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. Strategy for Public Administration Optional
  18. Marksheet
  19. Career Backup
  20. Views on UPSC reforms
  21. Insecurity about profile
  22. Internal Motivation
  23. Struggle of a Senior player
  24. Struggle of Working professional
  25. Grand wisdom
  26. Credit: Friends/family
  27. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate Profile

Akanksha Tiwari

Q. Details
Name Akanksha Tiwari
Rank in CSE-2016 552
Roll No. 0353628
Age 29
Total attempts in CSE (including this one) 5
Optional Subject Public administration
Schooling Medium English
College Medium English
Medium chosen for Mains answers English
Medium chosen for Interview English
Home town/city Bhopal
Work-experience if any ~ 2 years
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failures Cleared IBPS CWE thrice..failed always in SBI and RBI
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used) Coaching – Pavan Kumar Sir, Mocks – insights, and online courses through neostencil.com.
Service preferences (Top-5) IAS>IPS>IFS>IRS>IRS(C&CE)
state cadre preference (Top-5) MP>RAJ>Mh>C.G.>U.Khand


Education fill the details here
% in class 10 85.6%
% in class 12 76%
Graduation course and % B.E. (computer sc) 80%
Name of college, city, passing out year R.G.P.V university Bhopal
passed in 2009
Post-graduation P.G.D.F.M.


Q. Tell us something about yourself, your family, when and why did you enter in this field of competitive exams?
I am from Bhopal and I appeared for UPSC prelims in 2012 when my parents asked me to. At that point of time I was freshly out of MBA and while working was still confused as to what to do with my career. I never was prepared for UPSC and gave the prelims as I used to appear for every other exam on every Sunday (on parents’ suggestion).
My father retired from the post of Joint Director of Industries, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh. And my mother is a lawyer. I am eldest of three siblings. (all girls – imagine the pressure on my parents!).
I decided to enter this field after I worked in the development sector as a consultant. Its then I decided to make a career in public sector and wanted to be on one side of the table.

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)
Till 2015 I used to work somewhere or the other..I completely stopped working after July 2015..till then soft copies and online note making helped me keep my preparation going.
I have notes in both soft as well as hard copy. Some notes I have online using evernote app.. I mail myself certain pdfs and articles which I can access from everywhere if I can’t log in to Evernote. I prefer reading newspaper online
But I have written notes too.. For example I have Spectrum’s notes in my own writing ..
I read NCERTs in soft copies and made notes on Word..then got the concise notes printed..same goes for economic survey..
I used to take help of videos available online – need to mention Mrunal sir’s eco survey series and also the mains revision series..i followed the two religiously. I have made notes too and revised thoroughly.. everyone in my family knows his name J because I used to praise him multiple times.
CONCLUSION: A mix of handwritten notes and online notes was my strategy..don’t over think on these peripheral issues..just go ahead with whatever rows your boat.

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. Age limit’s bol bachchan affected me but I learnt that all the rumours are waste of time. One Shouldn’t waste their energy on these. Eventually UPSC is the decision maker..aspirants can’t do anything. So don’t get involved in such discussions too much..
Daily hrs spent on whatsapp and telegram studygroups A lot..I’m addicted..when required I uninstall whatsapp to prevent myself from checking my phone
Daily hrs spent on online for exam prep. Can’t answer in exact numbers..but quite a lot
Primary Device for online study: desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile Laptop and mobile

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.)
Newspaper- I use evernote – I cope paste the whole article and delete the irrelevant things..and making bullets of the relevant points..I give it a tag of the topic in the syllabus ..helps me save a lot of time
Eco survey – while watching online video I make notes and revise them
Standard books – history spectrum : I made notes..
polity laxmikant: marked in the book itself-no need to make notes its precise enough
Carts: either highlight the imp lines or copy paste the imp lines in a word file

Prelims (CSAT) Paper-1: General studies

Topic strategy/booklist/comment
History Ancient NCERT
History Medieval NCERT/Internet
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) Spectrum
Culture and society Ncert+current material+internet
Polity (theory + current) Laxmikant+ncert+pavan sir’s notes
Economy (theory + current) Ramesh singh + Mrunal +my study partner’s (Aditya)  tuitions J
Science (theory + current) Current affairs booklets + ncert + internet
Environment (theory + current) Current affairs + ncerts (yes I did not refer Shankar books)
geography physical Ncert + my friend Aditya has been my geography teacher throughout
geography India
geography world
other national/international current affairs Standard Current affairs material available in the market
Schemes, Policy & Filler Stuff Public admin was my optional so my notes did the work

Prelims (CSAT): Paper-2: Aptitude

Topic strategy / booklist
Maths Never prepared
Decision Making

Prelim accuracy

Q1. Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? do you think they’re necessary for success?
There are 2 categories of aspirants –

  1. Who prefer reading as much as possible and can apply whatever they have read with ease.
  2. Those who read thoroughly but need test papers to LEARN to apply what they have read.

