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. Mains Optional Subject
  18. Before the interview
  19. During the interview
  20. CSE-2017 Marksheet
  21. Career Backup
  22. Views on UPSC reforms
  23. Insecurity about profile
  24. Grand wisdom
  25. Credit: Friends/family
  26. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate – Profile

UPSC Topper IAS Saumya Sharma

Q. Details
Name Saumya Sharma
Rank in CSE-2017 9
Roll No. 0003674
Age 23
Marital Status Unmarried
Total attempts in CSE (including this one) 1
Optional Subject Law
Schooling Medium English
College Medium English
Medium chosen for Mains answers English
Medium chosen for Interview English
Home town/city Delhi
Work-experience if any No permanent employment, but I did many internships during college (with Hon’ble Justice Bhat of the Delhi HC; PRS Legislative Research; Human Rights Law Network; a couple of law firms, and with practicing advocates)
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failures Cracked law entrance exams CLAT and AILET in 2012
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used)
  • No coaching, but joined many test series:
  • Insights Test Series for prelims
  • Vision IAS Test Series for GS and Essay
  • Lukmaan Test Series for Ethics available on Neostencil.com
  • Ambition Law Institute Test Series for Law Optional
Service preferences (Top-5)
  • IAS
  • IRS (IT)
  • IRS (CE)
  • IFS
  • ICLS
Preference for the first states in top-3 zonal cadres. AGMUT, Haryana (different cadre rules apply for PH candidates)


Education fill the details here
% in class 10 CGPA 10/10
% in class 12 94
Graduation course and % B.A.; LL.B. (Hons.),

CGPA 7.03/8

Name of college, city, passing out year National Law University, Delhi. Graduated in June 2017.
Any other professional courses
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievements Hobbies: Travelling, Reading, Photography, Map reading

Extracurriculars: Winner of National Legislative Drafting Competition 2014; Represented my university at the Warsaw Negotiation Round 2015 held in Warsaw, Poland.


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

Hello everyone. I am Saumya Sharma. I was born and brought up in Delhi. I am a lawyer by profession, having graduated from National Law University, Delhi in 2017. My parents are doctors. My sense of hearing deteriorated steeply when I was 16 years old, and I have been using hearing aids since then.

My first brush with competitive exams was when I appeared for the law entrance exams CLAT and AILET in 2012. Later, while pursuing law I decided to write the civil service examination. My motivation to write the examination was due to the unique platform provided by the civil services to serve the country in a meaningful way.

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)

Since I did not join any coaching, I referred to online material quite generously. Chalk your own selective strategy once you know what all sources can be used. Make sure to refer to only trusted sources. Also, one must ensure that time is not being spent in covering the same topic from multiple online sources.

Books and newspapers are important in their own right, so proper time should be given to traditional sources as well. Regarding newspapers, I used to read The Hindu before prelims, and post prelims I was reading The Indian Express in addition to The Hindu.

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
Daily hrs spent on whatsapp and telegram studygroups 0
Daily hrs spent on online for exam prep. Around 3-4
Primary Device for online study: desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile Tablet and laptop

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

I had deleted all social media apps, including whatsapp, from my phone while I was preparing for the examination to minimize all distractions.

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.)

I made hand written notes for a large part of the syllabus. I relied on my own notes extensively, and revised them atleast 4-5 times. I used to read primary sources such as reports etc. and would condense them to make notes that were quick to revise. I also made handwritten notes of newspaper editorials and articles, and these were extremely helpful for answering GS papers. However, for books such as Laxmikant and Spectrum, I did not make my own notes but instead referred directly to the text.

Prelims (CSAT) Paper-1: General studies

Topic strategy/booklist/comment
History Ancient Old NCERT by RS Sharma, new NCERTs
History Medieval NCERTs
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) Spectrum, Old NCERT by Bipan Chandra
Culture and society CCRT, 11th class Art NCERT
Polity (theory + current) Laxmikant, The Hindu, Vision Monthly Magazine
Economy (theory + current) Mrunal, Sriram IAS material, Vision Monthly Magazine
Science (theory + current) Arihant, Vision Monthly Magazine
Environment (theory + current) Shankar IAS, Vision Monthly Magazine
geography physical Goh Cheh Leong, NCERTs
geography India NCERTs
geography world Oxford India Atlas
other national/international current affairs The Hindu, InsightsonIndia, Vision Monthly Magazine
Schemes, Policy & Filler Stuff Vision 365 modules

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?

I believe that it is a step in the positive direction if UPSC is testing candidates on their deeper understanding of subjects. Rote learning done for prelims has no use in mains, so it is good if the prelims paper asks analytical questions. This will ensure candidates do serious preparation for all stages of the examination.


