1. Candidate Profile
  2. Education
  3. Introduction
  4. Electronic Vs Paper material
  5. Typical day in your Online life?
  6. Style of Preparation and notes making
  7. Prelims (CSAT) Paper-1: General studies
  8. Prelims (CSAT): Paper-2: Aptitude
  9. Prelim accuracy
  10. Mains: Compulsory language paper
  11. Mains: Essay
  12. General Studies (Mains) paper 1
  13. General studies (Mains) paper 2
  14. General studies (Mains) Paper 3
  15. General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude
  16. Mains answer-writing?
  17. ELASTICITY of Optional Subject Score
  18. Mains Optional Subject
  19. Before the interview
  20. During the interview
  21. CSE-2016 Marksheet
  22. Career Backup
  23. Insecurity about profile
  24. Internal Motivation
  25. Struggle of a Senior player
  26. Grand wisdom
  27. Credit: Friends/family
  28. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate Profile

Neeraj Kumar Agarwal

Q. Details
Name Neeraj Kumar Agarwal
Rank in CSE-2016 323
Roll No. 0000642
Age 25
Total attempts in CSE (including this one) 4
Optional Subject Sociology
Schooling Medium English
College Medium English
Medium chosen for Mains answers English
Medium chosen for Interview English
Home town/city Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh
Work-experience if any 8 months in the social sector(3 months with Pratham, 5 months with Centre for Civil Society)
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failures RBI Grade-B: Cleared Prelims and Mains in 2015
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used) ALS for GS
Upendra IAS for Sociology
(Did not join any test series for prelims or mains)
Service preferences (Top-5) IAS> IRS (IT)> IRS (Customs)> IPS> IFS
state cadre preference (Top-5) MP> Maharashtra> Rajasthan> Chhattisgarh> Andhra Pradesh


Education fill the details here
% in class 10 85.71
% in class 12 85.8
Graduation course and % 7.4/10
Name of college, city, passing out year Chemical Engineer, IIT Delhi, 2013
Post-graduation No
Any other professional courses No
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievements Music, Movies, Reading Novels


Q. Tell us something about yourself, your family, when and why did you enter in this field of competitive exams?
I was born in Odisha and brought up in Visakhapatnam. I hail from a very simple business family. After I graduated from college, I had decided to take up the placement offer I had in hand, as my family was facing financial difficulties (I thought I would pursue civil services later on). But my parents convinced me pursue it at that point, rather than delaying it. Civil services was a dream that my parents had seen, and this acted as a catalyst for me to pursue prep. J

Electronic Vs Paper material

Q. In recent times, there is spur in electronic material- blogs, sites, pdfs, RSS-feeds. Many aspirants feel bogged down by this information overload. So, how do you balance this i.e. electronic material vs. paper material (Books, newspapers)
Yes, there is an information overload. To keep this in check, I decided to restrict myself to a few sources and sites and focusing on reading and re-reading them, rather than diverting myself to the multiple sources which are available.
To balance electronic material vs paper material, I preferred standard books and self-made notes (paper material) for static part of General Studies and Sociology (my optional). For current affairs I preferred electronic material. I used to make newspaper notes also online.
Online Sources which I followed:

Typical day in your Online life?

Online life Answer
Daily hrs spent on online platforms for predicting cutoff / syllabus change / age-attempt limit change and other “peripheral-bolbachchan“ related to civil services. 0 (very less basically)
Daily hrs spent on whatsapp and telegram studygroups 30 mins
Daily hrs spent on online for exam prep. 4-5 hours
Primary Device for online study: desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile Laptop and mobile

Q. Any other things that you wish to elaborate on above table:

Style of Preparation and notes making

Q. What is your style of preparation and notes making? (e.g. I continue making notes no matter what I’m reading, I just read multiple times but don’t maintain notes, I make mindmaps on computer, I use xyz software etc.)
GS: I restricted myself to the sources mentioned above, and made notes for most of the textbooks, especially bulky ones (which include Laxmikanth and Spectrum). For prelims, I read the books, and for mains I relied only on my hand written notes.
Current Affairs: I maintained online notes from newspaper and kept updating them as and when I read more on the particular topic. I would arrange all the material topic wise at the end of each month. This way, the notes were easy to revise and handy.
how to make onenote for UPSC

Sociology: I made short notes for many topics, and supplemented them with my class notes. For revision, I relied on class notes and hand made short notes only (it is very tedious to open the books again and again for revision, so I feel making short notes are essential)

