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-2018 Marksheet
  21. Career Backup
  22. Views on UPSC reforms
  23. Insecurity about profile
  24. Struggle of a Senior player
  25. Struggle of Working professional
  26. Grand wisdom
  27. Credit: Friends/family
  28. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate Profile

Q. Details
Name Raushan Kumar
Rank in CSE-2018 114
Roll No. 0304251
Age 30
Marital Status Married
Total attempts in CSE (including this one) 5
Optional Subject Sociology
Schooling Medium English
College Medium English
Medium chosen for Mains answers English
Medium chosen for Interview English
Home town/city Muzaffarpur (Bihar)
Work-experience if any 8 Years 6 Months at JSW Steel Ltd. Bellary (Karnataka)
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failures IIT-JEE, 2006- FAILED


Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used) Being employed full-time at steel plant throughout the preparation period, referred to online classes as well as test series


CSE 2016


CSE 2017

  • VIKASH RANJAN Sir’s Online Sociology Classes
  • R K CHOKKALINGAM Sir’s online Ethics Classes

CSE 2018

  • PRAVEEN KISHORE Sir’s Online Sociology Classes & TEST Series

For Interview

Mock Interviews at KSG, VAJIRAM & RAVI , & CHANAKYA IAS

Service preferences (Top-5) IPS>IAS>IFS>IRS(IT)>IRS(C&CE)
Preference for the first states in top-3 zonal cadres. Bihar , Karnataka & Madhya Pradesh


Education fill the details here
% in class 10 81.6 (2003)
% in class 12 58.6 (2006)
Graduation course and % BE (Mechanical Engineering) – 72%
Name of college, city, passing out year Bapuji Institute of Engineering & Technology

Davangere (Karnataka) – (2006-2010)

Post-graduation NA
Any other professional courses NA
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievements Hobbies

  1. Watching Movies
  2. Cooking

Note: I pursued both these hobbies religiously during this entire preparation process to recharge myself

Extracurricular Achievements

  1. First Prize in Essay Competition at Organization Level on World Environment Day
  2. One innovation award for being part of team winning innovation championship award for improving gas safety standards at steel plant level


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

Greetings to all viewers… Myself Raushan Kumar was born on 7th July 1988 at Muzaffarpur, Bihar. I completed my education till class 10 (Shanti Niketan BAL Vidyalaya) at Muzaffarpur in 2003. I shifted to Patna for completing my (10+2) with very high hopes (As it always happens in a typical lower middle class for whom engineering & medical used to be the only ladder for social mobility then) of doing well in Board Examination as well as in competitive examinations for Engineering. Though owing to lack of guidance, self-doubt & realizing the degree of competition, my hopes shattered & I was on verge of breakdown with my self-confidence hitting rock bottom. Given my dismal conditions in academics & various health issues, I did not appeared for my 12th examination in 2005, but did completed my 12th in 2006 with 58.6% (that also because I got 81 marks in physical education, marks in PCM were merely pass marks). I had literally decided to quit studies had I failed 12th examinations. Though owing to my parents support, I decided to pursue engineering. Having performed miserably at 12th and epic failure at competitive examination coupled with lowest level of self-confidence, I could not muster courage to prepare for competitive examinations. With support of my cousin, I shifted my base to Bengaluru seeking admission in various engineering colleges through management quota. After struggle of 3 months, I got admission at BIET (Davangere) in Mechanical Engineering. With support of motivating friends, I gradually picked up and completed my Engineering Degree with Distinction and got placed at JSW Steel Ltd in final year which I joined on 25th October 2010 and worked there till 20th April 2019. While working, I got married on 4th Feb 2013 and had a daughter on 4th October 2017.

My father is a teacher in Government Basic School and mother is ANM in Health Dept. (Government of Bihar). I have one Younger brother who completed BA.LLB from Christ University (Bengluru) in 2017 and presently working as Deputy Manager (Legal) at IDFC First  (New Delhi). My wife was born & brought up in Jamshedpur. Married at 18 and shifting to Bellary left her graduation incomplete, but she stood resolutely with me in this entire process and always had unflinching faith in my hard work.

After marriage in 2013, we started deliberating on further course of action for UPSC dreams, but given my previous tryst with competitive examinations, I was sure that I can’t clear this exam (given the complexity and degree of competition) without coaching and full time preparation. Due to this, I planned to clear some relatively easier competitive examination (SSC, Banking) and then preparing full time for civil services. This made my preparation completely haphazard. From October 2013, I started reading NCERTs, some guides and practicing aptitude from basic books like R S Agrawal. Being disorganized and lack of practice, I did not appeared for other examinations but appeared for 2014 prelims (that attempt would have gone waste even if had not appeared owing to the age limit). Failure was the only anticipation, but score was motivating given the level of preparation. Paper 1 – 61 and Paper 2 – 102.

For 2015 prelims: Tried to complete the basic books more thoroughly but given multiple distractions and lack of proper planning, guidance & self-belief I could not practice even a single question and appeared for prelims. Result was on expected lines – failure (Score – Paper 1: 91 Paper 2 -102). After this failure and getting no support (financial or moral) from anywhere to quit the job and prepare full time, I promised myself: If I will clear this exam at all, then it has to be with this job only. From October 2015, I became clearer about my approach and target and this was my real arrival in UPSC arena.

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)

The arrival of internet and various credible online platforms like (Insightsonindia, Mrunal.org, and Unacademy, Neostencil) has democratized and demystified the entire UPSC preparation process making it very much possible to clear this examination sitting in any corner of the world. Simultaneously this creates the problem of plenty which may be overwhelming for newcomer lacking proper guidance. From personal experience I can say that there can be no single formula for this balance. One will have to find the balance as per his individual conditions- for example candidates preparing full time may focus more on paper material as suitable to them making their preparation more organized, while working professionals who need to steal moments and can’t follow a fixed routine should utilize electronic material more generously but judiciously.