I fall in the second category..i had joined insights test series for regular practice..dont be bogged down by intelligent people saying they don’t need to practice for prelims..i accepted that im not that wise and I need to practice for prelims too..please know urself first for this exam (too deep I know J)
Q2. Approximate no. of attempted answers vs. correct answers. in Prelim-2016

attempted Q. correct (Expected) Official score
GS 89 68 122
aptitude Don’t remember

Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paper Your preparation strategy / booklist?
English paper None required
your regional language None required – 8th standard hindi grammar book- my mom’s collecting technique helped me find the book J

Q. other observations / tips / comments on the length / difficulty level of compulsory language papers in CSE-2016
English was quite tough.. people (in my mains centre) were visibly disappointed..even I knew it wasn’t that easy as it used to be
U need to be calm – its language paper..please don’t fail this atleast..

Mains: Essay

Q1. How did you prepare for the essay paper?
Never prepared .. I had faith in my school time writing abilities..we had to write a lot of essays during our school time..it somehow helped me..
Q2. Which two essays did you write and What key points did you include in it?
If development is not engendered, it is endangered – I didn’t include LGBT community I only focused on women-I used examples of certain countries and women participation in their economy- by the virtue of what we studied for GS-1/3
Cooperative federalism: Myth or reality.-  to be honest-  I just spilt out what pavan kumar sir had taught us in class – I overshot the word limit and had to conclude abruptly in the rough space available – this might have costed me some marks
I scored 133 finally
In 2014 – when I wrote essay for the first time I scored 124 – so please don’t go by my preparation for essay – if u need practice u must follow what other toppers’ have said

General Studies (Mains) paper 1

Topic How did you prepare?
Culture Internet + culture section of current affairs booklets + newspaper
Indian history Spectrum – read – reread 100 times
World history Ncert+ videos – if u find it trivial please go for the videos – its too much for too less marks ..
Post-independence India Ncerts + previous years’ questions
Indian society Newspaper reading + chokka sir’s notes + pavan sir’s notes: we can’t prepare for every question because the topics are open ended and essay-ish. So keep your eyes and ears open and let ur brain make connections of any example u hear or read in the news..keep notes of such examples in a separate table which u keep updating ..eventually u will have a list of examples and instances which u can use in all the 4 papers.
This exam is about interlinkages
Role of women, poverty etc.
Globalization on Indian society
Communalism, Regionalism, Secularism
World Geo Physical NCERT + my study partner’s notes J
I was scared of geography and he (aditya) was my teacher throughout..
p.s: if u have studied well during ur prelims for history and geography then u need not give too much time for it here..paper 1 will be left with:  a)world history which u can prepare for quickly through either videos or ncerts and b) social issues – which is covered in all papers
be prepared to get questions from across the papers too for eg this year Indus water treaty was asked in paper 1 instead of gs2- our aim is to revise everything so that any such thing happens we are prepared to answer it
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. Public administration as an optional was really helpful for this section .. pavan sir’s notes were all I read for this section..and answer writing is very imp for paper 2 because on an average the marks they award is low. So we need to put in extra effort for this paper.
Please attempt previous year’s papers for sure
A note for Pub ad optional students : pub ad answers will help a lot in this paper  but make sure we don’t make it apparent from our answers that the person writing the paper has pub ad as his optional..
comparing Constitution with world
parliament, state Legislatures
ministries departments
pressure group, informal asso.
Representation of people’s act
various bodies: Constitutional, statutory..
NGO, SHG etc
welfare schemes, bodies
social sector, health, edu, HRD
governance, transparency, accountability
role of civil service
India & neighbors Chokka sir’s IR (undoubtedly)
bilateral/global grouping
effect of foreign country policies on Indian interest
international bodies- structure mandate

General studies (Mains) Paper 3

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilization
  1. Mrunal sir’s lessons – make notes and revise multiple times.
  2. Official documents – These topics can be easily covered while studying for basic static economics along with a thorough reading of eco survey. We need to answer using the points the official documents state – like eco survey or findings of committees..

