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 Optional Subject
  11. Before the interview
  12. During the interview
  14. IFS-2015 Marksheet
  15. Career Backup
  16. Views on UPSC reforms
  17. Insecurity about profile
  18. Wisdom
  19. Credit: Friends/family
  20. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate Profile

Q. Details
Rank in UPSC IFS-2015 70
Roll No. 0152203
Age 21
Total attempts in IFoS (including this one) 1
Optional Subjects Forestry, Geology
Schooling Medium English
College medium English
Medium chosen for Mains answers English
Medium chosen for Interview English
Home town/city Virudhunagar, Tamilnadu
Work-experience if any Worked in a private bigdata analytics firm till May, 2015
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failures NA
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used) Shankar IAS academy
Service preferences (Top-5)
state cadre preference (Top-5) TN, KA, KL, AP, Telengana


% in class 10 94.4
% in class 12 96.75
Graduation course and % B.E(Materials Science& Engg)- 83.33
Name of college, city, passing out year CEG, Anna University, Chennai (2015 batch)
Post-graduation NA
Any other professional courses NA
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievements Story writing ,Folk dances
General Secretary of Department society
UGC award for solar cell project


Q. Tell us something about yourself, your family, when and why did you enter in this field of competitive exams?
UPSC IFS IFoS Topper 2015 Prem Kumar R
I am from a semi-urban place, Virudhunagar. My dad works in Govt. ITI and mother in government-aided college. I have a sister in class XI.
Joining CEG, Anna university was the turning point. The exposure I got there was tremendous. The late night discussions (call it chit-chat)we had in hostel dorm, the brand new ACL library in the vicinity and thought-provoking workshops of Kurukshetra were all significant. A debate on nuclear power organized in Kurukshetra fest made me world-conscious. And finally, I was prodded into civil services by my friend Rathinavel, himself an aspirant, in my sixth semester in college.

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 used electronic materials whenever physical materials weren’t comfortable. You can’t read a newspaper while travelling without irritating your co-passenger. So, I mixed it up depending on circumstances. I made notes from newspaper(The Hindu) and revised it before exam. For books, I underlined important points to help cut revision time.
I did most of my preparation in my college final year. I joined weekend coaching in Shankar IAS academy, Chennai. The basics were clearly explained and every staff’s notes helped a lot. A typical weekday would start with newspaper, then college classes(interspersed with books of Bipan Chandra, Rajiv Sikri, if I found classes boring ;).And in the evening atleast 2 hours study. Due to pressing engagements, I couldn’t follow a rigid time-table.
After joining job(June 2015), I relied only on MRUNAL in office-hours, followed by standard textbooks after office-hours. My office seniors Rajesh and Sivasubramaniam helped me a lot in making sure that my preparation efforts go unhindered. Prelims test series in Shankar’s helped me identify my weak spots.

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 got tremendous support from my parents and sister, who sacrificed a lot for my preparation. I made sure that I should get a service the first time itself. And this thought helped me going. Sometimes our days are not as we want them to be. Somethings throw us off track(be it a bad day at work or a half-forgotten girlfriend). At such difficult times I just held on. No progress, but no fall either. In my case, I had good friends. I relied on movies to escape from depression, when it hits. Whenever I was down, I had a get together with my friends Dinesh and Manoj and that kept me sane. Thank you guys!

Working professional

If you’re a working profession-nal, share some tips on how to manage studies with job
There are people who spend 18-20 hours on preparation. But while working, it is like you are fighting with an arm tied behind(sometimes both). So it is important not to waste free time(be it lunch time or team outings). As said in Interstellar, think of time as a resource. Make sure you get some true office-buddies to share your mind with. I got Kishore Balaji and Karthik, which helped me ease up at work. I read newspaper in my office. My work was on the domain of market research. This helped me too, as I could cover my preparations under the veneer of office work ;)

Prelims (CSAT) General studies

Topic strategy/booklist/comment
History Ancient NCERT, Mr.Saravanamoorthy’s classes(Shankar academy)
History Medieval -do-
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) -do-
Culture and society -do-
Polity (theory + current) NCERT, Lakshmikanth, Newspaper
Economy (theory + current) NCERT, Economic survey, Mrs. Vaishnavi’s classes(Shankar academy), Newspaper, MRUNAL site
Science (theory + current) NCERT, Mr.Piraisoodan’s notes(Shankar academy), Newspaper, MRUNAL site
Environment (theory + current) Shankar IAS academy’s book and class notes, MRUNAL site
geography physical Shankar sir’s classes, NCERT, Go cheng leong’s Certificate physical geography
geography India Shankar sir’s classes, NCERT
geography world Shankar sir’s classes, NCERT
other national/international current affairs Newspaper, Class discussions, MRUNAL site
Schemes, Policy & Filler Stuff MRUNAL site, Newspaper (PRS site is really good. I regret not studying it for want of time)

Q. Any observation / comments / tips about GS prelim 2015 paper?
Weightage was higher to current affairs questions and regular newspaper reading helped me score higher.
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)?