I personally utilized electronic material to the maximum extent possible. All NCERTs, Prelims mock tests, THE HINDU, Current Affairs Booklets (I referred VISION) was done by me on phone utilizing the time anywhere possible, be it supervising at work site, washroom, social gatherings, meetings(where my presence is needed for 5 min, but been kept sitting for hours). Thus, mantra is to find individual balance suitable to you with credible guidance

For last 2 attempts, I have clearly shorted out my list of online & offline sources

Current affairs: Vision & Insights

Selected topics from selected educators on Unacademy- Roman Saini Sir, Awdhesh Singh Sir & Nandini Maharaj Mam

Mrunal.Org: Thoroughly for Economics, Geography, Art & Culture, and Modern History

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. No fixed duration but whenever possible between 9AM to 9PM (Monday to Saturday)..approx. more than 4 hours
Primary Device for online study: desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile Mobile (MI MAX 2 for large screen size)

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

Personally, I was neither in any group nor in contact with any co-aspirant in the entire process of preparation. This entire idea of benefitting from discussion and guidance from groups and online platforms can be worthless if one is not focused in his approach and being guided from credible sources. Though I browsed social media (Facebook only once in a while) for sociological insights (realizing this aspect during preparation for sociology optional), but never ever involved in chatting, liking, posting, or commenting on any issue or updates on social media, thus not being distracted by these things at all.

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.)

In initial phase of preparation, I tried to make notes of everything after I read it once or twice, but the notes became unmanageable and bulky. Realizing the futility, I started focusing on reading multiple times and making notes only of those things which I was unable to recall even after reading 4-5 times.

For static portion of General Studies, I made very crisp and short notes in history (from Spectrum, NCERT  & TN Board Books but not from Bipin Chandra – I read it multiple times more from analytical perspective than for factual information) science(NCERT only), geography (from Rajtnil Mam PPTs on Mrunal.Org) & Economics (from Mrunal sir’s PPTs).  For other subjects, I read the sources multiple times without making notes

For Ethics (Chokkalingam Sir’s online classes) & Optional (Sociology) – Praveen Kishore Sir’s online classes, I made thorough notes.

All the notes were made on A4 sheets.

For Current affairs, I did not made any notes as I used to read THE HINDU thoroughly in online mode and complimented it by multiple reading of current affairs booklet of VISION making the coverage comprehensive and revisable (As directly reading VISION booklets without reading newspapers becomes very boring and difficult to remember, as reading newspaper gives you context and continuity making the process holistic and relatively easy to remember).

I made very crisp and thorough notes of all new things I learnt from referring the explanations of all tests I attempted in mock test series of insights. I revised these notes more than 5 times before prelims. Though the task seems to be arduous, it paid me rich dividends by keeping me in that mindset where I am ready to attempt those questions which I am little aware of & I revised entire syllabus in question answer formats, thus increasing my accuracy and helping me to clear all 3 prelims (2016 – 123, 2017 – 117 & 2018 – 126.66) with comfortable margin

Prelims (CSAT) Paper-1: General studies

Topic strategy/booklist/comment
History Ancient NCERTs (New) and TN Board Book
History Medieval NCERTs (New) and TN Board Book
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) NCERTs (New), Prateek Sir’s Online videos, Spectrum & Bipin Chandra
Culture and society NCERTs (New), Ishani Pandya Mam’s Videos, Roman Saini Sir’s YouTub Videos & Nitin Singhania (Selected important topics)
Polity (theory + current) NCERTs (New) – 11th & 12th & M Laxmikant

The Hindu complimented with Insights (One Reading) VISION IAS Booklets(multiple readings)

Economy (theory + current) NCERT -11th Book, Mrunal Sir’s Videos, Economic Survey, The Hindu complimented with Insights Current affairs (One Reading), VISION IAS Booklets(multiple readings)
Science (theory + current) NCERTs (6th to 10th Standard) & The Hindu complimented with Insights current affairs (One Reading), VISION IAS Booklets(multiple readings)
Environment (theory + current) Shankar IAS Book, Last 5 chapters of 12th NCERT Biology ,Roman Saini Sir’s YouTube Videos, The Hindu complimented with Insights current affairs(One Reading), VISION IAS Booklets(multiple readings)
geography physical New NCERTs (6 to 12) along with Rajtnil Mam’s YouTube Videos
geography India New NCERTs (6 to 12) along with Rajtnil Mam’s YouTube Videos
geography world New NCERTs (6 to 12) along with Rajtnil Mam’s YouTube Videos
other national/international current affairs The Hindu complimented with Insights Current affairs (One Reading), VISION IAS Booklets(multiple readings)
Schemes, Policy & Filler Stuff The Hindu complimented with Insights Current affairs (One Reading), VISION IAS Booklets(multiple readings)

Q. Candidates are complaining that compared to earlier years, Prelim 2017 and 2018’s GS papers were 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? If you were to prepare for the Prelim-2019, what changes would you make in the strategy?

Personally, I do not endorse (I may agree to disagree with such proponents) all this guessmastergiri, as there cannot be any substitute of solid foundation built upon by multiple revision of basic books complemented with newspaper. Simultaneous to revising basic books, by attempting any trusted mock test series religiously, one can find the optimum number of questions she/he should attempt to maximize his score referring to his level of accuracy – as for me it was always 86-87 questions in all 3 prelims I cleared. All this will give one solid knowledge base to attempt sufficient questions to clear prelims by taking calculated risk. There can be no substitute of accumulated knowledge base as it will help one in getting through a tough or unconventional paper in prelims.

If at all, I was to appear in 2019 prelims, I would followed the aforesaid strategy with full conviction

Prelims (CSAT): Paper-2: Aptitude

Topic strategy / booklist
Maths R S Agrawal (for 2014 prelims): stopped for next prelims onwards as paper -2 became qualifying
Reasoning Nothing separately
Comprehension Nothing separately
Decision Making Nothing separately

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

One cannot take CSAT paper lightly, if one is not very good with basics in mathematics and English. Attempt previous year papers to gauge your level and based on that assessment, regularly practice mocks tests if necessary ( I did mocks for 2018 prelims & saw Roman Saini’s Videos on previous CSAT papers as I did nothing for 2016 & 2017 prelims and got panic at moments during 2017 prelims)

First attempt the quantitative aptitude questions

Never ever get stuck on one question

Read newspaper religiously as it will be of immense help in comprehension questions

Prelim accuracy

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

I religiously attempted all tests of Insights online prelims test series for all 3 prelims I cleared (2016, 2017 & 2018) and made short notes from explanations and links (for various unconventional topics) for the various questions which I revised multiple times before prelims. I observed continuous improvement in score as well as accuracy in mock tests as well as real examinations. Practicing all prelims tests and quizzes on insights (only platform I referred for tests & daily quizzes) gave me sufficient knowledge base to eliminate options even in difficult factual questions in Prelims 2018.  For me it appears to be necessary (some may disagree) due to multiple reasons