Prelims (CSAT) Paper-1: General studies

Topic strategy/booklist/comment
History Ancient NCERT
History Medieval NCERT + Tamil Nadu Text Book
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) Spectrum + Notes from random sources
Culture and society 11th Class NCERT + Nitin Singhania’s book
Polity (theory + current) Laxmikanth + Newspaper
Economy (theory + current) Ramesh Singh + Newspaper
Science (theory + current) Newspaper
Environment (theory + current) Shankar IAS notes + Newspaper + Environment ministry report
geography physical NCERT
geography India NCERT
geography world NCERT
other national/international current affairs Newspaper
Schemes, Policy & Filler Stuff Newspaper + Online sources

Q. Candidates are complaining that compared to earlier years, Prelim 2017 GS paper was very tougher, Tickmasters’ 90+ strategy (and its perverted & populist version known as Guessmaster-giri) and E-learning materials had limited utility. What are you views and wisdom on all these?
Yes, the paper was tough as compared to last year. UPSC has been making the paper dynamic year after year, and the aspirants should appear for the exam with an open mind. During preparation, all topics should be covered and concepts need to be clear. UPSC may ask conceptual questions or factual questions, aspirants need to be ready for both of them.
Q. Suppose, If you had to prepare for Prelims-2018, then after going through this 2017 paper, what changes would you make in your preparation?
The questions asked by UPSC were more conceptual this year, but they were more current last year. So basically the pattern in unpredictable. Hence, I would follow the same strategy I followed last year, of maintaining a balance between static and current part, and studying Culture and Environment thoroughly.

Prelims (CSAT): Paper-2: Aptitude

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

Q. In the recent two prelims (2016 and 2017), the comprehension portion becoming quite tough and lengthy. Candidates struggle even to finish the paper-II. Kindly provide some words of wisdom:

Prelim accuracy

Q1. Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? Do you think they’re necessary for success?
No I did not attend any mock tests. I solved a few questions online just to gain some confidence. I solved previous year’s papers (only static questions) and they were helpful in clearing concepts, as well as to gain momentum in solving the paper effectively.
Q2. Approximate no. of attempted answers vs. correct answers. in Prelim-2016

attempted Q. correct (Expected) Official score
GS 81 66 questions (expected 68) 122
aptitude 62 56 questions(expected 54) 134

Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paper Your preparation strategy / booklist?
English paper None
your regional language A day before the exam, I read a Hindi newspaper, remembered opposites etc., and wrote a few paragraphs in Hindi to gain speed in writing

Mains: Essay

Q1. How did you prepare for the essay paper?
For essay, my focus was on the structure and how the topic is broken down so that it is easier to follow for the reader, and is holistic as well as detailed. I gave 10 minutes per essay for Introduction and Conclusion as they are very important parts of any essay. I had made a few standard patterns in which the topic could be broken: Social/economical/political, positives/negatives/scope.
I tried to use the knowledge of the various schemes we read and tried mentioning them in the essay if they were relevant. I gave contemporary examples in both the essay topics.
Preparation strategy: I wrote 3 essays on previous year’s topics, checked them myself and discussed them with a few friends. I made structure’s for 4-5 essay topics, and refined them after brainstorming on them to make them better. I remembered a few basic statistics which can be used in an essay (like literacy, sex ratio, female labour force participation rate, unemployment rates etc.)
Q2. Which two essays did you write and What key points did you include in it?
If development is not engendered, it is endangered.

  • Introduction: Started with a quote by Amartya Sen, and explained the importance of development of both the gender
  • Body: I used the parameters of Human Development Index, to compare the status of development of men and women in India. In detail explanation of status of both genders with respect to education, health and per capita income (the parameters). I highlighted the negative impact of each of these dimensions, and how they are negatively affecting the society at large.
  • Mentioned the steps that are being taken to ensure development of female’s and what other steps can be taken.

Cyberspace and Internet: Blessing or curse to the human civilization in the long run?

  • Explained the positives and negatives of cyberspace and internet in detail.
  • Discussed the reasons for the negative and why they should be stopped.
  • Measures being taken: Mentioned the Budapest Convention at the international level, and CERT-In, Cyber Security Policy etc. at the national level.
  • Discussed a few other steps which can be taken.