Keep in mind such sources .. need not to go for a PhD in such sources but its imp to find relevant points for every topic..
For ex: farm subsidies – sources can be the newspaper articles + eco survey  + international summits that take place releasing their official documents
After a few articles one might find that many points are getting repeated – so it will save ur time as u might not have to make notes everytime.. – if u find a new point u can copy paste it directly in ur online notes – here is where the online notes come handy


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
investment models
science-tech day to day life Didn’t give much attention to this section – as I get worked up by hearing ICBMs, submarines etc etc.
But I knew something of everything ..like the applications of nanotechnology, IPR issues etc
so I didn’t go for deep knowledge but covered all the topics lightly
Indian achievements in sci-tech
awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPR
environmental impact assessment
Disaster Management Pavan sir’s notes and current affairs
non state actors, internal security Pub ad optional + newspaper articles
No separate preparation
Gained knowledge through the articles read and points gathered during answer writing practices
internal security – role of media, social networking site
cyber security
money laundering
border  Management
organized crime, terrorism
security agencies- structure mandate

General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude

I blindly trusted pavan sir’s notes on ethics and no other source so if u want to skip this u can.
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?
Try answering such questions in simple English and write in simple words what’s your understanding. But if they ask factual questions like seven sins according to Gandhiji then we cant use our imagination. Its better to skip the question.

Mains answer-writing?

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 focused on completing the paper. I wrote all the answers possible. If there were questions which I had no ideas about for eg McBride commission.i didn’t waste even one second of my 3 hours.
Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?
It didn’t matter. I was able to answer in the fixed space. It can be called as a boon. Fixed space helps us not to waste time on one question. Try and practice if it is a problem for you.
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 tables bullet points where ever possible. Where there were questions of difference between or compare between I wrote it in table form.
And yes I didn’t bother about the jargon words – examine,discuss etc.. I wrote the answers in a set pattern . intro-positive points+negative points-conclusion on a positive note.
But in some questions, when there was no time left but I knew the answer for eg paper 3 there was a question about nanotech-no intro or conclusion I could think of and less time- I wrote in bullets only.
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.
Introduction: I am very bad at writing introduction for an answer. But I got a tip that in intro we can write the “why” part of the question, that is, why XYZ happens..
There are some questions where you can easily write intro in this format but there are certain questions where you can’t think of anything so please don’t fret over such issues it wont happen that u wont be able to write intro for all 20 questions.
Conclusion: conclusion must be on a positive note always. Again in technical questions we cant conclude in such a manner. Don’t worry about it too much.answer the main question only.
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? NO. not needed. Plz use normal pen to underline.
Q6. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in GS1 Geography) Yes. Wherever possible
Q7. If yes, Did you draw diagrams with pencil or pen? Pen only.
Q8. Did you use ruler to draw the lines in diagram? Or did you just make it by hand? Not at all.. not needed.. we are short of time. Don’t waste time over this
Q9. You wrote the answer in blue pen or black pen? Blue

Strategy for Public Administration Optional

  • Work on inter linkages
  • Don’t fall into traps of ‘new syllabus’ ‘hidden syllabus’.. if u have studied the right things. U will never bother about such issues.
  • I followed pavan kumar sir ..His method of teaching and his notes helped me not only in pub ad but in essay gs1, gs2 as well..
  • Answer writing pRactice weekly..Not daily..I joined pavan Sir’s test series.
  • 5.dont over think about which book to study or which one to leave… Whatever clears ur basic u need to learn from that..Pub ad students write good answers in g.s. papers too..
  • Simple way of answering would really help gain marks.
  • About thinkers: (I hope this doesn’t look like I have got money for promotion) … I have been appearing for upsc with pub ad as my subject since the beginning.after joining pavan sir..I didn’t look back at my previous notes and just followed his class notes ..Esp the thinkers part is being taught by him in such a manner as I had studied never before.i score 287 marks.. and I was able.to answer all the questions in the paper..I owe the good marks to sir only.


Mains marks
Essay 133
Gs 1 102
Gs 2 87
Gs 3 110
Gs 4 109
Opt 1 128
Opt 2 158
Written total 827
Interview 165
Total 992

Career Backup

Q1. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?
I had 2 jobs luckily before the result came out. One in Ernst and Young and the other in National Skill Development Corportation . but this was due to my previous work experience.
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.)
This was my fifth attempt and my dad retired in 2015 December. So this year I had to start working anyhow. So I started giving interviews for job.

