B. Fouzia Taranum Rank – 31, How She Managed To Get Top Rank While Working

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We are happy to know that our website was helpful to Ms Fouzia Tarannum during her UPSC civil services exam – 2014 preparation. She wrote to us: “Thanks for your contribution in the form of your website. Was very helpful especially as I didn’t have any group/preparation peers this year.” She was also very humble  enough to personally meet and thank us in Bangalore. She is an IRS officer and is currently working as Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax in Bangalore. In the below article she shares her experience/suggestions.

B. Fouzia Taranum, IRS, ACIT, Circle 5(2)(1), Bangalore

Rank – 31, CSE – 2014


I do not know how helpful this brief write up is going to be, but since many had asked, and I have benefitted from similar write ups of seniors, here goes.

I started preparing for UPSC in December 2010, having quit my job as a Business Analyst with Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. In CSE 2011, I cleared with AIR of 307, thereby joining the IRS (IT). The attempt in 2012 didn’t see me improve my rank/service. I was under training in NADT, Nagpur, and decided to go ahead and settle into the service, which I was beginning to like, understand and enjoy.

However once posted, from June 2014, I started feeling the difference in service – IAS and IRS – and the job profiles. I felt that I should try one last time for my dream service, and give one last attempt. So a few weeks before the prelims of 2014, I jumped into preparation mode. It helped that I was posted at my hometown, so I had the support of my parents in this venture. In fact, the result was a surprise to my family/relatives/friends, as not many people other than my parents, sisters and my IRS batch mates knew that I was giving another attempt!

I reread the standard books, along with the sources available online like Insights on India. I think a big part of the improvement in rank to AIR 31 this year was due to me growing as a person, becoming more mature, having seen more of this world, and a creeping sense of practicality and realism in approach, compared to an over-idealistic one earlier. UPSC is actually looking for more rounded personalities with problem solving approach and an analytical mind. The UPSC journey should be looked at in this light, and not merely reading of books.

Work + Study

It was very important for me that I do not compromise on my present work, while I gave this attempt. I had to be more than justifying the salary that I was taking home.

At office, I would concentrate on work, and at home on preparation efforts and personal obligations. While it was difficult and often tiring, I hope I did justice to both, my aspiration to be in IAS through my preparation efforts, along with the requirements of my job as an Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax.

The balance came from management of time. There will never be enough time, rather we have to make time for everything.

General Strategy

  • No leave before prelims (no proper study before prelims either, thanks to strength in CSAT)
  • Focussed preparation after getting a fair idea that I will clear the prelims (having checked with various answer keys available online)
  • 30 days leave before mains
  • 5 days leave for interview
  • Studying atleast 2 hours a day (working days) – depending on my work day either early morning or late night – August to December 2014. Also managed to take a few Fridays off after the prelims results, so as to get 3 days of continuous reading done, or to compensate for the days when I had not prepared due to obligations at work.
  • Finishing weekly newspapers (piled up) and studying for about 4 hours a day (during weekends/holidays)
  • A general study, unlike the crazy detailed study of 2011-12
  • Focussed on revising my strong areas (economy, geography, etc) and re-preparing for my weak areas (history, culture, sociology, etc) along with preparing for the newly introduced topics.
  • Focussed on current events and ensured that connected GS related gyan was revised (e.g: LS elections were on – read up all election related polity).
  • Chose Sociology as optional because pub ad wasn’t performing too well, socio takes lesser time to prepare in comparison and enjoyed reading this subject more, even though I have never studied this subject academically.
  • Didn’t read too many books, so as to not feel lost at the end of it all – stuck to the books (or the particular sections in the books) that I really enjoyed reading.
  • Use of YouTube videos for World History, as this was newly introduced.
  • Ethics – GS Paper 4 – Just read up a few solved papers on the Vision website and realised that our “UPSC orientation” is sufficient – Looked up definitions on all the terms used in the syllabus and made short notes. Didn’t read anything beyond that. Scored 113/250, and was largely just giving “true” answers to most situational questions/case studies.
  • Couldn’t practise writing due to lack of time – I know that if I had, I could have really upped my game.
  • Gave many examples in my answers, and tried to keep them interesting to whoever was to read them.