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?

I would probably start preparing earlier, as I started my formal UPSC preparation only on 19 February 2017. Due to this reason, I had to spend extremely long hours studying under a lot of stress.

Prelims (CSAT): Paper-2: Aptitude

Topic strategy / booklist
Maths Practiced from SSC exam book covering basic maths questions
Reasoning Did not refer to any book
Comprehension Did not refer to any book
Decision Making Did not refer to any book

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:

I would suggest everyone to not take any paper lightly, including CSAT. Take out some time to practice questions where you feel there is scope to improve. Try solving past year CSAT papers to manage time better.

Prelim accuracy

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

Yes, I joined online test series by Insights. I also practiced some of the Vision IAS preliminary mock tests. I think they are important for success, as one is able to practice attempting the examination in a controlled environment.

Q2. Approximate no. of attempted answers vs. correct answers. in Prelim-2017

attempted Q. correct (Expected) Official score
GS 89 Don’t remember 116
aptitude Don’t remember 86.68


Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paper Your preparation strategy / booklist?
English paper Did not prepare
your regional language Read a few Hindi newspaper editorials; made a list of good hindi words to use in essay; learnt muhavra, paryayvachi shabd; wrote one essay in Hindi and got it checked by my father

Q. other observations / tips / comments on the length / difficulty level of compulsory language papers in CSE-2017

If you have had an English medium education, do take out some time to practice writing your regional language in a formal manner.

Mains: Essay

Q1. How did you prepare for the essay paper?

  • I joined a test series to practice essay writing. I also used to get my essays reviewed by my mother, to get a fresh perspective. You can read my comprehensive essay strategy here: https://saumya711.wordpress.com/

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

  • I wrote on agriculture and women. The points that I wrote in my essays covered the issues extensively. I also referred to the current dimensions of the topic to demonstrate my full understanding of the issues.

General Studies (Mains) paper 1

Topic How did you prepare?
Culture NiOS, CCRT, 11th class NCERT on Art, Old NCERTs by RS Sharma and Satish Chandra (referred to chapters on culture from the old NCERTs)
Indian history Spectrum, Old NCERT by Bipin Chandra
world history Vision IAS PDF- it is very comprehensive
post-independence India India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha (had read this some years earlier, and the base this book provided helped me quite a lot), and Vision IAS PDF
Indian society Newspapers (did not have to prepare as I had studied sociology in my law school)
role of women, poverty etc. Newspapers, mrunal.com’s detailed articles on the poverty line reports
globalization on Indian society Read a few articles on the internet
communalism, regionalism, secularism Newspapers
world geo physical Goh Cheh Leong
resource distribution NCERTs, PMF IAS material
factors for industrial location Mrunal.org’s articles- they are top notch. Thanks Mrunal sir!
earthquake tsunami etc NCERT, PMF IAS material
impact on flora-fauna Newspapers, the internet (did a google search)

General studies (Mains) paper 2

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian Constitution, devolution, dispute redressal etc. Laxmikant, DD Basu (I had law optional so GS2 topics were easier to prepare for me)
comparing Constitution with world Vision IAS PDF
parliament, state Legislatures Laxmikant
executive-judiciary Laxmikant
ministries departments The internet
pressure group, informal asso. Laxmikant
Representation of people’s act Vision IAS PDF
various bodies: Constitutional, statutory.. Laxmikant
NGO, SHG etc Vision IAS PDF, Laxmikant
welfare schemes, bodies Newspapers, current affairs compilations
social sector, health, edu, HRD Newspapers
governance, transparency, accountability ARC reports
e-governance ARC reports, insightsonindia post on e-governance
role of civil service ARC reports
India & neighbors Newspapers, made self notes with the help of Wikipedia and other articles
bilateral/global grouping Same as above
effect of foreign country policies on Indian interest Newspapers
Diaspora The internet, newspapers, coverage on pravasi bhartiya divas
international bodies- structure mandate Shankar IAS notes