General Studies (Mains) paper 1

Topic How did you prepare?
Culture Same as Prelims (just revised my prelims notes)
Indian history Spectrum and Bipin Chandra
world history Old NCERT (Contemporary World History)
post-independence India NCERT (Politics in India Since Independence) and Pradhan Mantri Web Series
Indian society Didn’t prepare anything extra (Sociology was my optional)
role of women, poverty etc.
globalization on Indian society
communalism, regionalism, secularism
world geo physical NCERTs of 11th and 12th Class; GC Leong
Mrunal: for factors of Industrial location
resource distribution
factors for industrial location
earthquake tsunami etc
impact on flora-fauna

General studies (Mains) paper 2

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian Constitution, devolution, dispute redressal etc. Laxmikanth , Coaching Notes (of ALS), Google
comparing Constitution with world
parliament, state Legislatures
ministries departments
pressure group, informal asso. Covered in Sociology optional
Representation of people’s act Google + Coaching notes
various bodies: Constitutional, statutory.. Laxmikanth
NGO, SHG etc Covered in Sociology optional
welfare schemes, bodies Newspaper
social sector, health, edu, HRD Newspaper
governance, transparency, accountability Coaching notes
e-governance Google
role of civil service
India & neighbors Newspaper
bilateral/global grouping Newspaper + Google
effect of foreign country policies on Indian interest Newspaper
Diaspora Newspaper + Google
international bodies- structure mandate Googled a few important bodies

General studies (Mains) Paper 3

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilization Ramesh Singh Book
Sriram IAS Printed Notes
Newspaper for updates
Economic Survey
inclusive growth
major crops, irrigation
agro produce – storage, marketing
e-technology for famers
farm subsidies, MSP
PDS, buffer, food security
technology mission
animal rearing economics
food processing
land reforms Covered in Sociology
Liberalization Ramesh Singh
Infra Ramesh Singh/Sriram IAS Notes
investment models Googled the models which were in the news
science-tech day to day life Newspaper
Indian achievements in sci-tech Newspaper
awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPR Newspaper
environmental impact assessment Google
Disaster Management NCERT on Disaster Management + Google
non state actors, internal security Vajiram Notes on internal security
internal security – role of media, social networking site Vajiram Notes on internal security
cyber security Vajiram Notes on internal security
money laundering Vajiram Notes on internal security
border  Management Vajiram Notes on internal security
organized crime, terrorism Vajiram Notes on internal security
security agencies- structure mandate Vajiram Notes on internal security

General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude

Topic How Did You Prepare?
ethics and interface, family, society and all the hathodaa topics Lexicon and ALS Class Notes
attitude, moral influence etc.
civil service: integrity, impartiality, tolerance to weak etc
emotional intelligence, its use in governance
moral thinkers of India and world How many thinkers did you prepare? Did not prepare any thinker specifically.
ethics in pub.ad, accountability, laws, rules etc. Didn’t read the topic specifically, I thought I would attempt the questions from general knowledge
corporate governance
probity in governance, work culture ALS Class Notes
citizen charter, ethics code, work culture etc. Newspaper
challenges of corruption No book
case studies on above topics Practiced a few books from Lexicon

Q. In ethics, they’re asking random definition and concepts out of the book. Most of the serious candidates (both topper and non-toppers) have received marks in similar ranges. What are your observations and tips for future aspirants regarding preparation of this paper?
Ethics is a high scoring paper; hence it must not be ignored. The efforts required in ethics are less as compared to that of other GS Papers. But the material is very scattered, and many topics are vague and open ended. But since it is scoring, it must be studied properly. I think case studies need to be practiced properly, but the first part of the paper (question-answers) also needs to be practiced as they form half of the paper.

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 13 6 1 20
GS2 10 6 3 19
GS3 13 4 2 19
GS4 4 case studies & 7 answers 2 case studies & 2 answers 3 answers 12 questions (out of 15) and 6 case studies
Opt-P1 18 8 2 All 28
Opt-P2 16 10 2 All 28

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]
Before the exam, I had decided to attempt those questions first which I could write the best, then the ones I was less confident about, and towards the end, I moved towards the questions I had no idea about. Due to the intense preparation, we can attempt most questions, so only 1-4 questions come from topics which we have no clue about. For such questions, I wrote a few filler lines towards the end, sparing 2 minutes per answer so that they don’t take a lot of time, but I have filled the paper as well.
I personally feel that attempting all the questions is good, but in the hurry to attempt all the questions, one should not write bad answers for the questions they can write better. So it’s better to leave such questions towards the end, and if there is time attempt them in a hurry or just leave them (the question about McBride committee is an example: I attempted it, but what I wrote was far off from the answer, but I attempted the answer in around 2 minutes after attempting all the other questions)
Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?
I think that fixed space answer sheets are better, as they restricted the space and time that I gave to each answer. Hence, I was able to limit myself, or else I would have written longer answers for many questions I guess, leaving less time for other answers.