Use of Time

There is a dire need for short, productive periods of reading through the day. For instance, reading up the news feeds after returning from lunch at office, listening to the news/saved videos while travelling to and from office, etc. Such reading of 15 minutes in short bursts 4-5 times a day really adds up and contributes immensely to our efforts.

Also, I used to take up a subject I like and enjoy when I felt like I have a lost cause in my hands and was feeling depressed. This really helps make our efforts more productive. However, we need to be cautious that we do not let other subjects suffer from neglect. Be judicious in the time you allot to various “sub-subjects”.

Writing style

  • Short, to the point, bullet points, covering as many dimensions and aspects as possible
  • Didn’t focus on word limits too much – some answers I looked for more space and for some I just jotted down half a page
  • Didn’t really fill pages, wrote as much as I knew
  • Interlinking of topics
  • Use of diagrams/charts
  • Underlining of important points as I write
  • Points in the margin (like a summary box, to help me and the evaluator)


GS (scored 405):

  • History – Bipin Chandra, Spectrum
  • World History – Norman Lowe, YouTube Videos, Online resources
  • Geography – NCERT (11th and 12th), G C Leong, Atlas
  • Art and Culture – Insights on India questions and answers, NCERT History pdfs online
  • Polity – Lakshmikanth, Online resources
  • Economy – Newspapers, Frank ISC Economics (11th and 12th), Economic Survey
  • Environment – Newspapers, ICSE Text book, Online/Wiki for all the various protocols, committees, etc.
  • Ethics – Just read up definitions online and read some answer scripts put up on Vision IAS website.
  • Current Affairs – Newspapers, Insights on India Daily Current Events (daily + revision 2 weeks before Mains), Vision IAS monthly Current affairs notes, Sriram IAS summary Current affairs notes, general reading online on relevant topics
  • Newspapers – The Hindu, Times of India, Editorials from Economic Times
  • Magazines – None this year due to paucity of time (used to read Frontline and Wizard in 2011-12)

Sociology (Scored 257 L)

Paper 1

  1. C N Shankar Rao – Intro to socio
  2. Crack IAS notes – ppr 1
  3. Haralambos – very important book according to me (understood Mead thanks to this book!)
  4. IGNOU BA Notes – selectively. (Did all units on thinkers thoroughly)
  5. Ritzer for Thinkers
  6. Upendra Notes – for thinkers and introduction only
  7. Collins Dictionary for Sociology – for concept clarity

Paper 2

  1. C N Shankar Rao – Indian socio
  2. Crack IAS notes – ppr 2
  3. IGNOU BA Notes  – selectively
  4. Nagla for Indian Thinkers
  5. Upendra Notes – for movements only
  6. Nadeem Hasnain – Tribal India selectively
  7. Ram Ahuja – very few topics
  8. Year Book for programmes/schemes
  9. Spectrum History – for national movement
  10. Online resources for few topics
  11. Newspaper articles/editorials on social issues

In conclusion

A lot of resources available online, have a look and settle for what works best for you, but don’t waste time on the internet unnecessarily.

Never lose focus, never lose faith. Stay consistent in your efforts. Believe in yourself! Don’t forget to keep learning and to keep improving!

Though a certain amount of luck is required, hard work does pay! I have not studied in big “Ivy League” institutions, nor do I have any civil servants in my family. I come from a very simple, ordinary, loving household, where education has never been very important. Still thanks to my parents’ support and my efforts, I could make it. So can anyone who sets her mind to it.

All the best for Prelims 2015 and the journey ahead! I hope you realize all your dreams.

  • siddhartha paul

    Thank you mam

  • Ranjith Gowda Beatboxer

    Nice piece of advise and thanks for mentioning the list of books 🙂

  • Shifa

    Congrats 🙂

  • Prashanth Kumar B O

    Hats off and congrats for your work madam
    The above article helped in giving a boost for our preparation..
    Thank you ?

  • “RW”

    Heartiest congratulations!!

  • Missionimpossible

    thanks mam for enlighten us..

