibe, Just a bunch of middle aged ( highly qualified ) uncles.
Give them all the reasons to pick you !!
Q2. Did you attend any mock interviews by coaching classes? How were they similar / different than official interview? Do you believe it is necessary to attend such mock interviews?
I attended several mock interviews and they helped immensely to give me confidence. I attended interviews at Anil Narula’s study and Abhimanu’s here in Chandigarh. Apart from that I took two mocks at Vajiram’s in Delhi.
I would recommend everyone to take a few mocks.
Q3. Where did you stay for the interview? (Hotel / friend’s home …) and what books/material did you bring for the ‘revision before interview’?
At a guest house that a relative had helped arrange. I didn’t do much reading before the interview and just tried to remain calm (succeeding only partially).
Q4. Any words of wisdom about Medical checkup?
Make friends, chat. Carry everything they ask you to carry.
Q5. Describe the formal-dress worn by you in interview.
I wore a white shirt, grey trousers, a red tie , black shoes. No Blazer.
When I was preparing for the interview I was repeatedly told by everyone to wear smart formals. I used to wonder back about why everyone kept repeating something that was so obvious ? But after seeing what some people come to the interview wearing, i must also repeat this once again. Please wear smart formals !! The clothes you wear are also a form of expression and what your look says matters as much as what you say.
Jeans are not okay for such an occasion!  Also pay attention to the colour combination, everyone wears navy blue. Try to stand out a bit.
Take along with you a person who is known to have a good taste in such matters, please don’t let your tailor or the salesman at the shop pick your clothes for you. All the women in my session were very well dressed, the guys on the other hand were a different story. #typical.
So if you’re a guy, let a woman have a veto over what you pick. It will help. :P

During the interview

Q1. Who was the chairman of you interview board?
Mr. DK Dewan
Q2. How long was the interview?
20 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 had a number of reasons, so I practiced this question before a mirror several times and each time a slightly different answer came out. What you say should sound genuine and not contrived. There are a lot of coaching assembly line answers but you should reach in deep and come up with an honest answer.
Please don’t sound like a Mother Teresa or a Beauty pageant contestant. The board members must get tired of that. Avoid clichés as they can be quite off putting –
“I want to change the system” – Sounds too arrogant.
“I want to bring smiles on the faces of people” – Sounds too self aggrandizing and filmy.
“I want to work at the grassroot level” – Please don’t say this unless you have actually done something at the grassroot level. No one takes this seriously otherwise.
“I want to have diversity in my career” – What will you do if you get a specialized service like IRS, IPS ??
Make the answer about yourself and not about the people of the country, the grassroots or the system. Make it a general answer about the civil services and not specifically about the IAS. No matter what you decide to say , think of how you would respond to counter questions.
Ask yourself “What is my motivation ??”
Remember that it is more important to impress the board than to just survive the interview.
“It has been a childhood dream to join the services”
“I like the idea of working for the Government”( think of reasons why )
^^^ These are better answers in my opinion.
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)
My interview was with the DK Dewan board on the 10th of March 2016.
I like the fact that even though the exam is quite competitive, there is an easygoing kind of camaraderie among the candidates and the atmosphere is actually quite non competitive and very friendly. I spoke to most of the other candidates and we helped each other remain buoyant.
The way the interview works is that around 45 candidates are called in each session (there are two in one day), they are then divided into groups based on which board they are going to face, but the identity of the chairperson isn’t told to us.  Six people were to be interviewed by the DK Dewan board in the forenoon session and I was number six. So my job for the next four hours was to sit back, relax and make sure I didn’t wrinkle my shirt too much.
One by one each candidate is called. When one candidate goes in for her interview, the next candidate is called and made to sit in a chair outside the room of the chairperson.  This time can be quite unnerving because of the anticipation. Use this time to think of anything but the interview.
I was the last one to go in before lunch and my interview was just before the lunch break. I think it was a very short interview and must have lasted no longer than 25 minutes.