  • One can find out his weak and strong areas
  • Finding optimum number of questions to maximize score
  • Training your mind to take calculated risk and increasing hit rate
  • Mistakes committed in test questions remain in memory for longer duration
  • Ability to mark questions when one is not completely sure of options
  • Diversify the knowledge base when one goes through the explanation of various questions- more applicable to difficult topics like art and culture
  • Remembering information in question & options format is easier
  • Keeps you in that zone where you become comfortable with solving multiple choice questions
  • Helps to perform better in pressure conditions

Q. Approximate no. of attempted answers vs. correct answers. in Prelim-2018

Attempted Q. Correct (Expected) Official Score
Paper-1 (General Studies) 86 69 126.66
Paper-2 (Aptitude) Don’t Remember Don’t Remember 90

Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paper Your preparation strategy / booklist?
English paper Nothing Separately
your regional language Hindi (Used to read Hindi newspaper once in a while)

Q. other observations / tips / comments on the length / difficulty level of compulsory language papers in CSE-2018

Language papers can be easily completed within the stipulated time duration

Take more care of scoring questions like Essay, Comprehension, Antonym, Synonym, translation as doing these with higher accuracy will ensure getting qualified because some question(like precis writing may be tough to handle – as in 2018 mains Hindi paper). So, better than Hindi newspapers (who write English words in Hindi), refer Hindi book by Unique Publication

Mains: Essay

Q. How did you prepare for the essay paper?

Study of static portion for CSE and religiously following THE HINDU gave me sufficient content to write essays on diverse topics. GROUND ZERO reporting of THE HINDU (published on Saturdays) and Society page gave me real stories from ground on diverse issues. As I prefer to build a narrative around a real story and then connecting the issues faced at micro level in context of macro issues at Political, Economic, Religious, Educational, Cultural, International affairs level making the essay interesting and multi-dimensional. I always used my own experiences wherever applicable to contextualize any issue.

For 2016 mains, I had content for essays, but owing to no prior practice I felt blocked and could write only 7 pages (Essay 1 – 4 Pages and Essay 2- 3 pages). Score: 124

For 2017 mains also, I could not do any practice for Essay due to multiple reasons (more worried on building content, lack of confidence, procrastinating), but was able to create proper structure and recall relevant stories for essays (farming & modern Indian woman) inside examinations hall and wrote complete essay. Score: 144

For 2018 Mains, feeling confident I decided to do all homework to get a higher score and I joined Roman Saini Sir’s Unacademy Plus course for Essay (was helpful for GS papers also) and did writing practice through insights mains test series parallel to building content (The Hindu). Due to all this I was more confident (though ruined in real exam) about this paper in 2018 mains.

In my personal opinion, prior practice and expert feedback is very important for essay paper.

Note: I will be attaching my checked essays by Insights for reference

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

Section A – Management of Indian Border Disputes – A Complex task

I remembered various stories (THE HINDU reports) of immense hardships faced by stateless individuals & families due to long draw border agreement with Bangladesh as well as other current issues (Rohingya Issue). Taking story of a family, I elaborated how colonial past, Different political system in neighboring countries, complex ethnic relations across the man made borders (with Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar), rough terrain, international smuggling networks, unrest in neighborhood  makes the managing Indian borders a complex task.

Mentioned about ill-defined borders in coastal areas as well as high seas and ensuing plight of fishermen. Thus after mentioning specific issues with different neighbors, analyzed common thread running through all these issues. Gave sub headings suitable to the content & concluded with Rabindranath Tagore’s view on nation and their exclusionary nature, but these borders being  a reality now , we need to adopt humane approach in managing border disputes apt to our democratic ethos.

Though I planned and wrote this essay well but realizing later that I have spent 2 hours in one essay and got panic. Due to getting panic, I could not plan second essay and ruined my chances of getting very good score.

Section B – Customary Morality cannot be a guide to modern life

For this essay, I could only plan the sub headings and just filled the content as per those sub-headings

Key Points:

  • How customary morality has been a hindrance in realizing political, religious, economic, educational aspirations of a vast majority of population. Gave example of my mother (whose educational pursuits were hindered due being a girl child in her family), social phenomenon of MUKHIYA PATI, marginalization of LGBT community from various social spheres and thus customary morality cannot be a guide to modern life
  • Then analyzed, how customary morality is being challenged by constitutional morality based on the ideas of modernity & through political initiatives (Right to education, property rights, schemes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Transgender Rights Bill), Supreme Court judgements (Navtej Singh Johar Case – Section 377), sabrimala issue, social movements for rights of marginalized. Through these examples, I tried to make a point about how ideas associated with modernity are asserting themselves against customary morality. Concluded by closing the loop that my mother is not alone in asserting her rights as per ideas of modernity and how this challenge to customary morality is not a destination but an ongoing journey

Point I missed due to lack of planning

  • How customary morality can complement the ideas of modernity in various spheres like environmental and conservation ethics, compassion for marginalized and various moral ideas deriving from religious values can be beneficial for modern life without infringing on individual rights along with examples

Had I been able to mention all these aspects in structured manner for 2nd essay with proper planning in coherent manner, I would have scored much better. Thus, kindly take care of proper planning in examination hall after doing all the homework

General Studies (Mains) paper 1

Topic How did you prepare?
Culture NCERTs (New), Ishani Pandya Mam’s Videos, Roman Saini Sir’s YouTub Videos & Nitin Singhania (Selected important topics) – should have done important topic like Bhakti Movement more thoroughly
Indian history New NCERTs , Spectrum & Bipin Chandra (had read it 4 times during entire preparation but without making notes)
world history Done VISION IAS booklet thoroughly and made crisp short notes for revision
post-independence India NCERT 12th Political Science Book, VISION IAS Booklet, Watched Pradhanmantri series for 2017 mains
Indian society Sociology books (NCERT 11th and 12th ) and Society page of THE HINDU
role of women, poverty etc. Sociology optional and THE HINDU complemented with VISION monthly booklet (sufficient for non-sociology optional aspirant)
globalization on Indian society Sociology optional and THE HINDU complemented with VISION monthly booklet (sufficient for non-sociology optional aspirant)
communalism, regionalism, secularism Sociology optional and THE HINDU complemented with VISION monthly booklet (sufficient for non-sociology optional aspirant)
world geo physical Rajtnil Mam’s Videos on Mrunal.Org
resource distribution Mrunal.Org, NCERT & Rajtnil Mam’s Videos
factors for industrial location Mrunal.Org, NCERT & Rajtnil Mam’s Videos
earthquake tsunami etc Rajtnil Mam’s Videos on Mrunal.Org
impact on flora-fauna Rajtnil Mam’s Videos on Mrunal.Org