General studies (Mains) Paper 3

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilization Mrunal Sir’s videos (I cannot express it enough how useful they were for me), Sriram IAS notes
inclusive growth Same as above
Budgeting Same as above, plus Ramesh Singh’s book
major crops, irrigation Shankar IAS book on agriculture
agro produce – storage, marketing Same as above, plus Mrunal.org articles on agriculture
e-technology for famers Newspapers
farm subsidies, MSP Shankar IAS agriculture book
PDS, buffer, food security Same as above
technology mission The Internet
animal rearing economics The internet
food processing Shankar IAS agriculture book, newspapers, the internet
land reforms Vision IAS PDF
Liberalization The internet
Infra Newspapers, the internet
investment models Used the internet to fully understand the different models
science-tech day to day life Google search, made short notes
Indian achievements in sci-tech Same as above
awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPR Same as above
environmental impact assessment Shankar IAS environment book
Disaster Management NDMA website, made notes out of the reports published on the website
non state actors, internal security McGraw Hill’s book on internal security; newspapers; the internet (websites such as IDSA helped a lot)
internal security – role of media, social networking site Same as above
cyber security Same as above
money laundering Same as above
border  Management Same as above
organized crime, terrorism Same as above
security agencies- structure mandate Same as above

General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude

  • For my detailed ethics strategy, please refer to this post: https://saumya711.wordpress.com/
  • Another thing- do try to cover all the topics mentioned in the syllabus. If covered well, you can certainly enhance your GS score.

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 18 2 0 20
GS3 19 1 0 20
GS4 All 0 0 All
Opt-P1 All 0 0 All
Opt-P2 All 0 0 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]

I was able to attempt all questions. However, if someone does not know anything at all about a particular question then it is best to leave it. Writing a namesake answer may leave a negative impression on the examiner about your preparation.

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

The space was sufficient for GS but I would have liked more space to write my essays. I was short on space in the essay I wrote on women and had to end it hastily.

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.

My answers were a combination of bullets and paragraphs, depending on the kind of question I was answering. Bullet points make the answer clearer. However small paragraphs should be inserted in between the bullets to make the answer read with a flow.

Q. Did you follow the “introduction-body-conclusion” format? because some mains-qualified candidates claim they simply wrote the points they could recall within the time, instead of bothering with proper introduction and conclusion.

Yes, I followed the introduction-body-conclusion format for all my answers. The format not only helps your answers look better but also helps you think in a comprehensive manner.

You can find my test series copies here: https://saumya711.wordpress.com

Q. 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
Q6. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in GS1 Geography) None at all.
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 V5 pen

Mains Optional Subject

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

My optional subject was law. Choosing it was a natural choice as I had spent 5 years studying law sincerely at National Law University, Delhi.


Q. If a new player wants to pick your subject, would you advice for it or against it?

Law is an interesting optional subject, and studying law definitely helps with GS2 preparation.

However, I would caution aspirants about two things. One, the syllabus for law optional is quite vast and can take a considerable time to finish if one has not studied it properly before. Second, law may not be a very scoring subject. (This observation is based on my limited exposure to the law optional scores in 2016 and 2017. It may take a different turn next year. So take this optional only if you have a genuine interest in the study of law.)


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.)

Please refer to my detailed law optional strategy here: https://saumya711.wordpress.com

Q. How much of internet-research / current affairs is necessary for this optional? OR can one simply rely on the books and be done with this subject?

Books are very essential to cover the basics of the subject. Internet research too is required for some topics such as contemporary legal developments, the recent judgments that are delivered etc.

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

Since I had spent my graduation covering this subject in detail, I already had my comprehensive notes for bulky subjects such as Constitutional law and Criminal Law. So I was able to finish my optional subject in about 2 months after prelims, alongside my GS preparation.

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

I started answer writing practice about 6 weeks after the prelims paper by joining GS test series.

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

Yes, I made my own handwritten short notes for revision. These included judgment names, section numbers and other important points.

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 started by preparing every aspect of my DAF properly. In addition to The Indian Express and The Hindu which I was reading for mains preparation, I started reading The Times of India and Economic Times to cover all sort of news for the interview.

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 5 mock interviews. Only one of them at KSG was similar to the actual UPSC interview. I think one should attend mock interviews as it reveals our flaws and gives us an opportunity to work on them.

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 belong to Delhi so this was not an issue for me.

Q5. Describe the formal-dress worn by you in interview.

I wore a light green khadi silk saree.

During the interview

Q1. Who was the chairman of you interview board?

Sh. Arvind Saxena

Q2. How long was the interview?

35 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 reason was that civil services would provide me with the legitimate platform to bring about change in our society. A career in a law firm would have kept me restricted to the issues faced by my immediate clients, and would not have allowed me to work at a larger scale for the society.

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]

They asked me questions from my DAF and from current affairs. I was also asked a rapid fire round on criminal law, which I knew the answers to. I was asked of my opinion on Trump, on demonetization. I was also asked questions on net neutrality, on equalization levy and on wilful defaulters. One of the members asked me questions on environment law, and on the constitutional and legislative framework regarding water. I was able to answer these questions well.