Graduation : Law
Optional : Law
Preference:  Indian Foreign Service
Hobbies: Reading, Watching documentaries
After the interview of the candidate before me got over, I was ushered in. I saw Mr. Dewan and four other gentlemen sitting in a semi circle and went in with a big smile and greeted them appropriately. I was asked to take the seat. I sat down and said Thank you, and then smiled at each of the board members.
Chairman: So Noor, is this your first attempt ?
Me: Sir, its my second attempt. I took the exam last year as well but couldn’t clear the mains. This is my first interview.
CM: Okay, So Noor Shergill, first time at the UPSC.
Tell me, which road is UPSC located on  ??
Me :  Sir, it’s on Shah Jahan road.
CM: Right, Who was Shah Jahan ?
Me: Sir,  he was one of the Great Mughal emperors.
CM: Which era are we talking about here ?
Me: Sir this is the medieval era, but I’m not really sure of the years.
CM: What is he famous for ?
Me: Sir, Shah Jahan’s most enduring legacy are the buildings he got constructed.
CM:  Tell me some of the buildings built by Shah Jahan.
Me: Sir, Taj Mahal, Red Fort and the Jama Masjid.
CM: What else is Shah Jahan known for?
Me: ( I really had no idea, so i started telling him that he was the first one to have killed his brothers to get to the throne and the CM cut me short)
CM:  Inside the Red fort he had this really famous throne, have you heard of it ?
Me: Yes sir ! the Peacock throne!!
CM: Yes ! and there was this person who took the peacock throne away from India. Who was that?
Me: Sir, it was Nadir Shah of Iran.
CM: Yes, and do you know how many horses and camels and elephants did he require to carry away all the treasure from Delhi to Persia ?
Me: Sir, I have no idea about that !!
CM: Okay tell me who was Shah Jahan’s father and who was his son ?
Me: Sir He was the Father of Aurangzeb and the son of Jahangir.
CM : What is Energy security ?
Me:  (I was quite taken aback by the sudden shift in gears from history to economy and blabbered something about it being a multifaceted concept the goal of which was to ensure that we had access to our sources of energy. It would include the protection of our sea lines of communication and an efficient mining policy etc.) I was cut short by the CM
CM: Why is energy security important ?
Me:  (Again i didn’t really know what to say and i just blabbered), “Sir, so that we can do what we want to do” ( Quite a child-ish answer. But in my defence it isn’t totally wrong also :P)
CM: What do you mean by that ?
He saw me struggling for words and then helped me out by saying “So that we can sustain our economic development , is that what you meant ?”
Me: Thank you Sir, that’s what I meant.
CM: There is a crisis going on in Ukraine, why is Europe meddling in Ukraine ?
Me:  Sir, Ukraine is very strategically located between Europe and Russia and if Europe gains control of Ukraine then it can cut off Russia’s access to warm waters ………..
CM looked very surprised at this answer, so i clarified
Sir, Russia actually has access to warm waters through the Port of Murmansk but that is further North. This way NATO can block Russia’s access to warm waters through the Black Sea.
The CM looked satisfied
CM:  How does the Black Sea provide access to warm waters ?
Me:  Sir, there are two straits. The Strait of Dardanelles ( mispronounced it and was helped by the CM) and the Strait of Bosphorus.
CM:  There is a sea in between the two straits also.
Me:  Yes Sir, but i don’t know the name.
CM:  Thats okay. Which country are these straits located in ?
Me: Sir, the straits are in Turkey.
CM: And what comes after you exit the straits from the Black Sea ?
Me:  Sir the Mediterranean Sea.
CM: Good !
CM : Yes, he then asked the first member to take over.