Views on UPSC reforms

Q. Optional subjects should be removed altogether. The present stalemate is helping no-one, except coaching-owners, book publishers.
Optional should be removed or atleast the uncertainity should be removed. UPSC keeps it under veil about every optional. Each year one or the other subject is butchered. I believe this should be done away with.
Q. Your views on the decision to make CSAT paper 33% qualifying?
I believe it wasn’t a positive move. I support the 2014-form of pre. One must know how to calculate simple maths. Though there should not be direct English to Hindi translation which was the main contention. The questions must be set by actual Hindi speaking profs and not use google to translate.
Q. UPSC should disclose official prelim answerkey and cutoffs, immediately after prelim is over, instead of postponing it till interview phase is over.
I strongly agree to this point. I guess this will help many students to know their exact position. After prelims and start planning according to their marks.

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 understand such insecurities very well. But one thing I have learned is that this exam is a great leveler. Whatever college or stream you are from if u study with consistency and fight with perseverance you will succeed.
Remember revision and perseverance are the only two things needed for this exam. If you learn these, you will be able to acquire other things needed for this exam automatically.

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?
If you don’t feel like studying on a particular day, don’t study. When you will loiter around guilt conscious would eventually force you to study the next day with better efficiency. Remember, you cant study daily for 10 hours. As my study partner Aditya  says, “set realistic and small goals-for when you will achieve them you will sleep peacefully at the end of the day”.

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 am-5th attempt and 29 years of age  As a senior player – There are better and more intelligent people entering UPSC court each year. What we have as an advantage is that we hopefully have by-hearted the syllabus by now and can fit the pieces of information available daily at relevant places. We now can differentiate from what’s necessary from what is not important. Experience matters in swing papers like this year’s prelims.
As a girl – 2016 saw a number of female candidates with amazing success stories. One is a mother of two children the other struggled with her bone disorder, one was pregnant with a child while writing mains. Im so proud that im going to meet these wonder women. My story is not as hard as theirs. But I struggled in my own ways. I had left a number of jobs before getting this one. One of them was Bank P.O. Also, there were concerns about my parents’ being careless of their three daughters and their marriage. I’m happy that my parents never made marriage a priority and the three of us are doing fine in our own ways. J
Q2. What went wrong in your previous attempt? What changes did you make in this current attempt?
Current attempt included:

  •  a lot of revision
  • No multiplicity of resources
  • Correct guidance from teachers like Pavan sir
  • Writing as much as possible in mains
  • Not following the common mistake of writing in paragraphs
  • Practicing for prelims in mock tests
  • Revision !

Struggle of Working professional

If you’re a working professional, share some tips on how to manage studies with job
I quit my job for preparation. Hats off to those who manage to succeed in this exam while working.

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?
Your past records will not work here. You will have to change your strategy every once in a while. Don’t sjhow off the limited knowledge you have to your non-aspirant friends-they might be smarter than you are. At the same time don’t waste your time with people who want you to know the capital of all Indian states and countries in the world. Don’t explain them why Trump won the election or why monsoon happens. Learn to observe and enjoy. This preparation can make you either bitter or better. You choose what you want to be.
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?
I believe the people who couldn’t make it this time didn’t lack anything but luck. Believe in yourself. Those who clear this exam know that we were lucky to be on this side. The ones who clear and the ones who do not have only one thing more than you-that’s luck. And luck works in a funny manner. I am quoting Aishwarya Sharma (AIR 168 -2016) in UPSC there is a threshold of hard work..once you cross that threshold only luck plays an important role. So we need to work really hard to cross that threshold.
Start rolling your dices again. Start climbing the ladders and get bitten by snakes. It’s a game of snakes and ladders. 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?
Family – my parents (only talked but) didn’t pressurize me for getting married. I turned 29 in 2016.My father esp. asked me not to worry about the marriage drama. My younger sisters cheered me up when I was bogged down during my preparation. They used all sorts of tools to keep me motivated and happy. I can’t thank them enough.
Friends- friends play an imp part of your prep. Its imp that u study with a bunch of aspirants who are as serious as you are. I was lucky that I had some of the best lot. I must mention my best friend and study partner Aditya Agrawal here. We used to divide topics amongst us and he used to teach me full subjects like Geography J. He has been an integral part in my prep. I’m waiting for his name to appear in the list soon. J

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.  
Yes. I have been reading Mrunal.org since 2013. I loved the funny and non formal tone of articles of Mrunal sir and couldn’t stop following the site hence. I even participated (and got praised :D) in the mains compilation exercise in 2013 December. I religiously follow and make notes of the eco survey videos and other videos uploaded on YouTube. In 2016, I and my study partner used to follow the mains exercise on YouTube.
I even suggest my sister who is doing B.A.L.L.B to read certain topics from Mrunal.org if she doesn’t understand something.
Sir is doing all this for free. I can’t thank him enough.