General studies (Mains) paper 2

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian Constitution, devolution, dispute redressal etc. NCERT (11-12 Political Science), M Laxmikant, VISION booklets and The Hindu
comparing Constitution with world VISION booklet & M Laxmikant
parliament, state Legislatures NCERT (11-12 Political Science), M Laxmikant, VISION booklets and The Hindu
executive-judiciary M Laxmikant, VISION booklets and The Hindu
ministries departments VISION booklets and The Hindu
pressure group, informal asso. M Laxmikant, VISION booklets and The Hindu
Representation of people’s act M Laxmikant, VISION booklets and The Hindu
various bodies: Constitutional, statutory.. M Laxmikant, Insights Current Affairs, VISION booklets and The Hindu
NGO, SHG etc Insights Current Affairs , VISION booklets and The Hindu
welfare schemes, bodies Mrunal.Org, Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
social sector, health, edu, HRD Mrunal.Org(Videos),  Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
governance, transparency, accountability Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
e-governance Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
role of civil service Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
India & neighbors Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
bilateral/global grouping Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
effect of foreign country policies on Indian interest Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
Diaspora Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
international bodies- structure mandate Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu

General studies (Mains) Paper 3

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilization NCERT 11th , Mrunal Sir’s Videos, Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
inclusive growth NCERT 11th , Mrunal Sir’s Videos, Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
Budgeting Mrunal Sir’s Videos
major crops, irrigation NCERTs, Rajtnil Mam’s Videos, Roman Saini Sir’s Videos on Unacademy
agro produce – storage, marketing Mrunal.Org
e-technology for famers Mrunal.Org, Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
farm subsidies, MSP Mrunal.Org, Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
PDS, buffer, food security Mrunal.Org, Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
technology mission Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
animal rearing economics Mrunal.Org, Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
food processing Mrunal.Org, Roman Saini Sir’s Videos on Unacademy, Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
land reforms Mrunal.Org, NCERT (Sociology and Political Science)
Liberalization Mrunal.Org, Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
Infra Mrunal.Org, Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
investment models Mrunal.Org, Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
science-tech day to day life Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
Indian achievements in sci-tech Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPR Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
environmental impact assessment Shankar IAS book
Disaster Management Roman Saini Sir’s Videos on Unacademy, Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
non state actors, internal security Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
internal security – role of media, social networking site Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
cyber security Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
money laundering Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
border  Management Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
organized crime, terrorism Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu
security agencies- structure mandate Insights current Affairs (One Reading), VISION booklets (multiple reading) and The Hindu

General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude

Topic How Did You Prepare?
ethics and interface, family, society and all the hathodaa topics Ethics Notes from Online Class of Chokkalingam Sir & Awdhesh Singh Sir’s Unacademy lectures
attitude, moral influence etc. Ethics Notes from Online Class of Chokkalingam Sir & Awdhesh Singh Sir’s Unacademy lectures
civil service: integrity, impartiality, tolerance to weak etc Ethics Notes from Online Class of Chokkalingam Sir & Awdhesh Singh Sir’s Unacademy lectures
emotional intelligence, its use in governance Ethics Notes from Online Class of Chokkalingam Sir & Awdhesh Singh Sir’s Unacademy lectures
moral thinkers of India and world How many thinkers did you prepare?: Not Prepared any thinker specifically
ethics in pub.ad, accountability, laws, rules etc. Ethics Notes from Online Class of Chokkalingam Sir & Awdhesh Singh Sir’s Unacademy lectures
corporate governance Ethics Notes from Online Class of Chokkalingam Sir & Awdhesh Singh Sir’s Unacademy lectures
probity in governance, work culture Ethics Notes from Online Class of Chokkalingam Sir & Awdhesh Singh Sir’s Unacademy lectures
citizen charter, ethics code, work culture etc. Ethics Notes from Online Class of Chokkalingam Sir & Awdhesh Singh Sir’s Unacademy lectures
challenges of corruption Ethics Notes from Online Class of Chokkalingam Sir & Awdhesh Singh Sir’s Unacademy lectures
case studies on above topics Awdhesh Singh Sir’s Unacademy lectures

The sources mentioned above were more than sufficient for me to prepare everything mentioned in the syllabus comprehensively. If I was to appear again, I would have done these same sources again with full conviction

Q. In ethics, 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 paper is all about how you express your individual conception of various ethical aspects mentioned in the syllabus and ensuing questions from these. Once you are able to understand and define these ethical concepts in simple manner (can be done from one among the multiple sources), then it is all about how you can contextualize these concepts with happenings around you, news, personal experiences & keen observation and opinion on these things.

Quoting the above things in relevant ethical concepts will make your answers unique, relevant & interesting to read for evaluator. Following this paid me rich dividend (Scored 91 in 2017 mains despite leaving >20 marks question and 116 in 2018 mains)

For Example

In RTI & ensuing accountability question: I quoted personal experience of how RTI ensured accountability of principal in my father’s school for spending funds for student’s welfare

In conflict of interest question: I quoted my dilemma during trial of my relative for post of crane operator in the steel plant I have been working

Note: Will attach my evaluated answer sheets by Insights

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 14 6 0 20
GS2 16 4 0 20
GS3 14 4 2 20
GS4 18 1 0 19
Opt-P1 All
Opt-P2 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]

For 2018 mains, I attempted all questions in all papers. This was because I knew few relevant things regarding the questions even where I was not knowing the exact and to the point answer. Though the target should always be to attempt all questions but in that pursuit I would not endorse writing answer for those questions, for which I don’t have even remote idea of (McBride Commission question in 2016 mains), as this is like irritating and questioning the intelligence of evaluator. I will attempt only if I have something relevant to write about the asked topic.

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

Fixed Space is a great initiative

  • It keeps you aware of time & space limitation
  • Makes easier to do answer writing practice prior to mains as you can gauge your speed of writing, given that you have to write fixed number of pages
  • Keeps you on track to fulfill the demand of question, as you get an idea of questions within the questions and address them accordingly

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 wrote introduction and conclusion in small paragraph format while main demand of the question in its body was addressed pointwise. The demand of the question (Examine, Comment, and Discuss) can be very well addressed in point format in the body of the answer. More than format, content as per demand and coherence in points is important.

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 always followed Introduction-Body-Conclusion format. For introduction, I used Mrunal Sir’s approach (Definition-Origin-Data) to keep myself to the point (not bowling from outside the stadium), then in the body I tried to address the demand of question in point format comprehensively. Then I always tried to conclude on positive note.