M1: How many members does the United Nations have ??
Me. Sir, I’m not aware of the exact number. ( I knew it was either 193 or 194 but i wasn’t sure, i now realize that I should have said that it was either 193 or 194 because the way I put it seems I had no clue. #regret)
M1 : Alright, tell me how many agencies does the United nations have ?
Me: Sir, I’m not aware.
M1:  Really ?? can you name any UN agency ?
Me: Sir UNICEF is an agency of the UN.
M1: Yes ! So if the UNICEF wants to start a project in India how will it do so ?
Me: ( I was totally dumbfounded by this question and i wasn’t sure of what exactly I was asked, so asked M1 if he would repeat the question)
M1 : Say the UNICEF wants to start a project in India, will it just show up here and start working ?
Me: I didn’t have any idea about this so just blabbered something about the UN working in collaboration with the Government.
M1:  Who approaches who ? Does the Government go to the UN or does the UN come to the Government ?
Me:  Sir I’m not aware of that.
M1: *rolled his eyes* Let’s not carry on this with this topic because this is clearly not your strong suit.
Me: *OUCH* (i tried to look unaffected, I had been warned beforehand that the board tries to unnerve you. So i didn’t let it affect me.)
M1: What is the difference between the Merchant Navy, the Coast Guard and the Navy ?
Me:  Sir, the Merchant Navy carries out commercial functions like container shipping, cruises etc. The Coast Guard, guards our Coasts (DUH !!!) and the Navy looks after the defence of India and the protection of our interests in the high seas.
M1: What is the Territorial Sea?
Me:  Sir, it is the area between the baseline and 12 nautical miles from the baseline. For all practical purposes it is an extension of the territory of India, the only exception being the right of Innocent passage of ships.
M1: What comes after the Territorial Sea ?
Me:  Sir the Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends up to 200nm from the baseline and the continental shelf, which can extend up to 350 nautical miles in case the natural projections extend that far.
M1:  What is the Exclusive Economic Zone ?
Me: Sir, it is the area in which only the country has the right to exploit resources. For eg. Only Indian Fishermen can fish in the Indian EEZ and only the India can set up installations to extract resources from here.
M1: Signaled that he was done.
CM: You mentioned installations on the EEZ. In India, who provides security to these installations ? Is it the Navy or the Coast Guard.
Me:  Sir, the Coast Guard.
CM: Right. Signalled to M2.
M2:  You have mentioned that you like reading. What do you read ?
Me:  Sir, I primarily read Non fiction books.
M2:  What are some of the recent ones that you have read ?
Me: Sir, I read Freedom at midnight by Dominique La Pierre and Larry Collins , and On Balance by Justice Leila Seth.
M2: You’ve also mentioned that you like watching Documentaries. What kind of documentaries do you watch ?
Me:   Sir i watch all kinds of Documentaries but i particularly like Popular Science documentaries such as Cosmos by Carl Sagan, Planet Earth by David Attenborough and Air Crash Investigations are some of my favourites.
M2 : You’ve heard of the two world wars. When did they start ? When did they end ? and which were the Parties involved on both the sides ?
Me: Answered satisfactorily.
M2: What are the sources of energy ?
Me: Answered satisfactorily.
M2:  Why hasn’t Solar energy taken off in a big way ?
Me:  Sir, Solar energy has historically competed with fossil fuels which are very cheap and convenient to use. We have only started to look to the sun as a source of energy with the rise in knowledge about climate change. So the take off has been quite late. Apart from that sir, there are issues related to funding and technology transfer because most of the tropical countries are developing. But sir, India has taken a lead and established the International solar alliance to address these issues. As environmental consciousness rises solar energy will be increasingly relied upon in the future.
Signalled that he was done. M3 takes over
M3: What is the difference between the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court ?
Me:   Answered satisfactorily.
M3:  India hasn’t signed the Rome statute (Which establishes the International Criminal Court), what are its reservations ?
Me:  Sir, India is concerned that it gives too much power to the security council to refer any matter to the ICC even if the country hasn’t signed the treaty. This goes against the principle of sovereignty and can be misused by the P5 nations. Therefore, India persistently objects to the ICC.
M3:  So is India’s concern related to the inequities in the Rome statute or is it also concerned that it could be used against India in Kashmir.
Me:  Sir, I think that it is due to both these reasons. The inherent inequities are a cause of concern and India also fears that the ICC could be used to try its leaders and generals for its operations in Kashmir etc.