Prelims (CSAT) Aptitude

Topic strategy / booklist
Maths Preparations for campus placement from RS Agarwal helped
Reasoning -do-
comprehension -do-
Decision Making -do-

Q. Any observation / comments / tips about GS Aptitude 2015 paper.
Focus was on comprehension with many questions being highly subjective(my opinion). Aspirants who are not comfortable with English found this paper difficult.

Prelim accuracy

Q1. Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? do you think they’re necessary for success?
Shankar IAS academy’s mock test series
Q2. Approximate no. of attempted answers vs. correct answers. in CSAT-2015

attempted Q. correct (Expected) Official score
GS 92 133.34
aptitude 78 153.47

As I hadn’t cleared CSE, I think the following section would be irrelevant. So I will give an insight into my IFS strategy
English: I had a brush-up of my high-school grammar. Any good grammar book is fine. Wren & Martin is good. Grammar is the scoring part in this, so I concentrated more here.
GK paper had elements of GS1,2,3 of CSE. So the same strategy works here.
Geography: Shankar sir’s class, Go Cheng Leong, Savindra singh, NCERT, Newspaper
History: Shankar academy notes, NCERT, Old NCERT, India’s struggle for independence by Bipan Chandra& co
Economics: Shankar academy notes, Economic survey, MRUNAL articles, Newspaper
Diplomacy: Classes by Mr.Chandru, Mr. Suresh IRS, Mr. VP Gowtham IAS (Shankar academy), MRUNAL article, Civilspedia magazine, Newspaper
S&T: Newspaper, Civilspedia magazine, MRUNAL articles
Polity: NCERT, Lakshmikanth’s book
Social issues: Rejitha Mam’s classes(Shankar academy)
Environment: Shankar academy’s book, Classes of Mr.Narendran IFS and Mr.Karthikeyan
Q. What was your approach in the exam (I wrote all, I only focused on the questions where I could answer perfectly, I just not to high quality points to reach the word limit etc.) Because the UPSC aspirant Community is divided over what counts as a ‘good’ paper. Some experts claim you should attempt all- even if it involves “making up” an answer with filler lines, some claim attempt only those questions you know perfectly. Where do you stand on this? [Based on your experience and of your seniors/buddies]
I tried to fill the space and this made me time-starved at the end. So, I suggest sticking to word limits. Kindly make the paper readable, that’s it. A legible handwriting(Mine was terrible) is enough.

Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?
I fell prey to filling up the entire space and regret not sticking to the word limit.
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 used both, depending on the type of question 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.
No fixed format
Q5. Did you use highlighters / sketchpens in your answers?
No(This is a joke, right?)
Q6. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in GS1 Geography)
Yes. Drew diagrams whenever needed.
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?
Ruler?? No, just by hand.
Q9. You wrote the answer in blue pen or black pen?
Blue ink pen(the one kids in primary schools use)

Mains Optional Subject

Q. What’s your optional subject and why did you chose it and not something else?
Forestry and Geology
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)
Pick a subject based on availability of materials, guidance and interest. Every optional has potential of fetching high marks or dumping you down the pit(As geography did this time). One can’t guess the outcome in the case of UPSC.
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.)
Manikandan and Prabhu, FSI reports, MoEF documents, Class of Mr.Karthikeyan in Shankar’s.
KM.Bhangar, Shankar sir notes for Geomorphology, Savindra singh, internet.
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?
I had just few months to prepare for my optionals. So, I relied on internet instead of standard text books.
Q. How many months did it take to finish the core optional syllabus?
I started my forestry preparations after prelims result and completed one week before IFS mains.
Q. How many days/ weeks before the exam, you started answer writing practice?
I didn’t have any time for that. But I believe writing practice is essential.
Q. Do you maintain self-notes for revision of optional? In which format- electronic or paper?
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?
GK paper of 2015 was more aligned to GS standard and this helped me. I tried to cover, even superficially, all topics in the syllabus. Just a search in Google will do(If you are pressed for time, like I was)

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?
Shankar sir and Karthikeyan sir guided me in all these aspects. One-to-one sessions in with  Shankar sir helped a lot.
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 mocks in Shankar’s and Manidhaneyam.
Q3. Where did you stay for the interview? (Hotel / friend’s home …) and what books/material did you bring for the ‘revision before interview’?
Tamil Nadu house, New Delhi. I just continued with The Hindu.
Q4. Any words of wisdom about Medical checkup?
One should be ready for some ‘extremely open’ experiences sometimes in the presence of opposite gender docs. One could gain a lot of friends from that day.
Q5. Describe the formal-dress worn by you in interview.
Cream coloured shirt, Navy blue tie and Black suit.