I developed the specific, to the point, standard and more meaning loaded language due to religious reading of THE HINDU newspaper over the years (without being overtly or unjustifiably critical to government policies). This helped me in writing proper introduction and conclusion. To practice these things, for first time (2018 mains) I joined online mains answer writing test series and religiously followed the test series which ensured that I adhered to the standard format and completed the paper on time.

I don’t like asking following rudimentary questions, but these are the most frequently asked questions by new aspirants.

Q. Did you use highlighters / sketchpens in your answers? NO…Underlined the important lines or words with the same pen
Q. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in GS1 Geography) NO
Q. If yes, Did you draw diagrams with pencil or pen? NA
Q. Did you use ruler to draw the lines in diagram? Or did you just make it by hand? NA
Q. You wrote the answer in blue pen or black pen? Black Pilot V5 Pen

Mains Optional Subject

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

Optional – Sociology

My graduation subject: Mechanical Engineering became out of question due to enormity of syllabus, selective study as per need during engineering and ensuing lack of confidence with no overlap with general studies.

Initially I tried to study geography, history and philosophy but was not able to make much headway. In 2016, I read the interview of Suman DP mam (IPS, Karnataka Cadre) about sociology optional and started reading NCERT books and felt interested enough to read for 2-3 years and thus stuck to it for all 3 subsequent attempts (2016, 2017 & 2018).

Sociology as a subject gave me unique insights about day to day things in society beyond common sense perspective making more sense to personal experiences. This was also more relatable with current affairs giving scope for writing unique answer in optional as well as General Studies & essay paper.

Other factors were availability of study material, online guidance & consistent performance of the optional

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

I would suggest for this subject if one is really intrigued by various aspects of society and interplay of various aspects (economic, educational, religious, political, and cultural) at micro as well as macro level where one can make sense of personal experiences within the context of these macro aspects. There is availability of quality online guidance, test series as well as material and can be prepared well from anywhere & has been a consistent performer in final results.

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.)


  • NCERT 11th and 12th Books
  • Haralambos and Heald (Orange Color) – Did it thoroughly multiple times for Paper 1
  • Selective reading as per syllabus from Blue(New) Haralambos & Holborn book
  • Selective Reading from IGNOU BA Books (Thinkers Part)
  • MN Srinivas Book on Caste
  • Nitin Sangwan’s Book on Sociology : Essential Sociology (Did thoroughly once to complete the syllabus)—good book for completing the topics missing from standard books & complementing with current affairs
  • Tushranshu Sharma Notes (Available Online) – for getting pointwise content on various topics
  • Notes made from Online Classes of Praveen Kishore Sir on Neostencil for 2018 mains (attended Vikash Ranjan Sir Online classes for 2017 mains, but could not make notes)
  • Related & Relevant current affairs from THE HINDU (more from GROUND ZERO Reporting and Society page)

Tried to revise these things as much as possible and contextualizing them with current affairs

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?

Though I have not done any specific research on internet as such, but current affairs/newspaper reading is very much required for this optional. More applied questions are being asked in both papers (for example questions on ME TOO and Triple Talaq in 2018 mains paper 2). One will have to follow current affairs religiously to enrich his answers in sociology and for giving contemporary context to theoretical questions as well as applying sociological theories on contemporary issues.

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

I have been reading this subject since 3 years along with multiple other engagements, so cannot give specific time period from personal experience, but if done full time it can be completed in 4-5 months depending upon guidance and referred study material.

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

Learning from my failures in 2 mains (2016 & 2017), I started answer writing for this attempt after prelims result was declared on 14th July 2018. I joined online mains test series by insights for General studies and Essay and followed them religiously which benefitted me immensely.

For optional I joined online test series of Praveen Kishore Sir, but could not write even a single answer till end (I could not feel confident about my content till the end and just kept revising the notes multiple times till the last moment), but watched test discussion videos which cleared many concepts

Note: I would never advise anyone to do this. One must do answer writing practice after completing syllabus once and revising it once or twice and should get the expert feedback.

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

I had made detailed hand-written notes on A4 sheets for optional and revised it multiple times

Q. Your observation about the difficultly level of 2018 mains vs previous papers. And what precautions / rectifications are necessary in the future strategy for given optional subject?

The difficulty of mains paper was more or less same as that of 2017 papers. To handle the uncertainty of sociology paper, one should cover the basics thoroughly from standard sources (shortcut of referring readymade coaching notes may not work) and complement with religious contextualizing from current affairs.

Before the interview

Q. How did you prepare for the interview? – for college grad, hobbies, place of origin, current affairs at national and international level?

For College Graduation: I tried to cover the basics of Mechanical Engineering (like definition of stress, strain, laws of thermodynamics, Gas related laws) from a guide published by Made Easy, but could not devote much time due to disconnect of more than 8 years.

For Hobbies (Cooking & watching movies): As I have followed these hobbies always, so it was interesting to prepare for these hobbies and internet being the best source


  • Why Cooking?, favorite dish & its recipe as well as dishes I can cook well, different cuisines (India) and differences between them (between North & South Indian Food), rating systems (Michelin Star Rating), favorite chef and Show with their specialty, local dishes of Bihar & Karnataka (Two states where I lived till now), various spices & their composition (like for Garam Masala and Pachforan)
  • Technical terms associated with cooking like baking, deep frying, shallow fry, cooking temperature, different preservatives

Watching Movies

  • Different genres of films & differences between them, favorite films actors & directors, latest released & watched movie, censoring issues & Shyam Benegal Committee Report, Online streaming applications & its impact on mainstream cinema (Netflix, Amazon Prime) along with regulatory regime for these, change in type of films across the decades & its connection with social undercurrents, changes in regional cinema (like mega budget movies in regional languages, rise of Marathi film industry), challenges of piracy, nepotism debate, gender relations, pay disparity, ME TOO movement & its impact across various industries, and various other possible aspects
  • Other technical terms associated with film-making: Cinematography, VFX effects, technical level in Hollywood & Bollywood, informal names for regional film industries

Place of Origin: From Wikipedia, discussion with parents, economic survey, budget and census details of the state and district

Overall, I tried to analyze my life & related details in DAF from various perspective & dimensions. Most important: I extensively focused on steel sector (due to >8years of experience in one of the largest integrated steel plant in steel world) and its related techno-commercial, environmental aspects and prepared for them in thorough detail

Q. 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?

This being my first interview, I attended 4 mock interviews in total (Vajiram & Ravi – 2, KSG- 1 & Chanakya IAS – 1). Purpose was to ensure that I should be able to express my views in a calm & composed manner and mock interviews along with constructive feedback can give a candidate that confidence. KSG mock interview was more close to official interview, but no interview can be similar to official interview.