M3: Pandit Nehru is known as the Father of Modern India. Justify this statement.
Me: Mentioned about his vision of India to be driven by science and Tech. He wanted india to be unfettered from its past. He established the PSUs, the IITs, my hometown of Chandigarh is based on his vision, the hospital where my father worked was established by him. Then i was cut short.
M3:  You’ve only mentioned science and technology. Anything in the social field ?
Me: Sir, he got the Hindu Marriage act passed despite a lot of resistance from the powerful orthodox sections  of society. It couldn’t have been passed without his endorsement and support.
M3:  Signalled that he was done. M4 takes over.
M4: Have you heard of the Antarctic Treaty ? What is it ?
Me:  Sir, the Antarctic treaty states that Antarctica would not be subject to any sovereign claims, that it won’t be militarised and would only be used for scientific research. There is also a moratorium on Mining.
M4: No, that’s not quite what it is !!!! ( Which was a blatant bluff, I was right and I knew it ). I decided not to protest.
Anyway, India has become an observer in the Arctic Council ?  What is the difference between an Observer state and a member state?
Me:  Sir, an observer state is invited for sessions of an organisation. I takes part in the deliberations but doesn’t have a vote.
M4: But why do we become observers ?  Whats the point ?
Me: Sir, it allows us to engage with the countries and take part in the sessions to put our point across. Also sir, the observer status may get changed into full membership with the passing of time eg. Our Membership to the SCO recently was upgraded from observer status.
After this there were a lot of questions about the High Seas, they were all very vague and i kept answering them to the best of my ability but M4 wasn’t convinced with any answer. He would rephrase the question until I said what he wanted to hear. He basically wanted to hear the words “International Seabed authority” and seemed visibly delighted when I mentioned it.
M4 gave me the worst time, to be honest, he would give me a triumphant smile any time I couldn’t answer a question that he had asked me, as if it were a contest, and tried to put me down also. But I had been warned about this during my preparation so I just smiled and nodded.
M4 was done (YAY !!!!)
CM:  You mentioned that you read freedom at midnight. What was the speech given my Pandit Nehru ?
Me: Sir, The Tryst with destiny speech.
CM: Everyone knows the name ! What did he say ? Its an very famous line.
Me: Sir, im not aware of it.
CM: Ill help you. Come on !
He started saying the words really slowly but didn’t have any Idea.
Me: Sorry Sir, but i just cannot recall the exact words.
CM:  Okay then !
( Now i wasn’t sure if this meant that the interview was over or Okay then was an acknowledgement of the fact that I had said that i couldn’t recall the words. So I just stared at the Cm for a few seconds. Then I realized that perhaps this meant that the interview was over. Just to be sure I asked mr Dewan  )
Me:  Sir, is my interview over ?
CM: (Looking surprised) Yes ! I mean you could join us for lunch, young man. We don’t really mind.
Everyone started laughing at this. I think it was a nice note to end the interview on.
I got up, thanked everyone and then moved out.
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?
Vice Admiral DK Dewan smiles ALOT !! The interview was quite cordial and I must admit that I found Mr. Dewan to be quite charming !
Most of it revolved around International Law maybe because i have a law background and preferred the Indian Foreign Service.
Mr. Dewan has a reputation of asking only factual questions and being frugal in giving marks. In my experience the first is certainly true. I wasn’t asked any opinion based questions, which many of the other boards did ask in abundance. However, the questions were quite manageable from the ones he’s reported to have asked in the previous years
I did see him strike off questions from a piece of paper in front of him. So i think he keeps a tab on the questions the candidate answered and didn’t answer.
I also have a feeling that he’s a Geography enthusiast, maybe from his years in the Navy. When i sat down for my interview, I saw a writing pad and a pencil, in front of me, with an incomplete map of India drawn on it. Perhaps he had asked another candidate before me to draw it. Even I was asked about the Turkish straits. So be ready with geography and current affairs trivia!
I’ve been a quizzer for many years and I must say that Mr. Dewan has a rapid fire way of asking questions. Shah jahan one moment , energy security the next followed in quick succession by the intricacies of the Ukraine Crisis. So maybe prepare for that. It takes some getting used to.
Otherwise, the interview was a pretty chilled out affair. No pressure.
Final Score 190 – Which is quite satisfactory given my interview and the reputation of the Board.

