Q: First of all, we would like to express our hearty congratulations for this exceptional achievement! We are very happy that your hard work and efforts finally paid off, that too in a grand style! Let’s start from the beginning. How do you feel about it? Also, from where do you belong?
A: Thank you very much for all your support and guidance throughout the journey. I want to express my wholehearted gratitude to you. I originally belong to a place called Chhatarpur, which lies in the state of Madhya Pradesh. I have completed my B.Tech in Civil Engineering from NIT Bhopal. After pursuing my engineering, I shifted to New Delhi for the duration of three years. Currently, I’m back in my hometown.
Q: Actually, we are an online education platform, providing coaching and guidance to the students preparing for UPSC examination. Tell us something about yourself and why did you choose to pursue UPSC in the first place?
A: My father is currently in the state civil services; and since my childhood, I wanted that the kind of work that I do should touch a lot of human lives and make a wide impact, which is not just constrained to a limited set of people. Ever since I was a child, my family had been moving into different cities, which is how I came to know about the lifestyles of people living in different cities, including the availability of the resources.
I had undergone through seething anger and strong urge to change the scenarios whenever it was a negative news concerning India, such as high poverty levels and wanted to bring happiness in our people’s lives. Also, I had given many examinations conducted by UPSC, which gave me an idea about the exam pattern.
Q: That is great! How did you keep yourself motivated throughout the preparation, considering the duration being yearlong?
A: Hard work, consistency and perseverance are the keys behind the motivation. The main strategy is to keep revising again and again. In the end, every pain and hard work is worth it. After becoming a civil servant, you’ll be at the best position to serve the society, where you would be able to deal directly with people and in a position where you could prove useful for them.
This is what kept me motivated throughout my journey. Also, I would like to add that since my father was in state services, even after working for the whole day, he has the look of satisfaction on his face throughout the time.
Q: Alright, so now I’ll get a bit towards the technical aspects. In terms of prelims, what was your strategy? According to you, how important are the mock tests?
A: Revision is the only key behind the success to prelims, as the syllabus is too vast and also the major part of it is covered and commenced by the current affairs section. My strategy was to revise it at least 2-3 times before prelims. Current affairs are more important for the GS.
Develop a sociological eye for the real life incidents and you would get lots of examples to quote in your answers. It took me nearly 20 days to complete my first revision and the next 15 days went for the next revision. Solving mock tests are more crucial for the new aspirants as it helps them comprehend what aspects of any topic could yield potential questions.
This would enable them to broaden their horizon while studying any new subject. I mostly referred to tests by Vision and Insights, both of which are equally good. Overall, I solved around 70 papers before the prelims. I was quite confident that I would crack the prelims, since solving nearly 70 papers gave me a positive vibe about the same.
Q: Was this your first attempt or second attempt?
A: Actually, in 2016, I had appeared for the exam the second time. Right after graduating I’d given the first attempt; but seriously speaking, I wasn’t at all prepared for it. After giving my first attempt, I had taken up coaching classes for about a year. I reached up till the interview round, yet could not crack it. But in 2017, I had reached up to the merit list.
Q: How did you prepare for the essay paper?
A: The strategy was to cover all the aspects, including all the dimensions that covered the particular essay topic. I targeted to collect as many points as possible within a certain time period so I can construct a good essay. My emphasis was on covering as many dimensions as possible.
By dimensions I mean social, political, legal, constitutional, economic, historical and other aspects. I concentrated on making the beginning section attractive, by making it up to the mark. What actually happens while including all the points is that the essay becomes directionless, hence, just focus on making it particular so that the reader doesn’t get confused.
Q: What were the two essays that you attempted?
A: The first essay was based on the farmers’ distress (agriculture), while the second was on woman empowerment.
Q: Did you write answers in bullet points or in paragraphs? Some candidates who cleared the mains were claiming that they wrote the entire paper in bullet points, while others completely wrote answers in paragraph….so does it matter as to how you should be writing the answers?
A: Try whatever you are comfortable with. I mostly used small paragraphs and tried to incorporate flowcharts in it.
Q: Which was your optional subject in mains and why did you choose it?
A: Geography. I was clear that I will choose an optional that I would love to study. Since my school days I was interested in social sciences, and while choosing the optional subject, I was determined to take up geography. In GS, you can score well if you’d taken geography as your optional subject.
Q: If at all a new person had chosen this optional, what would have been your first advice to him?
A: My first advice for them would be to follow the NCERT textbooks, right from the 6thgrade up to the 12thgrade and refer the ICSE class 10thtextbook for studying the content.
If at all you find it difficult to understand the topics related to oceanography or weather forecast, just watch the video lectures, as it would become very much easier for you to get to the depth of the topic.
Q: How many months did it take for you to finish your optional subject?
A: It took me 4 months to complete the preparation for the optional subject. My strategy was to complete the optional syllabus after completing the prelims.
Q: Who was the chairman of your board for the interview?
A: Mr. P.K. Joshi was the chairman of the board for the interview, which was scheduled on 21stof February.
Q: How did you prepare for the interview? Did you have any specific study plan for the interview, just like you had for the mains and prelims?
A: What I did, in particular, was that I had gone through the previous years’ content as well as I’d followed up the Chanakya, Sankalp and Vajiram tests. I tried to solve as many questions as I could from my side, but I did not have any specific strategy.
In fact, the mock ones were completely different from the actual interview. But taking up the mock tests would be giving you an idea about the actual interview questions.
Q: How long did the interview last? Can you tell us a few questions that they had asked you during the interview?
A: 40 minutes. I was the second one in line. The interviewer asked me about Maulana Azad from NIT Bhopal, since I’d graduated from that college. He went on to ask about some of the social reformers and later about the history of Madhya Pradesh. Some of them had also asked me about my engineering background and my hobbies.
Q: What was your career backup plan, if at all you were not selected?
A: I had completed relied upon the competitive exams. I had appeared in some of the competitive exams organized by UPSC and even got selected in some, but I’d asked them for an extension about my joining.
I’d even cleared the NABARD, EPFO entrance exam as well. So, basically, I was completely secure with my backup plan
Q: Is it better to study for the UPSC online, or offline?
A: I would prefer the online coaching mode. Online resources are kind of revolution for the preparation because of the advantages you get from the online coaching mode.
First thing is that the cost will be much lesser than the classroom preparation. Second thing is that you can save a lot of time for the preparation, and then you can have video lectures to which you can revisit whenever you wish to. Referring to the online resources has a great future and it is also an equalizer.
Q: Is it necessary to altogether eliminate the optional subjects? Or, should it be a part of the UPSC curriculum?
A: Yes, I completely agree the optional subjects should be removed. Topics from relevant optional subjects like sociology should be included in GS itself. Furthermore, it would also eradicate the so-called “butchering” concept and the unpredictability that goes with it.
Q: Any words of wisdom for the young aspirants who are starting to prepare for the UPSC examination?
A: Civil Services Examination is an unpredictable examination. Apart from hard work, intelligent strategy, you also need to have a lot of patience and perseverance throughout the time period. Also, have belief in your abilities and desire to work hard day in day out, then you are more likely to clear this exam.
We would once again like to express our heartiest congratulations for this grand success. Wishing you, all the very best in your career and life ahead.
Author: Akshay Palande
Akshay Palande is a passionate teacher helping hundreds of students in their UPSC preparation. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering and double masters in Public Administration and Economics, he has experience of teaching UPSC aspirants for 5 years. His subject of expertise are Geography, Polity, Economics and Environment and Ecology.