During the interview

Q1. Who was the chairman of you interview board?
Ms. Alka Sirohi
Q2. How long was the interview?
I was the first candidate, so it went longer(about 40 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?]
My first question was why not civil service.
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)
Interview happened in Feb. So many questions and answers slipped out of memory.
Q: Why not civil service, why forest service?
A: Civil service covers only the human-centric view of life. But life is beyond that. With IFS, I can have an universal sense of love and service
Q: How can you expect me to entrust a 21 year boy with administrative roles?
A: Cited examples of South African pacer Rabada, Vivekananda, Messi, Rafa, earlier civil servants(pre-1900). Emphasised that age is not correlated to maturity and cited(boasting without much ado) my profile. I turned my young age into advantage by saying that being young, I could learn fast and vast.
Q: Questions on my graduation, job, hobby, extracurricular activities and achievements.
A: My answers are not relevant here. But their way of questioning was different. They questioned a topic, then dug deeper and deeper till they get a ‘I don’t know, sir’ answer.
Q: EIA, Coral reefs, El-Nino, IOD, Nano-technology and its applications in conservation, bio-materials, smart materials- recent developments
A: I answered them briefly and elaborated only when asked to do so. Most of the questions had subsequent cross-questions
Q: Forest rights act, tribals resettlement problem, man-wild life conflict, agriculture in forests, wild life trade, Paris summit of UNFCCC, International Whaling commission, fuel blending, hybrid cars, NGT
A: Standard answers. I made sure I answered atleast 3 lines for each question.
Q: A paradox puzzle was given to solve, involving permutations and combinations
A: I was asked to work out on a sheet of paper. After few minutes, Ma’m asked for my paper and said I was not even close but that she liked my attempts. I asked her what the answer was and got the answer that it had none.

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?
The board was cordial and open. While Ma’m appreciated some of my answers, some were thrashed(I suggested tribals’ replacement, citing the example of kaatu nayaks tribes demanding development). But I replied, ‘Sorry mam. It is still my belief that ..’ She was not convinced. I suggest aspirants take a less stringent stand on such criticisms. Thanks to my mocks, I never lost my cool even when was cross-questioned. Just tell your opinion in a cool manner and it would pass off perfectly. Correct your answers if situations demand.

Q6. Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document or do xyz thing, or you’ll face problem”?
None. UPSC gives plenty of time to file documents if you forget them.
Q7. Any word of wisdom / observations about medical checkup?
None. Make good friends while the day-long process happens.


IFS had a 25 Km ‘walking test’ as part of its examination process. We are expected to cover it in 4 hours. Women candidates are expected to complete 14Km in 4 hours. The venue was Delhi zoo and a lap around the zoo is 2.5 Km. So, we must cover 10 laps in 4 hours. The test is a misnomer. One could hardly cover the distance by mere walking. My strategy was to cover as much distance as possible in running and interspersing long-step walks with jogging. The main necessity is stamina- mental and physical. I suggest practicing beforehand. I ran 18 km in my college ground 2 weeks before the test. You could have glucose water, lemon juice, bananas every half-lap. So, physical stamina won’t be an issue with prior practices. The issue is mental stamina. I took headsets with me and my playlist songs helped me beat the monotony. The test starts around 6 am. It will be really cold for people accustomed to South Indian climate. So I wore sports jerkin for the first few laps. In case of cramps and other issues, the authorities help you. You will also get frequent cheer-ups by the authorities. Do select light-weight running shoes as the test is gruelsome. Have a volini spray ready, just in case.

IFS-2015 Marksheet

Q1. Please attach both prelim and final marksheet
CSE 2015 mark sheet-
Prelims mark sheet-

Subject Marks obtained
Paper 1 133.34
Paper 2 153.47

Mains mark sheet-

Subject Marks obtained
English 154
Gk 79
Forestry I 61
Forestry II 80
Geology I 49
Geology II 89
Personality Test 201
Final Total 713

Q2. After looking at the marksheet, suppose you had to prepare again next time, what changes will you make in your studies?
Focus more on Geology 1.

Career Backup

Q1. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?
I would have continued in my job as analyst and would have tried again next time.
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.)
I was already in a job. So no question of backup.