Detail DAF based questionnaire provided by KSG (for preparing content – 2-3 question came from that questionnaire) & feedback from A R Khan Sir was very much helpful in boosting my confidence as interview is more about preparedness than preparation.

In my opinion, 2-3 mocks at trusted institutes with objective & constructive feedback should be helpful, though one should not overdo it to lose the originality & appear like overtly tutored candidate in official interview

Q. Where did you stay for the interview? (Hotel / friend’s home …) and what books/material did you bring for the ‘revision before interview’?

I stayed with my younger brother working as Legal Manager at IDFC First bank.  I carried my DAF based short notes in my bag and just scanned it once while waiting in the central hall to keep myself busy and avoid discussions (predictions about various boards) as I was the first one to go in the afternoon session (27th March 2019)

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

Black suit with black tie and white shirt

During the interview

Q. Who was the chairman of you interview board?

Retired Air Marshal A S Bhonsle Sir

Q. How long was the interview?

30-35 Minutes

Q. 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?]

This question was not asked in official interview

From the time I could make sense of words like career, passion or other related things, I had this objectively unexplainable attraction to Police services (perhaps owing to my social background and some personal experiences). As with more exposure to societal aspects, I realized that through this service, I can help people when they are most vulnerable and desperate and also realized the importance of law & order in development process as a whole with exposure to this aspect from close quarters. Though this idea of civil services was always there in back of my mind, I could not make much headway in this direction due to lack of guidance and very hectic work schedule at steel plant in initial phase.

Q. 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]

Most of the questions were about steel sector owing to my long experience in steel sector, so I am mentioning the questions only (As my answers may not be relevant to most of the aspirants)

Chairman: Gave me 2 min pep talk about the purpose of this process and assured to start the process only once I am comfortable. Encouraged me to speak in Hindi or English or mixture of both and about using paper and pencil to write something & then speak. This did soothe my nerves and made me comfortable

  1. Noticed the sudden drop of marks in 10+2, but decided to let it go himself
  2. Asked me to tell the reason for pursuing cooking as hobby only if I have reason other than living away from home  during studies or job
  3. Did I ever praised my mother’s cooking skill in front of my wife and what was her reaction?
  4. Asked about the organizational culture of JSW Steel Ltd. and any suggestions for improvement
  5. What is meritocracy?
  6. About accountability in Chinese political system
  7. Advanced steel making technology in Ancient India
  8. Concluded the interview with asking about my plan for the day after interview

Other Members

  1. Ethical dilemmas faced while working in steel plant and lessons learnt from such experience
  2. Asked about innovative project done by my team in the steel plant
  3. Difference between innovation and invention
  4. Process of checking the quality of steel in steel plant
  5. Reason for the low quality of steel in the country
  6. Reason for the lack of Innovation in steel sector
  7. Government initiatives to promote innovation in steel sector
  8. What will happen to the steel sector when experienced persons like you join civil services?
  9. What has been your contribution to the steel sector?
  10. About National Steel policy
  11. Reason for the closure of POSCO Steel project in Odisha
  12. Can China overtake USA in technological advancement in next 20 years?
  13. Why India lagged behind China despite getting Independence at almost same time and being at comparable level of development? Should we also adopt communism?

Q. 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 entire interview was on expected lines (mostly about steel sector) & way more cordial than my expectation and I did not felt stressed even for a moment during the entire process & thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. There were no uncomfortable questions.

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

Just check the documents as per checklist with the e-summon for personality test

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

Nothing specific but go through the medical test letter given by UPSC and reach on time at venue of medical test

CSE-2018 Marksheet

Q. Please provide both prelim and final mark sheet:

Subjects (Max. Marks) Marks secured Cutoff ranges

(PH to Gen.)

Prelims P1-GS (200m) 126.66 Cutoff: 40-98
Prelims P2-Aptitude (200m) 90 Passing Marks: 67
Mains Subjects Marks secured
Essay (250m) 121 Passing Marks: 25
GSM1 (250m) 108 Passing Marks: 25
GSM2 (250m) 109 Passing Marks: 25
GSM3 (250m) 104 Passing Marks: 25
GSM4 (250m) 116 Passing Marks: 25
Optional Paper-1 (250m) 124 Passing Marks: 25
Optional Paper-2 (250m) 162 Passing Marks: 25
Written Total (1750m) 844 Cutoff: 520-774
Interview (275m) 171 N/A
Final (2025m) 1015 Cutoff: 754-982

Career Backup

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

Though I was working in steel plant throughout my preparation, but I had plans to venture in health & education field as a backup plan

Q. 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.)

After exhausting my all attempts and resigning from current job in steel plant

Views on UPSC reforms

Q. Although Political science and sociology are both humanities subjects, yet depending on exam year, one of this subject gets more favorable scaling-treatment than the other, consequently some candidates are denied even interview calls, despite having good marks in GS and Essay parallel to toppers. So, optional subjects should be removed altogether. The present scenario is helping no-one, except coaching-owners, book publishers.

I support the removal of optional paper as there is huge disparity in marks across the various optional subjects (though there is selection from all optional papers) despite efforts by UPSC for being objective. The optional paper can be replaced with General studies paper more relevant to civil service, though this is bound to make the competition more intense.

Q. After Mains-Syllabus change of 2013, initially some candidates got very high ranks, despite scoring poorly in interviews- thanks to their tall scores in written (mains). So in recent years, it seems UPSC has tweaked the mains-evaluation process in such manner that everyone gets similar range of marks in Essay, GSM2 and GSM4. Thus, selection is majorly dependent on optional scaling and interview score. In CSE-2018, total 759 successful candidates in a spectrum of mere ~403 marks. Yes, UPSC does have internal mechanisms to reduce panel-wise variation of interview marks, yet many candidates did not make it just because of a ‘strict’ interview panel. So, what should be done to reform A) the mains-evaluation system and B) the interview evaluation system?

A) Mains Evaluation System

  • The instructions in notification about the answers to be written is vague and ill defined. If defined in more clear terms, it will clear a lot of misconceptions among the aspirants and will work as reference for them. UPSC can also release model answers for mains questions (As it released model question paper before 2013 mains after overhauling the syllabus & introducing new papers) & clearly define parameters for evaluation. This will at least demystify the mains evaluation process for aspirants

B) Interview Evaluation System

  • The parameters for evaluation in personality test should be more clearly defined
  • Evaluation by two boards & taking the average may be considered by reducing time gap between mains result and starting of personality test process

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. So, apart from revamping the mains-evaluation system, the mains-Syllabus needs to be compressed.