  • AKSHAY123

    Time management lesson were helpful. I wil apply it fr sure. Thank you & All the best 🙂

  • Vignesh Veerasamy

    Thank you mam for your delightful summary
    Myself with same secaniro ,currently working and looking forward for CSE2016.

  • Anshul Varshney

    Many2 Congratulations for believing in yourself and going all the way.
    I hope to retrace the similar path being a TCSer 🙂
    Thank you for sharing and all the best for the even more interesting journey that awaits you!

  • chandolu manikanta

    Congratulations for your success and Thank you very much for motivating us.

  • Chandu RedE

    Thank you madam, your tips and advice are a good source of inspiration to all of us.

  • Naina target 2016

    congratulation ma’am…….inspired by you..

  • rajasree

    thank you ma’am….

  • rajasree

    thank you ma’am….

  • dark matter

    informative ..thanx mam and all the best

  • Masoom

    Thank you very much..

  • PS

    did you join any mains test series?

    • Fouzia Taranum

      Hi PS. No I didnt join any mains test series. I couldn’t get any writing practice done either this year. I know that it was a huge drawback, but I was pressed for time. If you are preparing for mains, one should practice writing, even if you do not join a test series. All the best!

      • PS

        thank u mam. my score gs 230 essay 118 optional 262.
        i will try answer writing after prelims on insights.
        Really admire you for getting such a good rank while doing your job as well.
        All the best to you too.
        keep guiding us in future. 🙂

  • Zenith

    Thank you 🙂

  • bhaz

    congrats mam.Could you elaborate on this point further?

    “Points in the margin (like a summary box, to help me and the evaluator)”

    • Fouzia Taranum

      I just made a small gist of the answer (in points) and made a small box on the right side corner of first page of the answer. Usually in pencil. It helped me to not forget the points, structure my answer, and also looked good, I felt. Didn’t do this in my last attempt. I feel it may have resulted in my better mains marks this year.


        mam, but we are not allowed to write in the margins. please clear the confusion if I have not understood your point correctly.

        • Fouzia Taranum

          Hello Harshaditya!
          I used to make a small box inside the margin, and jot down the key points. Not outside of the margin. We are not allowed to write outside the defined rectangular margin of the question-cum-answer booklet.
          I did not strike it out. If you have seen Competition Wizard magazine, I used to make a similar summary box.

          All of us are different people, comfortable with different ways and strategies. Find what suits you best! All the best!


            Thank you mam for your prompt reply. Yes, I was confused because as you mentioned we are not allowed to write outside of the margin. Just a small query, Did you made this box summary before starting the answer (on the right hand side corner) or otherwise?
            Thanks for your help


          Thank you mam for all your suggestions. Please clear the small doubt I mentioned.
          Sorry for the trouble
          And all the best for your future endeavours.

      • bhaz

        Oh that’s very innovative but would be time taking. Will try and see. Thanks


        Mam, can you please explain the idea you suggested, as can we write in the margins or do we need to strike it out in the end?

      • Mohammed Azlaan khan

        Mam, Now I’m pursing BE 3rd year I want to give CSE 1st attempt on 2018…plzz sujjest me how to prepare from now itself , Basic fundamental things, study material, Best and help full Newspaper, and Time table plzz help me mam

  • SnehaG


    Can you please share your Personality Test?

    • Fouzia Taranum

      I will try and write on it. However I scored average marks in the interview. Board was Alka Sirohi Madam’s. Was an average interview.
      I suggest that you read the interview transcripts of those who scored >200 in the interview. They will have some good pointers 🙂 All the best!

      • SnehaG

        You are right.
        Sharing the questions asked to you can be useful for people of similar educational background or from same state or Who are already in Service (IPS / IRS or other like you).

        From the experience and exposure you have … at least you can suggest us what need to be done for Personality Test.

        What you should have improved If you had to face the same Personality Test board again and What mistakes we should not be doing while going for Personality Test ?

        Thanks Very much for sharing your experience.