I particularly enjoyed answering the question asked from my hobby of map reading. I was asked by the Chairman- “If I travel from Delhi to Sudan via road, what all countries will I cross?’ I was able to provide him with the entire list of countries that will be crossed.

Overall, my entire interview was quite pleasant. My confidence level too remained adequate throughout. There were certain questions that I could not hear properly, so I asked them to repeat it for me and they kindly did. It was an honour to sit at the round table with the esteemed board members and answer their questions.


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?

Yes, my interview was on expected lines. There was some initial nervousness, but all that went away when the chairman began the interview.

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

Don’t forget to bring your ID card with you.

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


CSE-2017 Marksheet

Q1. Please provide both prelim and final mark sheet:

Prelims Paper-1 116
Prelims Paper-2 86.68
Mains Subjects Marks
Essay 160
GSM1 115
GSM2 125
GSM3 145
GSM4 111
Optional Paper-1 143
Optional Paper-2 144
Written Total 943
Interview 165
Final 1108


Career Backup

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

There was no backup plan, as I had rejected three job offers to prepare for UPSC. My only plan was to put in all my effort to sincerely prepare for UPSC and hope that I get selected.

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 did not think about that.

Views on UPSC reforms

Q. Optional subjects should be removed altogether. The present stalemate is helping no-one, except coaching-owners, book publishers.

Yes, optional should be removed and instead papers that have a direct relation with the services should be introduced.

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

It is a good move.

Q. Despite what UPSC has done in last seven years in syllabus and pattern change, it has failed to curb the nuisance of Delhi’s coaching factories and the readymade e-material sellers. In fact, it’s increased under the new Mains-syllabus post-2013. Let’s face it, UPSC added so many topics and so many random questions, even fulltime student struggles to gather and process all standard reference books and material himself within the short time available to him.

The syllabus can be covered well within time if one is smart about his/her preparation.

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

Yes, it should be disclosed at the earliest.

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?

Each one of us faces some or the other insecurity. Do not let your insecurities overpower you. Instead, focus on your strengths and the qualities you possess.


Grand wisdom

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 used to keep the goal in my mind. I used to remind myself of how the daily mood swings and distractions would not matter in the larger scheme of things. Any time I would feel low (which I did multiple times, as I started preparing in my final semester when most of my batchmates were enjoying the last months in college), I would remind myself of what lies ahead if I am able to clear this exam successfully.

If your goal is honest, and if you are honest with yourself and your preparation, you will be able to stay motivated. I used to also keep myself surrounded by positive thoughts- you can read this photo essay to know more https://saumya711.wordpress.com/2018/05/08/the-upsc-journey-a-photo-essay/

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 have learned that focused and dedicated hardwork does not go unrewarded. I have also learned that a lot of factors are out of our control, and it is best to face the worst of times with optimism than to give up in the face of hardship.

My mains experience of writing the exams with a 102 degree fever, with a canula inserted in my left hand and getting IV drip injected thrice a day, taught me humility. My experience made me realize that despite the best of our planning, our efforts may not go the way we want them to. And in these circumstances, it is best that we put our best foot forward and face whatever life is throwing our way. The worst of circumstances are testing times that have the potential to reveal our inner strength and dedication towards our goal.

I wrote about my mains experience on my blog in December 2017. You can read more here: https://saumya711.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/are-human-endeavours-really-limitless-upsc-mains-2017-my-experience/

Q. Many hardworking candidates have failed in Mains/Interview of CSE-2017. They’re feeling cynical, hopeless and depressed- what is your message to them?

Do not give up. Let nothing stop you from realizing your goal. Be true to yourself, and be honest with your preparation. Remember this famous quote: if winter comes, can spring be far behind?

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 mother and father were my biggest supporters. They not only have supported all my decisions (such as taking medical stream subjects in school and then deciding to not give medical entrance but to pursue law instead; of my decision to reject my high paying job offers and start preparing for UPSC), but they also helped me as mentors during my preparation.

My family and my close friend placed a lot of belief in me. Because they believed in me, it became easier for me to believe in myself. It was possible for me to crack this exam in a comparatively short period of time with the necessary support and stability provided to me by the closest people in my life.

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, mrunal.org was a very valuable resource for me throughout my preparation. The initial videos that I watched on economy helped me form a very strong base which continues to help me even now whenever I read economy related editorials in the newspaper. The articles posted on GS3 topics before mains also helped me a lot while answering the mains exams. Thank you Mrunal sir for your wonderful initiative. I am sure there are many more selected candidates who share the same sentiment with me!

Visit Mrunal.org/Toppers for More Success Stories and Motivational Interviews!