Given the level of competition, social hype around this examination, condition & methodology of education system, curbing coaching approach for preparation is a big challenge unless long term transformative changes are done in the education system & unnecessary hype around this examination fades

Syllabus being huge is a lesser challenge than the very generic terms used in syllabus of prelims & mains. Making syllabus more clearly defined will ease the hankering for study material among the aspirant and making them more focused and targeted

Q. Speaking of Mains syllabus, UPSC Mains Ethics Paper (GS4) should be removed. Case studies are superficial, and as I pointed out earlier, pretty much everyone is given similar range marks. Safeer Karim (IPS) had scored 108 out of 250 marks in Ethics paper (2014), and same gentleman was caught cheating in Mains-2017 with Bluetooth and also running coaching class. So, this paper serves no utility of evaluating a candidate’s character, it has become just a source of income for book publishers and coaching classes. So GSM4 paper should be removed.

One incident should not be the basis for such a decision. Any question paper & its answers, however objectively be designed & evaluated can only be the indicator of one’s behavior, not the sole determinant. Ethics paper gives aspirants a chance to be individualistic and unique in his expression. Reading the various concepts for this paper makes an individual more reflexive (though the degree of such reflexivity may vary from person to person owing to multiple factors) and sensitive to various dilemmas faced by individuals & society at large

Q. UPSC should disclose the evaluated mains- answer sheets like some StatePCS are doing. Although such ‘transparency’ has its demerits e.g. in recent GPSC Class-1-2 exam, after uploading the evaluated copies it turned out that those who wrote answer in Gujarati were given less marks compared to those who wrote identical answer in English. In such situation, process gets stuck in litigation and stay orders, therefore UPSC’s decision of being “less” transparent helps UPSC finish exam process within time-frame, without litigation and stay orders. What are your views on conundrum?

Disclosing the evaluated mains answer sheet will make the process complicated despite attempts to make the process objective.

Q. (in context of my earlier question on transparency vs litigation) UPSC should disclose official prelim answerkey and cutoffs, immediately after prelim is over, instead of postponing it till interview phase is over.  Your thoughts?

This is doable in present context as it will not only prevent the speculation on answer keys but will help the aspirants to analyze their performance & mend their ways at early stage

Q. Due to protests by Hindi-belt, UPSC made Prelim-Paper-II qualifying in nature (33%) but in recent prelims, you’d have noticed that each passage is followed by only 1 MCQ (instead of 2-3 MCQs as in past), and maths-reasoning also became increasingly complicated, so finishing the paper in time limit and scoring that 33% is also a headache for non-engineer candidates from Rurban areas. And although Decision Making and Basic English comprehension are part of official prelim paper-2 syllabus, due to fear of backlash, UPSC stopped asking this since 2015. So, don’t you think Paper-2 should be removed OR merged with Paper-1 just like CAPF- where same one paper has 125 MCQs containing both GS and Aptitude.

Making Paper -2 qualifying is a welcome step but the aspiring civil servants need to test themselves for the basics in those topics from which questions are asked in paper-2. But merging with paper -1 will make it count for cut-off which is already highly competitive, thus may undo the ease.

Q. UPSC has converted COMBINED MEDICAL SERVICE (CMS) exam into online test. RBI Officer’s exam has descriptive paper at mains-stage, yet it’s completely online -candidate has to ‘type’ the answer on computer screen. So, 1) Whether Prelim should be conducted online 2) whether mains should be conducted online. Your views?

At present level given the number of aspirants, examination pattern & diversity among aspirants, it seems to be challenging. Though in long term it may shift to online mode by fine tuning the entire examination process

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.

This merger should be undone

Q. If you are made the UPSC chairman, what other reforms would you initiate for the civil service exam?

Will focus on issues which I already mentioned in previous answers

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 suffered from such insecurities in initial phase of preparation, though after reading the success stories (Vivek Chauhan Sir, Poonam Dalal Mam, Agam Jain Sir on platform like mrunal.org, Insightsonindia) these insecurities went away and I realized about this exam being great equalizer. It gives you a very fair chance to rewrite your story.

There will be something more than just test of your knowledge; it is more about your character. How you can keep going every day despite feeling like giving up (as there will be n number of reasons to give up but just one reason to keep going) every day (I felt this every day during my preparation) This keep going is more challenging for aspirants with great profile due to high opportunity cost & their own expectation, whereas persons with average profile (like me) has less to lose, but more to gain (at least, an honest preparation will make them a better version of themselves with good fundamentals in all subjects). Once you build the required knowledge base (which all serious aspirants can certainly build over the years), then it all depends on how much you are successful in keeping your nerves calm on days of examination or personality test & perform as per your ability where your profile is not accounted much for, with pressure being same on all to perform.

Struggle of a Senior player

Q. How did you survive through this mental prison of UPSC  and what’re your words of wisdom to other senior players? If any specific inspirational incident(s), please share.

I could survive the mental prison, as multiple engagements (full time job, family and associated social obligations) did not give me time for mourning over my failures. I learnt from my mistakes (I committed almost every possible mistake), kept rectifying them.

For senior players (to avoid this mental prison) if possible, after doing full time preparation for 1 or 2 years, join a job to prevent the building up of negativity and with that knowledge base, it will be quite doable with job

Always focus on bettering your own performance (being a better version) as data on the degree of competition is mind boggling and can cause very much avoidable negativity

For Inspiration

You can find very inspiring stories of struggle, hard work and perseverance about the life of people (it may be your family members, colleagues, friends) with whom you interact in daily life and trust me it will be way more sustainable than watching movies, videos or songs. For me, it was my mother who struggled for 30 years after her nursing training (in 1989) to get permanent job with Government of Bihar (has been working on contract since 2007). With sheer coincidence I and my mother will be joining their respective jobs in coming months. I don’t have apt words to describe her commitment to serve the most marginalized, her perseverance and satisfaction of getting her job. My wife who got married to me at 18 supported me unconditionally and showed unflinching faith in me despite my hitherto average academic performance.

My ex-colleague Lokesh M (at JSW steel Ltd.) who could not complete even his basic education properly and without any formal technical education is most trusted, accomplished and awarded technical person in one of the largest integrated steel plant of India. If such persons close to me were not giving up, I had way more reasons to keep going.