Q6. Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document or do xyz thing, or you’ll face problem”?
Take everything they mention in the letter. Carry extra photographs.
Q7. Any word of wisdom / observations about medical checkup?
Don’t carry a book. Be friendly, you don’t want to be remembered as the Grinch who didn’t talk to anyone.

CSE-2015 Marksheet

Q1. Please attach both prelim and final marksheet

Prelims mark sheet-

Subject Marks obtained
Paper 1 107.34
Paper 2 102

Mains mark sheet-

Subject Marks obtained
Essay – Paper-1 98
General Studies – Paper 2 90
General Studies – Paper 3 82
General Studies – Paper 4 96
General Studies – Paper 5 98
Optional Paper – Paper-1 112
Optional Paper – Paper-2 115
Written total 692
Personality Test 190
Final Total 882

Q2. After looking at the marksheet, suppose you had to prepare again next time, what changes will you make in your studies?
I think there is scope for improvement in every paper. I would practice essay writing, and answer writing in the law paper.
I would also attempt more questions in the prelims paper.

Career Backup

Q1. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?
I would have gotten a masters and joined the practice.
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.)
No clue.

Views on UPSC reforms

Q. Your views on the decision to make CSAT paper 33% qualifying?
Good, I had met many engineers during the preparation who used to gloat about how they didn’t have to study GS because their math and general mental ability was good. Mere mortals like me had to struggle really hard with CSAT in addition GS.
If for nothing else, I loved this decision for that priceless look on the faces of the engineers when the news came in :P
Although I don’t think this dented their fortunes at all because many of the toppers are engineers, yet again! They always manage, somehow.
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 Mains-syllabus in 2015. Let’s face it, most candidates who gave Mains-2015 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 don’t think that coaching institutes are a nuisance. They provide a valuable service. The fact that so many people go to them shows that people also feel a need for help with these exams. Ofcourse they aren’t essential to success. You should not think twice about going to one if you require help. You should not think twice about staying away if you don’t.
The CSE is still the most credible sarkaari exam in India and for that the UPSC deserves credit. For comparison, consider the reputation of the State public service commissions. The UPSC has to conduct this exam all over the country at the same time, ensure that the paper doesn’t get leaked, it remains challenging, deal with extreme circumstances etc. There are SO many optional subject papers to prepare + literature papers for each language. All of this with limited resources.
If we fairly and objectively look at the challenges the UPSC faces, I think that they have done quite well. The UPSC can get a lot better, but we should give them credit because they could have been a lot worse also.
Of course the exam isn’t completely fair. The backgrounds of those who get selected doesn’t reflect the societal make up of our country at all.  Women, minorities, Poor, rural students, Students who studied in Indian languages still face many problems of access.
It is important to recognize these challenges. But doesn’t the exam only reflect the inequalities that exist in society ? I think that these problems cannot be solved by the UPSC. They must be solved at the societal level and these changes will be slow to come about. The work of the Zakat foundation to provide support and increase access for minority students, the minority affairs ministry is also running a scholarship for those who clear the prelims exam is this kind of an initiative. In the end, this exam can only be as equal and as fair as the society we live in.
I come from a fairly privileged background ( Upper caste, male , able bodied, middle class, city based, privately educated in english etc.). I don’t really have any real first hand idea about these problems, so it would be more appropriate for those who deal with these issues to answer these directly.
I think the community would be better served if we have more interviews on this website of students from under represented eg. Indian language students/ rural students etc. . It would be interesting to see how they dealt with and overcame specific challenges.