Views on UPSC reforms

What are your views on following issues?
Q. Optional subjects should be removed altogether. The present stalemate is helping no-one, except coaching-owners, book publishers.
In my view, optionals create an unequitable situation and are becoming redundant in this fast-changing world. I favor having two more GS papers inplace of that. However, regarding forestry, it being a technical service, I favour retaining optionals.
Q. Your views on the decision to make CSAT paper 33% qualifying?
As I was strong in quants and aptitude, I thought of relying on CSAT for qualification. But making it qualifying was a killer-blow. Though this move took away my advantage, I believe it is the right move as only serious candidates progress to mains now, unlike the previous years.
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 believe coaching institutes increase the exposure towards topics. The mains questions were of high standard and dynamic in nature, to negate the static materials of some coaching institutes. I feel coaching institutes give you the platform to launch your efforts.

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).
In the subsequent years, the competition had stiffened with very few absentees(as far as Chennai is concerned). Yeah, the higher prelims cutoff is an issue. I think a full merger after synchronization of optional papers would be the way forward.

Q. UPSC should disclose official prelim answerkey and cutoffs, immediately after prelim is over, instead of postponing it till interview phase is over.
Yeah, I believe cutoffs must be disclosed soon to help the aspirants plan better.

Q. UPSC should be conducted online like IBPS and CAT exam to shorten the duration of exam.
I support online format for prelims exam.
Q. If you are made the UPSC chairman, what other reforms would you initiate for the civil service exam?
I would reduce the weightage and subjectivity of optionals and interview process.

Insecurity about profile

Q. Many candidates prepare sincerely but constantly live under fear about ‘profile insecurity’. I’m not from a big college, I’m not from English medium, and I don’t have work-experience. What if they ask some stressful questions in the interview about this? Did you suffer from such insecurities? What is your message to these candidates?
I had a great college name in my profile so I didn’t feel such insecurity. But I met candidates with no formal degree(with a correspondence degree), with higher knowledge and caliber. UPSC is looking for that caliber and not our star-studded background and our profile matters little if we possess this caliber they expect.


Q. Through this struggle and success, what have you learned? What is the wisdom of life and competition? What is your message to the new aspirants?
This has been one hell of a ride. Thanks to interview selection, I had a chance to interact with many aspirants from diverse backgrounds. The entire learning process is a boon to you in future. One important thing I learnt in the process is that truth is multi-faceted. I would like to say ‘never back down’ to new aspirants, inspite of the odds. I was myself reading topper interviews in MRUNAL a year back and now I am contributing to the interview. My study schedule was highly irregular and I couldn’t find long stretches to study(maximum 4 – 5 hours a day on average). Mere commonsense, with some basic knowledge will carry one through. When I could, anyone can.
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 know a few aspirants more skilled than me getting a ‘no’ from UPSC. It is pure bad luck in such cases. I think it is only a matter of time. Their success got merely postponed, that’s it.

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 family stood firm behind me, supporting my decisions, respecting my ambitions and aiding my efforts. My sister in particular helped me a lot with discussions on NCERT cartoons, and taking care of houseworks and parents, in my place.
My school teachers whose teachings in class helped me manage some questions in Mains. My English teachers- Mr.KL, Mrs.GV, Mrs.Hepziba – for their teachings helped me score high in IFS English paper. Mrs. Suganthi, Mrs .Ananthi and Mrs.Rojapoo who were tirelessly encouraging me and supporting me.
To Shankar sir, I owe my success as I approached IFS on his direction. His unique teaching helped me answer several tricky mains questions. He used to sit in class till 11PM to ensure that I reached there for correction, after my office hours. All other staff in Shankar’s, for they were easy to approach and open in their suggestions. I felt valued there. To Karthikeyan sir, for his relentless and selfless guidance in IFS.
My office seniors- Rajesh and Sivasubramaniam, who shared my workload for my preparation. Friends- Karthik and KB who gave me critical and valuable insights for Interview. My friends in difficult times- Manoj, Dinesh, Prasadh and KPK- for their stress-busting talks and deep discussions, sometimes philosophical. To MRUNAL site, for motivating me via topper interviews and clarifying deep concepts in an unorthodox manner. The revision articles in the site were highly useful in brushing up the concepts. To several of my well-wishers and school friends, for backing me up.
The mock interviews of Shankar’s and Manidhaneyam helped me a lot in gaining the tempo of the process.

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 pin-pointed my strategy on civil services after reading toppers’ interviews from MRUNAL site. An unconventional mode of explaining tricky concepts with illustrations and humour struck their target. I relied on MRUNAL articles at all times and am immensely thankful to you, sir(no exaggeration, honestly)