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.
For most questions I wrote in bullet points, but for some questions (especially the ones for which I did not have a lot of bullet points :P ) I wrote paragraphs. I preferred bullet points as they save a lot of time, because we can write abstract sentences in bullet-points, but for paragraphs, full sentences need to be written which takes time.
For optional, the number of answers written in paragraph form was a little more than that in GS.
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 tried to follow this pattern in most of the answers. I focused on writing small introductions and conclusions (1-2 lines each) so that they don’t take much time, and they also give a sense of completion to the answers.
I don’t like asking following rudimentary questions, but these are the most frequently asked questions by new aspirants.

Q5. Did you use highlighters / sketchpens in your answers? Yes, I underlined key points/words, especially reports or thinkers (in Sociology)
Q6. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in GS1 Geography) No
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? Blue Pilot Pen

ELASTICITY of Optional Subject Score

Q2. What are you views on following observation: “In CSM-2016, the marking gap between average to brilliant scorers is smaller in Essay to GS papers and interviews; but in optional subjects there is huge difference among average to brilliant scorers.” Therefore, the deciding factor was the marking in the optional. I have not asked this question to suggest in anyways that you got ‘lucky’ with your optional. But I’ve asked this question because these days younger candidates tend to select or change optionals based on how their coaching-walla, peer-group or social media portrays the particular optional subject. E.g. some three Mains back, there was an atmosphere “you should shift from Public Administration to Pol.Sci or Sociology or anthropology because of Public Administration is giving only two digit scores in each paper.” Similarly, two mains back, some were preaching others to avoid LAW optional because not even 20 are getting interview calls and so forth (data unverified). So, kindly provide wisdom for younger aspirants.
I think this is a valid point which has been raised, as aspirants tend to drift from one optional to another as per the atmosphere. I consider myself lucky that my optional did not get ‘butchered’. But I personally feel that:

  • If the so called ‘butchering’ does happen, it is very difficult to predict the status of any optional for any year as there is no fix pattern.
  • Choice of optional subject is the most important decision one takes during the entire preparation phase. Hence it must be a careful and thoughtful decision. Just because someone got marks doesn’t mean one should take that optional. I personally feel interest in an optional is a very important factor.
  • Yes, marks are a very important factor, but since it is difficult to predict the marks for any year, its best to stick to your optional if you are confident about it and are interested in it. If that’s not the case, then one may change it to something else.

Mains Optional Subject

Q. What’s your optional subject and why did you chose it and not something else?
Sociology. I chose Sociology as I found it interesting, it was short and could be completed in less time (hence giving a lot of time for GS) and coaching was available for it. In retrospect, I feel it was a good decision given that there are many questions being asked from Social topics in GS papers 1,2,3 and it helped me essay also.
Q. If a new player wants to pick your subject, would you advice for it or against it?
Yes I would advise for it, but only if they find sociology interesting. Optional subjects provide a break from the intense GS preparation, and they are a relief to read after prelims. If one doesn’t find their optional interesting, then it might be more harmful for their prep.
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.)
Paper 1:

  • Upendra Sir’s class notes
  • Sociology: Themes and Perspectives by Haralambos and Holborn
  • Sociological Theory by Ritzer
  • IGNOU for few topics

I considered Haralambos and Ritzer as the base books, and read them multiple times.

Paper 2:

  • Upendra Sir’s class notes
  • Social Change in India by Yogendra Singh
  • Mahapatra Sir notes
  • Modernization of Indian Tradition by Yogendra Singh
  • Indian Social System by Ram Ahuja
  • Social Problems in India by Ram Ahuja
  • Tribal India by Nadeem Hasnain
  • IGNOU for selected topics

Optional books:

  • Indian Society and Culture by Nadeem Hasnain
  • Principle of Population Studies by Asha Bhende and Tara Kanitkar