        • Fouzia Taranum

          I was asked on my work experience in IRS, graduation and post graduation subjects, opinion on various development models, women safety, media, tourism in India, hobbies, Utilitarianism, among other things. Preparation for PT is vast and unending. Best to be familiar with everything that you have given in your DAF and current events. The mains preparation and experience aids towards PT experience. All the best!

          • SnehaG

            Thanks Mam 🙂

      • phanindra

        Congrats mam.iam studying btech final year now.i want to give my first cse atrempt in 2017.
        please give me your valuable suggestions about how to start preparation from fundamental stage?,planning,books and time table for this 2 years.please mam.

      • PS

        is giving mock interview at any coaching institute really needed for first timers?

        • Fouzia Taranum

          In my opinion, for first timers there is a need to orient yourself to the interview pattern, therefore mock interviews may be helpful.

          All the best

          • PS


  • Jyo

    Congrats mam..really inspiring. .managing both work and studies at the same time..☺

  • Anwar

    Thanks for sharing
    I am struggling to strike a balance between work and study…….

  • Sanjay

    Congrats.. Good that you shared your experience. All the best for your future endeavors.

  • Mayuresh Pawar

    Congrats…thank for writing….

  • Krishna

    Thank you madam

  • suraj

    Thanks mam

  • KTK

    Congrats & Thank you mam

  • phanindra

    Congrats mam.iam studying btech final year now.i want to give my first cse atrempt in 2017.
    please give me your valuable suggestions about how to start preparation from fundamental stage?,planning,books and time table for this 2 years.please mam.

    • Fouzia Taranum

      Try to not make many year plans. Give your all in your first attempt. Now that you have decided on 2017 as your first attempt, gather the basic books and start reading! Along with your daily newspapers. Pacing your preparation and planning is an individual decision.

      All the best!

      • phanindra

        madam,please mention the basic books that i have to read

  • kaiser soze

    Hello mam. Please clarify these things for me.
    1. Did you write solely in points?. I wrote in paragraph form in two gs papers and got disastrous marks in only those papera.
    2. Ethics paper..did you write in point format or paragraph format for 1. Case studies. 2. General bolbachan questions before them.
    And how does one tackle such general questions which ask very personal stuff like.–what is happiness according to you or what does patriotism mean according to you? Do you give lot of examples from your personal life? What should be the format to answer like do u first explain the concept itaelf and then give examples to support it….
    3. Essay paper- ur strategy for the same.
    4. Optional- paragraph form atrictly or point form aswell?
    5. Did you leave any questions unanswered in any papers?
    6. How to tackle pressure coming from peers and family and ur own inability to not clear the exam previosly..

    • Fouzia Taranum

      1. I wrote in points. Or short paragraphs. As per needs of the answer. You have to take a call. No one method is best.
      2. I attempted all GS papers in serial order. Q1 answered first.. then Q2.. till the end. I wrote giving examples. Yes, Ethics paper had personal examples too.
      3. No separate strategy for essay. Got average marks. Please check the blogs/write ups of those who scored >150 in essay to get inputs.
      4. Optional- paragraph form mostly along with points where necessary.
      5. No unanswered questions. Tried to attempt all, even if only 4-5 points
      6. Patience and perseverance!

      All the best

  • Pradeep kumar

    Mam i have been preparing for UPSC for the past 2 years though with high level of inconsistency..with exam getting nearby some thoughts have struck me…thoughts of fear or i dont know…I stopped preparing all together & thinking about CAT or GMAT..but really your journey is inspiring..need to search within myself.

    • Fouzia Taranum

      I repeat: Anyone who sets one’s mind to it can do it. Get consistent! All the best!

  • Nares kurapati

    Hi Fouzia,

    Thanks for your input.

    I would like to know whether you were referring the book “Harlambos and Holborn” or “Harlambos and Mead” (orange cover) for sociology optional


    • Fouzia Taranum

      Orange Cover one – Harlambos and Holborn

      • Nares kurapati

        Sorry I am still confused.

        I have two books one is the orange cover one which is “Harlambos with Mead” and the other one is large big blue book (recent edition) is Harlambos and Holborn.

        I have seen other folks referring Orange cover one as “Harlambos with Mead”. So would like to clarify.

        Thanks for your time.