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

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?
Its okay ! we all have insecurities. Even people who aren’t taking this exam are insecure. About their waistlines, about their looks, their pay package, about their status in society, about their future, about their children’s future etc. Feeling insecure is just part of being human.
It’s important to forget what happened in the past and try to become the best version of ourselves. Embrace your insecurity and try to move on. People overcome all sorts of odds to clear the exam and so can you !  Don’t ever let your insecurity shake your confidence.
I love this Javed Akhtar poem form Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, I think its relevant here :
“Dilon mein tum apni betabiyan leke chal rahe ho
Toh zinda ho tum!
Nazar mein khwaabon ki bijliyan leke chal rahe ho
Toh zinda ho tum!
Hawa ke jhonkon ke jaise aazad rehna seekho
Tum ek dariya ke jaise, leharon mein behna seekho
Har ek lamhe se tum milo khole apni baahein
Har ek pal ek naya samaa dekhe ye nigaahe
Jo apni aankhon mein hairaniyan leke chal rahe ho
Toh zinda ho tum!
Dilon mein tum apni betabiyan leke chal rahe ho
Toh zinda ho tum!”


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 think it is important to have a very objective view of the exam. The overwhelming majority of the candidates who appear for the exam don’t make it. It is important to remember this crucial fact.
Don’t expect anything from this exam. Study hard, be hopeful but also be mindful of the fact that at the end of the day the day there is only so much that you can do.
Keep a realistic Plan B at the back of your mind at all times. Be honest to yourselves and to those around you. Do it for yourself and no one else.
Try to see this exam as an opportunity to learn more. I remember being very happy with myself after the mains because I knew so much!!
I never put this exam up on a pedestal or saw it as the end all or be all. I never used it as an indicator of my ability or worth.
I always thought that if I cleared the exam I would consider myself fortunate and if I didn’t I would manage just fine, just as I had so far in life.
Lastly, Many people who I consider far more talented and smart than myself, could not clear the exam. Clearing this exam doesn’t make me better than them in anyway. There are too many accidents of chance that contribute to the final result. We can only work hard and increase our chances.
Q. Many hardworking candidates have failed in Mains/Interview of CSE-2015. They’re feeling cynical, hopeless and depressed- what is your message to them?
I didn’t clear the exam in the first attempt and know exactly how bad it can feel especially after we have given it our all. I remember drawing a lot of consolation from the poem –  ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. In fact I kept going back to it whenever I needed to feel better.

Credit: Friends/family

Q. Behind every topper are many people who stood by during those uncertain times when he/she was merely an ‘aspirant’. Would you like to tell the world, who were those people in your case? Any specific incidence that you would like to share with the readers?
I got a lot of encouragement throughout my journey from my parents and my friends. I was never quite sure about whether I could clear this exam and always worried about whether I was just wasting my time. But my friends and my family believed in me and cheered me on. I would share my anxieties and joys with them and they were always there to listen to me patiently even if they couldn’t offer any consolation.
It’s important to have a support system and a safety net. Open up to them and share your anxieties. Never let it get pent up inside.
Vikram Seth was once asked to give advice to young people. He said : “Choose your parents well.” I was immensely fortunate to have hit the parental jackpot at birth :P

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.
I used Mrunal.org so much throughout my preparation. This website is godsend for all of us preparing for the exam, I cannot imagine what I would have done without it.
Mrunal, I don’t know what you consider to be your greatest achievement , but for me your life’s greatest achievement is getting me interested in economics. This is where many great teachers have come and failed but you explain things so beautifully and easily that I was never intimidated by the subject or the terminologies. I love how you add humor to your lectures to make it interesting.
I know I speak for a number of people when I say that you are doing an amazing job ! Thank you so Much !!