Paper 2 is very broad, and finding all the topics in books is difficult and not possible also. Internet research is necessary for a few topics. Also, the Sociology paper is becoming more dynamic, hence following current affairs is necessary.
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?
Sociology is not completely static; hence only relying on the books is not suggested. Supplementing your notes and answers with current events is a good idea. Also, many topics are broad and are not found properly in text books, so internet research is required for such topics.
Q. How many months did it take to finish the core optional syllabus?
The coaching went on for 3.5-4 months. After that it took me 2 months to complete the optional on my own.
Q. How many days/ weeks before the exam, you started answer writing practice?
I started writing answers from September mid (2.5 months before mains). This was my 4th attempt, so I had written answers previous year also, so for this attempt I decided to start writing from Sept.
Q. Do you maintain self-notes for revision of optional? In which format- electronic or paper?
I made hand written short notes for optional.
Q. Your observation about the difficultly level of 2016 mains vs previous papers. And what precautions / rectifications are necessary in the future strategy for given optional subject?
The mains paper for Sociology was on the line of previous years paper only, hence I would not suggest any change in strategy.

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?
I made questions based on my profile, and thought of possible answers for them (and wrote a few points down). For current affairs, I used to think of questions and possible answers while reading the newspaper.
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?
Yes, I attended a few mock interviews. They were very different from the final interview, but the formal setting of mocks helped me stay at ease in the final interview as well. Given that I was 4 years out of college and didn’t have any formal interview experience in the last 4 years, mocks helped me to judge what changes I need to make to my body language etc. in the interview.
Q3. Where did you stay for the interview? (Hotel / friend’s home …) and what books/material did you bring for the ‘revision before interview’?
I have been staying in Delhi for preparation; hence this was not an issue for me.
Q5. Describe the formal-dress worn by you in interview.
I wore a suit.

During the interview

Q1. Who was the chairman of you interview board?
Mr. Arvind Saxena
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?]
Civil services gives me the option to create impact in society; diverse job profile; lots of learning.
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.
So you worked with Centre for Civil Society. What does CCS do?
Who funds it? Does govt. fund it?
So is it still functional, or is it one of the 20000 NGOs that the govt. has shut down? (smiling)
Why did the govt. close down so many NGOs?
What is Belt and Road initiative?
Why is India not participating in it? (the first meeting of OBOR was scheduled that weekend)
Why are other countries not considering it as a security threat, why only India?
What is Nanotechnology? What are its uses?
Why are companies laying off 54000 people in IT sector? What will its impact be?
What will happen to them?
Should the govt. launch an initiative to help these 54000 people?
Why is agriculture production increasing in spite of droughts?
What is drought proofing?
How can you ensure that farmers adopt methods of drought proofing?
What is global warming?
Which countries are being negatively affected, name a few.
Would any country benefit bcoz of it?
What is the Kashmir issue, when did it start?
Why was the west able to control population and not India?
What is the single most important factor in controlling population?
What were the southern states able to control population and not the northern states?

What would you do to ensure that parents send children to school rather than to fields for work? Tell me some practical steps.
Why are teachers not able to teach properly in govt. schools, but the same teacher teaches properly in private tuitions? Why so much difference?
What are the issues with education?
There are allegations that Naxals are supporting the movements in certain parts of Odisha which are opposing industries (hint towards POSCO and Vedanta project). What is your view?
Why are Chinese products selling more than Indian products in Western countries?
What is the difference between the products?
In the present scenario, what is one sector which you think India should focus on with respect to China?
Why is China a popular export hub for textiles than India?
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?
It was partly on prepared lines, and partly on unexpected lines. No, it was not at all a stress interview.
Q6. Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document or do xyz thing, or you’ll face problem”?
Q7. Any word of wisdom / observations about medical checkup?
No, the entire process is pretty comfortable.

CSE-2016 Marksheet

Q1. Please provide both prelim and final mark sheet:

Prelim paper-1 122
Prelim paper-2 134.18
Mains marks
Essay 152
Gs 1 111
Gs 2 87
Gs 3 101
Gs 4 104
Opt 1 151
Opt 2 131
Interview 171
Total 1008

Career Backup

Q1. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?
My career backup plan was to pursue a job in the private sector. For this, I had been building my profile partly. I joined my first job (Pratham) after my first mains; and my second job after I failed to clear prelims in my 3rd attempt.  So I had a total of 8 months of work experience. I was building my profile gradually so that I can join the private sector later on.
Q2. When were you going to “execute” that backup plan? (e.g. after __ number of failed attempts/ after I cross __ age/ after dad retires/ after girlfriend dumps me etc.)
I would have appeared for one more attempt before executing my career back up plan (after my 5th attempt basically). But I had been working on it already whenever I was not studying.