  • Feroz Babu

    Congrats M’am,
    your post in really inspiring i want to prepare while working, started preparation with Polity
    Thank you 🙂

  • Feroz Babu

    please give me your valuable suggestions about how to start preparation from fundamental stage?

    is it better to prepare Mains and Prelims parallel ?

    • Fouzia Taranum

      Parallel till last month before prelims, when you focus solely on prelims.

  • chandan

    Congrats fr ur success…mam can u send us world history videos links which you percieve can be of help. Thank you.

  • Ashish Srivastava

    Congratulations Mam!!

  • Fakhre Alam

    congratulations mam..

  • Rana

    Congratulations Fouzia on attaining the coveted feat!Thoroughly guiding and motivating article. I gave prelims this year without any preparation and also to get first hand experience of the exam. I cannot afford to leave job and venture out to any big city for coaching due to personal obligations and so will be preparing by myself. Request you to kindly clear the air of doubts regarding: How helpful are Crack IAS’s notes and also kindly throw some light on Upendra’s notes as I am unable to connect to it. Wish you very best for your endeavour to take up this coveted and responsible task. Thanks and bestest of regards.

    • Fouzia Taranum

      Apologies for the late reply!
      Crack notes – I am out of touch with now – had gone through the notes prepared for 2010 mains, so cant comment now.
      Upendra notes are good for revision, especially the thinkers part. One will have to get a good grip of thinkers from various sources like the IGNOU material, Harlombas, etc.
      All the best!

  • Shri

    Congrats madam,

    It is truly inspirational for me.I,working as a software engineer in MNC,have been preparing for this exam.But sometimes it is very hard for me to maintain consistency in my efforts;because I have to work more than 12 hrs a day if it is required to meet project deadlines. I think, your suggestions will help me a lot, to move further to achieve my goal.

    Thanks a lot mam..

  • Poorna Chandra

    the line “nor do I have any civil servants in my family” gave me more strength…..

  • Sachin Singh

    Hi Mam,
    I share similar experience I worked as BA with TCS for more than 3 years but always wanted to be an IAS officer. I am very much inspired from your story. As I am totally new to this and I will be obliged if you can tell me how you have managed to have focus and not distract yourself.
    After a weeks preparation I get demotivated and start loosing my confidence on my preparation.

  • Amber khan

    Hi mam..what ws ur optional ..nd how u prepared it.

  • soumya

    really hats off to u mam….congrats..

  • Nitesh Priyadarshi

    sir…is crack ias material for sociology is worth reading..??

  • Nitesh Priyadarshi

    ma’am…is crack ias material for sociology worth reading..??

    • Fouzia Taranum

      Crack notes – I am out of touch- had gone through the notes prepared for 2010 mains, so cant comment now.
      All the best!

      • subir

        In “writing style” you have mentioned ‘point in the margin’. Would you please elaborate this strategy of structuring answer.

  • lover..

    thx..for sharing ur story….its really inspiring….i m also working…and preparing for upsc…

  • Santhosh M

    Congrats…! many people quit the job and couldn’t get . Rarest of the rare people I see achieving this stage.
    How it could be possible?
    Maam if there is any detailed strategies , is there anywhere you have shared.

    Maam Not sure whether this is the right question!
    Please do let us know What strategies if you haven’t used/applied it would have been difficult for you. It helps everyOne.

  • Shreyas Yaduvanshi

    Thanks a lot for sharing.
    All d best for future.

  • Rakesh Desai

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience…Fouzia!!!. All the very best for your future 🙂

  • Irshad Khoja

    Thanks ma’m.


    Mam…. I have given the prelim 2016 and most probably going to clear it in my first attempt with almost 120 marks.. I am a science background student but chosen SCOCIOLOGY as my optional.. As i am working in a bank and posted in a rural area i am not able to attend any coaching institue..Please guide me how to start SCOCIOLOGY preperation..like which book should i read first…. I tried to read HARLAMBOS but its mostly about thinkers and i am not comfortable with this as preliminary stage.. Please suggest how to start with itt… I mean which book to read first and then which to follow…Thanksss in advanceee