Everyone can find such inspirations, just have that perspective.

Q. What went wrong in your previous attempt? What changes did you make in this current attempt?

Reason for Failure in Prelims (2014 & 2015)

  • No multiple choice question practice, just kept reading in haphazard manner
  • Could not organize or identify fixed sources, just kept hankering for material (bought everything suggested by any topper in their interview)
  • Unable to complement newspaper reading with monthly current affairs booklet to consolidate the knowledge base
  • Tried to prepare for various examination without proper planning
  • Could not plan my leaves properly for examination
  • No strategy for revision
  • Could not handle the pressure inside examination hall (2015 prelims) and did silly mistakes

Failure in Mains (2016 & 2017)

  • Could not plan for integrated preparation of prelims  and mains, thus unable to complete and revise the syllabus for mains
  • No answer writing practice for Essay, GS or optional and thus unable to complete any paper
  • Failed to manage and organize the sources to refer for the mains specially optional paper
  • Could not manage the proper notes from different sources for GS or optional for revision in month before mains
  • Unable to complement newspaper reading with monthly current affairs booklet to consolidate the knowledge base
  • Could not manage leaves properly before the mains examination due to improper planning
  • Kept studying till last moment in place of consolidating already completed things
  • Most Important: Accepted failure even before attempting the real examination

For 2018 mains, I worked on these aspects whose details are already mentioned in previous answers

Struggle of Working professional

If you’re a working professional, share some tips on how to manage studies with job

Few things I followed to manage the preparation with job

  • Integrated the preparation with my lifestyle. Mobile is the biggest asset & use it judiciously to study anytime anywhere
  • Don’t disclose the UPSC plan at workplace to anyone except to very trusted persons if any at all as it is bound to create completely avoidable hype around you which may become too difficult to handle
  • Since one cannot follow a fixed routine (if unpredictable  working hours), keep weekly targets with flexibility where you can adjust as per your situation
  • You will have to steal golden hours (like lunch hour where you can finish your lunch in 10 minutes  & utilize remaining time to complete daily targets like current affairs, daily quizzes, newspaper  – this helps in maintaining continuity and prevents piling up of targets – Do not underestimate the huge impact of this continuity in long term)
  • Realize the truth that being a star performer at work winning accolades and shining in UPSC examination may need superhuman efforts, so better stick to the jobs specifically assigned to you (without being a nuisance for juniors, superiors or colleagues, as maintaining cordial relation at workplace is very much necessary for your mental peace)
  • Keep social obligations (office parties & various other things) to bare minimum & utilize week offs and Public holidays to maximum
  • At least respect and facilitate the work efforts of seniors, juniors or colleagues, if you are not giving your 100%.
  • Stay away from petty office politics and participating in various chat groups at workplace
  • Do not expect too much in terms of promotions, salary hikes by focusing on your real target
  • Plan your paid leaves well as per examination cycle & save them by keeping your visits to native or other things to bare minimum
  • Keep it in mind straight (realized it quite late in my case) that you are not at any disadvantage due to preparing along with job, but consider it as an advantage that  will give you  unique perspective and enrich your subjective answers in mains making them interesting to read
  • Don’t be critical of your workplace or people there (neither at personal level nor during mains or interview)
  • MOST IMPORTANT: Develop thick skin (can be done gradually) – Try not to take criticism at your workplace to heart or praise to your head – imbibe equanimity. Just shrug it off & move ahead on your journey

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?

Keeping Momentum & consistency

The pain (felt every day) of not being in uniform which I wanted so badly kept me going despite feeling like quitting every day

Though failing repeatedly, I was always able to see the shortcomings in my preparation, thus always having a long list of things to improve and by working upon them I was improving my performance continuously and I never ever doubted or complained about the fairness of the process even once.

I was getting my daily dose of inspiration from people around me (already mentioned) and pursuing my hobbies throughout preparation.

Most Important: Preparing for this examination was completely my own decision (never ever did my family members or friends pestered me to do this), thus nobody was expecting anything from me (after job, marriage & kid) & thus it was the fire within me which kept me going. Over the years of preparation I had convinced myself to own the consequences of success or failure.

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?

Learnings & Message

  • Develop thick skin (already explained)
  • Only your inner motivation (though it may be derived from external factors) is sustainable in life
  • Own your decisions and its consequences
  • Maintain peaceful atmosphere in family, if want to succeed in outer world
  • Realized the essence of Nelson Mandela’s quote: It always seems impossible until done
  • First convince yourself for the reasons you want to join the civil services and remain committed to them
  • Life is more than this examination (though it may be very tough to get its essence when you are very emotionally attached to the outcome)

Q. Many hardworking candidates have failed in Mains/Interview of CSE-2018. They’re feeling cynical, hopeless and depressed- what is your message to them?

Every serious aspirant is aware about the degree of uncertainty about outcome of this examination. After doing all the hard work, there are certain factors which are beyond control of an aspirant. After results, just take some time for introspection and if you are able to objectively identify what went wrong from your end and you think yourself being capable of rectifying them, then work upon them and success will be yours. If you are fully convinced that you gave your all & there is not much to value add from your end, then you can hold your head high for giving your best and move on, as serious preparation for this examination certainly makes you a better version of yourself & well equips you to excel in any field you decide to venture.

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?

First and foremost my wife (Richa) has been a constant pillar of support throughout the preparation process and displayed unflinching faith in my capabilities and carried on all household responsibilities singlehandedly. Arrival of my daughter and her smile never let me feel stressed and was most relaxing. My parents and younger brother gave constant moral boost despite being away from me. My colleagues, juniors & seniors (present HOD – Harish Nair & Ex HOD – P K Sarkar for their encouragement) at Energy Management Dept. (JSW Steel Ltd.) always supported me without even knowing about my aspirations. My close friends (Shashi Shankar Dayal, Gambhir Goel, Atul Pathak, Sudeep K, Raju, and Narender) always stood in all sort of struggle with their words (Bhai tera kaise nahi hoga) and deeds.

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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 have extensively referred Mrunal.Org for Economics (Mrunal Sir – I joined your Unacademy Plus course on economics in Februray 2019 due to sheer excitement for listening you in live class), Geography (Rajtnil Mam), Modern History (Prateek Sir), Art & Culture (Ishani Mam) & for motivation from topper’s interview during my preparation. I mean every word of what I am writing: Meeting all these teachers at any point of time in my life will be a fanboy moment for me, as I can realize their role in my preparation. I got very limited and manageable content on various topics here which were interesting and easy to revise.