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?
Yes I had my own set of insecurities, and it took me a lot of time to learn how to handle them. Being insecure is a part of the human nature, but one should gradually learn how to handle them. Being insecure may lead to confidence reduction, and it affects your personality a lot. The best way to tackle your insecurities, I feel, is to understand them, the reasons and then logically reason with your own self about it. This way worked for me, hope it works well for other aspirants also. J

Internal Motivation

Q. People know what books and syllabus points are to be prepared. But most of them lack consistency in their preparation. So, how do you keep study momentum going on? How do you fight against the mood swings and distractions?
Mood swings and distractions are your worst enemies during the preparation phase. To tackle this problem, and to keep the study momentum going, it is very important that one understands themselves. It took me some time to gradually realize what my stress busters were, and what my stress enhancers were (apart from studies). And accordingly I used to handle the situation.
I used to take regular breaks, hang out with friends, and go on a trip or something. Such breaks proved to be healthy, and they helped me to stay focused while I was studying. Apart from this, I used to watch motivational videos, read motivational quotes on Pinterest etc. to keep myself motivated.

Struggle of a Senior player

(Answer only if you’re a senior player.)
Q1. How did you survive through this mental prison and what’re your words of wisdom to other senior players? If any specific inspirational incident(s), please share.
This was my 4th attempt. My trajectory has been rather uneven:

  • 1st attempt: Failed to clear prelims
  • 2nd attempt: Appeared for the interview
  • 3rd attempt: Failed to clear prelims
  • 4th attempt: AIR 323

So overall it was a roller coaster ride for me. It was very difficult, and I did feel like giving up many a times, but the only thing that kept me going was my goal. I motivated myself by echoing to myself that ‘If I get selected, then it will all be worth it’. I kept motivating myself, and took healthy and sometimes long breaks so that I did not get frustrated.
Not clearing prelims during my 3rd attempt was the lowest point for me. And I needed some change, so rather than quitting leaving preparation, I decided to take a break. Hence, I joined a think tank, and in retrospect I feel it was a very good decision. So try to changing your surroundings, or take healthy break, do something you enjoy etc. if you feel frustrated or depressed. J
Q2. What went wrong in your previous attempt? What changes did you make in this current attempt?
I can compare my 2nd and 4th attempts (I appeared for mains during my 2nd attempt).
I made the following changes:

  • Focus was on answer writing: Structure of answer, presentation of points, crisp and holistic answers. In my earlier mains, I was not able to write many answers for practice, hence I tried to write as much as possible.
  • Content wise: I tried to remember more things which were relevant.
  • Sociology was a key focus area. I improved my score in Paper 1 from 107 in 2nd attempt to 151 in this attempt due to continued efforts.

Apart from this, other things were more or less the same.

Grand wisdom

Q. Through this struggle and success, what have your learned? What is the wisdom of life and competition? What is your message to the new aspirants?
The entire journey has been a mixture of many emotions. It has been frustrating, stressful, uncertain, but it has also been enriching, interesting, adventurous. Overall, it has taught me many things. A very important takeaway for me, from these 4 years has been that: no matter how low we reach in life (however hard the circumstances), there is always a chance to bounce back. I also learnt how to be patient in life, and how to stay focused and sincere for something as uncertain as UPSC.
Q. Many hardworking candidates have failed in Mains/Interview of CSE-2016 and scored quite low in Prelims-2017. They’re feeling cynical, hopeless and depressed- what is your message to them?
The cycle of UPSC makes us go through hard and difficult times, but don’t lose hope. Keep calm and study. A result is never a judge for anyone, so don’t judge yourself based on these failures, you can and will do much better next time. Try and stay focused, motivate yourself and pray for the best. May the force be with you. All the best! J

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?
Yes, there are many people whom I would like to thank. The first ones would be my parents, who saw the civil service dream in the first place and kept me motivated and sacrificed a lot for me. I would also like to thank my brothers (Dheeraj and Madhav) who supported me during my failures. A big thank you to my friends who stood by me, and motivated me for 4 long years, especially during many late night conversations.

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 during the initial period of my preparation, when I had just started preparing.
It was extremely helpful to clear my concepts during that time. I downloaded many questions, papers and material from Mrunal.